Please, Please, Please

James Brown - The Godfather of Soul

James Brown – The Godfather of Soul (Lammyman)

When I first came to Brazil the English school that I worked at had a cafe at the back  that sold things like little pies, sandwiches, drinks and sweets.  They did a roaring trade during the breaks and made a pretty penny off me as I was in the school the whole day and the cafe was just behind the teachers’ room.

With my very poor Portuguese I would go and ask for a sandwich or a juice or a bar of chocolate and always say ‘por favor‘ at the end of my request.  There were often smiles and sniggers from the lady serving, but I just assumed that was because of my bad pronunciation until one day she couldn’t help herself and started openly laughing in front of me.  I was of course mortally embarrassed but I wanted to know what I was doing wrong.  One of the Brazilian teachers translated for me and told me that the woman in the cafe thought I was just so cute because I always said ‘por favor‘ when practically nobody else ever did this.

I was stunned.  For me saying ‘por favor’ or ‘please’ is just a natural part of making a request.  I don’t even think about it, it just comes out on its own.  And it is true.  Unless you are really trying to be over-polite or are almost begging for something, Brazilians do not generally use ‘por favor’.  They usually say ‘obrigado,’ or some other equivalent, but not ‘por favor.’


Please! (eliazar)

Many of my Brazilian friends think that the English are so much more polite that they are, partly because of this need to say ‘please’ after everything.  I tell them that it isn’t true, that just because we say a few words doesnt mean we actually mean it, it is just something that we are trained to do.  They look at me with a knowing grin as if to say, ‘you are such a polite person for not wanting to seem superior in your good manners and politeness.’  What can I do?

In bringing up Thomas I am trying to make sure that he says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.  At the moment he hasn’t got the hang of saying ‘thank you’ or ‘ta’ or ‘obrigado‘ or anything.  But he is starting to get the idea of saying ‘please’.  Except, when Thomas says it is more like ‘daddy, pee’.  I’m not worried about the pronunciation, though, more the fact that he has started to use it.

English: Amazing veggie burger at Herbivore. F...

Amazing veggie burger at Herbivore. (Wikipedia)

Usually I have to remind him to say ‘please’.  He’ll ask me to open the pot of play dough and I’ll look at him and ask ‘What do you say?’ and he’ll nod his head and say ‘daddy, pee.’  Last night he did actually say it without being prompted.  I had a burger and chips and he wanted some of my chips.  The first couple of times he needed to be reminded, but then he said ‘daddy, more, pee’.  I was chuffed to bits.

And of course now I have a reason to have more burgers and chips.

What about you?  Is it important in your culture to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you?’  Are you bringing up your kids to be polite like this and how are you going about it?

Now here is a man who knew how to say please.  James Brown – Please, Please, Please.


19 thoughts on “Please, Please, Please

  1. Love this post. I live in the Netherlands and the Dutch are considered rude because they don’t say thank you and please and many “kind” words. But they’re always ready to help, they show politeness by actions, not words. However, I am teaching my children to say “please” and “thank you”, because that’s how I was brought up, and it is important to the Polish culture (the magical words: thank you, please, sorry, etc).

    • Thanks for visiting and your kind comments, Olga.

      You are absolutely right: actions speak louder than words. Just because you say ‘thank you’ doesn’t necessarily mean a thing. It does sound strange to my ears, though, when somebody doesn’t say ‘please’ or ‘thank you.’

  2. OMG your post just hit home with me. First, we live in Joinville, SC (not too far from Curitiba). Second, we’re not Brazilians either but we’re raising our two year old (who happens to be Brazilian) to say “please” and “thank you”. And third, in my country saying please and thank you is very important and considered basic good manners. I was shocked at first by the apparent lack of manners here in Brazil, only to realize later on that it’s not a custom to say “please”. That they demonstrate good manners in slightly different ways than mine. But even after four years (and not much improvement on my Portuguese) I still say “faz favor” or “por favor” a lot. It’s just the way I was brought up.
    On another subject, I’ll be following your blog from now on… Great work!

    • Thanks a lot for visiting and following this blog.

      I thnk my attitude is that it is better for my son to learn to be too polite and then tone it down afterwards if he needs to, rather than the other way around.

      Até logo.

  3. Excellent post!

    I’m an English expat living in Holland and like Olga mentioned, I’ve also found that the Dutch don’t readily say “please”, “thank you” or “sorry”. (This of course is a huge generalisation…).

    There is a philosophy of “When in Rome do as the Romans do”, but this doesn’t always sit easy with us, especially when it grates against our on instinctive sensitivities with what we consider as polite, and I think especially when it comes to raising our children.

    I completely agree with you that it’s better to be considered as too polite rather than as rude and ignorant.

    Good luck (and enjoy those burgers and chips!)

    • Hi Paul,

      I don’t know about you, but one of my aims is to raise a son who is comfortable in many different walks of life all around the world. This is going to mean being over-polite at times, and more direct at others.

      It seems both our families are learning to be direct from their environment and more polite from their dads.

      It can only do them good in the long term.

  4. I just saw your post on the “Juntemos Jueves” link up. Very interesting! Similarly, I always find it awkward in a country where there is no “bless you” equivalent when someone sneezes. It’s as if the sneeze is just hanging there, mid-air, waiting for some sort of well wishes. But if it’s not a custom, I can only imagine how bizarre it would seem to the host nationals (like how we might feel if someone wished us well when “gas” escaped, so to speak).

  5. Pingback: When in Rome...Still be Polite! | FromaDaddy

  6. I loved this post and have been meaning to comment for a while. Like some of the other comments above have suggested, there seem to different conventions about what you need to see in order to be considered polite in different countries (…and what forms of politeness are seen as unnecessary).

    I studied and now teach French and lived in France for three years. In France, people don’t really insist on ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the same way as in the UK but ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ (or even ‘have a nice day / afternoon / evening’) are very important expressions. I remember rushing across the Gare Montparnasse Paris in order to try to make sure I caught a train to Brittany. As I wanted to be sure that I got on the train, I asked a member of station staff using via a phrase that basically meant ‘excuse me sir, is this the correct train for Auray?’. The response was ‘Bonjour’. I assumed that the man had not head or understood my question so I repeated it and was greeted with the same response. It was at that point that I realised that he was not going to enter into any form of dialogue with me unless I first said ‘Bonjour’ to him.

    I also recall being in a tourist office in Reims and hearing a Japanese tour guide make what was in many ways a very polite request for information in excellent French. The moment he had left, I heard the tourist office member of staff who spoke to him turn to a colleague and sound off about how they couldn’t stand the rudeness of people who ask for something but don’t say hello.

    France does seem to be keen to change its image of perhaps not being seen as the most friendly tourist destination as a guide to hotel workers was recently produced in Paris on the theme of how guests from different countries like to be treated. I get the impression that people in a lot of countries in Europe other than the UK are more insistent on saying hello and goodbye than in Britain, but some (such as Italians) also seem to say please and thank you quite a lot.

    Sorry this comment has turned into such an essay, think I’ll need to do a post about politeness myself in a few weeks’ time! 🙂

    • Hi Jonathon, thanks for your comment. Whatever the length you are always welcome on here.

      You make a good point about foreigners appearing rude and I can think of a few times when I might have done something similar here in Brazil. I might have to write a post about that myself.

      I was in Paris at the end of last year and I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions we got. I had heard a lt about the snooty Parisians, but these stories couldn’t have been further from the truth. Everyone was so helpful and polite it was a joy. A few other people have said similar things to me, so perhaps the move to make the city more wlecoming is working.

  7. We live in Spain (I’m English & My wife is Argentinean) and our son is also called Thomas.

    Like Olga said, Spain is similar to Holland as the Spanish show kindness through actions. While saying ‘good morning/afternoon/evening’ is more important.

    • That’s interesting to hear, Christopher.

      I often have to tell my students that the English are not more polite than Brazilians just because we say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. We may sound more polite, but actions are far more important.

      • Hi Stephen i think its a combination of both but we do need to be aware of what cultural filters and norms are at play. I do a mix of Business English teaching and Managament Skills training and observe a lot of that.

        On a side note – thanks for your link on your site to my wife loved it and we´ve found some useful stuff on it.

      • Multicultural Kid Blogs is a fantastic site that I have had the fortune to make some limited contribution to. It is relatively new, but they have loads of ideas for some exciting future projects, so watch that space.

  8. Hi Stephen,

    I am Brazilian and as such my perception on the matter is certainly biased, but I believe that the politeness is asking something here is usually related to the intonation of the request. Sometimes a simple ‘I want that’ pronounced in a ‘cute’ fashion can be much more polite than a well-pronounced but stone-cold ‘por favor’.


    • Hi Daniel, thanks a lot for your comment.

      You are absolutely right. Intonation is so important, as well as things like the tone of voice used and the body language that accompanies it. I think this applies to every language everywhere. As a Brit, though, when I first arrived here it did seem strange until I got used to the language and culture a bit more.


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