For a British person, the Twitter account of Very British Problems can be at once entertaining and mortifying. Entertaining, as they manage to nail British politeness and our tendency to say one thing in the interest of manners whilst meaning something else entirely; “A bit of an upset” translating to “a complete and utter catastrophe in every possible way” being a particular favourite.
It’s also mortifying as you realise that your foibles that you thought were cunningly hidden are actually laid out bare for everyone to read (yes, people do know what you really mean when you write ‘regards’ at the end of an email).
And yet, we persist to voice these phrases at every given opportunity, causing a particular problem for our colleagues and associates in other countries who are flummoxed by our disinclination to say what we really mean.
When travelling for work and asked by an international colleague if we want to go out that evening, we say: “I’ll see how I feel later and let you know,” when we have absolutely no intention of going out. Then feel hounded when said colleague gets in touch later to see how we’re feeling and whether we’re up for that night out. The colleague has taken what we said at face value, but what’s behind our reluctance to get straight to the point?