The table sheds light on just how difficult it can be for a foreigner to understand what the British really mean when they’re speaking – especially for those take every word at face value.
Phrases that prove the trickiest to decipher include ‘you must come for dinner’, which foreigners tend to take as a direct invitation, but is actually said out of politeness by many Britons and often does not result in an invite.
The table also reveals that when a person from Britain begins a sentence “with the greatest respect …’, they actually mean ‘I think you are an idiot’.
|WHAT THE BRITISH SAY||WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN||WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND|
|I hear what you say||I disagree and do not want to discuss it further||He accepts my point of view|
|With the greatest respect||You are an idiot||He is listening to me|
|That’s not bad||That’s good||That’s poor|
|That is a very brave proposal||You are insane||He thinks I have courage|
|Quite good||A bit disappointing||Quite good|
|I would suggest||Do it or be prepared to justify yourself||Think about the idea, but do what you like|
|Oh, incidentally/ by the way||The primary purpose of our discussion is||That is not very important|
|I was a bit disappointed that||I am annoyed that||It doesn’t really matter|
|Very interesting||That is clearly nonsense||They are impressed|
|I’ll bear it in mind||I’ve forgotten it already||They will probably do it|
|I’m sure it’s my fault||It’s your fault||Why do they think it was their fault?|
|You must come for dinner||It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite||I will get an invitation soon|
|I almost agree||I don’t agree at all||He’s not far from agreement|
|I only have a few minor comments||Please rewrite completely||He has found a few typos|
|Could we consider some other options||I don’t like your idea||They have not yet decided|
The table points out that when Britons say ‘I’m sure it’s my fault’, it actually means ‘it’s your fault’.