Session 4

How can being polite get you a cheaper cup of coffee? Read an article about a French cafe where they reward customers who say 'please' when they order a drink. We also want to hear from you - tell us how to be polite where you live. And have you ever wanted to be a famous sporting celebrity? News Report is about the lives of sports stars.  

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Activity 2

Politeness around the world

Could you tell us whether or not people are polite in your country?

Polite language and formal behaviour are very much cultural ideas and they change from place to place. What is considered polite in one country may seem strange in another. What is rude in one language may be a normal way of speaking in another.

Britain is often seen as a place where people are polite but cold. British people ask indirect questions because they don't want to bother others. They also don't want to seem too friendly or familiar.


Try the activity

Not just questions

We want to hear about being polite in your language.

It is not just questions that make what we say polite or formal. In many languages you have to use different words or grammar when you talk to someone you have just met or who is older than you.

Names are also important. In some cultures, it is OK to call people by their first names when you first meet them, even if they are older than you. In other cultures, Mr, Mrs, or Miss followed by the person's surname (family name) must be used.

Your clothes, your body language, eye contact and even how close you stand to someone can also show if you are polite.

Thank you for emailing your comments to us. We enjoyed reading them. This task is now closed.

Here are a few of the comments that we received.

Pilar, Mozambique

I would talk about some polite habits that I found here when I arrived.

I think that the relations-ship here are very formal because a very strong meaning of 'the other person'. "I am because you see to me" it's a common adage here. Then, when we cross one's path, we must look at their eyes and greet them with a little hand's signal. We do this, for unknown person. When we cross a known person, we stop the step and ask for the person, the family, the health... before continuing the way. If we missing it they could think that we are proud and close in our own world.

For speaking anyone, we never could use the direct language. We never call 'you', but 'the sir', 'the sister', 'the doctor', 'Sir Paulo', 'Miss Joana'… The direct language could be felt by them like the colonization's relations.

I'm learning very much here with this people.

Swam, Myanmar

In my country, our people are quite polite. We usually add khamia (male) or shin (female) at the end of our "thank you" to show our sincerity towards others.

Antonio, Spain

In my country, we use different ways of politeness. When we met a person for first time, for example in a job, we shake hands if it’s a man with another man. If it's a man or woman with another woman, usually we greeted each other with cheek kissing. Also this is valid if a person who we previously knew introduced us to another person.

Manoel, Brazil

Brazilian people are very informal. We often call others by the first name or a nickname. Our clothes are also very informal. We like to wear blue jeans in everywhere. We love to talk a lot.

Gita, Indonesia

Hello there! My name is Gita from Indonesia.
Politeness in my country maybe vary since Indonesia consists of many islands that have diffeerent culture backgrounds.

What I can tell that maybe politeness in here is depend on the order of age. Many cultures have a high value to respect our elder.

So, there are terms for a person that older than us, 'Bapak' is for men and 'Ibu' is for women. 'Bapak' and 'Ibu' can be used to call our parents too, is like Father and Mother in English.

Beside those terms, there are 'Mas' and 'Mbak'. These terms is like brother and sister in English, usually used for the person that younger than 'Bapak' and 'Ibu'.

But, like I've mentioned before, these terms depend on the culture backgrounds. 'Mbak' and 'Mas' are terms for brother and sister in Javanese ethnic. Different ethnic have their own terms which depend on their local language.

Juçara Gonçalves

Dear friends,

Yes, I can tell to you people aren't polite in my country. Of course that isn't a rule.

You can find people extremely polite here but I think we need learn more about it.

I think this subject is very interesting.

Jason, South Korea

Hello. My name is Jason. I am from South Korea. In my country being polite is very important, especially to older people. We have to use the honorific speech when we talk with an older person, a boss at the office or a teacher.

When we have a meal, we have to wait until the oldest person start to eat, for example, after father start eating, mother and children take up their spoon to eat.

Denise, Faro, Portugal

In general,in Portugal people are usually polite and if sometimes they aren't it is because they waited for too long for the waitress to come. When people go to a café usually we first say "hello","good afternoon" first, then we ask for the coffee for example "I would like a coffee" or "could you bring me a coffee?" or as is our habit we use a diminutive form to sound more polite like "little coffee" in portuguese "cafezinho"and at the end we finish with "please" and when we receive what we ordered we say "thank you".

Brigida Laranjo, Faro, Portugal

In my country, to show politness, for example in a café or restaurante situation, we usually say "Good morning/ evening" with a simple smile on our faces.

Also, we usually talk to people in the third person "você" and not in the second "tu" ("you").

Alexandra, Faro, Portugal

In Portugal, we have a very funny way of being polite. For example, if you go to the North of Portugal, people treat you as ''menina'' (Miss), and not as Madam (an older person), so if you are married or older, it sounds very polite and good to listen to.

We also have this habit of ordering things with the word in diminutive, by adding ''inho'' to the end of nouns, for example, a coffe (café) we order as a ''little coffee'' (cafézinho).

Pavel, Russia


Be polite in Russia, in generally, means the same as in other parts of our World. You should be kind with people, no matter who are they and who you are. For example you should help older people to carry their bags, you as a man should give your seat place for women, older people in public transport, that we reminded from the speakers every day. And this polite manners all of us, in Russia, learned from young years. But unfortunately in our real live things like this frequently don't implemented. Every day you can see sitting men in public transport opposite standing women, you can observe older people carrying their heavy bags without any help. Sad things like this put the shame on all of our society and we should thing about it and must correct it.

Leanna, Tinian, Northern Mariana Islands

I'm from the island of Tinian, Northern Mariana Islands, commonly known as "the island near Guam." In our place, being polite is also a sign of respect which is a very important thing here. If ever we meet up with elders, aunts and uncles we fan nginge. We take their right hand and bring it to our forehead asking for blessings. We are a very small community so everyone knows everyone. We say thanks, thank you, please,etc. To say hello, we use the word Hafa Adai! To say good bye, we say Adois!

Manuel, Madrid, Spain

I think we used to be much more polite sometime ago.

Nowadays with this rush life we use to waste, we are forgetting proper ways of behaving or directing to elder people.

In spanish we used to use the form 'usted' and the third form of verbs, she/he, when directing to someone in an educated way.

When I began to work for multinational and companies which fixes their prices in Madrid stock exchange, it was completly forgotten.

Sok Chan Veasna, Cambodia

In my country, we always start with "Excuse me" if we want to ask someone for the question. And we always finish with "thank you" after we get the answer.

Manuel Juan, Andalusia, Spain

In my country politeness is not the same everywhere. For instance, there are significant differences between cities and small towns or the countryside. Perhaps people living in big cities haven't enough time and can't afford to speak or behave as politely as rural people.

Nevertheless, in general, people show politeness and use, for example, the formal form of 'you' (usted) when someone speaks to elder people or people who, he or she, don't know very well. With people we know well we use the informal form of 'you' (tu). Apart from the words people in this country are friendly,warm and very kind, most of the time.

José, Venezuela

Hello. My name is José. I'm from Venezuela. In my country usually people is polite, and the words "por favor" (please) and "gracias" (thanks) are very used before ask something and after to get something. It is also common to call the older people like Mr or Mrs, both for their first or last name. It is also common shaking hands when you know someone.

Victoria, Ukraine

In my opinion being polite is the same thing in all countries. It means just being kind to each other.

Although it is not easy to stay gracious when the situation in the country is too tense and the people are depressed, life shows that keeping a tolerant attitude towards your neighbor is a great thing.

If you visit Ukraine, of course you will hear the magic words "please" and "thank you" as well as see young people giving their place to elderly on public transport.

For the Ukrainians, smiling is more than just a contraction of facial muscles. If a Ukrainian smiles to you, it is definitely not a fake smile, but genuine one. Unfortunately, you can encounter that in very rare occasions. I hope that in the near future my country will glow with a lot of smiles.

Jolanta Juszczak, Poland

I was working as a waitress for two years and I must say that smiling helps in that kind of work.

I live in a small village. Twenty years ago habitants knew themselves very well. Now it has changed, many people in my country come from big cities and they didn't  use to keep close relation with their neighbours.  So we don't know eachother very well and we are very polite when asking questions. 

Polish use word: Pan/Pani. In English it means: Mrs and Mr. We rather don't use word Miss. When we ask very young person we use direct questions: Czy Ty? It means: Are you? 

Julian, Colombia

Hi, my name is Julian and I'm from Colombia.

We speak Spanish and we have many different ways to say the same, but if you want to be polite you should use the correct words. In my country the people who are polite can receive quickler service than people who use a rude language.

For example, when you enter in some place you should say good morning, good afternoon or good night. Always with a natural smile. Most of people ask the others "how are you?" after greeting.

Also, it is common ask for favours in the street:

A. Could you do me a favor?

B. Yes of course.

A. Do you know where is...? Or could you say to me what time is it?

To say bye, people frecuently use: "take care"," bye", "see you later", "have a nice day"

When someone helps you, its normal to say "thank you" and the other person answer "you welcome".

Like than English in Spanish we have many diferents words to be polite: can, could, may, etc. And it's rude when you don't use it.

In general in my country is common use a polite language and it is good when someone is polite with you. 

Meltem, Turkey

Hello! I'm Meltem. My native language is Turkish and I'm from Turkey. In my country, we do not call people with their surnames or even with names. Furthermore you have to use the polite plural form of "you" (in Turkish "siz" instead of "sen").

So, in Turkish every relationship has a name and it's much more complicated than in English. (i.e. aunt means "teyze" who is the sister of your mother and "hala" who is the sister of your father. The same as uncle "dayı" if mother's brother and "amca" if father's.) These examples can be replicated. And the most remarkable thing is you don't have to know a lady to call her anut in the meaning of "teyze". The same for a gentleman to call uncle as "amca" This is the polite way to talk between yongers and the elders.

Between  people who know each other well it is common to call one just with the casual singular form "sen". Although time is changing and in the last years has been getting more common to say "sen" to more people that in the old days but, here, in Turkey nothing changed. We still call the ones that we don't well "siz". Nevertheless we use "sen" whom we don't know when we want to be rude. Thus the conversation goes a bit harsh.

After all, there is a thin line, in Turkish, between being polite and being rude. Like you can use "sen" with "lütfen" which means please, this is polite. Also you can be rude with "siz" w,th the tone of your voice. Anyway, I think Turkish language give names to all relatinships and the yogurt.

Philipp Goldmann, Leipzig, Germany

I'm from Germany. In my country it has been conventional for a very long time to call people you not know by their last name. Furthermore you have to use the polite plural form of "you" (in German "Sie" instead of "du").

Between younger people and people who know each other well it is common to call one just with the casual singular form "du". But time is changing and in the last years has been getting more common to say "du" to more people that in the old days. That’s because of the "du" causes a warmer, more personal first contact and makes the atmosphere more comfortable.

But where should we draw the line? For many people it is not clear to whom it is appropriate to use the personal "du" and to whom you should rather choose the polite form "Sie". It will be interesting to follow the development in the coming years. Are we Germans going to take over the Scandinavian model? In Norway some years ago it has been decided by law that everybody has to call everybody "du" and with their first name - except the king.

Taras, Ukraine

Hello! I'm Taras. My native language is Ukrainian. The question of being polite in my language is very similar with English. But it is some difference. For example, to ask formal or polite question to person, you must use first name followed by middle name (e.g. Taras Mykhaylovich, where Mykhaylovich is middle name that is my Father's name plus suffixes ovich for male and ivna for female). Also you may use as in English the phrase Mr, Mrs followed by surname. I’d like to say about 2nd person singular (Ty) and plural (Vy). In English that is just You. So to be polite in Ukrainian you must say Vy. That’s it.

Joe, Japan

Nice to meet you. I'm Joe in Japan. I always enjoy studying English on BBC Learning English. This is my first time to send an e-mail practice.

"Bowing" is the most popular polite greeting in Japan. It is also famous around the world, so you may know about that. However, do you know the meaning of angles?

At the casual situation, for example when we greet our teacher, boss or coworker, we bow with a 15 degree angle. At the business situation, for example when we greet our customer, guest or employer, we bow with a 30 degree angle.

If someone bow to you with a 45 degree or deeper angle, you may VIP guest!

And we also bow to someone deeply when we apologize.

As I said, bowing angles show the strength of respect.

In any angles, we respect someone. Japan is quite polite country!!

Marco, Italy

Hello everyone!

In Italy, if we talk with a friend or with a known person, we can say "grazie" or "grazie mille" at the and of the sentence.

E.G. "Ci vediamo domani, grazie mille" = "See you tomorrow, thanks a lot"

If we talk with an unknown person or an older person we usually use a formal way and, above all, "the third singular person form."

E.G. "Per l'ufficio postale lei deve girare la prima a destra dopo il semaforo" = "To get the Post Office turn right at the first road after the traffic light."

E.G. "Lei sembra più giovane di quello che è." = "You look younger than you are."

For the requests we usually use "per favore" at the end of the sentence.

E.G. "Possiamo ordinare per favore?" = "Can we order please?"

Years ago, when my parents were young, there was another way to talk with an older person (grandfather for example), they used to use the "second plural person form" to respect them.

E.G. "Voi sembrate più giovane di quello che siete" = " You look younger than you are".

Maria, Russia

Thank you for such useful and interesting units.

Being polite helps people to better understand each other. This as universal formula what make all the people easy to communicate. Almost everyone wants to be polite. Unfortunately, when people had got tired and they had some problems with work, etc; they may suddenly say something what might injure other people. And we mayn't cause offence in response to those 'signs of rudeness'.

In Russian younger people say 'Vi' to the elder, and this means they to respect them.

Have a great day.

Edson, Brazil

Dear Sirs, Madams

It is very interesting talk about being polite in Brazil.

Of course, as a general rule, to say "por favor" (please) when asking for something and "obrigado" (thank you) after you have received the service or favor is always very useful and you will get smiles from people you are talking to.

However, there are situations when being polite will not be a good idea.

Of course you can not be rude but polite will appears "too polite".

Many not educated people will understand that you, being polite, will be trying to cheat them!

Gabriel, Argentina


I live in Argentine, we aren't polite, but we are warm. In general, in South America the people they aren't polite.

I'm studyng english, sorry for my mistakes, but I like study in bbc because, I learn about the culture of Britain.

We (My wife and I) going to go to London in May.

Niveen Haddad, Jordan

I'm Niveen from Jordan, and I want to tell you about how to act and being polite with other people as our culture and traditions here ,at first if we want to ask for something or if we need any help we have to use "if you don't mind or please" all the time, and if we are asking somebody old we called them uncle/ aunt plus their first name, also it's preferred in our country to name the married people with "abu" or "um" plus their son's name or their daughter's name when they don't have son, my brother name is samer so most people called my father "abu- samer" and my mother "um-samer", Jordanian people are very kind and polite even though we don't smile all the time, but don't be afraid, our nickname is "nashama" cause we help anyone in need.

best regards.

Carlos, Brazil

Hi everbody.

My name is Carlos Smicelato and I am from Brazil. In Brazil, we use the word Mr (senhor) ou Mrs (dona ou senhora) when we talk with an older person, but often we use the first name. We never use the family name in formal conversation. Between the young people, is normal use the first name simply.



Hi i l love to share my story about how polite can change your life..

Since six monthes i went to apply for my daughters in new school then i met the students affair represented who i felt she is lawer than me in education but she has a job but i'm not...indeed i envy her ...

So i decided i apply for a job in same school but she was the one who responsible about c.v and interview so i thought she felt that i treated her rude or inrespect...and my c.v denied...

Yesterday i went again to apply in same  school but she didn't remember me ...and i began conversation in polite way and use eye contact to show her respect ...guess what ..she offered to let me see H.R now although it was too early and no one was in duty ...and she said you should wait i like you and i like you shyness!!

I met the H.R ..then G.M and i got the job

So all that happen yesterday and i learn that people always like polite manners and they may help you without know you only for your politness.

Philippe, Belgium

Hello everybody,

I am Belgian, and you must know there are two different languages and cultures in my country: Dutch, which is spoken in the north part of the country, and French in the other part.

I speak French, but my wife speaks Dutch because she comes from Flanders (we are the perfect Belgian couple !).

My culture is very close to the French one, of course. When I ask what time it is to someone I do not know, I usually say in French: “Puis-je vous demander quelle heure il est, s'il vous plait ?” = “Could I ask you what time it is, please ?”.

Of course, this is the formal and very polite way to ask, but you can also ask it more merely like: “Quelle heure est-il, s'il vous plaît ?” = “What time is it, please ?”.

The expression “s'il vous plaît” = “Please” is very important if you want to remain polite.

But in French, there is also another word very important when you speak with an unknown person or an elderly one: the word “Vous”. This pronoun is used for the second person of the plural conjugation. But also when you speak to someone you meet for the first time or an elderly people.

If you say: “Tu” = “You” to an unknown people, it is very impolite. You must say: “Vous”. Nevertheless, when you are becoming closer or familiar with this same person, you can carry on saying: “Tu”.

Then, in the same day, you can say to someone: “Comment allez-vous ?”. And a bit latter, when you are both closer: “Tu veux une tasse de café ?”

Francois, France

My name is Francois. I'm French. French people are often considered as rather impolite, which is sometimes true, especially with tourists. Nevertheless, a lot of rules of polite behavior are shared as shaking hand when you meet other people or using the family name with people you first meet or you don’t know very well. I have to admit that bad habits should be broken as littering or spitting in the street. Even though, since I’m used to traveling around the world, I can testify that it’s not a only French habit! But in France we haven't any justification of a cultural behavior…

Maisa, Jordan

Indeed I agree totally to speak more carefully with others due to their manner or their reaction, so everyone could say as what he or she raises in their countries, and that depend absolutely on the environment for them, either for how that countries thought.

So , I see in Arab countries particularly or especially in the Middle East the whole or most of them feeling upset and sadness when any one say for them for instance:" speak please in polite way". May be that means speak in calm or do not shout on me. So it sounds ugly manner.

Any way, on the other side I think speak carefully especially with whom feeling sensitive that from close or nearest people, either it might we know their manner when they hear like this word like politeness. For example in my country many of people upset and angry when use that" please speak in polite" and we clarify that we do not mean you are not polite but mean be calm, and be cool, so please do not shout or raising your voice when you talk.

However people who far away than you know, I see speaking or dealing them more formal because we do not know them also we do not know their thought in case that happened and we need to using polite in our speech. Like using this expression, could you please, if you could do this favor, I was wondering whether you could helping me, and so on.

Finaly, in my opinion to speak with others in formal bahaviour especially with whom we do not know them exactly or do not have this adjective to be easygoing, even if they think we are egotistical.

Arvydas, Lithuania

In my country people are polite but sometimes it is very formal. We use word "Jūs" (eng. we) when ask women, older and unknown person, and "Tu" (eng. we) when we well know the person. Sometimes the older people used the word "Tamsta" it's between "Jūs" and "Tu'

In general in my country is common use a polite language and it is more and more popular to be polite with someone.

Irina, Republic of Moldova

In my opinion people in the place I live are generally polite. If you are not familiar with a person you are talking to, you address to him or her with words ""Mr., Mrs. or Miss". If you already know this person but he or she is superior, you say "Mr/Mrs. + surname or first name". Normally people greet each other, shake their hands, and express their gratitude by saying "Thank you" or say to you cheerful words like "Have a nice day", "Good luck" etc. People try to avoid rude and offensive words and apologize for doing this "Excuse me. I am sorry". People are not so direct and they use a lot of indirect phrases.

Fernando, Mexico

Hi, my name is Fernando I'm from Mexico.

To be polite speaking spanish we use "usted" it's an impersonal and very formal variant of "tú" (you). We usually use form for people who we don't know, older persons or with superior range like a professors or bosses, in some families even to their parents, but it is more common at rural and northern parts of the country.

Nevertheless, the younger adults do not like than other call their by “usted” because make their feel older and they say “por favor, tutéame” (please, speak me by you/informal form). “Tutear” is not a real word it’s only a local expression.

Nur, Turkey

Hello friends,

My name is Nur from Turkey. In my country, politeness is important. Our attitude is very polite to old people.Because we respect old people.If we meet a person for the first time, we speak he or she very polite. we don’t give order and don’t speak loudly. In a cafe or restaurant we say ‘please’ ‘can you bring me a coffee, please’ etc. We don’t want to trouble he or she.

In a post office, hospital,ticket office etc. we say ‘’could you tell me… ‘’.

So our culture is respectful and polite.

Ewelina, Poland

Nowadays politeness is a waning trait globally, isn't it? People, not only in Poland, stop caring about their behavour towards others, because we all live like singles, don't know and sometimes even don't want to get to know others, even thought we live in the same community, in the same block or work in the same company. I think it is a side effect of careerism, especially in big cities, where people often consider others like their competitor or even enemy.The reason for it is an envy. Many years ago Poland was rather poor country, people lived in small towns, on a similar level, earned similar money and didn't have much wealth but over recent years the imparity between richness of ones and poverty of others becomes visible. This generates frustration and consequently unkindess. Being aware of some reasons we should act to prevent becoming the most impolite generation in modern history. And that is what I ask you all over the world, please ;)

Rennan, Brazil 

In my country, the people use much informal language with friends,
however, we are polite with oldest people and relatives.
But it depend of each person. When we tell to somene by first time we are polite too.
however I has realized that the people nowadays are less polite than oldest people.

Rafael Moreno, Venezuela

Venezuelan people are not very polite, it's usual to find people without the manners they should, politeness it’s more usual to an authority like the boss or some parents.
I've noticed it's pretty usual to find some kind of rude attendants in stores and even more in public offices.
I'm from San Cristóbal The Andes part of the country, people here were famous for being kind and polite, but in the lasts years the society in general has become to worst so there is no more politeness, people are usually in a bad mood.

Raúl, Spain

I'm from Canary island (Spain) here the people is very friendly, when you meet a woman you give her two kisses on the cheek and if you meet a man, you give him a handshake.
If you want to call somebody, you have to say the first name and we say the third person plural "you".

Mehmet, Turkey

In my country, we use different ways of politness. When we come across with some people somewhere, if we know each other usually greeted with cheek kissing. If we don't, only shake hands. At workplace, people often don't call other by first name instead they add "sir" for men and "miss" for women followed by the person's first name.

Denis, Ukraine

I want to tell you some facts about what means to be polite in Ukraine:

1. Due to the fact that Ukraine is constantly changing the president, the government and the Supreme Council, you must be very polite to supporters of different political parties.

2. Since the people of Ukraine want to join the European Union, we must be polite to residents of EU and to know English. Ukraine has declared the 2016 year – the year of English language.



I wonder if you would like to listen to News Report. Yes? Go to the next activity to listen. This time it's all about fame, fortune and sporting personalities. Do you think it's an easy life being a sports star? Well, the reality may not be so much fun! Find out in the programme.

Session Vocabulary

  • cold
    (here) without feeling; unemotional

    body language
    movements and positions your body makes that communicate your attitudes and feelings

    eye contact
    when you and another person look into each other's eyes