Formalities in language among friends

In another thread, I brought up the fact that a Brit friend of mine told me how a response to the question “How are you?” should include the word “thanks.” To my American ears, this sounds very formal. If I heard “Fine, thanks,” or “Not bad, thanks,” coming from a good friend of mine, the “thanks” would definitely stick out as being out of place.

The other thing that came up in that thread was using please. At a table with a friend of mine, I’d say, “Could you hand me the salt?” without adding a “please.” The “could you” has already added a level of politeness to the somewhat rude standalone “pass me the salt.” An extra “please” would sound odd. This makes me wonder if it would apply in slightly less formal situations than the dinner table, for instance “Could you hand me that hammer?”

Hell, with good friends, it doesn’t even sound odd to say, “Hey, lend me a buck?” if you realize you’re in a store without your wallet. Of course, the “Could you lend me a buck?” is acceptable, but again, adding the please would be a little strange to me.

Keep in mind that this is between/among people who are friends or close friends. It doesn’t apply to acquaintances or bosses.


  1. What country are you from, and how old are you?
  2. Do you say “thanks” with (all/most) pleasantries?
  3. Hi, Obama!
  4. Do you say “please” with (all/most) requests?

I’m not looking for this to be restricted to just a poll, so anything else you want to weigh in about on this would be appreciated.

I’m American in my mid 20s.

  1. American, 30s
  2. Yes, always thanks.
  3. Yes, always please.

If I don’t actually say the word thanks, I will say something else that passes for thanks, such as “I’m doing well, how sweet of you to ask.”

I would be a little judgmental, truth be told, of a person who didn’t add a please to pass the salt.

  1. Mid-twenties, Canadian
  2. Often, but depends on the phrasing and who’s asking. Probably about 70 % of the time.
  3. Almost always, yes.

60+, American
Please and thank you always. Why not be polite to the people closest to you?

US, 53.

  1. U.S., 16
  2. No, not among friends. I would say thanks by itself when required, though.
  3. No, not among friends. I probably wouldn’t say it in a store or restaurant either, although it depends how nice it is.

I don’t know why, but from a young age I never could remember/be bothered to say “Sir” or “Ma’am” in most casual instances, either. It really would depend on the level of respect and/or deference the person in question deserves: Senator—please and thank you, sir, Burger King worker—not so much. I agree with you that it would seem strange for me to answer “How are you?” with “Good, thanks,” instead of just “Good.” I already stick out a little among my friends because I don’t curse, anyway.

Vox Imperatoris

  1. England, 33
  2. Yes
  3. Yes

“Thanks” or “Thank you” are changed to “cheers” or “ta” when it’s informal or just amongst friends. Funnily enough the English upbringing of saying please and thank you has leached over to my Danish, I use the Danish “tak” probably far more often than a lot of Danes do since it feels odd to end a request without “please”.

Now that’s one thing I’ve found odd from my time in the US, “Sir” or “Madam” is almost unknown in the UK but it’s used more heavily in the US where “please” and “thank you” could be considered less common.

One point I could never get a decisive answer on when I was in the US, American sons calling their Dad “sir”…does this still happen, did it ever happen? I’ve heard this as a yes and a no, but could never understand calling your Dad “sir”.

Funnily enough though I’ve picked up my Dad’s habit of calling people “sir” in an informal manner. A customer I’ve been working with on a project for months might call me up and I’ll answer with “good morning sir”, it’s funny when you can trace back these odd things.

India, 28. (Lived in England since 2004, though)

  1. Almost always.
  2. Almost always.

Before I moved here, I did some construction work in India with an international group of people, some of whom were English, and I learnt later that some of them were quite offended by my way of asking them to do things. I used to say “Hey, can you put your weight on that beam there?” and that would be interpreted as an order, but as far as I was concerned, it was a request without all the fluffy politeness. I’ve learned wisdom since then, though, and almost always add a please and a thanks.

  1. American, late 20’s
  2. No. Not with friends.
  3. No. Not with friends.

I tend to speak very informally with friends. I’m living abroad and I spend enough time having stiff formal conversations- when I with friends it’s all “What’s up!” and “Lend me a buck, yo!”

I do say “thank you” pretty much all the time for everything, but not really when making requests.

God, I love Americans sometimes. Straightforward people, we are.

  1. American, late 20’s
  2. No. Not with friends.
  3. No. Not with friends.

I tend to speak very informally with friends. I’m living abroad and I spend enough time having stiff formal conversations- when I with friends it’s all “What’s up!” and “Lend me a buck, yo!”

I do say “thank you” pretty much all the time for everything, but not really when making requests.

God, I love Americans sometimes. Straightforward people, we are.

[li]Oztralian, 42[/li][li]Usually*[/li][li]Usually*[/li][/ol]

  • unless being ironically disagreeable.
  1. Spain, 40.
  2. Usually.
  3. Usually, although with friends it can be a reduced informal version (“porfa”) or a joking version (“porfa con nata por encima y que Dios Nuestro Señor le dé a usté salud siiiita…” - please with sugar on top and may the Good Lord grant you health maaaaaaa’am) instead of the normal expression (“por favor”).
  1. Ireland, 30.
  2. Always
  3. Always, would be rude not to.

Thats something I’ve noticed too. You never really hear “Sir” or “Madam” over here. I have an American friend who used to call his father “Sir” which I found very strange. Also strange was visiting the US this year and having everyone call me “M’am.” It took me a while to realise they were talking to me, it just felt so odd and kind of chilling for some reason.

  1. South Africa, 20. My parents are British, which may have some influence.
  2. Well, it varies depending on the tone of the other party. So, if a friend asks “How are you?” then my response would be “Fine, thanks” or “Not so great, thanks”. But if they’re more casual, my response is also probably going to be more casual.
  3. Varies depending on the situation. At the dinner table, definitely “Please could you…” or “Would you mind…”. Other situations, it would vary, but I would definitely at least say “Could you…” or something similar. Just giving an instruction like “Pass the salt” would seem very impolite to me.

My grandmother, who went to a posh boarding-school in the 1930s, was trained that if you wanted someone to pass the salt at the dinner table, the only polite way to do it was to ask her “Would you like some salt?”. She would be expected to respond “No, thanks. Would you like some?” at which point you could politely reply “Yes, please.” and expect her to pass it. If the other person was being nasty, of course, she could just say “No, thanks, I’ve got it here.” and pretend not to understand. :dubious:

  1. What country are you from, and how old are you? USA (bi-regional–South and North), 38.

  2. Do you say “thanks” with (all/most) pleasantries? Hmmm…with close friends (and even some acquaintances/co-workers), I might say something like, “I’m all right, I reckon. How you doin’?”, with the “How you doin’?” understood, I think, to imply “thanks”. I do interchange, though, with “I’m all right (or some variation), thanks/thank you. And you/how you doin’?” It depends on how I’m feeling at the moment, really. For people with whom I have more formal relationships, though, I use the latter, sometimes, depending on the situation/how I’m feeling, without adding the “And you?”.

  3. Hi, Obama! WIN, Obama! Please?

  4. Do you say “please” with (all/most) requests? Oh, yes–even with my closest friends. For me, saying “please” to everyone is simply good manners. Having said that, I do think that, informally at least, something like “Would you mind/would it be okay with you if…?” (depending on what you’re asking for) can also be acceptable.

In my experience, this is more of a Southern thing (I grew up addressing my grandparents and their peers as “Sir/Ma’am”, though I was never required to do so with my parents), but it’s probably not as entrenched today as it was when I was growing up. I imagine that at some time years ago, the practice of addressing one’s parents (especially one’s father) in this manner was much more widespread in the U.S., and not just a regional practice. Perhaps a Doper who is older than I (and from somewhere other than the South) can clear this up.

  1. India/Japan, 26
  2. Yes
  3. Mostly
  1. American (southern)
  2. Yes, most always
    3 Yes, most always

I figured out a long time ago that being considerate of other people helped me get along with folks tremendously. I don’t mean that I’m one of those forcefully cheerful people, but I’m cordial and respectful to everyone. Anyway, I most always will say “good, thanks” or “would you hand me that salt please”. I’m that way with strangers, with friends, with my family. The nurses even teased me about it when I was in the hospital last year - heavily sedated, being poked like a pincushion and subjected to various humilities - still with the ‘yes ma’am’. :stuck_out_tongue:

It’s funny how people are about “ma’am” and “sir”. For a zillion years this was considered standard politeness in the South, and I, like most people here, use it automatically (especially ma’am). There are women nowadays who dislike it intensely. They seem to think it means that they are ‘old’. That’s hilarious to me because I even say ‘ma’am’ to little toddler girls.

(Sampiro-esque aside: you will notice that Morgan Freeman is one of the rare actors who knows how to pronouce the shortened version of “no, ma’am”, which is kinda like ‘no’um’. You can hear this in the movie Driving Miss Daisy.)

It’s interesting for me to see how many people view dropping the “please” from requests or “thanks” from pleasantries as less polite. To me, that sort of (mild) overpoliteness strikes me as a bit odd at best or a little rude/condescending at worst. I think that the closer I am with a person, the less I have to worry about acting differently than I would act were I alone.

For example, were I at a close friend’s place watching a movie or something, and wanted a drink from the fridge, I’d feel more uncomfortable if he got up and got it for me rather than letting me get it myself. With the “brother from another mother” “mi casa, su casa” types, it might be “Hey, Ima get a coke, you want anything?” With just good friends, it might be “You mind if I grab a coke? Want anything?”

They have something similar in Japan, where the less casual the relationship, the more formal the language becomes. I’ve heard (though not experienced) that the more “annoyed” you become with someone, the more icily polite the conversation becomes.

I recognize that my views are pretty stereotypically American (though clearly not universally American, judging from some of the responses here), and like even sven says, I like the fact that American social interactions allow for that kind of casualness (not that there aren’t others that do as well). It’s especially refreshing after navigating through layers of Japanese politesse (even though I guess it’s a little different where I am in quasi-“redneck” Japan, where the oji-chans (and sometimes oba-chans :eek:) pee unabashedly on the roadside, in gardens, and on buildings).

  1. 55, US
  2. Yup
  3. Hi yourself
  4. Yup

And I never learned that from my parents, not that they are rude, but we were never a “formal” household. It’s always been just second nature to me to be polite.

Also, neighbors and family friends growing up were not Mr. and Mrs., but almost always known by their first names – and I’m talking about from childhood. Go figure.

Thank you for asking :smiley: