Whatever happened to "please"?

In another thread a waiter/waitress said they liked customers to say please and thank you. This got me thinking about “please”.

I moved to the US (Atlanta) from the UK 6 years ago and was surprised to find that almost nobody says “please”. Listen to an order being placed in a restaurant and it will be “get me a coke”, or “I’ll have a coke.” I lived in the US in the 80s (D.C. area) and I don’t recall an absence of “please” then.

I find myself falling into the same habit, which makes me viewed as being terribly rude when I go back to England and order in the same way.

So, to the Americans here: do you say please when ordering? If not, why not - were you not raised to do so or has the habit fallen out of fashion?

I make a point of saying please and thank you. I don’t remember being having to saying it as a child. I think I just decided to do it because i find it asthetically pleasing to me. I also say thank you whenever I can find a chance. It doesn’t take anything from my day, it nevers hurts or offends, (sarcastic “thanks a lot” aside), and sometimes I think that the recipient finds value in the recognition even though it is small.
I belive whole heartedly in using the three magic words-
please, dammit and thankyou.
Dammit is the substitute for please.

pass the ketchup, please vs pass the catsup, dammit
thank you

I think it is out of fashion with churls.



I don’t necessarily say please when ordering food, although we’ve taught the kids to say please and thank you all the time, so they’ll say it.

I will say thank you when the food is served and my water glass is refilled.

I guess it’s a request thing. If I had to ask for something, I’ll say please. But since the server is asking me what I want, I don’t say please. I’m not rude, of course; she asks a question and I answer it.

I agree with ivylass. If a waitress comes to my table, and says “what can I get for you?”, since I’m merely answering a question that she’s asking, saying please is not necessary. I will add “please” if I’m making a special request (“could you please bring some extra butter?”). Also, when the food is brought, plates taken, glasses refilled, etc., I do say thank you.

I use ‘please’ – even when I lived in Atlanta. :wink:
It’s simple politeness to me - I say ma’am and sir, please and thank you. It doesn’t hurt me any to say it to the waitress, so why should I not do it then?

Ordering in a restaurant is just the most obvious example I could think of. You will also hear people asking “have you got the time” or “where are the <whatever>”, both situations where I would expect to hear “please” at the end, but rarely do in the US.

Hijacking my own thread slightly: while people in the US often do not say please, they almost always say “you’re welcome”. So common exchanges are:


What time is it, please?
7 O’Clock
Thank you.


What time is it?
7 O’Clock
Thank you
You’re welcome
I’m not saying that the US style is rude. It is obvious that the people not saying please do not regard themselves as being rude. Nevertheless, they would be regarded as being rude in the UK. And maybe Brits are regarded as being rude in the US for rarely saying “you’re welcome”. Maybe it’s just a cultural difference.

However, my OP is asking whether the lack of “please” is relatively recent (last 15 years), or whether it has always been that way.

We always say, “please.” My wife is an ex-waitress, which may partially explain this practice (as well as the fact that we tend to over-tip).

Then there is the question of the manner in which “please” is uttered–here, it could be interpreted to be bordering on the imperious, as opposed to the more relaxed dropping of it (by Americans).

Often overly officious use of polite terms masks and abets very impolite aggression or assumptions of superiority.

Hmm, also in Atlanta, native Georgian here.

I’m not sure I always say “Please” when ordering food. I think we used to do that more often than we do it now though.

I’m more likely to avoid sounding peremptory by saying something like “Could I have the prime rib?” since saying bluntly what you want seems a bit rude to me.

That said, however, I DO say “Thank you” AND try to look the server in the eye when they bring the food or refill my drink. I want to actually see the person, not just acknowledge the server, if that makes any sense.

A person can be polite and gracious without having to say please. I feel a backlash towards people who expect you to say please and get angry if you don’t. That is far ruder than not following someone elses code of behaviour.

Me: Could I have the microfilm for this file?
Librarian: Pardon?
Me: Could I have the microfilm for this file?
Librarian: Pardon?
Me: (louder) Could I have the microfilm for this file?
Librarian: Pardon?
Me: (thinking she was slightly deaf, even louder) Could I have the microfilm for this file?
Student behind me: She’s waiting for you to say please

Jesus, thanks for wasting the time of everyone in the lineup and trying to force your values on others. I have no patience for that kind of crap.

My old BF used to berate me–and sometimes deliver lengthy lectures–when I would say “please” and “thank you” to salespeople, waiters, etc. He said that because these people were paid to serve me, my use of these courtesies demonstrated my own ill-breeding to anyone who might be listening.

I’m not with him anymore, for a lot of reasons . . . but this was #1.

I now say “please” and “thank you” to whoever the hell I want.

Sometimes I say please, sometimes not. Depends on the situation. If she has asked for my order (i.e. requested information) I don’t say please. However, if I’ve walked up to the counter and there is an air of “expectation” for me to talk, I just state my order and then say “please”.

I always say thank you.

Then usually I pull out a Kalashinokov and blow them all away. Sometimes it jams and I look like an idiot. Other times it works and shoots cardboard boxes. In the end, it’s all good.

I agree. I often find it slightly “off-putting” (for want of a better term) when someone uses the term “please.” I know this sounds funny, especially to those who consider please the sine qua non of polite conversation, and I can’t quite explain why this is. I guess cleops’s explanation is better than anything I can come up with. As I think about it, I often find it more natural and less, well I guess “agressive,” to express my request as a question, as in “could you pass the salt?” than as an imperative with the word “please,” as in “please pass the salt.” I don’t want to suggest that people on this board are being “aggressive” whenever they use the word please, because I certainly don’t think that’s the case. But, like cleops, I do think that people often use the word please as a cover for some fairly aggressive imperious behavior.

Especially when I am writing emails, again I find that I shy away from the word “please,” and tend to form my request as a question. To me the difference is subtle but important. When I email someone on our support staff and say “could you see if you could locate File X” I really mean it as a question: are you able (because you have the time, necessary information, etc.) to locate this file and bring it to me? On the other hand, if I were to say “please bring me the file,” I feel like I am saying, “just do it.” Granted, I’m being “polite” because I’m using the word “please,” but the first formulation feels to me like a request–and therefore less “chain of commaned,” and the second feels like a polite order.


I was raised with ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I expect them to be used when I am asked for something, and I therefore use them whenever I am in a situation where something - information, goods, services, food, whatever - is changing hands. In fact, one of the main issues I have with the area where we live is the lack of common courtesy from customer service people. It just seems rude to omit those tiny little words, and they do make such a difference.

Since we’re in a politeness thread, I must admit that the substitution of “No problem” for “Thank you” IS a problem.


Please excuse my mild hijack.

Think the language in the UK could be an influence from Indian English? I’ve noticed that in dealing with many Indian-Americans, requests are issued as commands, such as …

“You will be fetching me a glass of water”
“You will be telling me how to get to I-90”
“You will be telling me how to reveal codes in WordPerfect”

… and so on.

I think this can be solved by putting please at the end of your question. “Could you pass the salt please” does not sound at all imperious to me, whereas I do understand your concerns about “please pass the salt”. I agree that forming the request as a question is better. “Pass the salt” would be even worse than “please pass the salt”.