When I first came to Brazil the English school that I worked at had a cafe at the back that sold things like little pies, sandwiches, drinks and sweets. They did a roaring trade during the breaks and made a pretty penny off me as I was in the school the whole day and the cafe was just behind the teachers’ room.
With my very poor Portuguese I would go and ask for a sandwich or a juice or a bar of chocolate and always say ‘por favor‘ at the end of my request. There were often smiles and sniggers from the lady serving, but I just assumed that was because of my bad pronunciation until one day she couldn’t help herself and started openly laughing in front of me. I was of course mortally embarrassed but I wanted to know what I was doing wrong. One of the Brazilian teachers translated for me and told me that the woman in the cafe thought I was just so cute because I always said ‘por favor‘ when practically nobody else ever did this.
I was stunned. For me saying ‘por favor’ or ‘please’ is just a natural part of making a request. I don’t even think about it, it just comes out on its own. And it is true. Unless you are really trying to be over-polite or are almost begging for something, Brazilians do not generally use ‘por favor’. They usually say ‘obrigado,’ or some other equivalent, but not ‘por favor.’
Many of my Brazilian friends think that the English are so much more polite that they are, partly because of this need to say ‘please’ after everything. I tell them that it isn’t true, that just because we say a few words doesnt mean we actually mean it, it is just something that we are trained to do. They look at me with a knowing grin as if to say, ‘you are such a polite person for not wanting to seem superior in your good manners and politeness.’ What can I do?
In bringing up Thomas I am trying to make sure that he says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. At the moment he hasn’t got the hang of saying ‘thank you’ or ‘ta’ or ‘obrigado‘ or anything. But he is starting to get the idea of saying ‘please’. Except, when Thomas says it is more like ‘daddy, pee’. I’m not worried about the pronunciation, though, more the fact that he has started to use it.
Usually I have to remind him to say ‘please’. He’ll ask me to open the pot of play dough and I’ll look at him and ask ‘What do you say?’ and he’ll nod his head and say ‘daddy, pee.’ Last night he did actually say it without being prompted. I had a burger and chips and he wanted some of my chips. The first couple of times he needed to be reminded, but then he said ‘daddy, more, pee’. I was chuffed to bits.
And of course now I have a reason to have more burgers and chips.
What about you? Is it important in your culture to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you?’ Are you bringing up your kids to be polite like this and how are you going about it?
Now here is a man who knew how to say please. James Brown – Please, Please, Please.