Habits, Tics and Verbal Twitches

People have habits, both in behaviour and in speech (yes, more about words today). Adolescents – and an unfortunate amount of young adults – say like way more often than necessary. Overhearing conversations on the street or in foodcourts where a third of the words is like can drive a person to distraction and dangerously close to performing a language intervention. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fantasized about grabbing the girl – because it’s almost always a girl – giving her a good shake and a gift certificate to a dictionary.

When I first moved to Toronto, it took me a long time to learn that when people of the North American persuasion said “hi, how are you?” they didn’t actually want to know how I was, causing me to overshare the details of my health and well-being for longer that I'm comfortable remembering. Only if the exchange goes like this

X: Hi, how are you?
Me: I’m fine thanks, how are you?
X: Doing well. How are you?

do they really want to know how I’m doing. It’s very confusing. But I think this one’s pretty universal to North America.

Nations also have habits. Tics, even. For Canadians, it’s apologizing. It’s ubiquitous to the point of being pandemical (is that a word? It is now). Wherever you go, you will hear the phrase "I'm sorry" an awful lot and it is so ingrained that if you bump into someone, the bumper and bumpee will both blurt out “I’m sorry”. I imagine it has a lot to do with the reputation of Canadians as being terribly polite.

In Denmark, it's all about the thank you. I was reminded of this the other day when a friend in not so many words told me to quit expressing gratitude quite so much, but it is as ingrained in me as the I'm sorry has become. In the old country, if someone invites you to dinner, you would naturally say thank you if this is done by telephone or call to give your RSVP if the invitation is in writing.

As an aside, can I just have a rant for a moment? It's about the RSVP. It appears to be a foreign concept on this side of the pond. Or rather, responding to the request. It can be noted on anything from an invitation to a children's birthday party, a regular party (obviously, more informal) and all the way up to a wedding and people will blithely ignore calling you to let you know if they're coming, leaving you up the creek in terms of loot bags, party snacks and/or wedding favours and if they do say there'll come, but develop some reason not to, they won't call you to let you know that, either. Drives me ‘round the bend.

Where was I? Right. The Danish person in question has just thanked their friend for the invitation to dinner. Then you show up on the designated day, carrying flowers or bottle of wine and thank the host again. After dinner, you thank them for delightful meal, when you leave, you say thank you for a lovely evening and then you call the next day and thank them all over again. This is probably as confusing for immigrants to Denmark as the how are yous was for me.

Your thoughts? Any regional verbal twitches you want to share?


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