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Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL


© 2012 Klaus Bung

Teachers tell you WHAT to learn, IDYLL (R) shows you HOW to learn it.

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Klaus Bung:
Kiss me, honey, honey, kiss me,
How universal are "Please" and "Thank you"?

A visitor to England was so astonished by the frequent use of "Please" and "Thank you" that he enquired why an English general has to say "Please" when he requests his soldiers to attack. In this essay we explore the use of these words in English and in other cultures. You will also learn why it is sometimes a good idea to hold hands with the policeman who arrests you (but not if you are a woman), where to kiss your girlfriend in peace and quiet when it is forbidden by the religious police (or the inquisition) and why 350 words of Arabic can be immensely useful.

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2012-03-08 Kiss me, honey, honey, kiss me,
How universal are "Please" and "Thank you"?


KISS = Keep it simple, stupid

Once upon a time, long before any of us were born, stunning Shirley Bassey recorded a song which contains two imperatives: "Kiss me" and "Thrill me". She orders her lover. Unlike English generals, she doesn't bother to say "Please". And when it's all over, neither of them says "Thank you". Is that nice?


Now listen to Shirley Bassey and try to spot the "Please". Does she say it in Version 1, or in Version 2?

Rendering 1 | Rendering 2

(Written by Albon Timothy / Michael Julien)
Shirley Bassey - 1958 or 1959

Kiss me, honey, honey, kiss me
Thrill me, honey, honey, thrill me
Don't care even if I blow my top
But, honey, honey, don't stop
I'd like to play a little game with you
A little game especially made for two
If you come close then I will show you how
Closer, closer, now

Kiss me, honey, honey, kiss me
Thrill me, honey, honey, thrill me
Don't care even if I blow my top
But, honey, honey, don't stop

We've never played this little game before
If you relax then you'll enjoy it more
Just settle down and let me teach you how
Closer, closer, now

Kiss me, honey, honey, kiss me
Thrill me, honey, honey, thrill me
Don't care even if I blow my top
But, honey, honey, don't stop
(But, honey, honey, don't stop)

You kiss so well my lips begin to burn
And I can tell I've got a lot to learn
So hold me close and darling show me how
Closer, closer, now

Kiss me, honey, honey, kiss me
Thrill me, honey, honey, thrill me
Don't care even if I blow my top
But, honey, honey, don't stop
(Don't care even if I blow my top)
But, honey, honey, don't stop
(Never stop)

I am writing this from the British perspective. The US perspective is often, but not always, different.

"Please" and "Thank you" are very important in English culture. English people feel that it is innate, fundamental for human existence. If you do not include "please" in every request, you are basically rude, uneducated (and close to immoral LOL). You are beyond the pale. (idiom) The same goes for the "Thank you." English people assume that this is the same in all languages.

In fact this is not the case. There may be a few languages in the world where "Please/Thank you" are as important as in English, but there are many in which they are not.

If you are a speaker of a language where "Please/Thank you" are NOT obligatory, then you have to make a great effort to use these expressions in English, and the earlier you learn this the better.

Languages where "Please/Thank you" are not obligatory

I am surrounded by speakers of Gujarati and have lived in their company for 20 years. I never managed to learn the language properly but I understand a few words. I have not yet managed to find out how you say "Please" in Gujarati (a northern Indian language).

I frequently receive communications from friends in India or Pakistan which sound like orders (i.e. which sound rude) because the "Please" is missing.

  • Send me money. My brother needs it.
  • Give me your shoes.
  • I have to write an essay on D H Lawrence for my English course. You write it for me. It has to be in by Saturday. Make sure it is good. (LOL)
  • I want to complain about the bad positioning of the telephone mast near my village. The letter must be in good English. Then the telephone company will be impressed by my class, education and power. They will be scared of me. You write it. I want it tomorrow.
  • The BBC World Service are having a live discussion on fundamentalism. On-line. What should I say? Send it immediately, before the programme ends. 10 more minutes to go. It must sound like a good Muslim. (LOL) Hurry up. Where are you?

The funny side of it

Most English people (if they have not travelled widely) would be offended by such "requests"; they do not know that other cultures are different.

I, by contrast, am tickled pink (idiom!), i.e. I am highly amused. I think it is charming (because it is incorrect) and, of course, a sign that the people sending these messages feel close to me. For me, this is a compliment. I am pleased.

Note: "I am tickled pink" = "I find it very funny and enjoyable"

But these people are not inhuman or rude. They are normal. British people are "abnormal" in their rigid expectation of "Please/Thank you".

But you as learners must adjust to the expectations of your target culture (in this case British). The British have a right to expect, that, when you are learning their language, you also adjust to their manners. It is in your interest to do so.

English people are NOT more polite than other cultures. But they manifest their politeness in different ways, e.g. the use of "Please" and "Thank you", understatement, irony, their so-called hypocrisy when they do not openly criticise something they hate, their reluctance to complain in public, etc. If they hear something outrageously stupid, they do not instantly say "You idiot", but they will say "How very interesting!", with an intonation which only they but not the "idiot" will correctly interpret. What they mean IS "You idiot!" If you were not an idiot, you would realise that. So English people are not hypocritical when they do that but rather YOU are ignorant of English culture.

Spaniards in England fail to say "Please"

I remember that at a time when buses here still had bus conductors (ticket collectors) who walked through the bus to take your fare (= money) and give you a ticket, you had to say "Leicester Square, please" or "Notting Hill Gate, please", etc. Or "Twenty pence, please".

"Please" is short for "If it pleases you" (= if you like it); French: "s'il vous plaît".

I had many Spanish friends at the time. They got on a bus and omitted the "Please". Sometimes they were told off by the conductor or other passengers: "Can't you say Please? Have you no manners!"

They were puzzled by this and said: "Why should we say Please? It is his job to give us a ticket. He HAS to give us the ticket, whether he likes it or not. He will be sacked if he doesn't."

Supping with Saddam's henchmen

Note: English proverb: He who sups with the devil must use a long spoon.

I recently heard an American woman express her consternation that in certain Islamic countries even married couples do not hold hands in public. "What's wrong with that?" she mused. Especially since men ARE allowed to hold hands.

Knowing this stood me in good stead when, in the golden days of Saddam Hussain, I was arrested by a policeman in Baghdad. He was worried about my camera at a time when, unlike today, Western faces were very rare. I immediately put him at ease and did not wait for his handcuffs to come out, but took his hand like a good friend and said, in the broken rudimentary Arabic I had at the time: "Yes. We are friends. Show me your police station. I am a friend of the Iraqi people and of the Baath Revolution and of your glorious President. He is your father, and he is my father."

This greatly impressed him, and he was happy to have found such a nice friend. Hand in hand, we walked through the crowds to his post. It was a dingy room inside a mosque complex, with a large inner courtyard, as everybody knows from pictures of Mecca.

When we arrived, the only person present was the chief. He spoke no English, I spoke no Arabic (except a list of about 350 words, largely nouns).

I explained to him, with those 350 words, my profound knowledge of, and respect for, Iraqi law, especially concerning photography, listed all the nouns I knew and stated after each whether it was legal to photograph it or not. I divided the known world into halal and haram, the realms of God and of the Devil.

Arabic words

and so on for 10 minutes, very succinctly, item by item, until I had reached the end of my litany.

Gradually word spread in the precinct about the rare bird they had caught, and nobody wanted to miss the spectacle. Whenever I reached the end of my very finite list of Arabic nouns, I would, talking for my life like Scheherazade, start from the beginning. More and more astonished policemen would arrive at the station, arrange their chairs around me in a semi-circle and stare at their boy-wonder. This white thing could speak. It knew the law. It loved Iraq. It seemed to be almost human - like an Iraqi. (Iraqis definitely ARE human. Everybody knows that. They speak Arabic. God's own language.)

I was like the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple surrounded by the scribes and scholars (Bible, New Testament, Luke 2:41 ff). It was like being in an amphitheatre, with an affectionate approving audience. In the end I had twenty-five policemen listening to my recitation. Eventually the chief cordially shook hands and told me I was free. I could photograph whatever I liked. I was a good man, in spite of my deplorably unhealthy colour. He recommended more sunshine and an Iraqi diet.

I was reluctant to leave this hospitable place and my many new-found friends and admirers in a strange country.

I asked for water. Great consternation. They had offended against a great rule of Arab hospitality. When they brought me in, they had not offered me any water - in a hot country like Iraq.

But similarly embarrassing, these poor chaps (= US "guys") had no water tap (= US "faucet") at their dusty office.

I had discovered that their drinking water was in a bucket with a ladle, in a corner. They had no cups and no glasses. Would I, obviously only beginning to be civilised (only 350 words of Arabic), know how to drink it (i.e. pour it from the ladle into my mouth without touching the ladle with my lips). You must not touch a ladle which has to be shared by 25 thirsty policemen.

But I think they were also rushing around, arguing amonst themselves how to solve another problem, because they thought that I, as a foreigner and a guest in their country, could not be offered luke-warm water from a bucket. I re-assured them of my friendship, I needed nothing better than what they had every day, if it didn't kill them, it wouldn't kill me, and I demonstrated that I had been "ladle-trained", i.e. trained to drink without touching the vessel with my lips (a skill which is necessary not only in Iraq).

This was a pleasant and unforgettable encounter with the Iraqi police (quite in keeping with equally warm encounters with many Iraqi civilians, many of them, sadly, now dead). It started off nicely by my decision to hold hands with the policeman who arrested me. The rest is literature.

A Spanish experience

I am fond of great dictators and seek them out when I can. I had my experiences in Chile under Pinochet (interesting but not pleasant) and in Spain under Franco - interesting and decidedly pleasant, for I had an enterprising and lively Spanish girlfriend at the time.

One evening at dusk, we were kissing in a deserted street (only kissing, mind you!) and a policeman came and told us this was against the public morality act. He turned a blind eye (idiom) and did not arrest us because he heard that I was a foreigner. What can you expect from foreigners except ignorance and immoral behaviour! It is not their fault that they were not born in Spain. So he let us go with a warning.

Note: to turn a blind eye = pretend not so see a misdemeanor, not to see some bad behaviour

Now we knew, we could not kiss in the street, and we could not kiss in the flat where the girl lived with her parents.

But young love is inventive. AMOR VINCIT OMNIA (Latin, meaning "Love conquers everything"). The girl lived in a flat on the 9th floor of a high-rise building. So we got into the lift (= US "elevator") and started travelling up and down. It took several minutes to go from top to bottom or vice versa. Since we spent all day doing this, we were usually alone in the lift.

So, while "Kiss me, honey, honey, kiss me", was buzzing in our ears and made our blood boil, we waited for the lift doors to close, then instantly clamped together with a bang, with perfect fit, like two strong magnets, started kissing as if there were no tomorrow (idiom) and wouldn't let go of each other until the lift stopped and the door opened.

Note: as if there were no tomorrow = as if the world would end tomorrow, i.e. with extreme or excessive vigour and energy because this would be our last chance

Then we would stand there, side by side, like innocent lambs, as if butter wouldn't melt in our mouths (idiom), not touching each other, not even looking at each other, until we were alone again. So we would ride up and down, until the lift motor overheated and broke down. We also overheated, but we never broke down.

Por favor in Spain

You might think that, being English, and having this "polite" habit, you can never go wrong. But you can. It is quite possible to be too polite.

I lived in Spain for several months learning Spanish, with many well educated friends. I found it very hard to utter any request or order without adding "por favor", the equivalent of "Please". It was explained to me that my continuous repetition of the almost begging "por favor" sounded ridiculous in Spanish. "por favor" (Italian: "per piacere", which is the same as "please") functions like English "Please", but literally it means "as a favour". Well, the waiter is not doing me a favour if he brings my food; he is doing his job. The Spaniards had a point.

But politenesses are a matter of culture, and every culture can handle things in its own way. So the English are right if, in England or when they are in charge, they demand that their rules of politeness are observed.

Nepali experience

I have in recent years had frequent dealings with a secondary school in a Nepali mountain village and therefore also had to come to terms with Nepali language and culture.


The excellent "Nepali Phrasebook" published by Lonely Planet gives an explicit warning to English speakers against the over-use of "Please/Thank you":

"The Nepali word for "Please" (kripayaa) is very formal and is reserved mainly for writing. Spoken Nepali uses the imperative verb suffix -hos. Similarly the word used for "Thank you" (dhanyabaad) is not used as commonly as the English word. It would be inappropriate to use the word "dhanyabaad" in shops or restaurants. "Dhanyabaad" is best kept to express thanks for particular favours." (Source: Mary Jo O'Rourke and Bimal Shrestha: "Nepali Phrasebook". Third edition. Lonely Planet Publications, Hawthorne, Victoria, Australia, 1996. p 38)

This tallies with the imperatives I get from my friends in India and Pakistan (whose languages, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, are closely related to Nepali). "kripayaa" comes from Sanskrit "kripa", where it denotes God's grace! This shows its profound emotional power, even when used in modern secular contexts, and why it should not be over-used.

It is emotionally very difficult for a native English speaker not to use the foreign equivalents of his native "Please/Thank you" when abroad. Similarly, speakers from many non-English cultures will find it emotionally very difficult to use English Christian names (familiar names) without adding some polite title (e.g. Mr) to it.


  • In the musical "Kiss me, Kate", based on Shakespeare's play "The Taming of a Shrew", the husband does not say "Kate, kiss me, please". He gives the orders and expects his army (or his wife) to do as they are told.

  • "Kiss off" can be used as a euphemism for "Fuck off" (= "Bugger off"), which is a very rude and aggressive way for saying "Get lost", which is rude for "Go away", "Don't bother me", "Leave me alone", "Leave me in peace" or "I am not interested in what you are saying".

    Even Jesus used words to that effect, but not in English. We have His words only in Greek translation, "άπαγε, Σαταναας" (apage, Satanas), and in the Vulgate, "Vade, Satanas" (Matth 4:10, Matth 16:23, Mark 8:33), but since He said it to the devil who was trying to tempt Him in the desert, this was only fair. Swearing at the devil is not a sin. By needling Jesus (i.e. tempting him), the devil had been asking for it, he had it coming (idioms).

    Jesus told the devil where to get off (idiom, meaning "to kiss off", etc) or, more precisely, He told him to "go to hell", which is fair enough and no worse than telling an American to go to America. Many Americans would much rather be in America than in Iraq or Afghanistan. The devil is hard of hearing, and if you don't swear at him, he doesn't understand it.

Here is a list of the many expressions used to show another person that you don't respect him, don't want to hear him, want to insult him, want him to shut up.  Many of them are pure abuse (pure insults) but some have a slightly different meaning depending on context.

  • Fuck off
  • Bugger off
  • Kiss off
  • Get lost
  • Go away
  • Don't bother me
  • Leave me alone
  • Leave me in peace
  • Go fuck yourself
  • Go get fucked


Some other idioms
  • You have been asking for it
    = It's your own fault that you are now in trouble.
  • You had it coming
    = It's your own fault that you are now in trouble.
  • I told him where to get off.
    = I told him to fuck off.
  • I told him what to do.
    = I told him to get fucked.
  • I told him where to go.
    = I told him to fuck off. = I told him to go to hell.

Teachers tell you WHAT to learn, IDYLL (R) shows you HOW to learn it.