The collapse of formality

Examples of social decline, especially in the UK

Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Gavin » 18 Sep 2014, 19:00

This is typical of the employment approaches that I receive:

Hi Gavin

hope you are well

i have a new opportunity for a major publisher as a senior web dev, url below

Please let me know if this is something you wish to pursue

Thanks

shasta


This is a recruiter, probably not English.

Also I heard on the radio today an interview with various employers, who said that the reason they employ Poles and Latvians is principally because the English simply can't be bothered to work or see much work as beneath them. While I am against our country being flooded with those of other languages and cultures, I can believe that.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Mike » 19 Sep 2014, 00:14

Hi Gavin

hope you are well

i have a new opportunity for a major publisher as a senior web dev, url below

Please let me know if this is something you wish to pursue

Thanks

shasta


I honestly believe that the lack of punctuation, capital letters etc. in communications like those is partly a deliberate attempt to appear as impersonal as possible. Such a person is clearly educated enough ("something you wish to pursue") to express themselves properly, but chooses not to.

Email gives those who prefer communicating in robot-speak the perfect opportunity to adopt that brick wall of impersonality. But it's impolite and insulting in my view, especially when it's coming from a person actually known to you, as I assume this one was.

There's also a bizarre dissonance in the use of "Hi" at the top in connection with the rest of it!
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Gavin » 20 Sep 2014, 16:25

Hi Mike, no - I had never had any communication with this person before. What I always think is odd, therefore, is the way they typically begin with "Hope you are well" (this is plainly insincere). They're sometimes much more informal than that, thinking it will work in their favour - most are unable to get the balance right.

It's incredible these days, really. People who write no better than children are actually employed in all manner of professional roles. I think I mentioned that I once had to actually take a solicitor's chair and write an letter for him (it needed a solicitor's signature on it) because he couldn't spell (this particular man was African, in south London). That was quite embarrassing but I had to do it.


On another note, the actress Samantha Morton announced last week that she had been abused in a Nottinghamshire children's home, had told the authorities and of course it had been covered up. Word came across the radio that Notts council had responded:

"We are hoping in the near future to speak with Samantha so that we can fully understand her concerns which date back to 1991."


I noted that they said "Samantha" and not "Miss Morton" (she is living with the father of her children but not married). I would have thought use of formal address would have been a sign of respect, and use of first name would be grossly over-familiar, especially in such a case. But these days it seems anything but first name terms in any situation at all is regarded as (or in danger of being regarded as) distant and icy.

You're treating the individual as more human if you use the first name, seems to be the idea, even if you have never been invited to do so - you just assume it and do it anyway. It doesn't matter whether it's a multi-thousand pound business transaction or a child abuse case, you just jump straight in on first name terms. It doesn't matter of course about role or age discrepancy either - I gather many teachers are simply addressed by their first names too now and some encourage this.

What I think is lost in this, in a word, is "respect" - yet ironically these people probably actually think they are being more respectful. It's great to use first name terms if people have been introduced as such, of course, but not otherwise and not in business communication. It is such a shame the pendulum swings so far in each direction and people have no idea how to let it settle in an appropriate middle position. Our society is being rapidly vulgarised and I think we should do all we can to defend against that, even if it feels like a "last stand".
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Gavin » 18 Oct 2014, 09:02

I just cancelled my account with a "coffee delivery" start-up company, because of the unbelievable informality and "matey-ness" of the kids running the company. They just had no clue where the balance lies!

Even on my closing my account this came in the e-mail, just take a look:

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 09.58.47.png
Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 09.58.47.png (28.7 KiB) Viewed 3161 times

Just proving I was right to cancel.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Nathan » 18 Oct 2014, 10:19

*shudders*

A lot of the work-related e-mails I get are in German, a language which still believes in formality, and where it is enshrined in the language somewhat with the distinction made between the formal 'Sie' and informal 'du'.

Germans do sometimes write "Hallo" in e-mails, which is fair enough, but when somebody has gone as far as to address me with the equivalent of "Very honoured Mr Wilson" it immediately tells me that the person writing to me is to be respected and taken seriously at the professional level, much more so than with the "Hi Nathan" I usually get from people writing in English.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Yessica » 18 Oct 2014, 12:10

Nathan wrote:A lot of the work-related e-mails I get are in German, a language which still believes in formality, and where it is enshrined in the language somewhat with the distinction made between the formal 'Sie' and informal 'du'.


It's a bit difficult for me to deal with the fact that there is no Sie (and also no equivalent?????) in the English language.

I used to call people "Sir" or "Madam"

"Sir, would you mind..." = "Würde es Ihnen etwas ausmachen..."

...but I realized that this was seen as very formal.

I rarely get English E-Mails and most I got were very polite but I got a few which started "To whom it may concern" and thought that would be a very rude statement in my language. When we do not know to whom we are writing we typically write "Very much honoured ladies and gentleman". In addition it is not really difficult to find out a persons name if it is already part of her E-Mail-Adress and it is not really difficult to find out the gender once you know the name.
I do not really want to judge another culture without knowing the background of "to whom it might concern".
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Nathan » 18 Oct 2014, 12:34

It's a bit difficult for me to deal with the fact that there is no Sie (and also no equivalent?????) in the English language.


Actually there is. Until the 19th century "thee" was the equivalent of "du" and "you" was the formal version, but "thee" just gradually went out of the language, so people only know one way of saying "you".

It's interesting to me how "thee" was the less formal version, yet it had inflections like "thou" and "thine" that "you" doesn't have, but the less educated people using those words would always have known when to use them the right way even though they wouldn't have been able to explain how, and most modern-day English people would not be able to explain the difference between "thee" and "thou" either.

I like the fact that "du" and "Sie" exist, but it's very awkward as a non-native speaker to know when it's appropriate to use each one as the rules are different in each language culture that has this convention. I know that Norwegian used to have the formal version but has abolished it in the past few decades, and Latin American Spanish insists on the formal "usted" more than Castilian Spanish, etc. It's easy to get the tone wrong.

Do you use the Sie form when speaking to your parents? I remember a Dutch person saying she did this in her language and thought that was normal, but I don't think I've ever heard it in a German setting. (I just love it how in English writing "you" as "u" is the most annoyingly informal modern way, yet in Dutch it's the old-fashioned formal way that's almost too formal for modern use!)

Because I'm more used to "du" it's easy to mix up the conjugations when saying a long sentence with lots of words coming between the subject and the verb. I remember a couple of times when I've said "...dass Sie blah blah blah blah blah blah etwas gemacht hast", because I've forgotten which version of "you" I used 10 words ago.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Yessica » 18 Oct 2014, 18:19

That's interesting. I think I know the thou and thee form from the Bible and old prayers. Does the english Bible also have the you form?

Nathan wrote:Do you use the Sie form when speaking to your parents? I remember a Dutch person saying she did this in her language and thought that was normal, but I don't think I've ever heard it in a German setting. (I just love it how in English writing "you" as "u" is the most annoyingly informal modern way, yet in Dutch it's the old-fashioned formal way that's almost too formal for modern use!)


I call my parents by the less formal du. Calling them Sie is uncommon nowadays but it was the norm less than a century ago. Both my parents told me how their parents adressed their parents with "Madam Mother" ("Frau Mutter") and "Sir Father" ("Herr Vater") and called them Sie.
Sometimes it still happens that an old person ask you how your "Sir Father" is or something like that.

I call all my blood realtives by the less formal du but call people who married a relative by the more formal Sie unless they offer me to call them du. I call most of my husbands relatives by the more formal Sie.

I call my husband by his first name and du, when I talk with him but when I talk about him I say "Mr. last name" unless I talk to friends of his and they are on a first name basis. I heard that this "Mr. last name" was actually not polite in English when used by the wife???
Likewise when I talk to others about relatives I talk about them by their last name.

I like the fact that "du" and "Sie" exist, but it's very awkward as a non-native speaker to know when it's appropriate to use each one as the rules are different in each language culture that has this convention


A very easy thumb rule is that in the German language you use du for people you are on a first name basis with and Sie for people you are on a last name basis with.
There is an exception from that rule which is called "Hamburger Sie". That would be the case if you called me "Sie, Yessica". In the past the "Hamburger Sie" was mostly used by higher ranking persons who talked to a lower ranking person. That is why some person still see it as patronizing when a person of the same rank does that though a lot of people use it without wanting to patronize.

Another thumb rule is that in case you are not sure you would rather use the Sie until a) you know the person a bit better and b) one of the person offers the other to call him du. Typically the lady offers it to the gentleman, the older person to the younger person and the person of higher rank to that of lower rank.

There are however environments where it is very common for everybody to use the du such as colleges or some internet forums.
I noticed for example that people discussing on internet health boards nearly always use the du, people discussing on political boards nearly always use the Sie. Even as a native speaker I do not understands that.

I speak a little dutch and am totally lost when it comes to when to use the u and when the jij. All I noticed is that the rules seem to be different then in Germany and the jij is used far more often than the du.

For me it is difficult to understand when to call a person "Sir". As a German I am tempted to call everybody I do not know by first name "Sir", but native speakers would think that this is rather odd, wouldn't they?
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Charlie » 18 Oct 2014, 19:09

Interesting stuff, Yessica.

As for Dutch and the u vs jij issue, it can get even more confusing if you speak to Flemish people: they tend to use gij and ge, which are archaic forms of jij and je. However, they often use the possessive pronoun uw instead of jouw, which may throw those who are more familiar with the Dutch forms spoken in the Netherlands.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Yessica » 18 Oct 2014, 21:11

Charlie wrote:As for Dutch and the u vs jij issue, it can get even more confusing if you speak to Flemish people: they tend to use gij and ge, which are archaic forms of jij and je. However, they often use the possessive pronoun uw instead of jouw, which may throw those who are more familiar with the Dutch forms spoken in the Netherlands.


I did not know that. That's interesting. Many languages have a lot of local varieties.
Well, actually there are also differences in the use of du and Sie within Germany... for example protestants/Northern Germans use the Sie far more often than persons in catholic regions.

In some Catholic regions such as the Rhineland or Swabia there is still another form of you which some mostly older people use: "Ihr" (polite use of the second person, plural).

To my mind one of the things that makes English great is that wherever it is spoken it is always similar.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Kevin R » 23 Oct 2014, 13:20

Gavin wrote:I just cancelled my account with a "coffee delivery" start-up company, because of the unbelievable informality and "matey-ness" of the kids running the company. They just had no clue where the balance lies!

Even on my closing my account this came in the e-mail, just take a look:

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 09.58.47.png

Just proving I was right to cancel.




Extra molasses with your beverages then.
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