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Would you mind?

Would you mind tests you on understatement and politeness.

Britain ~ which produced the splendid 'Keep calm and carry on' slogan ~ is (or used to be!) noted for how it understated its polite requests and instructions.

Let's see how good you are at recognising that particular language tone!

  1. During a crowded journey by public transport, someone ~ accidentally, no doubt ~ is treading on your toes. (We use this phrase metaphorically, too; but in this instance, it's physically for real, and painful!)
    What do you say?
    Answer 3 is worth a try in the first instance.
    Neither of the top two Answers even uses 'please', and the frequently-heard (but nonetheless wrong) 'off of', in Answer 1, is a further mistake.
    Answer 4 is probably the 'next best try', but somehow 'that foot of yours' (while trying to be indirect) does sound almost too accusing, even in the circumstances.
  2. While cycling in the local countryside you recognise a friend, who is looking after a roadside stall (selling fruit or flowers, perhaps) to occasional passing motorists. He needs to nip away for a few minutes on some errand of his own, and wonders whether you would 'keep an eye' on the stall for him. How might he ask you if you are comfortable to do this?
    Answer 1 (incorporating this Quiz's title) is in fact fine here, using two of the verbal senses of 'mind' ('Would you object to looking after it?').
    Answer 2 is a possible alternative, but it does not force your own reply so effectively; Answer 3 on the other hand puts it almost too strongly. Answer 4 verges on an assumption, whereby you'd be taken advantage of.
  3. You take some British friends to hear a session of live folk music performed by a group from your own country that is touring in Britain. After the performance you are keen to hear what they thought of it, and someone says:
    'Interesting music, yes ... It does take a bit of getting used to.'
    What did your British friend probably mean by this?
    What they said was broadly but subtly true: they feel that anyone needs time to 'tune into the wavelength', without revealing (let alone confirming) whether they, individually, felt they had reached that point during the session. Answer 1 is probably what they hope you will think they meant, even though they may not have felt so; Answer 3 (perhaps surprisingly) would be unlikely to be true. If Answer 4 is the plain truth, they are being kind in order not to hurt your feelings!
  4. Another friend comes round to where you are staying, bringing with her a fairly precious book that you lent her some while ago. As you open the door to her, it is clear she has come through the rain, and you are worried about the book; taking out a plastic carrier from her bag, she says,
    'I brought you your book back, but I'm afraid it may have got a bit damp.'
    Without showing your feelings, how bad a state do you fear the book may be in?
    Well, it may depend on the nature of the book, and of your friend and friendship; but the kindly-meant warning should perhaps prepare you for the worst. If you are lucky, one of the other earlier Answers may turn out to have been the case!
  5. You are at a party in quite a large private house; standing in the hall, making conversation with various reasonably pleasant strangers while you wait your turn to use the downstairs washroom.
    Someone you know comes out of the washroom and past you, down the hall, and says quietly:
    'There's rather a smell in there; you may prefer to try your chances upstairs.'
    What are they hinting at?
    'A bit of a smell' (or similar) may well be a classic British understatement: perhaps another guest has been sick on the little carpet in there, or maybe (as in Answers 3/4) the flush on the toilet isn't working.
    Answer 1 is a kind and rather innocent thought, but probably not very likely.
  6. 'Would you like to come with us for the weekend ~ to my brother's, and his wife? They've got a place by the beach.'
    You accept this kind onward invitation, and find yourself being driven along a broad but exclusive seaside avenue. Your friend says,
    'He did quite well in the City a few years ago, of course.'
    What are you supposed to make of this?
    Answer 2 is the most likely; there may also be elements of No.3. Answer 1 would be unlikely (though possible); if the brother has indeed 'done that well', the chances are that he does not need to commute to work (Answer 4), or at least no longer on a daily basis from such a distance ~ though it would seem he could comfortably afford to, whenever the occasion arose.
  7. You are staying with a family and quite suddenly, one evening over supper, an awkward situation develops (not directly involving you). You feel there is no point in your being present while they have their discussion / argument; but equally, you can't quite just walk quietly out of the room. What do you say?
    Answer 4 is a statement (of initiative) rather than a question, which is probably more suitable in the circumstances; yet you are still keeping the tone relatively soft by saying 'I think it might be better ...' and 'little while'.
    Any of Answers 1-3, as a question in itself (even if rhetorical), would draw attention to you and provoke further 'angst'.
  8. (For the purposes of this Question, let us assume that your country of origin happens to be somewhere with a tradition of highly-flavoured cooking ~ such as the 'rice-and-spice' region of SE Asia, or somewhere with other strong flavours such as pickles, garlic or smoked fish.)
    A British host asks your opinion of a meal which you, personally, found very bland both in flavour and texture ~ but it would be impolite to say so too honestly.
    What might you best say instead?
    The idea of 'subtle' is itself quite a cunning one, unless you fear your host/s may think you are being facetious.
    Answer 2 may be honest, but could lead into a potentially embarrassing and also fairly technical conversation; neither Answer 3 nor 4 would be recommended!
  9. 'Sorry to be so late: there was a spot of bother along the bypass.'
    What has probably happened?
    Something about the coy turn of phrase suggests Answer 2; Answer 1 is not serious enough, but Nos. 3 & 4 are probably too serious. If Answer 3 were true, the speaker would probably not have used the phrase in the Question; even more unlikely with Answer 4.
  10. You pay a return visit to a local sports club (cricket, perhaps) where you met some fellow-sportspeople a year or two ago. One person you had been hoping to see is not there, but a mutual friend tells you:
    'Oh no, Jack's not been playing this season; he's not been very well lately.'
    How serious an illness do you believe this is supposed to mean?
    Just because this has been a Quiz about politeness and understatement, doesn't mean you need automatically assume the gloomiest explanation every time! Of course, any of these Answers may be possible, but unless you have grounds for particular suspicion the situation may be no worse than in Answer 2. But even within the club, and with genuine curiosity on your part, this would probably be a good moment not to follow through with more personal questions (as it were) 'behind Jack's back'. It would be best to say quite simply that you were sorry to hear he'd been having a bad time, and would someone please pass on your good wishes to him as and when they were next in touch?

Author: Ian Miles

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