Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

The other day I drafted a proposal for a potential client, and was worried not to hear anything for a while. When I rang them, I heard the dreaded words:

‘ I did read your proposal but….’

I knew what was to come. Been there done it, etc…I just knew that it meant something like ‘I didn’t read your proposal because I am not really interested in what you have to offer’.  You see, in my quest to understand the British, I have learned something the hard way:

Everything before ‘BUT’ is BS. I apologise profusely to those of you with a sensitive nature for my crudeness, but hey, I am French and we French like to say it as it is.

Once you consciously acknowledge that I am right, it can help you do at least two very important things:

1.  You will see through the excuses that others give you;

2. You won’t fall into the trap yourself in your communications with others.

Let me take a few examples. Have you ever heard:

– I would love to hire your company but…..

– I was planning to do that this morning but….

– I would like to meet up for a coffee this week but…

– You are absolutely right of course, but…

Here is what was your interlocutor really meant:

– I wouldn’t hire your company if it was the last one on earth;

– I totally forgot to do that so I will pretend that I got too busy and will do it another time when it suits me better;

– I have far too much to do to waste time on a pointless meeting, especially with you;

-You are way off the mark as usual.

For me it was a steep learning curve, as initially, when I was told that my notes were ‘great, but…’, I really thought that only some minor tweaks were needed. How naive of me. But hey, lesson learned and all that.

On the basis that you now know what ‘but’ in the middle of a sentence means, here are alternative suggestions.

This may seem expensive but that’s because…… 

I appreciate that may seem expensive and let me tell you why it is priced that way.

We intended to meet that deadline but 

It is not our normal practice to miss deadlines, and here is what we intend to do about it.

I know I said we could go to the park but it’s raining cats and dogs

I know we were planning to go to the park and we can still go when the rain stops, meanwhile lets….

That said, it’s all a figure of speech. As much as I wish it would be as simple as replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’, the truth is that nothing replaces, in my view, being truthful. So here is my sentiment: why can’t the Brits say it as it is? Why can’t they admit that they are not interested, or that, for instance, they can’t see you because they don’t think it’s worth it, or simply that they don’t want to work with you? Is it that hard to admit the truth? Seriously, I can take it.

What a revolutionary thought!

 

  • James Casserly

    Don’t forget the classics Muriel. “I’m not a racist BUT…” and/or “No offence BUT….” or “I believe in women’s rights BUT…” etc. etc.

  • Holly

    You and James nailed it. Here in the States, we are now so averse to the truth as we have coarsened and lost our manners and sense of humor. One can actually be truthful without being hurtful. A polite No is easy when said with a kind voice.

  • disqus_72GXGq6drQ

    Two thoughts direct is better for some, but too brusque for others. Also when handling commercial people who have put plenty of effort into their documents a direct answer is much better as anything else is misleading and spurious.
    You could argue the preamble before the but is the English “Je voudrais” rather than “Je veux” ….une tasse de café