Mind Your P’s and Q’s

Learning a new language is great, regardless of how much or how little you retain.  I find that every small little piece I learn changes me in some way.  It’s brought me to realize though, that when living in another country, sometimes learning the language is not enough.

In the States we have this saying, “Mind your p’s and q’s.”  Wikipedia defines it as an “English expression meaning ‘mind your manners’, ‘mind your language’, ‘be on your best behaviour’ or similar.”  I particularly love these expressions, because as an English teacher, I see problems with them.  What does it mean “to mind”?  How can one “be on a behaviour”?  They are phrases that need to be further explained.

Photo courtesy of Kerry at skinsbbc on Flickr

Wikipedia then goes on to explain different theories of the origin of the phrase.

One explanation suggests that “Ps and Qs” is short for “pleases” and “thank-yous”, the latter of which contains a sound similar to the pronunciation of the name of the letter “Q”. This phrase would be used by parents to educate their children to not forget to use those polite words when they speak to people. Possibly, it meant “please” and “excuse me.” Young children would pronounce them as Ps and Qs.

This one really struck me because of I conversation I had with myself in my head this morning. Hmmmm.

There’s a Google group here in Ankara for expats.  For the most part, it’s a great group.  We email each other asking for information, sharing events, selling used items, etc.  But sometimes, the emails can really irk me.  One of my biggest pet peeves regarding this group is when one asks for information and then does not thank the provider of the information.    So this morning, as I was feeling annoyed by the fact that I replied to a request over the past weekend, and never got any acknowledgement other than my advice being shared with others by the perp, I started to wonder, was this person American?

In the States, we are taught from Day 1 to say “please” and “thank you”.  Yep, that’s how we do it.  When we come across children who do not do so, we look up to the parents expecting them to encourage the kid.  We would be flabbergasted by any adult who did not have such manners.

Photo courtesy of http://www.whydidyouwearthat.com

In Turkey, I find myself slowly learning to mind my p’s and q’s.  Sure, I always say please and thank you here, possibly more than a Turk even would!  But there are many behaviors I don’t know, and some that I completely resist.

For example, when I walk into a Turk’s home, I am welcomed by everyone in the home at the time, all of whom come to the front door to meet me!  They welcome me with “Hoşgeldiniz” to which I am supposed to reply “Hoşbulduk.”  (Loosely translated as “Welcome” and “Happy to be here”.)  But when I go to my in-laws’ house, I find I often resist.  I have no problem responding to them, or to the elderly visitors that may be in their home, like a grandmother, or great-aunt.  The resistance usually occurs when the in-laws have a relatively younger out-of town visitor, such as their siblings or cousins, or honestly, even their other child.  What is wrong with me?!  Why is it that when I visit my brother-in-law at his home, I can say, “Hoşbulduk.”  But if he and his spouse visit his parents, I don’t always to respond to them?  It’s weird, right?  The only explanation I can gather is that it feels wrong to me.  They are from out-of-town. We all live here.  They are the visitors, not me!  Ha!

Once this happened with a family member who had briefly been my Turkish instructor.  I just didn’t respond.  Afterall, I was visiting my parents (in-laws really.) Why would she welcome me to their home?  Looking back on it, she must have either thought she failed me as a teacher or that I was just plain rude.  In fact, neither were true.  I am just stubborn.

Photo courtesy of ABAEnglish.com

So, I’m looking forward to learning more about the errors of my ways as my fourth year in Ankara comes to an end.  I will continue to try to be polite, even where Turks may not say please and thank you.  But I don’t see my patience with other expats coming to an end soon.  Perhaps I should end my emails with “You are welcome in advance.”  Smile.



5 thoughts on “Mind Your P’s and Q’s

Add yours

  1. . . you know, having a conversation with yourself is fine – it’s when you reply that you (and others) need to worry! There is no need to thank me, the foregoing is offered freely under Creative Commons license and, anyway, I’m English and understand your difficulty. 😉

  2. Yes it’s weird 🙂 I always say Hoşbulduk, if I’m in someone’s house. I think I just learned that way. I’m coming into a house that isn’t mine, I don’t mind who says it. But the not saying Please/Thank You drives me iNSANE! I’ve been teaching my SO’s nephews this (as well as SO) because I find it so rude. It’s been 2 years and he now will say it about 50% of the time.
    I am new to your blog and I’m really enjoying it!

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