Posted in Culture

What’s ‘Excuse me’?


There’s an old joke in which a reporter says to an Israeli, a Russian and an American, “Excuse me, can I get your opinion on the food shortage in Africa?”

The Russian says: “What’s an opinion?” The American says: “What’s a shortage?” and the Israeli says: “What’s ‘Excuse me’?”

Nothing like a good old stereotype!  Are they so infuriating because they are so true and yet so totally off the mark?  Because so many individuals act in ways that negate them, yet when looking at a whole culture, we do have to generalise?

Either way, really interesting programme/article on the BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent” this week.  “Getting behind Israeli ‘frankness'”.


It’s the ‘why’ that fascinates me.  Why is it that British English is full of “Thank You”, Excuse me”, I’m sorry” and “Would you mind…”?  Why is it that Germans are fairly comfortable with silence, whereas Americans are not?  I know, stereotypes again.  And yet…  What shapes these cultural differences?

In the programme, Raffi Berg attempts an explanation of the famous (or infamous) Israeli frankness.  Is it due to most people having served in the army?  Did niceties get lost in the huge influx of immigrants with different cultural and language backgrounds?  Do the harsh realities of life (geographical and political) in the Middle East shape even this?  Does the frankness serve a bigger purpose, i.e. to get things done and move forward?

I don’t know but I find it so intriguing to try and look behind the obvious, to try and understand and make sense of what has shaped a people and a culture!

What discoveries, however tentative, have you made about the culture you are living in? 

What might be some of the whys?

2 thoughts on “What’s ‘Excuse me’?

  1. Love this post – the cartoon is soooo true! I love your delving into stereotypes, because they do have truth but always with a twist!

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