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The reason behind Philip’s so-called gaffes? He’s too German.
Could this really be a possibility? According to a recent BBC report, the German translation of a Paddington Bear book reveals extremely different cultural norms. There is a distinct divide between what Germans consider frank and what the British consider rude.
In A Bear Called Paddington, an exchange of small talk occurs in the English original: “‘Hello Mrs. Bird,’ said Judy. ‘It’s nice to see you again. How’s the rheumatism?’ ‘Worse than it’s ever been’ began Mrs. Bird.”
What the British see in this passage is polite small talk; Germans see it as deceitful and/or unnecessary. The passage was cut from the German version of the book altogether.
The German language doesn’t even have an expression for “small talk”, according to Professor Juliane House, of the University of Hamburg. The professor studied people in control groups engaging in social situations and found that Germans were much less likely to talk about the weather or ask after someone’s health. They were far more direct in their questions, something that the British would perhaps consider rude or blunt.
On the British side, Professor Derek Bousfield, the head of linguistics at the University of Central Lancashire, says that “German directness and British indirectness is the source of much miscommunication”.
Is one culture more rude than the other? No, just different.
So the Duke of Edinburgh – who has turned many a hair white with some of his remarks – may simply have an abundance of Germanic bluntness. He is the polar opposite of Her Majesty.
Right behind him is his daughter, HRH Princess Anne. The Princess Royal’s abrupt comments and insistence on working formality certainly keeps things clear. Tony Blair’s wife is said to have asked Anne to call her “Cherie”. Anne swiftly replied: ‘Actually, let’s not go that way. Let’s stick to Mrs. Blair, shall we?’
At least you’ll always know where you stand.