Sunday, May 25, 2014

Unsubtle subtleties

A culture clash happened.

Such things happen all the time, mind, but by saying that a particular one happened, I give myself permission to talk about a particular one. Because general things always take place in the particular.

So. Culture clash. Swedes are, by comparative standards, brutally informal when it comes to the use of titles. When referring to someone, the word 'you' or their name is usually both sufficient and appropriate. The one exception being - as always - the king and members of the royal family. Everyone else, except when put on trial or mocked in some way, will have to settle for a you or a name.

But, as it happens, a professor from Canada was teaching at a local university. The students, not used to formalities yet still wanting to go the extra distance to make the professor feel at home, acted on the general principle that a title was more formal than no title.

They called her "miss".

As you might imagine, this did not go as well as their intentions would suggest. There is a non-subtle difference between 'miss' and 'professor' in the English language, after all, and such things matter.

If you know about them.

Fortunately, for everyone involved, the professor understood what the students were trying to do, and took it as an opportunity to reflect upon the cultural differences between here and there. And, to be sure, those students will never again not know the difference between miss, Mrs, doctor, professor and a simple 'you'.

Long live the professor. But may the king live forever.

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