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Monday, October 28th, 2013

What the British and Algerians Have in Common

What the British and Algerians Have in Common via © shutterstock

We take a break from Jan’s regular blog postings to bring you a post from his lovely wife Souad.


What the British say and what they really mean is not always the same. This is of course an understatement, I have been living in the UK for over nine years.


Let me tell you: learning to read English is a walk in the park compared to learning to read THE English!


As an Algerian, I grew up within a complex social code where, similar to England, what you say and what you mean do not always go hand in hand.


When my German husband and I first started dating, I shed many tears on my seemingly one-way attachment. How could he care for me if he wanted “to be alone on Sunday afternoon” or “was fine with me staying or leaving?”


Thankfully, I was not the only one struggling to reconcile my boyfriend’s straightforwardness and dryness of language with my romantic expectations. My French friend who had also been dating a German was also subjected to the same outwardly indifferent treatment.


We finally managed to meet halfway, me by learning to eat that last piece of cake when visiting his family in Germany; him by politely refusing anything an Algerian offers him unless they insist at least once, preferably twice.


We then got married, and moved to England. I naturally thought English and German people were similar. After all, they are all Northern Europeans; their languages and traditions have much in common too.


How wrong was I! It turns out Brits and Algerians have far more in common when it comes to interacting with others than do Brits and Germans.


For example, when a German says he would like to meet up with you sometime, what he really means is he wants to have a drink with you someday next week.


When a Brit says he would like to meet up with you sometime, what he really means is that he never intends to see you again!


The English seem to be compelled, by an irresistible force, to be polite. Even if it pains them. They will offer to lend you their car if yours breaks down. The German would retort, “Thank you, when can I pick it up?”. The Brit (and the Algerian) would on the other hand decline the offer: “Thank you, we will manage” then go off and rent a replacement car.


Still, to this day, I am taken by surprise and completely misread what some British people say. I do sometimes wish Brits did a bit more of that straight talking that used to puzzle me in my early dating days.

© 2013, Jan Petersen. All rights reserved.

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Jan, who is German, works mainly from home as a software engineer. His wife, who is Algerian, stays at home to look after their three girls aged 7, 4 and 1. They live in the U.K. and are raising their children multilingual in Arabic, French, German and English.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsAnnabelle   |  Monday, 28 October 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Going in the other direction, from the UK to Germany, is also a bit of a shock. Germans are a little too straighforward. Apparently, there is no chit chat here. If they ask you how you are, they are really interested.

  2. CommentsCarmen   |  Monday, 28 October 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Tell me about it! I’m from Spain but work in Dubai with British people. Oh dear! Their politeness is sometimes more than I can take. This ‘cultural shock’ made me feel out of place at times when I first started working with them, I just found it too fake. I’ve grown to take things easier though and we understand each other better now. Still, I believe I’m too straightforward… polite, yes, but too direct for them.

  3. CommentsJonathan   |  Tuesday, 29 October 2013 at 4:45 am

    As someone who’s from the UK, I really wish that people here would find a way of saying what they mean in a clearer manner. It’s possible to do this without being rude or unnecessarily blunt and so much more helpful for anyone who may not pick up the subtle signs for whatever reason.

  4. CommentsSouad   |  Thursday, 23 January 2014 at 6:44 am

    Glad to see even Brits would prefer more straight-talking Jonathan!

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