Impressions we/ you/ they make

I’ll do my best now to write a non-whiney blog post. Essentially, I’m NOT annoyed much by instances of the behaviour I’ll lay out in this post. I most often try to keep an objective distanced view, make notes, and subsequent *logical* conclusions. And these conclusions is exactly what matters and drove me to be writing this.

This post is also nothing spectacular or new. It’s about impressions we/ you/ they make when communicating with others online. I’ll mostly be referring to emails here.

 

I’m wondering just how much it is a “Russian thing” to seem (be?), sound, and come across as rude while emailing in English. I’m less and less sure that simply teaching the formal/ informal letter templates, useful phrases and email layouts ultimately helps actually writing better letters. By “better letters” I mean those which (a) carry a message across; (b) don’t hurt/ humuliate/ shock the person on the receiving side. 

So, a few instances that brought me to think that I should be teaching more than just typical expressions, structure and style of common letter types.

1)  The other day I heard amusing and slightly disturbing comments related to writing complaint letters. Namely, threats were considered a norm, in addition to quite typical clipped and sharp half-sentences. Yes, the problem is real and does not come from an exciting case-study scenario. Thus, I now realize, emotions are truly involved and making a difference to the process of writing the letter in question. Is this a common practice? How emotional do you get when/if you find yourself in a similar situation? Do you then follow the rules we teach? Just wondering.

 

2) A few months ago there was a vastly comical but also to a large extent pretty sad correspondence thread in my mailbox. Both sides of it are/were connected with English language teaching or at least with the English language (which is L2 for both sides, by the way). The correspondence was around a professional issue, which is exactly what made it look particularly tragic for me. I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows in bewilderment when I saw Dear Anna!!!!!! The last sentence in the letter invited me to be even more excited about the whole thing, as the amount of exclamation marks tripled, I think. Well, in fairness, the main chunk of that letter conveyed the message and was mainly to the point. I smiled and was reasonably excited.

 

3) The same professional issue had to face more online communication but with a different person. The striking, and frankly speaking, somewhat offending thing about this particular thread was the tone (demanding? aggressive? offhand?) and failure to meet the communication target in the first place. I didn’t lose much as a result of this and had to offer my own very polite but unambiguously (as for the reason for it) clipped response. It was very much about the impression my conversation partner made.

 

4) Finally, this point is also about impressions and conclusions. It is less ethical than previous three, though, as it features some copied and pasted lines of real communication which took place.

The story setting: I was looking for an apartment to rent. The country is NOT Russia (which makes me want to dwell more on the culture impact and how far it extends, and also to be more condescending towards us rude and direct Russians). Here are the extracts of three responses I received. My initial messages included general info about myself, my upcoming visit and some specific questions about the apartments.

Response #1

I uploaded other pictures that you can refer. <…> To make your reservation, you should click “Book it!” button. You can also visit here before you make a reservation completed. To do so, just email me.

(Note: I did ask about extra photos. I did mention, too, that I’m not in that country now or in the following several weeks.)

Response #2

My apt is open for you.

(Note: ok.)

Response #3

Hello Anna

Thanks for your message. 
Big welcome to …. (omitted for secrecy and suspence building purpose, to be revealed soon))

Of course, this studio is available for you.

Yes, I have met some nice guests here. Usually they were working in that table.

If you need more information or help, tell me 🙂

Best,

– … (name)

 

Task: out of these three, choose the person I responded to. 

 

So, to me it all boils down to the impression, even if that sounds harsh. I mean to say, those other apartments could be really great, and I understand that the contact people do not necessarily feel extremely comfortable talking in Engilsh. Also, I’m a language teacher and I’m really understanding. I seriously don’t mind any of those replies, I could deal with that outrageous (to me) correspondence with the Russian ELT people without venting too much.

What matters in the end is that I will rent that other flat.

 

*****

Tell me please if I’m being the worst of an English teacher with these observations jumping out at me as biting my eyes. Where do these issues come from? Should I feel bad about being picky?

Convince me, if you will, that a person, of whatever culture and background, will by all means continue writing grammatically, lexically, stylistically correct letters after you’ve taught them a lesson on it… Throw stones at me but I think it’s about how people think and what they accept as a norm in communicating in their mother tongue.

 

I hope I didn’t sound too arrogant or unprofessional. I’d like to talk more about this.

Thank you. 

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6 thoughts on “Impressions we/ you/ they make

  1. springcait says:

    Hi Anna,

    It seems to be a fruitful topic to delve into. I’m sure you’ll end up having plenty of different opinions which all (or almost all) will be correct and true. And I have several issues to mention.

    Firstly, if I’m not mislead by instructions and information available on the matter, when you write a letter as a writing task of an exam such as CAE, there is a criterion called ‘target reader’. This criterion implies both whether the reader is informed enough and what impression you make on them. It looks pretty much like your approach to the choice of apartments. Thus, I guess it’s a fair idea to teach producing the right impression.

    Kate

    • annloseva says:

      Hi Kate,

      I’m glad to note that my thinking runs along the same lines with exam criteria)) Impressions were made, and so were decisions, accordingly.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment.

  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Hi Anna,

    Thanks for this post. I must confess I’m very sensitive to these issues as well. I once had a teacher who wrote e-mails without using the name of the addressee. Or more precisely, he didn’t address *me* by the name while he had no problem starting his other e-mails Dear X or Y. It was rude and confusing, and you can’t blame me for taking it personally. BTW, I was 38 at the time but the other addressees were 20+, so maybe that was the issue. However, this isn’t an excuse for his behavior.

    I agree that it’s all about the impression, especially if some kind of business is concerned, when I do expect some kind of decent approach. I remember my recent attempt at a very formal correspondence with some online shop guys, who then replied starting: Hi friend, no worries, we have shipped your order …

    I know some people who use lots of exclamation marks in their correspondence. I suspect it may be an aspect of their energetic personality or cultural identity, so I don’t judge them. But these are things which can be taught and learned. I remember that when I started using Twitter my teenage son told me not to capitalize letters in my tweets – he found it irritating. So I stopped. A friend of mine, a discourse analyst, has given me lots of advice on writing and the effect my style has on the reader, and I always remember her advice. But I’m sure there are many things I’m yet not aware of and my attention needs to be drawn to them so that I can learn.

    Sorry for being so long. I hope it’s not considered rude or something 🙂

    Hana

    • annloseva says:

      Dear Hana,

      Thanks for your response of an entirely acceptable length, style, friendliness and politeness levels. =)) I’m glad to have found people equally sensitive to the matter.

      I do agree with you that age there is not an excuse, yours or teacher’s or other students’. In general, as I said, I’m not going crazy or angry about such cases, but you can’t help but feel the communication is flawed, right?.. Even worse if you don’t know this person face-to-face and this online “face” is the only image that is being built. It’s not a lucky case for them, then!

      As for exclamation marks, I don’t want to sound as a hypocrite – you only need to go as far as my first posts on this blog to find an abundance of punctuation marks of all emotional types)) It’s very true that this can be taught and learnt, just as style can be developed. And I’m not even terribly emotional in real life, and never was, which is funny.

      Sharing Facebook space with people from so many different cultures has taught me to be tolerant to written/ typed expressions of identity, though it’s not always clear whether it’s culture speaking or something else.. but tolerance works its way at those times, too.=)

      Always so happy to have your comments here.

  3. I was asked by a trainer who works internationally in corporations and deals with intercultural awareness issues why Austrians use exclamation points in the salutation when they write letters. I have often corrected this as, although it is common in German, it is incorrect in English. The trainer who asked me about this said that the business people he worked with found it to be rude and started off with a bad impression of the sender simply based on that one point in a letter.

    • annloseva says:

      The same practice is common in Russian. In fact, if your salutation in a letter or an email, personal or business, lacks this exclamation mark, it immediately gives an impression in our culture that you’re being harsh, too dry. So it’s really hard for Russians to understand (and remember!) that it could look other than just being being well disposed, friendly. Exclamation mark is not equivalent to excamation per se, but to an emotion it represents.

      Thank you for reading and leaving this comment, Marjorie.

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