Tuesday, October 4, 2011

There is no please in Danish!

I just read something tonight in an amusing little book my mother sent me, The Xenophobe's Guide to the Danes. It says, "The word 'please' simply doesn't exist in Danish."

I was completely floored by this. This fact has never occurred to me. The word 'please' simply doesn't exist in Danish! Think about that. There is no 's'il vous plaît.' There is no 'bitte.' How is this possible? I grew up there and yet I never once realized this significant linguistic omission.

Of course, when I shrieked Jeg vil ha' is! in kindergarten ('I want ice cream!'), I was sternly encouraged to rephrase this as Må jeg bede om is? ('May I request ice cream?'). I suppose that sort of counts.

But - wow. It seems like such a major element of everyday language never to have noticed. All those times in life when we automatically throw 'please' into a situation simply don't apply in Danish. If you're in a car hurtling toward a precipice or a tree or whatever on slippery ice, and you start muttering Oh please please please, what do Danes say?

How did I miss that?

Sometimes I worry about my powers of linguistic observation!