July 19, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Potentially, anything can be offensive or rude.

At the same time, even the rudest of things that you say can be perfectly acceptable and not rude… if the context is right.





A good example of this is a question one of my coaching clients asked recently in a call:

“Is it rude to sigh in a meeting?”

She said someone sighed at something halfway through, and she thought it was rude and improper. And well, yes, it is rude to sigh in a meeting, but it depends on how it’s done. If you sound irritated when you do it because of something someone said… that’s rude. But if it’s lighthearted (for example you struggled to explain something, now you’re done and you’re like, “phew!”), then that’s not rude.

Context is everything.

Finding something offensive is more to do with a sensitivity to culture and social dynamics.

There’s just no easy way to manoeuvre around it other than really learning to understand whatever it is you’re saying.

For example, in very casual British culture, it’s common to swear and call each other the most horrifically disgusting names. But it’s a part of Britain’s social bonding culture; totally in good humour.

Finding something offensive also depends on how you say things in different ways. If it’s confrontational or aggressive, it may sound offensive. Again, context is important.

However, there would be instances where anything that you say can always be rude to somebody. It’s not necessarily that you’re rude, but some will just see you as is.

I have a fantastic example of this:

Some time ago, I sent an email about the topic of the meaning of life. I talked about the concept of cosmic meaning i.e., is there a God, a creator of the world, that kind of stuff. And one person obviously did not like that email. She sent me a reply saying “oh well in that case, you should just have a pint of Guinness, sit down, and die because life is meaningless.” So I thought I’d reply to them by saying “I don’t believe there has to be a point to life for us to be able to live a meaningful life”. But I really shouldn’t have replied at all because she sent back a reply with the most horrendous insults. The point is, for me, it was an interesting discussion, but to that person, it was incredibly offensive.

So, yes, anything can be offensive. Some things are obviously going to be offensive if you use words out of context and in the wrong way. There’s really no easy way to learn what is offensive and what is not aside from understanding people, psychology, and social values in different cultures.

Hope this helps.

I help high-level English as second-language speakers live freer in their work and day to day life without English becoming a barrier. If that’s you, you might like to sign up for my daily English tips to speak better English.

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook


March 22, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Last year I was living in Lisbon over October and November. It’s a beautiful city, and I can’t wait to go back again.

Now, apart from a few words, I don’t speak Portuguese.

I had fun with the language.

Sure.

But it would be a reeeeeeal stretch to say I can actually do anything in Portuguese other than say “hello”, “thank you”, and cause chaos and confusion with my linguistic incompetence. And that’s fine. I don’t really need the language, after all.

But one experience sticks in mind above all the rest: Going into restaurants.

I don’t mean the touristy places in Lisbon. They’re easy, ‘cos everybody speaks English. No, I mean the more local places.

Take one place I went, for example. I walked into a place not far from where I was staying where nobody spoke a word of English. And after spending what felt like an hour trying to make my order, I finally felt like I’d done a pretty good job.

Only I got something totally different to what I ordered.

And I got a beer, which I didn’t order.

And a coca-cola to go with my beer that I also didn’t order.

People think you start at zero with a language, then progressively get better while aiming for 100% proficiency. But the more I think about it, the more I think that’s wrong. You actually start at 100% Sucking at a language then progressively reduce the amount you suck until you don’t suck any more.

So you don’t get better in English.

No.

You get less worse.

The difference is subtle.

But when you think like this, every conversation is a chance to make fewer mistakes and fuck up less than last time, not yet another chance to make mistakes and look stupid.

Again, the difference is subtle.

But it’s an important mindset change.

Anyway.

Using your real-world English situations (whatever they are) is a big part of what we do in MEFA, and I’ll show you how to treat every one as a spring-board to sucking less and less and less and less.

The place to enrol is here:

https://doingenglish.com/mefa/

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook


December 22, 2020 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

A study reported in Men’s Health magazine says 91% of women prefer their sex loud and vocal.

In fact, most said the louder the better.

Others said the only time silent sex is “sexy” is when you’re doing it in public and trying not to get caught…

And only 9% of women surveyed said they were satisfied by quiet sex where their guy didn’t make any noise, moan or say anything.

Now, while I might now know way around the bedroom pretty well, I’m certainly not an expert on the **psychology** of good sex. So the following is pure conjecture on my part.

But…

These percentages make perfect sense to me, because generally speaking—though this is somewhat culture-specific—people are ALWAYS very uncomfortable will silence.

It’s the way we’ve evolved.

For our ancient ancestors, small talk was how we worked out whether someone was friend or foe. According to small-talk researcher Justine Coupland, silence suggests distance between people. Which suggests a potential enemy. Conversation fills the gap — closes the distance — and creates bonds between people. It connects us and brings us close.

So good relationships (whether work-related or personal) come from good communication.

Now, I’m not saying you should make small talk while you fuck.

But I am saying that being loud and talking dirty is a form of communication, and like any kind of communication when done right it serves an important purpose – it closes the distance created by silence.

Doesn’t matter whether it’s personal or business, either…

In English speaking cultures if you’re sitting in silence and not contributing to a conversation, people probably aren’t seeing you in a positive way.

I can help you fix this in MEFA:

https://doingenglish.com/MEFA

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook