Have you ever noticed that when ordering in a restaurant people usually use one of two methods? It’s either the “may I have or could I have”, a question, as opposed to “I would like or I’ll have”, a statement. Having been in sales most of my working life, I was taught never to ask a question unless you are certain of the answer. May/could I have a hamburger? NO! Cheeseburger for you only! Or how about, may/could I have a ham sandwich? NO! Spam for you today! I’m the “I would like/I’ll have” kind of girl. I got into a discussion about this the other day with a “may/could” friend. She said that she believes a person who is a may/could person is more polite. Hmmmm…Is there any truth to that or do I say she’s just being passive? I actually found some discussion about this on the internet. Surprise surprise. An American linguist who is living in London takes up the subject in one of her presentations. Her name is Lynne Guist. She’s actually discussing the British use of the word “please” when ordering and the lack of it by Americans. But the discussion is basically the same. Here’s is what I could extrapolate from her discussion:
* The “I would like/I’ll have” types are aiming to create/maintain a sense of equality among the participants. These types regard ordering as providing the waiter with the info needed to do their job. I don’t think I’m being impolite by simply stating what I want.
* The “may I have or could I have” person is more likely to view the action as a personal request to the waiter. I’m sure my friend would say she is in no way being passive by requesting.
Guist also adds this: If you want to make the request less obviously a request then…Could you bring me a salad? is literally a question of someone’s ability; I’ll have a salad is a statement of intentions; I’d like the salad is a description of a mental state. She does say that in American parlance that using the word “please” can make a QUESTION sound urgent blunt or rude.
So, who’s right? Neither of us, if you ask me. People approach life and view scenarios in life in different ways based upon their family, their culture, current situations. But here’s one way not to order in a restaurant, “Yo, sweet cheeks, get your buns over here. And if you don’t, no tip for you!”
Which type are you?
If you’d like to read more on the topic, here’s the link: http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2012/08/saying-please-in-restaurants.html