Excuse me
July 13, 2010 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Excuse me without the please...

Sometimes, you encounter people in the lifts, or corners, and they blurt out "Excuse me". I find that simply rude. I wonder if anyone feels the same. Do you think it is a rude line, or should one use it with please, i.e excuse me please ? I know it might sound like a dumb question, but I always wonder.
posted by jassi to Society & Culture (56 answers total)
 
You don't list your location in your profile, but in the United States simply saying "Excuse me" is more than adequate. Courtesy may vary in other places. For that matter, are you a native English speaker?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:55 AM on July 13, 2010


This is normal and even polite in the US.
posted by jessamyn at 10:55 AM on July 13, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm old, so I'm surprised why i hear even a simple "Excuse me," anymore but I necer thought the "Please" was required in the situations you described.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:56 AM on July 13, 2010


Thirding Faint of Butt and jessamyn. I'm in the US and I never hear or say "please" with "excuse me," and it's totally fine and inoffensive.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:56 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Excuse me" is considered a polite request in most places. "Please" may be added but isn't expected anywhere I've lived (Northeast, South, and Midwest).
posted by valkyryn at 10:56 AM on July 13, 2010


I find that simply rude.

And yet it still occurs.

At some point, you gotta make peace with the world and realize that though it may not run as you wish, it still runs somewhat well. Enjoy the beautiful parts and hurry quickly past the ugly. You'll still find it rude at times, but you'll dwell less on it.
posted by new brand day at 10:57 AM on July 13, 2010 [29 favorites]


I would suggest that it is more about the tone of voice and inflection than it is about the use (or not) of the word "please" that defines it as rude.
posted by HuronBob at 10:57 AM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


I usually do not take this as rude.

I'm in the states, and I would usually say, "Excuse me, sir" or "Excuse me, ma'am," but I think simply "Excuse me" is fine. Particularly if it's said with a kind tone.

I could see a logical argument that "Please" should be included with an imperative, but for whatever reason, "Excuse me" seems implicitly kind without the additional formality of a "Please."
posted by jpcody at 10:57 AM on July 13, 2010


This may be a dialectical difference, but I have never said "excuse me please." For me, "excuse me" is typically used to apologize *after* bumping into someone etc., or to start a conversation where I have to slightly intrude/interrupt - "excuse me, do you know what time it is?" If I feel the need to be more than usually polite, or if I were *about* to barge through a group of people I would probably use "pardon me", which feels more formal to me.

In general, I can't say this has ever struck me as rude, but only because "excuse me" doesn't literally mean "I demand that you excuse my behavior" - it's just this polite conversational idiom we use in these situations. Can I ask where you live? I can't actually remember hearing anyone say 'excuse me please' to me, but there may be geographical variation.
posted by heyforfour at 10:59 AM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also think that intonation matters a lot (US English again here). "Excuse me," with stress on the second syllable, is polite. "Excuse me" can come off a little snippy, and in fact is a close relative of Step 1 in Miss Manners's three-fold escalation of responses to unambiguous rudeness.

(If I remember correctly, the steps consist of "Pardon me," "I beg your pardon," and "How dare you.")
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 11:00 AM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


At least you aren't getting the incredibly rude "Excuse *you*" line (the one where there's a snide emphasis on *you*). Here in Newark and NYC, I've had people bump into me when I was standing still (not in the middle of a sidewalk, either) and throw that line at me, as if I was the one in the wrong. I'd love to hear "Excuse me", with or without the 'please'.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 11:01 AM on July 13, 2010


I only say "Excuse me, please," if I'm trying to get the attention of someone whose name I don't know. If I accidentally bump into someone, I say "Oh, excuse me" or "I'm sorry."
posted by rtha at 11:01 AM on July 13, 2010


Actually when I hear, "Excuse me, please," it usually seems ruder than a simple, "Excuse me." That's because it is usually barked or drawn out to make it sound like I was supposed to already be out of the way. Of course either one can be said tinged with sarcasm, but the short form seems to be enough when simply informing some one you want to get by them.
posted by Some1 at 11:04 AM on July 13, 2010


From NYC here, and I've never heard someone say "excuse me, please" except from my octogenarian grandmothers who learned English in the Soviet Union in the 1940s.
posted by griphus at 11:04 AM on July 13, 2010


"Excuse me" is polite in all parts of the US I've been to, and the phrase I was taught as a kid.

"Excuse me, please," in the context of a passing encounter, sounds too formal to my ears. Formalities have been steadily losing ground in the US for some time, and seem inauthentic and forced to many people. If someone bumps into me on the train, I'm more sympathetic to a surprised "Gosh! I'm sorry" than an automatic "pardon me, ma'am."
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:09 AM on July 13, 2010


When used as a synonym for "pardon me," as in making your way through a crowd or politely acknowledging something mildly embarrassing (belching, etc.) I would never never think to add a "please" unless it was to emphasize the statement.

When trying to get someone's attention, or addressing them since I have a question, I might throw on a "please" or try to address them by proper name or "sir."

Either way, I would not find it rude if anyone said "excuse me" to me without asking for it as a favor.
posted by mikeh at 11:09 AM on July 13, 2010


I have also never heard "Excuse me, please." The "please" follows "excuse me" unsaid, in my mind, and saying both would be superfluous. I might add "sir" or "ma'am" if I had a question, like mikeh said.

Intonation does matter, and there is a special level of hell reserved for those that employ the malicious "Excuse you."

(Also from NYC.)
posted by good day merlock at 11:11 AM on July 13, 2010


It's all in the tone of voice. "Excuse me" can mean

"please move, you're in my way"
"get the fuck out of my way"
"pardon me, I'm so sorry I got in YOUR way"

depending on how the voice is employed, "please" or no.
posted by gaspode at 11:11 AM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Excuse me" sounds perfectly polite to my ears.

Perhaps it's too many encounters with proselytizers/sidewalk scammers/eager college kids with clipboards/etc. but if a perfect stranger says "excuse me please" I start to brace myself for some spiel involving me giving them money, or my email address, or five minutes of my time to hear about their personal savior.
posted by ambrosia at 11:14 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the UK much depends on the tone, for example, it can be apologetic, admitting the blame for being in the way, it can be simple acknowledgement that you are in each others way (and can be said in this way be both parties) or it can be calling someone for being in the wrong, say if someone has bumped in to you through thoughtless behaviour. There are other variations.
posted by biffa at 11:14 AM on July 13, 2010


I think "excuse me" alone is definitely polite. "Excuse me please" seems mildly redundant. It's certainly nowhere near as irritating as the U.S. tendency to say "mm hm" when someone says "thank you" rather then the infinitely more civilized "you're welcome". Yes, as a matter of fact I am a grumpy old curmudgeon.
posted by Go Banana at 11:15 AM on July 13, 2010


Here in the UK you might say "excuse me please" if somebody is in your way way, or if you're having trouble getting somebody's attention. I've rarely heard it used particularly politely; it's more equivalent to "hey, you're in my way" or "hey, I need you to stop ignoring me", and tends to be used in an impatient tone.

In the case of almost bumping into somebody, 'sorry' seems to be the thing to say, with 'excuse me' quite a way back in second place.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:16 AM on July 13, 2010


I would personally just use "excuse me" (well, "pardon me," usually) if I bumped into somebody accidentally or if I needed for somebody to get out of my way.

"Please excuse me"? Maybe if I was interrupting somebody else's in-progress conversation.

"Excuse me please"? … the only time I can think of somebody saying this was to try and get the attention of a large group (say, for making a toast at a reception). It sounds a bit odd to American/Anglo-Canadian ears.

Now, I have no solid reason for why I would use those particular phrases in those particular situations, but, regional differences aside, I can't imagine any rudeness is intended by omitting a "please" either before or after the "excuse me."
posted by wreckingball at 11:19 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't remember ever hearing anyone say, "Excuse me please." The polite form is, "Excuse me."

On second thought, you occasionally hear the reverse: "Please excuse me." Perhaps this gives more emphasis in certain contexts. Maybe a dinner party guest would say, "Please excuse me, I'd love to stay for longer, but I have to get going."

Technically, you could argue that since "Excuse me" is literally a command, it should always have "please." But the difference between polite and impolite language is purely social convention anyway. If "Excuse me" is considered polite, it is polite.

(This is in the United States. It'd be helpful to know your location.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:20 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


20-something here, from the northeastern US. "Excuse me," with a polite tone, seems perfectly fine to me, no "please" necessary.

Funny, the word "please" brings up some odd connotations to me: depending on context, I sometimes find it LESS polite. Maybe because people use it fairly consistently with children and less so with adults, I find it to imply a sense of obligation or requirement.

"Could you please move your books off the kitchen table?" sounds like "Your books have been there for while, and honestly you should have moved them by now, come on, do your part to keep the house clean." "Could you move your books off the kitchen table?" if said with a slightly apologetic tone, sounds like "I know it's an inconvenience and you really don't have to, but if you moved your books then I could have space for my dinner guest/spread my own stuff out/whatever."

"Could you please set the table?" sounds like "It is your job to set the table, time to do it now." "Could you set the table?" sounds like "Hey, you don't have to, but we'll eat soon so if you wouldn't mind helping me, that would be great, thanks so much!"

To my ear at least. Who knows.
posted by teragram at 11:21 AM on July 13, 2010 [13 favorites]


Teragram: Sorry for the tangent, but your examples are both phrased as questions, which I think changes things. "Set the table, please," is maybe still more polite than, "set the table."
posted by RobotHero at 11:26 AM on July 13, 2010


Iam from India originally, but live in NYC. Thankyou for the interesting comments. Yes, I do agree it has to do with the tone of voice. Some people make it sound in a manner, that I did something wrong. For e,g the other day at my gym, I forgot my id, and had to give my name (And you know how some indian names are), so that the person behind the desk could verify. He asked my first name, and when he could not get it, he just threw a big Excuse me, which did not sound pleasing.
posted by jassi at 11:27 AM on July 13, 2010


Funny, the word "please" brings up some odd connotations to me: depending on context, I sometimes find it LESS polite. Maybe because people use it fairly consistently with children and less so with adults, I find it to imply a sense of obligation or requirement.

That's interesting, but I know someone who has a lot of experience working with children (not as a parent but as a day-care worker) who is adamant that you should teach children to say please, but you yourself should never say "please" when ordering children to do what they're supposed to, lest you undermine your own authority.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:32 AM on July 13, 2010


Ahh, so when the person says it, is the inflection apologetic like in this video, or obnoxious and sarcastic like in this video?
posted by schroedinger at 11:34 AM on July 13, 2010


I'm in the U.S. "Please excuse me" sounds weird and stilted to me.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:37 AM on July 13, 2010


Well, in the example you gave, the person was being rude. It would have been easy to ask, "Will you spell that name please?" Or state apologetically, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that."

I say "excuse me please" if I'm pushing past others to get to the subway doors for example, or if I'm otherwise inconveniencing them.

I would probably just use "excuse me" if they're poorly behaved or if I'm walking at a good clip.
posted by cranberrymonger at 11:44 AM on July 13, 2010


You are from India? Interesting, I was just reflecting that the addition of "please" sounds like a regionalism I've heard from English speakers in East Asia. I have no idea why this is, but the emphasis on [redundant] politeness matches my experience with outsourced customer service phone reps in India and Pakistan. In addition to extraneous "please"es I've also noticed a higher-than-usual number of "thank you"s and "kindly"s. I had assumed this was part of corporate training but maybe that's standard etiquette in that part of the world.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:45 AM on July 13, 2010


From NYC here, and I've never heard someone say "excuse me, please"

Ditto this.

And as someone born and raised in the Southern United States, aka Manners Capitol of America, I find "excuse me, please" a bit obsequious. The "please" isn't just unnecessary, it sounds so drippingly polite as to veer into derision and sarcasm. Like a butler at a fancy hotel sniveling down his nose at a ten year-old Macaulay Culkin.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:46 AM on July 13, 2010


I say "excuse me, please" if they don't know that I'm there, say I'm coming up behind them. Plain "excuse me" is fine for elevators and stuff where you're pretty much just reminding people that there are other people in the world and/or that they have an expansive sense of personal space.
posted by rhizome at 11:46 AM on July 13, 2010


He asked my first name, and when he could not get it, he just threw a big Excuse me, which did not sound pleasing.

If he asked it in an incredulous tone, then yeah, that would be rude. Otherwise, perfectly acceptable. I would usually say, "Pardon?" in that situation, but I think the two terms are pretty synonymous.
posted by amro at 11:47 AM on July 13, 2010


RobotHero, that's a good point, and I do agree with your example.
posted by teragram at 11:48 AM on July 13, 2010


He asked my first name, and when he could not get it, he just threw a big Excuse me, which did not sound pleasing.

I know what you mean with this. A USian would have to weigh in on whether or not this is polite usage there (on preview, amro just did), but to me (Australian) it's an American usage that I agree can sound rude to [some] non-Americans. I personally would say, "I beg your pardon?" Tone and inflection are all-important though, and sounding friendly and interested is probably more important than the wording that you choose.

The word that drives me nuts when someone is trying to get past me or get my attention is "Sorry". Sorry for what? Sorry that I'm in your way? But that's just my personal bugbear. The things we have to deal with!
posted by rubbish bin night at 11:48 AM on July 13, 2010


Iam from India originally, but live in NYC. Thankyou for the interesting comments. Yes, I do agree it has to do with the tone of voice. Some people make it sound in a manner, that I did something wrong. For e,g the other day at my gym, I forgot my id, and had to give my name (And you know how some indian names are), so that the person behind the desk could verify. He asked my first name, and when he could not get it, he just threw a big Excuse me, which did not sound pleasing.

"Excuse me?" or "Pardon me?" is often used to mean "I didn't understand you, please repeat". It is not necessarily rude in that situation (though it definitely can be, depending on tone of voice). It's pretty common for people to sound slightly confused or surprised when using it this way, because not understanding tends to throw people off, but a sarcastic and/or over-the-top inflection definitely equals rude (e.g. excuse me?)
posted by vorfeed at 11:50 AM on July 13, 2010


Canadian here. Not rude, not even close to rude.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:55 AM on July 13, 2010


jassi: "He asked my first name, and when he could not get it, he just threw a big Excuse me, which did not sound pleasing."

This is more of an, "I'm sorry, could you repeat please?" situation, in my opinion. His "excuse me" comes off as "your name sounds strange to me and I have no tact. My customer service is on par with the DMV."

I think that this is different from the, "I'm going to bump into you because you're in my way" "excuse me." The latter is pretty much shorthand for "dude, don't stand directly in front of the train doors."

Oh Zelda cartoon you were so terrible
posted by giraffe at 11:56 AM on July 13, 2010


Especially in the lifts, I move aside before anyone would "Excuse me". Sometimes I really thought people would "excuse me", just because you are at fault. But it is really interesting to see these varied comments. I think i will have a different perspective about this word from now....
posted by jassi at 11:56 AM on July 13, 2010


He asked my first name, and when he could not get it, he just threw a big Excuse me, which did not sound pleasing.

While this certainly could be said in an intentionally rude way, I would imagine he was just using it to mean "Pardon me?" or "I beg your pardon?" I use "Excuse me?" in such a manner fairly often. I get how it might seem abrupt, but it's just the way things go. I doubt offense was intended.

By the way, if I were going for utter all-encompassing politeness, in that situation, I still wouldn't say "Excuse me please" — just thinking about it makes my "what sounds right and wrong" centers buzz, like if I said something blatantly grammatically wrong.
posted by good day merlock at 11:57 AM on July 13, 2010


He asked my first name, and when he could not get it, he just threw a big Excuse me

Maybe he just meant, "Woops, sorry I had trouble getting your name right." That wouldn't necessarily be rude.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:00 PM on July 13, 2010


For e,g the other day at my gym, I forgot my id, and had to give my name (And you know how some indian names are), so that the person behind the desk could verify. He asked my first name, and when he could not get it, he just threw a big Excuse me, which did not sound pleasing.

Depending on the tone of voice, this may certainly be rude, but I think most of the time it's just a dummy phrase that people cough out without thinking, and can generally be interchanged with the following:

1. Pardon?
2. Sorry?
3. Huh?
4. What was that now?
5. Come again?
6. One more time?
7. Wait, what?
8. Sorry, I didn't catch that.
9. [raise eyebrows and tilt ear towards speaker]

I think I personally say "Sorry?" but I'm not 100% sure. It all happens so fast. Which is why you shouldn't take too personally what particular phrase people use in such interactions - they're just talking on autopilot.
posted by granted at 12:06 PM on July 13, 2010


In addition to extraneous "please"es I've also noticed a higher-than-usual number of "thank you"s and "kindly"s. I had assumed this was part of corporate training but maybe that's standard etiquette in that part of the world.

I've always said "Thank you kindly" though I'm not sure why. It just sounds good to me I suppose. I'm American born and bred by the way. I've never said, "excuse me, please" though because it sounds awkward on my tongue.
posted by patheral at 12:34 PM on July 13, 2010


In the particular situation at the gym, "excuse me, please" doesn't really make sense. You could say "Could you please spell that?" (Which would be more polite than "Spell that.") or you could say one of the things that granted listed to imply "please repeat because I didn't catch that," but if someone didn't understand what I was saying and said "excuse me, please," I would be flummoxed and would take a beat to understand what they were trying to say, because that is NEVER said by native American speakers in that particular situation. The guy could have said it in a rude tone, though, definitely.

"Excuse me, please" is pretty much only if you want to sound super polite for situations when you're getting off of the elevator and you actually need someone to move. (I think a good rule of thumb is if you can flip it around - "Please excuse me," then it can be used in that situation. If it doesn't make sense with the please at the front, it's not going to somehow make it better to put it after the "excuse me."
posted by wending my way at 12:56 PM on July 13, 2010


"Excuse me, please" actually sounds a little bit more rude than just "excuse me," at least to my ears.
posted by General Tonic at 1:05 PM on July 13, 2010


I agree with Teragram (I'm 30-something and in the SW US and work at a med school with a wide range of people from doctors to undergrads) and have actually found myself using "please" less and less because it often sounds rude. Specifically, "please" often has a connotation of "I have to add the formality of 'please' to this request because I don't believe that you'd respond to a more casual request". Leaving "please" off usually makes a request sound friendlier and more pleasantly casual. A demand, on the other hand, sounds rude either way, but it does sound a little less rude with a "please" at the end; any demand would sound even less rude if phrased as a request.

The 90s (80s?) valley-girl-ish slang "Oh, please!" (as a term of dismissal) might also have something to do with its degradation.

When I want to add the "if it pleases you" sort of nuance to a request that "please" used to add, I use "if you're not too busy...", or "if you don't mind...", or "when you get a chance...". Of course, all of those can easily become sarcastic and insulting, too. Like everything, it all depends on context.

I have similar feelings about the word "sir"; a couple months ago a friend and I were helping a kindly old man unload his truck, and my friend called the old man "sir", and for a brief moment I wondered why my friend was being mean to this nice old man.

Back to the original question, I most often use "sorry" in those kinds of situations, or something along the lines of "can I get by you real quick?" if circumstances allow me to be that verbose; "excuse me" will get you dirty looks from anyone under 50, and "excuse me, please" will get you even more dirty looks.

Perhaps we are living in a post-polite society where politeness has become rude? :)
posted by luvcraft at 1:06 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's really American shorthand, as the "Please" is implied.

It's not a declarative "You excuse me." It's a question: "Would you please excuse me?"
posted by four panels at 1:35 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


NYC has some accepted rules of conduct that are not always the norm in other parts of the US. Many NYers are in a hurry, and they consider it rude if you take up more of their time than is necessary. So there's a value placed on TERSE politeness. If there's a way to be polite with three words rather than four, many New Yorkers will prefer that.

I grew up in the Midwestern U.S., but I've lived in NYC for over a decade. I find it very hard to get used to people walking up to me and saying, "How do you get to Fifth Avenue?" My knee-jerk reaction is to think, "What a rude fucking bastard," because they didn't start by saying, "Excuse me, could you give me some directions?" That's what I was brought up to do, and that's what I do.

But when I stop jerking my knee, I realize that the "Excuse me, etc." is there. It's in the tone of voice. But being that verbose is just not the NYC way. The intent-to-be-polite is there and the communication-of-politeness is there (just in tone rather that words), and the direction-asker is doing me the additional courtesy of wasting as little of my time as possible.

I got pissed off the other day when I was standing in line to buy something, and a women BEHIND me picked up an NY Times walked to the counter, said, "I'm taking a Times. Here's five dollars" (exact change, which she put down on the counter). SHE DIDN'T WAIT HER FUCKING TURN. But she really didn't waste anyone's time. The clerk just nodded to her while he was ringing up someone else. What she did was fine. I was just in Midwest mode.
posted by grumblebee at 2:13 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another personal usage: When I'm in the grocery store I will say "excuse me" to anybody when I have to walk between them and what they are looking at. In that situation, "excuse me, please" would be a little too formal. For me, anyway.
posted by rhizome at 2:38 PM on July 13, 2010


These days I'm just grateful when someone makes any kind of effort towards behaving as if we live together in a society. I'd find 'excuse me' to be just fine unless their tone of voice indicated that they were being a jerk.

Although since you use the word 'lift' I'm thinking you're not in the US like I am, so YMMV.
posted by thatone at 2:51 PM on July 13, 2010


Although since you use the word 'lift' I'm thinking you're not in the US like I am, so YMMV.

No, he's from India but is now living in NYC. He probably learned British English.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:21 PM on July 13, 2010


"excuse me" (and similar politeness expressions) are often used in situation where you are going ask someone to do something or inconvenience them. "excuse me" can be used as shorthand for such as

1) "please, I need to walk through the door that you are standing in and blocking so would please temporarily move out of the way"

2) "please, I didn't understand what you just said so would you please repeat yourself"

3) "I am sorry that by walking in front of you I am blocking you view but my passage will be brief"

The first two examples imply that the listener is somehow at fault and the whole purpose of "excuse me" is to cast the fault onto yourself such that you need to be excused. In these cases just naked "excuse me" is MORE polite then actually mentioning the fault of the listener.

In the third example, the speaker is actually at fault, and one would think that this case is prototypical and requires "excuse me" - but often finds in such situations just "sorry" because "excuse me" implies that the listener needs to do something (at the very least excuse the person). "Excuse me" however is the polite way to preface an explicit question to as stranger, such as:

4) "Excuse me, but how do I get to Carnegie Hall"

where you are asking to be excused for asking a question in a non-conflict situation.

In English, conversations between strangers over slight conflicts seem to be the most polite when they involve the fewest words because that shows it is not a big issue. For someone to speak a polite 2 or 3 sentences when a simple "excuse me" or "sorry" seems weird maybe because it wastes time and is overly intimate. If you are going to bother a stranger then you should make the bother short.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:11 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


MonkeySaltedNuts: Yes, if a stranger on the sidewalk said, "Excuse me, please," out of the blue, I'd assume they were begging for money or trying to convert me to their religion. If they said, "Excuse me," they might just be asking for directions or the time.
posted by RobotHero at 8:30 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, with the example of giving my name, if someone said, "Excuse me?" I would just repeat myself. If they said, "Excuse me, please," I would wait to see what they were going to ask me to do.
posted by RobotHero at 8:50 AM on July 15, 2010


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