The season for holiday gatherings is coming, but are you ready to keep the conversation going in English? As you meet and greet friends, colleagues and new acquaintances, remember that casual conversation topics in your language may not be acceptable in English. Here’s a short list of what not to say to avoid insult or embarrassment at any social occasion.
You’ve put on weight.
Avoid pointing out that someone is fat or making any comments about weight, unless you’re trying to be rude. This is often a sensitive issue, and remarks such as “You’re getting fat” are incredibly insulting.
“Oh you’re pregnant!”
Unless it’s really obvious, make it a point not to bring this up. If you happen to be mistaken, you have managed to let out a big insult. See above.
“Is this your daughter?”
Well, what if she happens to be his girlfriend? Avoid assuming relationships and instead wait to be introduced, or be bold and introduce yourself.
“Your sister is so much prettier than you.”
While this may seem like a harmless comment in some cultures, it can hurt the feelings of the person you’re talking to. Instead, leave out the comparisons and just mention that their sister is pretty.
“That color doesn’t suit you.”
Negative talk about appearances may ruin someone’s evening – especially if they’ve spent a lot on their outfit. Try making someone’s day, instead, by complimenting them on an article of clothing or an accessory you do like!
“How much money do you make?”
While this isn’t insulting, it’s too personal and can leave someone in an awkward position. It’s not customary in many places to talk about money or salary.
“You look sick.”
Said bluntly, this can definitely be insulting. If someone really does look like they’re not feeling well, you can ask, “Are you feeling ok?”
“How old are you?”
Age is a sensitive issue for many, and quite a few people are unwilling to reveal theirs. Stay away from asking this question – unless you’re chatting with a 6-year-old. They’re always happy to share their age!
“Oh, you’re from London!”
Maybe your victim is in fact from London and you’re very good at guessing. But that would be like hearing you were from America and then immediately assuming you were from New York, when actually you hail from a backwater in North Dakota. Stick with “the U.K.”, “Britain” or, if you’ve really been doing your homework, “England”/”Scotland” (or whatever else you can discern—you’ll score several points for specific counties).
“Oh, you’re from Europe!”
The U.K. is not Europe. Well, OK, technically yes it is part of Europe—but it’s also not. Not to us. We’re pretty proud of our poky little island, and we don’t tend to lump ourselves in with mainland Europe. We’re British, thank you very much, not European.
The overall message is don’t get too personal or be too negative. In social situations, and even all the time, it’s wise to follow the instructions of a popular English proverb: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”