Are native English speakers strange?

Are native English speakers strange?

  • Why can’t they just say no? (That’s a whole other post I’ll have to write about soon. Maybe in a few weeks?)
  • Why do they have to be so overly polite?
  • Why can’t they just say exactly what is on their minds?
  • Why can’t they get directly to the point and stop beating around the bush?

Has any of those questions ever crossed your mind?

It’s frustrating, huh? I hear you. Sometimes I wonder why we as native speakers are so overly polite.

As a native English speaker, I at times just want to blurt out exactly what is on my mind without thinking twice. But I can’t. I just cant. Why? Because I understand the culture behind the English language. This brings to mind a quote made by Frantz Fanon, ” To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture”.


The difference between language fluency and cultural fluency

Are you fluent in English? Some people look at fluency as being able to communicate important ideas and get by in the language. Others consider fluency as when you’re able to express yourself easily no matter the subject.

When non-native English speakers talk about being fluent, they usually think of grammar, vocabulary and conversational expressions. But, they hardly think about culture. That’s why some non-native English speakers, no matter their advanced English level, will never be fully integrated with native speakers unless they understand and accept the culture.

This leads me to the situation I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. I can’t just say exactly what’s on my mind because I understand the culture behind the English language.

If I say things in a tactless and insensitive way, I’ll end up hurting people’s feelings, offending and upsetting them and possibly burning some bridges. I’ll be an ideal candidate for the book How to lose friends and alienate people. (Just so you know, I’ve never read the book but I’ve always found the title quite humourous.)


What non-native speakers think of native English speakers and their culture

Below are 4 responses from non- native English speakers who have lived or are currently living in an English speaking country. They were asked the following question: What do you find strange about native English speakers and their culture?

Anne Canaveera

I learned English at school for more than ten years, and when I moved to Ireland, I was confident in my oral skills. In fact, I was more afraid of the social aspects of things (would I make any friends, would I like my job etc), but I realised once there, that my English was very formal. In short, Irish people didn’t speak English the way I learned it at school! In Ireland, people speak what is called Hiberno-English. It’s English, but it’s derived from the gaelic language, that was widely spoken in Ireland before the British invasion.

When Irish people were forced to speak English, they roughly translated their thoughts in English, which means in Ireland, there are phrases, expressions and grammatical structures you can’t find anywhere else in the world. This is something I really had to adapt to, but with a bit of effort, my Irish-English skills improved a lot. So yes, the Irish really speak a different language than in the UK for the example, and that can be very confusing for foreigners when they arrive in the country!

Anne is  from a small village in Brittany (Northwest of France) and has been living in Ireland for 14 years. You can read about her experiences in Ireland of her blog  Nearly Irish.


Alexandre Roty

Although British people seem to be quite open-minded, it’s in fact rather difficult to enter their private spaces; thing that us, “latins” do more easily. After doing the polite talk and telling you they’re impressed by the fact that you come from another country, they rarely try to go further into creating some bonds. It’s kind of paradox I think.

Alex spent 5 years as an expat in London where he started the blog Un Français à Londres. He’s currently living in Switzerland and he shares his adventures on his new blog Hello Monsieur.


Elena Mutonono

One of the things that has always amazed me is the phrase, “We need to get together some time.” It’s absolutely meaningless, but it gives you a lot of hope that indeed you’re supposed to get together. Then it makes you feel guilty that you’re not proactively arranging the get-together. Finally, you give up and learn to say the same things.

Elena has been living in the US consecutively for the past 6 years. Prior to that, she had spent time studying, traveling and working (for shorter periods of time). Elena helps teacherpreneurs and is also an accent coach. You can learn more about her over on her website.


Sarah Papasodaro

What I found unusual when I first became an expat is that people everywhere asked me “hi, how it’s going??” In France, we don’t ask everyone how they are! We just say “hi”, that’s it. The first person who asked me if I’m going well, I was thinking: “this person is so weird” so I didn’t answer. Then I realized that it was me the weird person!! :/

Another behavior I found very strange is when I have been called “sweetheart” by someone I just met, and also by the staff of the supermarket! So shocked, in France we don’t use to call somebody like that, we don’t ever do even if we are friends. It means you want something bad from me. So it’s only reserved for boyfriend or very close friends. Now I’m ok with that, I understood the friendly way and I like it. But, you know, it would be so funny to call your vendor “sweetheart” in France, just to see his face. Maybe he will call the police Hahaha 😀 😀

Sarah is a French expat living in the US since 2014. On her site Vivre au-delà des frontières, she helps other French speakers achieve their American dream of working and living in the US.


As a native English speaker, I found the above answers quite intriguing and eye-openeing. It’s funny how sometimes you don’t realise something about your culture unless someone else points it out.

Is there anything you can do to get better at understanding culture?


How to become more culturally fluent

One way you can become more culturally fluent is by watching movies in English. As you do so, notice how native speakers respond to certain questions, consider their body language and facial expressions. Watching movies that feature different cultures interacting with each other is also a good way of learning more about the culture behind the English language.

While doing some research for my e-guide, The Culture Sensitive Phrasebook, I watched two movies that featured cross-cultural communication: Everything is Illuminated and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In those two movies, there were Ukrainians and Greeks, respectively, interacting with Americans. The movies highlighted many cultural faux pas that non-native English speakers make.

Think back to those questions mentioned at the beginning of this article that non-native speakers find strange about English speaking cultures. By taking the time to become more culturally fluent, you’ll be able to understand the thought process of native English speakers. As a result, you’ll be better able to accept and embrace the culture, so that you can fit in more easily with them.


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