Misunderstandings, colloquialisms, wrong words and false friends: 10

FRED: Do you mind if I use your toilet?

LAURA: Yes.

FRED: Oh. Right. Well, I’ll have to try and hang on until I get home.

 

This is one of those funny requests where a positive response requires a negative answer.

 

Do you mind or would you mind (which is more polite) is often used in making requests. It is what we might call a ‘softener’, a less direct way of asking a question. Indeed, if I wanted to ‘translate’ the phrase ‘do you mind’ as if it was another language, it wouldn’t be ‘Is it okay?’ but ‘Is it a problem or an inconvenience for you?’. That’s a little direct to say to someone, so we say ‘Do you mind’ or ‘would you mind’.

 

But if you respond by saying ‘yes’ or ‘yes I mind’, then what you are really saying is, ‘yes, it is a problem for me/it is an inconvenience for me’, so you are refusing permission for the person’s request. And so Fred might have a little accident…

 

So the correct response would be, ‘no, it is not an inconvenience for me, it is not a problem for me,’ or far less complicated and easier to say, ‘No, I don’t mind.’ Or, more naturally, ‘Of course!’ ‘Sure!’ ‘No problem!’ ‘It’s okay with me!’ and so on.

 

A cultural note: The Brits have no problems referring to the toilet as the toilet. Or the lavatory. Or the lav. The loo. The bog, and so on. The Americans, however, feel that it is more appropriate and not so direct that you ask for the bathroom. Which could be a problem in many British homes, particularly in older homes, as the bathroom is literally ‘the room with the bath’, and the toilet is in its own room somewhere else…

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