An American, if he or she is truly riled, will just come out with it and call you a jerk (usually worse, but I don’t want to sully this blog).
A working class Brit will generally do the same, though the phrase will be “&*%@ing idiot” or something similar.
But English people of the upper or managerial classes can be just as rude–but without letting any derogatory words pass their lips.
A sterling example: this morning I went to my property management firm asking for a copy of the lease to prove to my bank that I had an address in Cambridge.
I quickly realized that my request was clearly an imposition. How could I tell? Well, getting a copy of my lease involved no fewer than three people, necessitated my passport being Xeroxed, took an inordinately long time and then, when the woman I’ve been dealing with since September and who knows perfectly well who I am approached me with the copy of my lease, she looked down as she crossed the room and then continued to look down as I thanked her. Subtle, eh? Not to mention, rude.
Ditto at the Apple store in the Grand Arcade in the centre of Cambridge, where I have had excellent assistance in the past. The problem this time was my hard drive, which had been dying over the course of several weeks.
When it was clear that the hard drive was well and truly dead and that they could have diagnosed the problem earlier and probably saved my data–which I indicated didn’t make me very happy–the Apple guy handed me a UK-compatible cord, a useful substitute for my US-cord-and-converter.
“With our compliments, Madam,” he said, which translated means, get out of my store.
See, he was polite to the end, but let me tell my fellow Americans, when English people employ the words “our compliments” and “Madam” or “Sir” in the same sentence, they’re telling you that they think you’re a jerk. So beware of the ultra-polite British person; they’re probably just being rude!
Jenny Thomas said:
True words – but you forgot to mention the subtle sneer with the “….Madam” or “…Sir”. Then it’s really rude – and if you’re British and recognise those slights, it is particularly cutting. It sails over the heads of foreigners of course.
Virginia A Smith said:
Ah, yes, the sneer! Thank you for telling us about this, Jenny, and for reading!