Yeah, no

As you’d expect, being a stranger in a strange land, I often find myself talking to people who aren’t native english speakers. I’ve learned that there’s a definite knack to having a conversation that crosses a few language barriers. Talk slowly, taking a lot of care to en-un-ci-ate ev-er-y syl-lab-le. And throw in a lot of hand gestures, too. They always help.

What doesn’t help is when you’ve got a verbal tic that must be incredibly confusing for the person listening to you. In my case, I have an awful habit of starting sentences with “Yeah… no.” My wife pointed this out to me a little while ago and now I can’t help but notice that I do it all the fucking time.

In my mind, though, it makes perfect sense. What I’m actually saying is “Yes, I hear, understand and appreciate what you are saying but no, this is not the case.” And it gives me extra time to think of a proper response. But to an Italian person listening to me, I probably sound like a babbling lunatic who is deliberately going out of his way to confuse them. English is confusing enough without me throwing a spanner in the works. For example, did you know there are roughly seven different ways to pronounce “ough” in the English language?

Although I’ve been getting less bummed out by my tic since I started noticing how many other people have it too. You’ve no idea how happy I was when I heard Joe Cornish say it on the Adam and Joe podcast. Famous people do it too!

Still, it doesn’t help me with my own problem. Maybe I should just start speaking Italian to Italian people.


6 thoughts on “Yeah, no

  1. Mim says:
    I remember using “yeh, no” on a call when I was working in BT. At the time, I don’t think I was even aware I used it at all. The customer was really horrible about it. He said “uhm, what does ‘yeh, no’ mean? Do you mean YES or do you mean NO?” I felt like a naughty schoolchild and like the worst tech support agent ever. I stammered out some sort of apology. What a wanker.
  2. Jordan says:
    Another way of speaking English to Italian people, especially when you’re mad at them: It was raining really hard last month and we ducked into that pizzeria by La Passatella, and the guy in there took our coats and put them by the oven to dry. I went a bit crazy and started dumping all my pocket change onto the counter and trying to order calzones, but our Italian friends (it was Andy and Elisa) had no idea what the hell I was doing and my explanation wasn’t really that funny in the end. Who the hell decided Seinfeld is untranslatable?
  3. Helena says:
    @Jordan: There’s one flaw in that video which is that any Italian would be delighted to be paid in small change.

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