But no, really...it is English. It's British!
I love Spain. I really do. But the drop-the-please-and-thank-yous way of talking throws me a little bit. At a cafe I want to say, "Hello, how are you? [Wait for response and potentially make small talk.] Could I please have a coffee?" when really, all the waitress wants to hear is "Ponme un café con leche," or "Dame un café con leche." Literally translated, we're looking at something like "Put a coffee in front of me," or "Give me a coffee." Most of the time, there's very little interaction after that. She returns with the coffee, and that's it--until I have to spend 10 or 15 minutes flagging someone down for the check.
It's not that Spaniards are rude, necessarily. But for an Anglo like me, especially one who has spent the past 10 years, más o menos, in the southern U.S., please and thank you are important words to throw into conversation, especially transactions in stores and restaurants. I also kind of expect that a store or restaurant is going to thank me for my business when I leave (but they do say "hasta luego" religiously here, so I'll take that!). Here it is just different: people are more direct, throw in fewer fluff words, and get to the point (for the most part). Customer service isn't top of the priority list. And if something comes out of the kitchen not exactly how you ordered it at a restaurant, you are likely to blame, and no apologies will be made. (I know this is a generalization, but it holds true in many cases.) There are so many friendly Spaniards, but sometimes it takes getting past the gruffness and hard exterior to uncover the friendliness.
Going to England this year was always a pleasant cultural surprise. "People are so friendly!" we always remarked. I was shocked when I ordered a steak pie at a pub, and was approached by the manager shortly after ordering. He crouched down, getting eye-to-eye--this was serious business--and apologized profusely: they were out of the steak pie, but would I mind very much if they brought out a chicken and leek pie? "On the house, of course," the man continued, "and once again I am so very sorry!" The frequency of "please" and "thank you," and "excuse me" when bumping into someone was music to my ears. And it felt a little bit more like home. There is such a nice attitude of helpfulness that we encountered everywhere we traveled that was so refreshing, too.
The following signs aren't all about politeness (though some of them are), but are just signs that struck me as being so British. We love England and can't wait to go back!
Not only does "please" seem to appear everywhere, reminders about being careful, not hitting your head, etc. abound.