Aug 152009

coffee_or_teaWhen I’m presented with two alternatives, ‘I don’t mind’ seems like a logical response to me.

You: ‘Coffee or tea?’

Me: ‘I don’t mind’.

It sounds amenable – indicates a pleasant, easy-going sort of attitude and says ‘I don’t want to impose my wishes on you. I’ll go with the flow’.

An AmE equivalent could be ‘I don’t care’, but that smacks of apathy to my British ear. I’ve heard myself using it in mission-critical situations sometimes, where I know I won’t have time to clarify. But even after ten years in the US, it doesn’t trip off my tongue easily.

So most evenings, you’ll hear me having a conversation along these lines with my ‘merican husband:

Him: What would you like for dinner tonight? We have salmon and flounder in the freezer.

Me: I don’t mind

Him: Yeah, but salmon or flounder?

Me: I don’t mind

Him: Yeah, but what don’t you mind?

 Posted by at 12:50 am

  31 Responses to “How to drive an American nuts”

  1. Thanks for this 🙂 It’s driven me batty in various business English books and worksheets, which routinely suggest that “I don’t mind” is preferable to “I don’t care” … while “I don’t (really) care” sounds far better to me. For peace’s sake, how about “Either one would be fine. What are you having?”

  2. Ha! Well yes, I’m afraid it’s very hard for us Brits to understand why our ‘I don’t mind’ is not a logical answer in ‘merican.
    I was wondering whether adding an ‘either way’ would help – so ‘I don’t mind either way’. But I don’t think it’d solve the more fundamental problem. ‘Minding’ doesn’t seem to be a relevant issue in these situations in ‘merican.
    So your solution sounds much better. I’m going to try it next time and I’ll let you know whether it brings peace and harmony to the household.
    Hey Anne, can you tell me about the ‘really’ in this answer: ‘I don’t really care.’? Am I right in thinking it makes the answer sound more amenable to an American ear?

  3. “As you like?”

    By the way Vicki _ i’ve added a “sort of” blog roll to my sidebar, i’ve tried to make it different than usual but now i am wondering
    a- is it to pretentious (in American or British)
    b – do you mind/care/like being quoted?

    Any feedback?

  4. Very happy to be quoted Chris. Would you like a more entertaining quote than that though. Give me some time to think of one…

  5. Or “you choose, darling, you always make the right decisions”

    That might win on all kinds of levels 😉

    Chris, groovy idea for getting critiques as links to blog rolls. Smart.


  6. Hi, I’m a great friend of Chris Adams. So come to this bog via his.
    It rang bells for me – I was brought up to always consider others first…. and never to impose, etc, etc. But Believe Me, answer a straight question with a straight answer – Do you want tea or coffee? Just tell your host or hostess – tea, or coffee. They know where they are. They can just get on with it knowing that’s what you want. No probs. It’s a real drag when people don’t have the confidence to commit themselves.

  7. Martin,
    Great to meet you and thank you so much for stopping by. Any friend of Mr Adams is a very welcome visitor.
    Now I have to warn you that I find your solution very appealing, but also very threatening. What would I have to blog about if people started giving direct answers to direct questions and saying what they mean?

  8. Karenne, I just tried your “you choose, darling, you always make the right decisions” line.
    It resulted in hysterical laughter, and he says it’s almost as bad as ‘I don’t mind’

  9. Well this is funny, because I am an American living in France. When I was learning French we learned
    Je m’en fiche= I don’t mind
    Ça m’était igale= It’s the same to me
    Je m’en fou= I couldn’t care less

    Pardon my spelling, I’m not sure I got it right.

    The British were always using Je m’en fiche and the Americans were always using Je m’en fou. Our French teacher told us Je m’en fou is too strong.

    I also teach English in France and most of my students will say I don’t mind or It’s the same to me but never say I couldn’t care less, even if it is totally appropriate. I asked them and they have said that they had British teachers most of their lives for English and they are told that it is rude to say that.

    I love the cultural differences you uncover when living in a different country or when working with others from different countries.

  10. Great to meet you Owen, and thank you so much for taking the time to contribute these lovely examples.

    I’m afraid I was one of those British teachers who was telling students it was rude to say ‘I don’t care’. Now I don’t mind/care what they say as long as they understand the implications.

    Tell you what though, if your French teacher was advocating ‘Je m’en fiche’, it sounds like the French might be lining up with the Brits here. Now there’s a thing!

  11. Something the French say, that will drive me crazy, in reply to ‘Would you like a tea/coffee/glass of wine is…

    Pourquoi pas?

    Why not?

    I guess it’s the apparent lack of commitment that is so annoying.

    So.. i don’t know if i have really understood the American/USA problem.
    I don’t care is neutral? in US English?

    And I don’t mind?

  12. Over Canada: I overheard a woman in the window seat on a small airplane say to the rightful seatholder “Would you prefer this seat?” “I don’t mind” on a flight from Sault Saint Marie, Ontario to Tornonto. I would have been confused.

    “can you tell me about the ‘really’ in this answer: ‘I don’t really care.’? Am I right in thinking it makes the answer sound more amenable to an American ear?”

    “Really” is really (!) tricky. We’d need a friendly intonation for this one, right, a smile in a relaxed voice, I think, and a situation where decisions aren’t required so as not to rile up your counterpart. Then, yes!

  13. Chris,

    Yeah, ‘I don’t care’ is a neutral response in AmE. ‘I don’t mind’ isn’t a logical response to an ‘either/or’ question here. I think it might flout the maxim of relevance in Gricean terms in AmE – so it’s a confusing non-sequitor. My impression is that unless you say which one you don’t mind, it doesn’t make much sense.

    I love the French ‘Why not?’ example – oh yes, just the sort of thing people unwittingly say that cheeses other people off. Thanks, Chris!

  14. Anne, Really?

    There are some *really* interesting things about ‘really’. Oh this merits more thought and another posting. Thank you, Anne!

  15. Anne comments –
    For peace’s sake, how about “Either one would be fine. What are you having?”

    But that’s just what I’m prattling on about – BE CLEAR, CONCISE AND TO THE POINT – where’s the problem in that. I really don’t get it.
    It’s non of our business what the other person wants – he or she has asked you a SIMPLE question – ANSWER IT.

  16. Martin,
    Where are you living? (I think you might feel very comfortable living on this side of the pond.)

  17. I’m in the opposite situation to you, Vicki, married to Dede, an American trying desperately hard to understand and be understood.

    A particular problem we have is with “Do you want to …?” as in “Do you want to do the dishes?” To which my answer is, “Well, if I had a choice…”

    The use of “Do you want to …” sounds a bit impolite to some people, but for me it seems to offer a choice, whereas “Would you like to do the washing up?” doesn’t.

    Dede has recently replaced this with the statement “I’ll let you do the dishes.” Which makes it sound like something I’ve been straining at the leash to do all day!

  18. Ha! Oh Ken – Dede would fit right in in our house.

  19. My hubby’s response in this kind of situation tends to be “you decide” (I’m guessing that would translate the same on both sides of the pond?).

    When the shoe is on the other foot, we sometimes get caught up in the same kind of banter as Ken and Dede (I’m a scouser, married to someone born south of Watford):

    Him “Would you like to wash the dishes?”
    Me “Not really. I’d rather carry on sitting here with my feet up, drinking a glass of wine…” 😉

  20. Sue, a wonderful demonstration of the fact that Scousers are the funniest people in Britain.
    When i first visited the city, from my home in london, i stopped to ask someone the way.
    “Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the hospital?”
    “Just stand over there in the middle of the road.”

  21. Great to meet you Sue and thank you so much for chipping in. I find your answer to your husband’s question utterly logical (though my husband would disagree).

  22. I think that’s just how to drive a man nuts. My husband and I have the same interaction, but with the nationalities (and not the genders) exchanged!

  23. Oh wow! Are you really Lynne of
    Thank you so much for chiming in – I’m a HUGE fan of your blog.

  24. Yep, that’s me! Glad you like it–I see we have similar interests! Will add yours to my blogroll too.

  25. This is months behind but I couldn’t resist.
    My american partner & I were visiting in Ireland and my brother-in-law asks:
    “would you like some eggs with your fry?”
    reply: “I don’t mind if I do.”
    They thought it was wonderful and still quote him!

  26. I am an American married to a Brit for 20 years now. I am accustomed to hearing “I’m not bothered” as a response or “yes please”. From my American point of view, it is jolly good I can read minds and make decisions for my husband.

    Great blog and website by the way.

  27. Ha! You’ve reminded me that I’ve tried the “I’m not bothered’ line on my husband as well – seems such a natural response to me. Doesn’t stop the poor guy from pulling his hair out though. Think he needs to take a more pragmatic approach like yours.

  28. How about “I’m easy”? Would it drive an American nuts? 🙂

  29. Just tried it Leo and he said ‘Then let’s go up to the bedroom’. Don’t think it helped.

  30. […] ‘I don’t mind’ where ‘mericans would say ‘I don’t care’. I’ve written about that before  and it still drives my husband nuts. But we” have to save that for another video one […]

  31. […] a link to the video we made, and here’s a post about it that I wrote a while […]

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