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The Terribly English Approach to Calling In a Debt

Money cash


I am English. This means that I was born with a deep feeling of shame and embarrassment at the very thought of discussing (whisper it) money. This is all well and good at ensuring I don’t upset the vicar when he comes to tea (by vicar, I mean local transvestite, and by tea, I mean vodka) but avoiding the “vulgar” discussion of cash puts one at rather a disadvantage when it comes to reclaiming the monies owed to me by those with little desire to pay it. In short, the only way to go about getting back the pennies I need to pay for my Chanel make-up habit and bar tab, is that I’m going to have to get crude, rude and thoroughly un-British. Goody!

First of all, may I point out that I haven’t accrued a list of people who owe me a pound of flesh by nefarious doings of the narcotic variety, loan sharking or gambling. I have neither the time nor patience for dealing with those who dabble in such areas and if I did, I’d have become a social worker (a four week stint as a live-in carerer soon took care of that desire at the tender age of not-so-sweet sixteen). The debts owed to me are my last flat rental deposit and an over-payment to a utility supplier. Rather tame and far less glamorous – perhaps I should turn to loan sharking for the sake of future blogs.

Anyway, being of a decidedly Englishy nature, my default response to any situation is polite reservation, i.e. sitting back and waiting while muttering profanities under my breath. Well, I have sat and I have waited and waited some more and still no funds appeared in my grubby paws, so I got over it and moved on. I moved on to the stage in debt wrangling that the British do oh-so well; polite e-mail correspondence.

Polite e-mailing isn’t really as easy as it looks. First you need to build up just the right amount of frustrated aggression, then you need to thinly veil it with ice and manners and then you need to write a mildly worded email, politely apologising for being a nuisance, and in keeping with being British, not mention money – “I know you’re terribly busy and I’m not very important and if you could be oh-so-kind, well really, gosh, you only have seven days to rectify this matter before I get really quite cross”, before moaning to absolutely anything with ear-holes that this abominable toad, this pustule upon Satan’s scrotum, has stolen, yes STOLEN from you, and the villain shall rue the very day they decided to enter into financial battle with good old Britty Bigballs! You then reel off a list of the utterly brutal, eye-wateringly illegal things you will inflict upon said debtor if they fail to reimburse you your funds within the strictly alloted time scale – there will be no mercy!

Seven days later, not a penny. Time for another “polite” e-mail.

After approximately five such politely worded e-mails (“ok, I gave you seven days and you’ve failed to rectify our financial imbalance. I have no choice but to give you seven more days, do you hear?! Terribly sorry to have bothered you and thank you for taking the time to read my humble mailing”) you bring out the big guns. An email so acidly polite, it could cut through Maggie Thatcher’s chastity belt. An e-mail such as this will always start with “thoroughly disappointed” and will always end with “immediate action”, via a heavy dose of CAPITAL LETTERED SHOUTING, with a few “cretins” and “imbeciles” thrown in for good measure. This e-mail will also contain no less than four threats of intense legal action, regardless of the fact that you are more likely to call your granny a goat-botherering whore than you are to call a lawyer.

Seven days later…

Now they’ve got you really angry. They haven’t played by the rules of being English, and the number one rule of being English is that you do as you are asked when asked to do so in a politely worded, passive-aggressive e-mail. Well, actually, the number one rule of being English is that you make tea as the solution to any emotional situation, but this is a very close second. Anyway, this criminal has got your hackles up and no-one can stop you from unleashing seven shades of un-holy Hell on them as you move on to the stage where verbal communication becomes necessary. “Just hand me that phone and stand aside while I tear them a new digestive exit route!” you declare masterfully, as you stab the phone number into the handset, hand on hip and tea in cup.

“Now look here, I’ve been terribly fair about this whole thing regarding our outstanding business dispute and I’m more than a little mildly perturbed. I demand to have this matter resolved and I simply won’t be put off any lon… what? Oh, yes, of course I’ll hold.”

The stage after this is quietly sobbing into a glass bottle of Merlot before shredding the paperwork and pretending you donated the money to charity. Well, you didn’t really want to pay this month’s rent anyway!

Enough is enough, no more of my British reserve and shame at having to use the ‘m’ word. Action shall be taken and it will not be pretty! I have no choice but to hire a very large, battle-scarred hard-man sporting more tattoos than teeth, to go round and beat these dastardly debtors with a brick until they pay up! Maybe not a brick, maybe just cuffing them about the ear. Well, not so much cuffing them about the ear as shout very loudly at them in a menacing manner. Except that instead of shouting, it will be more of a stern talking to. In fact, I don’t so much mean a stern tal… I’ll just send another polite e-mail.


About prettyfeetpoptoe

I live in London and have both my own legs so I am fortunate enough to get out and about on occasion. I form many views on the things that I see and do and love nothing better than a session of linguistic gymnastics in order to share these views.

21 responses »

  1. LOL love your blog. I am a Texan so I would say, “I’ll put a boot in your ass!”

  2. Since my daughter’s been in the UK, I have learned to appreciate the ‘subtle’ rules of behavior practiced by the local inhabitants. What you really want is our North American approach: unsubtle but brutally direct! I do, however, applaud your habit of resorting to strong remedies (wine rather than tea) to calm your shattered nerves…and bank account.

  3. Yes, well, right. Good luck to you then. Meantime, might I suggest you come up with a darling way of telling them to f— themselves and their respective horses?

    • I love a challenge of the linguistic variety. I managed to use 420 polite words to tell a client to f-off the other day and I still have a job. That’s a skill.

  4. One of the nicest things about the Brits is their penchant for politeness and decorum, even in the face of terrible things. Makes me wonder what Edward I, “Longshanks”, might have said to William Wallace just before he had him drawn and quartered.

    • I like to think Eddie Longshanks said “Oh jolly good game of tag old bean, well played. Dashed rotten shame about the ol’ hung-drawn-quartered thing but just think, one day you’ll be Mel Gebson. Jolly good show, what?”

  5. Yes, you Brits are eloquent pacifists. Us Yanks are brutally honest and direct. And a bit physical. And sue happy. Not sure if that’s a good thing. It does get results now and then. But if you’re owed money-especially a rental deposit….emails aren’t going to work. First, a phone call. And not the “gee, I’m sorry to be bothering you”.Tell him he owes you. And you’ll get a lawyer if he doesn’t pay up. See if you can threaten health and safety on him because of the hazard in the bathroom or something that could really get his tits in a ringer if authorities found out! Small little black mails won’t hurt. If no result there…visit the bastard. With someone BIG. REAL BIG.
    I’m surprised you don’t put up a fight with these people. You don’t seem like the taking shit from people kind of person. That’s you’re money! GET IT BACK!

    • Ok, I’ll let you in on a little secret. My acid e-mails are actually reeeeally rather effective. The utility company recieved one at 10:17 on Tuesday. Within an hour I’d had three grovelling phone calls and a full refund. I’m considering starting up The Incredibly Polite PFPT Debt Collection Agency! 😉

      • AH! I knew it! With your snark Martha, there is no way in hell you’d let some sniveling utility company get away with owing you! You go girl!! HIGH FIVE!! Yes, I think a website is in order! There’s your millions!

  6. Neither a borrower or a lender be!

  7. The English are not the only ones to do this. I know a lot of Americans who couldn’t ask for a ladder if they were hanging from the roof. There are those, though, who are mean and nasty and resort to the bad things if not taken care of on time and fully.
    Good take on it all. Sorry about the rent,

  8. Damn British. It would seem you left a lot more here than tea plantations. :-/
    …. most of my debtors owe me for beers and more beers and shit like that :p .

  9. This sounds exactly like the correspondence between my real esate agent and I. Except she expects me to keep paying money, while the mould continues to be a problem.

    Passive-aggression. Everybody’s friend!


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