It’s my birthday this week. Monday, in fact. I don’t celebrate the occasion much, these days, but we gave a party last week-end and were invited to a dinner party this weekend past, so it feels like a double celebration. Highlight was a chat on FaceTime with my son and his daughter in Australia in the middle of the night (our time).

He was telling me of someone he knew getting out of bed and falling over. His daughter immediately corrected him, saying that the person had fallen out of bed. When you are 4 years old, you demand precision! Perhaps she’ll follow in my pedantic footsteps.


Hidden in one of the folders on my Mac is an article on conversational postulates. It’s a topic I addressed in Communicating Across Cultures, the book I co-wrote with Dr. Deborah Swallow.

Those postulates are questions that could be answered with a straight Yes or No, but can prompt a behavioural or cultural response. That is to say, the answer tells you something about the background of the respondent. For example, if someone is standing in your way, you might ask, “Can you move to your left?” or “Could you move, please?”

The other person might just say, “Yes”, meaning, “Yes, I am capable of moving.” A literal answer, but not the result you were expecting. A child might reply that way, having a more literal mind.

It reminded me of the time when a callow youth rang my 14-year old daughter at home just before midnight. In high dudgeon I demanded, “Do you know what time it is?! “Yes,” he replied, “ 11:45.”

Parental splutter of outrage.


Among the cultural differences I have encountered since moving to Ireland from London concerns the spelling of my name. “K-h-a-n …” I begin, and the other person writes “Kahn …” When I stop them to make the correction, it takes a while for them to understand what I am saying.

Two reasons for that. First, the way I pronounce K produces an elongated “ay”, so they hear kay-ay. (I pronounce “cake” the same way.) And when I give them the correct version, they hear kay-ay again and cannot understand why I am saying “Kahn” is wrong. Mind you, it used to happen in Sarf Lundun as well.

But the other reason is more interesting. Kahn is Jewish, whereas Khan is Muslim. In Ireland there is much less exposure to Jewish names than in London, so they don’t understand the difference between the two spellings.


Certain airlines and most insurance companies seem to have an in-built culture of resistance to claims. They make life hard for customers who make a claim.

I was on a Ryanair flight that was delayed beyond the period in their small print, entitling me to make a claim for compensation. The correspondence went back and forth and they never paid. But they are well known for that.

Some insurance companies follow suit. Recently I hired a car and took out the extra Damage Refund Insurance to reduce my liability to zero. I was led to believe that, if there was no damage to the car, the full amount of my payment would be returned to me in due course.

Two months later, AXA Travel Insurance have just sent me five documents covering 15 pages:

Terms of Business (4pp); FAQ (4pp); Policy Summary (1p); Damage Refund Insurance details (4pp); Policy Schedule (1p); Policy Summary (1p).

In addition, they have asked me to log on to their website with:

  • Your original policy schedule
  • Signed rental agreement
  • Confirmation of the condition of the vehicle at the start of the rental agreement
  • Evidence from the car rental company that you are held liable in relation to your claim
  • Original bills or invoices you are asked to pay •
  • Details of any other insurance you may have that may cover the same loss
  • A copy of the driving license of the person driving the rental vehicle at the time of any incident
  • As much evidence as possible to support your claim

Does that say something about customer service?



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