We have a diplomat in the school at the moment, Yuta, who will spend the next few years navigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the medium of Arabic. Quite an ask.


I obviously have no idea how diplomatic Japanese connects with diplomatic Arabic. With Diplomatic English, to take an example closer to home, more grammar means more courtesy. Oi! Excuse me! and I wonder if you wouldn’t mind stepping this way a moment, squire are all valid ways to get someone’s attention. But the moment you start using more remote modal structures, you are inflecting your language for politeness.

But there is a problem. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind stepping this way a moment, squire, is almost a parody of politeness, and is more likely, I suppose, to be aggressive than polite. I was told when I lived in Italy that insisting on thanking the bar staff every time they set something in front of me (a saucer, a spoon, the sugar, the coffee, etc.) would not be polite but distancing: I would be insisting on the social difference between me and them. One thank you is quite enough. But a solitary ‘thank you’ when you get on a bus in Cambridge and buy a bus ticket will mark you down as a churl.

No doubt it will all be relatively straightforward in Ramallah.