Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why This City Needs Better Grammar

This morning I stepped on the bus and asked the bus driver:
"May I have a transfer, please?"
He paused while reaching for the transfer and asked, "Excuse me? What did you just say?"
I knew full well that he knew what I was asking. Other than, "thanks for not running me over when you took out that snowbank", the only thing people ask of the bus driver in the morning is a transfer.
I repeated my question: "May I have a transfer... please?"*
You would think I had given him an early Christmas present. He went into a diatribe about how almost everyone says "Can" instead of "May" when asking him for a transfer. He said that once every few months someone uses proper grammar. As I walked to my seat, smug that my Grammar Goddess mantle was in place, he complimented and thanked me for my proper grammar. He was still smiling when I stepped off at the terminal.
So, why do we need better grammar? To improve the quality of life of our bus drivers.
*Truth be told, just this week I had been thinking how "Can I have a transfer?" seems to be a verbal tic amongst bus riders. I had been saying it myself and upon realizing what was coming out of my mouth, I was horrified. I had vowed to say "May" from that point forward. Yes, those are the types of vows I make - vows of proper use of the English language. Forget vows of allegiance to flags, queen and country, etc, I vow to do things like use proper grammar and eat the last bit of cereal, despite the mush created by the crumbs.


  1. Anonymous9:06 a.m.

    Well done Steph, way to brighten a bus driver's day!
    What I find sad is the number of bus drivers who are suprised when I say "thank you" and "have a nice day" as I leave (Grace will usually yell "BYE! TANK-OOOOOH!" from the stroller). They deal with so many rude people that some of them are downright shocked when they encounter someone with manners.

  2. Anonymous7:56 a.m.

    That is the difference between riding the bus here and when we were in K-W. The bus drivers are SO NICE here in Halifax.

    I would smile, be polite, etc when we were in ON. The response was- no eye contact, general rudeness, and yelling if you didn't push through the throng of people fast enough to get to the doors at your stop. The drivers must go through a lot to become that way.

    I think it is a reflection of the bus riding population here vs there.

    You have inspired me to be more conscience of "may" and "can".

    I also have a personal crusade to say "well" instead of "good" - as in, '*pronoun* did "well"'

  3. What's worse, I have, on occasion, caught myself asking "can I GET a transfer". Ugh.

    In Windsor, they don't notice what you say anyway and just want you out of their face so they can get to the Tim's faster.

  4. Anonymous10:35 a.m.

    Glad you made the bus driver's day.

    I often throw people off when they ask me "how are you?" and I say "I am well, thank you". I know they are expecting the usual "I'm good" response.

  5. May I make a comment? I take the bus all the time. What I find interesting is the attitude of the people in the different parts of the city. Way out here where I live, everyone says thank you to the driver and teach their kids to say thank you. They might not say “May I have a transfer” however, they are polite to the driver and thank him for the drive even if they have to shout if from the back door as they get off the bus. The driver is thanked if he waits for a person running for the bus. As we get to the city centre, there is not a thank you said, more people blame the driver if the bus is late and will argue with the driver over some grievance. Each section of the city is so very different from the next and Dartmouth is a different story all together. Holy Crow! There are a ton of smokers over there waiting for the buses.

  6. I challenge you to use the following, next time:

    "Might I have a transfer, please?".