Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you ever stopped to consider how you should address somebody in English? when they are at their job?

Have you ever had an uncomfortable interaction while talking to somebody at work?

This is one of those situations where you may feel uncertain as to how to address this person at work.

This may be a cultural thing or just knowing what the right thing to say is in English.

We’re going to show you how you you can address the people in these situations, and more importantly what to look for.

Here’s a letter that talks about this situation and asking the same questions that you may have.


Hi, my name’s Felipe Belluco,

I’m from Brazil and I’ve been listening AEE podcasts for a year now. You can’t imagine how wonderful and helpful it is for me to have this immersive English experience practically everyday! You are my company when I’m going to work and back home. Many thanks!!!

I have a question– when I travel to the US, I often get myself into some trouble connecting with native people in their workplace. An example is greeting a waitress in a restaurant, or asking for information from a police officer. People in Brazil tend to be very informal in these situations, but it doesn’t seem like that in the US. It would be great if you could provide the best approach to reach out to people in their workplace.

Once again, thank you very much for this awesome podcast! I absolutely love it!


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The Right Way To Interact Matters Here

There are several things to consider in this type of situation as highlighted in the letter.

You may want to know how to have interactions in general rather than with each individual profession.

You want to keep a few things in mind when you are speaking with people while they are at work.

There are some basic phrases and vocabulary that you can use for appropriate interactions.

These are the type of interactions where you are not in a mutual work setting.

This is an interaction where you are interacting with somebody that is in their workplace or environment.

Knowing what to say can make a huge difference in creating a comfortable and appropriate interaction.


Some Important Considerations

Before you have that interaction with somebody while they are in their job, there are a few things that you want to consider.

It depends upon the profession, the setting, and a few other things in this scenario.

There are some questions to ask yourself to ensure that you create an interaction you are both comfortable with.

  • Is this typically a job where the person is supposed to spend a lot of time talking to you/client/customer?
    • A waitress/waiter is a people-facing profession where they will likely want to engage with you. If you need something from a waiter or waitress, you can say “excuse me sir/miss” or just “hi, how are you?” You can feel comfortable interacting with this person because they have the attitude of “the customer is always right”.
    • A police officer is there to help,but not necessarily have long conversations. They have their eye out on what is going on. If you need them you can say “Excuse me officer” and keep it a bit more formal in nature.
    • A person working at a checkout counter (grocery, airline, etc) is more so there just for business. There will likely not be much chitchat, but you can always ask them questions. Keep it simple and to the point for these interactions.


  • Is this person busy?
    • If the person is busy, you will pretty much be in “just business” mode. While this can get frustrating with a waiter or waitress, it’s understandable, so try to keep what you are saying appropriate for the amount of time the person has. If they are not busy, feel free to have some small talk with them–comment on the food and ask them their recommendations.
    • An officer is likely busy, even if they are just observing the area. Keep your questions short. If you have a concern, feel free to take more time, but for questions you want to keep it simple like “Excuse me officer, how can I get to..”
    • A person in a checkout line is usually always busy, unless there is no line behind them. There are some people in this profession who do love to chat, even if they are busy. You have to feel it out and see if the person is comfortable MULTITASKING and if they want to talk in general.
    • For someone like a doctor, they are ALWAYS busy. Try not to get offended if they don’t talk as much or if they try to get out the door, even though this can be hard as a patient.


  • How formal is the situation/profession?
    • If, for instance, it’s a formal fancy restaurant, your language choice will be different than if it’s a McDonald’s or a casual restaurant. For more formal situations, you may want to say phrases like “Would it be possible to substitute the fries for the salad?” If it’s a more casual restaurant, you may say “Can I get the fries instead of the salad?”
    • Officers are generally spoken to in a more formal way. Just the formal title of officer tells you that this is a more formal profession.
    • A checkout counter is generally pretty casual, although an airport may be slightly more formal. Consider the setting for each so you know how to address the person.

These questions can help you to know what the appropriate interaction should be with the person in their work setting.



In the question from our listener, it was mentioned how casual things are in other cultures.

Things can be casual here too, but it depends on the profession.

It’s important to ask yourself the three questions we outlined so you can get an idea of what kind of language you should be using to connect.

Consider the situation and then you will know the right way to talk to the person in question.


If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can. 

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