Can I get a witness

How we ask for things in England

2 minute read

Waking up this morning, thinking about the difference between “Can I have” and “Can I get” I wondered whether the perceived Americanism of “Can I get” was actually ruder than “Can I have”. Looking at several sites only showed me the rich diversity of the English language and that there were just as many Americans who thought “Can I get” would be rude as there were those who thought it was perfectly fine. A common theme was that “get” implied getting it yourself, whereas “have” implied a request. Certainly in a restaurant or a cafe there may be some ambiguity of what you were requesting was something you could reach physically yourself. However one of the most common scenarios for this debate seems to be the relatively new phenomenon of the coffee shop. One site had this as the most popular comment;

If I were a waiter and somebody said “can I get a coffee”, I would be inclined to say “go ahead” and then just stand there.

If they the customer then asked where the beverage was, I would say = “Oh, I’m sorry; I thought you wanted to get it yourself. Would you like me to get it for you?”

Despite the fact that the responder here is objecting to perceived rudeness with passive aggression, which in itself is rude, it highlighted that my initial inkling was correct.

Technically of course there is no debate. You’re neither “getting” or “having” a coffee, you’re “buying” or “purchasing” a coffee. Neither are you asking for permission; if you have money you’re very unlikely to be denied a request for coffee in a coffee shop in the current economic climate (although ordering soup isn’t always so straightforward).

Then it hit me; modern America is filled with choices. It prides itself in customer services. “Can I get…” is a request always likely to be fulfilled. “Can I get a double shot skinny late with vanilla to go?” is something you have been able to get in America for many years now. The same request, not so long ago in Yorkshire, would have mostly been met with “No, you can have a bloody cup of tea and like it…“