Regarding regards.

Maybe this is a skewed observation, based on my own atypical experience – but since when did British office workers start feeling obliged to add “Regards” to the end of all their work-related e-mails? This seems to have happened quite suddenly, and I’m not entirely sure why, or how.

It can get a little wearing at times. Nowadays, if I don’t append “Regards” to every single message, no matter how brief – or “Best/Kind regards”, if the recipient has actually done something substantive for me – then I feel like the rudest person alive.

Even during a mad panic emergency, with urgent e-mails constantly bouncing back and forth, you’ll still find that nobody quite likes to be the first person to drop the word. If you were regarding them ten minutes ago, but you’re not regarding them now, then this implies some sort of deterioration in your relationship. Better to keep up the regards, rather than plough on regardless.

Inevitably, an increasing number of people are getting around the issue by adding “Regards” to their signature files – which only increases the utter vacuity of the exercise. Automated felicitations are worse than none at all, surely?

My working theory is that this all originates from working with people in mainland Europe, who have always tended to a greater formality in their e-mails. As this threatens to place the terseness of the Brits in an unflattering light, so we have adapted our language in order not to appear rude to Johnny Foreigner.

In some ways, this is a good thing. Terseness can be read as indifference, whereas politeness may be taken to indicate respect – and if we all feel respected by each other, then we’re more inclined to collaborate and co-operate.

But, really. All this mutual regarding is starting to get silly. Couldn’t we adopt an unwritten convention whereby, after say a couple of dozen “regards”, the individuals concerned could agree to drop them? This could be taken as indicative not of a lack of respect, but of a shift in the relationship towards a more relaxed, friendly level, similar to the way that the French might shift from vous to tu, or the Germans from Sie to Du.

Should we? Dare we? May we?

Kind regards,

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