Outside the US, email is no chatterbox

A recent article from Slate outlines the differences between European and American’s use of email. There are some interesting insights within.

Europeans are much more deliberate with their email. They take their time to carefully craft email correspondence. They don’t make immediate (and often off the cuff) replies, and don’t expect them in return either. In contrast, Americans are the masters of the two-word instant reply, and have to see their shrink if a reply isn’t recieved in thirty seconds.

The enveloping premise is Europeans treat email like letter writing, something worthy of their time, and with the expectation of being well received and appreciated. Americans liken email to the telephone – short, quick and immediate.

As the written word suffers from a lack of face to face contact as well as sound intonation, it isn’t the most effective means of communication to begin with. The fact that Europeans may use it as a replacement for other written communication, instead of a replacement for sound, makes sense. For the US, perpetrating the latter, it doesn’t.

I am curious as to whether any studies have been done to measure the effectiveness of email communication across societal boundaries, and whether email’s proper use (or misuse), has any correlation to spam problems.

See Euromail – What Germans can teach us about e-mail – ad supported for more information.


The main supposition, that the styles of sending mails are different in Europe and North America, is supported only anecdotally. The facts that are given support a different conclusion.

Overall, a smaller percentage of Europeans use the Internet regularly, they spend less time on it when they do, and they have fewer computers per household (and per corporation). When overall usage and adoption rates increase, the social role of email will change for them, as it did in North America. (Of course, adoption rates vary: compare Spain and Italy to Sweden and the Netherlands.) That SMS messaging is far more popular than email supports this prediction: popularity and widespread informality go hand-in-hand.

A technology changes not only culturally from more formal to more informal, but personally: the more individuals consider it as an everyday mode of communication, the more casually they treat emailing and emails. Cell phones on both continents have followed this pattern.

The anecdotal evidence is suspect, too: I have email correspondents all over the world, personal and professional, writing to me in two languages. Other than the odd English error, there’s little way to distinguish those messages Americans send from those sent by everyone else.

No doubt some anecdotal evidence supports the opposite conclusion, but the point could also be made that Europeans use email less often precisely because they equate it to letter-writing moreso than phone calling. I appreciate the insight, and in particular the source (your views on language at DoubleTongued).

I stayed away from additional discussion on mobile use (and particularly SMS), as so many folks have already chalked the high overseas adoption rates to population density, but would appreciate your further thoughts on the matter. Cheers.

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