Educated or Well Mannered?

Educado or educated

Two words. One in Spanish and the other in English. They appear to be the same, but have completely different meanings. I have learned by living in Peru that there is an important gap in understanding between the cultures in this respect. We may use very similar words, but mean something completely different. Does it matter? Yes, it does. 

In English when we say that someone is well educated, we mean just that and no more. They have received a good education at good schools, maybe even a prestigious university. As a result, they know a lot.

 In addition, they are able to speak, write well and have the ability to perform tasks at a professional level. But, being well educated has nothing to do with their behavior. 

In turn, when we say someone is cultured in English, we usually mean that they appreciate culture, be it classical music, paintings, literature, opera, ballet, and so on. It also has nothing to do with their behavior.

If someone behaves well in social situations, in English we say that they are well mannered. It means that they are polite, they use the right fork and they are sensitive to the accepted standards of behavior for the society in which they live. It used to involve things like opening doors for ladies, but that now seems to be something out of the past. 

However, being well mannered does not have any relationship to the other terms. It doesn’t have anything to do with love of culture or knowing a lot. The term well mannered is applied only to someone’s behavior.

In Spanish it is very different. I have often heard family and friends referring to someone’s behavior in the following terms: Es mal educado or es bien educado. It could be translated into English  as well educated or badly educated and that would be a mistake.

In these cases, they are not talking about formal education or knowledge. They are referring to how that person treats other people. Does he/she treat them with the courtesy and respect that they deserve? This refers to how they treat people from every level of society. Whether rich or poor, everyone deserves to be treated with respect. 

Therefore, to say that someone is well educated in Spanish refers to their character and behavior and not their level of education. Learning is esteemed by Peruvians, but they use other terms to describe someone who has, in English terms, been well educated. 

Yes, it is a little confusing. A similar word in both languages has a very different meaning. Understanding this can open our eyes to some important differences in the values of both cultures. 

One thought on “Educated or Well Mannered?

  1. Great post, Larry, I think it comes from the Peruvian cultural norms that education doesn’t start or end at school but within the home and that parents are a persons greatest and most valuable teachers. My mum would always talk about a persons ‘lack of education’ when they weren’t behaving as they should but we understood what she meant.

    I am glad you are writing all things Peru! I come once a week to check up!

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