While jet lagged and unable to sleep in Bangkok, I started watching an early morning English lesson on television as it was the only programme that I could understand, other than the news channels, which were just rerunning stories I had already seen several times. The lesson was about offering and asking for help. The general standard of English was excellent, but they had one scene in an office where someone came in and the receptionist asked 'May I help?'. They replayed the scene and asked 'Can I help?'. The latter seems the natural question, but the former doesn't work for me. I asked a friend and she told me that they were taught 'May I help?' as a standard phrase. Though 'may' is often considered more polite than 'can', I cannot see the need to ask for permission to help in this situation, as it is the natural role of the receptionist.