Being Polite

THE story about a young man who spotted his granny's Google search, complete with please and thank you is the best I've read today! (See it in full here.)

It epitomises a generation that was always taught to say "please" and "thank you" and it also says something about innate British politeness. I can't pretend that there aren't plenty of rude and thoughtless British people, unfortunately, but for many of us, politeness is a way of life.

It's the kind of politeness that makes you say sorry to the person who bumped into you. It's when you're asked in the hairdresser's whether your haircut is to you liking and you reply, "Lovely, thank you," while hating it with a passion, or complaining bitterly about the food throughout a meal in a restaurant but when the waiter asks if everything is OK you say, "It's fine thank you." It's saying thank you to the traffic warden while he's handing you a parking ticket.

There are phrases we use which on the face of it sound polite but have a hidden meaning, like, "with all due respect" which means "no respect at all".

Then there are the simple requests that have to be voiced in a convoluted way. You can't just say to a colleague, "Give me that report," but you'll say, "I wonder, could you possibly get that report for me? If you don't mind."

Another polite pastime of the British is queuing. Queues are sacrosanct. Don't jump a queue unless you want a polite British person to tap you on the shoulder and say, "Would you mind awfully getting to the back of the queue? I'm sorry to ask but we've been waiting here longer than you." There, you've been told!

If you are confused here is a handy glossary of British terms and their translation.

One of my favourite quotes about politeness is actually by an American, the writer Robert A Heinlein, who said:  “A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” 

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  1. I think I need to move to England because most people I encounter in The USA are not polite. I get so upset when no one thanks me for holding a door.

  2. I think it's mostly the upper class English who are so polite. I've seen movies and read books where those living in the slums are so rough and have probably never heard the words please and thank you for several generations.

  3. I don't believe movies and books are indicative of a society, really. At least I hope not! :) One thing that comes to mind from your thoughtful post (and amusing chart) is that women in my part of the world tend to apologize when they should be saying "Pardon me". When I hear the apology I say "No problem" or "Not at all" in hopes they will pick up the difference. There are plenty of rude folks in my suburban landscape, for sure, and I can sorrowfully admit to sometimes being one of them. But all in all, folks tend to be polite. I'm grateful for that, though know civility can show its thin veneer when disaster strikes. I do believe Mr. Heinlein has it right. Smart man.

    Thank you for this. Have a lovely day!

  4. I've just had a flashback of Reginald Perrin being thanked by his son-in-law for telling him why he was a 'bearded prig'. Reggie then said 'Not at all' of course.

    I've found the clip! It starts at 1.40.

  5. I'm not sure it's particularly British . Most Americans I've met are extremely polite , too . Nor is it a class thing .
    In fact the vast majority of people probably simply find that good manners make life easier .
    As does queueing .

  6. I agree, manners tend to slip out windows left open for chaos. Not that I've met many, but I never thought Brits were anything but polite and delightfully polished. :-)