Manners are something we discuss often whether or not we realize it. For example:
“Yeah, that person was so rude..”
“What a bitch!”
“That guy’s an asshole…”
“That was uncalled for…”
We are often judging people’s actions and putting labels to why they do certain things and how they should have acted. As an American, and as a person, I believe I am a relatively polite person. But, when I lived in England for 4 months, I was told the contrary. Multiple times, people in our program were told we were impolite.
One person, I can’t remember who, was ordering a cookie at a bakery, and I guess she forgot to ask “Please.”
“You’re not even going to ask, ‘please?’ You are incredibly rude!” She was told. Completely taken aback, she disgracefully left the bakery with her cookie.
I had always thought we said, “please” and “thank you” but it turns out, we much more often say thank you than we say please. I once asked our British adviser if that was the case, and he said that he did notice how infrequently we said please. So, there had been times when we had our heads bitten off for “being rude” while, in reality, if that other person had been THAT polite, they wouldn’t go ahead attacking us for our failure to be polite. I mean, how professional is it of an employee to bite a customer’s head off for failing to be polite. And I mean, it’s not as if we are walking around demanding things irrationally. Asking for a cookie from a worker in a bakery is something the employee should expect. The fact that the person didn’t say, “please,” while annoying (to some) is no reason to attack them. In America, we are taught that the customer is always right (well, almost always). We are not taught: if the person doesn’t say please, you can belittle them and make them feel like a terrible human being. Oh well….
After spending my first abroad experience in England, it was interesting to next live in China where the first words we were taught were “我要” (wo yao)- I want. Most of the questions we are taught do have “please” and “thank you” included in them, but a Chinese person would NEVER become infuriated at the exclusion of “qing” (please) in a question. On the contrary, they often don’t seem to expect any type of courtesy. If you walk into a store and say, “I want a bottle of water” (wo yao yi ping shui), that is completely normal. There is no need for any further conversation. And even though it’s usually a store where one can walk around and choose things on their own, they were often on their feet trying to accommodate us foreigners that clearly don’t know where the bottles of water are. I mean, those glass doors can be very deceiving, right?!?
Even more, the English-speaking liaison at our school would get angry at Jon (my site-mate) and I when we thanked him for something. “Do not thank me, we are friends.” He said it was the Chinese way to do things for your friends without needing to be thanked. “We are friends, you don’t need to thank me,” he would say. Jon and I always said thanks. It is socially ingrained in us to do so. Nevertheless, I like the concept. If you are friends with someone, then you should do things for them without the need of being thanked. That’s what friends are for, right?