“The greatest politeness is free of all formality” – Chuang Tzu
The English do politeness like no other culture. But I’m convinced the Canadians do it better. Simply because they don’t have the formality of the English and their respect comes across as more genuine. I am living in Toronto for a couple of months and have been touched at the graciousness of the people here.
Politeness helps lubricate social intercourse and despite what many of the oldies say (“kids these days have no manners”) the world is chock full of good manners. But it’s true that respect and gratitude have waned in our world. Such values have diminished partly because people have less personal space – there are more of us around and that creates tension. But it’s also because as people feel less empowered, they require more specialness to help them feel safe – with more focus on the individual at the exclusion of the group. The fear mongering media doesn’t help by selling a scary world that excludes certain types of people.
But I have noticed pockets of resurgence – a swing back to politeness. This is a good trend.
So what about all that feigned politeness? When people have all the social graces but they are in a perpetual state of pretence. The tightness in their disposition is irksome. It all gets a bit much. I recently had lunch with a colleague who was very polite. I wanted him to relax and loosen up a bit but he had a carefully planned behavioural strategy and that made me suspicious. His graciousness wasn’t sincere and from the heart. This is the fashionable politeness that can even get quite patronising.
Of course it depends where you are in the world. On my first visit to Bolivia years ago I remember initially getting ignored for service in certain places because other people would simply push in or the service would pass you over. I learnt very quickly to assert myself more than I liked – not easy to do in that environment. Parts of Asia can be the same but mostly only in the cities. Like all places in the world, country folk tend to be more friendly so express a natural politeness.
Coming from Australia, where people lack a little tact and are at times a little too relaxed about their manners (“no worries, she’ll be right mate”), I believe the Canadians have got the balance right. They have an extraordinary knack of being polite with genuine smiles and a curtesy that is truly humbling. So my hat goes off to all Canadians. Thank you.
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