A little note about manners. I mentioned earlier how impressed I was with Elise’s friends at her party, how polite they all were. Well. Generally, manners as we know them in, say, the UK or Germany, are not necessarily known in the same way in this country. What I mean by that is that the Americans have their own code, and use expressions (or don’t use expressions) that replace what we perceive as good manners. So we non-Americans usually think how rude/impolite/boorish Americans are. But they’re just not adhering to the same codes as people from other (European) countries. For example: They’re not good at saying “please”, although they are usually excellent at saying “thanks”. Whenever I ask one of Elise’s friends, for example, whether they’d like a drink or a cookie or something like that, they don’t say “yes, please”, as most of her friends in Europe would do. They say “Sure”. Which I really have to get used to. It’s not impolite, it’s just the way it is here. The other thing I need to get used to is to be addressed as “Hey.” In Germany, if someone talks to you beginning with the word “Hey”, you’d expect something negative, such as “Hey, don’t do that!” or “Hey, don’t run off!” Here, it doesn’t mean that. It’s just used to introduce a thought, for example. Someone could say to me: “Hey. I have an idea”, or “Hey. How are you?” But I smart every time someone uses it to talk to me. And another thing is the strange use of “Excuse me” and “sorry”. In the UK, you say “excuse me”, if you need to move past someone and there isn’t enough room, to let them know of your intention of moving past them. In case you actually bump into someone or -gasp, horror – step on their toes, push someone unintentionally etc, you say “sorry” (at least!). Here nobody says “sorry”, ever. You say “excuse me” in all situations. If I’m in someone’s way, I’ll say “sorry” and step out of the way. Here, I have to say “excuse me”. I just can’t get the hang of it. So if someone steps into my way, or bumps into me, they will say “excuse me” and not “I’m sorry”. To me, it always sounds rude, as if I should have avoided them in the first place. It’s very odd. And I’ll just carry on saying “sorry”, even if they look at me funny. Another foreign perception of Americans is that they’re insufferably loud. Now while that’s certainly true to some extent, you have to understand their upbringing and attitude. They are brought up to be confident enough to say whatever they want to say, and aren’t afraid of doing so loudly – as opposed to the English, for example, who would rather die than come across as noisy or over-confident (unless they’re drunk, in which case they WILL be loud, but don’t care). Here, it’s normal to not lower your voice, no matter where you are. And I have to refer (as I did earlier this year) to this very interesting article about Americans in the New York Times, which explains this behaviour as having “no fear of being overheard“. So true. And so interesting.
And here’s a little postscript about different perceptions by people from different nationalities. This is one of my favourite things, and one I’ve been explaining and battling ever since I left Germany to live in England and had to face all those preconceived ideas the English have about Germans. Mainly that the Germans are blunt and rude and have no manners. Which is not true. They come across as blunt, because they usually translate what they would say in German directly into English, and their translation sounds perfectly ok to them, but not to English ears. Example: Let’s say we’re on a train, with one window open and a terrible draught. The English person feels the draught and (once he’s spent ages deliberating whether he should say something or not) will address the person next to said window like this: “Excuse me, would you mind awfully shutting that window please? Thanks ever so much!” (or something like that). The German person in the same situation would speak up immediately (as would the American) and ask: “Can you please shut the window?”, the direct translation of which sounds perfectly acceptable in German. But oh my goodness, doesn’t it sound rude to English ears? You just can’t say “can you”, that alone is just impossible. So there you are. The German thinks he’s being polite, but the English person is aghast. Now let’s look at it the other way round. In Germany, English people are deemed incredibly polite, and everybody’s in awe of their manners. Ha! If only they knew! The fact that their language has so many fluffed up airs and graces, and they’re generally more quiet (or should I say hesitant in expressing what they want) does not make the English more polite. They just sound more polite. There, I’ve said it. And I think the reason why Germans and Americans get along pretty well is their joint sense of directness, of not being afraid of speaking up (and maybe appearing rude). The thing is I can look at all this now with the eyes of an outsider, and there have been countless times when German friends and relatives have said things in English that made me cringe. But I understand the basic national antic behind what comes out of people’s mouths, and sometimes I get quite upset with the ignorance of them all, English, German, and American. And sometimes I just smile and find it all hilarious.

One thought on “ MANNERS ETC ”

  1. hey! i like your observation, i also do some observations in different cultures. by the way i am Indian and i hope the hey doesn't fear u!i really liked reading your way of presentation. awaiting for ur nxt writing.Aditya(age 17),Pune,Maharashtra,India.

    Like

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