Exquisite Politeness

Okay so I know one can't generalise but....

Since we started running SFN, I've come into contact with hundreds if not thousands of people via email, phone and in person. The Americans almost always stand out by virtue of their politeness and last night I received a message that was so utterly charming, that I felt I had to say a 'thank you' to the nation as a whole.

Pleases and thank yous go a long way in my book and I think it is a shame that more people don't realise this. A little more civility would make the world a much nicer place!

So a special thank you to all our American members and thank you to everyone - (whatever your nationality!)- who makes the effort to be polite - it is appreciated!

:-D Thanks!

While I agree with a lot of what you have said. My father was in the RAF so I was no stranger to Stations. All over the world in fact. My memories include a lot of regimented politeness, a little you get from the UK police if you are lucky ;o)

But the politeness I experienced on American Air Bases stood out for me. Whether they had extra lessons in sincerity who knows?......or as I said in my comment.....they perhaps have the inner confidence to pull it off. The way they saluted officers was unbelieveable. Even the BurgerKing on the Base was better than the UK equivalent of which there are many.

There is also an innate disliking of officers within the UK armed forces...goes with the territory I think.....

Catherine, a few more comments about politeness of Americans. As I said in my original response, some Americans, partigularly those who came from homes or schools where politeness was taught are polite. Someone mentioned that he grew up in the South where politeness was taught and used everyday and I know that to be true having lived in the south. However there are other reasons why people are polite. Waiters and waitresses are polite because their tip dépends on pleasing you. Some of them get nothing as pay except the tips so when you don't tip very well or not at all due to preceived bad service, don't expect them to be so polite when talking about you to their colleagues. I always tip very well because I know how little them make even on a good day. Sales people are polite because they want to sell you something. However, they recognize they won't be able to sell everyone so it doesn't change their attitude when they don't succeed. Customer service people are trained to be polite on the telephone and they are monitored to make sure they are. However, you can't blame them when they think bad things if they encounter boorish callers who are obnoxious. Good manners are learned early in life and they become Embedded in the persons daily interactions with people. Americans who come to France are fish out of water in terms of language. They are dependant on others understanding their broken French, to give them instructions to resolve the bureaucratic issues, to find the services they need, etc. They have to be polite to survive. I knew one Canadian couple where the husband worked in the UN and the wife stayed home and after many years, she never bothered to learn French but complained constantly about France and the French. I really found her to be irritating because she caused her own problems by never Learning French.

Too often, now in American families and schools, manners are not taught or reinforced daily so that they become habit with the kids. As I said, some Americans are polite and some are rude. Unfortunately it seems the "animals" are taking over the zoo on the internet.

Thank you for your compliment. I'm glad you ran into the well mannered Americans. However, if you travel in the US you will meet the uneducated types. I'm sure this is true in every country. I've had rude and good expériences in Germany and England as well so there is nothing particular about America. It's a worldwide issue.

Robert, I was in the Air Force and in the military, there is an official politeness of enlisted men deference to officers. However, I can tell you we had a lot of names for some officers who were overly cocky or pretentious or obnoxious. We had one commander who we all would have followed to Hell and Back if he had asked such was our high regard for him but he was followed but a guy we called Captain Queeg, the over bearing and malicious character from the novel The Caine Mutuny. He got zero guys to re-enlist such was our dislike for him. I knew many officers who I flew with that were excellant and well balanced mentally but a few who were full of themselves, mainly young ones. The older ones knew it was the enlisted guys who kept the planes flying well and their lived depended on them so they gave these enlisted guys the respect they deserved.

Katherine, I am American and grew up in the US and started travelling internationally for business in 1976. I quickly learned how crude American aggressive and obnoxious managers were compared to those I met in all countries of Latin America except Argentina where they were exactly like the Americans. I then lived and worked in Mexico and Brazil and am married to a Brazilian so I know those cultures very well. I also speak Spanish and Portuguese fluently. If you haven't read the comments following news articles or Financial reports, you will be surprised by the rudeness and vulgarity used by Americans hiding behind internet anonomity with their name calling. I have many American friends of my generation who are polite but the younger generation has gone to the dogs in terms of manners. As I said, when I went to school, we never talked back to the teacher or anyone of authority. These days schools have to have cops roaming the halls to break up fights in the class rooms and hallways.

Catherine's comments are welcomed but my experience with my own people is quite different. Yes, service people are "officially" polite when they are serving you because their companies require them to be. Outside of work, they are not so polite. I find people here in France polite all the time. As you see, I have lived and worked in many countries and even worked in the UN in Geneva, where politeness is in it's highest form so I know of what I speak. Even the poor uneducated people I met in Latin American all had good manners. I can't say that for the poorly educated Americans and having a college degree simply means you are well trained, not educated in having good manners.

I agree whole heartedly with your comment Catharine. Holidays in the States have always stood out, not in small part, because of the excellent manners you come across daily. A simple lunch is made memorable by a charming waiter/waitress who will exchange small talk and be extremely polite....something you dont come across frequently elsewhere...though I will confirm, I came across the same wonderful welcome and good manners in Canada...another favourite of mine. Both countries also excel in the service industry; I witnessed some young Canadians working reception in a hotel in Toronto cope with extreme rudeness from a party of GPs wives from the UK. They remained polite and calm despite extreme provocation...I didnt manage to remain polite and told the GPs wives what a diabolical group they were...have never been so ashamed of being English!

I absolutely agree and sadly, I doubt it.

And Alan, any chance of a photo pretty please? It all adds to the nice polite place that is SFN - thank you!

Thank you Robert but I'm not sure that some of my nearest and dearest would agree :)

Hello Catharine

You are right politeness and manners are everything. My English teacher at school (65 years ago) regularly would say, "Manners maketh man." I wonder if many school teachers still say it to their students.

Catharine, you've missed your vocation, you should have been a diplomat ;o)

My main experience of American politeness has come from working on many US Airbases in the UK.

I concluded that it had a lot to do with self confidence. Which of course, in part comes from good parenting and also feeling valued by your peers. I think many English folk in particular lack both of these things sadly.

I'm delighted you were all so pleased with my comments!

I think good manners are vital and whilst I'm sure we / I don't always manage it, being polite and getting people to be polite online, is a key part of SFN. It is interesting just how different SFN is to 'other' forums and very interesting too, I think, that people feel able to behave in quite a different manner from behind the safety of a computer screen. It is something that never fails to shock me.

So I do understand what James was saying re internet behaviour - and I'm sure he didn't just mean Americans. Perhaps he was being extra polite by implying that!!

Catharine, Thank you for the compliment to Americans!

While it is rarely accurate to generalize, I do believe that those Americans who choose to leave their home country are indeed very open and gracious and wish to be exceedingly polite. We are in general used to giving and receiving exceptional customer service and I think that this translates into at least attempts at being polite in general.


I find it interesting that you would write a response to this post about how polite Catharine finds Americans by being a bit insulting to those very people! Even going so far as to point out Americans' acting like vicious animals in Internet comments.

It seems that you must truly detest your home country (I must assume you are American) to post such a comment rather than just take the compliment in stride and go on your way. To take it as an opportunity to cut down your countrymen while praising other cultures seems a bit overdone and unnecessary and honestly a little ironic in my opinion...but what would I know, I'm just a "rude American"...!

Cathrine, I missed this post when it was made so a belated thank you for your kind remarks. However, it was when I went to work in Latin American that I learned how civilized people were outside the US. In Brazil, I learned how wonderful the petite bissous were. I felt like an uneducated animal but I learned quickly and loved it. I now see my countrymen acting like vicious animals with each other on internet comments to news articles and even on financial investor boards where one would suppose people with money would have learned to be civilized. We Americans are so time obssessed that we charge into a conversation with so much as By Your Leave. In the beginning I would ask some clerk in a French store where to find something without saying Bon Jour first and they would always say it first as if to remind me that I wasn't being polite. After a quick apology and a Bon Jour, they would happily give me directions. I grew to adore this finesse in mannors and now chastise my fellow Americans when they come to visit. I recently had business dealings with a British lady whose accent gave me the impression she was well educated and she was very polite. Even her young daughter was equality refined and polite. How I wish the entire world was like them. My wife, who is an astute judge of people, said that people are impolite because they have never been educated to be polite. Sadly, many Americans are well trained in the university to be professionals in their field but poorly educated with regard to inter-personal relationships in the classical sense of the word.

Thank you Catherine, but are you sure you don't have us confused with Canadians?

Thank you for your nice remarks about the American group .I have been a member a short time, and I have enjoyed the group and spend time reading about the other groups as well, I think they all are kind and polite .

You have very helpful, kind members in SFN.

Thank you Catherine. I am glad you have had that experience. Having lived in the USA most of my life I will say that sometimes the Pleases and Thank Yous were a bit sparse. A Canadian good friend of mine had extremely polite children and I asked her why. She said if you say to them they will learn to say it back.....

So, when I held a door open for someone and he/she waltzed thru it without a word I always said Your Welcome and most times people turned back in surprise and said Oh sorry, thank you Their minds had been far away but maybe, I hoped, the next time they would automatically thank the door holder. Here, I don't hear svp very often, lots of mercis but very few de riens. Is this the case for most of you too?

So thank you Catherine for your kind words and for this site!

Bonne journee or in Southern Americanais Y'all have a great day now, ya hear!

I've been working on the please and thank you issue with my family recently. My Franglais children informed me that I'm living in the past by thinking that politness is important. Now I'm left wondering if our standards of politness are cultural or generational? I agree with you Catherine and ... thanks !

Thank you very much for your kind words. Growing up in the deep South, my generation was taught that manners were the mark of of a gentleman or lady. In a world that seems to grow harsher and more uncaring everyday, it is nice to be acknowledged for being nice and polite. Kind words go a long way.