Are Americans amazingly polite?

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by . 1, Dec 8, 2006.

  1. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    G'day Cultur@s
    I have seen situations where American people have been amazingly polite when being asked impertinently bigotted, offensively phrased questions about American culture by someone who they were led to believe was a total stranger to American culture.
    It was obvious that the Americans were utterly offended but they kept smiling and endured the questioning with non-responsive answers or bland rebuttals.

    How would you react?

  2. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Do Australians never find themselves in this situation? How would you react? :)

    If the questions were outlandish enough, I'd start looking for the hidden camera. ;)

  3. lazarus1907 Senior Member

    Lincoln, England
    Spanish, Spain
    Do you mean tolerant or hypocrite? This is an over-generalization.
  4. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    If you need more information to decide if it is hypocrisy or tolerance, how can you judge it to be an over-generalization? Or have you already decided that you know enough to generalize?
  5. Mate

    Mate Senior Member

    Castellano - Argentina
    I do not quite get something regarding your question.
    Are you asking us how would we react if we were Americans, or how would we react regadless of our nationality?
  6. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    Thinking about Borat, by any chance?
  7. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I'll not speak for any American other than myself. I've been in situations in which a foreigner, apparently thoroughly ignorant of American culture, made bigotted remarks about it.
    If I had any expectations of having to work with the person, as happened once, I vigorously disagreed. On other occasions, when it was clear that (1)it was a one off meeting, and (2)the person seemed deeply attached to his idiotic prejudices, I just let it go. My reasoning at the time was that there was nothing to be gained, in a single brief encounter, from trying to separate a fool from his dearly held illusions of racial superiority. In short, why waste my breath on a jerk?

    I generally act the same way with Americans. If it's clear that they are committed racists or bigots of some other stripe, I take them on forcefully if they are going to be, or already are, part of my context. If they are just "passing through", I lament their ignorance, bile, and hatred, and get on with life.

    Do people generally do otherwise in your place, Robert?
    Does it have anything to do with being polite, or is it a sort of triage? Give energy, time, passion where it can make a difference.
  8. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    Yes but also many interviews and heated discussions where Aussies would be more likely to stop interacting at all with the burke asking the questions and show them the broad of our backs.

  9. jabogitlu Senior Member

    Why of course we're amazingly polite! :D

    No, kidding aside. You probably just happened to witness nice people. All cultures have nice people and horrible people, and people on the spectrum in between. I tend to be a lot more patient with people who aren't familiar with Americans than I am with Americans (or Canadians) who are obviously being idiots.
  10. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I consider myself to be a polite person but I am only acively polite to polite people while I am at best passively polite to boors.
    The repeated behaviour pattern I have observed with Americans is an acceptance of poor behaviour specifically when dealing with non natives. Americans sem to give the benefit of the doubt longer than I would under the same circumstances.

  11. Calloway Senior Member

    no they not,most americans are not polite,truste me,ive lived in america my whole life
  12. I do not think it has anything to do with Americans as such. It just depends on the culture of a particular person. Of course, you are much more likely to expect this sort of behaviour from the nations generally less affected by nationalism and probably (or at least, considered to be) less emotional, of the reserved type. You are more likely (as far as my experience goes) to get into a fight over nationalistic matters with a Serb than with a Swede. Nothing wrong here, just a matter of temperament. We all have different notions of what is polite, what is not, simply in terms of behaviour. I would consider Americans a fairly reserved nation in this respect.
  13. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    And I'm sure you've met all 300 million of them, or at least close to that number.

    Many Americans are naturally curious about people from other countries because many Americans never leave the U.S. themselves. As such, yes, our level of gentility, especially in certain parts of the country, such as the South, can be quite extreme, especially since people don't wish to appear unseemly or rude to others. My guess is much of this politesse comes from simple naivte and curiosity. How can you be rude about someone's behavior when you believe it to be the "norm" of another culture?
  14. loladamore

    loladamore Senior Member

    Zacatecas, México
    English UK
    May I ask in what country or countries these situations took place? People travelling often take it upon themselves to be ambassadors for their country and culture, and as such, appear to be resilient to considerable crap-throwing. Indeed, it may be that the more offensive the other's behaviour/speech, the more the "ambassador" feels the need to redeem his or her culture in the eyes of the offensive other.
    (Does that make sense?)

    I refer you to Mate's response and second his doubt: do you mean if I were American or what?
  15. GenJen, we are talking about accepted stereotypical behaviour, never about all of the 300 million. Thi is silly, you can always find some renegade even in the strictest totalitarian community of a 1000.
  16. John-Paul Senior Member

    Voorhees, NJ USA
    The Netherlands
    YES. I guess it all depends on where you are coming from to classify is it as "amazing". I like politeness in general, but sometimes it's annoying, because it's all pretend-politeness. I have never met anyone over here who was really interested in how I was doing. Try it:
    - Hi! How-you-doin'?"
    - Not good.
    - Great! That's wonderful!

    This is a society entirely glued together on the basis of reciprocity - so you better be nice to me because I'm nice to you!
  17. With "here" you mean The Netherlands? I have not observed this type of reaction there. Usually, people are attentive and sensitive.
  18. John-Paul Senior Member

    Voorhees, NJ USA
    The Netherlands
    "Here," for me, is the US. I have to be honest, I sometimes rather live in a country where people are pretend-polite than in the Netherlands where all the civility has been flushed away in the political storms of the 1990's. Right now intolerenace is growing, and people are rude and impatient.
  19. Well, I still prefer Nederland as there are more Nederlanders there;) and they are fun.
    It is not the hypocrisy of the American society, it is something else that never let me feel "at home" in the States. I hear a lot about the supposed American "hypocritical politeness". Don`t know. Perhaps, I was lucky enough to never get into that sort of situation where I would realise the emptiness of the friendliness of the people around me but I tended to believe they were sincere in it.
    Even with fear of straying off the topic and falling prey to the righteous wrath of cuchuflete, what do you mean by "the political storms of the 1990s"? The ones I know of took place in the early 00s.
  20. jinti

    jinti Senior Member

    Well, I've been in places where the throwaway question is Where are you going? -- and it took me quite awhile to catch on that nobody really cared where I was going, and a general oh, out for a bit was a suitable answer. Where I'm from, Where are you going? is a real question and people expect a real answer, but How are you? is usually just a greeting (it's not hard to tell when someone really wants to know how I am). Which questions a culture decides are real and which are just formalized expressions is all arbitrary, anyway....

    As for politeness in the face of idiocy, well, I don't speak for everyone, obviously, but I tend not to be very confrontational with strangers in general and I was taught never to raise my voice in public. The combination means that the times when I've been caught in the situation .,, describes, my reaction was to grin and bear it. (And then blow off steam later, in private....)
  21. John-Paul Senior Member

    Voorhees, NJ USA
    The Netherlands
    You're right - Fortuyn happened in 2002. It's kind of a blur for me because I left in '96 but didn't get interested again until last year (I joined the New York chapter of a Dutch political party.) To bring the conversation back to the topic, I think the word "polite" (from lat. to polish) inhibits a sense of decor. Isn't it a choice to be polite?
  22. Actually, Fortuyn began to "happen" in the late 90ies, began to stir the public, so to speak (as a student and personal friend of his, I ought to remember:)).

    There has been a lot of debate as to how politeness actually affects the society and its ability to cope with actual pathologies, like violence, stress, aggression etc. Politeness and tactfulness remove a lot of stress in the society, as I find it personally. Yet, we can see that the most polite nations are often among the most affected by violent crime and assault. The US have always fascinated me in this respect. I have more than once asked my American colleagues - sociologists why despite all the concern for the society, for its welfare, the strong set of morals, great awareness of the society needs, do the States remain so affected by crime and violence as compared to many other Western countries? ? Judging from what Americans tell me about the degree of safety they feel at home, the situation must be really bad.

    P.S. And now, Jean-Paul, be a dear. Prove that despite leaving your motherland, Dutchmen are still of some use, go to my Dutch language threads in "OTher Languages" and be of some help:D as you seem to be the only Dutchman online at the moment.
  23. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I mean if you were in the place of the American. That you were being asked rude questions about your culture.

  24. It depends on the person who is asking and the nature of his question, intonation, etc. But I am usually not very touchy about such things. Maybe Brits do not get bashed too often.
    Or, as I had once read, they are so positive of their hidden superiority that they can afford laughing at themselves. :)
    Can you give me an example of a "rude question"?
  25. Mate

    Mate Senior Member

    Castellano - Argentina
    In that case I second what cuchuflete says in post #7:why waste my breath on a jerk?

    I try not to react roughly when exposed to ignorance and plain stupidity.

    I try it hard but regrettably I'm not always successful controlling myself.

    My reaction in those cases limits to avoid further conversation on the subject or to avoid further conversation on whatever subject.

    I just go.
  26. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    When I am asked stupid questions about Russia, I usually smile and answer very politely. To say the truth, I find such questions really amusing, and I see no point in getting angry or upset. Stupid people are everywhere.
    It seems that the best thing you can do is to answer politely and then, maybe, tell your friends about another silly question you were asked and laugh and wonder together.

  27. How do you define plain idiots and jerks? How do you know you are talking to one? What seems stupid at first glance might in reality be badly formulated and have some deep context behind? The truth is born in disputes, remember. Avoiding them may save you nerves but it may also mean sometimes closing the door on anybody who does not agree with you straight away. You deprive them and yourself of a chance to see if there is something there to get at and to learn something from each other.
    Just a thought.
  28. palomnik Senior Member

    I'll acknowledge that Americans as a group are polite, in their own way. In my opinion, Americans as a whole are earnestly non-confrontational, and so they tend to gloss over confrontational comments made by people from other backgrounds. To some perceptive foreign visitors this may be seen as a form of hypocrisy, but now we're dealing with a clash between the foreigner's values and the American's.

    The ironic part of this is that most of the time Americans don't realize that they're avoiding a confrontation, and in fact a lot of them may actually deny it, because it's not really part of the American self-image - imagine John Wayne avoiding a confrontation! The predilection for avoiding confrontation is in turn connected to the distance that Americans keep between each other, which compared to most (but not all) other cultures is considerable.
  29. Mate

    Mate Senior Member

    Castellano - Argentina
    I no longer define or classify people, although I have to admit having done that when I was much younger.

    Regarding other people and being middle-age -let's say that I'm struggling to get along through my second half- and fairly experienced I usually trust my perception about what is worth and what is worthless.
    Regrettably it fails sometimes.

    I love and advocate for the truth but avoid disputes as much as possible.

    Most of all, I love to learn and to share what I believe I've learned so far.

    That´s the main reason that keeps me attached to this wonderful site, most of the time just listening.

    Cheers - Mate

    PS: I really don't know if I should share this but...what the heck!: my nervous system requires intensive care, at least for the sake of my loved ones.:D
  30. ElaineG

    ElaineG Senior Member

    Brooklyn NY
    Many Americans are probably aware as I am that our nation as a whole are viewed as jerks and bullies around the world. I tend to be exceedingly polite with foreigners, who I encounter every day, as I work in a touristy area, whereas I might not be as kind to a fellow New Yorker. Somehow I think I'm going to make up for George Bush's misdeeds.
  31. Mate

    Mate Senior Member

    Castellano - Argentina
    I could not agree more.
  32. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I think that a combination of these two factors is at play in influencing this phenomenon.
    I am aware that Aussies are slightly more polite to and accomodating of people from other cultures and will put up with a few social blunders as a result there is not the staggering difference that I perceive in Americans.
    Perhaps Elaine is on the money. Maybe Americans in general overcompensate for this negative perception that is held of them.

  33. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    The types of questions posed are generally what is referred to as presumptuous questions or loaded questions. These are questions that require the answerer to accept a certain thing as being true before they can answer the question.
    For example,
    Is your mother that ugly because she was born that way or was she hit in the face with a shovel?
    This is a loaded question in that you must accept that your mother is ugly or you can not answer the question.
    Are Americans naturally arrogant or is there something in the water?
    Do Americans eat McDonalds because of stupidity or gluttony?
    Are Americans like Coca-Cola? The life of the party until they lose their fizz and then no-one wants to know them?
    There is no way for an American to answer those types of questions without being additionally critical of their own culture and I have seen numerous examples of Americans trying to be polite with similar questions where I believe that an Aussie or a Kiwi would have been right up the nose of the questioner demanding a clarification or retraction of the basis of the question.

  34. maxiogee Banned

    I think we can all laugh at ourselves, but just don't like it when others do it. That's quite common, both individually and socially.
    Watch a person walk into a glass door, having failed to see it. If they're with a friend they will genuinely laugh it off (provided no damage has been done to them or the door). But, if a bystander were to laugh first you would see them get indignant.

    My take on this is that I have rarely met 'a people' (I tend not to meet raging stereotypes, for some reason) as rude as the Irish can be to their fellows.
    I've had the fake civility of "Have a nice day" from obviously-bored sales staff in shops in several countries, and can't say that America was any different. But overly-polite? I don't think so.
    One of the rudest people I ever met was a waiter in a diner in New York. We had breakfast there, my wife, my son and I, and left a tip on the table as the waiter had disappeared and we left. We were outside deciding what to do next that day when he erupted onto the street after us calling me all sorts of names for not leaving a tip. Without a word I went inside and stood by the table we had just vacated and pointed to the tip - he couldn't have missed it if he had looked.
    Did that colour my opinion of Americans/New Yorkers/waiters or even New York waiters? No, it just gave us something to talk about whenever anyone mentions rudeness.
  35. jabogitlu Senior Member

    Interesting, I'd never thought of this. Do you mean that Americans keep their anonymity about them while in the city/town, etc.?
  36. Cache Senior Member

    Spanish and Argentina
    I may be criticized by many of the "Americans" but, in my opinion, Most of the "Americans" are arrogant and don't accept that, sometimes, they are not the best or the facts are not as they would like them to be.....

    PS:Correct my English ;)
  37. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    Your English is as perfect as your generalisation is not!

  38. Cache Senior Member

    Spanish and Argentina
    Yes, I am generalizing....not all the "americans" are like I said...
  39. Glinda Member

    English US
    I thought it was funny that this thread discussed hypocritical and pretend politeness, like there was really a difference in types of politeness. Politeness is civility and regard for others. There are no subcategories.
    I'd prefer people to be polite (even if it was pretend) rather than rude (even if it was sincere).
  40. jabogitlu Senior Member

    Well, I think there are differences in politeness. After all, if one is fakely polite, I don't consider it being truly polite at all.

    I think most Americans are fakely polite in an attempt to pass through situations easily/pleasantly/quickly. For many of us, the only people we're truly polite to are those we care about.
  41. You may be right. But I am generally calm about national pride issues. I may get easily offended at many other things which I am sensitive about, but whenever one is bashing nationalities... I just think he is envious or something. It is probably easier if you are a First World nation. However, this might be a signal to me that that person is generally afflicted by inferiority complex, aggressiveness, etc etc is better to be avoided.
    Again it all depends on the case.
  42. Glinda Member

    English US
    Fakely polite is another phrase that I think is funny. I am not polite to those that I care about. I am loving and caring and intimately concerned for their wellbeing.
    I am polite to everyone.
  43. John-Paul Senior Member

    Voorhees, NJ USA
    The Netherlands
    The question is, is it polite to lie? The hey-how-yur-doin' is one thing, but how about the that-was-great-you-should-be-a-chef after a meal, or, you're-very-talented, after a poetry reading, or the that-play-should-be-published remark? These are all very common reactions from people here. These responses are very nice and very polite, but they were also blatant lies. Especially when I present my work I want honesty, politeness doesn't teach me anything at all, I think being polite can even be insulting and paternalistic.
  44. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    Compliments are compliments.
    I am sure that most people are always conscious about what they have done well and what they have done badly and whether or not they have deserved the compliment.
    I love making compliments. I love saying nice words to my friends whenever possible. But I always try to praise only things I consider to be deserving my praise. Even if a poem is awful as a whole, there can be a good verse, an excellent phrase, and so on.
  45. palomnik Senior Member

    Jabogitlu: Actually, I do think that Americans have a tendency to keep their anonymity. It is really not that easy to get to know Americans beyond a superficial level - another fact about American life that most Americans will deny. The fact is that there are precious few places where Americans get to know each other, and I've heard it said more than once here that you'll have a hard time meeting your future spouse here if you don't meet them while you're in school.

    I'm digressing from the main topic, but I wanted to address your comment. In fact, I wouldn't say that Americans are universally polite, but more often than not they will be when they are asked something provoking by a foreigner. It's a situational thing.
  46. I try to be polite with everyone. It's worthless to argue people who either don't know your culture or are rude about it and people in your own culture who have opinions quite different than yours, who are clearly racists, bigots, ignorant, xenophobic, or just plain rude and embarrassing. In fact, I may be less polite with an American who says something I don't agree with than with a European that I don't agree with as I understand they are not from the USA. Some Americans I know will probably agree with that statement....though in the end I ended up just ignoring those types. It makes life so much easier. Especially in situations like last year....I was in a very conservative college, I disagreed with the majority of the student body on politics. I engaged in a few debates at first, then I started ignoring them all together. I see too much xenophobia here to be rude to Europeans, I feel in some way, that maybe I can make up for the xenophobia that is seen everywhere here in the US. Which may be a reason why I'm less polite to Americans in some cases. I won't let them get away with generalizations of certain aspects of our culture. I heard someone (American) say: "All vegans are rude and horrible people" That one really got me because I know three good-hearted vegans. This person only knew one! So I told him I knew three nice vegans. I won't say all vegans are great people, but I will say that all vegans are not rude and horrible.

    If a European told me that all americans are fat and lazy. Well, we are a very obese country, statistics have shown that, there's no doubt about that. A great majority of Americans can't stand to be without a TV. (Except for the college students without cable, but that's another story) I can understand why they'd think that. But it's not at all true that Every single one is. It's not true that all Americans are arrogant. Heck, I respect other countries more than I respect our present administration. Some are. But it's not all true. I'm not outraged at the comment though. it's an over-generalization and I realize that some might be arrogant. So fine, be that your opinion. I'm not going to be any more rude to you than I am another person. It's pointless to be rude to people.

    As for Europeans, if it's something cultural, I could possibly even agree with what they said. I don't like stereotypes and generalizations, but I may understand where they get them from. If they said we need less fast food, I would agree. If they said we should change over to metric and that we're ignorant and arrogant idiots for not using it, I would agree to change to the metric system. I would love America to become metric. It's a pain not being metric, in my opinion. I know it's a weird issue. Yes, Americans do want to keep their anonymity. People, many of times, have different personalities. I'm a pretty straightforward person and really don't fake it with people. Online, I may mask myself, but in person you would get to know me pretty quickly.

    sorry for the rambling, and I'm sure it's redundant in areas, but I need to nap. I got up at 6am for an exam this morning and I have a headache.
  47. djchak Senior Member

    USA English
    I do tend to hear this a lot....

    I just wonder why I either hear this , or "americans are overly friendly" from people working here for a while.

    I'm just curious what's behind it (cultural difference wise)

    How is it easier where you came from (to meet friends)?
  48. palomnik Senior Member

    djchak: It's a deep subject, and sometimes it's not easy to see the situation when you're in country. Americans can be "overly" friendly in certain situations, but to a marked extent it's because they don't care to confront. Americans have to pay for their much vaunted liberty by dealing with a bewildering array of insecurities, in my opinion, and that tends to inhibit communication in certain circumstances - particularly in a one-on-one situation.

    As for meeting people in other cultures, I've always found it much easier in a lot of places - certainly in Latin America, and almost everywhere in Europe except Scandinavia and Italy, for some reason. It seems as if there is a level of trust that Americans have to establish before they'll open up, and maybe that explains why most Americans seem to make friends either when they're young or else through church.

    Whether or not there is anything wrong with this is another question, and I suspect that in the final analysis there is nothing wrong with it; every culture has its own issues. The thing I object to most strenuously about Americans is that they tend to be amazingly loath to reflect on themselves, and have a hard time accepting behavior that's significantly different from their own as anything but aberrant.
  49. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I may be off topic but I must say that these comments seem to unfairly single America out in relation to the relative ease of making friends at school and as a child as compared to adulthood.
    This is the bane of the big city dweller and is not limited to America.
    If you live in a community that is too big to know everybody's business you will have difficulty in meeting new adult friends because there will not exist the network of extended friends necessary to facilitate an appropriate meeting so you have to rely on artificial networks like a hobby group or a church or a sporting club.

  50. mytwolangs Senior Member

    English United States
    Well America tends to have a lot of stereotypes about other cultures.
    So when someone stereotypes OUR culture, we probably have the attitude of "We dish it out, so we should be able to take it". [that means that if you insult someone, don't get mad when they insult you back.]

    Americans do try to be tolerant of those not familiar with our culture, but for our own people, we expect other Americans to be right on target with mannerisms. So Americans are not always polite to each other, but with our foreign neighbors, we tend to practice a little patience.

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