So can we please put to bed the stereotype that the English are really polite? They’re not. It’s a lie. What English people(the younger ones, anyway) actually are is SUPER rude with a very polite vocabulary.
(more after the jump)
I know that Americans, at least, see England as a land of eternal sorry, please and thank you, but that actually isn’t true.
First of all,English people rarely say thank you. It’s taken me YEARS to realize this. Seriously, I’ve been in and around England since 2006 and I just figured this out.
This doesn’t mean that the English don’t express thanks. They do, just not by saying thank you. What you will often get is a “cheers”, an explanation of how whatever you did was helpful or appreciated(without a thank you), or a sarcastic joke about how what you did was not actually helpful, meant to somehow convey gratefulness without actually saying so. Apparently, it’s been opposite day here every day since 1066. But the words “thank you” are often not said, even if they’re very deeply meant.
In any case, thanks aren’t even expressed to people you don’t know well. I have never heard an English person below retirement age say thank you to a stranger. I’ll give you an example. Yesterday, I was on the bus. An older, post-retirement age woman gets on, I move seats so she can have mine, she says, “oh,thanks love.” Cool.
Two or three stops later, a young woman with a baby carriage gets on. There are lots of available seats in the front of the bus, as well as some unavailable seats occupied by young strong men who are totally capable of moving their oversize selves out of the way, but for some reason she wants my seat. She gets on, wheels her carriage up to the seat and *glares* at me. I’m already getting up to move, and when I do…does she say thanks? Nope. She continues to glare until I get off the bus a few stops later.When I moved, I said sorry…she didn’t even acknowledge that, just sat down and glared at me.
Time for a tangientially-related musical interlude to distract from all my butt-hurt griping and moaning;
Now to be fair, I probably should have been paying better attention, gotten up, and moved before she came to the seat. And being a mother is hard(or that’s what I hear, anyway) and Sista Evil-Eye was probably having a particularly stressful day.The thing is, I think that young mother’s behaviour explains, a little bit, why the English are so politely impolite. What I, and a lot of other expatriates to this history-heavy island often fail to realize is that this is a fiercely independent and self-interested culture, at least for younger Brits. The individual, and how they are perceived by others, is the most important thing here. The group is only important in how they make the individuals who belong to it look. To that end, people who are speaking politely to you are often only marginally concerned with you. It’s because they don’t want to appear impolite or rude in front of you, and image is everything here. Outside of their social circles, people engage in all sorts of rudeness and nastiness just like anywhere else. Publicly, it’s all about one-upping the competition(that is, everyone else) in a perpetual game of “who can seem the nicest?”
This is why people who know you will express thanks, albeit in a roundabout way, and people who don’t will expect you to do what they want and not even acknowledge you.
I want to emphasize that this only really applies to English people under sixty, and for that matter, from what I’ve seen, only English people. Scots and Irish, whatever the age, seem to be far more genuinely polite. Also, Northern English people are far more openly polite than Southern ones. (Also far more openly racist, but that’s another post entirely.)
As far as why I think this whole polite impoliteness thing is mostly a young person’s thing–for whatever reason, the trend here in England has been towards this shiveringly insecure obsession with oneself, how oneself appears and what oneself has. (It has the side effect of making expatriate bloggers use stupid words like “oneself”.) You never hear an English person say, “I just want to be myself.” That’s taken for granted–people are indeniably themselves and only themselves, and the only way themselves connect to the rest of the world is through projecting a desirable image to a group of people very much like themselves. That’s as far as social cohesion goes. People here are, generally speaking, very interested in how they look, how they sound, and where they belong. They want to look and sound as though they belong to a certain group, and any wavering from that causes massive internal chaos. This isn’t any different than anywhere else, really. It’s just expressed far more vulnerably(although, I think, unintentionally), in younger English people.
Now for the obligatory caveats…does this mean that I’ve never met a generally polite, open English person? NO. Does this mean I’m anti-English? NO. Does this mean that I think all English people are insecure? NO. Does this mean that I’m using one meanie with a pram on a bus to judge a whole nation of people? NO. Like I said, I’ve been here from 2006. There is a)no way that I’d still be here if England was nothing but wall to wall rude insecure people and b)no way that I’m not going to comment on the differences in culture that I see honestly, even if it’s not PC. Just putting that out there.