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Old 10-07-2006, 06:03 PM   #1
Jae Onasi
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Language, Culture, and What's Considered Common Courtesy

This is an offshoot of a conversation on the Abstinence thread, and I thought it might make an interesting topic.

How does language affect your part of culture/society, and vice versa? How is it similar/different from some other places you might have visited?

For an example....Jimbo and I both grew up in the Midwest. We're not always the most urbane of societies and we're pretty laid back and relaxed. Speaking is fairly casual, everyone's on a first name basis, things are relaxed. In Chicago, where we lived a couple years, things move a lot faster. Speech is more rapid-fire, people get in, do their thing, and get out. No muss, no fuss, but also no time spent on coutesies that are held in high regard elsewhere.

The difference for me was most noticeable when I spent a year living in the Deep South, not too far from Houston, TX. There was a lot of 'yes, sir' and 'no, ma'am' and people used 'please' and 'thank you' after _everything_. It was quite different from what I experienced in the Midwest. Sure, some folks used sir/ma'am, but it was usually the older folks, or sometimes kids speaking to elders, but it's used rarely. In the South, at least in the part I lived, children were expected to use ma'am and sir for anyone they didn't know, for teachers and other professionals, and for most adults unless they were very familiar with them (e.g. aunts/uncles, but even then you had to use the auntie/uncle/mamaw/papaw titles). Adults almost always addressed me as 'ma'am' when I was working in the office, but by the same token, if they were in a position of authority over me (say they were the pastor of my church or a firefighter on duty), I would be expected to address them as ma'am or sir.

Not long after I moved South, I saw a kid in my office. His mother came in with him. I asked the boy a question, and he answered 'yes.' His mother immediately told him "That's 'yes, _ma'am_'!" He dutifully added the 'ma'am'. I turned and nearly told mom that it was Ok for him not to use 'ma'am' with me, because frankly, I felt a little odd being addressed as 'ma'am' in the office all the time. I'm just an ordinary gal, you know, and a casual Midwesterner. When I saw the look on her face, though, I realized that it was extremely important to her for her child to be addressing elders with respect, and so I shut my mouth and realized I was going to have to adapt to the Southern culture and not the other way around. They were uncomfortable _not_ using ma'am and sir.

They also used please/thank-you after just about anything and anywhere, including mundane things such as ordering food at a Mcdonald's drive thru. I couldn't figure out why I got funny looks the first few weeks after moving South, though they usually stopped looking at me odd once they realized from my accent that I was a Northerner. I was commenting on both the looks and the please/thank you thing to a friend of mine who lives there and put 2 and 2 together and realized the looks were coming from the fact that they thought I was rude for not using please/thank you as often as they did. Not using please/thank you was perceived as insulting. As soon as I added those 2 words in the spots they thought it should be, I stopped getting the dirty looks. I got used to the language change and it became pretty automatic fairly quickly.

That learned response affected me more than I anticipated when we moved back North to Chicago. For the first 2 months I couldn't believe how rude everyone was up here, and commented on it to Jimbo. We finally figured out it was because Chicagoans don't use please/thank you very much unless it's for something important. Or it's used at the end of entire paragraphs rather after nearly every sentence like in the South. Conversely, Chicagoans don't beat around the bush about insults, either. In the South, you'll get glared at for minor insults. In Chicago, they'll just tell you they think you're being a jerk and be done with it.

Other randome things I noticed in my travels around the country--in SW Missouri, instead of asking a question with a contraction like "Didn't you?", they'll say "Did you not?" or "Will you not?"

Different areas of the country use different ways to say 'I didn't hear you, can you repeat that, please?'
In my little part of the world we say "Excuse me?"
In the South and southern parts of the Midwest we often heard "Pardon me?" In southern Ohio, I heard a lot of "Please?" which I assumed was a shortened version of 'could you please repeat that?'

That doesn't even begin to address multiple languages. I've noticed there are plenty of words in French that we can't directly translate to English and vice versa--we can get the general gist of the concept, but have to use multiple words to achieve the same nuance as that one word in a different language.

I'm wondering how many miscommunications happen simply because 2 people use different courtesy/language conventions because of growing up in different parts of the same country, and if anyone else has some interesting things they've noted about their language(s).


From MST3K's spoof of "Hercules Unchained"--heard as Roman medic soldiers carry off an unconscious Greek Hercules on a 1950's Army green canvas stretcher: "Hi, we're IX-I-I. Did somebody dial IX-I-I?"

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Old 10-07-2006, 06:41 PM   #2
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Quote:
I'm wondering how many miscommunications happen simply because 2 people use different courtesy/language conventions because of growing up in different parts of the same country, and if anyone else has some interesting things they've noted about their language(s).
You should go to Norway. I sometimes feel it's got to be the most informal country in the world, and foreigners often, with good reason, misintrepret it as impoliteness when they don't get the "sir" and "please" they're used to. Both when people go to Norway and when Norsemen go abroad.

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Old 10-07-2006, 06:42 PM   #3
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I'm rude, I love being rude, and I'm proud of being rude.
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Old 10-07-2006, 07:08 PM   #4
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I was going to post this in the original thread, but here we are!

Quote:
Originally posted by Jae Onasi in the previous thread entitled "Abstinence":

I assume people are courteous and treat them that way as fellow members of humanity, until they prove themselves otherwise, then all bets are off. I don't get to uppity about it because you never know who's carrying a gun and having a bad day. I'd rather be alive and slightly insulted than point out someone's rudeness only to get shot.
And this is exactly my point. People defer to others, and sacrifice their own rights and indeed their own sense of worth on a daily basis, not because they REALLY want to be so well-mannered, but out of fear. Not fear of something as extreme as getting shot, mind you, but fear of losing their job, fear of confrontation, fear of social stigma... And none of this is healthy. People say "yes sir," and "no sir," because they think that "sir" or "madam" has power over them.

And one should not give in to fear that others might misuse their power over the individual, because that GIVES such people more power.

Furthermore, if one is only being well-mannered out of fear, then one is not really being well mannered.

Yes, one must respect the rights of others. But one must also defend one's OWN rights. Even the smaller, more insignificant rights.

And this word you used: "uppity". As if taking a rude individual to task over his or her rudeness is in some way "uppity," or "getting ideas above one's station". It is not. It is the responsibility of all members of society. If more people did it, less rude people would get away with it.

Quote:
Originally posted by Samnmax221:

I'm rude, I love being rude, and I'm proud of being rude.
Surely you jest!


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Old 10-07-2006, 07:10 PM   #5
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Considering I grew up in the Midwest, I just don't get why everyone up here is so pleasant all the time.
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Old 10-07-2006, 07:16 PM   #6
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Yeah, but you can't be genuinely rude and proud of it. That would be... insanely amoral. Are you genuinely rude, or merely rude when compared to some shiny-happy-go-lucky-yes-sir-no-ma'am nutters? I'd probably be considered rude by some folks. But I'm not.


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Old 10-07-2006, 08:01 PM   #7
Jae Onasi
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spider AL
I was going to post this in the original thread, but here we are!

And this is exactly my point. People defer to others, and sacrifice their own rights and indeed their own sense of worth on a daily basis, not because they REALLY want to be so well-mannered, but out of fear. Not fear of something as extreme as getting shot, mind you, but fear of losing their job, fear of confrontation, fear of social stigma... And none of this is healthy. People say "yes sir," and "no sir," because they think that "sir" or "madam" has power over them.

And one should not give in to fear that others might misuse their power over the individual, because that GIVES such people more power.

Furthermore, if one is only being well-mannered out of fear, then one is not really being well mannered.

Yes, one must respect the rights of others. But one must also defend one's OWN rights. Even the smaller, more insignificant rights.

And this word you used: "uppity". As if taking a rude individual to task over his or her rudeness is in some way "uppity," or "getting ideas above one's station"...
I'm not being polite because of a power trip. I'm being polite because it's generally nice to be kind to one's fellow humans and to show them respect as fellow members of the human race.
There's a huge, huge difference between 'yes, sir' said with a respectful tone and 'yes, sir' said with a sneer. It's not the words so much as the attitude. I could care less what words are used as long as someone has a respectful attitude not because of my station, but because of just being a fellow human. However, in some other places certain words are used in certain ways and it's almost an automatic response, and not using those words, or using different ones, can give the impression of rudeness. So I try to adapt to the culture rather than try to make the culture adapt to me.

There are a number of responses to rudeness--take it, ignore it, call them on it, and correct them. I certainly don't take it. If it's very minor and I don't have any kind of relationship with that person (say, a person manning a drive thru), I may ignore it because I don't have the time or energy to play Miss Manners. I also recognize that I have bad days when the world is a crappy place and I feel grouchy and say grouchy things, so I'll cut people slack if it's not an overt thing, and especially if they turn around and then act genuiniely nice. Then I know it was just a minor mistake. If I got mad at every imagined or real slight, I'd be a very angry person all the time, and I just don't feel like being that way. You have to pick your battles.

If they're really rude--I still don't go from zero to 'in your face' in less than 60 seconds because my idea of polite is different from some others. I will ask their intentions, and 90% of the time, the insult was unintentional and they apologize (and usually tell me they're having a really bad day). The other 10% of the time they meant it, and then I will correct, either directly or indirectly. If I think personal correction is going to be useful, then I'll say something to that person because it's always better to handle something on the lowest level possible. If I'm pretty sure the person's going to be an *ss about it, I'll skip it (because I'm not going to waste my time and breath just to vent) and complain up the chain to someone who can do something about it.

For instance, a 3rd year med student decided to have a horrible attitude with the nurses on a hospital unit I was working on that day and then decided to have an issue with me for no other reason than I was on the job that day as a unit secretary. I didn't bother saying anything to _him_. It would have been a waste of my time, because he didn't have any respect for me and wasn't going to take any instruction from me or change his attitude. So I took it to the people who could do something about it, people he would respect. I complained right up the chain all the way to the Dean of the Medical school he was attending. Sure, I could have gotten in the student's face and called him on his rude behavior, and I would have felt better for awhile. However, getting an apology letter from the Dean of Students sent to everyone on that unit who he'd offended (with the comment "We have discussed professional behavior with him". I just bet they did....would have loved to have been a fly on that wall during that) was far more satisfying, and probably far more effective for the student in the long run than me ranting at him directly.

Occasionally, I'll make a response to some rude behavior in such a way that the person actually says 'thank you.' About 10 minutes later, however, they realize what I've really said. It's rather amusing to see the look on their faces when they realize they've just been insulted in such a way that there's no good response, and they've just said thank you on top of it....
I don't pull that one very often, because a. it's not really a constructive technique and b. you have to know the person to some degree to pull it off. There are better ways of handling some things. However, there is some satisfaction in sitting with a friend who coughs back a laugh as you smile sweetly to a complete jerk while saying something with an incredibly acidic double meaning. Not to mention the friends comment that follows "I can't believe you just said that...and got away with it...."


From MST3K's spoof of "Hercules Unchained"--heard as Roman medic soldiers carry off an unconscious Greek Hercules on a 1950's Army green canvas stretcher: "Hi, we're IX-I-I. Did somebody dial IX-I-I?"

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Old 10-07-2006, 08:32 PM   #8
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I grew up in a small community where people were friendly toward each other. I can't think of an instance in my life where I've called someone ma'am or sir. While politeness was very important, (yes, it's not polite if you don't say "thank you" at a drive-through) formality definitely wasn't. Once when I was on a bus, someone (who had probably just moved) asked the driver for directions and called him sir. Even though he was a teenager and the driver was over forty, he was very shocked at such a formal form of address.

This is probably due to my upbringing, but I think it's very important to be polite. If you're at a resturant, you should say "thank you" to the waiter who brings your food, and "please" when you order what you want. If someone does a favor, however small and if it's part of their job, it should be acknowledged. (Though tipping is another matter! )

For addressing people as sir or ma'am, I'm not for that. It seems to imply one person is better than the other. I don't need to explain why that's a bad thing.

@Jae, would you say you're for using formal titles?


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Old 10-08-2006, 01:16 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Emperor Devon
For addressing people as sir or ma'am, I'm not for that. It seems to imply one person is better than the other. I don't need to explain why that's a bad thing.

@Jae, would you say you're for using formal titles?
Our situation is a little skewed by Jimbo being in the military, where those ranked above you must be addressed sir/ma'am, and all civilians must be addressed sir/ma'am as a sign of respect. It's also a little skewed by being in the martial arts, where all black-belts are sir/ma'am.

I used to really like informality, until a couple unpleasant people took advantage of that informality (not to any bad degree, just took my name in vain a few times too many with others). Now that I have kids, I'd much rather keep strangers at arm's length and away from my kids than be casual, and formality helps keep a certain distance. Well, so does 'get the f*** away from me', but that's not exactly language I'd like my kids parroting.

I don't feel like I'm debasing myself by addressing others sir/ma'am, or giving them some false sense of power. I never say it in a way that implies I'm groveling at their feet.

I still use please/thank you a lot more than most of my fellow WI folks just because of the time I spent in TX (it really does become an automatic response), though I don't quite say it after _everything_ at the drive-thru anymore.

Oddly enough, when I was in NYC, I actually got complimented for being polite--I was at a department store waiting in line to use the changing rooms to try on something. The lady saw me waiting and said 'There's another changing room down the way that may have some rooms open.' I was still recovering from foot surgery, and since I was next in line at her changing rooms anyway, I decided to stay in that line. So I said "No, thank you. But I appreciate you letting me know," because I did. She didn't have to tell me about the other changing room, after all, she could have just ignored me. Her mouth dropped open in amazement, liked I'd just handed her a princess' tiara or something, and she mentioned that no one ever had been polite to her like that before. I remember being a bit embarrassed over her extreme pleasure at such a little thing and also thinking that it was kind of sad that no one else in her life had ever said something in a way that I considered simple courtesy.


From MST3K's spoof of "Hercules Unchained"--heard as Roman medic soldiers carry off an unconscious Greek Hercules on a 1950's Army green canvas stretcher: "Hi, we're IX-I-I. Did somebody dial IX-I-I?"

Read The Adventures of Jolee Bindo and see the amazing Peep Surgery
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Old 10-08-2006, 01:27 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jae Onasi
I don't feel like I'm debasing myself by addressing others sir/ma'am, or giving them some false sense of power. I never say it in a way that implies I'm groveling at their feet.
I wouldn't say it goes that far, though when you give a sense of respect like that to most people, it should be returned (though it would sound odd for two people to call each other sir) or better yet not done.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jae Onasi
I don't quite say it after _everything_ at the drive-thru anymore.
Just saying "thank you" after getting the food and saying "please" when ordering it fits basic politeness.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jae Onasi
{snip} I remember being a bit embarrassed over her extreme pleasure at such a little thing and also thinking that it was kind of sad that no one else in her life had ever said something in a way that I considered simple courtesy.
Sounds kind of sad that a person would be so elated over simple politeness.


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Old 10-08-2006, 03:35 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by Jae Onasi:

I'm not being polite because of a power trip.
I never said that people who are polite are on a power trip, I did make a statement to the effect that those on a power trip demand a deferential level of politeness from others, however.

Quote:
Originally posted by Jae Onasi:

I could care less what words are used as long as someone has a respectful attitude not because of my station, but because of just being a fellow human.
How respectful is "respectful"? I mean, it would be helpful if you were to quantify this. Do you believe that subordinates in the workplace should show more respect to their superiors than their superiors show to them? I do not. I believe that one is in a workplace to do a job. If you do your job, then you have fulfilled your obligation in the matter, end of story. And if I were an employer, I'd feel not a little suspicious of anyone who was- as some might call it- brown-nosing around me, saying things like "Yes Sir"...

Quote:
Originally posted by Jae Onasi:

If I got mad at every imagined or real slight, I'd be a very angry person all the time, and I just don't feel like being that way.
Granted. But one does not have to become angry at all. I'll give you an example: If someone is being appreciably rude, one can say "You're being rude to me." and that you will be happy to deal with them when they're being civil. And then of course, one waits until they're civil before dealing with them. i.e: you don't stick around and argue. This type of standard, by-rote response has certain advantages.

1. You've told the truth openly.
2. You've marked out your boundaries. You are the type of person who deals with civil people, but not with offensive people.
3. You are quite literally not there for them to argue with, should they wish to become even more belligerent.

Bearing in mind that I have been called passive-aggressive in the past, I have found this to be the most effective- and honourable- way. It's just my way.

Arguing with people or trying to match sneer for sneer is always a futile effort. If you win, it's because you've descended to their level. Nay, LOWER than their level. If you lose, you feel victimised. No-win-situation. The only way to truly win a petty squabble is to not involve yourself in it.

Quote:
Originally posted by Jae Onasi:

I could have gotten in the student's face and called him on his rude behavior, and I would have felt better for awhile. However, getting an apology letter from the Dean of Students sent to everyone on that unit who he'd offended (with the comment "We have discussed professional behavior with him". I just bet they did....would have loved to have been a fly on that wall during that) was far more satisfying, and probably far more effective for the student in the long run than me ranting at him directly.
The only two problems that I personally would have had with this response were:

1. that one can never be sure what his superiors told him. Office politics being what it is, one can report all sorts of bad behaviour to higher-ups and they can make all sorts of noises as if they intend to sort the ne'er-do-well in question out... But sometimes they don't sort him/her out. Sometimes they go for drinks with him/her instead, because they're chummy.

2. Juvenile people (rude people, as a rule) can bear deep grudges about what they percieve as "tattle-tale" behaviour. The advantage of stating dispassionately that one will only deal with civility, is that one is not becoming a target for any vindictive retribution in the future.

Quote:
Originally posted by Jae Onasi:

Our situation is a little skewed by Jimbo being in the military, where those ranked above you must be addressed sir/ma'am, and all civilians must be addressed sir/ma'am as a sign of respect. It's also a little skewed by being in the martial arts, where all black-belts are sir/ma'am.
Yes, I've always felt that the military hierarchy belonged firmly in the military. And since those in the military and in our police forces have chosen to serve the citizenry in their capacity, it makes sense that they would defer to the public by saying "no ma'am", etcetera. That's their career choice.

As for the arts, it rather depends on the school. The very very best, most effective martial arts I've ever trained in have also been some of the most informal. Gives a good atmosphere too. I've seen too many martial-arts "cults" where the sifu/sensei/grand poo-bah fed off the adulation of his students like a vampire.

Quote:
Originally posted by Jae Onasi:

Now that I have kids, I'd much rather keep strangers at arm's length and away from my kids than be casual, and formality helps keep a certain distance. Well, so does 'get the f*** away from me', but that's not exactly language I'd like my kids parroting.
Ooh, important to remember that profanity is used by certain segments of society for emphasis, and so must be taught in any good self-defence course.

But I know what you're saying. However I'd say the reverse was true, that if one teaches children to automatically defer to older people, one is in danger. The last thing one wants is a child who will show respect to EVERY adult. Some dangerous adults about.

Quote:
Originally posted by Jae Onasi:

I don't feel like I'm debasing myself by addressing others sir/ma'am, or giving them some false sense of power. I never say it in a way that implies I'm groveling at their feet.
Addressing someone as sir is merely politeness. As in "Sir, is this your wallet?" But deferential language like "Yes sir," or "No ma'am" is in my view intrinsically devaluing. And inescapably so.

Quote:
Originally posted by Emperor Devon:

This is probably due to my upbringing, but I think it's very important to be polite. If you're at a resturant, you should say "thank you" to the waiter who brings your food, and "please" when you order what you want. If someone does a favor, however small and if it's part of their job, it should be acknowledged. (Though tipping is another matter! )
Oh I too think that such common courtesies as "please" and "thank you" are an essential part of social interaction... but only if you mean them.

I used to thank the driver of every bus I used, no matter how rude he or she was, or how bad a driver they were. But now I know better, and I thank only those who deserve thanks.

I feel that this is better for two reasons:

First, if I were to say thank you to someone who DIDN'T deserve it, then my "thanks" would lose all intrinsic value. All meaning. Thanks are an appreciation for a service rendered, a favour done, a job done well. If you give out thanks to those who HAVEN'T done a good job, then all appreciation is absent and the phrase is meaningless. Empty.

Secondly, encouragement is feedback. If someone is behaving like a rude fool and is thanked for it, they will have no reason to become well-mannered.


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Old 10-08-2006, 03:16 PM   #12
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AL.. being from the UK I'm kinda surprised that you are so disregarding of the effects that respect can have on society.

Now I was brought up by fairly liberal parents, so i never really did the whole "sir" thing, and never believed there was any such thing as "my betters". However I was also taught to be polite and consider the feelings of others, and the impact of my actions upon them.

Over the last few years "respect" has become a pretty big deal in the UK. Because a lot of people percieve that it has pretty much disapeared from today's society. WHich is what a lot of people blame for the apparent rise in yobbish behaviour over the past few years.

Now I don't want everyone tugging their forelocks or anything, but I do feel they have a point. I know that a lot of people have an image of everyone in britain being polite.. but its no longer the case. British highstreets are places of rogue gangs of kids, shouts and insults, and often a general atmosphere of fear and menace. Now maybe politeness disapearing has nothing to do with that.. but i have a kinda hard time believing the two aren't linked. [/old person mode]



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Old 10-08-2006, 04:59 PM   #13
Jae Onasi
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I'm also interested in seeing how the conventions are similar/different in various parts of the world, though this discussion is fascinating.


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Old 10-08-2006, 05:49 PM   #14
Davinq
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I grew up for three years in New Zealand (ages 0-3), and there, confrontation was highly frowned upon. I got into a fight with my best friend, and suddenly my mum rushes in the room and gives me a spanking.

One other cultural difference I'm learning more and more about, is the interpretation of the "finger." Obviously in the U.S.A, people consider extending the middle finger, flipping somenone off. In New Zealand however, I accidentally learned (thanks to my dad) that doing a peace sign, with the fingernail side facing towards the recipient, is giving the finger. Also in Bangladesh, clicking your thumbnail off the top of your teeth is considered flipping someone off.

edit: @Mods: My apologies if the 2nd paragraph is deemed inappropriate.

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Old 10-08-2006, 05:53 PM   #15
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In Japan its considered polite to be very disparaging about yourself, but praise the other person. Almost like old style english modesty, but taken to the extreme.

"My son is lazy and bad mannered, but your son seems very smart and intelligent." "Oh no, my son isn't very smart and he doesn't work hard, but your son seems much more studious".

But then of course japan has incredibly complex rules about levels of politeness and addressing people.

Spanish, French and Italian all have a polite form and a casual form of course.

And in england everyone used to be quite modest and polite.. and that unseemly american cockiness, loudness and arrogance was frowned upon. But these days, with kids growing up in a culture of american consumerism, 50 cent and big brother it seems like being rude, cocky and arrogant as loudly as possible is a status symbol. ANd if anyone tut-tuts then they get knifed.

Boy I sound like an old person. Its probably not as bad as the media portrays it though. But perception is a large part of reality.



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Old 10-08-2006, 06:42 PM   #16
Spider AL
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Originally posted by Toms:

AL.. being from the UK I'm kinda surprised that you are so disregarding of the effects that respect can have on society.
If you believe that, then you really didn't read any of my posts properly.

Quote:
And in england everyone used to be quite modest and polite.. and that unseemly american cockiness, loudness and arrogance was frowned upon. But these days, with kids growing up in a culture of american consumerism, 50 cent and big brother it seems like being rude, cocky and arrogant as loudly as possible is a status symbol. ANd if anyone tut-tuts then they get knifed.
Sorry mate, but your view of the past is somewhat rose-tinted. The working class has always had elements within it that were rude and uncouth, yobbish and criminal. And there have always been upper-class snobs who are rude in different ways. And frankly, though I too blame the media for much of today's problems, I blame the everyday person more.

People are allowing these things to go on. It's self-interest. When a man is stabbed on a bus for complaining when some disgusting scumbag throws chips at his girlfriend and the rest of the people on the bus DON'T go ballistic and smash his face repeatedly into the floor through sheer weight of numbers... I blame the people more than the scumbag. There will always be scumbags, but sheep have to CHOOSE to be sheep. And we all pay the price.

I also blame the police for not protecting witnessess to crimes. A friend of mine witnessed a robbery in Essex and when the police arrived to take her statement, so did a friend of the robber. And in front of the coppers, he damn well threatened her if she talked. She asked the coppers whether they would do anything to this bloke or do anything to safeguard her, and they told her "no".

I'm fed up of all this nonsense. People have to choose to be strong to stop these things. And that includes campaigning for the right to arm oneself.


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