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How to Be Polite
August 15, 2014 3:49 AM   Subscribe


 
I am not this person.
posted by ZaneJ. at 4:02 AM on August 15 [8 favorites]


Thank you, Keli. That was nice.
 
posted by Herodios at 4:14 AM on August 15 [43 favorites]


I learned this! Being polite! It was miraculous!
I had a job and my boss was unfailingly polite. Well, almost. It was amazing. In situations in which I would not have been polite, he was almost mercilessly polite. It worked wonders, and when it didn't it never hurt, there was never a down-side.

I'm not very good at it but, Fuck yeah, manners!
posted by From Bklyn at 4:16 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


Agreed there is no down-side - being scrupulously polite to my toddler daughter has been one of the few successful things I've decided to do in my life and I recommend trying it to everyone with kids.

I noticed one day that people rudely bark orders at their kids constantly in ways they'd never dream of doing to any adult, and then wonder why their kids are surly and aggressive later with their peers. Kids' dignity is actually very fragile and I find they respond immediately to being treated with 'thankyous' and 'you're welcomes' and a bit of listening in everyday situations.
posted by colie at 4:26 AM on August 15 [101 favorites]


Just a word of warning, if whilst reading the article you're curious about dermoid teratomas, DON'T GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH IT. ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE EATING YOUR LUNCH AT THE TIME.

why did I do that
posted by Ned G at 4:27 AM on August 15 [17 favorites]


Thanks for posting this!
posted by chavenet at 4:35 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


I have a much larger that 3 foot buffer zone. Try three metres.
posted by greenhornet at 4:43 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


(I shared this with some friends the other day, and said something similar to what follows.)

Ford's "Conclusion" article is worth reading but it is a bit mannered right up until its "Conclusion" whose every paragraph is a gem of perfect wisdom.

If I had to pick a paragraph that solidly echoes my own experiences, it would be this one:
"This is not a world where you can simply express love for other people, where you can praise them. Perhaps it should be. But it’s not. I’ve found that people will fear your enthusiasm and warmth, and wait to hear the price. Which is fair. We’ve all been drawn into someone’s love only to find out that we couldn’t afford it. A little distance buys everyone time."
posted by mistersquid at 4:53 AM on August 15 [41 favorites]


I think this is very nice and I liked it a lot!

I particularly like how it demonstrates that the etiquette rules are there as a framework to make interactions easier and more pleasant; I think that spending time with and talking to other people, especially people you don't know well, can be very, very scary and having a set of guidelines to help you navigate that in a way that is respectful to the other person can just make an enormous difference.

I also, when I was teaching, was pretty strict about my kids saying "please" and "thank you" and this was for a few reasons. 1) I think everyone should be polite 2) People misjudge my students (often because of racism) and they shouldn't have to be more polite than white kids but unfortunately it helps them be taken more seriously 3) Most importantly, I think saying "please" and "thank you" are a way to acknowledge someone else's humanity and build empathy. I know it might sound silly but I do think it's true; a lot of kids (and too many adults) seem to think stuff happens by magic or robots. The bus got here -- magic. My food arrived -- magic. The door stayed open for me -- magic. They don't acknowledge the people, the bus drivers and waitstaff and everyone, who make their day possible, people who are too often invisible1. Whenever you say "please" or "thank you" to someone whose job it is to help you, you are acknowledging them as a person and saying "I recognize that you are a real person doing a real job and I appreciate that". I think this piece reflected a lot of that, too.

I'm not as polite as I'd like to be, and I'm not always good at finding the line between "polite" and "doormat", but I really enjoyed this and I think I will try to be more polite in the future. Thanks for posting!

1Anecdotally, when I was a waitress at a particularly mediocre Chili's, I noticed a really strong correlation between how polite the children were and how well their parents tipped, and I think this supports my point. People who were making their children be polite to waitstaff were also people who recognized that I was a person doing a hard and not necessarily pleasant job. People who let their children run around the restaurant would leave $4 on $100 and then smirk at me like "I'm so magnanimous".
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:59 AM on August 15 [68 favorites]


Officially my favorite article of the day, and the day has just started. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Peach at 5:07 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Please tell me this is by a Canadian. That would make my day.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:25 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]


Just a word of warning, if whilst reading the article you're curious about dermoid teratomas, DON'T GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH IT. ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE EATING YOUR LUNCH AT THE TIME.

Well you just made me curious and now I'm craving cottage cheese.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:26 AM on August 15 [8 favorites]


I really enjoyed this article. It made me realize that a lot of my success has been from a love of people transmuted into politeness. I temped as a receptionist at a career transition agency after I was laid off, and you really see people at low and transformative places in their lives. Just remembering someone's name is just enough love to get them through another day of a job search.

Plus, politeness made my life so much easier at that job. I was polite to the cleaning staff and the security guards and everyone in between. It cost nothing to be polite, but reaped so many rewards - especially when the fridge shut down on a long weekend.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:26 AM on August 15 [9 favorites]


I think I could love that man for the three-feet buffer zone alone. Even with the guilt and shame I'm wallowing in for my unconscionable rudeness recently with everyone.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:33 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


Adding a note of caution: I'm super-nice to waitstaff and try to spark a little chat if possible, but sometimes I've basically ended up with waiters crouching down next to the table and unloading half a lifetime's worth of misery in a low voice while I'm trying to eat a pizza.
posted by colie at 5:34 AM on August 15 [11 favorites]


Just a word of warning, if whilst reading the article you're curious about dermoid teratomas, DON'T GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH IT. ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE EATING YOUR LUNCH AT THE TIME.

Yelling isn't very polite.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


It’s just a little rule nestled in my brain, filed under Prostitutes. There are thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of similar just-in-case rules. What if I had to meet the mayor tomorrow? What if I had to go to an expensive restaurant? What if I needed to interview a homeless person for a story?

On the one hand, it would be comforting to just know the Right Thing To Do in every situation.
On the other hand, I suddenly feel as though life is a pop quiz and I haven't done any studying.
posted by Gordafarin at 5:47 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]


You took a shit at the crowded Starbucks instead of the hooker's bathroom? That must be hard work.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 5:49 AM on August 15 [11 favorites]


Well you just made me curious and now I'm craving cottage cheese.

Cottage cheese is delicious with Cancrum Oris.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:51 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


I wish I was that polite -- I aspire to it, but attain it rarely.

Part of why it is such a good essay is that it models what it is saying in the tone and language -- it treats the reader with respect, rather than excessive intimacy or patronization, which are the tones of so much writing. That sounds easy, but isn't (and certainly isn't something I manage).
posted by Dip Flash at 5:55 AM on August 15 [27 favorites]


Nobody outside of an intimate has touched my flat mousy Irish hair, but when I went from the west coast to a fancy school on the east coast there would be this cheek kissing thing.

It would, totally, bust my confidence for the day.
posted by angrycat at 5:55 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Also, this dude is like several levels above me in the politeness game in knowing that the best step upon realizing rudeness is to apologize. I have this nasty habit of hiding after I'm like 'shit I was totes rude.'
posted by angrycat at 5:58 AM on August 15 [13 favorites]


This part is just wonderful:
People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment.
In other words, give people not just physical space, but also breathing room to struggle a little and have a bad day without immediate judgment. I love this guy.

When I joined the corporate workforce, my first annual review consisted of my boss telling me I would never get ahead if I continued to be so pleasant and polite (unspoken: because I'm young and female). "Fuck that," I thought, as I smiled and said "Thanks for the advice, but I disagree."
posted by sallybrown at 6:02 AM on August 15 [84 favorites]


Who the fuck touches people's hair? I mean ... what?
posted by Skorgu at 6:09 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


Later, that same kid stole my cassette copy of Aqualung.

This is a nearly perfect example of anti-politeness.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:12 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


there would be this cheek kissing thing.

It would, totally, bust my confidence for the day


I completely understand. I dreaded leaving my house every day when I lived in France. I don't want any physical contact, thank you very much. And especially, since I don't even know you. But then, I was a guest in their country and felt it would be impolite not to obide by their rules. It was a relief to leave, though.
posted by I have no idea at 6:14 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


If you bring anti-politeness and politeness together in a vacuum, what happens?
posted by Happy Dave at 6:14 AM on August 15


So great: Sometimes I’ll get a call or email from someone five years after the last contact and I’ll think, oh right, I hated that person. But they would never have known, of course. Let’s see if I still hate them. Very often I find that I don’t. Or that I hated them for a dumb reason. Or that they were having a bad day. Or much more likely, that I had been having a bad day.

I would do well to remember this the next time I'm on the subway...
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:14 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


This whole thing is so good.

The part sallybrown quoted above is worth embroidering on a pillow.

Also the part about assuming that someone's just having a bad day.
posted by mochapickle at 6:15 AM on August 15


If you bring anti-politeness and politeness together in a vacuum, what happens?

Reality TV, since the mutual destruction effect is asymmetrical.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:16 AM on August 15 [8 favorites]


Am I the only one who got a deeply smarmy vibe off this? I view manners as something one does out of consideration for others, but the article seems so focused on how it causes others to behave that I can't help imagining the author wearing a fedora. I think it was the Raconteur game that set me off the most -- the idea of keeping score about how many details someone discloses about his/her life, as if those were trinkets to be collected.

That, and the insincere "wow, that sounds hard" about someone's work. If you're interested, express interest; if you're not, crack a joke or find a way to change the subject. But don't tell me what I do "sounds hard" insincerely; condescension isn't politeness. (And his evidence of this tactic working -- getting a "very beautiful woman" to talk to him who "kept touching [him] as she talked" (which he forgave! how magnanimous) while he "didn’t reveal a single detail about [him]self, including [his] name" -- gave a PUA power-game vibe to the essay.)

Also, this: "If there is a stray hair on their jacket I ask them if I can pluck it from them," is neither polite (commenting on someone's appearance) nor respectful of the buffer zone (asking to touch, when one could just indicate the flaw and allow the person to deal with it independently).
posted by Westringia F. at 6:17 AM on August 15 [62 favorites]


Who the fuck touches people's hair? I mean ... what?

The article has links and there is an active FPP on exactly that just down the page. Yes, amazingly enough, it really is a Thing.

there would be this cheek kissing thing.

It would, totally, bust my confidence for the day


On the contrary, I terribly miss living the places I have lived where everyone hugs and kisses when meeting. As long as it is an expected rule so you don't get those awful instances of one person leaning in and one person leaning away, it's these nice little moments of (literal) human contact and warmth sprinkled through your day. So nice.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:19 AM on August 15 [12 favorites]


I never know how many cheeks to kiss!
posted by dismas at 6:24 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


Twenty, same as in town.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:25 AM on August 15 [19 favorites]


If, "Manners maketh man" as someone said
Then he's the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say

Modesty, propriety can lead to notoriety
You could end up as the only one
Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society
At night a candle's brighter than the sun
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:28 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


Westringia F, that seems like an uncharitable reading. He spends pretty much the whole essay discussing how to avoid making other people feel bad or uncomfortable or violated, the opposite of PUA bullshit.

He uses internal rules (politeness) to better equip himself to treat people with empathy and respect. One of them is listening and commenting that people's jobs sound hard, which he says in the essay is nearly always true, to the people themselves if not to an external observer. It's an opportunity to allow other people to talk about what they do and what they struggle with, not a weird head-fake psyche-out.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:29 AM on August 15 [41 favorites]


Am I the only one who got a deeply smarmy vibe off this?

Judging by the comments on this page, yes, you are.
posted by cellphone at 6:31 AM on August 15 [20 favorites]


How to Allow Tedious Blowhards to Yap at You While You Nod Politely
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:33 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


I never know how many cheeks to kiss!

It's a maximum of four, so you can only be so wrong.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:33 AM on August 15 [20 favorites]


The celebrity jewelry coordinator smiled and grabbed my hand and said, “I like you!” She seemed so relieved to have unburdened herself.

and

Whatever happens inside that buffer is entirely up to them. It has nothing to do with me.

Years ago, I managed a bookstore that carried a lot of "fringe interest" material -- some sexual, much of it not -- and, once in a while, a patron would tell you something that was extremely personal. I used to tell my staff, "people can tell us whatever they like because we don't care." You would nod and say "that sounds tough" or "cool" or "hey, you might like this book," but you don't judge, especially not to the person's face. I called it "compassionate indifference" (I mightuse "equanimity" these days).

Which takes us to Westringia F.'s comment. Manners and politeness can't be rooted in specific interest or concern for an individual, because you have to do it even if you aren't interested or concerned. Politeness is, by definition, impersonal; you do it because it makes society work, and the rules of politeness don't apply to friendships, where a deeper and more personal connection is in force (that doesn't mean you don't treat your friends well, just the rules are different and hand-crafted).

I agree that the Raconteur game is not very nice, but it can still be polite. The problem with it is, if anyone ever figures it out, you are caught in a terrible social gaffe -- basically, you are a cad, which should be familiar to anyone who's read a novel of manners.

As for forgiving someone who touches you? Anyone I don't know at least reasonably well who touches me without permission needs forgiveness. I don't like it, and I am mildly bewildered by "touchy people," men and women, attractive or not. Personal space; it's a thing. I'm pretty free with that forgiveness, so it's pretty much internal, but there are people who avoid because of it.

Also, identifying a stray hair on a person's clothes? That's not commenting on a person's appearance so much as giving them valuable information. Identifying stray hairs, greens between the teeth, a misset zipper or button is not an intrusion but a helpful thing, assuming the information is provided politely -- drawing only the person's attention to it in a place where they can excuse themselves (if necessary) and fix the issue. It's a small embarrassment that saves a greater one later.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:38 AM on August 15 [30 favorites]


I loved the article, but was afraid if I posted it here it would be met with cynicism and snarkasm. Politeness would vastly improve the discourse on Metafilter.

I worked in retail for a number of years. Being polite and cheerful was an excellent defense against customer abuse. When you are polite, people find it more difficult to dump on you. When I am depressed, sometimes people behave appallingly to me, in ways they wouldn't if I had the energy to be better at my polite facade.

My cousin's wife once complimented me on my son's manners. I was surprised by how pleased I was to receive that particular compliment. 12 years of Catholic education made their mark.

I can't agree strongly enough about being polite to children; it's one of the ways you let them know you really see them as a person.

Thanks for posting this, Keli.
posted by theora55 at 6:42 AM on August 15 [9 favorites]


One of my life goals is "be the person Hannibal Lecter wouldn't eat." So this is great!
posted by dogheart at 6:43 AM on August 15 [54 favorites]


I can offer a flip side to his "Ranconteur" game. It's something I've done for years. I call it simply "the game."

When I meet a stranger at a party, I will immediately give a fast, first-name introduction and then ask them a question, such as "what kind of day did you have?" or even "how have you been?" and then approach the encounter like an interview. I try to learn something about the person, and it's rare that I don't. Folks love to talk about themselves, their kids, their grandkids, their job. It's very entertaining. I try not to focus on it too much, but I give the person one point if they, in turn, ask me a question. It could be anything at all. "Got any kids?" counts, as does "so how are you?"

At a recent gathering I spoke with probably two dozen people. I had a blast and learned all sorts of things. It wasn't until later that I realized the group had scored a perfect zero--not one person had asked me a single thing. My enthusiastic interest in their lives was more than enough. My politeness became a kind of cloaking device.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:46 AM on August 15 [26 favorites]


I totally get the thing about not touching people's hair, but I'm not getting the radical anti-touch contingent. Not judging, mind you. But an occasional elbow touch works for me. And I have a pretty huggy bunch of friends. I like that. Is it a Latin vs. Anglo thing?
posted by mondo dentro at 6:47 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


Imagining real raconteurs playing the raconteur game was creepy. But his telling the world how to play the raconteur game was a great kindness. Not everyone can learn how to do parties just by attending parties for tens and tens of years, with the result that parties are a misery for many people. I know I've been told what he's saying several thousand times but I never before understood how I could do it. I was dreading and am now anticipating a party this weekend. Thank you, Keli.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:49 AM on August 15 [11 favorites]


I've known some amazingly polite people, and this fellow is on the right track, but he's still building experience. There's a lot of passivity in his approach to politeness, and it's a good starting point, as it is valuable to be able to forgive, to be sanguine, to use politeness as a social lubricant that makes difficult experiences tolerable and gets us through them with a minimum of fuss.

But I have seen polite people with much more experience turn those skills into something more active, into a tool for steering. It's something I aspire to, because I try not to busy myself with the lives of other people, as I can't really know what they are experiencing and it is best to assume that they are the expert in their own experience. But sometimes I see somebody doing something undeniably hurtful, to themselves, to the people they love, to the world. And these are the moments I feel I must speak up.

But I have repeatedly found that the one thing people least want to hear is the one thing they must hear, and so this is the sort of moment when my communication skills fail me. Kindness, directness, clarity -- my usual tools of communication fail me, because no matter how I approach it, the person I am speaking to will not hear it as intended, and will respond badly.

But I have seen to truly polite, these ju-jitsu masters of social niceties, say the most astonishingly direct things, the sorts of things that usually ends up in a fight, or a broken friendship, or an unending sense of betrayal, and have it be warmly received. Somehow, they made the most incisive and troubling of pronouncements sound like a compliment, and the possibility for improvement seem like something the other person had already figured out and was already doing, and good for them.

I don't know. Like the author of this piece, I grew up fascinated by etiquette books. But this seems closer to black magic.
posted by maxsparber at 6:51 AM on August 15 [29 favorites]


You can kiss cheeks 2 or 3 times, but the really important thing is always to go left first.
posted by colie at 6:51 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


I totally get the thing about not touching people's hair, but I'm not getting the radical anti-touch contingent. Not judging, mind you. But an occasional elbow touch works for me. And I have a pretty huggy bunch of friends. I like that. Is it a Latin vs. Anglo thing?

I am very uncomfortable with casual touching unless it's coming from my family (which is rare) or very close friends. Partly because I'm not used to it due to the way my family is (not very touchy-feely) and partly because of being female and having men assume they have some sort of right to touch me (hair stroking, arm petting, hand-on-thigh) even in the face of my explicitly asking them not to touch me.
posted by sallybrown at 6:53 AM on August 15 [8 favorites]


Good read. Right now, my workplace is in a turmoil. I am certain the polite people will come out of this better than the "honest, straightforward guys".
posted by mumimor at 6:56 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


maxsparber: "But I have seen to truly polite, these ju-jitsu masters of social niceties, say the most astonishingly direct things, the sorts of things that usually ends up in a fight, or a broken friendship, or an unending sense of betrayal, and have it be warmly received. Somehow, they made the most incisive and troubling of pronouncements sound like a compliment, and the possibility for improvement seem like something the other person had already figured out and was already doing, and good for them."

This is, like, communication black belt level, if used for good. I would love to hear some examples, because clearly and humanely communicating in this way remains something I sometimes fail drastically at (although sometimes I pull it off like a gymnast coming off a trampoline and landing perfectly, and I'm never sure exactly what I'm doing differently).
posted by Happy Dave at 6:56 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


I thought I was the only one who read etiquette books in high school.
posted by harrietthespy at 6:58 AM on August 15 [13 favorites]


Oh, I did. And scoured secondhand shops for Emily Post books from the '40s!
posted by mochapickle at 7:01 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


colie: Ooh nooo, it's not that easy. In Europe, which cheek you start on depends on the country, and in some cases, on the region!
posted by Zarkonnen at 7:12 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


If Emily Post is Politeness 101, then Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People is the next logical step. It's been years since I read it the first time and it still remains one of the most powerful things I've ever read. Each time I revisit it, I think, man this is just so obvious, why don't I remember to do this all the time?
posted by MoonOrb at 7:14 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


You can kiss cheeks 2 or 3 times, but the really important thing is always to go left first.
posted by colie


Thank you, colie! So glad to have a rule instead of always screwing that up!!


On preview:
colie: Ooh nooo, it's not that easy. In Europe, which cheek you start on depends on the country, and in some cases, on the region!
posted by Zarkonnen


Dammit.
posted by artychoke at 7:25 AM on August 15 [7 favorites]


I like politeness but I think what this article shows is that politeness is different things to different people. Sure, there's the stuff at the dead center: say "please" when you ask for something, say "thank you" when you get something, say "Hi, how are you" when you encounter someone you know. But beyond that? Lots of dissensus. E.G. this guy's remark about writing anguished apology emails to people whose boundaries he feels he's trangressed. Every once in a while I get an email like this from someone. And my reaction is "AUGGH, please don't come into my space and prolong the drama of some momentary interaction I'd already forgotten about!"

I worked in retail for a number of years. Being polite and cheerful was an excellent defense against customer abuse.

Yes, this! You want to see some serious high-test politeness, watch the gate agents at a big airport during a storm. People are just in their face yelling at them and they somehow maintain their politeness and poise. I have to think Valium is involved.
posted by escabeche at 7:26 AM on August 15 [10 favorites]


I read this on the same day I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, and something struck me as a trend between the two. Paul Ford's essay is about relentless empathy and positivity in order to make the world around him better (and even my most cynical side replayed my interactions with Paul Ford on the 2-3 occasions that I met him, realizing he was INSANELY NICE in my memories of being face-to-face), and then I thought about GotG and how it's kind of the first in a long string of awful dumb superhero movies that was deeply personal and positive and all the characters had extreme empathy for one another even though they're supposed to be a band of outlaws with no respect for society and something felt really right about both pieces of culture I enjoyed that day.
posted by mathowie at 7:29 AM on August 15 [32 favorites]


My friend, you have never flown Spirit.
posted by Think_Long at 7:30 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


colie: Ooh nooo, it's not that easy. In Europe, which cheek you start on depends on the country, and in some cases, on the region!

Start with the forehead.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:31 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


It made me realize that a lot of my success has been from a love of people transmuted into politeness.

However:

I worked in retail for a number of years. Being polite and cheerful was an excellent defense against customer abuse.


Powerful magic, politesse. Works on both friend and enemy, which is particularly useful since you never know when those roles may change.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:33 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


But I have seen polite people with much more experience turn those skills into something more active, into a tool for steering.

They're doing it wrong.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:36 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


You can kiss cheeks 2 or 3 times, but the really important thing is always to go left first

And never the butt cheeks - that won't go so well trust me
posted by bitteroldman at 7:39 AM on August 15


And never the butt cheeks - that won't go so well trust me

Clearly you didn't do a reach around.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


And now his wife knows he thinks about prostitutes and has rules of conduct for transacting business with them; I hope she is the worlds most forgiving person.
posted by Renoroc at 7:43 AM on August 15


But I have seen polite people with much more experience turn those skills into something more active, into a tool for steering.

They're doing it wrong.


Please explain.
posted by maxsparber at 7:45 AM on August 15


The article was kind of entertaining, kind of meh, but this part blew me away:
There is one other aspect of my politeness that I am reluctant to mention. But I will. I am often consumed with a sense of overwhelming love and empathy. I look at the other person and am overwhelmed with joy. For all of my irony I really do want to know about the process of hanging jewelry from celebrities. . . . This is not a world where you can simply express love for other people, where you can praise them. Perhaps it should be. But it’s not.
Dang!
posted by resurrexit at 7:51 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


I totally get the thing about not touching people's hair, but I'm not getting the radical anti-touch contingent. Not judging, mind you. But an occasional elbow touch works for me. And I have a pretty huggy bunch of friends. I like that. Is it a Latin vs. Anglo thing?

I think it's partly that social touching is a whole other language on top of the verbal communication you're already doing, and if you're not "fluent" in it, it's hard not to wonder whether you're Doing It Wrong. If I'm sitting next to someone and their knee is touching mine, I am thinking, roughly: "Oh shit. A knee. A knee. A knee. Did they mean their knee to be touching my knee? Am I taking up more than my fair share of this couch? Should I move my knee? But if I move it in this way, my foot won't be braced on the floor properly, and then, if I laugh or something, my knee might fall against their knee, which would be worse. Oh shit, am I tensing up the knee? Can they feel that I'm tensing up the knee?"
posted by ostro at 7:53 AM on August 15 [17 favorites]


This is a fine essay. It is by Paul Ford. Paul Ford of ftrain; MeFi's own Paul Ford. A fine writer. But even if I'd never heard of him and there was no reason anyone here would have heard of him, the principle is the same: when you're linking to a piece of writing you like, please name the writer. Thank you!
posted by languagehat at 7:53 AM on August 15 [29 favorites]


mathowie - I also just saw it and I'd agree. "I don't think anyone is 100% a dick."
posted by capricorn at 7:54 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


This is an interesting essay. I would say that at the basest level I am polite and try to be polite, in that when I communicate with people I try to do so in a calm and measured fashion, say please and thank you, and apologise when I am wrong. I think I am pretty good at those things.

That said, I am often withdrawn and uncommicative in public and at parties simply because I don't value human interaction with strangers as much as others do. This is not always the case, but I am noticing more when I do it. have always been bad at networking because I actually feel like intruding on others would be impolite, and wouldn't know what to say if I did.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 8:00 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


Yes, this! You want to see some serious high-test politeness, watch the gate agents at a big airport during a storm. People are just in their face yelling at them and they somehow maintain their politeness and poise. I have to think Valium is involved.


I haven't worked as a gate agent but I worked retail and CS. And did four Christmases at retail, where someone who blew in at 5:56pm on Christmas Eve to shop for their family of 18 when we close at 6pm would decide I am the asshole because the store closes at 6.

There were two keys to it. One was remembering that they are not mad at you, personally. They don't even know you. You're just a symbol of, I dunno, American Airlines, them forgetting to do Christmas shopping for their family of 18 until 4 minutes before close, the world keeping them down, and you're the one they can kick around for it because customer service culture dictates that you have to eat shit for every moron's poor life decisions.

The second was: what they want more than anything is for you to get mad, too, but if you get mad, then you lose both your game and probably your job. So the solution there is to become EXTRA, EXCEEDINGLY polite while staying strictly within the limits of what the rules permit you to do, rather than using the 10,000 ways you can bend them to help them out. So the madder they got, the more cheerful and helpful I got and the more reliant I was on the frownyface "Oh, sorry, that's against our policy."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:00 AM on August 15 [9 favorites]


I have to admit I have successfully used extreme politeness as a customer, with a bad customer service person. The pissier they get, the more Miss Manners would be proud of me. And if a crowd build up behind a customer service transaction, the polite person will be regarded as a hero. Yesterday, I returned something in a package that had gotten beat up in my car, no receipt, but I was chipper, and they gave me store credit with no hassle. hmmmm, I sense a potential superpower.
posted by theora55 at 8:05 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Politeness is a superpower. I owe a lot of personal and professional success to it.

If you can bring polite sincerity and empathy to a really horrible situation, it can change everything. Captain Ron Johnson's superpower is this kind of politeness.
posted by bonehead at 8:10 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]


Quite a few shades of the greek πόλις (polis) come to mind: (im)polite, political, police. I might be wrong, but I believe they're derived from the meaning of "city" (metropolis) or the concentration of people distinguished from the country side that I was taught was centered about a literal pole.

But I have seen to truly polite, these ju-jitsu masters of social niceties, say the most astonishingly direct things, the sorts of things that usually ends up in a fight, or a broken friendship, or an unending sense of betrayal, and have it be warmly received.

Me too, but I believe recognizing politeness partially describes straight-up charisma and suspect status fills in some remainder.

...and all the characters had extreme empathy for one another even though they're supposed to be a band of outlaws...

Fairly common among Del Close's Improv Olympic denizens. I trained for two years, and coaches who had worked directly with Close conducted workshops as thoughtful and conscious of one's fellow man as any earnest Sunday school and achieved it by a focus on listening.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:12 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: Clearly you didn't do a reach around.

If you do, it's considered couth to stick your pinky finger out.
posted by dr_dank at 8:22 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


At a recent gathering I spoke with probably two dozen people. I had a blast and learned all sorts of things. It wasn't until later that I realized the group had scored a perfect zero--not one person had asked me a single thing.

This is something I struggle with all the time; I aim to be polite in general but a good conversationalist can be so adept at keeping the focus of the discussion on you that I am constantly reminding myself (it's so easy to forget!) that I need to at the least slip in an occasional "Oh, and you?"

Yes, this! You want to see some serious high-test politeness, watch the gate agents at a big airport during a storm. People are just in their face yelling at them and they somehow maintain their politeness and poise.

Also: You want to see some high-level gratefulness, when it's your turn to speak to the gate agent calmly retrieve your bottle of ibuprofen from your carry-on and offer it to them. [/firstclassupgradewhatwhat]
posted by psoas at 8:28 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]


I liked how he talked about how politeness is both a weapon and a shield; a shield because it lets you distance yourself from other people being nasty, so you can walk away with much less emotional upset. A weapon because it disarms other people so completely. When people expect shouting and you respond with empathetic listening and understanding (while still disagreeing), and affirm their feelings, people get a LOT NICER and you're much more likely to get what you want. I've said before I have a habit of approaching large groups of people (mostly teenagers) behaving badly in public and asking them to stop, which people are always like "that's so scary!" and "omg, aren't they rude?" but the entire secret to it is that I am excruciatingly polite and friendly. I assume they don't know they're bothering others, I ask them stop knowing that my request is an imposition and apologizing for that, I speak to them respectfully and adult-to-adult, and if they try to insult me I don't get upset. They're usually so shocked that they're being asked NICELY (and as adults) instead of shouted at to get off my damn lawn, that they apologize and stop immediately. It doesn't ALWAYS go right, but the worst that's happened is they've been rude to me, and they were already doing that, so no loss.

"That said, I am often withdrawn and uncommicative in public and at parties simply because I don't value human interaction with strangers as much as others do. ... have always been bad at networking because I actually feel like intruding on others would be impolite, and wouldn't know what to say if I did."

My Jedi mind trick for this, since I also find it agonizingly awkward and intrusive to start a conversation with someone I don't know, is to realize that at good 80%* of the people at the networking event/mommy-and-me class/whatever are ALSO dying on the inside going, "OMG I DON'T KNOW ANYONE AND I CAN'T THINK OF ANY SMALL TALK HELLLLLLLP ME" so by falling on my sword and starting awkward conversations, I am actually doing a favor for all the other people who also feel awkward.

I have a reputation as being really outgoing as a result, and when people get to know me better and find out I'm actually fairly reserved and feel very awkward in social situations with a lot of strangers, they always comment on it. I laugh and say, "Yeah, I'm shy on the inside."

(The other thing about politeness is that it makes you seem reserved and poised when you're feeling awkward and shy; impoliteness makes you seem chilly and snobby.)

*May not apply if you work in sales, those guys are good at this!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 AM on August 15 [38 favorites]


When the Devil came to dinner
Our mom was quite impressed
She said, "Why can't you be more like our esteemed Satanic Guest?"
And he always knows just what to say
And knows exactly how to behave
And makes for such a pleasant stay
As he plots to steal our souls away

And you may call it irony when co-incidence collides
But I've had dinner with the Devil and I have seen the light
And you may call it righteousness, when civility survives
But I've had dinner with the Devil and I know nice from right
posted by aureliobuendia at 8:35 AM on August 15 [20 favorites]


I also started to get the feeling this was semi-manipulative/condescending around the part where he talked about the raconteur game, and when he implies that some people are wrong when they think they have hard jobs. (Decorating celebrities in jewelry is a posh gig, sure, but famous people can be demanding jerks, as can the kind of people whose job it is to criticize celeb fashion choices. I wouldn't be surprised to find that's high-stress job.)

But the last paragraphs about his being really interested in people, and everyone having struggles was great and undid some of those worries. So I liked it, and I think he shared some good tips, but I definitely understand why someone might feel iffy.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:39 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


I'm this guy's perfect target - the person that if you ask me a question about myself, I'll launch into an endless monologue. I can go on for days. And then after I think to myself "hey, jackass, show a little interest in someone else". Ugh. I cringe.
posted by double bubble at 8:43 AM on August 15 [9 favorites]


"Oh shit. A knee. A knee. A knee. Did they mean their knee to be touching my knee? Am I taking up more than my fair share of this couch? Should I move my knee? But if I move it in this way, my foot won't be braced on the floor properly, and then, if I laugh or something, my knee might fall against their knee, which would be worse. Oh shit, am I tensing up the knee? Can they feel that I'm tensing up the knee?"

This sounds, honestly, like it came out of a Seinfeld script. In a good way; I loved that show.

I try to be polite most of the time; I rarely succeed. But the one thing that will always make me never want to speak to someone again is rudeness to people working in the service sector, particularly waitstaff and cab drivers. It's completely inexcusable.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:53 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


This isn't polite, it's just an example of insincere, manipulative behaviour:

And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”

Because nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult.

posted by Nevin at 9:07 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


This was a delightful read. Reaching this kind of politeness is something I feel I want to aspire to. Thanks for posting it, keli, and thanks to languagehat for pointing out Paul Ford's name.
posted by harujion at 9:08 AM on August 15


That was very good; thanks for posting it. Mr. Ford sounds like he could be the reincarnation of Fred Rogers, or perhaps he watched a lot of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood growing up.

Last week my wife came back from the playground. She told me that my two-year-old, three-foot-tall son, Abraham, walked up to a woman in hijab and asked “What’s your name?” The woman told him her name. Then he put out his little hand and said, “Nice to meet you!” Everyone laughed, and he smiled. He shared with her his firmest handshake, like I taught him.

Last week a little girl did that to me at work. Everyone was instantly charmed. Most of the kids I see at work are more or less scared shitless (going to the doctor to get knocked out and cut open tends to elicit that reaction) so seeing one that was so poised was a welcome change.

I should try to be more like Mr. Ford, especially when driving.
posted by TedW at 9:11 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


I work in information security, and I used to conduct tests (what we term penetration tests) wherein we would attempt to gain access to our clients' systems and facilities. Some of these were banks and credit unions, tested in person. Others were remote (online and phone) only in a multitude of industries.

In every case, essentially all we needed to accomplish our goal was the initial cojones to start (letters from the client's CEO/President explaining our purpose helped a lot, should we otherwise come face-to-face with law enforcement) and politeness. Known as social engineering in the circles of hacker-types, the premise and method is to take some blend of projected authority and politeness to encourage employees to aid us (or at least to avoid becoming suspicious of us).

These tests always led off with dread and fear, leading into adrenaline and the rush of progress or success, and guilt and regret for having successfully (and often easily) duped well-meaning employees into permitting or enabling our would-be criminal activity. This was only ever reduced when our clients took the results of our tests and improved their practices to prevent a "real" attacker to do the same.

Often, the most effective tactic to preventing this: teaching your staff to be beyond polite. It may not stop the ruthless or the desperate criminal, but that annoying person jumping out to greet you when you set foot into the bank is not doing this as part of improved customer service, though it is a side-benefit. They do this to greet and prompt every person through the door to yield something about themselves. "Hi! Welcome! How can we help you today? Lovely weather, isn't it? Where are you coming from? Do you have plans for your weekend?" More than two or three of these questions is often enough to put someone on edge beyond that edge, and get them to walk out. If it doesn't, but that person becomes more agitated, it may provide enough lead time for the greeter to raise an alarm before the situation could get out of hand.

Thank you for reading my long-winded comment :)
posted by jth at 9:14 AM on August 15 [20 favorites]


I'm sort of like this guy in that at parties or dinners with strangers I always make the conversation about them and avoid like a plague talking about myself. That almost always works well.

I say "almost" because, a few times, I've had the very weird experience of conversing with someone who's trying to do exactly the same thing to me. It's like engaging in mental judo with another master. I keep trying to turn the conversation back to them and they, back to me. And because we're both masters, we try not to be too obvious about it either. So when forced to, we'll each say one or two unrevealing things about ourselves and then go, "But what about you?" The result is a very unsatisfying conversation where we both feel awkward.

One of us then has to kill the other and get back to the party where there are all these normal people willing to talk about themselves.
posted by mono blanco at 9:14 AM on August 15 [43 favorites]


I dunno, I think this is supposed to be satire. Take a dump before visiting a sex worker? Seriously?

I strive to be civil and friendly, and I like to think that I have a highly refined sense of how to engage strangers and quieter people in conversation, but these rules make this guy sound like a creature from a Kurt Vonnegut novel or something.
posted by Nevin at 9:18 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


"Propriety is the least of all laws, and the most observed." -La Rochefoucauld
posted by ChuckRamone at 9:22 AM on August 15


I am always nice to prostitutes and have never taken a shit in one of their toilets, so according to this guy I must be doing something right.
posted by item at 9:23 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


Reading this a week before I have to go back to school (as a teacher) was perfect timing! I teach a class for high school seniors where they write resumes, create portfolios, and learn job/soft skills. Now I really want to have my students read this piece - or parts of it - and create a whole lesson around it. Because every word is true - how you treat people really makes your life better. I think I've always felt a lot like the author in terms of being polite in how I treat others and it truly has helped me in life. It was also a good reminder to for me in dealing with my admin and co-workers.

Thanks for sharing this!
posted by NoraCharles at 9:25 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]


Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”

Because nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult.


This is US-centric advice, though. I know Americans like to go from "How do you do?" to "So, what do you do?"-- but know ye that this is not at all universal.

In much of the world it is gauche to discuss jobs and business at a social gathering; worse to talk shop when another guest is a colleague. (Just as in some cultures, you ask business associates about family, while in others you don't.)

We went to a dinner party once with two Italians, an Indian-American, and an Argentine; two of the other people worked at the same organization as me, one worked for the same organization as Mrs H. And yet, jobs, business, workplace, and shop-talk never came up, except once as a clarifying tangent and that with an apology.

We can do this, people.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:26 AM on August 15 [11 favorites]


When people expect shouting and you respond with empathetic listening and understanding (while still disagreeing), and affirm their feelings, people get a LOT NICER and you're much more likely to get what you want.

I've actually not found that to be true. When I'm nice, agreeable, and affirming, the other person tends to read that as me being OK with what's going on, even when I'm emphatically *not* OK with it. So now I just get pushy and blunt, and that works a lot better in communicating what I actually need to communicate and solving the problem I need to solve. Politeness is sometimes a luxury that I apparently can't afford.

I totally get the thing about not touching people's hair, but I'm not getting the radical anti-touch contingent. Not judging, mind you. But an occasional elbow touch works for me. And I have a pretty huggy bunch of friends. I like that. Is it a Latin vs. Anglo thing?

I don't think it's Latin v. Anglo, I think it's a more granular cultural thing than that. As a data point, I guess, my Mexican/Mexican-American friends in LA do virtually no social touching but my Anglo friends on the East Coast are constantly giving big hugs goodbye and hello and casually touching each other (on the shoulder or whatever).

Cheek kissing took a while for me to get used to (YMMV, but I think it's 2 for friends, 3 for family, 4 for people you're especially close to/happy to see) but when I left France after a few months there and didn't kiss a bunch of people when I went into work anymore, I actually ended up missing it. Personally, I find it way less intrusive than hugging, which I just can't ever seem to get comfortable with!
posted by rue72 at 9:27 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


A friend and I came up with a game called Raconteur. You pair up with another Raconteur at a party and talk to everyone you can. You score points by getting people to disclose something about their lives. If you dominate the conversation, you lose a point. The two raconteurs communicate using hand signals and keep a tally on a sheet of paper or in their minds. You’d think people would notice but they are so amused by the attention that the fact you’re playing Raconteur escapes their attention.
Ugh. How about this for politeness: actually be interested in what the person is saying. Don't treat people like a fucking video game in which you get points for manipulating them the 'right' way. I am really baffled by the praise this piece is getting in this thread.
posted by yoink at 9:33 AM on August 15 [15 favorites]


Politeness is a gateway to actual interest.
posted by mazola at 9:36 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]


Something about this article made me uncomfortable. I wish I could put my finger on what, because it might tell me something interesting about myself.

The language he uses hints at using politeness as a way of deflecting attention from oneself. It seems he may have been bullied (or at least, not super charismatic) in school — I was bullied in my youth. I do understand how that feels and how, weirdly, it does cultivate this sense of empathy for others.

I suppose I am a polite person, too. I have been told I am charming and have a way of putting people at ease. But I am also not close with very many people, and even those people will say "sometimes I feel like I don't really know anything about you at all."

It can be polite to share something of yourself, too. I suppose I think it's actually the basis of an honest and earnest connection with another person. Maybe that's different from chatting up a stranger at a party, but maybe it's not.

There's a lot of vulnerability in allowing someone to know you.
posted by annekate at 9:38 AM on August 15 [10 favorites]


Since the consensus here seems to be this is *not* satire, I'll play along and say that a conversational technique I use to break the ice is to ask people about their children or their pet or their favourite coffee shop. Whichever seems appropriate. I try to get beyond questions related to jobs pretty quickly, unless the person seems to want to talk about that.
posted by Nevin at 9:38 AM on August 15


The language he uses hints at using politeness as a way of deflecting attention from oneself.

Yes, exactly. Depending on the context, of course (obviously schmoozing here is different than working on a longer-term project), the purpose of human discourse is to form a connection between hearts and minds.
posted by Nevin at 9:40 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Please tell me this is by a Canadian. That would make my day.

I truly don't understand this. I am a Canadian and have lived in Canada for 95% of my life, traveled a great deal including through many US states, and I have to tell you Canadians are every bit as much rude assholes as anyone else. Perhaps some of us are more polite while traveling than the locals might be used to? I can't figure out how this started. Is it the "sorry" thing?

But I have repeatedly found that the one thing people least want to hear is the one thing they must hear, and so this is the sort of moment when my communication skills fail me

the possibility exists that the problem here is perhaps the assumption of knowing something that people "must hear" and not at all some kind of failure of presentation. Politeness is more than how you say something. Sometimes it's not saying what you're really thinking because sometimes what we're thinking is not as nice or important or appropriate as we might believe it to be.
posted by Hoopo at 9:41 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


With Canadians, I think people confuse "politeness" with what is in fact "reticence." Americans, in my experience, are more boisterous, open, and friendly.
posted by Nevin at 9:45 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


A friend and I came up with a game called Raconteur.
I totally see why people read this as skeezy, but I saw it as much more of a coping mechanism for someone with social anxiety to get over the hump and start talking to people. Actual interest doesn't begin until the conversation does.

Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”
This is great advice... if you're a guy. As a woman, I'd never ever in a million years say this to anyone, even if I thought it was true. I much prefer stuff like, "Cool, do you enjoy it? What do you like about it? How did you get into that?"
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:47 AM on August 15 [7 favorites]


Actual interest doesn't begin until the conversation does

He's describing signalling his "score" to his friend with whom he is competing in the game by using hand signals while the conversation is proceeding. If you're mentally tallying "points" for personal facts spilled in the conversation and racking up your "score" with your friend, you're not displaying "actual interest" in the conversation. You're not participating in a "conversation" at all.
posted by yoink at 9:59 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


Well, fair.

Also, re: gender aspects of this: Apologia by Lindsay King-Miller on The Hairpin.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:02 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


"...good manners are just a way of showing other people we have respect for them.

...his short and simple definition of a lady or a gentleman is: someone who always tries to make sure the people around him or her are as comfortable as possible."

-- Blast from the Past

"Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me."

-- Hannibal Lecter
posted by and for no one at 10:03 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


I really liked this article and pretty much agreed with everything he said, which as someone pointed out above, is more or less a modern day and much shorter version of How To Win Friends and Influence People.

I'm sort of like this guy in that at parties or dinners with strangers I always make the conversation about them and avoid like a plague talking about myself. That almost always works well.

I generally agree that asking people about themselves and taking a genuine interest in what they're saying is generally a good thing to do. But I've been on the receiving end of this where it was decidedly uncomfortable. A friend of mine is the master of asking people about themselves and engaging people in talking more about themselves without ever having to say a word about herself. Most of the time it's very flattering, but a few times she's done this to me when I've been having a particularly hard time for whatever reason and just didn't want to talk about myself or my life or anything because I didn't want to think about it. I desperately wanted to be able to focus on someone else and hear about what was going on with them, if even for a few minutes. My friend's skill at deflecting questions about herself and her insistence in asking about me made me feel uncomfortable and kind of trapped. I just didn't want to talk about myself. I was struggling with depression and anxiety and not in a good place. So for a person to be able to take it a step further and have the ability to recognize this in people and change the subject to talking about themselves or something neutral like movies or sports, is a sign of true graciousness. And graciousness is, imo, the number one ingredient required to be truly polite.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:03 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


As a woman, I'd never ever in a million years say this to anyone, even if I thought it was true.

I'm curious... why is that? Because it could be construed as ditzy? (Like, "oh, math is just so hard" kind of ditzy.)
posted by annekate at 10:13 AM on August 15


I love to be polite although I don't always succeed. I knew at an early age that politeness would ease social anxiety, because rules. It's really hard on the subway for example.

I have seen strangers do truly heroic things (like asking the person next to her on the subway to move over so I could sit down, and I don't look pregnant or handicapped, it was just common courtesy) that I couldn't imagine doing myself. So there's that.

Lately at the coffeeshop I've gone to every day for the last four years, two new girls have started and they are not very nice to me - look at me blankly, forget my order, give me the wrong change. Being polite has not helped at all, as they obviously prefer that I not exist. I know they will leave eventually but in the meantime...*sigh*
posted by maggiemaggie at 10:13 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


I was a rude person for a long time. My reasoning was at first I was this ur-emo kid who was like I know the truth behind all this polite fakery. Then I was a lawyer in Brooklyn housing court, so my manners didn't exactly expand. Then I developed health problems. Then I started teaching composition in a rough neighborhood. The last two things taught me that it is really fucking in one's interest to come correct. It is both CYA and hey let's make the world a less shitty place.
posted by angrycat at 10:24 AM on August 15 [12 favorites]


I've got kind of a bad memory and a bit of social anxiety and in social situations I often forget names of people I don't know well and try to work around it. It's probably kinda rude but it is what it is. Someone introduces themselves, and we get to talking, and instantly my thoughts go to "oh shit, what was their name again? This is awkward. oh shit now I'm not listening oh god what the hell". When I remember someone I don't know well and haven't seen them for a long time, I'm pretty stoked. This was very bad, once.

My wife and I used to go to these Halloween parties that a couple we were friends with would put on every year. They are no longer together and sadly the Halloween party is no more, but we used to really love these parties. Very drinky and pot smokey. So we get there one year, and one guy I recognize from the 2 previous years has been recycling this big muscle suit into his costume, and has done it again for the third year. Good funny costumes everytime, nothing wrong with that, I'd do the same if I had a large costume prop type thing in my house for some reason. But for whatever reason I had it in my head it would be rude to point it out or bring it up. So we say hi, and he's like "oh yeah, I remember you guys, last year you were the so-and-so costumes yadda yadda" and then the most terrible words start coming out of my mouth, I still feel awful and Christ I'm cringing right now but the only other thing I remembered about him was this so it just came out "yeah, that was me! And you were the guy that drank all that vodka and got sick!"

ughhhhhh why brain
posted by Hoopo at 10:27 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


And metafilter taught me a lot about how to be decent on the internet, for real.
posted by angrycat at 10:27 AM on August 15 [14 favorites]


Sometimes I’ll get a call or email from someone five years after the last contact and I’ll think, oh right, I hated that person. But they would never have known, of course. Let’s see if I still hate them. Very often I find that I don’t. Or that I hated them for a dumb reason. Or that they were having a bad day. Or much more likely, that I had been having a bad day.

People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment. I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.

...

This is not a world where you can simply express love for other people, where you can praise them. Perhaps it should be. But it’s not. I’ve found that people will fear your enthusiasm and warmth, and wait to hear the price. Which is fair. We’ve all been drawn into someone’s love only to find out that we couldn’t afford it. A little distance buys everyone time.




this was my favorite part. It really does take time to get to know someone. Watch what they say and do; that will tell you who they are.

I'm big on etiquette and when in doubt I imagine that I live in a Jane Austen novel and act thusly. And I try not to take people's bad day (or bad lives) personally.

Thanks for posting!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:29 AM on August 15 [10 favorites]


Very Buddhist, the last part.
posted by niphates at 10:30 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


man, fuck this shit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:32 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


The other thing I noticed when I was on the dating scene: as a woman, if both parties treat each other with that 2-3ft barrier of polite distance & respect.... the chemistry sparks up VERY quickly. You're both treating each other like a special person with just a touch of deference. Ding ding ding! Yes, yes you CAN have my number, and a little bit of cute eye to go with it!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:37 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


> As a woman, I'd never ever in a million years say this to anyone, even if I thought it was true. I much prefer stuff like, "Cool, do you enjoy it? What do you like about it? How did you get into that?"

I think this is a better gambit for anyone, not just women. Often (more often than not, in my experience as someone in a field customarily [and IMO excessively] construed as Very Hard) being told "wow, that sounds hard" comes across not as an invitation to further conversation, but as a delicate shorthand for "that's too complex/heavy/dull for a party; let's talk of something lighter." That's part of why I said upthread "if you're interested, show interest" -- things like "Cool, do you enjoy it? What do you like about it? How did you get into that?" show interest more unambiguously than "wow, that sounds hard." (Of course, if the goal really IS to change the topic, that's a fairly inoffensive approach, but obviously not at all foolproof, as the author's story demonstrates.)
posted by Westringia F. at 10:41 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


St. Peepsburg is 100% correct.
posted by lauranesson at 10:41 AM on August 15


My job is repetitive and not worth discussing. However, my employer offers generous benefits and is always looking to hire talented people.
posted by indubitable at 10:48 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


I'm this guy's perfect target - the person that if you ask me a question about myself, I'll launch into an endless monologue. I can go on for days. And then after I think to myself "hey, jackass, show a little interest in someone else". Ugh. I cringe.

posted by double bubble


The language he uses hints at using politeness as a way of deflecting attention from oneself.
...
There's a lot of vulnerability in allowing someone to know you.


posted by annekate


annekate I was just going to say that! I hate talking about myself with strangers and reflexively flip it back on other people. It takes strength & confidence to share the spotlight together. Maybe that is the 'black belt' level of communication other commenters mentioned, so that sharing becomes a mutual experience and a real connection could be made instead of all-distance-all-the-time.

edit: double bubble, I've also wondered what the party would be like if it was filled with polite people who keep flipping the discussion back to someone else. Eventually they're going to make *me* talk! Yikes!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:55 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


What makes it sound hard? (I'm practicing)

Also obligatory Rosencrantz and Guildenstern scene.
posted by RobotHero at 11:06 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


As a punk rock lady with a good resting bitchface, people have been astonished for YEARS at how polite I am. In my 20's I'd roll up in my leather jacket and docs and bright red hair (long enough ago that it was very out of the ordinary) and people would be visibly weirded out by my pleases and thank yous. And I'd be granted a measure more respect. I love being polite because (I know from experience) when someone is polite to me, it can make a hard day slightly less hard.

Politeness (IMO) is acknowledging and respecting the basic humanity between two people.
posted by bibliogrrl at 11:08 AM on August 15 [7 favorites]


construed as Very Hard) being told "wow, that sounds hard" comes across not as an invitation to further conversation, but as a delicate shorthand for "that's too complex/heavy/dull for a party; let's talk of something lighter.

Really? huh. I thought "Wow, that sounds hard" being revelatory is because no one ever says that during party smalltalk, and it is arresting because it kind of acknowledges that maybe the person it is directed at has a tougher go of life than everyone assumes and the person saying it would like to hear about it. It seems to be all about sincere interest to me, and I could see how people would talk gleefully about their struggles for 15min afterward.
posted by mathowie at 11:10 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


Also, all of Paul Ford's advice here reminds me of the ultimate iPhone app I've always wanted to exist, which is a magical handheld device I could wave over a crowd of people I don't know, and the app would tell me very specific things about every individual that mesh with my experiences that I would never in a million years find out unless I somehow spent years getting to know every stranger in the room. Stuff like that guy with the dark hair near the corner talking to the man in the red shirt was also in a hawaiian christmas play when they were in kindergarten and you both can do the Mele Kalikimaka song and dance together right here and now if you started to sing the verse and back in college the woman over by the dip in the purple jacket also hiked that 35 mile slot canyon on the border of Utah and Arizona that many people have seen photos from by very few ever visit due to the danger of dying from sudden flooding in the region so you should go talk to those two people in the crowd about that stuff.

Until that miracle app is written, I will use Ford's advice instead to get strangers to open up to social anxiety stricken me.
posted by mathowie at 11:16 AM on August 15 [9 favorites]


I thought "Wow, that sounds hard" being revelatory is because no one ever says that during party smalltalk

Maybe it depends where you're coming from? If I heard that, I'd assume the asker was trying to shut down the conversation because, yeah, I got my PhD in it. It's pretty hard. Not impossible but like hard. Where are you (the so-called polite person) going with this? I'm not going to start listing off all the ways it's hard.

It reminds me of when I was dating. I'd ask a guy what he did and he'd start talking and I'd ask questions and he'd talk. Then eventually he'd ask what I was did and I'd tell him. Then he'd say "Wow, you're smart" and I'd assume he was trying to change the subject. Asking follow-up questions (like I had done previously) is the way to continue the conversation, not making a statement.

Which leads to my great/horrible dating advice - tell smart girls they're pretty, and pretty girls they're smart
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:33 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


If I heard that, I'd assume the asker was trying to shut down the conversation because, yeah, I got my PhD in it. It's pretty hard.

I think this is pretty much all about tone of voice rather than choice of words. Saying "That sounds difficult!" in the same way that one would (sincerely) say, "That sounds interesting!" is likely to signal "Tell me more." And it actually gives the other person an easy out if they don't want to talk about; it opens the possibility of responding "Oh, no, it's pretty boring" or "Yeah, I hate talking about it because everyone's eyes glaze over" and changing the subject, in a way that a direct question about the work doesn't.

I mean, yes, it can also be said in a way that one would (sincerely) say, "That sounds tedious!" But I don't think that's the recommendation.
posted by jaguar at 11:43 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


This piece has been on my mind all morning and I've thought a few more things about it.

First, many of the examples he gives--the "raconteur" game being the most obvious example--are most effective when they're undergirded with a sincere interest in the other person. By describing it as a "game," I can see how it's easy for people to assume that someone doing this lacks that sincere interest. But in addition to just sort of being an icebreaker that can pave the way to developing a sincere interest in conversing with someone, another reading of the "game" label he uses is that he's trying to make the idea accessible and easy to the reader: this isn't some Jedi Mind Trick he uses to get people to open up and feel nice, it's a game! Anyone can do it! When I think of it that way I'm less inclined to be cynical about the idea.

But, yeah. From my point of view it's all about presenting yourself as sincere. If you instead present yourself as condescending, that's not polite at all, and neither Mr. Ford nor Emily Post would probably approve.

Second--and this is what I'm really fascinated by--one of the great things about a command of etiquette and politeness is that it's a formal set of rules (albeit with nuance, but basically it's just learning rules) that anyone can master. Even someone shy and awkward like me can seem sociable and smooth and easygoing when I am well-mannered and polite. There's no magic to this and the tools of etiquette are available to all of us to help pave the way with situations that might be awkward. And what's even greater about this is that when you're using good etiquette--even when you can't stand the person you're dealing with and you have no sincere interest in them--you can still frequently prevent bad situations from getting worse and you can more confidently navigate horrible confrontations. I know there have been a number of times when I've been faced with a difficult conversation and it's probably gone easier because I've smiled, I've asked nicely, I've thanked the person for their assistance, and I've said you're welcome when I've been thanked.

So there seem to be a few levels to what he's discussing. There's this sort of surface, formal politeness which is a sort of social lubricant that helps avoid unpleasantness. And then there's this deeper layer, which is where exhibiting a sincere interest in others really seems to help. I'm like a lot of the people in this thread--I almost never ask what a person does for work. But when they do tell me, I'm like the author of TFA. I say, "Oh, that must be interesting--do you like it?" or "That sounds challenging--is it?" or "I'm not familiar with that, could you tell me more?" and almost every single time the person just opens right up and tells me about it.

And maybe there are times I've actually really annoyed the other person, and I can only be grateful that they also learned etiquette somewhere along the way and instead of calling me out and embarrassing me for asking such a dumb question they exercise some politeness and nicely answer it.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:46 AM on August 15 [11 favorites]


I've also been mulling this article over, and something I really like from it is the idea that avoiding judgment of others and allowing people space to have a bad day isn't about being a saint, it's a way to free yourself from the commitment that you make when you decide to judge someone.

A new acquaintance of mine was saying some obnoxious stuff and my instinct was to start forming negative judgments about him, but then I realized "you know, that's so tiring, maybe he's just coming across like an ass right now but that's not how he normally is. Let's pause these judgments and see what happens in the future."

It was really liberating! So thanks, author.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:02 PM on August 15 [12 favorites]


I have never met a member of MetaFilter that I haven't hugged or kissed. This is your only warning.
posted by ColdChef at 12:03 PM on August 15 [21 favorites]


I have never met a member of MetaFilter that I haven't hugged or kissed.

Me neither, I guess.
posted by mazola at 12:15 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


And if I am having a conversation with you at a party, I will put my hand on your hand to illustrate a point or pat you on the back as I walk past you to the bar. I understand that this may make me seem rude. I'm okay with that.

And I disagree where the author says, "This is not a world where you can simply express love for other people, where you can praise them. " I express love freely and often. If I've met you, I've likely told you that I love you at some point. And I will always praise the people I love. I can't imagine being any other way.
posted by ColdChef at 12:18 PM on August 15 [15 favorites]


> I thought "Wow, that sounds hard" being revelatory is because no one ever says that during party smalltalk, and it is arresting because it kind of acknowledges that maybe the person it is directed at has a tougher go of life than everyone assumes

I think that's probably an important component of how it's received: what everyone assumes. So for people in something like physics, which everyone does assume is Impossibly Hard, "that sounds hard" is not only very frequently heard in party smalltalk, but also often carries with it -- intended or not -- the conversation-ending quality of "I could never hope to understand, so we have nothing more to talk about." It's better than "wow, you must be really smart" or "ugh, I don't know how you do it, I was SO BAD at math" as a response, but not by much.

On comment-load: hydrobatidae said it better than I!

More to the point, I don't think that inviting people to talk about their difficulties is the ambiguous part, but rather the fact that it's phrased as a statement. If someone said to me, "so what do you find the most challenging about your work?" I would take it as an invitation to talk in a way that I wouldn't with "that sounds hard." And the nice thing about asking is that it shows interest and acknowledges the possibility that the other person's job is challenging without requiring any insincerity if the job doesn't initially sound hard. (Likewise "interesting" in place of "hard/challenging.")
posted by Westringia F. at 12:25 PM on August 15 [3 favorites]




“Wow. That sounds hard.”

"it's easy as hell - half the time i'm not even there"
posted by pyramid termite at 12:30 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Now I want to meet ColdChef.
posted by mazola at 12:33 PM on August 15 [5 favorites]


Now I want to meet ColdChef.

One day, we all will.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:38 PM on August 15 [37 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: "Now I want to meet ColdChef.

One day, we all will.
"

Oh yeah? Big meetup planned? Put it on IRL man!
posted by Happy Dave at 12:56 PM on August 15


I think it's possible to have an ambivalent reading of the article. After all, the very act of writing this article, by expressing an opinion on the benefits of politeness, is a transgression of its own subject. A critical reading is neither charitable nor uncharitable--the goal is to expose the complexity of truth.

Overall I think there remains a lot to be explained or understood more deeply; for example: empathy and authenticity as some possible alternatives to politeness; intercultural incompatibilities such as high vs low context communication styles influencing perceptions of politeness or rudeness; politeness (and opining in favor of some modern variant it) as an example of class privilege. The idea that there's more going on behind a social behavior than can be exposed through personal anecdotes--not that anecdotes or storytelling aren't important too.
posted by polymodus at 1:41 PM on August 15 [5 favorites]


One day, we all will.

God, I hope it's when I'm alive.
posted by maxsparber at 1:52 PM on August 15 [8 favorites]


I read this and felt a little guilty about not wanting to meet a coworker from a different office the other day. Certainly not the polite thing to do.

Then I remembered that every email I've ever had from him was marked as High Priority, contained the word Urgent in the subject line, and ended with the phrase "Please advise." (Which I have always considered to be business jargon for "fuck you.") So maybe it's OK in this instance.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:59 PM on August 15 [4 favorites]


This is a good piece, and coincidentally hits a lot of the points in a conversation Zarkonnen and I were having the other night, about conversational strategies.

I am one of those person who read ettiquette guides as a teen, and has myriad personal rules and guidelines for talking to people and generally getting along in the world. I try very hard to be polite, and always have done. To the people saying this kind of strategy sounds insincere: yeah, it is, at least to begin with. If I meet you at a party, a networking event, a bus stop or a similar place, I probably do not really want to have a proper conversation with you. I just know that that's what's expected of me, and I don't want to disappoint (and possibly can't escape). Having a set of conversational and body-language tools lets me get through the situation and minimise the anxiety it generates in me. (Mostly. Sometimes.) 'Raconteur' doesn't sound so bad to me. My mum used to send me to school every day with the challenge of finding out five new pieces of information from conversation with the other girls there. It was hard, but it did help.

I think mazola put it perfectly: "Politeness is a gateway to actual interest." The more I find out about someone, the more likely we are to hit on some topic we both find interesting. Also, having some rules to follow (loosely summed up as "Ask questions, think warmly about the other person, and be open-minded") gets me out of the spiral of focussing on my own (weird! totally unacceptable!) behaviour and panicking. This greatly increases the chance that a good connection will be made.

As to, "That sounds hard," I probably wouldn't say that. I definitely overuse, "That sounds really interesting," but it's so often true! It's good to follow it with a more concrete question, if possible. If not, I'm not ashamed to say, "I really know nothing about [merchant banking | pro skateboarding | underwater basket-weaving]. What would you tell me about it, as an absolute beginner?" It seems to work pretty well, with smiles, open body language and judicious eye contact.
posted by daisyk at 2:25 PM on August 15 [12 favorites]


I've got kind of a bad memory and a bit of social anxiety and in social situations I often forget names of people I don't know well and try to work around it. It's probably kinda rude but it is what it is. Someone introduces themselves, and we get to talking, and instantly my thoughts go to "oh shit, what was their name again? This is awkward. oh shit now I'm not listening oh god what the hell".

I have a polite solution for you! When you meet someone, listen to their name and immediately tell them that you've got a horrible short term memory of names and you're going to ask again in 5 or 10 minutes and you are SO SORRY. Then, when you forget their name - no big deal. Just be in the flow of conversation, and when it's time to move on to someone else say something like "I have enjoyed talking to you so much! I've got to ask your name so I can find you later to keep talking. Like I said - terrible at names in the short term."

The indication that you have enjoyed talking to them and have been interested in what they have to say more than makes up for not remembering a name. In fact, that you enjoyed their company so much that you're asking for their name again is just downright flattering.

One of the most socially adept people I have ever met used this method on me the first time we ever met. It was disarming to have her be so vulnerable about her shortcoming when it came to remembering names, and she was so genuine about it. She knew her weakness and made it work for her instead of against her. It also gave her a polite way to exit the conversation.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:30 PM on August 15 [26 favorites]


Oh yeah? Big meetup planned? Put it on IRL man!

The IRD section is still being worked on.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:10 PM on August 15 [8 favorites]


I love this article, even though I break all of these rules, except the one about the prostitute's bathroom, enemanot even sorry.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:38 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]


I'm not going to lie, a hug from Coldchef is a pretty fucking good hug.
posted by mathowie at 5:50 PM on August 15 [16 favorites]


I think this is a better gambit for anyone, not just women. Often (more often than not, in my experience as someone in a field customarily [and IMO excessively] construed as Very Hard) being told "wow, that sounds hard" comes across not as an invitation to further conversation, but as a delicate shorthand for "that's too complex/heavy/dull for a party; let's talk of something lighter." That's part of why I said upthread "if you're interested, show interest" -- things like "Cool, do you enjoy it? What do you like about it? How did you get into that?" show interest more unambiguously than "wow, that sounds hard."

Thank you for this. As a PhD student in a STEM field I get this kind of comment almost every time I'm asked about my research by a non-sciencey person (or worse, the "oh you must be really smart then" or the possibly even worse "I was never smart enough for that stuff") and it always makes me feel horribly awkward, because what do you even say to that? It's not exactly a natural conversation opener, so then I have to do the work of figuring out what to say, plus you have to walk that tightrope between tactlessly arguing with a compliment and coming off as arrogant. I sometimes try to avoid it by being very vague about what I do ("oh, biology stuff") but people aren't usually satisfied by that. Asking for more details is so. much. better. than expressing awe or admiration of my career choice, which is just uncomfortable for me, and then you when I awkwardly struggle to think of what to say.

One day I'll figure out my script for responding. I've been thinking about it for years and haven't quite managed it yet.
posted by randomnity at 5:52 PM on August 15 [3 favorites]


As a PhD student in a STEM field I get this kind of comment almost every time I'm asked about my research by a non-sciencey person (or worse, the "oh you must be really smart then" or the possibly even worse "I was never smart enough for that stuff") and it always makes me feel horribly awkward, because what do you even say to that?

Yep. Not a fan of the "wow, that sounds hard' line but I am not a conversational jiu jitsu master and can't think of anything better that doesn't come off as insincere.

The article didn't read to me as manipulative, because his "games" and conversational "tricks" were underlaid with a genuine respect for and interest in the people he's conversing with. I think that's what makes the difference.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:38 PM on August 15


I have never met a member of MetaFilter that I haven't hugged or kissed. This is your only warning.

If those are the options, then mark me down for a hug, please.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:43 PM on August 15 [3 favorites]


I liked this article, and the subsequent thread reminded me to be more sympathetic.

I'm fairly socially adept, but also have strong social anxiety. So to me, social situations aren't impenetrable soups of the social contract, but I very much feel how they can be, and especially just how bad it can feel to make a gaffe, no matter how unknowing. It also means I really get those guys who feel like they need more rules to follow, because if you can follow the right rules and observe the right protocols, maybe many of your conversations won't be agonising stressmakers. They might understand that ultimately social situations are a fluid movement of various suggestions and signifiers, but what they really want are a few yes/no ideas to get them more comfortable with feeling like they won't mess everything up.

So here's an article which suggests just being polite, treating everyone with physical respect (ask before even light touching!), express interest and empathise with a conversational partner, always try and remember they might be having a bad day as much as you might be. Follow some basic manners (you can get from books, even, as long as you can adapt a little to more modern times), you can even make a game of it with a friend in which the prize is learning more about people and more people, including you, having a fun time at a gathering that might otherwise be painful and embarrassing.

But bearing in mind the idea that out of 100 positive reviews it's the bad 1% that stand out the most, advice of such a basic, useful nature will still get you called out as smarmy, disingenuous and manipulative.
The thing that can be forgotten is that the person this information is designed to manipulate is the person who applies these ideas. It's a way to trick yourself into being able to have a conversation you won't beat yourself up about afterwards, scaffolding and ways of changing your approach and thinking so that you not only feel better about talking to strangers, but you know from them that they felt good talking to you as well. Being socially awkward or anxious can mean feeling like there's these unspoken rules that no-one told you, or that you were given the wrong manual and everything you think you know is actually the exact wrong thing to do.

Some people, of course, take the need for rules to follow in these circumstances too far. But the amount of scorn and dislike that gets dripped over anyone who doesn't inherently grasp every changing detail of social situations, who might ever panic about saying or doing the wrong thing by accident and want to know what they can learn to not make those mistakes, reminds me that I should have more empathy for anyone who gets frustrated by not knowing how best to proceed, because even the best, most well-meaning, nicest advice will be described as making you a horrible garbage person. That leads to people throwing up their hands and thinking that they should just never talk to anyone ever again, and as that won't happen, I think it's best to encourage the better suggestions for how to be in public.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:56 PM on August 15 [11 favorites]


I teach, and for a while was department chair, and parents sometimes send some awful, horrible, hostile emails and make phone calls that clearly indicate they are seeing me as some faceless, nameless Customer Service Rep who has dumped a broken refrigerator on their front porch. My first response is always, "Oh, how nice to hear from you!" and follow up with a comment about how much I enjoy teaching their child. If it's the phone, I ask what's up, and listen carefully. If it's one of those hectoring e-mails, I acknowledge what they say in a very cheery way, apologize for anything in which I'm at fault, correct any misunderstandings, suggest next steps, and invite suggestions.

I'm being courteous and deliberately friendly. They know it. I know it. Sometimes, politeness is indeed rude. And manipulative. I am reminding them that they and I have a relationship, that it is a positive one, and that the terms of our discussion will be pleasant from now on. And they are always pleasant after that.

But then (a) I am a bit of an experienced ninja when it comes to this stuff and (b) I'm scary because I've been at my school for over twenty years, I have a doctorate, and I grew up in the private-school community where I teach and I went to a sister school. So when I'm polite, it comes with a certain amount of threat, I guess. Politeness can be seen as weakness when it's coming from a position of inferiority--and especially when politeness masks anger. If you're going to be polite to angry people, take a deep breath and calm down first.
posted by Peach at 7:07 PM on August 15 [10 favorites]


> The IRD section is still being worked on.

I'd put a pony request on MeTa but I already know how it would go. Like flogging a dead horse.
posted by Westringia F. at 8:46 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]


I need a hug from Coldchef right now.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:35 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]


I have to tell you Canadians are every bit as much rude assholes as anyone else.

I would have politely stood up for Canadians on this until I started watching Love It or List It. What a bunch of crabby cakes! (The homeowners, not the hosts. (Fun Fact - Hillary Farr played the bride in Rocky Horror.))

Thank you Canadians for making Americans seem reasonable!
posted by IndigoJones at 2:25 PM on August 16


Re: 'that must be hard'. It's worth remembering that the woman he said that to in his article had a job where almost no one would have acknowledged that it could be hard and difficult. She wasn't a STEM doctoral candidate, she was a jewellery dresser for celebrities. Most people would have wanted something from her - gossip - and not given her what the author did - respect.
posted by Kerasia at 8:14 PM on August 16 [12 favorites]


This wasn't mentioned as far as I got in the thread, but the piece was written by the annoyingly talented (and MeFi's own, an increasingly meaningless phrase as the years go by, but whatever) ftrain, aka Paul Ford. He has been one of my internet heroes for more than a decade now. I encourage you to read his writing wherever you may find it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:21 AM on August 17 [2 favorites]


When the Devil came to dinner...

posted by aureliobuendia at 11:35 AM on August 15
Fabulous!

Dinner With The Devil - Big Rude Jake
posted by mikelieman at 4:12 AM on August 17


RTFT, stav!
posted by languagehat at 6:55 AM on August 17


If I were still making MeTa posts, I'd make one asking people to please, please credit the author when you link to writing you like. It's not created by the impersonal zeitgeist, after all.
posted by languagehat at 6:56 AM on August 17 [2 favorites]


This just makes me think of how miserable everyone seems in Downton Abbey and Madmen. They are all very polite and nasty at the same time. It's a great tool for passive aggressiveness. It helps you avoid being open, honest, and straightforward. Let's keep all those ugly feelings bottled up now. Very Victorian. Why do people idolize the Victorian era (looking at you, burners and steampunkers)? The height of politeness in society was during the worst repression and overall shittiness. Politeness is very subjective and used in a classist and ethnocentric way. What happens in a multicultural setting? Whose etiquette do you choose? I think we mistake politeness for kindness and being conscious of others, which are far better. This article is also very telling of a culture that doesn't enjoy human contact. I'm from a place where everyone hugs and kisses when greeting and saying goodbyes, even people who have just met. I've never felt more uncomfortable than around polite privileged people. It's creepy.
posted by ivandnav at 6:28 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


Yep. Not a fan of the "wow, that sounds hard' line but I am not a conversational jiu jitsu master and can't think of anything better that doesn't come off as insincere.

It's pretty much impossible to go wrong with your personal take of a very sincere "Oh, coooool! What do you enjoy most about it?" Even if someone has just said they're an accountant. ("I'm an accountant for a dentist's office." "Oh, cool! What's the best part about working for a dentist? Do you get all the free toothbrushes you want?" BOOM - conversation.)

The important part is being sincere. People know if you don't actually think it's cool and you're just saying that. The trick, such as it is, is coming to a place with yourself of absolute certainty that no one has a boring job. There's no such thing as a boring job. Every single job has something cool and interesting about it. Believe it with your whole heart.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:21 PM on August 17 [5 favorites]


I'm realizing that a lot of conversational jiu jitsu is being prepared. If you notice that you're always caught off guard at a certain point in conversation, figure out something that works pretty much universally. Test it when you meet someone new, tweak it, repeat. Practice saying it in the mirror will help if you get tongue tied. Saying something the first time is always the hardest.

For example, many conversations stall after the inevitable topic of the weather. Be prepared! Acknowledge that it is indeed weather, and use it as a segue into something interesting.

Rainy: I know! I wish I had a garden, because it would be doing so well. Do you garden?
Hot: I know! I'm loving the excuse to eat all the ice cream I want. Do you have a favorite kind?
Cold: I know! I've been loving the smell of all the woodsmoke. Know any restaurants around here with a fireplace?
Humid: I know! I'm thinking of going to the movies just for the air conditioning. See anything good lately?

The same thing with any other conversation spot where you get stuck. Don't get caught off guard. With some thought and practice, awkward stranger conversations get a whole lot easier.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:32 PM on August 17 [5 favorites]


I truly don't understand this. I am a Canadian and have lived in Canada for 95% of my life, traveled a great deal including through many US states, and I have to tell you Canadians are every bit as much rude assholes as anyone else. Perhaps some of us are more polite while traveling than the locals might be used to? I can't figure out how this started. Is it the "sorry" thing?

As long as the specter of national stereotypes has been raised, I just wanted to express my undying admiration for the skill of so many English people I have met at giving a verbal burn expressed in such a polite manner that you don't realize it was a burn until days later. Is that something they teach in English schools? Or are some of us Yanks just that much more clueless in comparison?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:41 AM on August 18


I currently work in a place where I see people on their bad days. They are being kicked out of their homes, they are mad at the system, they are usually not in a position of power or prestige in our society, they are usually scared. And I (try to be) unfailingly polite to them in my dealings. I think someone said it best upthread that the best politeness is in fact a great love of humanity subsumed into politeness. I want good things for these people. I want to help them. And often I can't. But I can sit down with them, close the door, and ask them 'what brings you in today?' and let them tell me their whole story. They want to get it off their chest. I want them to get it off their chest. Listening is probably the most valuable thing I do for many of my clients. Empathizing, commiserating, attempting to understand - for some of them this is more cathartic than any legal remedies we may be able to offer them.

And this, to me, is couched in politeness. I open doors for my clients, shake their hands, call them Mr. or Ms. until they ask me to call them by their first names, answer their calls, look them in the eyes, and take them seriously. Politeness is a great tool and a great weapon and a great way to show someone you respect and care about them.
posted by hepta at 9:09 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


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