Društvo| Život

Mind Your Mannerisms

Chris Farmer RSS / 19.06.2012. u 09:30

As a child, I got my hands slapped quite often.

I would forget to say please (slap). I would omit to say thank you (slap again).I would sometimes burst into a room whose door was closed without knocking (slap-slap). And thus I was taught what everyone in America of the late sixties and seventies, my formative years one might say, called "good manners" and "being polite." 

After several million slaps, I actually started to get it.

Everything got easier after I finally learned this lesson. People listened to me more. My parents smiled more. I got a few more birthday and Christmas gifts. I heard people say - My what a GOOD boy. What a POLITE boy. This had been working for me until I left America. Then things started to get more complicated...

The idea of being polite was driven by the idea of showing respect for the person to whom you are talking. Not a respect like student to Maharishi or loyal subject to the Queen, but rather it was a base level of interchange in conversation which smoothed over rough edges. By saying please, thank you , and you're welcome, you demonstrate that you respect the other person enough to be aware of their sensibilities. It does not matter if I had to learn it by rote - the idea of civility and politeness also sunk in.

Then I arrived in Belgrade.

Politeness here is not unknown. The Serbian language contains all of the structures and forms for exceedingly polite conversation. But it is not used in the same way, at the same times, or with the same people as in American English. In familiar circles, with friends or family, the idea of politeness is treated with suspicion. It is seen as being fake or artificial, unnecessary and sometimes even offensive.

It is common enough to use the imperative tense without modifying your commands - Give me that! Close the door! Come here! In all of these examples, I would (mistakenly) say "please" by way of softening the command. The subtext is something like: "It-is-not-my-place-or-station-to-issue-orders-to-you-but-I-would-be-very-grateful-if-you-could-close-the-door. Please." More and more I begin to think that this reflects a certain insecurity in Anglo-Saxon native speakers. We are uncertain, perhaps, that our good intentions or feelings are understood. So we have to put words around them.

This is also representative of an economy of language which we do not have in English. In Serbian, we do not waste time with the amenities and niceties of the pleases and the thank yous. They are understood. They are implicit. Why say something that needs no saying? Maybe that is why we do not even modify our nouns in Serbian - no definite or indefinite articles, please, we have already said enough.

Habit being what it is, I continue to say thank you to everyone. The merchant, the waiter, the friend, the child, the doctor, and anyone with whom I end up talking. Even the cop giving me a parking ticket gets a polite thank you as I turn to speed away from him.

On other occasions, people have got angry with me (or at least what I perceive as anger when voices are raised) for insisting on my idea of politeness. I do not like people walking into my office unannounced - I need them to knock on the door. They don't of course.

And now to all of you who are about to tell me how useless it is for me to dedicate a whole column to this meaningless talk I have only one thing to say:

Thank you very much.

 

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Komentari (31)

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golubica.bg golubica.bg 10:23 19.06.2012

Far from being meanignless...

This topic is actually fascinating (well, at least for me as a linguist ). Students of English whose native language is Serbian often have difficulties translating from Serbian into English, simply because their translations are not polite enough. The sentences may be perfectly grammatically correct, however often something is just not quite right. In most cases, it is the imperative, or as you mentioned a simple lack of "pleases" and "thankyous". I'm sure you've encountered such translations too many times...

Also, I during my stay in England, I realised how easy it is to switch to a different way of expressing yourself. After only a few months, during my visit to Belgrade I would constantly smile and say thank you to pretty much everybody I encountered. After a few awkward looks, people would actually start to reciprocate (oh yes, even the legendary Serbian counter clerks). I guess what I am trying to say is, never, ever stop being polite, it is worth it!
Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 10:30 19.06.2012

Re: Far from being meanignless...

Agreed!

(Thank you!)

uninamama uninamama 11:20 19.06.2012

Re: Far from being meanignless...

golubica.bg
I guess what I am trying to say is, never, ever stop being polite, it is worth it!

Colin_bgd Colin_bgd 10:34 19.06.2012

The 3rd Law...

By being polite to others, you are actually being polite to yourself...
srdjan.pajic srdjan.pajic 10:44 19.06.2012

"Thank you very much".

You are very welcome!

Now, you can imagine how it feels going the opposite way, when a Serb moves to US. I was surprised and maybe little bit overwhelmed with so much politeness, so that all of my defensive mechanisms kicked in. First I was suspecting that someone is trying to screw me. Then, I thought how it is all kind of fake, or superficial, people are just pretending to be polite, while they are probably not, or at least they don't really care. But then after some struggle, and after I realized that it is persistent, and nobody screwed me over, I started to accept that people are genuinely polite. And often even friendly.

Politeness is maybe achieved by slapping, or by other means, but it works, and, honestly, I don't mind. Now I return politeness (every once in a while ), and it feels good. I have also noticed how people immediately react if they encounter lack of politeness. If someone cuts the line, or pushes them on the bus or walkways, or argues in impolite way. They are still trying to stay polite, but they immediately protest, and insist on establishing the politeness standards. While in Serbia, reaction usually depends on how big and mean looking the perpetrator is.
maksa83 maksa83 10:51 19.06.2012

Re: "Thank you very much".

First I was suspecting that someone is trying to screw me...

... and after I realized that it is persistent, and nobody screwed me over

Well, you did get married there, didn't you?
Jelena Pavlović Jelena Pavlović 14:07 19.06.2012

Re: "Thank you very much".

Well, i was pretty annoyed by the T-mobile representative who was unable to explain my bill that has been steadily going up regardless of the contract signed some time ago. I was finally told to come down what triggered a counter attack. Then I realized how much easier it would have been to argue with anybody, at any commercial place, at any given time, in my native Belgrade. I thanked the T-mobile associate and apologized.
srdjan.pajic srdjan.pajic 16:22 20.06.2012

Re: "Thank you very much".

maksa83
First I was suspecting that someone is trying to screw me...

... and after I realized that it is persistent, and nobody screwed me over

Well, you did get married there, didn't you?


Did you see, ne paziš samo sekund...

Nevermind the marriage, but you should see some guys (and ladies) I met while caving in Missouri (the very south, close to the border with Arkansas). I am sure they were extremely polite, and friendly, and curious, they fed us properly, let us stay in their barn, the only problem was that I wasn't able to understand them almost nothing. Their accent was like from different planet . I think it was going the other way too: I also have an accent, and I would say something, they would carefully look at me, and then reply something I can't understand at all, but I swear it has nothing to do with what I just said. But they were always smiling, and they didn't feed us to wolves (and we were all already married).

maksa83 maksa83 20:07 20.06.2012

Re: "Thank you very much".

the only problem was that I wasn't able to understand them almost nothing.

Same thing happened to me in Pirot.
kalifumestokalifa kalifumestokalifa 10:46 19.06.2012

Lepa reč i gvozdena vrata otvara.

I'm not a fan of quasi spiritual statements, but I do believe that good energy has a positive feedback loop.
It's not only the niceties, especially important with strangers and almost strangers, but also the expression and posture.
It works about 90% of the time, clerks in bad mood, stressed out strangers everyone responds.

As far as my close friends though, too much niceties would see some raised eyebrows.
Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 11:00 19.06.2012

Re: Lepa reč i gvozdena vrata otvara.

kalifumestokalifa
I'm not a fan of quasi spiritual statements, but I do believe that good energy has a positive feedback loop.

Karma. Samsara. Do-unto-others... As in many things, what we put in is closely related to what we get out. Quasi spiritually or not.

Thanks!
mitar.popovic mitar.popovic 10:48 19.06.2012

Pussyfooting


This whole article is a compound example of Anglo-Saxon please-thank-you-excuse-me. If you stated your point in Serbian way, you could of simply written something like this:

Why the fuck are Serbians so damn rude?? Koji im je bre k*r*c???

Cuz that's what you want to say. I, as a Serbian reader 1) understand you can't say that because you are an outsider and it would be inappropriate and offensive for you not to be politically correct 2) am irked but appreciative of your "Anglo-Saxon" delusional politeness 3) completely agree that Serbians are fucking rude, and also think that this has a direct and obvious negative impact on our culture and our quality of life.

You wouldn't be the first one to lose it trying to rationalize that kind of behaviour in the Balkans and wind up completely disillusioned and discouraged. People have won Nobel prizes in peace and literature over that shit, and things haven't budged an inch.



srdjan.pajic srdjan.pajic 10:52 19.06.2012

Re: Pussyfooting

mitar.popovic

This whole article is a compound example of Anglo-Saxon please-thank-you-excuse-me. If you stated your point in Serbian way, you could of simply written something like this:

Why the fuck are Serbians so damn rude?? Koji im je bre k*r*c???

Cuz that's what you want to say. I, as a Serbian reader 1) understand you can't say that because you are an outsider and it would be inappropriate and offensive for you not to be politically correct 2) am irked but appreciative of your "Anglo-Saxon" delusional politeness 3) completely agree that Serbians are fucking rude, and also think that this has a direct and obvious negative impact on our culture and our quality of life.

You wouldn't be the first one to lose it trying to rationalize that kind of behaviour in the Balkans and wind up completely disillusioned and discouraged. People have won Nobel prizes in peace and literature over that shit.



And we also have bad temper!
Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 10:55 19.06.2012

Re: Pussyfooting

That is all well and good, Mitar, but what do you REALLY think?



There is another saying we have when we want to say something bluntly: "not to put too fine a point on it..." This is classic understatement and is usually followed by something that is only slightly left of polite anyway.

"I calls em as I sees em," said Yankee legend Yogi Berra. Maybe he was right!

mitar.popovic mitar.popovic 11:26 19.06.2012

Re: Pussyfooting

I told you already what I really think, Serbians are too rude and that's a bad thing simple and plain.

In addition, I think you are playing a bit too innocent with the American perspective. Yes, America is full of wonderfully polite and painfully politically correct people, but you folks are familiar with blunt speakers as you have the New Yorkers and generally the North-Easterners (including Yogi Berra) who are known to be loud and blunt. I guess these people immigrated from South and Eastern Europe, so arguably there's a link.

However, none of them are so sadly and destructively rude as Balkanci. And also, let's not be naive and say it's because they are innocent and too honest. No, it's because they lack love and respect for their neighbours. I dare say that is because they lack love and respect for themselves in the first place.

This is a liberal blog filled with Serbians complaining about all kinds of things regarding their people and race, so my stance shouldn't come to anyone here as a surprise.

Regards,


Disgruntled Serb


PS I don't mean to be a party pooper or anything :)
Colin_bgd Colin_bgd 11:29 19.06.2012

Re: Pussyfooting

but what do you REALLY think?

Hardest question of them all to an average Serb person, and there is still no answer to the question of why there is no answer to that question...
Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 11:53 19.06.2012

Re: Pussyfooting

Yogi Berra notwithstanding, there is another element lurking beneath the surface – taking responsibility for your words.

I have been accused by many and from many sides of “pulling my punches” with blogs like this one. But the truth is that I do feel a responsibility for the words and would hope that others feel the same about theirs.

Being disgruntled is often positive – it points out problems (sometimes softly, sometimes with a big stick) in the hopes that people will read about them and be properly outraged. But I also find that explosions and ranting often shift the focus from the Problem at Hand to the Means of Expression.

Therefore a happy medium, neither too sugary nor too vituperous, may be the correct answer.
bolid1 bolid1 12:34 19.06.2012

Hello, Please, Thank You, Goodbye

People in Serbia lost their manners somewhere along the way, I always have smile on my face when walking into a shop/bar/office and after clearly spoken "Hello" I get raised eyebrow and "what-the-hell-is wrong-with-you" look. Well afterwords, things tend to go a lot smother...

I still remember a waiter in some bar when I told him "thank you" for emptying the ashtray, his surprise was genuine
blogovatelj blogovatelj 13:04 19.06.2012

Can somebody explain

It is seen as being fake or artificial, unnecessary and sometimes even offensive.


Why you guys think if we are honest that we are rude?
When I say guys, I mean English speaking people.
Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 16:01 19.06.2012

Re: Can somebody explain

Don't confuse "honest" with "rude". You can be just as rude or polite in lying or in telling the truth.
blogovatelj blogovatelj 23:45 19.06.2012

Re: Can somebody explain

Don't confuse "honest" with "rude". You can be just as rude or polite in lying or in telling the truth.


Well, I have to provide more details...

There was my son's soccer game couple of years ago. They lost the game 7:1.
After the game, I was upset, but when I heard their coach telling the kids that game was "not to bad" i just asked what score would be a bad score. That was considered as rude, but I know that I was honest and did not have intention to be rude at all.
Covek u belom Covek u belom 23:56 19.06.2012

Re: Can somebody explain

Chris Farmer
Don't confuse "honest" with "rude". You can be just as rude or polite in lying or in telling the truth.

You are certainly an example of the first...
jednatanja jednatanja 09:33 20.06.2012

Aside

those that had no one teach them manners, worst is when people think they are nice because they are using nice words. Could be a mask for passive-aggressive behavior. The opposite is true, too, people may not be rude for being rough around the edges. Aggressive-passive mentality?
maksa83 maksa83 10:32 20.06.2012

well mannered guy


blogovatelj blogovatelj 05:17 21.06.2012

Re: well mannered guy

well mannered guy



looping looping 12:16 20.06.2012

Change

Habit being what it is, I continue to say thank you to everyone. The merchant, the waiter, the friend, the child, the doctor, and anyone with whom I end up talking. Even the cop giving me a parking ticket gets a polite thank you as I turn to speed away from him.

"In Rome you should be Roman" - someone said.
One person cannot change the whole society.
Therefore, be polite in polite environment.
In non-polite company being polite looks very funny and unnatural.

And now to all of you who are about to tell me how useless it is for me to dedicate a whole column to this meaningless talk I have only one thing to say:
Thank you very much.

It's far from useless.
You are most welcome.
blogovatelj blogovatelj 05:20 21.06.2012

Re: Change

"In Rome you should be Roman" - someone said.


You mean - In Serbia, write blogs in Serbian?
looping looping 11:18 21.06.2012

Re: Change

blogovatelj
"In Rome you should be Roman" - someone said.


You mean - In Serbia, write blogs in Serbian?

OK now, let that be an exemption.
Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 11:52 21.06.2012

Re: Change

Thank you very much!

blogovatelj blogovatelj 22:15 21.06.2012

Re: Change

Thank you very much!



You're more than welcome.
kick68 kick68 23:17 22.06.2012

.

You should be careful. Polite behaviour raises suspicion in Serbia. Serbs usually say about a polite person: He’s either a faggot or he’s from Vojvodina!


Arhiva

   

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