Beg Your Pardon?


After a “touchy” commute today in relatively heavy rain, I want to write about politeness.

I think we can all agree that most of the US at least (not sure about the rest of the world) tends to think of people in NYC as being quite rude. This perception–in my experience–seems to be most common among those who have never visited New York. My view of this is that New Yorkers aren’t rude, just in a hurry; what might be thought of as rudeness is really perhaps a bit of impatience along with the general frenetic pace of NYC life. Overall, though, I think you generally get an “excuse me” if bumped, a door held (though perhaps with an impatient sigh for having to wait), etc.

Now, London. What I’ve seen so far (which as I recall generally matches what I found on my prior visit) is what to me is a high level of rudeness. This manifests itself in quite a lot of pushing/shoving and bumping, mostly relating to transport (at least, that’s where I notice it!) with ZERO acknowledgment. For example, when walking, there are always going to be varying speeds. In New York (which granted tends to have more sidewalk space), people locate or wait for a passing opportunity, or at least say excuse me to ask people to move over to allow them to pass. Here, I find that people just push through openings that are not big enough for passing, and will do so to me as well if I’m waiting behind slow walkers because there isn’t room to pass.

Other examples: trying to fit onto a very crowded train. In New York, there will be words – frequently heated or with expletives – about moving in. In London, no one says anything, or looks at anyone, but you will be forcibly shoved from all sides in a way that in NYC would lead to “a situation.” Just tonight, on the way home, I was using the handy “arse rest” (my term) on the train.

The rests are in the middle of the car, near the doors.

An old man boarded at an intermediate stop; he comes over by me and forcibly shoves my bag into me to jam himself into the corner between me and the outside wall. He cleverly used a reverse move to avoid eye contact; that’s right, he backed himself into me so he wouldn’t have to look at me as he did it. I wasn’t sure what to do, but since I was getting off soon I decided to make a big production of standing up, sighing, and moving in front of the door. You better believe that he scooted onto the arse rest muy rapido. I gave him a look, and he gave me what I might almost consider an impish grin back.

In analyzing this situation, I think the lack of acknowledgment or excusing is to maintain plausible deniability – as if an “invisible hand” pushed the person into me, not an act of the person him/herself. I think if I were to call someone on it I would get a quizzical “Sorry?” as if they had no clue what I was talking about. In a culture that  I thought was known for over-politeness, perhaps this is the way to be rude and get away with it, as long as everyone pretends nothing’s happening. I’ll get used to it, but maybe I’ll give some of them a run for their money it first! After all, I’m from New York!

–Alex

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Posted on 16/02/2010, in Silly British Things and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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