Politeness: a social implant

By Salima Stanley-Bhanji

Politeness is that social requirement that makes you do things even when you don’t feel like doing them. And if the person you’re doing them for knows that you’re just doing them because society expects you should, not because you really want to, then why be polite? Why not just be a big, fat, rude, nincompoop? At least you’d be more honest that way, wouldn’t you?

Like waiting outside in your car until your gal-friend gets inside her house. Is someone really going to run out of the bushes and jump her during the 12-foot trek to the front door? Is it likely that her roommate psyched out and changed the locks while you went for coffee at Starbucks and now your gal is getting hypothermia on her front door step?

Then there’s the whole girlie thing about washroom accompaniment. You don’t really need to go, but she needs to go, and she can’t possibly go alone. So the bladder requirements of one dictate that all take a trip to the unsanitary depositories of waste.

And what about waiting to start your food until everyone else starts? Whoever made up that rule obviously hadn’t experienced the scent of medium-rare beef tenderloin after a week of Kraft dinner. As a wafting breeze of the tasty aroma almost knocks you out, Charles and Bozo, who read Pride and Prejudice and call napkins ‘serviettes,’ decide that they need to wash their dainty hands before they eat. Couldn’t they have thought of that before your food arrived?

Half the time, being polite is just a sneaky little tool to get what we want. Guys who open doors for girls, schmoozers, sweet talkers, the well-mannered… If we could just remove all of these fancy behavioural excesses, we’d all be operating at a common baseline and we could actually figure people out. But that’s the whole point isn’t it? Society employs required behaviours so that we conduct ourselves behind a curtain. That’s why getting to know someone can be so darn scary, because who knows what will be revealed when the curtains start to open.

Politeness is definitely cultural. In Canada, when we can’t get a hold of someone by phone, we say “Ooooh, we’ve really been playing a bit of telephone tag, haven’t we?” In Australia, people just say “For God’s sake, I’ve been trying to ring ya all bloody day.” In Canada, we buy people thank you cards for $3.75 a pop. In India, people don’t really say thank you, gratitude is understood by a simple nod of the head. In Canada, we use words like “perfect” and “exactly” all the time, we give gratuities and we always acknowledge that we have two official languages, English and of course French. But the only French that anyone can muster in Western Canada is “voulez vouz couchez avec moi, ce soir,” and even Christina Aguilera can recite that.

And whoever thought implants were fake, think again. Enhancing our bodies to become something they really are not is not any worse than enhancing our behaviours to become something we really are not… And I’m sure Pamela will toast to that.

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