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Politeness in your culture? I'd like to discuss rules of politeness. Are there any rules of politeness you feel are special to your culture?

In my examples, I've stuck to ”politeness in shops", but feel free to add any ideas you'd like.

- English-speaking culture: When buying something, give the shopkeeper the money. They will hand you the item and say "thank you!", when you receive it say "thank you!" back, and then leave.

- French culture: When you walk into a shop, say "Hello!" to the shopkeeper (this applies only to small shops, of course, not supermarkets). Make eye contact, and wait a couple seconds before asking “Do you have XYZ?". Don't start interacting straight away.

- Chinese culture: When the shopkeeper returns your change (paper money), they will give it to you with two hands, not one. The buyer doesn't need to receive the money with two hands, however.

-Iranian culture: the shopkeeper will refuse to accept your money and offer the item to you for free. The shopper must insist to pay, and after a few minutes the shopkeeper will pretend to reluctantly accept (note: it's not acceptable in Iran to just say "Hey! Thanks for the free stuff!" and walk away!). This strange ceremony of "fake refusal" is called Ta'arof.

In general, when you're in a foreign culture, it's better to be too polite than insufficiently polite. So I'd like to echo another user's discussion on here: Always say thank you when someone helps you on italki. Remember that in some cultures (eg. English-speaking culture) failing to thank someone is a real slap in the face!

Aug 30, 2016 12:54 PM
Comments · 36

Politeness is quite important in Germany.

1. We have a formal (Sie) and informal (du) way of saying you. Even Germans have a hard time choosing the right form. If you use the wrong one, people we feel offended.

2. German kids learn from early on to say "please" (bitte) and "thank you" (Danke). If a child wants something, but forgets to say please, the parent will ask "What's the magic word?" (Was ist das Zauberwort?) and only after the child says "please" it will get what it wants. If a child receives something and forgets to say "thank you", the parent will say: "How do you say?" (Wie sagt man?) and then the child has to say "thank you". "Danke" was actually the very first word that my daughter learnt (no joke).

3. The Germans greet each other on the street, whether they know each other or not. We don't do it in crowded places, but if I meet someone in a small street or in a forest while going for a walk, we would greet each other. In my office building you have to greet everyone you meet in the elevator, hallway, staircase. Really everyone! When I enter a elevator in my office building I would say "hello"  or "Good morning" and when I or the other person leaves the elevator we would say something like "Have a nice day" (Schönen Tag!). When you meet colleagues around lunchtime you say "Enjoy your meal!" (Mahlzeit!) no matter if they have already eaten or haven't eaten yet. 

4. Table manners are also important in Germany. Before we start we use another phrase for saying "Enjoy your meal!" (Guten Appetit!). Parents teach the kids a lot of table manners: "Don't talk while eating!" "Sit tight, while eating","Keep your mouth shut, while eating", "Don't make any noise while eating." (no slurping, burping or passing wind allowed) 

August 30, 2016

To Alan,

Interesting discussion! 

But I have things to add. 

In an English-speaking supermarket, the employee will just charge your items wordlessly and then snap at you "Cash or card?!". You'd never hear that at a smaller shop. Also now that I think of it a lot of people don't say thank you at supermarkets...interesting observation, thanks.

This is not true for what I see here in Australia (different cities). The cashier tends to greet you and you respond. In some chain stores like Target and  Kmart there is one person at the entrance just to welcome you. 

In Iran: It's not that way really. It only happens if you know the shopkeeper in person or if you go shopping in a local store where you usually go. In the later situation this sometimes happens and not very often. Moreover, if this happens it's not for several times and will be just once. The second time you pay and it's all done! 

September 1, 2016

Alan, your discussion made me laugh ;) Thank you.

The 'tea" dialogue is so familiar to me, so it's kind of

international I think because this is how it goes in my

country. I don't like it, so I tend to say yes, or no in a 

certain tone that makes my host sure of what I really


When you are invited to lunch or dinner in Jordan, it's

so normal that your hosts would ask you to eat more!

This is the polite way in my culture, but in Jordan they

do mean what they say and they want you to eat more!

If you don't listen to them, they might serve you extra

food from the main or side dishes and put it in your 

dish when it becomes empty. It's kind of 'nice' especially

that Jordanian food is really tasty, until you feel like

crying from eating too much, so the best way to deal

with it is answering your hosts that you really can't and that

you have had enough ;)

August 31, 2016

@Cristina: The shopkeeper pretends to give the item away for free, and says that someone as great and wonderful as you should not have to pay for something so small and insignificant. But both the shopkeeper and the shopper know it's not real. The shopper begs to offer the money, and eventually the shopkeeper accepts.

If you interpreted it literally (and just walked off with the item) he'd probably run after you!

The ironic thing about ta'arof in shopping is that the shopkeeper will initially say something's free, but when he finally accepts to charge you he'll give you an outrageously high price, because he knows the shopper will try to bargain it down, and a whole new round of negotiation begins. Eventually, after this complicated ballet of fakeness,  a financial transaction may take place.

August 31, 2016

Alan, thank you for the tip about the business card, this is the first time

for me to know about it :') Also I'm really surprised that this Jordanian habit

exists in China!

Regarding last point, I believe it's an exaggeration :D I guess it has its

roots though, since Arabs in ancient times were known for their extreme

generosity, a good example is 'Hatim Al-Tai' who slaughtered his horse to

feed hungry people during famine, while his horse is considered his most 

precious assets and the only thing he had left, and he himself didn't eat

from it.

Ocean, I eat so fast like a hungry goose, I doubt that I even chew ;) hehe

They tend to look at me and say "Oh you poor thin girl! It's because you 

haven't been eating enough lately" ;D

I'm glad you know what I'm talking about, it's a pure torture! Believe me I

learned the hard way how to stop them and say no (,") One look at obesity

rates in Jordan and you will understand exactly what I mean!

August 31, 2016
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Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Persian (Farsi)
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