Canadians are known around the world for their politeness. So are Japanese. And the British (to some extent).
Americans are not known for politeness. Neither are Chinese. Or French.
It’s interesting to notice attitudes about these people. As a Canadian, I can confirm that Canadian society is polite, in general. There are rude people, as in any place you may visit. But Canadians are more likely to help a stranger who’s in distress. They’re more likely to run to the aid of a person who has fallen in the street. They’re more likely to smile at a stranger on the street and say hello. There’s a genuine warmth there. There’s a joke that if someone steps on another person’s foot accidentally, both people apologise. One apologises for being the one at fault, while the other apologises for the situation existing in the first place. Canada’s a society that says sorry whether it’s an actual apology or a way to relieve whatever tensions there may be.
In Japan, customer service is incredibly polite. The customer is always right. The customer is not always polite, though. I have witnessed outraged customers shouting at staff who are only following procedures, yet they continue to apologise for the inconvenience, even if they’re not at fault. Whenever there’s a problem, there’s always an apology. If there’s an accident, there’s an apology, repeatedly. Japan likes its efficient train system. If it’s disrupted even by thirty seconds, there’s an apology. Like Canada, Japan apologises, but it tends to be one way. People are generally polite to each other, but that’s to maintain harmony. It’s not because of genuine concern for one another. I have seen elderly people fall in the middle of the street while every single person walks past ignoring them. That’s to prevent the elderly person from being embarrassed. In Tokyo, people ignore each other. It’s crowded, and they just want to get where they’re going. Eye contact is not polite and avoided. But most people I have met are wonderful people. Very kind and friendly. But there’s one thing you’ll find about Japanese people. They’re not direct. They take a minute to say something that would normally take a North American ten seconds to say. Politeness is how they communicate, how they maintain the peace, not how they feel.
The British are a curious case. The image outside of the UK is of a country that is cultured and polite. But then speak with someone from the UK, and you’ll notice that they may be friendly, but many can swear like a sailor. And don’t get me started on hooliganism. I know people from both sides of the coin. There are those who are incredibly polite and friendly. And then there are those who are incredibly blunt and show a large amount of confidence.
Americans get a bad rap, mostly because of the foreign policy of the government. They’re viewed as the police of the world, and thanks to some bad apples, the tourists are viewed as boorish, loud, and self-centred. There’s a sense of self-entitlement. However, I find that it depends on where they’re from and their background. Most Americans I’ve met are pretty much just like Canadians. Friendly, open, and polite. But thanks to the image and some tourists, all the stories you hear about are of Americans who say, “I’m ‘murican! Why don’t you speak ‘murican? We saved your ass in the war. You should give us what we want. Why are there so many Mexican-speaking people in Spain? Go back to Mexico!” Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but there are some people who have that attitude. You can thank Donald Trump for making this stereotype even stronger. But really, if you go to the United States, you’re bound to be greeted by friendly, polite people who will go out of their way to help you if you’re lost. At least outside the big cities.
The Chinese are notorious for being bad tourists. But it’s not entirely the people’s fault. The government actively tried to get people to stop being polite because they view it as too western. From what I’ve heard, before the revolution, the Chinese were very polite, hardworking people. But when the revolution happened, things changed. There seems to be an attitude of defying everything that is not Chinese. There are territorial disputes with nearly every neighbouring country. They don’t back down, even if they really have no claim to the territory. There’s an image of Chinese people always being angry, speaking angrily, and always shouting. I’ve heard about how drivers will run over people on the road, then run back over them to make sure they’re dead so that they don’t get sued by an injured victim. Dead people don’t sue. I’m sure that’s not always the case, though. From what students have told me, they’ve met some wonderful, polite people in China. I have known very friendly and nice people from China. Again, you can’t assume a group of people isn’t polite based on a stereotype. There are genuinely good people in China.
The French are very well-known for their food, the beautiful landscape, amazing cities, and an incredibly strong pride in their language and heritage. This pride can come across as being rude, especially if you try to speak English first while you’re in France. But from what I’ve been told, if you try to use French, they’ll appreciate it and then try to help you out in English. Doesn’t seem that bad, does it? But sometimes it goes too far. And this is actually a French Canadian example. This is an unconfirmed story about some French Canadians criticising French pilots of a French airline in France using English to speak to air traffic control. They said something along the lines of, “If they’re in France, they should speak French!” Sorry, my fellow Canadians, but it’s international aviation law that requires them to speak English. It’s to prevent unnecessary deaths and destruction. But to be honest, I haven’t met a French (or French Canadian) who was rude. They’ve all been polite, normal people.
It doesn’t really matter where a person is from. I’ve heard people in Saudi Arabia are extremely generous and hospitable with guests. The idea that Germans are unsmiling robotic people is shattered by Oktoberfest. The lingering impression that the southern United States is racist is destroyed by stories of incredible hospitality. The opposite can be true for anywhere, as well. You find all kinds of people, rude or polite, friendly or angry, reserved or brash. Every place has every kind of person. I think we need to drop the stereotypes and actually meet people from other countries. Then we will know what the world is really like.
Have you had your stereotypes shattered? Or have they been confirmed? Share your stories in the comments below.