Friday, May 27, 2011

Relative rudeness

DSC04221One of the most consistent complaints that I hear about the Dutch from other Europeans is their blunt rudeness in everyday conversation.  For me, the relative clarity is refreshing compared to British politeness or German opacity.  If a Dutch colleague has a problem or issue, they were much more likely to bring it up in a straightforward way, and to be open to a clear debate about the merits of a solution.

There was sometimes an issue in returning to the US: I would tend to speak more simply and directly after months of expat life, and this would be perceived as rude and abrupt on my return.  I’ve learned to tone it down.

The BBC weighted in yesterday with an article comparing British and German manners, citing new research on "phatic" conversation – empty words that nonetheless perform important social functions. For example, on meeting,  British (and Americans) tend to open conversations with some observations about the weather, the weekend, or a mutual friend, establishing rapport and engagement. Germans, in contrast, don’t do “small talk” (they apparently don’t even have a word for it).  To Anglic ears, it all sounds a bit rude.

DSC04141Recent “rudeness” surveys of hotel and restaurant staffs also show national patterns.  French and Americans, for example,were both  singled out, but for different reasons.  The French tend to have a high quality of product at home, so complain when local rooms and foods fall short when they travel (indeed, 85% of French stay in France when they vacation).  Americans, in contrast, are used to a much higher standard of service, and are quicker to complain when attendants are slow or indifferent.

I find that it has a lot to do with the attitude that I carry.  Slow restaurant service is most likely an invitation to relax and savor a well-prepared meal, relaxing with wine and conversation, rather than purposeful sloth.


Jul said...

I feel like I'm used to German social interactions by now, but whenever I visit one of the 'small talk' countries (the UK, Ireland, Canada, the US), I am overwhelmed with appreciation for the friendliness of people in little day-to-day interactions. It just makes me happy.

Dave Hampton said...

Thanks, Jul - I agree - the longer I live overseas, the moe I appreciate a little small talk with my day. I never can tell whether I'm missing out on small talk in the Netherlands just because I didn't (used to :) ) speak the language. It will be interesting to see if things get better as my fluency improves?