Date: Wed, 22 Oct 1997 19:45:07 +0000 From: Lynne Murphy Subject: Re: thank you . . . thank you MELISSA S. SMITH wrote: > Can you honestly say that you haven't noticed a decrease in politeness in > the last 20, 10, even 5 years? People do not speak kindly. They no > longer use words that show their respect for people. For example, your > response seemed kind of impolite to me. I know that you had to have > noticed the change in people today. There is no formality. There is no > polite small talk amongst strangers anymore. There is no one asking > stranger how they are doing that day. How could you not notice these > things. As for a time frame, pick a date and look at the decrease of > pleasant ness from there on. you're equating two things with being polite: being formal and engaging in meaningless (but "pleasant") talk. whether being formal is good or not, i must take issue with the latter. i find it really IMpolite that strangers want to engage me in meaningless banter. for instance, i'm a single woman who likes to do things alone, like going to movies and eating in restaurants. other people (projecting their own fears of being alone onto me, i presume) insist on talking to me--and making small (high in quantity, low in quality) talk. here i am with nabokov in my hand and i have to grunt my agreement with this stranger's assessments of the weather, the big game on saturday, and the political situation. the WORST is when strangers tell me to smile. excuse me? for all you know my dog just died, the great love of my life has run off with the best dentist i ever found, and i've just accidentally killed a troop of boy scouts with my car. hey, for all that relentlessly cheery person knows, i may have some horrid nerve disease which makes it impossible for me to smile--and they've just reminded me of my horrid disfigurement by pointing it out. note here that my definition of "polite" is: not making the other person feel bad. the problem is, of course, that you can't really know what will make a stranger feel bad--so people pick some lowest-common-denominator behaviors and assume that they'll make everyone feel good. there's a general american belief that everyone should be friends with everyone--but that ends up just diluting and warping the notion of friendship. (to get this back to the linguistic and the educational--this was a hot topic in my cross-cultural linguistics class a few weeks ago. recommended readings: stewart & bennett's _american cultural patterns_, chapter 5 & the article on finnish perspectives on american "superficiality" in samovar & porter's _intercultural communication_, 8th ed.) fight the hegemony of the cheerful! up with angst! we are our own corpses! a little punchy, but still happily morbid and morose, lynne -- M. Lynne Murphy Assistant Professor in Linguistics Department of English Baylor University PO Box 97404 Waco, TX 76798