What is this blog all about?

The main purpose of this blog is to give an overview of the things I do, in my everyday life, in order to improve my English. Since I am a very lazy person, I mostly read, and watch movies, and do things which make it possible for me to improve my vocabulary, my grammar and my accent without getting bored... So this blog is going to be about the books I read, the movies I watch, and some other things which I find relevant (or not)...

I hope you'll like it! Don't hesitate to leave comments if you have any suggestions concerning what I should write about!!

dimanche 18 mars 2007

Put your feet on the table!

Hi everybody!

Today, I am going to write about politeness. Because it is one of the things that I have found most difficult to adapt to in the different countries I have been in. Indeed, the idea of what it means to be polite can vary, both on the side of the host and on that of the guest, to a point where your attitude can be very much misinterpreted both if you are too relaxed and if you are too polite.

For example in France, where I come from (did I tell you I came from France?), being polite, on the part of the host, is being at your guest's service, and trying to satisfy his of her needs as fully as possible, by treating him to things you don't usually treat yourself to. In return, as a guest, being polite is not asking too much, and behaving in a way maybe more reserved than you would in your own house.

Therefore, when I went to Ireland and was invited to dinner with people who came from Pakistan, I did not sink in the couch, I sat up straight, and "politely" sipped my coke. Or, when I went to Australia, I asked permission before helping myself to some more salad.

"What is the problem with all that, mademoiselle?" ask my perplexed readers... (asks my perlplexed reader?)

Well, the problem is that thus, I appeared to be the worst stuck up person they had ever invited in their house. Or maybe I appeared to be scared to death by these strange strangers. I guess it was a bit as if I had come to a picnic in the park wearing a fancy evening gown. "Don't be so tense" said my Pakistani hosts... "chill out, mate", said my Australian family... But there is the hitch: I was neither tense nor nervous. Well, a bit nervous I guess, as always when you are dining with people you don't know too well, but still, my behaviour with them was absolutely natural. Until I realized that it was also completely out of place and ended up looking intently at the carpet, more nervous than before.

But in Pakistan, for example, or in Australia, for that matter, being polite is being ready to act with the guest as if he were part of the family. The guest is allowed to come anytime, wihtout warning or invitation, and he will be seen as someone who belongs in the house. That is, he will not be treated better than the usual inhabitants of the place, but in exchange, he is allowed to behave as naturally as he would behave in his own living room (i.e. put his feet on the coffee table). But this takes some time. To me, it felt a little strange at first, to be able to just do what I pleased.

But generally, what I have noticed, is that if you behave naturally, no matter whether you are being overly polite or a little bit rude, people understand. At least if they are people who invited you to their house, which tends to indicate that they like you, or that they are aware that you might be from a different culture, where things are not quite the same.

As always in intercultural exchanges (as far as going to dinner at a friend's place in a foreign country can be called an "intercultural exchange") the key would be adaptation. Just look around, take 10 minutes to see how others behave, and then just do the same. It sounds quite logical, I know, but sometimes logic is not quite the first thing that comes to your mind when you are in a sticky situation. Especially when you are embarrassed, you tend to react more with your nerves than with your brain. Which only makes things worse...

2 commentaires:

fn a dit…

Great blog Claire!
Very amusing and you really have a nice writing style.

I am looking forward to reading more.

You gotta check out this link!

yuk- Dont Gross Out The World
Excellent Flash game about manners when it comes to eating! Try it!


betty030187 a dit…

What about Austria? Do we have different table manners or even a different understanding of politeness compared to France? Have you noticed any differences so far?