Practicing the English art of politeness

Practicing the English art of politeness

Londoners have been deemed ‘unfriendly’ by a recent TripAdvisor survey. Is it their unfailing politeness holding them back?


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ONE of the world’s largest travel sites, TripAdvisor, recently revealed the results of its City Survey – an in-depth look into 40 key tourist cities around the world. More than 75,000 locals and travellers responded to a survey that focused on ten categories, including friendliness of locals, cleanliness of streets, public transport, value for money, friendliness of taxi drivers and shopping.

While Tokyo, Singapore, Zurich, Bangkok, Lisbon and Budapest were listed at least three times each in the top three performers of each category, London – the home of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 – reached the top 10 in only two categories; Best Taxi Services (5th place) and Best for Shopping (4th place).

According to the survey, London also left much to be desired when it came to Friendliest Locals, receiving 39th place on the list of 40. As a new resident or London and a confessed Anglophile (a person who is fond of ‘traditional’ English culture and a lover of everything British), I feel that it is my duty to let people know that this cannot be the case. Surely the 75,000 people surveyed have it all wrong.

Allow me tell you why.

English etiquette and politeness is unlike any other that I have witnessed before. It is so extreme that their need to exercise great self-restraint and display duteous politeness can sometimes be confused by other cultures as unemotional or rude. Besides always displaying a “stiff upper lip” (probably why they don’t smile in public very often), the one thing that epitomises the English above all else is their etiquette and the pride they have in their manners.

Many foreigners come to London for travel, to experience the culture or to work, but no one arrives expecting the phenomenon of the English queue, the unspoken rule that you cannot speak to others on the Tube, and the biggest topic of all conversations – the weather.

Another practice that we found amusing last summer was when the sun came out. At the first sign of sun English people strip off jackets and socks, roll up the pants and the sleeves and find a piece of grass, a wall or a bench to sit and bathe in the glow of the rarely seen sun. Sunbathing seems to be a pastime that comes a close second to drinking tea, usually in the late morning, early afternoon or both, and sometimes served with scones and cucumber sandwiches.

But no matter what the season or time of the day, the English will always mind their Ps and Qs, politely ignore someone acting strangely in public and go out of their way to open doors for women. While some might think it normal, English people would never dream of talking to a random person in the street, or tell someone they had green spinach in their teeth, for this would make others uncomfortable.

Have travellers confused this with being artificial and unfriendly? Are Londoners too polite to be considered friendly? Travellers to London, if you are trying to make a friend in London, my recommendation to you is to be amused at their persevering politeness and simply start a conversation about the weather, nothing gets English folk more excited than talking about the unrelenting rain or unseasonal sunshine.