I'm starting to wonder if being polite and helpful to strangers and acquaintances (i.e. not family, workmates or friends) is something that is no longer permitted in our society gone gaga on political correctness and equality for women. Or if it doesn't cross cultural boundaries well or even if human nature varies from society to society.
Last week, coming out of a cornershop onto the very icy street I held the shop door open for an old lady with a walking stick, because I could see she was having trouble keeping upright on the ice and that she was coming into the shop.
Now some Swedes are famous for not being able to say a straightforward thank you. And some are also famous for being unable to say a straightforward, you're welcome, when someone thanks them. Instead they say thank you in terms that praise your good nature, while saying it is too good. And they say, you're welcome, by putting down the service they've just offered or by turning down your thank you.
Well anway, being a non-Swede I was just about to say you're welcome to the expected "thank you" I was sure was on its way, when the old lady looked at me and said "you're far too polite" not offensively but not too kindly either. I mean a simple thank you would have sufficed you old bag!
Then a couple of days later, having dropped my youngest son off at nursery school, I had just come out of the building and was walking away when I saw one of the nursery teachers coming across the ice, carrying, with both hands, the heavy breakfast porridge kettle. Well naturally I walked back the 5 yards and opened the door, but before I even got the door fully open she says
"I can do it myself" Well of course I open the door for her anyway. Again a simple thank you would have sufficed missus!
Am I in a country where politeness is now considered rude because of some strange interpretation of political correctness and female equality? Or is it true that Swedes simply have trouble saying "thank you"? Or do human nature, politeness and etiquette differ so greatly from country to country?
On more than one occasion different Swedes have said to me that the population of Sweden still have the mentality and rough manners of argricultural workers and farmers, because Sweden was still very much an agrarian society right up to the 1970s. The only difference now being that these "farmers" are middle class, live in urban settings and have office jobs.
Now I don't know if that's true or even if I agree with it, but I'm starting to wonder after 10 years of mumbled semi-rude "Thank yous" and non-existent "Your welcomes"
Well like the Irish saying goes "You can take the boy out of the sod, but you can't take the sod
out of the boy" In other words rural manners and customs stay with rural people, regardless of location or job.
I'm sure there's an equivalent saying for urban people, but I've yet to hear it.
And woe betide the next person who's rude to me while I'm helping them!
James, civil servant, city dweller