Canadians. We are known for our eternal politeness and patience. Our forms of politeness are intrinsically linked to our British roots. From an early age in school we are taught to say “thank you”, “please”, “sorry” and “excuse me”. We often judge others’ upbringing by their use of these words. It has become one of the signs of being “cultured” in our society. While these social conventions (those practices which are considered normal and expected) are expected practices here, that is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world.
When I was studying Indian culture, I came across the understanding that “thank you’s” are not routinely dished out as they are here but are saved for moments when an individual has gone out of their way to help another. Essentially by doing this, Indians and the recipient of the “thank you” can be assured that the expression of gratitude is sincere. Once I started to discuss this idea with my friends from other cultural backgrounds , I discovered that politeness can be demonstrated in many other ways, without the use of the words we consider to be expressions of politeness. In fact, often I found that it was perfectly polite to say : “Give me a ….” or “I want a …”. Both of these demands would be considered rude by our standards, but not for Russians and some other cultural groups. In fact in some cultures, saying words like “please” is an act of submission. Why are you begging, they might ask?
In multicultural Canada, it can be easy for us to judge New Canadians as rude if they do not conform to our social conventions from the very beginning. In many cases, they are translating what they would say in their head in their mother tongue into English, which may not include these words that we desire and value in our everyday lives. Consequently, New Canadians may miss a job opportunity because they did not thank the interviewer, or they may bud in line because that is how things got done in their country of origin, not realizing that this is a rude thing to do here. Or they may be taken by surprise one day when someone says to them “Get it yourself!”, when they say, “Give me”.
It takes time to become acculturated to life in Canada and one true sign is by knowing and adopting the social conventions of the culture. Many of these social conventions are unwritten. You can only know them after spending time here or when someone corrects you.
It is very easy to jump to conclusions that other cultures are rude when they don’t do things the way we do them. The reality is, we probably do things all the time that they think are rude, too.
It is important to look at the whole picture and the context, rather than make judgements on a few words or lack thereof. What is normal and expected here is not the case in other parts of the world.