No sooner have we recovered from a couple of rather weird happiness surveys, when along come two more studies to make us feel bigheaded or mortified. This time it’s politeness and the global cost of living (I’ll write about the second one tomorrow).
Let’s look at good manners first, OK? GOT THAT, YOU MORON?!!! Just my little joke. Anyway, I tells ya, I have to keep consulting the calendar these days to make sure we haven’t fastforwarded to 1 April. First, Denmark is the happiest country on the planet, now New York is the world’s politest city! That’s the sort of result the word “counter-intuitive” was coined for. See the tables below for the full results.
Manila didn’t do too well, though I think the tests probably disadvantaged hierarchical societies like this. One of the three tests of politeness was to see what happened when someone dropped a bunch of papers. Now, if that were to happen here, it would set off a number of alarm bells that probably wouldn’t ring in Milan or Zurich. What language do I speak in? Is this person so far up the social scale that it would be presumptuous of me to assist him or her? Will I embarrass him or her by lowering myself to pick up the papers? Better not get involved, someone else (from their own class) will take care of it.
My take on the politeness or otherwise of Manileños is that very different standards seem to apply to those I am used to. A survey by Reader’s Digest (let’s face it, the quintessential “Western” viewpoint) is probably not really going to pick up on the nuances of behaviour that are really the most important part of gracious behaviour. For example, Filipinos use facial expressions more than most, so a lot of the “politeness” (as in “please get out of the way, this is my train stop”) is non-verbal and expressed in a shimmering cascade of facial muscles and lowered eyelids. How do you measure that?
To take another example, if you walk down a corridor at a workplace in Manila people look at you! They smile at you. They engage you in an easy inconsequential conversation. That doesn’t happen a lot in Britain, where people often speak a lot more, but say a lot less.
When it comes to discussions—where, after all, politeness is particularly helpful—Filipinos are just great. They seem to me to pitch their voices in just the right area between the extreme timidity I’ve encountered elsewhere in Asia and the loud and bumptious LISTEN TO ME, I’M GREAT approach that is a characteristic of some Americans, for example.
Finally, most Filipinos have a natural courtesy and friendliness lacking in most cultures. Sure, there are plenty of mayabang types, but lots of folks you might expect to be a bit snooty turn out to be extremely pleasant and down to earth. I’ve met rich and most influential people in the Philippines who have no problem talking to anyone, rich or poor, old or young, Pinoy or foreign.
On the other hand (you didn’t think you were going to get off that easily did you?) the “me first” mentality I see almost every day here drives me nuts. If courtesy were decided purely on how people behave when a train pulls into a station the Philippines would never get out of bottom position. In virtually every other country in the world, people have figured out that your chances of getting on a crowded train increase significantly if you let the passengers already on the train off first. Not here.
And don’t start me on traffic behavior.
As in anything in the Philippines, it seems to come down to relationships. If Filipinos know you, or think they may come to know you soon, or think you may come from within 100 km of their home town, they couldn’t be nicer. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be a very prevalent notion of civic responsibility (which in many ways lies at the heart of what politeness and courtesy are all about).
As for the other cities in this rather daft exercise, I was a bit disappointed by London’s showing, especially as it is bracketed with Paris, which has always seemed to me, scowl-for-scowl, one of the rudest cities in the world.
Nevertheless, let’s be honest, when it come to a good old stamp-on-the-foot-and-get-out-of-my-way-you-scumbag it is going to be very hard to move our neighbors Hong Kong and Singapore out of the relegation zone (along with New York in my view, but as the table shows, what do I know?).