Once upon a time, I had a friend who spent some time living and working in London. Unlike me, she was not really into the English culture and lifestyle, not to mention the language, but, at the time, going abroad to live in London was like the coolest thing you could do. I tried it too, but I didn’t even start, and that is a whole different story.
While she was there, I visited her once and stayed a few days. On our first morning we got into the tube station near her home and I walked up to the ticket office to buy my ticket. “Good morning. May I have a ticket to XXX please?… Thank you.”
My friend was very “explosive”. Latin, you could say. She immediately turned to me and spat: “What?! What are you…? Don’t say please, don’t treat him like that, he’s an asshole! You have no idea! Don’t be so kind to him!”. I was still busy buying my ticket so I just told her “Hey, what’s up? What have I done?”.
“He’s an asshole, he treats me horribly, he…”.
I still remember this incident because I thought it was so funny, and at the same time, the perfect example of how different we are, how we perceive each other and the consequent misunderstandings. I tried to explain her my behaviour – I was not being specially “kind”, just “normal” – but I didn’t quite succeed. Knowing her, I can picture her talking to that guy in a “rude” way, stopping the queue behind her, and he probably wouldn’t be very patient and helpful, they way we are over here with every tourist who can’t speak our language. The result is they have a much more efficient public transport than us, but hey, we are much more polite in this other way.
She put it all on our usual me being the quiet, down, polite kind of girl, and she being the loud, up, spontaneous kind. But of course, it goes way beyond that. “Over here you have to be very polite, you must Good-whatever, please and thank-you your way around in a sweet tone always, otherwise they perceive you as rude, they can’t help it, they are wired like that.” And the guy was absolutely OK with me, even though I showed up with her.
I can still imagine those two hating each other every morning…