Perhaps this is not post-worthy, but it has recently been brought to my attention that I’m entirely too polite. Yes, you heard right, apparently there’s a limit to how many thank-you’s is socially appropriate.
My older brother visited earlier this week, and I, being an accommodating host, took him out for a night on the town. We went to a few different places downtown, and at the end of our evening, my brother graciously pointed out that I had a problem with politeness. Our conversation went a little something like this:
“Andrea, quit being so polite.”
“I’m sorry- what?”
“Seriously, you’ve said ‘thank you so much’ to our server five times in the last hour.”
“And that’s bad because… ”
“It’s weird. You’re weirding people out, and it’s distracting. And fake. You can’t be that grateful our server bought us our food. That’s her job, Andrea.”
I have to say that I was a little caught off guard with my brother’s gripe. We were both raised in the South, where politeness is supposed to be a valued trait. Maybe the value only goes so far. Should please and thank you be used sparingly, and does their value depreciate the more times you use them?
Perhaps my excessive politeness is a product of my PTSID (Post Traumatic Service Industry Disorder). Over time, I believe I have come to model my behavior from the customers I have appreciated the most. I can always tell if I have a customer that at one point in time was service industry. They are polite, maybe too polite. The “thank you so much” ‘s come as easily as the “whenever you get a second” ‘s. As service industry, I feel that we add the politeness, because we understand that one of our brothers and sisters in arms may be struggling during the course of their shift. We value any amount of good service, because a lot of times, the world does not. Sure, it may be part of the job description, but how can appreciation of one’s actions be unappreciated?
It has always been my understanding that you can catch more flies with honey, but now I worry that my brother is right, and it is possible to throw out so much honey, you drown the flies.
For more insight into this disturbing scenario, look to the Politeness Theory (yes, it does exist, ask Wikipedia). It basically breaks down the interaction of politeness into four basic strategies. I won’t go into them, for fear of furthering my cynicism, but it literally blows my mind that politeness can be turned into something that is not polite. I believe the University of Oregon sums it up best at the beginning of their own entry on the Politeness Theory:
“In everyday conversation, there are ways to go about getting the things we want.”
Maybe I should have had this epiphany earlier. It’s kind of obvious now. At face value Southern politeness is revered, but what is Southern politeness exactly? I like to think about it like this: sure I’m smiling, but that smile is probably as fake as the Sweet-n-Low in my tea.
…….That sounds awful. Like I’m a worse person for having written it. There’s something about this whole sentiment that feels intrinsically diametric to my soul. Can’t we just be nice? Can’t we just be polite and respectful for the sake of being polite and respectful? And what about if I actually want to express my appreciation for someone, will I always run the risk of seeming disingenuous?
This has happened recently where I sent an email thanking a person for going above and beyond to help me. To give you a little background, this person is in a position where my emails would normally be considered spam, or something lower than spam. Yet, this person took time to answer my questions and even scheduled a meeting with me. Now, these actions may be considered small potatoes to this person, but to me it was everything. So I sent this person an email, thanking them profusely for their graciousness and help. Immediately, I got a reply email from this person saying that I had given them “entirely too much credit.” The comment may have been a humbling response, but now I wonder if I once again drowned the flies.
The moral of the story, if there is one, is that I don’t know if I should tone down my politeness, but honestly, I don’t think I will. In fact, I might say it more often. If I mean every one of my “thank you”‘s, why should I limit my gratitude to fit in with a world full of opportunists? Just because you might not hear appreciation often enough, doesn’t make a “thanks” fake, or weird, or off-putting. Hopefully everyone who hears me say “thank you so much” knows that I mean it. I would never be able to get anything done or go anywhere without the help of someone else. I like to think my Mom raised me right, so thanks guys!
And to my astute older brother, hopefully you don’t get a call from Mom when she reads this post. You probably won’t be thanking me for that one.