politeness

the difference between polite canadians and polite british people is that when canadians are polite they’re actually genuinely being nice

but when the british are polite there’s a 97.5% chance that they’ve secretly insulted you but you just haven’t realised

New Yorkers Aren't Rude. You Are.

And I mean that title with the utmost of respect.

I’ve been a denizen of this fair[ly crappy] city my entire life, in one way or another.  I spent some time in LA during college, but don’t worry, I got over it.  The one thing, though, that I’ve consistently heard from around the US is that New York is a rude city.

This is, I feel, based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what this place is.  

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The claim that ‘just’ ‘shrinks your power’ was popularized earlier this year by former Google executive Ellen Petry Leanse. As I pointed out then, what it overlooks is the fact that words like ‘just’ have a range of functions: you can’t just [sic] assert that they are ‘demeaning’ in every context. (As I also pointed out, Nike didn’t choose ‘Just Do It’ as a slogan because they thought it sounded pleasingly weak and powerless.) Even when ‘just’ is being used as a hedge (i.e., to make a point less forceful or more tentative), the commonest reason for that is simply to be polite; and politeness is more strategic than demeaning.

Only the other day, I got an email that read:

“Sorry to disturb you over the holiday period, but I’m just trying to firm up the schedule, and I wondered if you’d had time to check your diary yet. Have a great new year and get back to me when you have a chance.”

I didn’t think, ‘oh, this guy is really shrinking his power’ (yes, I did say ‘guy’: writing ‘sorry’ and ‘just’ in emails is not an exclusively female habit). I thought, ‘well, that’s considerate, making clear he knows it’s Christmas and I might have better things to do than help him with his schedule’. And since he had been considerate, I figured I’d return the favour: I replied the same day.

If he’d left out all the ‘self-undermining’ politeness features, the email would have looked more like this:

“I’m trying to firm up the schedule, so please check your diary and get back to me as soon as possible.”

The style may be more businesslike, but I’d have read this version as accusatory and borderline hostile (‘hey, I’ve got a schedule to make, why haven’t you given me the information I need?’). And I’d have registered my displeasure by putting it in the pending file until we were both officially back at work. So, politeness can pay dividends: ‘sorry’ and ‘just’ FTW.

Apart from being based on naïve and simplistic ideas about how language works, the other big problem with the ‘women, stop undermining yourselves’ approach is that it presupposes a deficit model of women’s language-use. If women use the word ‘sorry’ more than men (and by the way, that’s a genuine ‘if’: I’m not aware of any compelling evidence they do), that can only mean that women are over-using ‘sorry’, apologizing when it isn’t necessary or appropriate. The alternative interpretation—that men are under-using ‘sorry’ because they don’t always apologise when the circumstances demand it —is surely no less logical or plausible, but somehow it never comes up. As I said back in the summer, the assumption is always that ‘a woman’s place is in the wrong’.

The reason for this is simple. If your business is peddling advice to women, you have to begin by persuading women they’ve got a problem, and that the cause of the problem is their own behaviour. If that’s not the case—if, for instance, the problem has more to do with other people’s attitudes or with structural inequality—then telling women to behave differently is not going to fix very much.

—  Debbie Cameron, Crap Apps and Female Email 

Women are taught from the time that they’re girls to be pleasing, cheerful, and cute – so much so that men feel entitled to tell women they do not know that they should “smile” more, or that we should demonstrate boundless joy while doing domestic work (I’m looking at you, Kirk Cameron). Women are even expected to be fun-loving while running for public office, lest they’re painted as a ballbusting harpy or nags or bitches; there’s no lack of words used to mean “threatening woman”. Men in charge are bosses, women are bossy. Men are all-business, women are cold. Men are insightful, women are depressing.

And, when the default expectation for women’s personalities is sweetness and pep, it’s easy to mistake seriousness for nastiness. For women of color, almost any personality trait is labeled immediately as “angry”. Too many people don’t seem to understand that women – who are human beings – contain multitudes and are able to be serious, fun, grumpy, and loving within a short period of time (if not all at the same time).

It’s a mistake to confuse women’s solemnity with anger; it’s an even bigger one to disparage angry women. It not only teaches young girls that legitimate feelings are somehow “undesirable” – and that they should plaster a fake smile on anytime they’re hurt or angry – but it also diminishes the importance of anger and taking serious things seriously.

“For A Number Of Reasons”/”It’s Complicated”・いろいろあって

いろいろあって (iroiro atte) literally means “(met with) various reasons”, and is used when you can’t describe the reasons for your actions because it’s complicated or because you don’t want to talk about it. 

It can be a phrase on it’s own or in a sentence (at the beginning, usually):

最近いろいろあって宿題をやらない。Saikin iroiro atte shukudai o yaranai.
Recently I haven’t been doing my homework for a number of reasons.

Maybe the person has been busy with extracurriculars, is too depressed to do anything, or has been sick. We don’t know. We just know that they haven’t been doing homework for some reasons they don’t feel like explaining.

なんで仕事辞めるの? Nande shigoto yameru no?
いろいろあって。iroiro atte.
- Why‘d you quit your job? (lit. why resign work?)
- It’s a long story/a lot of reasons/it’s complicated.

なんで別れるの?Nande wakareru no?
いろいろあって。iro iro atte.
- Why’d you guys break up? (lit. why break up?)
- It’s a long story/a lot of reasons/it’s complicated.

*THIS IS IMPORTANT!*
If you ask someone something and they reply with “いろいろあって"、then they don’t want to talk about it!
This is pretty much the english equivalent of “I don’t wanna talk about it”. Don’t ask them more questions on the subject if they answer with this, unless they decide to tell you the reasons voluntarily.
And vice versa, if you give someone that answer, they’re probably not going to ask you about it anymore.

-Ivey