June 20, 2006

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Putting the "p" in polite

Dodgy survey reinforces stereotypes

Who even knew Readers' Digest still existed in this day and age? The good people from RD conducted a global politness survey, based on several tests conducted in various cities. The survey was massively biased against Hong Kong because it included a test to see if people would hold doors open for others. In Hong Kong an open door is good for only two things: barging through or closing quickly. Putting its legitimacy in question, the survey found New York the most polite city in the world. Hong Kong was equal 25th along with Bangkok and some place in Europe with not enough vowels, just tipping out touchy Taipei, those rude bastards in Singapore, surly Seoul, cranky Kuala Lumpur and melancholy Mumbai. The survey seems to exhibit cultural bias, with the top cities being primarily Western and the bottom Asian. Or perhaps Asia is just home to a lot of rude pr!cks. Any visitor to New York will quickly realise Asia does not have a monopoly on rudeness.

The list is below the jump. No need to thank me.

The politeness survey:

1 New York, USA 80 per cent
2 Zurich, Switzerland 77 per cent
3 Toronto, Canada 70 per cent
4 Berlin, Germany 68 per cent
San Paulo, Brazil 68 per cent
Zagreb, Croatia 68 per cent
7 Auckland, New Zealand 67 per cent
Warsaw, Poland 67 per cent
9 Mexico City, Mexico 65 per cent
10 Stockholm, Sweden 63 per cent
11 Budapest, Hungary 60 per cent
Madrid, Spain 60 per cent
Prague, Czech Republic 60 per cent
Vienna, Austria 60 per cent
15 Buenos Aires, Argentina 57 per cent
Johannesburg, SA 57 per cent
Lisbon, Portugal 57 per cent
London, UK 57 per cent
Paris, France 57 per cent

20 Amsterdam, Netherlands 52 per cent
21 Helsinki, Finland 48 per cent
Manila, Philippines 48 per cent
23 Milan, Italy 47 per cent
Sydney, Australia 47 per cent
25 Bangkok, Thailand 45 per cent
Hong Kong 45 per cent
Ljubljana, Slovenia 45 per cent
28 Jakarta, Indonesia 43 per cent
29 Taipei, Taiwan 43 per cent
30 Moscow, Russia 42 per cent
Singapore 42 per cent
32 Seoul, South Korea 40 per cent
33 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 37 per cent
34 Bucharest, Romania 35 per cent
35 Mumbai, India 32 per cent

posted by Simon on 06.20.06 at 05:36 PM in the Hong Kong category.


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Asian Cities Are NOT Rude!
Excerpt: When I first read this, I thought it was preposterous. On second reading, well, yes, if the basis of courtesy is holding doors open for someone else and or saying “Thank you”, well, yes, maybe. But are Asians really rude? Thai’s (yes...
Weblog: Let's Visit Asia
Tracked: June 30, 2006 09:28 PM


Meaningless. For instance where's Tokyo?

posted by: HKMacs on 06.20.06 at 07:25 PM [permalink]

Asians are not rude. We simply show politeness in a different way.

posted by: Ruth on 06.20.06 at 07:52 PM [permalink]

I've been to New York many times and have always been impressed with how friendly everyone is. I think the rude image developed in the 60s and 70s when crime grew like crazy. It dropped a lot in the 90s, and some of the more annoying stuff - like people trying to extor money from you by washing your car windshield - has disappeared.

posted by: Derek Scruggs on 06.20.06 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

Being a New Yorker, I find your comment just as biased as you find the study to be. Having lived in Asia, I understand that every place has different rules, but lines are not something prized in most places I have been. I have watched old women get pushed out of the way to get on a bus. In my eyes this is rude because of the way I grew up and how we define polite v. rude. This survey is something where I believe relativity is okay.

posted by: anne on 06.20.06 at 09:54 PM [permalink]

Is rude driving and rude taxi drivers included in the survey? :)

Yes, have been in NY for a few years, I don't understand why London does not rank higher than NYC if door holding is one of tghe criteria.

posted by: sun bin on 06.20.06 at 10:23 PM [permalink]

Offcourse Ruth! We really dont know how to be rude. Never heard this word before!!!!!!!!!

posted by: Andrewgates on 06.21.06 at 02:09 PM [permalink]

The Most Courteous City in the World – New York?

posted by: paul on 06.23.06 at 07:07 AM [permalink]

I too have lived in Hong Kong and other Asian cities for several decades now. And I am a New Yorker, born and raised. I can tell you, without a doubt, that Hong is one of, if the rudest places I have even been. If your pomy butt has a problem with that, too bad. And that isn't NYC rudeness in my words. Just the way it is. As for culture, sure, no doubt about that either, RD is a western publication, so why are you surprised for a western slant on what is rude and what is not? Have you ever had translated for you (or can you read Chinese, too, like you speak Cantonese?) some of the crap that is printed in Asia about western culture and lifestyles? It's enough to make you want to . . .

posted by: New York Yankee on 06.23.06 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

I was puzzled by this as well. But the survey is by no means scientific and it certainly biased.
It bases part of the result on whether shop assistants say 'thank you.' In Asia they more often than not don't, but in tip- and commission-driven New York you better believe that they will.
I wouldn't have given it a second thought if it were to suggest that Asian cities generally have really crappy customer service compared to Western states.
Perhaps a broader study could include some distinctly Asian concepts of what qualifies as polite behavior.
For instance: "Does your drinking partner quickly refill your soju/baiju/sake/spirit glass when it is emptied?" If that was tested, I doubt Western nations would top the list.

posted by: myrick on 06.23.06 at 01:36 PM [permalink]

Reader’s Digest Culturally Challenged or Just Plain Rude?

While scanning the news, I was rather shocked to come across a headline stating that Reader’s Digest had ranked Taipei near the bottom of the list in a survey of the 35 most courteous cities around the world. These findings were in stark contrast with my own experiences. I have visited Taipei on several occasions and have always found the Taiwanese to be extremely hospitable and friendly.

The people in Taipei went out their way to show courtesy and even concern for my wellbeing. Let me impart just three examples of the numerous acts of civility I was either personally shown or witnessed as a guest of their country.

Upon arrival, while waiting to clear customs, I noticed a woman at the front of the line holding a small infant and a couple of carry-on bags. Needless to say, she was having a difficult time managing all of this and filling out the declaration form. One of the Taiwanese airport personnel immediately rushed over to hold the child while the lady completed the document. The look of relief on the woman’s face was palpable. As neither apparently spoke the other’s language, smiles were exchanged in recognition of gratitude and understanding.

On one occasion as I was fumbling with a token machine trying to purchase a train ticket, a group of four girls noticed the trouble I was having and very shyly asked if they could assist. Not only did the girls take the time in a busy train station to show a visitor how to buy a ticket, they were kind enough to show me to the correct waiting platform.

On another occasion I had stopped at a small street-side restaurant to have lunch and ordered a Diet Coke with the meal. The waiter apologetically explained they did not serve soft drinks and asked if would I care for something else. I told him it was no problem and ordered tea. When my food arrived, a Diet Coke accompanied it. When I questioned the waiter he said he had asked the owner if it would be okay to walk across the street and buy one for me. By the way, it is not customary to tip waiters in Taiwan.

These were not isolated events, it was a reoccurring theme and one I considered a lesson in manners for myself. So it seemed to me that there must be one of two things happening here; either I have been one of the most fortunate travelers to Taiwan or there was something seriously wrong with the survey. Pulling up the original article published by Reader’s Digest I quickly learned that it was DEFINITELY the survey that was flawed.

The courtesy rankings were based off of three criteria. One, would a person hold a door for a stranger. Two, would a passerby help pickup dropped documents. Three, do the salesclerks say thank you after a customer completes a purchase. So, what is wrong with this you ask? Nothing, if you happen to be from the United States or another country that has these customs. Common courtesies are not always common practices.

Different nations have different ways of showing politeness and we should not pick three random scenarios from our own society to judge. Take for example picking up the dropped documents. One 19-year old female from Taiwan explained that the reason she had not helped the “MAN” pickup the papers was to keep him from losing face. In essence she was being polite by her society’s standards in ignoring a potentially embarrassing situation for the man. Her country was subsequently downgraded for her act of politeness and points deducted from the overall politeness score.

What would happen if we were subjected to a similar test by Taiwanese standards? Stuck the chopsticks in the rice, minus one point from the US score (represents death). Gave a clock or timepiece as a birthday gift, minus one more point (death again). Giving a married guy a green colored hat as a present, minus a bunch points (suggests his wife is cheating on him). These may fall more into the social faux pas realm but you get the point.

So to the writers at Reader’s Digest may I suggest that ranking another country based off of one’s own customs, courtesies and social norms is not just inaccurate, it is
quite frankly…rude.

posted by: Scott on 06.24.06 at 03:29 AM [permalink]

In addition to cultural bias..

Skin colour would effect the outcome. Ask for directions in HK in Cantonese wearing a white skin and you will be told "Noh m sic yingmun" (I don't understand English) and get a hand waved in your face. Quite rude! Doubt you would get that response if you were wearing your yellow skin.

posted by: Gavin on 07.12.06 at 12:46 PM [permalink]

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