Have a Nice Day, How are you? etc.
<<are non-Americans distrustful by nature?>>
I think non-Americans are distrustful of Americans by nature, or more likely than not, by propoganda. Most have never been here and their only exposure to the US are tourists who behave badly and what they see on television. European news is even more tabloid-like than ours, which is pretty bad considering the sorry state of our own news media. The result is a non-stop presentation of a very sensationalistic view of the seedy underside of America. Fat televangelists and flag waving jingoism is served up regularly on European television in a never ending series of "exposes", and "behind the scenes look at forbidden America".
Travelling and living in Europe I have often heard people talk about how "disgusting" America is, and when questioned closely about this impression, inevitably the same people will tell you their impressions are based on images they've seen on television. It's common for people to cite sensationalist "documentaries" on "real life in the USA" type shows as the basis of their opinions. Then of course there's the fact that we elected a President who can't seem to speak his own language well, which doesnt represent us in the best light either.
So when Americans are viewed as blood thirsty (Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, insert-any-Quentin-Tarantino-film) warmongering racists (slavery, Jim Crow laws, etc), it's easy to see why Europeans can't imagine you're sincere when you say "have a nice day". As a shop keeper, do you say that before you shoot your black customers with a .44 magnum? It's hard to convince non-Americans that we're not all Dirty Harry and that the vast majority of us are not supportive of attacking other countries and that not all of us eat every meal at McDonalds, most of us have never shot anyone or been in a knife fight.
When traveling overseas it's our duty as Americans to try and present a better view of our nation. I've often been told, "you don't seem like an American".... and what is meant by that is I speak other languages, I don't compare everything "over there" to the way it would be in the US and I don't shoot anyone while on vacation.
Likewise, in forums like this one, it's important to remind people that we Americans are not so different from the rest of the world. Many on this forum seem to think it's ok to express downright bigotry against all Americans just for being American. We have to counter that with good will.
The sincerity in your post (Jasper) goes a long way toward demonstrating that we're generally a good natured people, notwithstanding the images that are commonly presented to the rest of the world. Thanks for that.
Benny, thank you for an unusually insightful, informative post.
The media...the European media...I don't know whether to sneer, to be dismayed, or to philosophize...the media has immense power to influence our opinions, doesn't it? The products coming out of Hollywood are making a bad situation worse.
Benny, one thing that strikes me is that Europeans believe that our society is Pulp Fiction. It's Pulp Fiction only in the barrios in the big cities. I think that---at least in the heartland--our society is more like The Waltons.
Yes, The Waltons' sexual mores, technology, styles, the situations--all that has all changed....but the small-town values in the heartland are still very much there.
(An aside--I hear that The Waltons is very popular in the UK!)
The question of good customer service depends for the most part on job security. Here in Europe it is very much more difficult to fire someone from a job, for whatever reason, irrespective of conduct or performance, whereas in America there is nothing like the same level of job retention. At least that's what it seems to me. Employers in the UK and Europe generally have to contend with the European Court of Human Rights, which more or less guarantees employees a disproportionate (to my mind) level of job security, plus the fact that all employers are governed by the minimum wage legislation. For the most part, employees dismissed for whatever reason have recourse to the ECHR appeals facilities, so all in all, there really is less of an incentive here in Europe to provide quite the same level of customer service as exists in America, where people generally live in fear of losing their jobs far more than they do over here, and where, quite often in America, so many benefits depend on their jobs, the most obvious one being healthcare coverage in the form of insurance deals. This is not the case here in Europe, with our universal healthcare coverage right across the board.
As for that Lithuanian situation over the "rotten fish" - I guarantee that had it happened here in the UK, too, an immediate refund, or replacement, would have been offered with no questions asked. In any case, it's extremely unlikely indeed that rotten fish would have been on sale in the first place, so stringent are the food safety and health and safety laws in the UK.
C'mon Damian, do you really think saying "have a nice day" with conviction or just saying it just because you have to is going to mean the difference between getting fired or not?
Damian, those are good points to ponder. As always, I am thankful for your insightful, intuitive posts; you have helped me understand the British mindset perhaps more than any other Antimoon poster.
And that's a genuinely felt sentiment. ;-)
About the "rotten fish" episode: She told me she complained to her sister about the fish, and was planning to return the fish. Her sister replied,"Where do you think you are--in America? You bought the fish; it's yours now." (Can you imagine?)
There were quite a few other episodes, too involved to mention here, but they do illustrate one essential point: Europeans who live here a lengthy period of time quite unconsciously absorb the customer service mentality...
Jasper, what amazes me is the way all the Eastern Europeans (largely Poles) think that we Brits are very friendly and polite as a nation, generally. I find the Poles, especially, to be the same on a personal level, but as with all the Eastern Europeans when in large groups they can be incredibly noisy, and have not quite properly adapted to the British habit of queuing - ie standing in line. If there is anything that irritates the average Brit is when somebody "jumps the queue" - ie going forward out of turn, ahead of you, to be served or whatever it is you're queuing up for. That sure riles most Brits no end and can lead to unpleasantness, to put it mildly.
Saying "please" and "thank you" are also a wee bit alien to them, and, I really must be frank here, that applies to many of the Americans too! All Brits would go up to the bar and say to the barman/maid: "Two pints of (then name the type of) beer, please!" Many's the time I've heard an American simply yell out: "Two beers!" and then expect the barman/maid to jump to it. I suppose it's a cultural thing, and when you come to think about it, the standard British "please" could well be a wee bit superfluous as it's not as if you're going to get the beer free, is it?
Another aspect of British life is when YOU accidentally bump into someone else, THEY actually apologise to you as well! ;-)
Jasper - those Europeans over there are bound to do the "When in Rome thing" are they not? Go with the flow, and if it means adapting to the American Customer Service phenomenon then that's just great! ;-) It's just that we Europeans don't go big on something most of us see as just a wee bit gushing and, quite wrongly as you rightly maintain, somewhat insincerely. I applaud your declared sincerity!
Most Americans find most Brits to be, initially at least, far less up front and forthcoming, a wee bit reserved on first meeting, and not quite so voluble as their own countrymen at any time! ;-)
I don't say "Have a nice day!" I'm not sure why, but I don't. I think it sounds "fake" most of the time.
I don't like "How are you?" either. Does the cashier care?
Okay. I don't like it when people of either gender hug you after meeting you only two or three times. I'd rather have "Have a nice day" instead of "Give me a hug!"
I'm not a bear.
In Texas we hug all the time.
"Many's the time I've heard an American simply yell out: "Two beers!" and then expect the barman/maid to jump to it."
Actually, that's perceived as rude in the States, too. American tourists are in a class of their own in this respect.
A whole lot of it depends upon which area of the US the tourist is from. Residents of the largest cities--particularly in the Northeast--are MUCH crustier than residents from other areas; in fact, this has become a national joke.
One thing I probably should have made clear is that we aren't required, at work, to say "Have a nice day", merely to say "thank you". So of course when I say "have a nice day" my intentions are sincere; when I say,"we really do appreciate your business", my intentions are sincere as well, because the customer is saving me from the agony of boredom--I get tired of drawing circles or squares on paper when there's no business! Sometimes I'm so happy to get a customer that I could proverbially embrace them.
Another thing to note is that those restaurants which require the waiter to say "Hello, my name is James and I will be your server tonight" have an actual script which the waiter must follow; in this case, the sentiments aren't genuine, of course! The server is reading off a cue card.
All this only serves to confuse the Brit even further, unfortunately. But I maintain that much of the time--perhaps most of the time--those American niceties that Europeans find so "false" are in fact both well-meant and genuine.
Oh, I can imagine. I know about Texas. It's my southern state on steroids.
An afterthought---the pub/bar experience in the United States is completely different than in the UK. People who go to a bar in the States go to either get drunk, or to pick up a "chick" (bird); bars are often good places in which to get into a fight.
You'll find a whole lot of Americans who never go to bars for any reason. The convivial pub aspect of British life, where one can often take his children or boss, just does not exist here. So naturally Americans who go to a pub in the UK do not represent Americans in general, by a long shot!
At least here in Wisconsin, it is the norm to be (often extremely) polite in the sorts of contexts mentioned above, regardless of what one actually thinks of the other people involved, but at the same time to maintain a certain sort of social distance between those whom one personally knows and those whom one does not. Hence, interactions between customers and service personnel in business contexts are often rather formalized, unless one oneself knows the other individual involved personally. To not be sufficiently polite in such contexts is generally regarded as rude and improper, while to be overly friendly with individuals whom one does not know personally or at least knows through repeatedly interacting with them over time it often perceived as intrusive. Consequently I do tend to almost find it a bit much when individuals are not merely extremely polite but which are overly friendly in contexts where actual friendliness is not really expected nor particularly desired (for example, at a grocery store as opposed to, say, a coffee shop or bar, where a degree of friendliness is expected of workers).
Such is to the point that one often speaks to other individuals in such contexts in a much higher register than normal. I myself very often even switch completely from my own dialect to speaking a Upper Midwestern variation upon formal GA when speaking in such contexts. Even at work, in contrast, I normally speak in dialect with the coworkers with whom I normally interact on an everyday basis, limiting the use of such to speaking with individuals of much higher status than myself, whom I have not interacted with much at all, whom I do not personally really perceive as coworkers, or whom belong to companies other than my own.
"To not be sufficiently polite in such contexts is generally regarded as rude and improper, while to be overly friendly with individuals whom one does not know personally or at least knows through repeatedly interacting with them over time it often perceived as intrusive."
That's true, Travis; the key is knowing where the line is. I have to admit that sometimes I go over that line of friendliness, but usually I can tell by the reaction of the customers when to "cool it". Three or four warm sentences are much appreciated but not long conversations---unless you're speaking with a Southerner. ;-)
>>That's true, Travis; the key is knowing where the line is. I have to admit that sometimes I go over that line of friendliness, but usually I can tell by the reaction of the customers when to "cool it". Three or four warm sentences are much appreciated but not long conversations---unless you're speaking with a Southerner. ;-)<<
That's one thing - social distance seems to be much more heavily emphasized here than in much of the US, particularly the South and the West Coast, with the norm being to not try to intrude. There is a very strong sense, at least here, of a marked difference socially between people one knows and people one does not know. For instance, much of the time, the norm in public is to not make any kind of smalltalk at all with those one neither knows personally nor has a specific purpose in interacting with, or to even allow individuals to hear one's conversations one (for instance, in restaurants, if you can hear what other people one is not with are saying without having to listen carefully, they are being too loud). When people one does not know who have no real reason to talk to one in such contexts say much to one it just does not feel quite right, as there is the expectation that such individuals will normally leave one alone, and it feels rather intrusive if they are specifically friendly towards one.
"That's one thing - social distance seems to be much more heavily emphasized here than in much of the US, particularly the South and the West Coast, with the norm being to not try to intrude"
<nods head> Very possibly due to the German influence, Travis.
However, we in Reno get quite a few people from Wisconsin for the Bowling Tournaments; citizens are immediately recognizable by their dialect. I haven't noticed to any great degree a difference in "friendliness". But I must admit that the bowling-alley crowd is too narrow a demographic from which to make an accurate judgment...