The Times of course puts a negative spin on it, but I think London landing roughly middle in a survey of civility in cities isn’t too bad. In a big, very diverse city, with lots of different cultures, people may not always have the language skills, or the confidence, to fulfil the little civilities – shop assistants saying “thank you”, people holding doors open – that Readers Digest was looking for.
New York came top, which did make me wonder how much the commercial “have a nice day” culture had influenced the results.
What is unsurprising is that Asian cities are clustered at the bottom. As someone who arrived in London with a sigh of relief after the incivilities of Bangkok (sharpen your elbows before trying to board a peak-hour bus). What is generally true of Asia is that you owe a stranger absolutely nothing, not the slightest courtesy. Which doesn’t make for very nice cities.
And of course part of this is cultural – saying “thank you” is not usually, after all, very meaningful. I remember all of the odd looks I got travelling in China by saying it (in, roughly, Chinese) to waitresses who brought the food and similar. That is just a weird thing to do. (I read somewhere that in ideological times it was considered un-PC, unCommunist, in some way demeaning of a worker’s labour.)