London mid-way for civility

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.)

3 Comments

  • June 20, 2006 - 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Wow, beaten by Berlin! Now, I love Berlin, but perfect strangers in that city will go out of their way to inform you of your physical and/or fashion flaws as you pass each other on the street.

  • June 20, 2006 - 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m not surprised by the results… It’s just not very common to say “thank you” in Asia.

    I think the poll is really meaningless, since it ignores the cultural differences.

  • June 20, 2006 - 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I think some aspects of it could reasonably considered universal – holding the door open is civility that does, or should, transcend cultural boundaries, but I agree “thank you” is an inappropriate test.

    I’d add something like a person on crutches trying to get on a bus, and an elderly person carrying a heavy bag – things that I think of as real signs of civilisation if people help strangers in obvious need.

    And even if you did that actually, I suspect the results would be rather similar, based on my own experiences. Almost no one helps you in Asia if you’re struggling, unless they expect to make money out of you.

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