Is there a more polite way to say ‘Can you please provide your …

  • Depends.

    If you come from a society or culture with extremely elaborate rituals and customs around common etiquette, you might find Canadians ruder than your home society. My interactions with Japanese and South Korean folk have left me in awe at how rigidly polite they are and how much self restraint and self control they practice to maintain that level of politeness.

    The Urdu speaking society that I come from is fairly polite in its own right as well, with social customs and even the language being heavily ingrained in etiquette and politeness that translates almost universally.

    Similarly, you could come from a culture with different definitions of politeness that may not translate in Canada. People smiling and saying hello to you while you mind your own business could be a cultural faux pas in your own country but be acceptable in Canada or a gesture of friendliness in Canada. The converse is also true. Not saying hello to people who are busy working so as to not disturb them or not sitting beside single women on the bus are considered polite gestures in Pakistan. Here they may not fly.

    The singular feature of Canadian politeness that sets it apart and places it in a very small pool of similar countries in terms of politeness is not that Canadians are polite. It’s that Canadians are polite to everyone.

    The Pakistani Urdu speaking society I hail from is very polite when people are interacting with each other of a similar socio-economic rank. The avowed friendliness of a lot of cultures and societies are often reserved for very specific circumstances: A white tourist may get adoration and level of hospitality that would never be afforded to a black tourist.

    The level of politeness you can expect can be closely tied to how big your wallet is or how white passing you are. If you dress well and look like a neurosurgeon you can expect some common human decency and courtesy as you walk about the streets of a certain foreign country.

    I worked as a Janitor here you know. Everyday after work, I would have to mop and clean the floor of the place I worked in. It was tiring work and I had a sweaty forehead and all by the time I was halfway done.

    I tell you, I had more respect as a tired, sweating janitor from the customers in the store here in Canada than I had as an officer back in my own country.

    I’ve seen how the Christian sweepers were treated in my own country. Barely getting holidays for their own sacred days and treated with barely disguised contempt and thin tolerance at best. The same people who would have flowery and gentle phrases for their bosses or societal equals would have little to nothing to say for those they deemed not worth their time.

    And the funniest thing is, that this respect and politeness that was afforded to me as I mopped the floors came from all segments of Canadian society.

    I work in a very colorful area of Downtown Toronto where we get everyone from tough, tattooed bikers, to white hipsters, to gay couples, to country folk to slightly deranged homeless people. And its slightly amusing to see how I’ve been given respect and polite accommodation from everyone of them. Whether it’s some biker dude with a ton of tattoos offering me a fist bump and a nod as I finish a long day at work or a white lady profusely apologizing for having to step on my freshly mopped floor.

    The dignity of labor is a phrase I never truly understood until I came to Canada and experienced this.

    You know whats worse than just being rude to everyone? The hypocrisy of politeness.

    How we make our politeness conditional on who we are interacting with. How we attach strings to common courtesy, weigh each other before we decide how to interact with them.

    Canadians aren’t specifically more polite in any particular way compared to other cultures or society. In fact, they could damn well pass for rude in some of the more strictly etiquette based society.

    But what politeness they possess, comes without conditions. You can be the Prime Minister of a country or a Janitor finishing his shift in a store.

    You can expect a polite smile, a greeting and accommodation of you as a human being from nearly every one of them.

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