How hard is it to teach politeness? Better yet, is it possible to train someone to be polite? The first question was intended to children as the subject. Should it mainly be the parents’ responsibility or could we rely on teachers to inject some politeness booster to the young ones? The second question was more aimed to adults. Is it doable to have an impolite person live with a polite family for a number of years, hoping for this person to change for the good?

I also understand that politeness and the opposite -rudeness- belong to all skin color. Everytime I hear somebody said, “Asians are rude!”, my nose would fringed. Stereotyping a certain race really shows your narrowmindedness. Yes, my fellow Indonesians back home tend to unable to grasp the concept of ‘waiting in line’ or holding the door for elderly or women. While waiting patiently in line for the cashier in a very nice department store in Jakarta, instead of waiting behind you, a woman ignorantly cut the line and stand in front of you. That is rude. But what about Americans who switched lane without signaling and got really close in front of your car? You slammed the brake and honked, then you got a middle finger flipped at you. That is rude, too. And what about the French who let their poodles poop all over the street? Oui oui… that iz rude!

Just recently, an unpleasant encounter at work was like a slap in the face. There were a 17-year-old Asian boy and his father who caused a scene in the clinic’s waiting room. Long story short, the hot argument involved miscommunication between the father and us about the checking-in policy; added by a disrespectful attitude from the US-born teenager.

Boy: “So how long should I wait, again?”
Beth (52 y.o. receptionist): “As soon as one exam room is open, a nurse will take you back.”
Boy: “Well duh…” *smirked, turned his back and walked away* “I know that.”
Me (already boiling from previous argument): “Whoa… wow! Excuse me?”

… and the rest was even uglier. I was really surprised to see the teenager was disrespectful to someone who’s older. His intimidating body language and smart ass remarks were really uncalled for. And the sad thing was, his father let him get away with it. Supportive, even. I guess no parents like to hear [from a stranger] that their kid has an attitude, or a brat, even if it really is a fact. I had to call my department manager out to settle things down. But they were beyond consoling. A nurse finally took the teenager to see the doctor. Fifteen minutes later, they both walked out without saying anything.

Another patient (a ‘regular’) came up to us and said, “Wow! I feel so sorry for you guys. I thought Orientals are nice and pleasant. They were  rude.”

That comment hit me. I remeber a while ago, a 22 year old coworker said that Asian drivers are rude. Yeah… unfortunately we all hear about the stereotype ‘bad Asian women driver’. Other coworker told a story about her Asian apartment neighbor who would cook something ‘smelly’ and shared the unpleasant aroma (to the Americans) around. “That’s very rude.”

Are Asians really rude? Is it possible because Asians lack the social skill expected in this country? My other thought was, probably because Asians are not used to it. Try to live in a city with 11 million population for a while; and hopefully you’d understand why we tend to hurry and forgetting our manners to hold the door for you, or formally say “Good morning. How are you? Same here. May I have the tall latte, please?” when ordering Starbucks along with the other twelve people behind me.

I’ve only been here for 8 years, yet my expectation has now been switched to the ‘American way’. Sometimes I hated it, because I got so frustrated easily when I go back home to Jakarta and unconciously expect everybody to be ‘polite’. But having stayed in the US -even if you’re just here studying- doesn’t always guarrantee you’ll be a polite person. I happen to know the owner of the Indonesian restaurant here in Ames. They’ve been here for about 20 years, yet they are borderline in politeness. They can be really rude by asking how much money we make in a year, or asking us to be a business partner and to inject some cash.

Cultural differences, social status, and language barrier are probably the main reasons of why people were called rude or impolite. Also to keep in mind, one’s expectation of politeness is different to the other. While I think it’s a 50:50 chance to ‘train’ somebody to be polite, it’ll be easier to teach politeness from the very young age. Parents, teachers, or daycare providers, are all responsible.