You’re in a work meeting and have been speaking to someone for the last 15 minutes. You know what department they’re from, how long they’ve worked for the company, and what they’re doing this weekend. But you can’t remember their name. They definitely told you but do you ask again? It turns out if the answer is a hard no, then you’re not alone. A third of British people would rather never know someone's name than ask them to repeat it.
Crystal Ski Holidays questioned 2,000 people about their attitudes towards others and what they deemed polite. They found that a third of respondents would rather never know someone's name if it meant having to ask twice, and a fifth wouldn’t ask the same question twice because they’re “too polite.” While not hearing properly the first time is one thing, 23 percent went as far to say they wouldn’t ask a favour of someone because they think it’s rude. Brits have been portrayed for decades as being too polite and repressed for our own good, but it seems the stereotype could have some truth.
Managing director of Crystal Ski Holidays Chris Logan said in a statement, “as a nation, it’s almost second nature to be polite, and asking someone to repeat themselves can come across as rude, even when we really need a reminder. But our study found this lack of confidence can have a real negative impact on our personal growth and development.”
It seems it’s not just asking people to repeat themselves that respondents felt uncomfortable with. Some argued that this one factor in a number that are typically British. Sarcasm, not sitting next to someone on public transport if it can be avoided, and saying sorry also featured on the list.
Social anthropologist Kate Fox put the English propensity to apologise to the test in her book Watching the English. She set up a number of experiments where she would deliberately bump into people across the country. She asked her colleagues to do the same around the world. She found that 80 percent of English people said sorry even though it wasn’t their fault. She wrote, “only the Japanese seemed to have anything even approaching the English sorry-reflex.”
People also seemed to have pretty clear ideas about when people are too old to try new things for fear of failing. The majority of people said 47 is the age when enhancing your knowledge is no longer possible and six in ten said they’d only try something new if they had a friend by their side. Logan said, “there are ways and means to learn something new, even if you are too polite to ask for instructions to be repeated and can’t digest everything you are told first time round."
Whether it’s watching the people you were around when you were growing up or picking up on social cues in your friendship group, workplace, and home it’s hard to unlearn being “too polite” even if it might be holding you back. While saying sorry when you don’t need to might not be too serious, not hearing an instruction at work and doing the opposite could be detrimental. It might be time to put the British politeness to one side and pluck up the courage to just ask.