One thing I’ve learned is the difference between Dutch politeness and Texan politeness.
To A Texan, being polite is not just a matter of saying please and thank you, holding the door open for the person coming behind you, not belching loudly at the dinner table, etc. It also means avoiding embarrassing someone.
Avoiding embarrassing someone. We have a little bit of that in the Netherlands. For instance, if a guest were to accidentally drop a plate, it would be rude to show that you’re upset: “Oh, geez, thanks a lot! That was my great-great-great-grandmother’s favorite plate! It’s one of a kind; I’ll never be able to replace it. This really sucks!” The polite and simply kind thing to say would be: “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s just an old plate–no big deal.”
But as some of you know, the Dutch are known for their directness, so some cases we would handle differently. Following is something that happened about seventeen years ago.
The new wife of a good friend of T’s had recently moved to Texas from Mexico, and, although her English was very good, she did have some slip-ups. We were visiting them, and the plan was to get something to eat at some point, but it was getting late and we were still talking and nothing had been decided yet about dinner.
So eventually the wife asked her husband, “So what do you want to eat? It’s ten o’clock already. Do you want to order pizza, or do you want to eat me? She was trying to be funny, but she didn’t quite mean to be funny in that way.
I was about to burst out laughing, as I expected everyone to do, at which point the wife would have looked perplexed and asked, “What? What’s so funny?” and we would have explained, once we had stopped rolling on the floor laughing our heads off, and after wiping away our tears and catching our breath, that she had just asked her husband if he wished to perform oral sex on her. This would have made her turn beet red and then she would have laughed as well and we would have a second round of rolling on the floor laughing our heads off, this time with the wife wholeheartedly joining in. That’s what I expected to happen.
Fortunately, I held back my laughter long enough to realize that that was not going to happen. Nobody batted an eye, and her husband answered with a perfectly straight face that he’d order pizza. And the conversation resumed.
That’s Texas politeness. It was also one of my personal best moments of self-restraint, because I managed to keep a straight face as well, even though I was about to burst, and my belly was still jiggling with repressed laughter for a long time afterward.
Tell me if I’m right, Dutch and Texan readers. And if you’re from elsewhere, feel free to share examples of politeness that are specific to your corner of the world.