The Politeness Trap

Many of us are conditioned to be polite from an early age. This could just take the form of minding our P’s and Q’s, or taking advice from an etiquette book.

This post has been prompted by another wander down memory lane. A parcel arrived for my birthday (which is tomorrow) over the Easter weekend, from my Aunt, which made me remember a previous birthday.

Anyways, a while ago, my Aunt had sent me a parcel for my birthday. It never actually arrived. This led to a fun chain of events and assumptions.

So, etiquette dictates that I send a ‘thanks for the present’ via some medium. However, it also dictates that while gifts are given, they are not to be expected.

I received no present, but felt it would be rude to chase it up. I certainly didn’t feel entitled to a present, so I wrote it off in my mind. I figured she had been busy with life, and forgot.

On the flip side, my Aunt received no message from me to thank her for the present, or event to let her know it had arrived. She wrote it off in her mind, thinking that I probably got busy and forgot.

Both of us were so hung up on being polite. I never thought to get in touch and say ‘Hey, where’s my present?’, whilst Aunt never thought to prod me with a ‘Hey, you never thanked me for your present!’.

It was months later when my father mentioned to me that Aunt had told him I never thanked her for the gift. Prompting me to say ‘I thought she hadn’t sent one!’. So we eventually had a conversation about it, which was summed up by ‘You know I wouldn’t not get you a present for your birthday!’ and ‘You know I wouldn’t forget to let you know I had received and was thankful for the present!’. Long story short, Aunt sent me another present, and this one arrived. Which was awesome.

The story has a happy ending. Though if we’d both been less polite, there would probably be less of a story here. I guess I just found it interesting that one of the social constructs in place to prevent hurt feelings – simple politeness – could have in this case caused hurt feelings on both sides.

I guess the message here is that whilst I do place a high value on politeness, sometimes we should let it slide a bit with people who are close to us to avoid any unfortunate misunderstandings. In essence – politeness can trap you into the wrong assumption.

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