Sunday, November 11, 2012

Being Polite or Solicitous?

Am I being polite or solicitous? That is the quandary. Many Europeans don't understand the difference between simple courtesy and being solicitous. For example, I recently asked a woman on the street,

"Wären Sie so nett sein, könnten Sie mir sagen, ob dieses Restaurant in der nähe ist?" (Would you be so kind/nice as to tell me whether this restaurant is nearby?)

The woman gave me a blank stare, and replied, "Heute bin ich nicht nett," (Today, I am not nice) and walked away. 

Berliners have a reputation for being rude, but I thought this was extreme, even by Berlin standards. I told a German friend about the incident, and he said not to worry. This was common. He suggested that I not be solicitous. I should try the direct approach. It never occurred to me that a simple polite question could be interpreted as being solicitous. I guess it's cultural thing.


Unknown said...

Sad story. Whatever the cultural misunderstanding, she spoke the literal truth. She is not nice. Was your German friend embarrassed to hear the story?

Fernando De Leon said...

My friend was not surprised. Unfortunately, this kind of incident is not atypical.