Are people polite/respectful/tolerant anywhere?

I’m regularly bothered by silly little episodes of rudeness, like kids yelling crap at me out of cars, or the other day when someone stole our Obama lawn sign. And I was just wondering if there were places where folks were considered more polite, respectful, and tolerant of others - either in the US or throughout the world.

I remember travelling out east, and thinking how civilized it was to actually have cars give pedestrians the right of way. Absolutely unthinkable in the Chicago area.

As I walk down the sidewalks in my Chicago suburb, if I pass another pedestrian, more often than not they will avert their eyes. I don’t need to stop and have a conversation - but it seems to me that eye contact and perhaps a slight head nod is not to much to offer another human.

Riding bikes the other day we passed 2 teens walking - they made eye contact with us and said “Hi.” A little thing that probably should not warrant mention - but it was so different from the sneering look I so often see on my area’s teens, that it really made an impression.

The other day I was walking along, and heard some words and giggling out of a passing car. I afforded them the benefit of the doubt and assumed they were just having a good old time - but when they turned the corner and I saw the kids in the back seat were pointing their fingers at us like guns, and laughing - and their parents were oblivious in the front seats, I had to give them the credit they were due.

All of these things are small by themselves, but in the aggregate, they say something unpleasant about my community, and how people view others.

So - are people assholes everywhere? Or are there any areas where peoples’ default setting is to politely coexist?

Is this something that ALWAYS existed? Because I do not recall it when I was younger in the 60s-70s. Or is it just that the rude minority is becoming more vocal in recent years/decades?

First, there is something called “confirmation bias” that says, basically, that if you start looking for something you’ll find it everywhere. That doesn’t mean that *everyone *is rude. I agree that some places seem ruder than others.

A very pleasant place I have been to many times is a small town in Vermont. It’s loaded with tourists in fall foliage season. Traffic never seems to be in a big hurry and cars always stop for a pedestrian that looks like he might even be thinking about stepping off a curb. Friends and strangers alike greet one another on the street and in shops. There are also raucous teenagers, just like everywhere.

I also work in DC where traffic is like the chase scene in Mad Max: Road Warrior and making eye contact with a pedestrian is a sign of weakness.

On urban sidewalks, eye contact is definitely a sign of aggression and should be avoided.

(BTW I’ve even heard stories of college students bringing overnight guests without their roommate’s consent ;))

I used to have a theory that the stress of high-population-density living contributes to the behavior perceived as rudeness but I read a study showing that aggressive driving varies widely among cities of similar population densities. Lots of people say that New Yorkers are rude, but if you ask a New Yorker I’m sure they’ll say that some of the nicest, warmest people they’ve met are from New York, and they are treated with suspician as an outsider if they venture into a small Midwestern town.

So maybe politeness/respect are in the eyes of the beholder.

I’m originally from a suburb of Chicago, and have lived in Minneapolis (“Minnesota Nice”), and now live in a small town about ½ hour from the Twin Cities.

Confirmation bias does play something of a role, certainly. Until relatively recently, I would mostly look at my shoes than at other people, and I can’t remember anyone being especially pleasant, and the unpleasant ones (Middle School sucked) stand out in memory. But I visited my hometown Chicago suburb a couple of years ago, and was pleasantly surprised that quite a number of people would give the nod or even smile at me as we walked past one another.

In Minneapolis, most neighborhoods I’ve been in would be fairly tame and polite, if not overly friendly. You can expect a slight smile from passersby if you offer one, and the rude bastards are few and far between, at least outside of rush hour, in most areas. And even the “bad neighborhoods” really aren’t, IMO.

My current place of residence is freaky, though. Mayberry. Everyone smiles and waves at everyone within sight range, and rings out a pleasant “Hi! Beautiful day!” if you’re in earshot. Traffic stops even in the middle of the block for pedestrians to cross, even downtown. More than once while we were just out for a walk, my wife and I have been spontaneously invited into people’s homes (people we met once or twice before) and treated to drinks and snacks. Other small towns nearby have nice folks, but it’s not like this.

I’ve been here more than five years and I’m still not used to it.

Many places in the American South, especially the small towns are very friendly and polite (yes to to the black people too). Being rude in any way just isn’t done in polite company or public settings.

When I lived in New Hampshire, people were friendly but a little more reserved. However, if you might have a brief thought thought that you might want to cross the street in the near future, traffic will come to a screeching halt. If your car breaks down, just wait five minutes and two guys in a pickup truck will come by within 5 minutes to help you. It sounds like a joke but it isn’t. I had it happen multiple times when I got stuck in the snow. Once I got a flat tire and had no where to go (pre-cell phones). My spare didn’t work and a guy picked me up, took me to his house, took a tire off his own vehicle, put it on mine and gave it to me with no expectations in return.

Massachusetts isn’t known for being being especially friendly but my affluent suburban/semi-rural area generally is. It is rare for anyone to be rude to even my Southern ears here. Boston is a different story. I think the dichotomy comes both regionally and rural/urban settings. Most of the South is very polite. Most rural areas nationwide are also polite. I always found Chicago very harsh like Boston and New York so that may influence your perceptions.

This reminds me of something that really stuck out for me in a book I read some time ago. It was a collection of ghost stories and unusual happenings collected from a long running American collection with many of the stories going back to the 1930’s.

My point is that in several of the (supposedly true) stories the scenario ran something like this. Lone woman is at home with her children (husband away on business usually) when late at night she gets a knock on the door from a stranger who says that he’s a friend of her husband and she lets him in without a second thought!

This is stated as perfectly normal behaviour and it made me realise how different things were back then.

This is one of my favorite lessons in The Threefold Law* for young pagans: go out and walk with your head up and smile at everyone you meet. See how much nicer/politer/more helpful people become that day. Next day, go out, but don’t meet anyone’s eyes, don’t smile. See how grumpy everyone suddenly is!

The other day at the DMV, I had the workers there laughing and being genuinely helpful, as well as asking me advice on beading jewelry. Why? Because I approached the counter with a genuine smile, open and actually willing to give a thoughtful answer when one woman asked me a question about my necklace. What did I get in return? The best driver’s license photo I’ve ever had, because my glow and smile was genuine when I sat in front of the camera two minutes later. I left there, still buzzing a little, and got free breadsticks with my pizza at Papa John’s because I came in the door smiling. Then with my quick trip through Whole Foods for a gluten free frozen pizza for the little one, I got a free canvas tote (priced at $3.99 or something) as well as a recommendation for a gluten free restaurant in town that I’d never heard of, because I made the bagger laugh when I dropped my debit card and did a funny little dance picking it up and then made a self-deprecating joke about it.

All of this was in Niles and Evanston, right around where you live, IIRC.

You get what you put out. I’d suggest that if people in general are grumpier than they were twenty years ago, it’s because you’re grumpier than you were twenty years ago.

That’s not to say that teenagers aren’t assholes to grown-ups - often, they are. But they were twenty years ago, too. You just weren’t on the receiving end of their assholishness. Things that seemed fun to you as a kid - laughing with your friends, waving at cars on the highway and giving them the finger, walking in a large group - seem threatening when you’re not part of that group.

*whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times. I don’t quibble over the number, because I’m not sure how to quantify stuff like that, but the theory seems to hold true, at least on this level.

This fits into my belief that everyone has a story and most want to tell it. So I always look for ways to find that connection. My husband just laughs now, he knows I’ll find it and I’ll be on friendly first name basis with the checker/server/clerk/whomever because I want to hear that story.

It’s a little harder to get the story here in Boston but that’s OK. I’m a patient woman.

I recently attended a conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I found the people there amazingly friendly.

If you want eye contact, waves, and polite smiles, you can try the Midwest (and I don’t mean Chicago). I don’t think it really means people are any more polite here than anyplace else - where I grew up, in New Jersey, making eye contact with random strangers for no reason felt like “staring” and felt rude and aggressive. People in the Midwest can be assholes and intolerant jerks, just like anyplace else, but if you want the surface feeling of more hospitality, head our way.

Be careful what you wish for!

I’ve lived in these friendly places and they get deadly boring very quickly.

Boring can be good.:slight_smile: I live in a neighborhood where everyone smiles and waves, and helps each other out when needed. (Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t talk about you behind your back about you needing help, but hey, they help!;))

I live in Left Coast Portland and I must say it’s overall quite a courteous city, especially considering its size. People nod and smile, say hello, tend to know and help out their neighbors, are generally courteous drivers and the kids are pretty respectful overall. Low incidence of violence, few murders, most crime is property related or garden variety family/friend relationship gone wrong stuff. I seldom lock my doors when I’m home and my house is ludicrously easy to break into even if the doors are locked but I don’t fret about it. I came from Sacramento, CA, which is demographically similar but is orders of magnitude more violent and crime ridden. It probably explains a lot that most drug offenses in Portland are for pot and heroin, but Sacramento is Meth City.

Small town Oregon is even more laid back, verging on Mayberry-esque.


If you want obnoxiously ‘polite’, come out to Santa Fe. If you express the slightest desire for things to happen on-time and at a reasonable speed, you’re branded as impatient and rude. If you don’t grin at everyone you pass, you’re dour. If you aren’t interested in chatting with the guy next to you on the bus you’re a jerk.

Sometimes I amuse myself by imagining what would happen to the typical Santa Fean if they were suddenly dropped off in New York or Philly. The two most common things I cam imagine: the Santa Fean would break down crying, or they would get punched in the face.

Seriously, sidewalks are for walking. If you have time to make eye-contact with a stranger, you’re walking too damn slow.

And there is absolutely no excuse for any social interaction, at all, with a stranger on public transportation. That’s what mp3 players and books and the ads and windows are for, so you don’t need to acknowledge anyone else’s presence. The person on the bus does not want to talk to you, riding the same route at the same time does not mean you have any common ground. Stop it. It’s freakish behavior that creates an obnoxious and unstable power balance between two people who have no reason to have that balance. It brands you as an aggressive asshole who’s taking advantage of a captive audience. There is no reason to do this; save your droll comments about the weather for your sneering boss or someone who deserves it, and leave me the hell out of it.

In my experience NYC is probably the nicest city in the world. They don’t make eye contact with you on the street necessarily or smile at you while you wait at a red light but there is nothing the residents of this city won’t do for one another.

My very first day visiting the city (about a year before I moved here) I saw an elderly woman waiting for a bus and as she walked forward to board the bus she dropped her cane. Before I could walk the 6 steps to pick it up for her 4 other people had already moved to help her! I had never seen anything like that before and I am from Texas, the land of polite smiling and nodding at strangers. It is always like that here. If I am on the phone talking to my boyfriend while walking down the street and I mention being confused as to what direction I need to go or which direction I am heading I can’t stop people from pointing me towards my destination. When I hurt my foot and had trouble walking people would jump out of their seats on the subway so that I could sit down. I was on the subway with a woman who had a very bad injury and was bleeding pretty badly and two different people helped her off the subway and to the hospital when we got to the stop for Columbia Medical. They don’t put on a warm and friendly exterior here but for the most part the people who live in NYC understand the importance of community and helping others in a way people in Dallas never did.

In Texas people are very friendly and polite. They smile and nod, open doors for you, that kind of thing, but it is only on the surface. The time that I fell while walking down the street and hit my head and passed out for Og knows how long not one of the cars driving by stopped or called for help. I had lit cigarettes thrown at me by assholes driving by when I was out walking. Twice I was involved in accidents where people hit my car and drove off without exchanging information. It seemed to me that the polite facade was simply that. I know many wonderful people in Texas who would go out of their way to help others but in general it was a live and let live kind of place. IME if you want smiling and nodding move to the south. If you want people who care about what happens to you because you are a part of their community move to NYC.

I’ve lived many places in this world and being as objective as possible will say that yes, there are places where people are polite and respectful. The American South and Brit influenced countries seem to stand out for me.
People are invariably flawed behind the curtains, but social decorum even as veneer promotes smooth interaction.

I live in Mayberry West. Which one do you live in?

East of you, just up the hill from the Muddy Waters. :cool:

That’s every small town here, and the hospitality is genuine in 95% of cases.

Shagnasty’s description of his experiences in neighboring NH fit with my experiences in Vermont perfectly. I would not think any of that odd.

You can tell whether a car is going to let you in when entering a bad intersection here. If the license plate is green, they’ll let you in, otherwise they might, they might not. Hell, often people get into “no, you first, I insist” hand signal debates at intersections, even when one person clearly has right of way. I would think it odd if someone didn’t make eye contact and say hi in the bicycle/pedestrian interaction in the OP, but I’d probably chalk it up to the other person having a bad day or being distracted.

I’ve often come home to find a pie sitting on my wife’s car, and I know that the lady down the road has been picking berries on my property. If you stop by my place, friend, neighbor, or otherwise, you’re likely to leave with a jar of homemade jelly, applesauce, or pickles. If I go help my neighbor with his latest project, I’m likely to come home with salsa and veggies. It’s what neighbors do.

I think I’m seen as a little stand-offish here because I’m the only one around that locks my doors (I’ve got weapons, and kids will be kids), I’m not very social, and I don’t ask for help much (too damn independant for my own good). Even so, everyone knows I’ll come help them out if they need it, and I know they’d do the same. The cost of having a neighbor come over to help out is a good meal and/or a six pack.

I’ve lived in cities and large towns where you can spend years living next door to someone without ever meeting them, and people will just walk by others in distress. It’s not for me.

Obviously, YMWV based on your experiences.