Sunday, 25 March 2012

Cultural Differences or Just Plain Bad Manners?

This past week another person almost bumped into my baby's carriage with their shopping cart at the grocery. This time however it was not intentional like the disagreeable (I am trying to use a nice term here) old man who purposely bumped into my baby's carriage a few months back. She was cluelessly just dragging the cart behind her and not looking where she was going. I said a loud blasphemy and then she noticed us but said nothing while I complained that she was not watching where she was going and almost hit us. After almost ten years of living in Finland I know that people don't say sorry when they bump into you but it still ticks me off! That's one thing I still cannot get used to. And I still don't understand why they do it. What is it about the Finnish culture that caused this habit of not saying sorry? How hard is it to say?

There is also the habit of not saying excuse me and just steam rolling ones way through a group or crowd of people. I don't understand that either. How hard is it to say excuse me? Saying excuse me is such a strange thing here that when someone is blocking your path and you politely say, excuse me, it takes them a while to realize that you are talking to them.

Then there is the door slamming in your face that also ticks me off. If someone is right behind you coming through a doorway how hard is it to hold the door open for a second? Not saying hello to people you have met before is another pet peeve of mine. Luckily, not saying hello is not common in all circles. But when I worked in the University of Helsinki's Viiki campus this was very common. In one example, a few months ago, some plumbers my husband sent to the house came to check a pipe and then left when they were done without saying anything! I would not have known they were gone if I had not heard the door shut. What takes the cake are the maintenance men at my last work place. They would come to the lab, look around, not say hello, not ask for the person who requested them, and then just leave. A week or two later when you realize they never came and you called them they would say that they came and you weren't there. Then someone in the lab might say "I think I saw a guy in overalls poking his head into the lab a couple weeks back but he didn't ask for you". I sometimes wonder, are these behaviours really their culture, or is it just plain bad manners?

Unfortunately I found myself picking up the bad habit of not saying hello. Mostly because I felt stupid saying hello to people who never said anything back and just left me hanging. But recently I have been reading a new American best selling book called "Bringing up Bebe or French Children Don't Throw Food". In it the author mentions how important it is in France that children learn to greet everyone they meet and that their parents are constantly telling them to say Bonjour. I thought that's the same thing I was taught in Trinidad. In Trinidad it is considered very bad manners not to greet everyone you know with a good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night or at least a hello. And I thought I really shouldn't forget these teachings and start to lose my manners too. Regardless of whether no one else around me exercises good manners at least I should.