24 May 2008
Politeness, respect, wording
I’ve always had a divergent view on a matter that makes many uncomfortable or confused.
In Romanian we have a group of pronouns that show politeness - dumneavoastră (you), dumnealor (they), dumneaei (she), dumnealui (he), etc. There are also the informal options - tu (you), ei (they), ea (she), el (he), etc.
Generally, even nowadays it is still a courtesy to use the polite version when you speak to a stranger. Yet there are so many sides to the story.
First of all, I find it weird that youngsters.. 20 and bellow.. call me by the polite pronouns when in public. I’m not talking about my friends, but about people that you near you when using public transport, for example. If I stay between them and the door, while they will need to get off at the next buss station, they will say “Coborâți?” (eng. Sir, will you get off?) or “Îmi faceți loc?” (eng. Sir, would you make some space for me?)
I often want to ask them how old do they think I am, or how young are they? Since it cannot be more than 6 years maximum! I’m 24, and the youngest was around 18 when this situation took me by surprise.
It’s not an offense or anything.. but it really makes you wonder about the superficial and robotic way of handling situations. They think that respect implies or simply means using the polite pronouns. It doesn’t matter if before they asked, they were squeezing and hitting you, or smelling bad in tropic-like Bucharest’s busses.. or if they were swearing out loud just minutes before. I can only think of one word: punks.
Same goes for the middle-aged ones, but those you meet most often in services, as clerks. They follow the same robotic rule. It doesn’t matter if they look you in the eyes when they talk to you.. it doesn’t matter if they wiggle their chair while talking to you, as if they are some 1st graders that cannot control themselves.. it doesn’t matter if they look angry.. it doesn’t matter the tone they use.. it doesn’t matter if they don’t say Hello! first.. it doesn’t matter if they don’t tell you Have a nice day! when you leave the office.
What matters for them is that they use the polite pronouns!
As a teenager and a curious spirit, I often engaged in conversations with teachers or people that were older than me. It was perfect: I felt I respected them, I used the polite pronoun without any obfuscation, they replied with the informal version while still showing they are grateful to be of help or that they make a difference.
At some point, when I managed to build some personal relationships with some of them, I decided to ask them: “Is it ok if I call you by your first name, and if I talk to you informally ?”. It made things less complicated as a social and verbal situation. And I think we both gained a certain reciprocal trust.
What I’m trying to say here, successfully or not, is that politeness has almost nothing to do with wording, nor respect and trust.
Politeness is a compound of diplomacy and kindness.
Respect and trust is a compound of inner peace, scale of values and sane principles.
While wording is just wording. Wording and vocabulary can help you express yourself better, but it doesn’t make you any different than if you were using other words. Like Latin says.. “vorba volant”! Words do fly away! Facts (“scripta manent”) are the ones that put a stamp on you and on other people’s minds.
Polite pronouns do not constitute facts. A smile, diplomacy, peace, common-sense, kindness, understanding and respect do!
Romanian is a beautiful language, but lets stop the massacre!
Stop the wording like “Dați-mi buletinul, vă rog!” (eng. Sir, give me your ID card, please!) and turn it into a gentle and kind “Vrei să-mi dai, te rog, buletinul tău?” (eng. Would you, please, give me your ID card?) or even into a simple “Îmi trebuie și buletinul, vă rog!” (eng. I will need you ID card also, if you will!)
Stop the imperative!
Nobody can be a slave, and at the same time a respected person! Because this is what we do now: Romanians give orders (imperative) while being robots without a neuron in there (polite pronouns)!
Where did the brotherhood and equality go from the French liberté-égalité-fraternité? If we are equals, then kindly ask me to do what is needed and don’t order me while faking your respect and politeness towards me!
And if we are brothers, then stop calling a youngster nearly your age by using polite pronouns! We’re putting to the trash bin a potential feeling of unity that may take us beyond our oriental and Balkan wounded and misunderstood roots!