Mr/Miss, thank you, excuse me. Where is the politeness?

What happened to formal politeness in the 21st century? Why is everyone on a first name basis or expects/demands to be? Who forced upon us this myth of instant “friendship” and “zero distance” with people we don’t know or who serve us coffee or call from the blue to sell new mobile services? Even more with those at the workplace, for whom “instant pall-hood” has become a religion (don’t they have a LIFE outside the company walls/halls?)
I’m wondering whether it is (my) age talking or maybe a feeling of self-worth and pride from one’s achievements, but I started noticing that the (various) barriers between myself and the rest of the world are a very important part of life. I work hard to improve myself, advance, gain promotions, be recognised. And…to distance myself from (most) others.

First, there are the negative reasons for maintaining personal distance:
– Just because you know my details from your computer screen does not make us BFFs or pals or mates or druzya;
– Just because you are lonely and have no life, does not allow you to be on a first-name basis with anyone you meet (does anyone remember this term “first name basis”?);
– Just because you were badly educated and were not taught the difference between “friend” and “acquaintance” does not give you the right to hug me and use my first name;
– Just because you snuck your way into a job and now have an inferiority complex does not give you the right to demand use of first names in the workplace — employees might actually want to stay as far away from you as possible (Polacy – pamietacie termin “nie tykaj mnie”?);
But there are also positive ones for maintaining personal distance:
1. A boss is someone to be respected for his/her achievements and for formal position within the structure (it is difficult to utter “Vice President…Johnny);
2. Some people have so many formalised achievements (titles, etc), that it is grammatically impossible to refer to them in any informal manner and they deserve to be “titled”;
3. Some relationships require a distinction between you and the people above you, around you and below you, so that stupid (subjective) perceptions do not confuse the (objective) relationships;

And then there is culture, history and good upbringing. Mr, Sir, Madame, Mizz (Ms) indicate the true nature of a relationship (either subservient as was in the olden times or of distanced semi-equals today), and calls for using the individual’s surname WITHOUT crossing the familiarity border of “you” (ty) and/or first name. Those, are for family, people you know for many years and had frequent contact with and for…friends. And here lies a key issue for the Facebook, Twat (sorry Twitter), VK and mobile-texting generation: FRIENDS are few and far between – if have 5-6 friends by the time you are 40, you are a lucky person. Friends are people on whom you can count to help regardless of circumstances, who like (love?) you regardless of your inner demons and enemies and who can tolerate your behaviours and can pay your bail. Not the ACQUAINTANCES who are only interested in your money, adding you to their “like” lists or wanting to “borrow” your homework or people accidentally in a photo whom you then “tag”.

I recall an interesting explanation during a recent trip to Ukraine, which (regardless of its absolute correctness) summarises this issue of relationship “naming”: Andriej Viktorowich Zalevski (first name, name of father “otchestvo”, surname). As a stranger/lesser I am expected to refer to this imaginary person as “Gospodin Zalevski” (Mr. Z), after a few years I may be allowed to be more forward and talk with “Andriej Viktorowich” and a few more years down the road HE can propose to progress to a first name basis. To those around us, the mode of reference is a clear signal of our relationship and its length/depth.
As time goes by, I am more for the forceful return of such a system, as:
– I like to respect those who deserve respect (equal achievers, superior achievers, big bosses);
– I like to maintain distance between myself and strangers;
– I realy like to miantain distance between myself and other employees, who do not interest me whatsoever;
– Where people have formal titles or posts, they should be referred to (with the exception of post-soviets and their “upgrading” of intermediate titles, where vice-minister is “minister”—a post is a post!!);
– I see no reason to give (absolute)strangers and inferiors any ego boost, as they do not deserve it (otherwise they would be in one of the above categories).
Besides, in all cultures we find that it is easier to standoffishly insult a stranger while not losing any class. “You Sire, are a swine!” sounds much better and funnier (Anthony Bourdain offers some good examples!).

And finally, do you want to be forcefully “friendly” with people whom you consider to be complete and utter idiots? Especially at work 🙂
And, yes, I seem to favour high power-distance relationships.


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