Second v Third Party Norms
August 26, 2015 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Does the relative treatment of second and third parties vary by culture?

It's a global rule, I think, that people are more polite face-to-face than they are when talking about someone who is absent. But does the degree of difference vary by culture?

My impression is that Southern European attitudes make a larger distinction, while Northern European attitudes tend to be more uniform. This comes across, for example, as Southerners being warmer and more friendly in one-on-one interactions. But it's possible that I'm wrong, or that this is more local (for example, maybe it's a Yorkshire thing to take perverse pride in being as rude to someone's face as you would be behind their back).

This is vaguely similar to the increased emphasis on families in the South. Also, my take is that the Americas tend to be more "Southern" too (easily explained by South America's history, but less understandable in the North).

Is this true, or some weird prejudice of mine? If true, what is the origin?

Finally, maybe it would be useful if people make a note of the different cultures they've experienced in their answers? I'd tend to give more weight to people who have lived on different continents, for example.
posted by andrewcooke to Society & Culture (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I originally come from the north of England and have lived in Scotland, the Netherlands and, for the last fifteen years, in the US (Texas, specifically).
My impression of the southern US is that there's a distance between what people say to your face and what they say behind your back unless you piss them off badly when they have access to a whole bunch of ways of telling you what they really think without actually saying anything rude ("Oh, bless your heart!" is a good one).
I'm familiar with the Pacific Northwest as well and up there people tend to be more straightforwardly rude when they feel like it's needed, although (as is typical in the US as a whole, New York being an extreme outlier as usual) there is a default to being polite no matter what.
Northern Europe also defaults to this as well, although the Dutch can be shockingly brusque at times and the UK (England especially) has such a background level of simmering violence it's very dangerous to be openly rude to someone if you aren't sure what their reaction will be.

Does this help?

[edit for rubbish grammar]
posted by thatwhichfalls at 1:05 PM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's a global rule, I think, that people are more polite face-to-face than they are when talking about someone who is absent.

I don't consider this a global rule, especially not in the male-centric cultures or male-dominated social groups I have been privy to.

It depends on your relationship with the other person, but in these social groups, if you do have an established relationship with someone, it is usually considered inappropriate (cowardly, unmanly, disloyal, hurtful) to talk disrespectfully about them when they are not there, or even to allow anyone else to talk disrespectfully about them.

But yes--it very very much varies based on culture and on context.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:11 PM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: [i also have a reply by email explaining that iranian persian has a third person verb form that is used when discussing someone who is physically present. and i am not sure this summary is correct.]
posted by andrewcooke at 1:35 PM on August 26, 2015

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