catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

How courteous are Australians?

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In an attempt to compare courtesy internationally, Reader’s Digest (no, not on my usual list of periodicals) sent its staff out into 35 cities around the world to test people on three things:

* holding doors open for the person behind you;
* buying small items, and seeing if the sales assistant says thank you; and
* dropping a folder full of paper and seeing if anyone would help pick it up.

Their results are a little surprising. Though Americans in general tend to be very polite, the first time I went to New York I was given the impression it was going to be the most dangerous and unfriendly place I had ever been to, but here it is as the top of the courtesy list, with New Yorkers passing 80% of the courtesy tests. Communism is widely thought to have seriously undermined social norms and social capital, but 5 cities with communist pasts are ranked in the top 11 (though this includes 17 countries because of tied scores). Asian people are sometimes thought excessively polite by Westerners, but the best an Asian city could do was 25th (Hong Kong and Bangkok). And friendly Australia – or at least Sydney – could manage courtesy on only 47% of the tests to come in 23rd. They were particularly bad on the dropped papers test. I’d hope that things are more civilised here in Melbourne.

OK, Reader’s Digest admits that these tests don’t meet the usual standards of social science – only 60 tests in each city, and there are other tests I’d like to see included in a bigger survey, particularly to do with behaviour on the road and in public transport. Are blog commenters as bad in other countries as they are here? Also, perhaps more effort should be made to control for local social customs – apparently holding doors open is not big in Asia, and European countries would not do so well if things like smoking with non-smokers around were taken into account. But it’s high quality anecdotal evidence, at least.

Written by Admin

June 27, 2006 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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