It’s time to dismantle British politeness

It’s the month you finally decide to start saving. Whether it’s for a mortgage, travelling, or a financial safety net, you want to be a little more responsible with money. Then, someone invites you out for a three-course meal at Soho’s priciest restaurant. Your friend books a boozy bottomless brunch. Five birthdays come up in one month. Your colleagues want to go out for drinks at a bar where the cocktails cost £20. You split the bill equally when your order was only £20 and everyone else’s cost £40. Just like that, you’re halfway through the month, refreshing your Monzo balance and waiting for your next pay cheque.

Although life isn’t about saving all the time , and as the wise philosopher Drake once said – “you only live once,” the issue lies in the fact that money is disappearing in moments where you are not enjoying yourself – all because you don’t want to appear rude, and you want to be polite.

We even have meme pages dedicated in honour of our suffering, such as Very British Problems. Painful examples include, “Is that the time?!” – Translation: I really want to go, please realise soon!” “What’s this we’re watching?” – Translation: I’m not enjoying what we’re watching, let’s make it stop,” and “Could do” – Translation: Nope.”

British politeness has forced us to decorate the things we don’t want to do with polite words when we probably could’ve exited unwelcome situations if we were more comfortable with being honest. 

There are so many cons to British politeness that we’re not accustomed to. Whether it’s microaggressions disguised under it, or the inability to say no, there are so many problems that arise with it, and it’s not charming like Hugh Grant would have you believe. As much as I adore Hugh and his portrayal of British politeness, the reality of this phenomenon is quite different. 

The truth is, that a lot of Brits use it to hide under entitlement or expect you to follow certain social protocols at the expense of your comfort. British politeness and actual politeness are two different things. British politeness is how boundaries are omitted. Maybe we assume the French are rude and direct, when in fact, they’re just good at exercising boundaries?

Setting boundaries in Britain is still somewhat taboo because there’s a particular decorum we’re expected to follow. However, it’s slowly becoming the norm, since authors such as Florence Given are re-defining social etiquette and vocalising the art of not giving a f*ck. 

In her book, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, Given says “to practice self-love and protect your energy, you need to start implementing boundaries with the people you surround yourself with. Remember: those who do not respect them do not deserve to know you.”

Growing up, we inevitably consume the notion that being liked, being popular and coming across nice are qualities we should value. But what if, instead, we started to question these expectations? Why am I going to Sushisamba with a group of people I don’t care for? Why am drinking an overpriced and tasteless oat milk latte from a chain coffee shop when I wanted to sit in a local cafe? 

All because I want people to say “You’re so polite! How nice are you? You’re so easy to get on with!” But what if I stopped giving a f*ck? What difference is it going to make if people think I’m nice? Since I’ve started to question this, so much has changed for me. 

I longer participate in activities, meet-ups or even friendships that don’t serve me. I’m unlearning being polite at the cost of my pleasure, and I am having a great time doing it. I’m cancelling unwanted plans to go for a jog, saying no to drinks with people I do not have much in common with, and I’m moving away from people who aren’t inspiring me. 

While this may hurt some people’s egos, it is no longer my concern. Those who truly value me and respect my space will know me well enough to comprehend what I like, and what I don’t like, and those are the only people I am happy to spend time with. I never implemented these boundaries while being under the influence of British politeness, and I’m so glad this is changing. 

Of course, we should never be cruel or unkind; or tell people to p*ss off. There are ways to dismantle British politeness without being harsh. Being honest is the best way, and by that, I mean telling the person in question that you are setting your boundaries and putting yourself first. It is then up to that person whether they want to take offence or not, but again, it’s not your issue if they do. 

We need to ditch this selfless normality and start to be completely and unapologetically selfish. Perhaps we need to change the connotations attached to being self-indulgent and turn them into positives. A polite farewell to British politeness is long overdue.

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