Politeness amongst close friends

August 27th, 2007


I’ve noticed that in China, friends treat each other differently than they do in the west. Each culture respects their friends but they have different ways of showing it. In the west, it seems to me that it is more important to say words like “please and thank you” even to our closest friends. I’ve noticed that in China, these words are said less between close friends.  In China it’s common for one person to pay for an entire dinner, and no one will directly say “thank you”. I’ve been told that if you are really close friends, you shouldn’t need to say these kind of formal words so often. I can understand that, but as a westerner, it still feels strange to me. I always say thank you in that situation and even smaller situations. Even if someone did a very small favor for me such as hand me a dish at the dinner table, I would still say “thanks”. We always say “thanks” in that situation. It feels strange to us to just take it without saying anything. If someone bought me something for less than $1 I would still thank them for it. I would say this to even my best friend. The word “thank you” is too formal, but a simple “thanks” is very much appreciated.

The word “please” is a little too formal between close friends for small favors, although if we ask for something we still try to do it in what we consider to be a polite way. We still ask for permission to do even small things. For example, let’s suppose I went to my best friend’s house and he had beer in the fridge. I know 100% sure that he will allow me to have one, but I would still ask him, “do you mind if I have a beer?” It would feel a little strange if I just went in the fridge and took a beer. I’ve been told by some close Chinese friends that they don’t ask for these things. They share everything and don’t talk about it. It seems natural in that culture to just take things without asking and give things without expecting to hear “thanks”.  In our culture we say please and thank you. It’s just a different culture i guess, but I think it’s important to understand both.

Please share your thoughts and experiences.


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23 Responses to “Politeness amongst close friends”

  1. Meng Says:

    August 29th, 2007 at 6:33 am

    Yea, you can say that again, i have the same feeling you have, whenever my american colleague and i eat out if we see the cafeteria’s food is not good, at very first, he thanked me every time we finished the meal (it’s on me, you can see), and i did the same thing when he treated me.

    I m just thinking if the chinese becomes a little bit lazy to say these words before their close friends, probably. But before the strangers, we / i say a alot of thanks or please.

  2. Alice Says:

    September 3rd, 2007 at 1:50 am

    haha, yes it’s true. We seldom say thanks or please between close friends, it will make me feel uncomfortable when my close friends say thanks or please to me. But I always say thanks or please when a non-close friend does a favor for me.

  3. Desry Says:

    September 13th, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Chinese used to do more than say XieXie.

  4. 232xiao Says:

    December 4th, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Hi Andy,

    I love this post!!!
    I have the same feeling as you, very strong!

    Just to remind you my situation, I’ve been in Germany 3 years, and I am not used to german food and trinks and so on, but please and thanks are now something a part of my life, even at home! We treat it as polite to other people and as sweat words to close friends and family. To distinguish these two situations, we probably could describe them formal and highly affective. The same is smile, right?!

    When I came back China, one thing I would probably abandon, at least partially, is keeping doors open while someone is following me through an entrance. A simple “thanks” in this sense is much more understandale than keeping door open, I assume!

    How do you think, Andy? Do you have terrible experience in keeping doors open in China? Such as be treated as a alien?! :-)

  5. 232xiao Says:

    December 4th, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Tipps for you Andy:

    If you want to use something in your very very close chinese friends home, just tell them to express your politeness, “I am going to have a beer now, #$%, OK?!” instead of “Do you mind I have a beer?”.

    It is my personal suggestion though, you can try it out.

  6. kitchenfella Says:

    March 13th, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    there are so many culteral subtelties out there – its so diifeicult to generalise for all surely. Guess its how far unexposed to the city life – which is a universal trait and difference?

  7. JD Kasinsky Says:

    June 8th, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Hi everyone. I disagree with this comment. I think this is a common behavior for english speakers. I live in Argentina, I´m a westerner and I don´t have to say “thanks” to my close friends. If I do that, the friendships is not so close. I have to say “thanks” only when the people don´t know me very well. If I´m talking with my close friends, say “thanks” sounds bad, because they are my friends, they know me very well and I know them too. Say “thanks” demonstrate appreciation, and if we are close friends is because we appreciate each other.

  8. Carsten Says:

    August 18th, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Hi, in general I’m also used to say thanks like Andrew. Though according to my experiences literally saying “thanks” is not always necessary. You can also show your appreciation by I nice comment or your manner in a certain situation.

    Moreover “thank you” and “please” often degenerate to an empty phrase especially in formal situations. I think these words are meant to maintain a calm atmosphere but also create a social distance. A sentence can be very rude although it contains “please”. That’s why the tone of voice might be very inappropriate.


  9. Sharon Says:

    November 12th, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Hey, i m from HongKong. i would consider it to be too formal to hear expressions like “thanks” or “please” from my best friend. if she says that to me, i would feel distanced from her ,or sometimes it may imply that she doesn’t want to talk to me. So i guess somehow chinese do feel offended when a close friend takes things too formally.

  10. Wash X. Says:

    August 30th, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Nice write up…usually I never reply to these thing but this time I will,Thanks for the great info.

  11. Inga Says:

    April 30th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Hi everyone who will read these comments.
    I’m from Ukraine and in our country it’s normal to say “thanks and please” to your close friends. When I come like a guest it’s not normal to go in the fridge and take a beer without asking. and I think it’s normal. what do you think about?

  12. Evgeny Says:

    June 19th, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Hi, Inga! It’s very strangely to hear what from Ukraine girl. I’m from Russia and I think we are very close as a nation, but I can’t came to my friend’s house and take something in his fridge without permission. And I hate then body take my food or something in my apartments. He should say “please”, and I, of course, answer “yes”. It’s necessary for me, but I think different people has different opinions about that. some of my friends can came to my house without calling. And they think it is normal, i can’t do much about it, because I want to be a nice guy. As long as they don’t touch my food, I will be a nice guy :)
    Haha, it’s remained me a “Friends” episode, than Joey broke up with girl because she eat some french fries from his dish :)

  13. Santy Says:

    July 29th, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    I agree with Sharon. I’m from Indonesia and my husband is an american. I never say thanks to my parents, because we are family. They will feel offended. Because by saying thanks is consider for stranger or person you don’t know wee. When my mom heard me or my husband say thanks a lot to each other….she asking why? Its unusual for her.
    I do say thanks alot to my husband parents, but deep down I feel weird.

  14. colorcollar Says:

    August 9th, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Totally. My dad helped me to do some paperwork this morning, and I thanked him by a text message.He immediately joked about it and told me that I didn’t need to do that cuz we’re family.

    I’ve been to the States for 10 months, I really appreciate the tradition of “abusing” thanks.I felt pretty good by earning the positive response for people that I helped.It’s so natural to say a lot “thanks” everyday for me.

    Perhaps, it’s time to abandon some old stereotype against people “being thankful to small favors”.

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  17. Amgaa Says:

    April 22nd, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Hi guys, I’m from Mongolia and I agree with the Argentinian guy, if I say thnx to my close friends for a small favor, obviously they could criticize me, because Mongolian people thinks words like “thank you, love you” are very worthy when you use with a close friend or a family member. I think if u use it a lot with your close friends and then no one care what do you say for, who do you say with. maybe it’s sounds like not that polite. But I should thank you Andrew for the nice blog and you guys did the great thing for English leathers.

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