Negative vs positive politeness

Basically there are two sorts of cultures. In crowded countries such as Japan and Britain we tend to have ‘negative politeness’. This means that people are aware of others’ need for privacy, and their desire not to be intruded upon. In countries where there is more space, like the USA, people are more inclined to practise ‘positive politeness’, where the emphasis is on inclusion and openness. The anthropologist Kate Fox says that what looks like stand-offishness in a negative-politeness culture is really a sort of consideration for people’s privacy.

So you see, for every overarching rule about how to have relationships, there will always be another that contradicts it. You may act in a caring way towards somebody, but if you have not absorbed the rules of that person’s family of origin or culture you can still get it wrong.

Philippa Perry, How To Stay Sane


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