The definition of rude is nonexistent.

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As defined by TheFreeDictionary, rude means “ Ill-mannered, discourteous, or insulting.” 

You probably agree with the above statement because it came from a dictionary. However, I hope by the end of this post, you will have changed your mind.

I will provide some anecdotes during my travels, and you be the judge.

  1. In Milan, Italy, I visited the Duomo di Milano. Because my flight back to Edinburgh was in the afternoon, I was frantically trying to get as much sightseeing done as possible. After looking around the cathedral, I decided I wanted to go up to the roof, but I couldn’t find stairs or directions anywhere. I was looking around for staff, but the only one I saw was in the audio guide booth. I approached her and started asking, “where can I find the stairs to the roof?” She didn’t look me in the eye, and pointed to the sign that says closed. Because it was a simple question, I asked again, “do you know where the stairs are to the roof?” She snickered at me and rolled her eyes, and said, “I am not working!” My first impression was: WOW, how rude! Then I started to think, maybe in their culture, work-life distinction is very clear. This is as opposed to the American and East Asian cultures I am familiar with, where there is usually no distinction between work and life, but there is a balance. This anecdote may also just be a single case, so you be the judge.
  2. When I visited Budapest, Hungary, I was very intimidated at first. The majority of the population showed no facial expression. I didn’t want to form my opinions of them simply off of observing the population, so I tried out their customer service in supermarkets, food stalls, and clothing stores. For breakfast, I went to a local supermarket to pick up bread and fruit, then went to the check out line. I was the only one in the shop at that time, but no one helped me check out until several minutes later. Then, the lady that helped me check out looked angry with no eye contact. My immediate thought was: WOW, am I disrupting your day? How rude! Similar scenarios occurred numerous times. Then I started to think. In general, Europeans are more reserved. If they don’t know you, there is no reason to be friendly with you even for customer service. I think this is especially true in central and eastern Europe, where they once were dominated by communism. In addition, smiling is silly and foolish in many cultures. Therefore, there is really no need to take it personal, because this could well be how they usually interact with people (but you be the judge).

Changed your mind yet?

The definition of rude is nonexistent because every culture has different norms. In any service, Americans often form first impressions with the “friendliness” of customer service. However, Europeans (and every foreign culture) have different ideals, so we cannot bring in our own norms and preconceived notions to judge others. The definition of rude could be true within cultures, because you are familiar with how people socialize.

As an advice, do not make the same mistakes I did with thinking people are “rude,” when really they are also just carrying on with their lives as usual. So, no, they may not be angry at you. Do not overthink your encounters and take it personally, because “rudeness” only gets across to you that way when you analyze with your own norms. I hope at this point, you have changed your mind about the “definition” of rude, or at least understand my thought process. If you carry this knowledge when exploring the world, you will be much happier and anxiety-free. You will be more open-minded and receptive of other cultures.

The definition of rude could work within cultures, but never across cultures.