Random observations from an American in London: Why are the British so darned polite?

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Now that I’ve been in London for three full days, I’ve noticed a few more things. Here’s one.

Although my experience is anecdotal over the course of a weekend, I’ve still been wondering: Why are the British so darned polite and friendly? Is it the long Bank Holiday weekend? (And why do they call it a “Bank Holiday” instead of giving it a name of some sort, to make it seem as though there is a purpose to the holiday other than a day off?)

Everywhere we go, we seem to be approached by various Brits, who want to engage us in conversation. It started with the Tube into central London on the day we arrived, with a lovely old British lady who started a conversation with my wife and continued into Sunday and even yesterday. Indeed, Sunday morning we were at Boswell’s having a late breakfast (we were still jet-lagged a bit and haven’t quite adapted to the five hour time difference), when a quintessentially British couple sat down in the table next to us. The man looked to be in his seventies or so and looked a lot like William Hartnell, except his long scraggly gray hair was in a pony tail, and he was wearing a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, and a down vest (not to mention an ascot) even though it was 78° F outside, and his wife was somewhat younger and dressed a bit less warmly. They were the most delightful old couple, and about as British as one could possibly imagine. Overhearing our American accents apparently, they started engaging us in conversation and telling us about the area, their dog, the flooding in southwest England earlier this summer, how expensive London is, and asking us about the States.

Maybe it’s an indication that I’ve lived on the East Coast too long that I found this very odd. It was refreshing, though, and quite pleasant. Obviously my sample size was very small here, and this is nothing other than anecdotal evidence (and you know how reliable anecdotal evidence is), but it brings up the question: Are the British really this polite and friendly and, if so, why?