The Difference Between Politeness and Tact

In the film Baisers volés, Delphine Seyrig explains to her young lover the difference between politeness and tact: "A visiting gentleman accidentally opens a bathroom door and discovers a woman completely nude. He quickly takes a step back, closes the door, and says, 'Pardon, Madame!' That is politeness. The same gentleman, pushing the same door, discovering the same completely naked woman, then says, 'Pardon, Monsieur!' That is tact." It is only in the second case, by pretending not to have seen enough even to make out the sex of the person in the shower, that one displays true tact.

— from Slavoj Zizek's essay in the January 20 issue of the London Review of Books, via April issue of Harper's, pg 13.

6 comments on “The Difference Between Politeness and Tact
  • Funny…I first learned this as a setup to a joke, in which all of this being told to a new hotel employee who is [member of foolish or stupid group]. Soon, the new employee opens the door to one of the rooms and sees a man and woman having sex. The [idiot] says “Oh, excuse me, gentlemen”, and backs out.

  • Thanks Ben,

    Your blog is always a great source for my learning. Thanks for your insightful posts. Keep it up!

  • It is clear that the reaction of the employee is meant to avoid offence not to hurt; keeping a secret is much more considerate than ignoring differences!
    To my mind, this is very funny!

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