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The courtesy is a virtue , which resulted a considerate behavior is that the respect is to bring to the opposite expression. Its opposite is rudeness or barbarism .

Socially it is part of morals , sociologically to social norms . The word developed from the term “ courtly ”, which described the way of life at the early modern court .


In contrast to the friendliness with which one treats familiar people, courtesy is strongly influenced by social norms and manners and is often expressed through respectful distance . Depending on the culture and epoch, there are very different expressions of what is considered polite. Generally valid rules of courtesy that apply to all cultures cannot therefore be found. A summarizing general definition in a formulation based on Arthur Schopenhauer reads : " Politeness is a linguistic or non-linguistic behavior that belongs to the normal way people deal with one another and has the purpose of indirectly bringing out the advantages of another person or to spare him, if he may not want to be excellent. “The associated forms of behavior are described - technically, that is, not morally judging - either as negative or positive courtesy:“ 'negative courtesy' which is concerned with protecting and relieving the other ”, as opposed to“ positive politeness 'that shows sympathy, attention and curiosity for the other. ”Such a courtesy that is not cool and distant is also called“ courtesy of the heart ”(cf. tact ). The French moralist Joseph Joubert said: "For a person his goodness is the most beautiful jewelry, he is not a sufficient person, who is not sufficiently well educated."

Historically, courtesy developed in the process of civilization ( Norbert Elias ) in the late medieval transition to modern times , first at court , where the rawness and violence of the feudal nobility was tamed into courtly courtesy of the court nobility .

Courtesy is a strategy in the context of the concept of facework coined by Erving Goffman .


A few examples of the politeness norms common to most Western societies:

  • Do not embarrass or embarrass others ; this also includes reluctance to address potentially sensitive topics. (Drastic proverb: In the house of the hanged man you don't talk about the rope. ) So you hold back with critical expressions of opinion towards people who are present or even absent (for example, it is also impolite to quickly steer a conversation towards gossip ).
  • Thanking others for something , but, conversely, tactfully avoiding thanks .
  • Greet others and say goodbye to others (see greeting ). Failure to reply to a greeting is perceived as gross rudeness.
  • Knock on doors and wait for entry to be granted; or cautiously draw attention to your own presence (classic: cough).
  • In everyday situations, older people are preferred to more vigorous people (pre-emancipatory women also to men), people who are seen as weaker are given preferential treatment (offering a seat, serving refreshments, greeting several people).
  • Express yourself linguistically in a distanced and respectful way, without having to choose rough words. (In the 2nd person, some languages ​​differentiate between the polite form ( "Sie" ) and the general form ( "Du" ) or a confidential use of language such as the Duzen .)

Moral-philosophical definitions and recommendations

The moral philosopher Friedrich Paulsen gave the following clear and concise definitions and recommendations:

Politeness as observance of the respective traffic ceremonies :
Be polite, i. H. get used to observing the traffic ceremonies that society, i. H. here the totality of those who are connected by social intercourse, as every organization produces. The traffic ceremony generally stipulates how individuals should behave in social intercourse, when and how they should behave

  • to speak and be silent
  • to take and give
  • To make and receive visits,
  • to eat and drink,
  • to dress and bow
  • Write letters and
  • I have to make salutations.

It is the task of the intercourse ceremony to prevent the disturbances that would be caused in social intercourse by clumsiness and selfishness without discipline.

True to decency , d. H. don't hurt anyone. Decency dictates avoiding what could be repulsive, repulsive, disgusting to the other.

Courtesy in the narrower sense ( humanitas ):
Strive for courtesy in the narrower sense (humanitas). The polite person approaches the stranger with signs of respect and benevolence and thus declares that he is ready to enter into peaceful and friendly intercourse with him.

Recklessness and its subspecies:
Avoid recklessness, the opposite of politeness. It shows up in either

  • Rawness or unpolishedness, due to lack of upbringing or natural disposition;
  • Rudeness , d. H. willful neglect of the duty of courtesy.

Courtesy in different cultures


Politeness and good manners (Hebrew Derech Eretz , דרך ארץ) play a central role in Jewish culture. The Jewish religion commands the believer to honor God by being considerate of and sensitive to the feelings of others. One of the social subtleties to which the individual is required is that he greets people he knows, that he invites them to his home ( Hachnasat orchim ), and that he speaks respectfully about others - including those who are absent. Politeness and good manners are essential elements of a stable and healthy community.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: courtesy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Harald Weinrich : Do you lie in German when you are polite? Mannheim – Vienna – Zurich: Bibliographisches Institut / Dudenverlag 1986, p. 24 (emphasis in the original). Cf. Arthur Schopenhauer : Parerga and Paralipomena : Small philosophical writings . Vol. 1. In: Ders., Works in five volumes . Edited by Ludger Lütkehaus. Zurich: Haffmans 1991. Vol. 4, p. 453 and Manfred Beetz: Courtesy . In: Gert Ueding (Hrsg.): Historical dictionary of rhetoric , vol. 3. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1994, column 1476 f.
  2. Weinrich : Do you lie in German when you are polite? , P. 9
  3. Erving Goffman: On face-work: An analysis of ritual elements in social interaction. In: Psychiatry 18 (1955), pp. 213-231.
  4. Silvia Bonacchi ( University of Warsaw ) investigates forms of politeness and rudeness in different language cultures in her study (Un) politeness . A cultural analysis German-Italian-Polish (preprint, PDF)
  5. ^ Teaching Your Children about Derech Eretz ; Derech Eretz Precedes Torah ( Memento of the original from December 15, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. ; Interpersonal Relating & Mitzvos: Derech Eretz (Civil, Polite and Thoughtful Behavior) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /