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: I know! I'll throw my own barbecue!
It'll be the best barbecue anyone ever had, and I'll only invite who I want! That'll show you! Ned
: Can I come? Homer
: Sure — D'oh!
Human beings are social creatures and conditioned to respond in certain ways to social niceties. Oftentimes, these pre-programmed responses can slip by our conscious attention, resulting in us agreeing to something we hadn't intended to. Politeness judo is the art of taking advantage of simple courtesy exchanges to get your way.
Note that this will often fail if the target has No Social Skills
and doesn't respond with the appropriate formula
In comedy series and family sitcoms it's not uncommon for a parent, friend, or love interest
to vehemently object to helping the protagonist with something she wants to know or do. The Straight Man
is usually being contrary because they're looking out for their own interests, though they might rationalize it as them "knowing better" or to help them, it's only rarely because what's asked is a truly bad idea.
They'll rail and boast that nothing
will change their mind, and there's no way
that the protagonist will get their permission, help, or the information they want out of them.
The protagonist asks one simple question, cordially phrased and without shouting... and the Straight Man
agrees nonchalantly. Usually they'll do a Double Take
and realize they said yes offhand. They either forgot their original outrageously contrarian position, got thrown off by the polite tone, or were holding out for that "please".
See also: Duck Season, Rabbit Season
, Passive-Aggressive Kombat
. Not to be confused with Verbal Judo
Someone who is Silk Hiding Steel
will likely be skilled in this.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Attempted by the Ninth Minene in Mirai Nikki when she demands the policeman Nishijima remove her handcuffs. She demands the first few times, then tries 'How about you remove them for a sec?' (or something similar), with a politer smile.
- Drawn With The Night: Klein is forced to go before Princess Celestia at the toy fair, something he really doesn't want to do after being forcefully brought into Equestria and viciously interrogated and imprisoned by Twilight and Luna and thinks that angry accusations in public would give them the excuse they need to drag them back to Equestria at best, or silence him permanently at worst. When he appears at the princesses' table, he engages in an elaborate and archaic show of reverence, and politely but firmly tells them to stay out of his life, all while addressing them in an extremely sycophantic tone. The bowing mortifies the princess, and the cold shoulder proves to have more of an impact on them than screaming and yelling would.
- Played more seriously in The Great Escape - Bartlett and Macdonald are questioned while trying to pass off as Frenchmen to get on a bus to Switzerland. They almost make it, until one of the Germans wishes them "Good luck" in English... and Macdonald responds with a reflexive "Thank you". It was Macdonald who had warned Bartlett about this trick. This really happened to an American POW.
- In Labyrinth, Sarah has to cross a bridge guarded by Sir Didymus. Sir Didymus adamantly refuses to let her because "Nobody is permitted to cross without my permission!" Hoggle gets over the bridge while Sir Didymus is distracted, and Ludo tries to brute-force his way across. Sarah had to think of another way and so simply asked for permission. Sir Didymus is surprised at this and stammers, "Ummm... yes?" Evidently nobody had thought to just ask before.
- Mary Poppins: Mary wins a horse race by politely asking the lead racers to let her pass. Bonus points for the shocked look on their faces once they realize what she's done. Yes, she is just that awesome.
Live Action TV
- The Amazing Race: This was one of the things that made Nat & Kat so effective on Season 17. In a game where even the most congenial people will lose it from time to time, Nat & Kat kept their decorum for the entire race, never even showing frustration with each other.
- In Community Annie convinces Jeff to help Pierce reconnect with his ex-step daughter via this trope.
- In one episode of Angel, Gunn needs to infiltrate a rich Japanese man's party, but is about to be picked up by the guards, who know he isn't supposed to be there. Seeing the host nearby, he very graciously greets the man, and presents him with a gift. The host allows them into the party. He then reveals to his accomplice that he was in fact counting on the host's Japanese Politeness to get them invited in in such a manner.
- In Sherlock John is denying that he shot a serial killer when Sherlock calls him out on it.
Sherlock: Are you all right?
John: Yes, of course I'm all right.
Sherlock: Well, you have just killed a man.
John: Yes, well... (Realizes what he's just said) That's true, isn't it? But, he wasn't a very nice man.
- The telephone conversation between Jane and Susan, regarding attendance at Jane's aunt's funeral, in the Coupling episode Sex, Death & Nudity is a masterclass in this technique.
- Done in an episode of Only Fools and Horses in a similar way to the Zen master below. In order to get a cheaper round Del bets Mike the barman he can make him turn his hands over without touching them;
Mike puts his hand out
Del: No the other way
Mike turns them over
Del puts a note in this hand and walks away with the drinks.
- In Full House, DJ plots to get her dad together with a lady-friend of his, and recruits little sister Stephanie to help. Stephanie says she has a plan to get the lady to stay for lunch. The plan? They ask her.
- In Bunheads the girls are trying to sit together in a crowded movie theater. After various maneuverings the last obstacle is an old man who stubbornly refuses to be tricked or pushed into moving. Finally Melanie just asks him if he could move so their friend can sit with them and he does.
Myths and Legends
- Japanese mythology:
- Kappa have a hollow on the top of their head that must stay full of water, or else they're incapacitated. Since they are very polite, one way to defeat one is to bow to them, at which point they will bow back and spill the water. Also, it is said that if you help them by filling the hollow back up, they will serve you loyally. Third, they are not stupid as the previous line would seem to indicate.
- Slit Mouthed Woman approaches you and asks whether she's beautiful. Saying no will enrage her to kill you horribly because her ego is fragile. Saying yes will do the same because the Japanese word for "pretty" (kirei) pretty much sounds like a word meaning "to cut" (kire) and she is also apparently fueled by puns. If you say "I'm sorry, but I have to be somewhere else right now" she will bow and apologize for delaying you.
- In some versions of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, Atlas succumbs to this trope after conning Hercules into holding up the sky in his place. Hercules politely asks Atlas to resume holding it up while he fetches a cushion for his shoulders, hands his burden back to him, then leaves him like that.
- In an episode of The Goon Show, Neddie Seagoon is hiding from the police, and goes to extreme lengths to hide and disguise himself. He then opens the door to a policeman who asks "Neddie Seagoon?" Without missing a beat, Neddie says yes. Judging by the resigned tone of his voice, it is more an admission of his Critical Camouflage Failure.
- Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance ends with Politeness Judo. Following a pitched battle between the Policemen and the Pirate Crew, the Policemen are defeated, until they sing: "We charge you yield, we charge you yield, / In Queen Victoria's name!" The Pirates' response? "We yield at once, with humbled mien, / Because, with all our faults, we love our Queen."
- This Girl Genius comic has Moloch Von Zinzer objecting to becoming one of Agatha's minions (something most sparks can force non-sparks to do by force of personality) with the following exchange.
Moloch: I'm nobody's 'Happy Little Helper', got it?!
Agatha: Got it.
Agatha: So — I should get started. Can you help me carry these tools?
Moloch: Oh, yeah. Sure.
- Subverted twice in the Space Tree episode The Sanctity.
Space Tree: Hey Commander, you should totally marry that guy.
Commander: Okay! ... Wait a second. No!
Space Tree: Well, I'm out of ideas.
Mee: Don't worry Space Tree, I've got a backup plan that never fails.
Mee: Hey Commander, you should totally marry that guy.
Commander: Okay! ... Wait a second. No!
Mee: It's like he's always one step ahead!
- Hark! A Vagrant has the President Of the United States use this on a mob of angry Canadians. "Don't worry, I know their weakness."
President: Why hello! It's so nice to see you all!
Canadian 1: It's... so nice to be here.
Canadian 2: ...Thank you.
- This exchange from Nukees, as Gav, who prides himself on being entirely amoral, turns to leave a church after a conversation with the Good Shepherd:
Priest: Peace be with you.
Gav: (automatically) And also with you. (Step, step, pause, facepalm).
Priest: (grinning) This isn't your first time in a Catholic church, is it?
Gav: Damn you people and your repetitive conditioning!
- In Gunnerkrigg Court as part of an assignment Kat and Antimony discover a labyrinth in the library in which resides a Minotaur. Instead of screaming and running, which most people would do, Annie politely greets the creature. It works out well for them.
- Narbonic: Mell, who's been sent to kill Dr. Narbon, thinks it over and decides that Dr. Narbon is far smarter than her and would see through any tricks she tried to gain entrance to the lair. Her method for getting in? Showing up at the front door with a box of wine and announcing exactly why she's there.
- When Zim, eponymous lead of Invader Zim, has Dib and Gaz captured on his space station:
Zim: You can't escape by teleporter little Gaz, I've cut the power. Your pitiful attempt to escape is nothing but a PITIFUL FAILURE! Stupid, stinking humans!
Gaz: Doesn't this spaceship have any escape pods?
Zim: Of course; they're right over there. Stupid, stinking humans...wait!
- The Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom.
Dib: Hey! The only way out is through my head! Anything happens to me and you're stuck here forever!
Zim: Bah, CURSE YOOUUUU- Wait. I can still do stuff to your legs, right?
Dib: I guess, but- wait! No!
Zim: Bah, CURSE YOOUUUUUUUU!
- "Backseat Drivers From Beyond the Stars":
Zim: Watch, Dib! Watch as I bring a royal audience to the downfall of the human race!
Dib: ...I don't wanna watch that!
- The Powerpuff Girls
- In the finale every major villain up to that point had been fighting with the girls and amongst each other to get their hands on a key which would grant them legal dominion over the world. When the girls finally manage to get it back to the Mayor, he goes off on a speech about how they learned a valuable lesson about responsibility. Mojo Jojo takes this time to walk up behind him and ask to see it. Mayor casually hands it over.
- In a different episode, Bubbles gets a very powerful giant monster to leave town by asking it nicely after Blossom and Buttercup's alternating strategies (tactics vs. full frontal assault) don't work. Bubbles then turns on her bickering sisters:
- On the The Simpsons, Homer gets jealous of Flanders' family barbecue, resulting in the page quote.
- In Samurai Pizza Cats: The main characters are trying to get a scientist's assistance, with the catch that he won't tell them what they need to do to get his help. It turns out all they had to do... was give up.
- Xiaolin Showdown: Omi was trying to steal a pebble from Grand Master Dashi to prove his worth. In the end, after Dashi trounced every other one of Omi's attempts, he hands the pebble over without hesitation when Omi asks "May I please have the pebble?"
- Note that Dashi's phrasing was important. He specifically said that Omi would have proved his worth when he could get the pebble from Dashi's hand-not take the pebble from his hand. It was Omi's own preconceptions about what he should be doing in this situation that had him expending so much effort to finally reach a simple solution (which has bitten him in the butt before - in one episode Omi is the quickest to complete a circular obstacle course and "rescue" the toy puppy at the end by passing through all the obstacles, but Clay is judged by their teacher to be the winner because he reasoned that the puppy was behind him, and there was no reason to exert himself if he could turn around and snatch the dog from the jaws of death in about three seconds).
- The other reason Dashi chose to do it that way? "It was funny".
- In the Looney Tunes short "Deduce, You Say", Daffy Duck (as "brilliant detective" Doorlock Homes) is unable to subdue the Shropshire Slasher with brute force. Porky Pig (as his assistant, Dr. Watkins) simply asks the Slasher to please give himself up, and the Slasher agrees instantly. When his mother (who apparently had the foresight to name him "Shropshire Slasher") comes in and scolds him, he escorts her home, saying, "I promised the nice man I'd turn myself in, mother." "You were always such a good boy, Slasher."
- Happens rather literally in one episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy, where Eddy and Kevin pretend to be nice to each other, shaking hands... and flipping each other onto his back in sequence ("After you!" *SLAM!* "No, I insist!" *SLAM!*).
- In Gargoyles, Xanatos' first two plans fall through, so he brings up a third about tricking the gargoyles into doing the work for him. Goliath appears and reveals he heard it all, asking "I don't suppose you have a Plan D?". Without missing a beat, Xanatos implements Plan D: asking nicely for Goliath to do the task, pointing out how it's in his best interests as well. This one didn't work either. Goliath initially refused his request. Once Goliath had had a little while to calm down and consider the request, he changed his mind and agreed.
- One episode of South Park contains an entire family that uses this trope, being so supernaturally friendly that possessing ill will towards them is fairly impossible. Two characters wonder what exactly happened after they started fights that ended by inviting/being invited to dinner. Answer: they're Mormons.
- In the first Season Finale of Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbah One has been turned into an adult by the Delightful Children From Down the Lane. After a fight for the age-changer between the rest of the Kids Next Door and the Delightful Children, Adult-One bursts in on the scene, and asks for it. When asked why, Mr. Uno responds he's an adult, and goody-goodies like the Delightful Children always obey adults.
Delightful Children: ...No fair!
- In The Legend of Korra, Tarrlok interrupts Tenzin's family at dinner in order to speak to Korra. When Tenzin points out that they're in the middle of a meal, Tarrlok counters with the rules of Airbender hospitality saying to never turn away a guest asking for a meal. Tenzin is not pleased, but those are the rules of Airbender etiquette, so he reluctantly allows Tarrlok to stay (much to the chagrin of his wife).
- This is Truth in Television to an extent. First off, just about everyone knows that good manners can go a long way, but more intriguingly, studies have shown that club bouncers (constantly portrayed as adamant brutes) respond surprisingly well to a little "please" and "thank you." Sure beats making a fake ID card.
- There is a story about a man who declares that he is too smart to bow to the will of a Zen master who is giving a lecture. The master invites the man to stand beside him so they can debate the issue. The man stands beside the master. The master then asks the man to stand on his other side so everybody can hear him. The man does so. Then the master suggests they both stand on the other side of the room so the students can have a better view. The man stands on the other side of the room. The Zen master then points out that the man had done everything he asked and continued his lecture. At this the man was enlightened.
- This has also been cited as a demo by a pagan or witch about the power of Magical Speech. Whether or not it is co-opted from the Zen story is unknown, as the Zen story predates Neo-Paganism by centuries and does not imply any form of power other than using cleverness to illuminate a point of Zen philosophy.
- As any viewer of Speeders quickly learns, being polite and honest offers the best odds of not getting a ticket. Police officers appreciate being treated like human beings.
- Psychological studies have shown that people are far more likely to allow you to cut in front of them in line if you simply ask them. This nearly doubles if you give them a reason, even if it's an inane reason. One of the examples given was waiting in line for a copier: "May I cut in front of you? I need to make some copies" will get you what you want over half the time. However, this only works if you are reasonable. Asking to make 30 copies will be little more effective with politeness than without compared to asking to make 5 copies.
- There's a story about a World War II British (or American) spy who infiltrated the Nazis by going deep undercover, learning to speak perfect, unaccented German (and claiming not to know English). His fake back story worked, and the Germans were sending him off by plane when one of the officers tested him by calling out "Good luck!" in English-to which he instinctively responded, "Thanks!"
- During a conference in America, journalists shot footage of Israel and Palestinean Leaders Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat getting in a politeness brawl about which one of them would let the other go through the door first. While polite, in middle-eastern culture it is the superior person who has his guests enter before him. Once they started to give each other slight nudges to the elbow and pats on the shoulder, only their friendly smiles cover up that they were apparently just inches from getting into a fistfight.
- One of the more notorious FBI scandals in the United States involved COINTELPRO-a covert (and sometimes illegal) program monitoring and disrupting dissident political organizations and their members, notably including Martin Luther King, Jr. The key to the exposure of this group was the publishing of a body of documents stolen on March 8, 1971 from an FBI office in Media, PA (a Philadelphia suburb). The burglars were never caught, but in 2014, a subset of them willingly came forward to talk about what they'd done...and it seems they were decidedly unconventional in their approach.
As burglars, they used some unusual techniques, ones Davidon
enjoyed recalling years later, such as what some of them did in 1970 at a draft board office in Delaware. During their casing, they had noticed that the interior door that opened to the draft board office was always locked. There was no padlock to replace, as they had done at a draft board raid in Philadelphia a few months earlier, and no one in the group was able to pick the lock. The break-in technique they settled on at that office must be unique in the annals of burglary. Several hours before the burglary was to take place, one of them wrote a note and tacked it to the door they wanted to enter: "Please don't lock this door tonight." Sure enough, when the burglars arrived that night, someone had obediently left the door unlocked. The burglars entered the office with ease, stole the Selective Service records, and left. They were so pleased with themselves that one of them proposed leaving a thank-you note on the door.
More cautious minds prevailed. Miss Manners be damned, they did not leave a note.
- This is also big in corporate espionage. All you need to do is pretend to be the new guy who's lost his key, or stand in front of a key-card door with a stack of seemingly heavy boxes and someone will eventually come and open the door for you. Even with companies getting savvy about this method and training employees against it, it still happens because human niceness wins out.
- In general, most people are more willing to do something for you if you ask them to (thereby giving them an option to decline) rather than tell them to do it.
Now could you please go see other tropes? Thank you.