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Politeness Judo
Homer: 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!
The Simpsons, "Lisa the Vegetarian"

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.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Film 
  • 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".
    • Even worse is that earlier in the film, it was Macdonald who had warned Bartlett about this trick.
      • Because it actually 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!" So Sarah asks for permission. Sir Didymus is surprised at this and stammers, "Ummm... yes?" Evidently nobody had thought to just ask before.
    • It should be noted that it even took the characters, themselves, a while to think of it. Hoggle gets over the bridge while Sir Didymus is distracted, and Ludo tries to brute-force his way across. Only then does Sarah take the time to consider their situation.
  • 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. And yes, she is just that awesome.

    Literature 
  • In A Wizard of Earthsea, the last task the apprentice wizard Sparrowhawk must achieve before he leaves the school on island of Roke as a fully-fledged wizard is to discover the name of the Master Doorkeeper. Since a wizard will always protect the secret of his name, he thinks long and hard about what form of magic he could use to wrest the information from the vastly more powerful Master Doorkeeper. Eventually he goes before the master and admits he must give up, but only after asking one simple question: "What is your name?"
  • The Dresden Files
    • In the first book, Storm Front, Susan gets Harry to agree to a date by playing her "reporter for trashy tabloid" role and asking him a series of easy questions, slipping the date one in near the end. Harry doesn't get what hit him, but the barman does (and as usual, wisely says nothing).
    • Also happens a fair bit when they're dealing with denizens of the Nevernever.
    • In Changes, Harry and some enemies accidentally fall into the hall of the Erlking who (sarcastically) refers to them as "guests". Harry quickly thanks him for his hospitality, binding them into a contract and obliging the Erlking to help him out. Of course, being the Erlking, he is not so much annoyed by this as he is impressed, equating Harry to a wily fox. And of course, being the ErlKing, he still almost manages to get Harry killed without raising a finger.
  • In the James Bond novel You Only Live Twice, the head of Japan's secret intelligence service, Tiger Tanaka, explains to Bond that Japanese criminals will stop and surrender when ordered to by the authorities, because of the Japanese culture.
  • In the novel Red Square, one of the sequels to Gorky Park, a German police officer tells the joke about how Germans wouldn't do something illegal because "it's against the law".
  • Ephraim Kishon wrote a satirical story about this, set in Britain, going as far that people will rather kill each other than going through a door first.
  • In Children of the Mind Peter Wiggin and Si Wang-Mu travel to a Japanese-culture planet which values politeness and humility. Wang-Mu gets into a contest of trying to be more humble and self-effacing than the old man they're interviewing. He eventually seems to relent and give up and Wang-Mu silently gloats, then realizes he probably ceded out of courtesy.
  • Subverted in one of the stories in Spider Robinson's Callahan's Lady in which a Mad Scientist creates a device that allows her to get people to do anything she wants as long as she says "Please".
  • In I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany follows up a sudden appearance in Letitia's room with a few remarks on her guard's unprofessional attitude, goes on to note that people are much less likely to scream for help if someone is talking to them, then speculates that it may be due to this trope.
  • Sansa Stark lives and breathes this trope in A Song of Ice and Fire... mainly out of necessity and through having no other means of attack or defence left to her in the hostile Deadly Decadent Court settings she finds herself. As a result, she's getting better at it and some of the other skills in the Passive-Aggressive Kombat set. But, throwing painfully correct manners and polite phrases into the ring remains her number one, go-to skill of choice.
    Sansa: Courtesy is a lady's armor.

    Live Action TV 
  • This was one of the things that made Nat & Kat so effective on Season 17 of The Amazing Race. 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.
  • In season 1 of Once Upon a Time, part of Rumplestiltskin/Mr Gold and Regina's deal for unleashing the curse is Regina has to do what Mr Gold asks if he says "please". He often uses this when he wants to dis

    Radio 
  • 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.

    Theatre 
  • 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."

    Video Games 
  • While Academagia has least a few examples this trope in the various Adventures and Events, the most egregious example is actually a game mechanic. With a very high Calligraphy skill your character has access to an Action called Create Formal Invitation. When this action is used on another student it's possible to create a written request so elegant in form and content that compels the recipient to agree, basically allowing you to control them for up to two days! The only way to gain more control over another character is through Mastery spells, and that's a highly prohibited form of magic. Furthermore, unlike most other available ways to force NPCs to do specific things, it won't worsen your relationship or be considered a hostile act.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials & Tribulations:
    Godot: You did it, didn't you?
    Ron DeLite: Yes.
    Phoenix: What?
  • In the Mass Effect 3 DLC, "Citadel" when Shepard needs to get past a locked gate, s/he finds a scared Volus hiding behind a window. Shepard readies his/her gun only to have the current squad mate knock on the glass and politely ask him to unlock the gate for them, which he does.
    Shepard: Well, I could have done that.
  • Touhou: Subterranean Animism has this exchange.
    Marisa: That's it, now just tell me your weak point, please.
    Yuugi: I'm one of the four Devas of the Mountain, Yuugi the Strong. My weak point is fried beans, of course.
    Marisa: Huh, I wish they'd all been this cooperative. Too bad I don't have any fried beans on me.

    Web Comics 
  • 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.
    Moloch: Good!
    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 priest:
    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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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!
    • Fails and backfires in 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!
  • In the finale to The Powerpuff Girls 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:
      "There! That's how you get rid of a monster, YOU BIG, FAT, DOODOO-HEADED NINNIES!"
  • 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.
  • An example of the "please" variety in 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.
    • Subverted in that "Plan D" didn't work either; Goliath initially refused his request.
  • 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 wondering what exactly happened after they started fights that ended by inviting/being invited to dinner.
  • 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).

    Myths and Legends 
  • Japanese 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. Also, they are not stupid as the previous line would seem to indicate.
    • This seems to affect many Japanese monsters. Slit Mouthed Woman, for example, approaches you and asked if she's beautiful. Saying no will enrage her to kill you horribly because her ego is apparently 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 having conned 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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 actually 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 backstory 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 Yessir 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. And 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.
  • In general, most people are more willing to do something for you if you ask them to (Thereby giving them the option to decline) rather than tell them to do it.


Now could you please go see other tropes? Thank you.
Mischief for PunishmentSocial EngineeringReverse Psychology
Police Brutality GambitDirty Social TricksPost Rape Taunt
Playing Nice for NowA Polite IndexPolite Villains, Rude Heroes
Police Code for EverythingComedy TropesPolka Dork

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