Little things, emails. Simple. Not formalised like letters, nor as brilliantly odd as a postcard*.
A survey of email behaviour across Europe shows, though, that simple objects can cause complex behaviours.
The survey unearths some fairly predictable behaviour: irritation at sloppy presentation, unnecessary communication, gossip, the failure to translate humour into written forms.
My eye was caught not by these but by the difference between UK respondents, where only 13% felt they had to reply to emails, and Italians, where the figure was 60%.
Did this mean that the Italians answered questions more than four times as frequently as the British? Somehow I think not. I suspect there’s a lovely demonstration here of cultural difference.
The British are far more likely to avoid responding by feigning ignorance (I didn’t see your email) or busyness (I haven’t even opened it yet), both because a form response merely acknowledging receipt is culturally quite alien, and because responding is allowing your eyes to meet. Once the eyes have met, it is impossibly rude to not respond properly.
I think Italian etiquette is less troubled by this anxiety. It is culturally far more acceptable to say ‘no’ or ‘you will have to wait until it is convenient for me to respond’. Such a response is just the start of the dance, the courtship if you like, of the overall communication.
Little things, emails. But they are after all just steps in the dance.
* Postcards are odd, don’t try to deny it. Sending a postcard with no message is perfectly valid behaviour. A blank letter would simply be sinister. Also, postcards are, under British law at least, a form of publication. The postman is assumed to read the postcard and pass on any gossip; hence a ‘poison-pen postcard’ is actionable for libel. In addition, unlike letters, postcards assume no reply. As Jane said this week, a blog is “a cross between a postcard and a message in a bottle“.