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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".
Someone who is Silk Hiding Steel will likely be skilled in this.
- 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.
- 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.
- Even worse is that earlier in the film, it was Macdonald who had warned Bartlett about this trick.
- Mary Poppins won 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.
- 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, Ged 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?"
- In the first The Dresden Files book, 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.
- 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.
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 alright?
John: Of course I'm alright!
Sherlock: Well, you have just killed a man.
John: Yes... *realizes what he's said* ...it's true. But he wasn't a very good man.
- 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 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."
- 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.
- A brutal Deconstruction occurs in Bioshock. For most of the game you are given your quests by a man who prefaces every request with "Would you kindly..." It eventually comes to light that the Player Character has undergone behavioral conditioning to obey any order prefaced with those words, without question.
- 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.
- She ended up assigning him what the Castle termed as "the Chief Minion" and hastily agreeing with assertions that he's "not a minion",- which he screams whenever someone in her retinue refers to him as a minion. Moloch is valuable enough and a little quirk like this is no big deal.
- 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!
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!"
- 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!
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!
Zim: Oh, okay. [[[Double Take]]] WAIT! THAT'S TOO BAD!
- 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 simply asks upfront for Goliath to do the task, pointing out how it's in his best interests as well.
- 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 ended conversations by being invited to dinner.
- Well, they are 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).
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, can be avoided if when she asks you if she's beautiful you say "I'm sorry, but I have to be somewhere else right now." She will bow and apologize for delaying you.
- 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.
- 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.
- While driving, whom would you rather allow to pass, between the maniac who cuts line and flips off everyone, or the guy who turns on his sidelight, makes respectful hand signs and waits until you signal him back?
- 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.
- 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!"
Now could you please go see other tropes? Thank you.