The results may surprise you, but they didn't surprise me.
Toronto came in third. And the most polite city in the world? New York.
New Yorkers are always in a hurry, and they generally don't spend time making idle chit-chat with strangers. But they hold doors, they pick up dropped change (and return it!), they give directions - constantly. In such a densely urban environment, where people are always in crowded public spaces, there is an ethos that encourages both anonymity and tolerance (be cool, don't stare, don't ask questions) and cooperation (we're all in this together).
I have always found that people are more polite in places where they travel on foot and by public transit than in places where they travel by car. Sure, the cashier at my local Loblaws will make small talk with me in a way that you'd never see in New York, but that's not being polite - it's just filling space. After the small talk, we each get in our cars, isolated from each other. The subway, the sidewalk, the streetcar - that lifestyle forces us to deal with each other. For the most part, people do it well.
From the CBC News website:
Toronto-based freelance writer Ian Harvey, who was one of the undercover testers in Toronto, said people shouldn't be surprised that big cities like New York and Toronto topped the list.This also didn't surprise me. I only wish more people knew it.
He said courtesy is the social lubricant that allows people to get along in densely packed urban areas.
What surprised him was that young people tended to be more courteous than the elderly.
"It was often the high school students or school-age kids that jumped right forward and dived in and were so polite," he said.
In my experiences working with teenagers, they were generally the most considerate, courteous people, and went out of their way to return kindness when it was shown to them. My experience was almost entirely with troubled kids who had dropped out of high school and come from seriously damaged environments. I can't say if privileged kids would be as polite, but the inner-city teens I knew were the best.
The Readers Digest results are here. (It kills me to link to Readers Digest, which strung me along and screwed me over... grrr...) I love how the RD story says "civility [is] alive and well in a place you'd least expect." Meaning, their suburban readers, full of negative stereotypes about New York City, would not expect it.