Tact and savoir-vivre

In a fine piece on ‘Good Manners in the Age of Wikileaks’ (here), the philosopher Slavoj Žižek explains the difference between politeness and tact.

In [the film] Baisers volés, Delphine Seyrig explains to her young lover the difference between politeness and tact: “Imagine you inadvertently enter a bathroom where a woman is standing naked under teh shower. Politeness requires that you quickly close the door and say, ‘Pardon, Madame!’, whereas tact would be to quicklly close the door and say: ‘Pardon, Monsieur!’ It is only in the second case, by pretending not to have seen enough even to make out the sex of the person in the shower, that one displays true tact.

I have always loved the (probably apocryphal) story of the Duc de Rochefoucauld. Coming home unexpectedly to discover his wife in bed with her lover, he says, ‘Madame, you really should be more careful. Suppose someone other than I had walked in?’

Why, I ask, rhetorically, are both these examples French?



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