Learning Politeness

27 July 1977,

Here in Nacamaki village on Koro Island, where I am practicing the Fijian language by living in the village, there are many blessings. But there is one frustration. When I sit down with the younger men behind the yaqona bowl the elders call me up front to sit with them. They are honouring me but it often feels too formal to me.

Today I sat down behind the bowl. The elders called me to sit up front. This time I thanked them and said that I was fine where I was. They continued to invite me up front. I continued to resist, repeating that I was fine. Eventually they gave up.

Afterwards one of the young mothers, who had been present at the yaqona session, met me and said, “You should not have refused the elders’ invitation today.” “But I want to avoid always having to sit up front,” I said.

“Then all you have to do is to sit up front for a while and then politely request the elders to allow you to move behind the bowl. They will willingly give you permission.” The penny dropped. I saw how her advice fitted perfectly with Fijian politeness. Thank God for people who are not afraid to correct us.

by Fr. Frank Hoare