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Politeness is a kind of behaviour in which people express consideration for accepted standards of social interaction. They may display what others consider 'good manners' or use language which is associated with respect for the social position of whom they are communicating with. For example, in English, saying thank you can be polite in a range of situations, though it depends on how this is said; in other words, polite language is not inherently polite, but requires sincerity on the part of the user.

Other examples of politeness may include physical behaviour or dress. In Japan, for example, bowing is a polite way of showing respect, and the deeper the bow, the more respect is being offered. However, bowing inappropriately or at all may be embarrassing if it is not generally accepted that one party or the other should bow. This exemplifies how what is polite in one culture may not be in another. Likewise, different social circles and different cultures have different standards of dress depending on the situation, and the rules may be rather complex. To take another Japanese example, it is usually acceptable to wear a yukata (summertime robe) outside one's room at a Japanese hot spring or inn, but not in a Western-style hotel.