If you enter a bathroom where a woman is standing naked… how do you display true tact?

In his recent LRB article on Wikileaks, “Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks” (recommended), Slavoj Žižek (2011) answers:

In 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 the shower. Politeness requires that you quickly close the door and say, “Pardon, Madame!”, whereas tact would be to quickly 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 under the shower, that one displays true tact.

4 thoughts on “If you enter a bathroom where a woman is standing naked… how do you display true tact?

  1. I would be very impressed if a man thought to make the second comment, for tactful reasons, in a split-second moment of surprise.

    Although the times I have been surprised in the shower – it has been I who spoke/bellowed. “Get out!” Ha.

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  2. In this case, politeness is far better than tact. For with tact, he denies her a comment of her beauty. With politeness, he is respectful yet acknowledges her beauty and sexuality.

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