: that'd be mean. After all they are just doing their job
, I meant no insult. I was given to understand that "white lies" is an official term for an untruth you are expected to say in certain social situations.
This is one of these cases where cultural differences between countries suddenly become obvious.
In my country we don't know the concept of white lies. So much so that we don't even have a word for them.
We do lie - to people we heartily dislike or when a lie is necessary to rescue or necks (we call the latter emergency-lies).
It all boils down to a question of etiquette. In Germany, the question "how are you" is used to start a conversation. You are supposed to tell the true state of your physical and/or emotional condition.
In a shop such a question would therefore be considered too personal and hence inappropriate. The staff will only say "good morning/evening. Can I help you?"
In the US it's different. But I am not certain what the proper American etiquette would be. Am I supposed to answer the phrase with another phrase (I'm fine, thanks. How are you?) or am I allowed to say the truth, at the risk of knocking the poor staff member off kilter?
At my visits to America I noticed that one is generally supposed to keep an unpleasant truth not only to oneself but to assure the other person of the opposite.
For example: "do I look fat in this dress?"
American hubby: "not at all! You look gorgeous!" Result: woman goes out in that dress and becomes the laughing stock of half the town.
German hubby: "well, since you ask, a little bit indeed. How about wearing the blue one? I think you look better in that" Result: wife wears blue dress that camouflages those of her curves that are not-so-perfect.
The difference is: Americans believe that an unpleasant truth always hurts equally bad. Germans believe that the truth will inevitably arise and that it's better to hear it from someone we like because they'll break it to us gentler than strangers.
Mind, I don't say either way is better. My point is that different countries have different etiquette and different ways of dealing with the same problem. This leads all too often to misunderstandings that are embarassing at best and can lead to flame wars at worst.