Sunday, 28 October 2012

Politeness Revolution


I miss good manners and chivalry. I think we need a politeness revolution. I miss the days of cloaks thrown  over puddles, doors opened for you, gentlemen standing when a lady joins them at dinner.  Well, when I say, I miss those days, I mean I saw it in an episode of Downton and thought, that looks nice.

I know, I know. It's a one way ticket to Fantasyland to expect a young fellow to gallantly throw his Super Dry jacket on a puddle so I may walk unsullied across (although, surely something called Super Dry would be the best thing for the job). Well, it'd be all well and good until the awkward moment afterwards where the poor bloke had to scoop up his sodden clothes and walk home looking like he'd had a bare-knuckle brawl with the Creature from The Black Lagoon.

As for chivalry, some feminists believe it belongs in a bygone era of dowries and d√©butantes.  Many women are actually offended by a man treating her differently simply because she is of the lady variety.

Suffice to say the whole thing is now a mine field for men. 'Should I hold the door open and have her think I'm a patronizing prick or let her get the door herself and think I'm an ungentlemanly prick’. Choices, choices.

How about standing when a lady arrives for dinner? It seems that suavity fell from societal norm along with calling ten year boys, 'tinkers' and considering tripe food fit for human consumption (No doubt Blumenthal serves it at one of his restaurants, probably on a bin lid, you know, in  an ironically way). 

Surely, holding doors open has stood the test of time? Well, kinda. Obviously, nowadays this is a simple matter of good manners regardless of status and gender but yet it still seems to have entirely passed some people by (Probably how Keith Richards feels about the 70s).

We've all been there. We approach a doorway, open it up so the approaching stranger can come through,  we poise ourselves with a 'no biggie' smile for the inevitable 'thank  you' and most  importantly for them to graciously take the door from us and... nothing! They glide right through like Cleopatra at a milk sampling session. What the...!? This makes me incandescent beyond belief. Not only do they not take the door, they don't even thank me for extending this social grace. Do they think it’s my job? Or that I loiter around doorways hoping to facilitate the smooth transition from room to room for any passing moron? Do I have 'Do not acknowledge me' tattooed on my head? No!  These people must go through life assuming that’s just what other people naturally want to do for them. ‘ I'm totes amazing, why wouldn't someone hold the door open for me? Dah" Arrrghh!

My irritation at this is grossly disproportionate to the crime and I find myself growling sarcastically 'you're welcome' or 'no problem'. But it is a problem. A big one. I mean as over reactions go, its no Plebgate but never let it be said us Brits don’t have a fine tradition of passive aggressive grumbling.  

Feet on seats, that's another one. It is unforgivable unless you've got a spirit level in your pocket and your leg will explode if your knee goes to less than 90 degrees.

Feet on seats is one of those irritants that stops me entirely in my tracks. If I'm on a train or bus and I see someone do it, I cant think, I cant read a book, I cant do anything except fixate on what I'm going to say to this pariah. Sadly though, I rarely reprimand them. I've become resigned to the fact they're probably the type of person who doesn't give a damn what other people think of their behaviour.  

Offering seats on the tube seems to happening less and less too. Though that is very tricky terrain. I find myself surreptitiously eyeing up fat ladies stomachs trying to figure out what she's got in there. Is it a new human or a year’s worth of pizza.

The thing is, manners are not a universal right like freedom of speech or something and if you call someone on it, they're perfectly entitled to ask, what’s it got to do with you? Well everything and nothing is the simply answer and therein lies the problem, the never-ending dichotomy of protecting the rights of the individual whilst respecting and adhering to what's required of one as a member of a society which allows that society to function.

Society doesn't particularly require chivalry or good manners to exist. All it really requires is a majority of its citizens to abide by the laws they've all agreed upon and face the consequences if they don’t. The rest is up for grabs.

We like to think ourselves civilised and therefore have the capacity to entertain further social parameters like good manners. It’s just a shame that not everyone is on board.  

But it isn't too much to ask to extend a little common courtesy to each other. Isn't it all a little nicer when we all pitch in? But what I need to learn is, it doesn't help to look down on people who aren't adhering to my view of good manners and fair treatment as it’s a very subjective thing. I remember my brother went out with a Yorkshire lass and her mum couldn't believe he let her go to the bar. “But it was her round!” he told us.

So if people’s manners differ from my own values, my new policy is to forgive. The spitters, the feet on seaters, the loud talkers in the quiet carriage, the noisy headphone brigade, the smelly food munchers, the ignore-the-person-struggling-with-a-heavy suitcasers, the blow-smoke-in-your-facers. Forgive, because who knows, there’s bound to be situations where I'm the annoying prick for someone else and don’t even know it.  Hopefully they’ll forgive me and one day soon, we’ll all join the politeness revolution. 

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