Lori Anderson: A lesson in ancient history – good manners
SIMPLE courtesy and polite behaviour, writes Lori Anderson, have an important place in civilised society
Please allow me to draw your attention away from your softly boiled egg and soldiers to address an issue of mutual concern. Scotland is going to the dogs. Standards are slipping and manners have been mugged and are, even now, lying battered, bruised and neglected in the gutter.
(Thankfully, unlike America, we do not have Miss Manners, otherwise she would surely be in a home for fallen women.) Who amongst us has not been bumped into, only to be met not with a profuse apology but an accusatory glare or worse, an absence of any interest, or granted a fellow driver right of passage only to be disappointed when they ignore the custom of raising a back hand of thanks? Were our cars as equipped with concealed weaponry as Mr Bond’s chosen ride, the dual carriageways would be mechanised carnage, it would certainly turn evolution on its head with survival not guaranteed to the fittest but to the most mannered.
The smart phone has made us dumb and rude. It is not polite to be in the midst of a face to face conversation with a person and then at the first sonar ping of a new email/message, press pause on chit chat and instead begin frantically rummaging in one’s pocket or handbag only to explain, in a disappointed manner that it was merely spam. If we were truly honest we would say: “Sorry, I thought it was someone a lot more interesting than you.” In the days before electronic mail, kitchen conversations were not shut up at the first clatter of the letter box then resumed after the envelope had been torn open and the guest reassured that it was only an early birthday card from great Aunt Gertrude. The only acceptable exception to this rule are the pressing needs of a doctor on call.
Tardiness is now so common as to no longer be considered by many young people as an act of bad manners but it is and shockingly so. The arrogant assumption is that the other person will wait and that whilst your time was important enough to be spent doing whatever made you late, your companion’s time is to be frittered cooling their heels. Texting the injured party at the appointed time is no excuse but salt sprinkled into the wound.
The pressing matter of good manners is being addressed by Waitrose who have taken it upon themselves to not only feed the middle classes but nourish their sense of civil decency this week by publishing How Rude! Modern Manners Defended, a case of minding your peas and thank yous. In this new publication a host of cultural commentators dissect our social mores. Among the correspondents is Sue Perkins who comically argued: “Everybody who is more than six months pregnant must be made to stand. Their lives are about to become hell – they need to get used to it. It’s not about them anymore, and nobody likes a selfish parent.”
Waitrose publicised the book, which is available at all good till points, with a new report, which found that 72 per cent of people in Britain believe that we have become a ruder society in the past 10 years.
The findings revealed that the most irritating example of bad manners was a failure to say “please” and “thank you” and that our over emphasis on bodily contact was far from appreciated. Kissed cheeks as a form of greeting should be left to the French, and while 50 per cent of people believe a handshake is the preferred form of greeting, 25 per cent of women felt that no physical contact was necessary and that a simple hello should suffice. The survey also discovered that 70 per cent of people said manners should be taught in school as part of the curriculum.
In a geographical break-down Scots were found to be more likely than the rest of the UK, to be annoyed by people listening to loud music on public transport, with nearly a third (28 per cent) complaining about it and also more likely to mind their table manners, with 83 per cent (the highest in the UK, compared to a UK average of 75 per cent) agreeing that diners should wait until everyone is seated and served, before starting to eat their deep fried Mars bar.
Parents were to blame for our mannerless society, according to 60 per cent of those surveyed and while I tend to agree and can’t help but place a figurative gold star next to the names of those who have raised particularly well-mannered children, a large slice of the blame must rest with politicians.
Let us draw a dark veil over the foul, ill-mannered behaviour of the Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell who vented his spleen when prevented from taking his little bicycle with its pretty wicker basket out the front gates of Downing Street, and hope his wife administered six of the best and slip back to Mr Blair or as he insisted to his new cabinet in 1997: “Call me Tony”. Am I alone in feeling uncomfortable about our society’s assumption of personal intimacy and the need to plunge straight into first name terms? A little formal distance can be no bad thing and please, I would need a whole new column to rant on the destructiveness of Gordon Ramsay’s foul-mouthed rants and the coarsening effect he has had on society and the prevalence of foul language.
Manners are an emollient which smooth our passage through a world populated by complete strangers with whom we have no choice but to interact but they can also be an opportunity to bring a little touch of grace into our daily lives.
Manners are a social kindness, small daily acts which show that one cares about the feelings of other people and that we do not wish them to feel belittled, under appreciated or ignored.
They can also elevate us. An encounter with a truly well-mannered person can add a touch of polish to the world, everything seems a touch brighter and it is a social sheen one wishes to pass on.
Thank you for reading.
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