It’s a mystery how people can reach adulthood without having learnt the most basic politeness, writes Ashley Davies
On holiday in Greece recently I saw an emaciated, gooey-eyed homeless kitten being violently ill on a cracked pavement, and that was still 50 per cent less unpleasant than what I’d been witnessing every morning at breakfast. One of the guests in our hotel, a gorgeous young creature with supermodel looks, had the most diabolical table manners I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve got two brothers.
I’m not talking about ridiculous etiquette nonsense like using the wrong knife, or even putting elbows on the table, but eating with her mouth open. Every morning, I’d hear my husband’s exasperated pleas as I gawped at her gob. “Just don’t look at her then,” he’d say gently. “Seriously, please stop staring. People are now staring at you staring,” he’d eventually say less gently. And then when he insisted we swap places and could see for himself what I’d been exposed to, he blanched, and with a horrified wheeze, muttered: “I can see everything, everything that’s going on in her mouth. Why? How? Why?”
I spent a good chunk of that holiday squandering luxury thinking time wondering how on earth somebody gets to adulthood without learning basic manners, and in the case of this mucky masticator, her parents, who were at the hotel with her, clearly felt no compulsion to close their mouths when eating either so she’d obviously never learnt at home. But surely by living in the world and not being blind, one can see that what one’s doing is a bit gross?
It also sends my brain into a furious little spin trying to understand how people can be so cavalier with the management of their mucus. How hard is it to carry a tissue with you in case you get a sniffle? How does it take these humans by surprise? They’re not toddlers. I like to think I’m a fairly relaxed person but when I’m surrounded by sniffs on the bus I want to smack the legs of everyone responsible.
It’s worse when it’s in the office – or another place where there is no shortage of tissues. STOP SNIFFING IT IN. Try blowing it out. Oh mother, it makes my blood burn.
I probably shouldn’t even get started in the subject of people who spit on the streets because that’s just off-the-scale rudeness. And who among us would be brave enough to confront somebody who thinks nothing of turning our urban thoroughfares into a repulsive tubercular slalom? Unsurprisingly, they tend to be blissfully immune to quiet tutting.
Obviously, in some cultures – even those in which there are myriad opportunities inadvertently to cause offence by accidentally revealing the soles of your feet or using your left hand – slurping at ramen or belching after a meal are indications of relish, but I just don’t understand how rude people don’t get that they’re being rude. Does this mean I’m being rude in ways I’m not aware of, and that people are too polite themselves to tell me as much?
I took to social media to find out what kind of behaviour busted people’s knitting, and was relieved to be reminded that most people’s bugbear is the sight and sound of open-mouthed eating. The noise of people popping chewing gum is enough to turn many a David Banner into a Hulk.
A lack of gratitude is also a big issue. Enormous, in fact. As one friend (big-heartedness personified, this chap) put it: “When I hold a door open for someone and they don’t acknowledge or thank me it makes me angry out of all proportion to the size of the offence.” I agree. The same applies when you make way on the pavement for somebody and they don’t even nod in response – as if we’re all little inanimate objects polluting their space – or when drivers can’t bring themselves to lift their fingers a couple of inches to say thanks. How do these people not know what they’re doing? Do they not feel it when it’s done to them? Or are they passing on poisonous feelings left by the last person who failed to thank them?
Not being able to issue a gentle apology – the natural bedfellow of a gracious thank you – is another thing that sends people round the bend. One of the things I love about these damp islands is that most Brits – Scots included of course – go out of their way with the pleases and thank-yous (how many times have you said thank you to people in a lift you’re in the process of vacating as if they’ve done you a favour, or sorry to the person who’s bumped into you on the street?) so when those pretty social castors are removed we don’t like it at all. When someone nearly dislocates your shoulder while barging past you and doesn’t say sorry, well, that’s just ghastly.
A lot of it boils down to the fact that people who cause the greatest manners-related offences appear not to be aware of their impact on others in shared social areas, where space is limited and being conscious of what’s required to make society tick along pleasantly is crucial.
These people hog train seats with bags, manspread, invade your precious audio zone with mobile phone noise, put their shoes on public transport seats, engage in the kind of personal grooming that can result in a freshly clipped fingernail flying into your face, and drop litter, and the reason this is so upsetting is that they are saying, whether intentionally or not, that the feelings of other people simply don’t matter. And if you spend a day during which the actions of several people you encounter say suggest: “You don’t matter”, well, it’s not good for anyone, is it?
That might have been how Pamela Mann felt recently when 71-year-old Raymond Newton “sneered” when she let him pass in front of her on the way to a Sunderland supermarket, and then was blocked by his trolley when she tried to reach for some carrots. The situation escalated and Newton was this week found guilty of common assault after pushing her in the chest and hitting her around the head with both hands. “He darted off really quickly and I was just in shock,” she said. “I don’t think he even got any carrots.”
If people don’t have any manners, maybe the rest of us need to learn how to respond positively. I’d love to know how though, because I’m stumped.