Swedish Girl In London

London Life: Bright Lights, Big City. Now what's on TV?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Temper, Temper

Excuse me, sir, but who are you calling rude? Oh, right. Apparently it’s me.

All of a sudden – or rather, right in time for Christmas – the promo tables of the bookshops are laden with volumes dedicated to Manners, and our Lack of Them. According the general consensus, Brits (and especially Londoners) are just downright bloody offensive.

But is this really true, or just the usual cantankerous litany of “it were all better before, so it were”? I’m not so sure.

Elbowed/mugged by loutish youths? Never happened to me, and I live on the mean streets of the East End.

Bothered by loud telephone conversations? You must be joking - I have to strain to eavesdrop on people’s mutterings.

Ignored by surly checkout girls? Quite the contrary – they are surprisingly polite considering the dreary parade of microwavable Chicken Kormas passing underneath their scanners day in & day out. My corner shop lady has been baptised Grumpy, it’s true, but I put that down to her Slavic Soul more than anything else. Besides, her grouchiness is cancelled out by the sunniness in the shop down the road, where (you guessed it!) Cheery works.

As for shoving, pushing, swearing? Nope, nope and nope again.

If this is rude, then I’d like to see polite. Maybe the writers of these books expect a return of Versailles court protocol. Maybe they want us to start greeting each other with distant bows again, though of course only addressing people we outrank. Or maybe they just don’t know what they are on about – but I would be loath to tell it to their face. After all, that would be ill-mannered.

In the end, what astonishes me is not how seldom we are polite, but that we take the trouble to be polite at all. Who’s to stop you from hogging the last bus seat from just under the nose of that old lady? What would happen if you marched into Eat and barked out: “Cappuccino! Quick, my man!” and omitted to say please? Any law preventing you from sneezing right in the face of the postman, for that matter?

And still we don’t do it, most of the time. We don’t even want to. In the end, humans are flock animals, and flocks work better with a little bit of kindness. Just ask those heroic penguins, who take turns huddling against the winds at the outer end of the colony.

So once again – me, rude? Bah. Like I care.


At 12:29 AM, Blogger Zen Wizard said...

There's a theory that places that have a higher imigrant population are ruder, like New York City of Israel, due to, I guess, the necessity of survival.

I'm not sure if this is true or not.

There is also the theory that Japan is more polite, due to a high context culture and the genesis of the culture in small rural enclaves...

Again, I don't know if either theory is correct.

What struck me first about the city of Atlanta is how polite people are for a big city...TILL THEY GET IN THEIR CARS!! Then, it's "KIIIILLL!!!"

The irony that it's the same people that you meet in an office that are in their cars on the highway--or, how else did they get to the office??--is not lost on me...obviously, in the car you have the delusion of isolation and anonymity--so the regular highway is just like the Information Superhighway (Internet) in that respect...

At 12:43 AM, Blogger Zen Wizard said...

Uh--I misspelled, "immigrant," and there is no way to edit these things...I knew it looked weird...


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