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Have we forgotten our manners?

This year, let’s try and revive that quaint old concept called good manners. The kind that they taught us in school when we were growing up, writes Seema Goswami.

brunch Updated: Jan 10, 2015, 20:01 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times

The first day of the New Year. What better way to mark it than with a fun family lunch? Well, that was the plan, anyway. But things didn’t quite work out that way. Because the next table was occupied by a large, extended family, which came complete with many small children, all of whom came equipped with their own toy horns.

Yes, I kid you not, actual horns, which make the most godawful noise when you blow into them. Which is exactly what these kids did, over and over again.

Ah well, kids will be kids, right? The poor mites, they really don’t know any better.

But what about their parents (and grandparents)? Surely, they couldn’t be oblivious to the pained looks being cast in their direction by all the other diners? And there was no way they couldn’t have heard that loud shushing sound emanating from that irate lady at the corner table (well, okay, it was me!).

But not one adult on that table managed to muster up an embarrassed look. Not one of them stopped stuffing their mouths with butter chicken long enough to admonish the horn-touting children. And it certainly never occurred to them to confiscate the horns from their hyperactive kids so that the rest of us could eat in peace.

Oh no, that would be asking for too much. Because good manners, and a little consideration for others, is not something that you can ever expect from your fellow human beings these days. Everybody is far too busy – eating, working, texting, tweeting, or whatever else it is they do – to actually take a moment to discipline their children.

Is it any surprise then that these spoilt, entitled brats grow up to drive Daddy’s car far too fast, having had a bit too much to drink, and don’t spare a thought for the safety of other people on the road? Isn’t it only to be expected that these children grow up to believe that the rules don’t apply to them, because they are oh-so-special? After all, didn’t Mummy and Daddy bring them up to believe just that? And, as sure as night follows day, they will bring up their own children in exactly the same way.

Which is why, this year I intend to launch a campaign to revive that quaint old concept: good manners. You know, the kind that they taught us in school when we were growing up. Speak softly when you are in company. Say hello or offer to shake hands when you meet someone. Say ‘please’ when you want something and ‘thank you’ when you get it. And don’t lie flat on the floor and throw the mother of all tantrums if you don’t.

So here, in no particular order of importance, are just some of the things that I would like to see happen this year (and every year thereafter):

* That people put their phones on silent during business meetings, while eating at restaurants or watching a movie – and better still, slide them into their pockets or purses. There is nothing more annoying than to be discussing business with someone whose one eye is on his/her phone, who keeps picking it up when it beeps to check messages, and then starts replying to these messages, ignoring you completely.

We’ve all had dinner with that self-important sod, who keeps taking calls all through the meal or texting incessantly, telling you with every swipe of the screen that you are not really worthy of his/her full attention. And then, there are those obnoxious creatures who keep their phones on in movie halls, picking them up every 10 minutes to whisper loudly, "I am in a movie". Oh, for God’s sake, put it away already!

* That people respect other people’s time as they would their own. So, doctors don’t give you an appointment for 2pm and then see you a good two hours later. Your friends don’t fetch up for dinner at 10pm when the invitation clearly said 8.30pm. And that everyone finally realises that it doesn’t take much effort to call people to say you’re running late. Only don’t text if you are in a business meeting.

* That ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ see a revival in their fortunes, and become a part of everyone’s vocabulary. A very well-mannered friend of mine, who always holds the door open for those coming through after him, has a nice passive-aggressive way of dealing with people who fail to say ‘thank you’. As they rush past him, heads bent over their smartphones, he says loudly, "You are welcome!"

Nine times out of ten, the offenders are shamed into saying a belated ‘thank you’. The tenth person of course glides away, oblivious to the call for good manners. But, as a strategy, it is not a bad way to call people out for their bad manners and force them to do the right thing.

Will any of this work? Or am I just fighting a losing battle and setting myself up for disappointment yet again? Well, I’ll let you know how this little social experiment works out in a year’s time. Until then, be good, stay nice, and thank you so much for your time!

From HT Brunch, January 11, 2015
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