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A new year's resolution: the politeness manifesto

A new year's resolution: the politeness manifesto

For 2009, 25 examples of bad manners we should resolve to stop doing:

By Michael Deacon.
Last Updated: 5:46PM GMT 31 Dec 2008

1 Talking on a mobile phone while being served by a shop assistant

2 Playing music through a mobile phone's loudspeakers in a public place

3 Sending text messages while at the dining table

4 Writing abusive comments on internet messageboards

5 Listening to music through headphones in the office

6 Talking over the film at the cinema

7 Dropping chewing gum or spitting on the pavement

8 Cycling on the pavement

9 Gossiping loudly in the library

10 Failing to hold doors open for others – and failing to say thank you when someone does hold open a door for you

11 Trying to board a train before passengers have had time to alight

12 Refusing to move down inside a train carriage or bus when there's room to do so

13 Sitting in an aisle seat when the window seat is empty – or putting your bag on the seat beside you so others can't sit there

14 Talking in the designated "Quiet" carriage of trains

15 Failing to give up a seat on public transport to women or the elderly

16 Disregarding traffic lights (cyclists and pedestrians)

17 Failing to stop at zebra crossings (motorists)

18 Failing to acknowledge fellow motorists who've given way for you

19 Addressing senior citizens by their Christian names instead of by title and surname (particularly doctors and nurses)

20 Stopping to chat in busy shop doorways

21 Being excessively persistent as a "charity mugger"

22 Allowing your children to be noisy in restaurants

23 Walking down the street in an unpassable mass, rather than in
single file

24 Trying the handle of the cubicle door in a public lavatory, rather than knocking and asking whether it's occupied

25 Drinking at the bar when it's busy and other customers are struggling to get served


A new year's resolution: Could we be a little more polite, please?

A new year's resolution: Could we be a little more polite, please?

2008 saw an increased amount of rudeness. This New Year we should try to make common courtesy rather more common.

By Michael Deacon
Last Updated: 10:36AM GMT 02 Jan 2009

Two years ago I was travelling by train from London to Edinburgh to spend Christmas with my family. All the seats were taken, so I had to stand in the aisle. I wasn't the only one. Standing a few feet away from me was an elderly man who looked familiar. The sergeant-major posture, the aquiline nose, the forbidding brow of an Easter Island monolith: Jack Charlton.

I was surprised. Not because I'd found myself sharing a standard-class train carriage with a much-loved former footballer, but because no one offered him a seat. A lot of the seats in the carriage were occupied by young men wearing football tops. Clearly, they liked football – and yet, just as clearly, they didn't like football enough to give up their seat to a man who had once helped their country to win the World Cup. Charlton, who was then aged 71, stayed on the train until it reached Newcastle. The journey took around three hours. He spent every minute on his feet, completing a crossword puzzle in a newspaper he had no surface to rest on.

I was surprised at the time. I don't think that I would be now. Because in 2008, Britain as a nation became ruder than ever. And I'm not even talking about the kind of rudeness that prompted Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand to leave chortlingly obscene messages on the answering machine of a blameless actor. I'm talking about bad manners.

More and more last year, it seemed that many of us thought it our right to offend or inconvenience others. We considered consideration beneath us. Today, as we decide on our New Year's resolutions for 2009, being more polite would make an excellent choice.

We know that Britain has got ruder because all the signs are there – literally. In overground railway stations there are now notices begging passengers not to assault train staff. In stations on the London Underground there are similar ones pleading with passengers to let others off the train first, not to push each other, not to use seats for their bags. It's bewildering that we should need to be told these things, yet evidently we do. What's next, "Please don't steal", "Please try not to kill each other"?

The latest technology has also brought us innumerable new opportunities to be rude – and look how often we take them. The mobile phone, for instance. In 2008, it became an everyday occurrence to spend a bus or train journey inwardly groaning as some halfwit of a fellow passenger broadcast music through the tinny loudspeakers of their mobile. It was also common to see a customer at a checkout in a shop, babbling on their mobile while an assistant served them.

Then there's the internet. The internet is in many ways informative and entertaining, a revolutionary news resource. But as a means of communication it has become a mouthpiece not only for the decent majority but for the malicious minority.

Go to YouTube and search for a video featuring your favourite singer. Below it, read the comments posted by other visitors to the site. Among them there's almost certain to be an eruption of insults based on the singer's character, intelligence, gender, sexuality, nationality or religion. Other visitors, more often than not, will have leapt to the singer's defence – usually by posting messages insulting the original visitor's character, intelligence, gender, sexuality, nationality or religion. On the internet, people now feel at liberty to taunt others in a way they'd never dare do in person – or so you'd hope, anyway.

And while many of the latest electronic means of communication were created to bring us closer together, they are also cutting us off from each other. If you're reading your emails on an iPhone while walking down the street – an increasingly widespread habit last year – you may be keeping up with friends and colleagues, but you're oblivious to pedestrians around you.

However, these new means of communication have succeeded in achieving one thing: they have given us the impression that we are entitled to get whatever we want, as quickly as we want it. Listen to music, check your emails, make some telephone calls – whenever and wherever you like. Being spoilt in this way means that, when we find ourselves experiencing the least inconvenience, we feel affronted, as if our rights were being trampled on.

A long queue at the cash machine, being kept on hold when telephoning the bank, waiting more than 10 seconds to cross a busy road – it's almost a reflex, these days, to take such trifles personally. A phenomenon of the Nineties was road rage. Today, I'm sure that more and more of us feel pavement rage. There are too many people and they're in our way.

More than a million members of Facebook have joined a group on the website, called "I Secretly Want to Punch Slow Walking People in the Back of the Head". Getting angry, in this irrational and impotent manner, only makes us ruder. Either we barge other pedestrians out of our path or we snap, "Excuse me" in a tone more appropriate to a curse.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that rudeness is, in some quarters, no longer something to be ashamed of; it's applauded. This is an attitude fed by reality television. We see it in every series of The Apprentice and Big Brother. Again and again, contestants who have said something tactless or insulting will protest that they're merely being "honest", while contestants who politely try to conceal their dislike of others are dismissed as "two-faced".

Last year, it was announced that lessons in good manners were to be introduced to schools. As long as teachers drop the waffle (the classes are to promote "emotional and social intelligence", apparently), this sounds a useful idea. Well, if you overlook the inevitable flaw: the pupils most likely to pay attention to such lessons are the ones who already have good manners. The ones with bad manners, naturally enough, will ignore them.

But how can we expect the adult world to become any more polite in 2009 – as the recession's grip tightens, businesses collapse and jobs and houses are lost? If we were irascibly inconsiderate in the boom years, goodness knows how we'll treat each other in the lean years.

Let's try to look at it in a more positive way. The less that we have, maybe the more we'll realise the importance of manners, of thoughtfulness, of common decency. In a time of pessimism, that would be one thing to hope for. As life gets crueller, perhaps we'll get kinder.
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