There is a tax on good manners


There is a tax on good manners

Published: Fri 18 Oct 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 18 Oct 2019, 2:00 AM

The one conduct that has survived the seasons and the ravages of time is rudeness. The more we get technologically advanced, the steeper the insolence. I see it all around me, the power of rudeness and how it is used as a weapon in a global village that equates courtesy and politeness with weakness and stands by to exploit both. There was a time not so long ago when good manners were integral. The way things have changed is stark. I was with some people recently in the slightly foo foo (or is it phoo phoo or pooh pooh) New Delhi crowd and, as we came to the car after a fairly pleasant evening, I opened the car door for a lady.
She looked startled and stopped in her tracks, her mind whirring like a rewinding cassette (there see, I am showing my age) and said, are you coming with us?
I said, no, I have my transport.
Then why are you opening the door of my car?
For you, I said, merely the decent thing to do.
Honest, she started giggling and said, do people still do this, wow.
Momentary awkwardness but so telling in its vividness. The new world, where opening the door of the car sparks a spurt of fear that something is out of kilter.
We blame technology for the chill in our bones and in our speech. The fact is there is a delight in discourtesy. And a sense of power comes with it. We are conditioned to respond to it because we are intimidated. Random examples.
I am standing at immigration at the Indira Gandhi International airport and the queue is massive and it takes 90 minutes for my turn to come. You would expect the officer to be pleasant. But no, he is harassed and grumpy and speaks like a machine gun, in staccato bursts: Come. Stand there. Give passport. Look at camera. Give boarding pass. Not even a hint of politeness.
I go to a restaurant the same evening and the waiter skis past without acknowledgement. He then whistles past a second time. Around the sixth sortie, I say, waiter, please, here, this table, we are waiting.
He glides on like he was in the ballet. I raise a tentative little 'if you could kindly' finger and the maître d' trips past. My companion looks at me pityingly (I have lots of companions who look at me pityingly) and shouts, WAITER.
There is a frozen moment followed by action. On the double. He then proceeds to berate them while I scrunch into the bread roll basket and pretend I am not there. He tells them they are shoddy. Shabby. Awful flipping service. They snivel, and grovel and they jump to it. Go, he orders, now, and get our soups pronto, hop to it. The maître d' is now a little rabbit bouncing about to do my friend's bidding.
I go shopping last week. The shop assistants are in conference. I try to catch their eye. I do a little wave. I grin. I clear my throat. I do a small two step. I am still standing by waiting for them to serve those who only stand and wait when two men walk in and do that finger calling thing which, to me, is the height of rudeness. You know that 'come here, you' approach. Assistants careen forward like carom pieces and almost collide in their eagerness to help.
It never ceases to amaze me that you get more respect if you are nasty than if you are nice. What genetic bump exists in our makeup that we respond to the authoritative and the demanding? See it in office. A polite boss is taken for a ride. He may be gracious and he is extending his subordinates a very tangible courtesy by treating them that way. Yet, they think he is ideal to be taken to the cleaners and they do it.
Then there is the boss who is short-tempered, thoroughly arrogant, treats people like dirt and they love it, they scrabble to win a half smile from him, happy with the crumbs he flings at them.
The domestic help are more likely to 'respect' you if you are snotty. So I am told. Be nice and they'll take you for walkies.
I find this kind of advisory most offensive but that said, I keep experiencing people who strengthen the belief that we are not yet civilised to appreciate the power of courtesy.
More's the pity.

By Bikram Vohra

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