Tag Archives: courtesy

A valuable lesson

Have you ever encountered someone with whom you have got on perfectly well, despite the fact that other people have badmouthed them?

I believe very strongly that one should only every judge people on how they behave towards you, for two reasons: 

Firstly, it may be that if you treat that person with honesty, courtesy and kindness, they will automatically respond in a similar vein.

Secondly, sometimes, without knowing it, our own natures allow other people the freedom to be at their best. 

And that is all.

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Three cheers for the crumblies! In praise of old people and their social ease

I spend quite a lot of time with older people.  Lady Marjorie is in her eighties, Viscount Drayton is in his early seventies, I am one of the youngest of our various congregations by about twenty years and the same goes for the Choir. 

Today, Viscount Drayton was hosting one of several Lent Lunches held in their parish and my presence was requested in a domestic capacity.  The Lent Lunches are a great way of getting people from different villages to socialise and they raise a lot of money for charity.  Today, there was not a single guest under 70; I suppose this isn’t surprising as being a Friday lunchtime, many younger people would have been at work and, because it is connected with the church, the majority of C of E regulars are older.

I am a gregarious type and don’t have any difficulty mingling in groups of people, but increasingly, when obliged to talk to strangers in my own peer group, I am struck by how socially awkward they are and how little conversation they are able to make.  I have always taken the tack that when faced with someone you have to talk to but who is proving difficult, keep asking questions until you find some common ground, and it usually works. 

However, recently I have found that these, younger, people simply reply to my questions or talk only about themselves without showing any interest in me whatsoever.  This does not constitute a conversation and is extremely discourteous.  I have sufficient self confidence to be aware that I am not, on the whole, boring (contradictions to the usual address) and this leads me to the conclusion that many other people are very boring indeed. 
Conversation is often limited because so many younger people don’t have hobbies or interests outside work, they don’t get involved in politics or their communities or worse, they are living vicariously through their children. 

I went to a local ball about 18 months ago, and I was placed at a table with the same group of people who had attended the year before.  Not one of them instigated a conversation with me or even indicated that they had met me before.  When I finally managed to get one man talking, he talked only about himself and his children and didn’t even ask my name.  As soon as the meal was over I went outside, blagged a couple of Marlboro Lights, and stayed there until such time as I could decently escape.

At the lunch party today, I was struck by how friendly and socially competent the older people were.  They smiled and shook hands and wanted to know who I was, they returned questions with questions.  And they were all busy; they had broad interests and skills, they participated in their communities to differing degrees and there was much good humour.  I found them delightful and easy company.

With much younger people, I am inclined to blame the addiction to television, mobile ‘phones and social networking sites for the decline in their social competence.  But what is the excuse of the 35-50’s?  I really don’t know the answer, but should I find myself in the company of strangers, I’d choose the crumblies every time.  (They’d still have to have special stickers in their cars though – I’m not that indulgent.)

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Not exactly Road Rage ….

A Hillman in 1945

When I am stupidly rich, I will have a barn full of lovely cars; a Morgan, several early Bugattis, a powder blue MGA, an MGTC Midget, a Mk II Jaguar, several varieties of Morris Minor, a Ford Anglia, a Hillman Minx, a Frogeye Sprite, a  – you get the picture.

I really like driving and I really, really like cars.  I am not currently in a position to chose exactly which type of car I drive, but I do own an X Reg Escort which does sterling work bearing in mind that it has to act as a car, a van, a café and sometimes even a dormitory.  It goes remarkably fast and doesn’t go wrong nearly as much as one might expect for a car that does in excess of 20,000 miles a year. 

I spend a stupid amount of time in my car but my driving pleasure  is completely spoiled by the presence of others.  I know that we all think we’re the best drivers in the world, and that is as true of me as of anyone else.  I know that I should slow down more when I have passengers and that I should not be allowed behind the wheel when I’m stressed (the only injuries my car has ever sustained have happened when I’m ‘on the edge’) – I get distracted.  I know this.

But I have maintained a pretty good grasp of the basic rules of the road.  I am constantly astonished by how many people have no idea where they should be on a roundabout or, if they can trouble themselves to indicate at all, at which point they should do so.  Others appear to believe that the national speed limit on a country road is 40 (50 if they have a clear view of 10 miles or more) and I suspect that those same people believe the speed limit in a village to be 50.  What worries me about this latter group is their failure to respond to changing circumstances.  I live in the countryside, so farm vehicles are a natural presence, but I do feel that if they are trundling along the A6, at 8.15am, at 25 mph, with a tailback of two and a half thousand cars, the courteous thing to do would be to pull into a sodding lay-by, just to give us all a chance.

And then there are the tailgaters.  They absolutely terrify me, particularly on the motorway.  I admit that I drive fast on the motorway because I like to and because I am always short of time.  But if I am going at 90  70mph, I never, ever sit ten feet behind the car in front until they move out of my way.  I have no wish to die or to kill others. Although I often wish a nasty case of genital herpes on the drivers who sit in the middle lane, doing 60mph in cars designed to do 140mph in the shade.

I am also troubled by The Hesitant Ones; the constant touchers of brakes, the refusers to move at junctions, the 40mph’ers.  The only ones that I am prepared to forgive are the elderly, as it is entirely possible that their car is their lifeline to independence and a sense of purpose.  However.  When I am Queen (which could be any day now) they will be obliged to display a sticker in the back window which reads ‘I am old but determinedly independent.  Please bear with me’.  Motorists will then smile indulgently, and give them a wide berth, waving pleasantly as they overtake in a non-threatening way.

I will not tolerate discourtesy on the road any more than I will tolerate it in any other situation.  I have been known to get out of my car, rap on the window of another and demand a full and frank explanation of their behaviour, much to the amusement of my children and their friends. They were particularly enthused when I gave the bus driver a prolonged and articulate earful for arrogant and selfish parking outside the school. 

What is interesting is that there is no hand gesture for ‘Sorry!’.  We can wave our hands for ‘Thank you’, ‘Carry on’; ‘No, no I insist you go first’; we can brandish varying 5ths of our hands to express displeasure; shrug our shoulders for ‘What can I do?’.  But no way of saying ‘Sorry, I was a complete arse, forgive me’.  What do you suggest?

I don’t really suffer from Road Rage.  I suffer from seething, boiling, expletive ridden Road Resentment. 
Oh hang ona minute , I forgot to mention Speed Cameras……aargh  urgh……
We apologise for the tailing off of this article.  The Wartime Housewife has been removed to a secure unit.

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The Tale of the Bullies, The Dinner Lady and the Paranoid School

It has been reported in the news this week that a Dinner Lady has been sacked  for telling a girl’s parents the details of a bullying incident at her school.  (For one report use this link to The Telegraph.) It would appear (and I stress, appear as we only know what the media tells us) that the school didn’t tell the parents the full story of the incident. The Dinner Lady was merely commiserating with the parents in an out of school situation, about what she considered to be a very unpleasant instance of bullying in the school playground.

‘Bully’ means ‘to bluster, use violent threats, swagger, intimidate, abuse’ (Sh.OED) and it is a word that should not be bandied about lightly. 

I want my sons to grow up to be able to handle themselves in difficult situations, to be able to stand up to other people, to have the ability to assess situations and react sensibly and appropriately.  I want them to learn to understand the difference between teasing, playing rough and bravado, and genuine threats, intimidation and abuse.  Above all I do not want them to grow up with a victim mentality; there is nothing a bully finds more attractive than a dyed-in-the-wool victim, whether as a child or an adult.

There are several problems with this aspiration.  We live in a culture where we are actively discouraged from taking responsibility for our own actions, everything is someone else’s fault.  If we crash our cars we are told on no account to admit liability.  If we fall over in the street, it is not an unhappy accident it is a dangerous paving stone.  Children are told, right from the word go, that if anything unpleasant happens or their comfort is threatened in any way, they must immediately tell a teacher or parent who will intervene on their behalf. 

A huge proportion of children have little or no unsupervised time with their peers in which to fall out, sort it out and make it up, on their own terms without an adult leaping into the fray and solving everything.  There is, of course, another group of children who receive so little supervision that they have no guidelines whatsoever and are forced to make everything up for themselves and the solutions to that are complex indeed.  But we need to find some middle ground.

In order to allow our children to develop into capable, sensible adults, we have to first teach them some values about how we treat people and how we conduct ourselves, with courtesy, dignity and compassion.  We have to show them love and kindness when they hurt themselves but not make too much fuss so they learn to put a brave face on things.  We should reward them with praise when they achieve, not shower them with gifts which I suggests sends the message that achievement for one’s own satisfaction is not enough in itself.  When they make mistakes, make sure they take responsibility for them and help to point out the changes that need to be made.

We give them these tools so that they can manage by themselves, make informed decisions, assess risk.  This way, when something serious does happen, we as adults will take them seriously and know when it is appropriate for us to intervene on their behalf.  We must not disable them.

Schools no longer have the freedom to operate appropriately for the cohort of children in their care.  Teachers no longer have the freedom to do the job for which (we hope) they have been highly trained and have a passionate vocation. Head Teachers are not free to be leaders.   League tables, SATS, OFSTED, Government initiatives, random knee-jerk policies – these are the Leaders of our schools and the schools are terrified that if they manifest one single area of perceived ‘failure’ they will lose funding, drop in the league tables or in some cases be closed altogether.

I would suggest that this could be why the school in question failed to report, what appears to have been a very unpleasant case of genuine bullying, because it was terrified of the wider  repercussions.  The Dinner Lady reasonably assumed that the parents had been informed and she was ashamed that such an incident had happened at the school in which she worked. 

I sincerely hope that the school gave the perpetrators an industrial strength dressing down and appropriate punshments.  I hope that the parents of the bullies supported the school in chastising their children again when they got home.  I also hope that the parents of the bullied child not only took the school to task for failing in their duty to communicate, but spent some valuable time helping their own child to develop strategies for avoiding such a situation in the first place.

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Good Manners are More Important than Ever

My dictionary (which, I admit, runs to more than one volume) devotes 7″ of small writing to the definition of the word ‘manners’.  Explanations include “the modes of life, rules of behaviour, conditions of society prevailing in people”; “good customs or way of living”; “polite behaviour or deportment, habits indicating good breeding”; “forms of politeness or respect”.

The Wartime Housewife is extremely keen on good manners and the definition that I believe to be the most important of those above is “…politeness and respect”.  We hear a great deal from young people about their constant demand for ‘respect’ and yet in many ways it appears to me that it is an inherent lack of respect for themselves which leads them to wish to fill that void with their perception of received respect from others.

Manners are there to make ourselves and others feel comfortable, they say loud and clear ‘I care about you’. If you know how to behave in any given situation, you will never feel inferior or out of your depth.  It is therefore imperative that we instil table manners and courtesy into young people at the earliest opportunity so that it becomes second nature and they need never feel unequal because they don’t know which knife and fork to use. 

A friend of mine was having dinner with a family recently and she is a rather slow eater.  She was utterly mortified when the other people at the table got up as soon as they had finished and left her, still eating at the table.  They took their plates out, brought in their puddings, one of which was placed beside her, and proceeded to tuck in.  The senior member of the household joked “I suppose the polite thing to do would have been for us all to wait, but there you go”.  My friend felt embarrassed, unregarded and thoroughly ‘disrespected’.  It changed how she felt about the people she was visiting.

TABLE MANNERS

Let’s start with table manners and I suppose, in this day and age, we have to start by suggesting that we sit down at the table in the first place and not slouch with a plate on our knees in front of the television.  Mealtimes are very important family time.  Time to talk, share the day, communicate.  This is where manners are learned, listening and speaking are learned, appreciating the effort that has gone into preparing nourishing food.  I’m not talking about high etiquette here, just simple rules about eating.  I apologise to those of you who know all this, but I am constantly astonished by people who should know better, not knowing any better.

  • Wait until everyone has been served before starting to eat
  • Use your knife and fork at the same time and don’t hold your knife like a pen
  • Do not slouch with your elbows on the table and keep them tucked in whilst eating
  • Sit up straight – it is much easier to digest your food this way
  • Chew your food with your mouth closed – no-one wants to see, or hear, your chewed up food
  • Eat slowly, someone has taken time to cook.  Take the time to appreciate it.  Also, if you eat too fast, your brain doesn’t recognise quickly enough that you’re full and you end up eating much more than you need
  • Take smaller mouthfuls so that if anyone speaks to you, you can swallow quickly and answer
  • Don’t lean across people to get to the butter or the gravy boat. Ask your neighbour to pass it to you
  • Try to be aware of people’s needs.  If your neighbour’s glass is empty, ask them if they would like it refilled and so on
  • Leave your plate tidy.  If you can’t finish your food, push it neatly to the side of your plate
  • When you have finished eating, lay your knife and fork (or spoon and fork) together in the ‘half past six’ position.  This is a clear indication that you have finished
  • Wait until everyone has finished before clearing the plates
  • Children should always ask to leave the table and ask to ‘be excused’ if they need the lavatory
  • Always say thank you to the cook

These are not difficult rules and make the business of eating much more civilised and pleasant for everyone.  If anyone has any that are important to their family, do let us know, or if I have forgotten anything vital!

GENERAL COURTESIES

With regard to courtesy in general, imagine how you would like to be treated yourself.  There are hundreds of ways in which we can be courteous every day so grab the opportunity with both hands.  Don’t get tied up with whether a man or a woman should open a door for you, give up their seat or walk on the outside. 

  •  Always hold the door for the person behind you and smile and say
     thank you when someone does it for you. 
  •  Thank drivers who stop at zebra crossings – raise your hand and
     smile
  • If you behave like a prat in your car, raise your hand in apology (although there is a problem that whilst there are many ways to show anger and frustration, there is no acknowledged gesture for ‘Sorry’. Suggestions please!)
  • Say sorry if you bump into someone, even if it’s not your fault
  • Give up your seat on the bus to someone who appears to need it.  If they give you a mouthful, who cares?
  • If someone is obviously in a desperate hurry at the checkout and you are not, let them go first
  • Smile and say thank you if someone is courteous to you
  • Tell people they look nice if they’ve clearly made an effort and smile and say thank you if someone pays you a compliment
  • Always write thank you notes for presents or hospitality or why should anyone offer them again?

The list is endless, but this is just a few to get you going.  I would be very pleased to receive your suggestions or experiences on this topic.  I leave you with a few quotes.

To have respect for ourselves guides our morals; and to have a deference for others governs our manners.
Lawrence Sterne   Irish novelist & satirist (1713 – 1768)

 Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.
Clarence Thomas   US administrator & lawyer (1948 – )

Manners maketh man.
William of Wykeham (1324 – 1404), Motto of Winchester College and New College, Oxford

NOTE:  Please forgive any formatting errors with bullet points etc.  Every time I thought I’d sorted it, a line or a paragraph would shimmy across the page in defiance of my instructions.  I apologise for any distress this may have caused you.

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Presents: incorporating the courteous and judicious use of lists

Presents 1 - 30.07.09 There was a programme on the excellent Radio 4 this morning, in which the presenter discussed the ethics of the growing trend for making lists of the presents one wants for birthdays and Christmas.  I immediately pricked up my ears, as my family have done this for years.  The reason that we started is because we all live apart, we all have very different tastes and, most importantly, we don’t want to waste our money on fripperies that may have no use.  Some of the best presents the Wartime Housewife has ever had have been a glorious set of chisels (in their own box with little covers for the blades) and a cordless screwdriver, but I know that, on receipt of such a gift, many of my female friends would have been on the ‘phone to the family solicitor within the half hour. 

In times of austerity, however, the courteous use of a list is invaluable both to the giver and the recipient.  It is so hard to know what will be useful and appreciated and whilst one should be grateful for any gift, it’s sometimes hard to put on a delighted expression in the face of some ill-conceived monstrosity.   I was once given this handbag …. let’s just say a drag queen in Hackney was delighted to find it on ebay and we’ll say no more about it

Small electrical appliances, such as hand mixers, toasters, kettles etc frequently only last a year or two these days and on a restricted budget, an unexpected £15 or £20 can be hard to find, but the items are very hard to do without.  Books, CD’s and DVD’s bring so much pleasure to our lives and  are undoubtedly a treat but people who don’t live with you are highly unlikely to know what you do or don’t have, or even what your taste might be.  Following the Wartime Housewife’s creed that we should always attempt to repair before we replace, even simple tools can be expensive to buy and there are some lovely basic tool kits for men and women which would make super gifts, whose benefits would last for years.  Cosmetics and cleansing products are a regular expense and always seem to run out at once.  If there is a particular brand of lipstick for example, that you like and can’t quite justify buying for yourself, again it is a gift that could last a whole year. 

If your family and close friends are not in the habit of list writing and you feel it would be beneficial, I would suggest approaching it like this.  As a birthday or Christmas approaches simply tell people that, as we are all having to pull our horns in, you would like to make sure that any gift you buy for them is what they truly need and would be helpful or a treat.  Maybe suggest a rough budget at Christmas time and stick to it.  Christmas in particular can be such an appalling orgy of consumption that I feel it would be rather nice to change the focus from profligate gift giving to a more thoughtful celebration of what we truly have.  The key here is courtesy.  Never present someone with a list unless it has first been discussed or requested.  Keep the list to a reasonable length – too many items are overwhelming and frankly a little greedy – and don’t include anything that is hideously expensive unless it is appropriate to do so.

The other big consideration is whether you give everyone the same list; if you do this, you need to make sure that everyone is communicating with each other in order to avoid getting three sets of chisels or four copies of ‘The Best of the Andrews Sisters’ CD (the modern e-mail system is so handy for this).  One major benefit of the list is the potential for ‘Joint Presents’ and this is particularly useful for children whose accoutrements get ever more expensive.  For my birthday this year I asked my sister and mother to club together and buy me a year’s membership of English Heritage.  This has given me and the boys a whole year of free entertainment which will have the knock-on effect that we will do far more fun and educational things together on a regular basis.  The National Trust also offers excellent value.  My other sister paid for me to have my hair done at my favourite salon which was a lovely treat and gave me tremendous boost.

Do not be afraid of The List.  Simply approach it with courtesy and sensitivity and it will result in less consumption, more appreciation of what you have and significantly more space in the cupboard under the stairs.

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