Friday, 14 July 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 14 July

Thomas Blaikie is pleased to notice that people are normally polite to each other and rudeness is an unusual disturbance

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas I took the bus to King’s Cross to get a train. Three people said: ‘Thank you, driver,’ as they got off. As I got off, I said: ‘Thank you, driver.’ It felt good. Maybe it’s just me, but I get the feeling that people are trying to be much nicer to each other these days. Could this be a reaction to all our recent national troubles? Justine Brewster, London

Dear Justine I don’t think it’s just you. I’ve been thinking very much along the same lines for the last few weeks. Despite the brittle atmosphere of conflict and tragedy across the country, people in public places are making a huge effort to be polite and thoughtful. I mentioned last week, as kind readers might remember, the incident of people thanking for a door held open which they’d not gone through.

This happened at Leigh Delamere Services on the M4. Thinking about that some more, you might expect a nowhere place like that to be an ideal anonymous environment for rudeness to thrive. If nobody knows who you are, you get can away with anything… hence road rage. So it’s even more surprising that Leigh Delamere Services should be the scene of such charming courtesy.

I’ve seen it elsewhere. In a Turkish restaurant last week the waiter dropped some houmous and the plate broke. It went on the lady’s handbag (a bit) but she said, ‘Are you all right?’ Rather than having hysterics. At the theatre, despite the intense crush of people, a man at the bar said: ‘I think you were first.’ Unheard of… especially in London, where it’s often dog eat dog in bar/pub circumstances.

Where there is rudeness or undesirable show-off behaviour, it’s more conspicuous. Yesterday on Piccadilly, a man driving in his v. expensive souped-up vehicle revved the engine and indulged in ‘boy racing’ at every opportunity when the road was clear. I thought: ‘How ghastly,’ but also, ‘It’s a long time since I’ve seen anything like that.’

You may say I’m being silly and my evidence is merely anecdotal. I say the more you believe the world is a certain way, the more it will become so. It’s all a question of what you notice, and that arises from what you assume in the first place. If you wait for absolute incontrovertible evidence, then you’ll wait forever.

There’s much to be said for thanking people who do thankless jobs and probably never get thanked – such as driving taxis or more particularly buses (I love buses more and more as I get older), sweeping the streets, waiting at tables, working in supermarkets or call centres and cleaning our homes.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


I was involved in a complex intrigue re money last week. A friend of a friend (who then became a friend) wanted to visit Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, home of Queen Victoria, where she died. He was over from Kolkata on a rare visit and was mad keen to see it. So it was vital to go. Organising a visit to the Isle of Wight requires a Mensa level of brain power – working out which ferry is quickest and connects with which train… But I managed it and it was quite expensive. I was worried. Perhaps the sum involved would be a whole month of his salary. Was it insulting to assume pay is low in India? Even so, he might be ruined. On the other hand, if I offered to pay, it might be thought patronising and reverting to colonial ways. I consulted with the original friend of the Indian friend. So there we were, two white people, slightly conspiring. You just can’t win. He at least has a better knowledge of Indian salaries and also asked the person directly – who said that was what he was expecting it to cost. Really, it was quite a lot of fuss about nothing.

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