Why it's about time Britain abolished manners
I’m an immigrant. Well, my parents are. They moved to the UK a year before I was born. Which basically makes me an immigrant. I was raised speaking Tamil (a South Indian language), I didn’t speak English properly until the age of 5, and even then my English only lost the final traces of an Indian accent upon entrance to secondary school. This led to one too many patronising corrections in front of the whole class by my teachers (Mrs Dixon comes to mind) as I just sat there; completely and utterly humiliated.
Though my parents were both well versed in the art of speaking the beautiful language of English (my mother even able to quote the odd verse of Shakespeare) they knew very little of the customs of the British; the values, the etiquette, and most important of all the BLOODY MANNERS. This - coupled with my slightly late embrace of an acceptably accented English-speaking style - left me rather confused when in school I’d hear ‘Say thank you!’ or when receiving disdainful looks from my friends’ parents for not saying ‘please,’ after asking for my sixth chocolate digestive.
‘Manners’ – in the British sense – simply does not exist for us. We don’t feel the need for it. 'Ahhh! How rude,’ you say. ‘How else do you show respect?!’ But I ask you in reply ‘Do you guys not call your friends’ parents by their first names?’ This particular practise, I only discovered when after calling my friend’s mother ‘Auntie’ she replied, ‘I’m not your auntie love, you can call me Debbie.’ And with shock, I recoiled at the thought of referring to anyone older by their first name! Ran I did to my mother - who after 7 years in Britain - was finally accustomed to certain aspects of British culture. ‘It’s fine’ she said. ‘That’s what the British do…’
Which brings me to look at what exactly ‘manners’ are -which like other archaic practises is probably rooted in Victorian culture.
What do we actually accomplish repeatedly saying ‘PLEASE’ and ‘THANK YOU’ when after the tenth time, it is no longer necessary? What is gained when – with a painfully big smile on our faces – we hold open doors for some total stranger, when in the back of our minds we know they’re not even going in your direction?
The answer is – nothing. They accomplish nothing because at heart they are meaningless utterances, only said and valued because tradition makes it so. Just muttering 'please' goes over people's heads. It’s so incredibly common place, so casually and half-heartedly said that they are delivered with no true meaning. And all this at the loss of a genuine expression of respect.
The internet seems to think that modern British manners have their root in the Enlightenment-era desire of upwardly mobile middle-class folk to be identified as upper class. By the beginning of the Victorian age, these had all solidified into strict, rigid codes of conduct; the neglect of which resulted in the same stern looks I received as I didn’t say ‘please’ to my friends’ parents…
The novels of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte are littered with references to these customs; bowing courteously upon the entrance of a ‘gentleman’ to a room, asking the permission of a parent to speak to their child or constantly referring to others as either Mr or Mrs (‘Mr Darcy this, Mr Darcy that!’ Just call him Fitzwilliam! Actually, on second thoughts... don’t.) And though this may not have been an accurate reflection of daily life, aspects of it have certainly bled into our modern society.
I say we should abolish these mindless customs. This may be almost blasphemous in certain quarters but… LET’S GET RID OF MANNERS! Why do we insist on this colossal waste of breath? What binds us to them apart from our blind acceptance of a moral code which certainly does not suit our modern age!
Because ultimately, I think not saying ‘please’ is much less rude than Mrs Dixon correcting a little 6-year-old boy with an Indian-accent for pronouncing the word ‘cassette’ as CAH-SUT rather than CUH-SET - in front of his whole class as they point and giggle. And there sat my poor 6-year-old self, flushed with shame, vowing to get his back on Mrs Dixon…