Have you recently felt ignored, snubbed or belittled by someone’s behaviour? Has a stranger closed a door in your face, or a friend been too busy browsing their phone to talk to you? Sometimes it really does seem like everyone’s manners have gone !
If you have bemoaned the lack of manners in today’s society, take comfort: you’re not alone. Last year the broadcaster Sky Atlantic commissioned a poll to find out how people in Britain feel about politeness, and the results were concerning.
Two out of three of the respondents felt the UK’s reputation for good manners was rapidly disappearing, but perhaps more worrying was the finding that almost one in ten thought they were more likely to get what they wanted by being rude than by asking politely, while roughly the same number believed speaking bluntly was good because it shows people what you really feel about them.
Youth versus Age
Whenever the subject of bad manners crops up, the finger of blame is almost always pointed at the younger generation, and it would certainly appear that complaints about lack of manners in the young are nothing new. In the 4th century BC the Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle observed that young people “think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it,” while in the year 1624 British writer Thomas Barnes commented: “Youth were never more saucie, yea never more savagely saucie … the ancient are scorned, the honourable are contemned, the magistrate is not dreaded.”
Does that mean we should blame the youth of today for our lack of good manners? Take a closer look at the various examples appearing in the media, and you’ll find that many of the offenders – such as the man recently condemned for launching a tirade of abuse at a disabled woman on a Ryanair flight – are people of middle age, or even older.
Jane10, commenting on the forum Gransnet.com, says: “I was horrified at our extended family lunch when several people placed their mobile phones on the table as if it was quite the done thing. This was a 40+ year old and her 60+ mother,” adding: “I forgot to say that it was our Christmas lunch!”
Journalist Rachel Moore was moved to write about her experience of a restaurant meal with friends where “a table of people in their fifties and sixties were causing an almighty din, seemingly oblivious they were in a shared space, drowning out any possible conversation between the couples on tables around them.” Writing in the Eastern Daily Press, she went on to describe how “a polite request” to keep the noise down turned into an ugly shouting match involving the whole room.
According to a 2017 study commissioned by Mentos sweets, 85 per cent of people feel hurt by the lack of courtesy extended to them in everyday life. We may feel indifferent when it comes to showing courtesy to strangers, but when friends are involved, we ignore social etiquette at our peril: a thoughtless gesture can literally make or break a relationship.
“I have received a message recently from a friend through Facebook inviting me to her 60th birthday,” writes Michael John, posting on the website silversurfers.com. While Michael says he was pleased to get the invitation, he admits he was shocked to find that his friend had asked for cash as a birthday gift. “I’ve always valued being given a present and take time choosing presents for others,” he says. “To ask for money instead leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.”
KatyK, posting on Gransnet.com, comments: “My personal pet hate is when I meet someone I know and ask how they are and they reply ‘I’m fine’ and don’t ask me the question back. It makes my blood boil.” She goes on to describe a night out with her husband at a local pub, when an acquaintance came to sit at their table, uninvited. Having listened sympathetically to the woman’s account of “the terrible life she had had and all her troubles” for twenty minutes, there was very little response when she started to recount her own experience. According to Katy, the woman “stood up and said ‘Yes, terrible isn’t it?’ picked up her drink and went back to her own table.”
So the next time you hear an older person complain about lack of manners in the younger generation, you might suggest they take a look in the mirror. Whether we are interacting with friends, acquaintances or complete strangers, a little consideration is all that’s needed to reverse the trend. The old saying “Manners maketh man” (recently given a new lease of life in the popular Kingsman movie franchise) can also apply to a nation. Fortunately there’s still time to rebuild Britain’s reputation for courtesy and good manners, particularly if our older citizens lead by example.
By Kate McLelland