Several weeks ago, I wrote about the rudeness and appallingly bad customer service which I encountered in Paris on a visit with a student group.
I have just read an article in the French press saying that even the French are becoming more and more annoyed by bad manners.
Obviously not only foreign visitors are being irritated by snotty waiters, aggressive commuters and shameless queue-jumpers!
Apparently, lack of manners is quoted as the number one source of stress for 60 per cent of French people.
The organisation which runs the transport system in Paris has just launched a campaign for “civility” on the public transport network.
The campaign features animals behaving like, well, animals – a hen blaring into a mobile phone on a bus, a sloth sprawled across several seats in a crowded carriage, a buffalo shoving its way onto a packed train.
On the same subject, a town mayor in the north of France has introduced “please” and “thank you” rules in an attempt to encourage visitors to the town hall to be polite to staff, and not rude and abusive (something which I am sure Wetherby Town Hall staff would think a great idea, because all too often, they have to endure what can only be called unpleasant rants from members of the public).
A French sociologist says that ill manners have always existed, but what changes is what we deem to be acceptable.
As a child, my parents were fanatical about table manners. No elbows on the table, hold your knife properly (not like a pencil), don’t speak with your mouth full, etc.
Eating in the street just wasn’t done. Behaviour likely to embarrass others was most definitely frowned upon. You wouldn’t have dreamt of calling an adult by their first name because it would have been disrespectful.
This was all reinforced at my school. Woe betide anyone seen doing anything untoward while wearing school uniform!
I can remember being hauled in front of the Head Mistress because I had been seen in town in uniform but without my school beret. I can’t see that happening in many educational establishments today, can you?
To many of today’s young people, this would probably all sound laughable.
Just look round Wetherby – eating in the street is now the norm (I just wish putting the packaging and often the remains in a litter bin was also the norm).
For many children, actually sitting at a table for a family meal would be a novel experience.
You can’t really enforce table manners when meals are usually on knees in front of the television, can you?
Using Christian names for all and sundry has become commonplace. Do you hate it when you get a telephone call from some company or other and they call you by your first name? I certainly do.
The French have traditionally always been very formal in that respect, but I have noticed over the past few years that even there, use of first names (along with the familiar word for you) has become much more common.
My daughters maintain that it’s not just young people who are ill-mannered.
They have both always complained about the behaviour of “old” people in supermarkets and department stores.
I must admit that I have noticed in supermarkets that some “old” people do not always show much respect for their fellow shoppers.
A couple of years ago, we were in a queue at Fountain’s Abbey. There was a large notice behind the desk, advising members of the National Trust that if they could not produce their membership card, they would have to pay the normal entrance fee.
The older (and obviously fairly affluent) couple in front of us did not have their cards, so the young woman on duty said, very politely, that they would have to pay. The tirade which followed had to be heard to be believed. It ended with the promise that they would see that she lost her job.
We subsequently rang the general manager to give our side of the story and our support to the young employee.
The couple had actually made a formal complaint about her – for doing her job in an exceedingly polite manner. So maybe my daughters are not wrong!
I think the key word is respect. If you have respect in any kind of society, whether it be the family, a school or a business, then individuals would not behave in a way to annoy or distress others.
Football is a prime example – the behaviour of many of the overpaid louts on the pitch only serves to show their adoring fans that abusing others is fine.
If the players showed respect to each other, then I suspect that much of the violence associated with the game would disappear.
Or am I just being a grumpy old woman?