One of these days isle punch you.
I nearly got into a fight the other day. And no, alcohol wasn’t involved. It was soup.
While trying to decide between the parsnip and spicy bean, I noticed someone wheeling a trolley towards me. Being the courteous chap I am, I put my lunch selection on hold and stood back to let him pass. But he didn’t. He stopped directly between me and the soup. Normally, my bent-over posture might have been a clue that I was studying the tins, but Mr O’Blivious completely failed to observe the body language. Instead, he was hypnotised by the pretty labels and stopped to see what they would do. It is hard to say what limited thought processes might have been going through his mind, but evolution and civility were surely not involved.
But, this is not the first time this has happened. I am beginning to wonder if manners have been phased out and I missed the memo.
And yet, we live in a society obsessed with politeness.
Polite notice, my ass.
Fixed to the fridge door in the kitchenette of our office is a polite notice. I know it is a polite notice, because it says so. It goes on to say, please splash milk all over the worktop, sprinkle sugar on the floor and do not, under any circumstances attempt to use the dishwasher. Of course, it doesn’t use those exact words, but that is how it is interpreted by most of those who see it. The problem seems to be that it is written in English and as everyone knows the English are useless at comprehending simple requests or considering anyone else. For a nation so indoctrinated with the urge to stand in queues, never complain and to always be polite and considerate, we are pretty bad at it.
Please keep breathing.
Another result of not being able to grasp the concept of politeness, is the subculture obsessed with polite instructions. ‘Please press button to exit‘ is a sign located adjacent to a button required to unlock the door of a building that I occasionally visit. Why does it say ‘please’? If you want to leave, you have to press the button. There is no option. It is not a suggestion that might make things easier. It is an instruction. Even if people do need to be told ‘Do not smash head through glass’, or ‘Do not squeeze testicles with adjustable spanner’, these are notices that do not require niceties.
What people fail to realise, is that polite notices are as ineffectual as trying to reason with an unruly toddler. To a troublesome two-year old, “Georgie dear, would you mind not stabbing that fork into grannie’s arm,” sounds the same as “Georgie dear, would you like some cake?” Some things need to be said with suitable authority.
That is why a sign that says ‘Polite notice. No ball games’ will only make people laugh. At best, the kids will use it as a target for the ball.
Unfortunately, polite notices are pretty much useless in any circumstances. You may be a naturally polite person and not wish to offend anyone, but the only thing that is guaranteed when saying please is that it uses extra ink to say it.
The lesson learned from all this? Step towards the soup and not away from it.
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