Sunday, 14 July 2013

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Raise your hand if you were at all surprised at the recent news that a member of staff at a Sainsbury’s supermarket refused to serve a customer who was speaking on her mobile at the checkout. Right, OK, I can see the confusion amongst those with half-raised hands and puzzled looks on their faces. I shall rephrase the question: who was surprised that a customer talking on her mobile at a supermarket made another person, in this case a worker at the aforementioned supermarket, upset? That’s better, no hand has shot up.

Do you think she's noticed?
Maybe it is the hot weather we are having now but I have noticed that when temperatures rise a little above average there is a change also amongst the inhabitants of these isles. Whether you were born here or not. For some reason which I can’t quite work out, we are suddenly faced with the following equation: +30°C outside=complete relaxation (and breakdown) of normal cohabitation rules (in this case cohabitation refers to the space we all share as humans). Suddenly we are louder, more explicit (in both language and clothes), more expressive and we show off more. Conversations on our mobiles, which already break decibel standards, go a few notches up and become unbearable.

I have asked people at work (mainly British-born) if this situation was ever thus or if it is a new phenomenon. They all seem to concur that public etiquette has changed considerably in the last twenty to twenty-five years. The impression they have is that people have become more individualistic since the 80s and that nowadays the minute they place something in their ears, be it a mobile phone or headphones to listen to their music gadget, they claim the space they occupy around them automatically. They also use their prop (mp3 player/mobile/iPod) as a weapon to isolate themselves, take possession of said space and confront and scare off potential opponents.

Since I was not here twenty years ago, I have to accept this theory. But I was in Cuba two decades ago and I was witness then to a similar breakdown of social rules. This week the Cuban president Raúl Castro railed against his fellow countrymen and women who, according to him, were letting the Caribbean nation down with their shoddy morals and their loss of values. Amongst the examples listed by the 82-year-old dignitary were unpunctuality at work, raising animals (especially pigs in cities) and lack of consideration towards the elderly and pregnant women. Message to Raúl: did you not get the memo? The problems you mentioned, Mr President, are not new. They have been there for the last twenty-odd years. I can’t believe that you noticed them now. Mind you, since it was your brother who was in charge for forty-nine years whilst you took care of the army, the whole pig-raising malarkey might have passed you by. The only reason why people resorted to raising animals in flats was because your government did not give us enough food. When I still lived in Havana I was surrounded by chickens on one side, pigs and chickens on the other side, pigs in the flat below mine and pigs, chickens, rabbits and a goat (yes, a bleating goat!) in the apartment above. Even we had chickens every now and then in my house. From a polite and well-mannered society we became a vulgar and sloppy nation. No, I am not blaming the animals, I am blaming the situation that gave rise to people’s need to buy and keep these animals in urban settings.

There are parallels with the UK. If successive governments, as it appears to have happened here, erode the bonds that tie us together as members of the same human family, the result is a customer at a supermarket checkout expecting special treatment from someone they think below their social rank. The same goes with Cuba and the decline of social etiquette, the same social etiquette with which I was brought up and which dictated that every time a pregnant woman boarded a bus it was my duty as a citizen and a gentleman to give up my seat for her. If you do not meet people’s basic needs, they regress (wrongly, and I am not excusing vulgarity at all for this) to a primitive state and once they are there it is very hard to get them out.

Some people will blame technology and its effects for what happened at Sainsbury’s. I am sorry but I disagree. With or without a mobile glued to her ear, that customer would have still been rude. Simple as that. My hope is that next time I ask you the same question I posed at the beginning, you all raise your hands. That would mean progress.

This is my temporary goodbye. I am not going away but I will be on blog-vacation. I will come back mid-September with more reflections, more music and of course, with a steaming pot of coffee to share with you as we try to understand this difficult but beautiful world in which we live. My blog will not be inactive. There will be a summer clip every Sunday. I hope you all have a great time off, too.

© 2013

Next post: “Music for a Summer Sunday Morning”, to be published on Sunday 21st July at 10am (GMT)


32 comments:

  1. Querido Cuban, no sé cómo es ahora, pero yo sí estaba ahí hace 25 años, y la tónica entonces era hacer lo que te diera la gana siempre que dijeras SORRY.

    Y hablando de etiqueta y modales, mira lo que ha pasado en Mallorca hace unos días....

    http://ultimahora.es/mallorca/noticia/sucesos/ultimas/despedido-por-culpa-gases.html

    Saludos desde Galicia.

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  2. wish i could, but i have seen enough to know...we are like the big bang...ever racing out into the universe away from each other...we have created a very self centered and enabled society and are just now starting to reap the rewards of that...

    it can not be all about me...

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  3. Ciertamente que los modales, los principios, la religión, y demás se han perdido por todas partes, es una pena ya que nos rebota a todos y con ello hemos perdido el respecto.
    Un abrazo

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  4. In a spa I go to the customers ask the manicurist to fish their cell out of their bag, answer it & hold it to their ear ...the first time I witnessed this I was shocked. I got over it since it happens all the time. There is also this misanthrope-rude-coolness thing that I've never understood. Where certain people believe they are uber-happening, so better than you, & above the fray ..that you, the little person, should expect & even appreciate their rudeness.

    Have a nice peaceful blog vacation.

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  5. Yes, WE'RE DOOMED!
    Enjoy your blog-vacation. I will miss your urbane commentaries.

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  6. Yep, down the me, my and mine rabbit hole we continue to go. Screw everyone and everything else.

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  7. i'm worried sometimes about the way things have changed - it's true - when i was a kid, i learned to leave my seat in the bus to a pregnant woman or elderly people - you don't see this much any more - and as the youth is getting more and more self centered, the not so young seem to get more self-centered as well cause some are just frustrated... ugh...i think we need more role models that walk the humble way - maybe that would help - and we surely need to teach our children

    ....and enjoy your blog vacation...

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  8. Queremos ser actores de una obra que no es la nuestra, aquí y en Pekín.

    ¡Que tengas buena semana!

    Saludos

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  9. A bit of wisdom occasionally emerges from the British Isles, and I believe it did when James Frazer wrote "The Gold Bough" and introduced the concept of the "thin veneer of civilization." I further believe what you are describing, CiL, is evidence of the continued erosion of that veneer.

    Then again, while the concept is real enough, it might be that the veneer always has been more-or-less of a constant density and never really gets much thicker nor ever really gets much thinner.

    Hmmmm .... I think I am writing myself into a circle, so I will "get while the getting is good."

    I hope your holiday is enjoyable and rewarding, CiL, and travel safely.

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  10. So true - this really seems to be the Age of Me Me Me...but I'm hoping the pendulum will swing back again.

    Enjoy your blog vacation!

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  11. Another example of how society is disintegrating. The individual is all!

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  12. Yes, people have always been rude but cell phone use can add danger too. On my bike ride, I encountered a woman not wearing a helmet and biking on the wrong side of the road. She was texting while she biked and would have crashed into me if I hadn't yelled "heads up!"

    Enjoy your blog vacation!

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  13. I read an article about brain research and cellphones. Seems like people actully get addicted to it.

    Have a nice vacation.

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  14. There seems to me to be a dichotomy in England now. In many parts of the country, I am constantly aware that I mustn't do certain things - forget to say thank you and please, or appear impatient in a shop. It's taken quite badly. And as for not queueing in the post office or something - well! But perhaps in particular defiance of this, there also seems to be an awful lot more gratuitous rudeness here than in other countries. I imagine it's a kind of a rebellion.
    I think it should be a law that people should give up a seat to an obviously pregnant woman, or an old person. They really do need it, often. And I don't understand why people think children need seats when adults are standing.

    There again, times change.

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  15. Yes...society in definitely on it's downward spiral into destruction.
    Whatever happened to "love thy neighbour as thyself"?

    Hope I never become a part of this self-centredness!

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  16. I so appreciate your assertion that the problem isn't the technology, and I'm going to be thinking on this idea that rudeness can sometimes grow out of government.

    However, I must say that I think the woman in line at the market would not necessarily have been rude, had her phone been tucked away in her purse. The issue for the checker was, "I am helping you, so give me your attention." With the phone put away, both parties might very well have had a typically uneventful interaction in which both emerged from the transaction feeling nothing much at all.

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  17. So much food for thought here. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Just an anecdote, something that happened to me last night. I had to stay behind at work and cycled home later than usual. At a set of traffic lights a car pulled up next to me. One of the red lights turned to green to indicate that those wishing to turn left could do so. I smiled at the (female) driver and said: "There's your green!" and continued to smile. The woman looked at me and blurted out: "Shut up!". I still can't understand what I did wrong. Some people might blame the heat. We've seen temperatures rise above 30 degrees. But I cannot do it. That woman was either under the influence of something (there was hatred in her eyes) or she had just had a very bad day. No excuse, however.

    Have a nice rest of the week.

    Greetings from London.

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  18. There is no excuse for the lack of respect of others... Have a good blog vacation!

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  19. I lived in London just a few years before living here, and I've watched the breakdown of basic human manners over the past couple of decades, as you describe, and I agree it's related to the electronic gadgetry use.

    I thought that story about the woman in the checkout queue was typical of such a degradation of basic manners....that she wasn't conscious of any one damned thing except herself and her mind, she needed the "slap" the Sainsbury's girl gave her, and I was unimpressed when Sainsbury's 'apologised' to the braindead telephone user. What can ya do....

    I notice in your Blogger profile you have a Sanskrit poem excerpt....I'd love to know which poem, and see the whole thing...and the Sanskrit :)) Is that possible?

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  20. Great, I find you and you go on vacation, lol good for you loved what you wrote..and i adore the heading to the left, those words mean the world to me...I've just recently purchased a cell phone because when my computer connection goes down so does the phone, so I'ts my emergency phone and calling taxi phone, since I lost my car...It's awful not to have a car anyhoo have a ball a great vacation and come back with great stories I'LL be here :)

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  21. I used to be a waiter at a restaurant and sometimes people would be on their phone while I was waiting on them...ruse indeed lol.

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  22. laughing....just was telling my youngest son this morning to be sure to open the door for the ladies and young girls when he goes into the doors to his "kid's college" today :) Starts with home and you hope it sticks!! Enjoy your vacation from the blog world!! See you in the fall!

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  23. The lack of etiquette and common courtesy has increased. I think the rules of etiquette have not be passed on as they used to be. Technology presents new situations in which proper etiquette hasn't been defined.

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  24. great discussion there are still plenty of good folks but I haven't lived in the UK for 10 years it is rude to have phone on here when checking out though

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  25. I have to agree with you totally. There has slowly been a total erosion of common courtesy over the last few years. I don't know why but it is there just as surely as the sun rises each day.

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  26. I agree with you about the behaviors of people. I don't think impoliteness / rudeness is a new thing ..... but I think this generation of youth is less polite than the generation before. How many young men are even taught that they SHOULD open a door for a woman or elder? Or offer a seat? And no one takes off their hat indoors anymore. And the cell phone truly reigns supreme and interrupts life everywhere...... Enjoy your blog vacation!

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  27. Such an interesting column. I do not know what gives rise to such changes - some may blame it on a lack of core values/ religious values/ family values - I don't know - I think that you have nailed two very real points:

    1. When individual needs and rights are so emphasized, there can definitely be a downside for the community. Somehow the idea of being and expressing yourself forgot the notion that it should not be at other's expense, or at least not in trivial ways or selfish ways - it is a fine line to some - but being yourself against repression seems to be somewhat different than being greedy, selfish, and rude..

    2. I think when people feel harassed and ignored and cheated by societal structures, like their government, they can also get more belligerent. You give the example of not enough food in Cuba, but i know in NYC, people can feel very stepped on by the powers-that-be--everything public has gotten so degraded -- that it makes them very angry to other citizens. So if you accidentally knock in to someone, they can turn and shout at you, in part because they themselves simply feel pushed around by bigger powers.

    Agh. Who knows? Thanks for the interesting column. K. (http://manicddaily.wordpress.com)

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  28. It is harder to keep tempers in check in the hot weather... if you're already feeling uncomfortable in your body, it takes less to tip you over into expressing irritation at other things, I find. It's certainly common.

    As for the changing nature of technology and interaction... I think you might enjoy this: http://xkcd.com/1227/

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  29. I have not been here for awhile but have enjoyed my catch-up today - thank you. All best wishes.

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  30. In my day, people who appeared to be talking to themselves were considered to be crazy. It still appears that way to me, no matter whether there is some concealed device involved or not.

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  31. Like cute, yet destructive squirrels in my gardens, I have a Love/Hate relationship with cell phones. I do believe they have a great purpose but people have just gone overboard with need to constantly have them to their ear! I become so aggravated at the rudeness cell phones have caused. I as you do not blame the phones but the people instead. Even in the Deep South of the USA where I live, this type rudeness is becoming rampant! It just seems the normal these days. What a shame...

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