|Do you think she's noticed?|
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.
Next post: “Music for a Summer Sunday Morning”, to be published on Sunday 21st July at 10am (GMT)