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In the next few minutes we’re going to be talking about modern manners. It’s an argument that, on the face of it, has been going on between the generations, for hundreds of generations. Older people can often be heard saying the youth of today lack the basics in good behaviour and with newspapers and the media focusing on the anti-social activities of a minority of young people, it’s easy for them to be branded with a negative stereotype. So are British manners really getting worse? Our reporter Mark went to find out.
Well, I’ve come to a typical UK high street on a weekday to talk to the young mums and dads, business people, elderly people and students that are out doing their shopping. So we should get an interesting mix of views. Let’s go see what people think.
-Excuse me, sir, would you say that manners are getting better or worse in the UK?
- "I actually think they’re getting worse. I think that the standards are declining generally. "
- "I think they are getting worse but not terribly so."
- "Generally in buses and trains I think that people’s manners have improved in many ways."
- "There are cultural differences, so you might meet someone from a different culture and your set of manners will quite be different to theirs."
Well, is it all a question of individual taste or is there some common ground? With me here is Simon Fanshawe, author of a book called ‘The Done Thing’, all about modern British manners.
-Simon, what are the basic dos and don’ts?
-I think one of the things that’s confusing for people is when they come here is there appear to be hundreds and hundreds of rules, hundreds of things you should and shouldn’t do. And the truth of it is that most of them are about class. And lots of them are trip-wires actually for people who don’t know them.
So what I tried to do in my book was take it back to some sort of first principle and say look – there are anthropological reasons why we have certain kinds of manners. So I’ll give you a very good example, in Britain there are sort of two ways of holding a knife, very broadly. And broadly speaking the middle-classes hold it with the index finger on the top, gripped in the hand. And working-class people hold it like a pen. Entirely a class distinction and people mercilessly exploit it if they want to. The truth of it is, the one way not to hold a knife at the table, is clasped in your fist, raised as if to kill your guest. And what does that tell us about eating? Well, what it tells us about eating is two things: it's never confuse your guests with either the food or the enemy. Don’t eat them and don’t kill them! That’s about how you should hold your knife, because actually manners are really about the reduction of violence. There’s a lot in there about reducing violence. So that’s just an illustration of what one tries to do so actually when you look at real table manners they’re about people feeling comfortable with each other, sharing food around a table. Very important human thing.
-And are things actually getting worse?
-Very broadly speaking, we all rub along together pretty well, actually, we don’t do so badly. The trouble with bad manners is that when you experience it, it completely occupies your field of vision. So you feel completely knocked back and rather hurt by somebody.
-Should foreigners, say, comply with British manners when in Britain or should they just be themselves?
-Well I think, one, they should be very gentle with us because we’re not terribly good at understanding that there are lots of different customs from round the world, so you know, be gentle. But I think the thing what I would say to anybody going to any other culture, any other country in the world: Number one – be curious, ask yourself. The other thing is don’t think there’s a right and a wrong way to do things in terms of little funny details. Always remember that fundamentals matter more than anything else. ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ is a gift and a grace in any language so treat people in the fundamental purpose of manners which is to make life easier. If I can give you a definition of manners, it is it the reduction of actual or potential violence between strangers. So always seek to defuse conflict, always seek to reach out and offer yourself to other people, always seek to open the door and let them through. Do those kind of things because actually you’ll find people love it and they’ll respond to you.
-Simon Fanshawe, it would be very bad manners of me not to say, ‘thank you’ for coming to talk to us.
Our reporter Mark, minding his p’s and q’s there. And that’s it for this time.