Manners. Are they now a thing of the past?

Dec 25, 2023
Source: Getty Images.

Manners. Are they a thing of the past? Or is it just getting too hard to enforce them and that’s why they are disappearing?

In the 1960s, when I was taking my first wobbly steps, manners mattered. Any failure to behave appropriately would often result in a swift whack to the backside followed by a trip to the bedroom to think about what I’d just done. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom as a young fella. Sitting and thinking.

Many a time, I would be told to get my elbows off the table; to say please and thank you; and to never chew food with an open mouth. When Aunty Molly would give me a Christmas gift, mum would make sure I’d thank her and tell how much it meant to me, even though she did rob me by always giving me one present to cover both Christmas and my birthday – which is December 28. Manners were learned, sometimes through observation, but more than likely through discussion and actions.

Now before you think I have developed Grumpy Old Person Syndrome, let me say I’ve just spent some time out in “today’s brave new world” immersing myself in the varied delights of the younger generation. So, I think I have the right to comment. I define “today’s brave new world” as any shopping centre. They are fascinating places to spend a few hours, people watching. I’ve just spent the past seven weeks working in a job where I dealt with the public on a daily basis. It’s scary out there when it comes to manners. The job involved me dressing up in a red suit and allowing children to climb over me for hours at a time while someone in a green uniform tried to take photos.

I think you can work out what I was doing. To be fair, a lot of young parents worked really hard to convince their children to say “please” and “thank you”. Others didn’t make any effort at all, appearing not to give a hoot about what example their behaviour was setting for their children. I wonder how many parents will be encouraging children to say thank you for the Christmas gifts received this year. I’m sure people don’t give gifts to get “thank you” messages, but they do feel slighted and unappreciated if there is no reply at all to the gift.

Perhaps saying thank you is considered outdated by today’s younger generation of parents. Perhaps the art of writing thank you notes died out in the 1960s. Who knows. It’s not just gifts that we don’t thank people for anymore. My cousin Peter, who this year reached the pension age, says no-one thanks him when he leaves them space to merge in traffic.

“People just ignore you,’’ he says.

“It’s like they think it is their right to cut in front of you. It’s basic manners to say thank you – with a little wave or by the slight raise of a finger – to someone who leaves space for you.’’ Australians aren’t good a merging. Never have been. And Queenslanders, where Peter lives, are particularly atrocious at it.

According to the Insurance Australia Group, 83 percent of drivers say they have encountered other drivers who can’t merge. I’m a little surprised that the figure is not closer to 100 percent. Research by NRMA said that blocking people from merging was second only to tailgating as the most frustrating act on Australian roads, according to a survey of motorists. And what’s the point of blocking someone? You won’t get to your destination any quicker because failing to merge correctly, actually slows down traffic flow considerably. The other thing I noticed – by virtue of spending a lot of time in a shopping centre which really is a modern-day Petri dish of life – is that pedestrians rarely say thank you to drivers who stop to allow them to cross the road. I always wave to anyone who stops when I’m about to enter a pedestrian crossing. I know I have right way, but it doesn’t hurt to look the driver in the eye, smile and offer a wave of thanks.

And what about manners in cinemas? Whatever happened to just sitting quietly in silence and watching the film? The only saving grace these days is that I’m retired, and I can go to the cinemas midweek when they are almost empty, so I can generally find a spot away from everyone else. I was not so lucky the other day though at a new release screening which was pretty much full. From the outset of the movie, the people sitting in front of me were scrolling on their phones which were shining bright in the darkness, texting people and then showing the text replies to the people next to them. Another person was chatting inanely in a normal speaking voice to the person next to them as if they were sitting in their own lounge room. They were oblivious to the angst they were causing to others around them.

Some say this behaviour is because the younger generation has developed higher multi-tasking skills and that they no longer find it necessary to sit in silence and watch a movie to fully comprehend what’s happening on the screen. Others think the younger generation does lots of things at once because they have tiny attention spans that need constant distraction.

So, what did I learn from my re-introduction to the working world? I can’t, or shouldn’t judge today’s generation by my standards, because they clearly think people my age have reached their “use by” date. And it is with joy that I will slip back into retirement mode until Christmas 2024.

Happy New Year!

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