Yashar Fasihnia and his friends were watching Titanic in a packed theatre. They were all set to enjoy the fascinating drama about to unfold on screen. Their enjoyment, however, was short-lived, because no sooner had the movie started, a bunch of noisy latecomers entered the hall and occupied the empty front seats. The talked loudly, guffawed for no apparent reason and created so much commotion that all the dialogues were drowned in that din. As if, all that was already not enough, they even started flashing laser beams on the screen. "It was, as if they had come to the movie hall with the sole purpose of disturbing the audience. I politely requested them to remain quiet, but it only encouraged them to make even more noise. They sure spoiled our evening," laments an obviously peeved Yashar. An 11th grader studying at Our Own English High School, Dubai, Yashar himself is endearingly polite and soft-spoken, and feels pained when he witnesses such loutish behaviour in others. He attributes such conduct to poor upbringing and lack of education.
Such situations are all too familiar. We have all encountered noisy gangs in cinema halls whose non-stop prattle, irritating giggles or crunchy sounds of popcorn munching can infuriatingly grate on our nerves. As annoying can be the sound of a ringing mobile phone in the middle of a concert or seminar- it really makes you wonder why, despite the repeated announcements, people still fail to switch the offending instrument off. We also meet people in public places who, oblivious to the 'No Smoking" signs around them furiously puff at their cigarettes and force you to inhale the noxious fumes exhaled by them. Then, of course, there are people who leave no doubt in your mind about their cavemen ancestry by throwing spits in the mid-air like little darts, blowing nose noisily on the pavements or spraying people with their sneeze, without so much as an 'excuse me please'. These people make you wish that The Rules of Civility, (first compiled by the French in the 16th century) were still in force. A rule like "Bedew no man's face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak" sounds like good advice even today.
Surprisingly, Yashar - for all his refined manners, sees nothing wrong with spitting in public. "Football players spit on the grass in full view of television viewers all the time," reasons he. An avid fan of football, the only time this Iranian teen found spitting objectionable was when he was watching Asia Cup on television. Yashar was extremely offended by the sight of some of the Japanese players venting their anger by aiming their salivary juices at the Iranian players during the match. Just goes to show how strongly public figures such as players, singers, actors, politicians etc influence our conduct, and how seriously these media-made-icons should take their roles as role models. Anything they do in full view of their huge followers - even something as disgusting as spitting on the grass, finds acceptance and even becomes fashionable among their fans - especially impressionable teens.
Much of today's formal etiquette originated in the French court. The nobles drew up a list of proper social etiquette. The Rules advised, "If you must tick someone off, do it all with sweetness" and warned, "Don't talk with your mouth full." In schools, students were taught the proper way of kneeling before their teachers, the value of remaining silent until spoken to, and using dinner knife as a toothpick. It was considered bad manners to "roll the eyes" or "lift one eyebrow higher than the other" or even laugh too much or too loud. So if you are tired of being nagged for your lack of good manners, then just be glad that you weren't a teen during the seventeenth century.
Of course, things have changed. Etiquette today is based on common sense and involves treating people with consideration and kindness to make social interactions more pleasant. Have you ever stopped to consider why you say "please" when you ask for something and "thank you" when someone does something for you? These kinds of behaviours are designed to help people get along with one another. They are also intended to prevent people from hurting one another's feelings. But unfortunately phrases such as 'excuse me', 'beg your pardon', and 'sorry for the interruption" are slowly becoming out-of-fashion. We now get 'huh?' 'What?' or 'Gimme more' responses.
Ramya Bondada, a 19-year-old Business Administration student at a local college laments the sad fact that many college-goers shy away from greeting their teachers with a 'good-morning' or even a cheerful 'hello'. She is unable to pinpoint the reason for such reluctance on the part of students to wish their teachers. Ramya feels that it is more of a case of apathy and indifference, rather than any intentional show of disrespect for the teacher. According to her, many students - once they join college, develop a huge 'I-don't-care' attitude and start carrying massive chips on their shoulders that prevent them from being civil to others. "Many college students think it is 'uncool' to say 'good morning' to your teacher. They feel only kids do so, or those who're desperate for good grades. Personally, I feel that you're never too grown up to wish "good morning' to your teachers. It is not just about respect, it is also about being friendly and warm. A warm and cheerful greeting opens doors of healthy communication and creates goodwill and mutual respect," says Ramya.
Sensible and well bred, Ramya cannot stand people who litter public places. She gets really bugged by the litterbugs - "It's a pity that some students throw used tissues, cans, wrappers, chewing gums all over the campus. At times, I've picked things up right in front of the person responsible for littering, so as to set an example. But, unfortunately those who litter take it for granted that others will pick up after them," complains Ramya.
Nasreen (name changed at request), 18, confesses to being a party to littering. "I normally don't do it here, but when I visit my native place Karachi, I tend to throw things here and there, instead of looking out for a garbage bin to dump my 'kachra'," admits Nasreen a bit sheepishly. At least, she is honest and appears genuinely embarrassed while making her candid admission. Unfortunately some people are not just careless, but callous too. We have all witnessed motorists, pedestrians, picnickers, and beach-goers, who blatantly go about littering public places - even though there are trash barrels lying within a walking distance. You only have to go to a beach on a holiday to realise how such callous acts are destroying our surroundings. Had Samuel Taylor Coleridge seen our seashores today, instead of crying out "Water, water everywhere", he would have perhaps let out in mortification - "Litter, litter everywhere!"
Etiquette basically involves consideration and thoughtfulness - and you're not holding up your end of the deal if you litter, spit, or smoke in public places. Being mannerly does not just involve saying 'thank you' or 'please' or holding the right dinner fork. It goes further. Etiquette demands that you say a cheerful 'hello' on the telephone, instead of a grouchy 'yes?' - but even saying a cheery hello would be considered discourteous, if the call is made at an unearthly hour. As a rule, you should avoid making a deluge of phone calls to your friends' house during odd hours. Yashar remembers being reprimanded by a parent for calling at 11 p.m. "Do you know what time it is?" - growled the irate parent, obviously woken up from his sleep. "I sure learnt my lesson that night - I don't call my friends past their bedtime anymore," says Yashar.
In today's world, it is difficult enough being a teen without having the added burden of trying to be a well-behaved teen all the time. Odds are, puberty has turned you into a temperamental lout given to sullen silences, cheeky retorts, rolling eyes or giving exasperated snorts or saying 'hah!' or 'so what?' Minding your manners may seem inconsequential when you have so many more serious problems on your mind. But then, one has to remember that some of those problems would never arise in the first place, if you made prudent use of magic words such as 'sorry' or 'please'.
Etiquette and social success go hand in hand. It is helpful to know some rules about how to behave in certain situations because this makes life more comfortable for you and makes you more self-confident in social situations. Good manners go a long way in winning friends and influencing people. More importantly, they also help you to be a good human being.
"Manners maketh Man". Manners are lessons in character building, tolerance, and mutual respect. If you've been brought up to respect others, you're less likely to browbeat, put down or poke fun at others. Manners matter - especially in a world packed with adults, would-be-employers, teachers, and - not to forget, your parents. So, as they say in Silicon Valley - "Download your Manners and Upgrade your Future."