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Common Courtesy is not that Common

Back in the 60’s, I remember a Mr. Howard who lived on my street in Matlock (Derbyshire) who always raised his hat whenever he noticed my mother, or indeed any other woman in his field of vision. This act of courtesy was fairly common back in the day as was a man walking on the road side of the pavement, presumably to take the hit from a random car that might just climb the pavement. Opening doors for women was a matter of course.

Along came the feminist movement, second wave, in the seventies which condemned such niceties as patronising and sexist. Sigh. I did some ceremonial bra burning at school, not really knowing what it was all about but the idea of equality, not having to do boring jobs until I got married and had a family, and being able to say a big fat no to men was rather appealing at the time.  

The irony is that I have spent the past 30 years educating people to be nice to each other, especially to their customers and colleagues. The customer service movement in the UK seemed to take hold in the 80s, borrowing from its American cousins, the realisation that good service kept customers happy and spending more. It’s a simple concept which shouldn’t need to be taught in classrooms but here I am at aged 60, still demonstrating the same things:  be polite, smile, listen, understand your customers’ needs, help with their concerns and be professional in handling complaints. You can get qualifications in customer service, win awards and decorate yourself with ribbons if you deliver from the head, aka the script, what we used to deliver from the heart, naturally.

Courtesy is the showing of politeness to others in one’s behaviour. Why is it so difficult for people to be pleasant and helpful without making such a big deal of it?

I get rudeness from the gatekeepers at my doctor’s surgery even before I’ve asked a question ( politely of course),  a dead look from some bored assistant serving me in a supermarket and even a menacing tone of voice if I express my dissatisfaction about the length of time it takes to service drinks in a restaurant. I’m sure you could make a list of similar encounters in the course of a day that would rival mine. When I try to get people to understand that their colleagues are also customers, internal customers, I get blank looks or snide comments about somebody in Accounts or Legal. What do people get from this behaviour? If they think they are being clever I suggest they look up the meaning of the word. It’s not humorous, witty, clever or smart but childish or as the Americans would say, dumb.

Britain, being noted for its politeness by nations who don’t know us at all, used to boast The Polite Society, an organisation dedicated to improving levels of courtesy and respect amongst people. Unless I am really hopeless at googling, I can’t find evidence of its existence anymore.

It’s lovely when a young child says thank you to me for something or offers to help in some way. I’ve come across groups of teenage boys who appear to  glower and make frightening noises then catching sight of someone in need, rush over to help. On the other hand, the number of much older people queue jumping or spitting their venom at the bus stop against some more unfortunate minding their own business makes my jaw drop.  

Come on folks, for old time’s sake. Let’s have one day when we can be nice to each other. Just twenty four little hours.