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Making the man

Jude SImpson

SimpsonI'm teaching my son his Ps and Qs. 'What a lovely, polite little boy!' grown-ups say on hearing the amateurishly-articulated 'peeshe'. But he has no idea he's being polite. In fact, his motivation is the antithesis. Saying 'peeshe' is more likely to get him what he wants, and fast.  

He also says sorry to little girls he's pushed over. It comes out as a strangely appropriate 'doh,' accompanied by a squidgy hug. We've worked quite hard on that. Not least because the scenario is, sadly, rather frequent (when you're a 2-year-old boy with little sense of other people's consciousness, sweet little girls and colourful skittles are difficult to tell apart).  

Again, I'm not sure how much it means to him, since if his repentance is heartfelt one might expect to see a subsequent change in his behaviour.  It's also not terribly restorative to the injured party, since his cuddles are just as intimidating as his pushes if you're only a foot and a half tall (imagine the captain of the rugby squad running towards your neck with arms lifted high).
The fact is, making him give the poor child a hug once she's picked herself up off the floor means her mother is less likely to think either him, or me, a monster.  After all, reputation is everything.   

I only really notice English good manners when I travel abroad. In many Mediterranean countries, it seems to me, it's much more normal to give someone a small shoulder barge in the back if you want to get past, than to say, 'Excuse me'.  

That's much more pragmatic. When someone says, 'Excuse me' here in Britain, it tends to require five or six people turning around to work out to whom they are saying 'Excuse me'. Then there's a pause while that person tries to work out which way to move. And then, when they have moved, there's now an obligation for the original person to show that they are just as sorry for wanting the other person to move as that person is that they were in the way in the first place. 'Oh, I am sorry,' 'No, no, that's quite all right, really, there's plenty of space now, you don't need to move your shopping trolley as well, I just wanted to reach the indigestion pills, thank you so much.'  

Are manners solely a way of managing how other people see us?  Or can they be a genuine reflection of an inner respect for other people, their feelings, their rights and their toys?  

Or, like politically correct language, can manners be a taught outward act which itself helps develop the desired inner attitude? In the case of my bulldozer son, that's what I'm hoping.  

A nursing friend of mine once worked on a head injury ward. 'Not you, again,'moaned a patient as she arrived with the drug trolley one day, 'Why don't you bugger off!' 'That's not very polite, Mr Andrews,' she admonished.  'All right then,' he responded, 'Will you please bugger off!' 


Anna Fish

Perhaps not the kindest response to a light hearted letter. Did a shirty response to a bit of criticism really warrant a whole column?

Posted: 08 February 2012