Hey all, good weekend I assume? Good. Here’s the latest Sunday Times column. Hope you enjoy. xxx Oh, and Monday, if you’re reading this, up your bum!
A MILLION MILES FROM NORMAL – By Paige Nick
ETIQUETTE HAS LEFT THE BUILDING.
I just finished reading a novel set in London in the 1700s. I know, so far that must sound about as interesting as having someone tell you about a dream they had. But if I told you it was about prostitution back then, would you stick around for another sentence?
Back in those days etiquette was everything (even for the working girls). There were strict rules, regulations and guidelines regarding every move you made. They even wrote detailed books on the subject, with catchy titles like ‘George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation’, which covered important situations like how to cough, how to eat your soup, how to be asleep, how to be awake and how to breathe.
But now, a mere 300 years later we’re left poking around in the dark with no clue as to appropriate etiquette. And over and above that we seem to have completely lost all our social boundaries. Perhaps it’s because communication has become so easy. A few hundred years ago you had to physically handwrite letters, using an old bird’s feather and then wait a couple of months for a response. These days we SMS from the couch, to ask the person sitting next to us to change the channel. And if you don’t answer your cell phone at all hours before the fourth ring, or heaven forbid let it go to voicemail, people think you’re probably dead, or even worse, ignoring them.
Perhaps it’s time we revisited etiquette. I for one increasingly find myself in uncomfortable situations where I honestly don’t know how to act. Recently at a cocktail party I was chatting with a very important gentleman when a microscopic piece of wet matter flew out of his mouth, propelled through the air with great velocity and landed on my left cheek. It was a seriously awkward moment. I wanted to jump up and down, swearing and scratching at my face with my shirt sleeve, before dunking myself into a vat of disinfectant. But I didn’t want to embarrass the poor dude by making a fuss, also there was no vat of disinfectant in that particular bar, so what to do? We both opted for the ostrich approach and pretended nothing had happened as the particle burned an imaginary hole in my cheek.
We carried on chatting for another ten minutes, before I politely excused myself to go top up my drink (ie: run to the bathroom and scrub my face off). What’s the etiquette here, people? I’m stumped. What would George Washington have suggested?
And it’s not just in the real world where we’re lacking social skills, the Internet seems to be playing its roll in turning us back into Neanderthals too.
I recently got chatting to a chap online on the dating website I frequent. He seemed perfectly normal at every turn. Divorced suburban dad, starting over, looking to make friends, maybe more. We chatted politely and amicably via email for a few days before deciding to swap photographs. So I sent him a couple of what I hoped were flattering pictures of myself, and in return he sent me two pictures of his erect penis. True story.
How strange we’ve become. Whatever happened to our boundaries? One can only hope that as the world turns we might eventually return to a more innocent time, when men no longer email pictures of their private parts willy-nilly to complete strangers, and when we’ll know exactly what to do when someone spits on our face.