This is an article about etiquette. It will not go into details – there are excellent classics that cover the whole “How not to give the Queen a heart attack by holding your cutlery wrong” business.
Etiquette, at its core, is not about knowing how to address the second cousin of the Earl of Winchester (for reference, the proper form of address of such personages is “You tremendous feudalist dingleberry, I hope you get eaten by badgers”). Instead, manners boil down to simple consideration for others – awareness of the needs and comfort of other people besides (not instead of) your own, and a conscious effort to take them into account.
That is literally all.
Yet the art is virtually lost. On the plus side, this is a source of great advantage for you if you manage to pick it up – people will notice, especially the people whose opinion you will care about most (i.e. employers, business partners and romantic prospects). Class costs nothing and buys a lot.
It is a sad state of affairs when you can put yourself ahead of 95% of the population by not picking your nose in public.
Make that 100%.
The problem is not that people would be deliberately uncouth. Real, intentional impoliteness is rare and mostly limited to the occasional compensating chump with a small penis, and southern countries were theatrical obliviousness to the existence of other people is an ancient display of virility.
Even sociopaths know that being superficially polite and civil helps with being a really effective sociopath.
No, by far the most common problem is uninentional assholery – a lack of habitual consideration for other people, a habit of solipsistic obliviousness, and bad spatial/situational awareness.
That’s a problem, because manners are going to be increasingly important as humanity is packed ever denser.
Honestly, the only long term alternative to a renaissance of basic manners is me murdering slow walkers with an ice pick and offering their carcasses to the vulture god.
Story of my life
With that, let’s get onto a partial catalogue of what other people are doing wrong™, conveniently categorized:
Ambulation, also known as “walking”:
- Golden rule: any sort of blocking where people are trying to walk is a dick move.
- Slow walkers to the side. Nobody proposes rushing old ladies with bad hips, but nobody should be forced to spend eternities behind them either. It’s common courtesy.
- In a group, don’t take up the whole goddamn sidewalk / bridge / tunnel / corridor / mountain trail. When a group is spread out and meets a walker in the opposite direction, it is the group’s responsibility to make way, not expect the other party to fuse with a wall or step into traffic.
- Don’t stop where it would make the route impassable for others – step to the side. If you’re in a group and stop, leave a fair portion of the sidewalk/whatever free.
- Don’t stand in the fucking doorway, or on top of escalators, or in front of the elevator, or probably the worst example I have ever seen, strolling, smoking and chatting merrily in front of a screeching ambulance going to pick up an old lady who collapsed in the street without getting out of the way, or even acknowledging it’s there. Naturally, the sheer obliviousness suggests to observant readers that it was in Italy. (I love the country and indeed am partly of Italian descent, but madonna mia, the people can be thick).
- Let people out of the building/elevator/room/train before getting in. That way, there’s more room for everybody. Even if you’re a lady. The law of impassability of bodies doesn’t care about entitled “me-always-first” miscomprehensions of etiquette.
- When crossing the road, walk at your fastest comfortable pace. Nobody asks you to sprint across, but slow walking while playing with a phone tempts the gas pedal. Make eye contact with drivers before crossing to ensure mutual understanding and goodwill, and if you please, thank them. Right of way doesn’t equal immunity to being ran over, nor licence to saunter. (This is now even the goal of a police campaign in Kanton Zürich).
- Want to stand near the door? Get on last. For people who get on first and stop in the door, there’s keelhauling.
- Let people out before trying to get on. Holy fucking shit, one would think this would be completely obvious, but apparently the powers of oblivious solipsism in stupid people are unlimited. (This is an universally true statement.)
- When you’re waiting for people to get out, stand to the side of the door. Don’t stand in front. Are you expecting me to walk through you? Because I will. I’m two meters tall and weigh more than 110kg, most of that being muscle. However, there are frail old ladies and pregnant women and small kids in the world who don’t quite have my ramming power. Don’t be a dick and respect them.
- Understand that we will all take off at the same time. It doesn’t matter who gets on the plane first. Everyone stands up and rushes to the gate the minute it opens, with the only result being extra ten minutes of standing. It’s like everybody standing on tiptoes at a concert, therefore seeing exactly the same as before, but with considerable discomfort.
- It makes boarding appreciably faster when people with seats in the back board first, because then nobody gets in anyone’s way in the aisle. Sometimes, airlines enforce this. If you know your seat is in the front, wait to board among the last, especially if you have huge, barely permissible luggage that you’ll spend five minutes wrestling with, requiring the help of two stewardesses, while fifty people stand in the aisle behind, watching you with growing bloodlust. Getting out, same thing in reverse. Front first. Which means you should be prepared to briskly get up and go when it’s your turn, rather than only then starting to fumble for belongings – while, naturally, standing in the aisle and holding up the whole blooming plane.
- The corollary to getting up too late is getting up too soon, with the sole result of everybody standing in the aisle for ten minutes with the door closed. At moments like these, faith in humanity is tested.
- In the exit sleeve, appreciate that people have connecting flights or are in a hurry to meetings and don’t stroll casually down the middle with a huge suitcase and/or meandering child in one hand and a phone in the other. Give way. Don’t be a drag on the world economy.
- If you have anything remotely resembling an illness, consider whether you absolutely positively have to travel. The odds are high you will infect other people.
- Shrieking babies. Bonus points for shrieking babies on overnight flights. Bonus bonus points for shrieking babies that are evidently ill. Bonus bonus bonus points for shrieking babies on overnight flights, projecting pestilent bacteria from several orifices at the same time. And of course, sitting next to me.
- Armrest etiquette: window seat gets window armrest and the window, aisle seat gets aisle armrest and the aisle, middle seat gets both middle armrests, except where there are more than three adjacent seats in which case, good luck.
- If people pull to the side to let an emergency vehicle pass, let those in front of you back onto the road – don’t try to get ahead of them.
- Zipper merge – it never ceases to amaze how profoundly people manage to suck at this. The entire point of zipper merging is to ensure that even if there’s an obstacle, traffic never stops – merely slows down. This is important, because when traffic completely stops, the jam then propagates at an exponential rate (each driver adding a second or fifteen of looking for the stick when the car in front moves again, turning the first car’s two second halt into a half hour at the back of the queue). Yet the ideal scenario is rarely achieved, and the people doing it wrong are ironically the first to get angry at others – the people merging at the last moment before the obstacle aren’t assholes trying to skip the queue, they’re the ones doing it right and by the rules. By contrast, the people who make two lanes completely stop hundreds of meters ahead of the roadworks/accident/lone drunken laborer napping behind some traffic cones in order to get into the remaining lane “on time”, or worse yet, deliberately obstruct people from merging at the end “to teach them” are the real assholes, who turn line merges into massive jams.
- Use rear view mirrors. I’ve grown flowing biblical beards behind people who finally looked in the mirror after an hour and a half of me camping practically on top of them, only to swerve dramatically to the side in terror as they noticed. With surprising regularity, blonde hairdressers in VW golfs.
- Always drive in the rightmost free lane. A truck two kilometers ahead counts as a “free right lane”. If you have space to get out of the way for faster vehicles, you were in the wrong lane. There is no such thing as a freeway with enough capacity in America, because people just disperse across ten lanes doing exactly the same speed. No seriously, what are they teaching in driving school?
- Turn signals. It might be a distant memory of Caesar’s military tactics of never showing one’s true intentions, as successfuly employed against Vercingetorix on the Allier river, but I’ve never, ever, once seen people use indicators correctly south of the 45th parallel. As previously illustrated, all left blinkers are on all the time. Why? I asked them. They don’t know. It’s just something they do.
- Enforcing the speed limit is the job of the police. There is what we could call the Austrian syndrome, where people on the highway will sit in the left lane doing exactly the speed limit (or two kilometers below, hoping to get a “model citizen” commendation medal probably) and not make way for faster vehicles on purpose to “school” them. It is hard to think of anything stupider and more dangerous. It’s not their place, they’re breaking the rules too by being in the wrong lane, and it’s super dangerous because their survival while flashing brake lights in the face of the impatient BMW tailgating them rests on the BMW driver’s lightning reflexes, and rapidly eroding unwillingness to actively murder them. For the sake of everyone’s safety and your own blood pressure, just let people pass even if they’re speeding, and let the police deal with them if they get caught.
- The correct time to start overtaking is about two vehicle lengths behind the slower vehicle, not a mile ahead. I get that some people are insecure and worried that others won’t let them into the left lane when they need to, but that’s because the other people are thinking the exact same way and preemptively hogging the left lane so as not to be forced to briefly brake and wait three seconds for their turn to overtake, leading to much, much longer waiting times for everyone, themselves included. This presents a fun case study for fans of game theory – everybody is in the left lane, because they’re worried they won’t be able to get into it when they need to, because everybody is in the left lane. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that results in less comfort and longer travel times for everybody.
- Trucks overtaking each other on a two-lane highway with a speed difference of a quarter of a meter an hour.
- Three trucks overtaking each other on a three-lane highway with a speed difference of a…
- No work calls on weekends, except to doctors, pizza deliveries and secret agents. People just assume Sundays are the best times to call sales reps, estate agents, private bankers, lawyers, and other service professions. Nope. Just because we seem to have flexible schedules and depend on contact with people for business to a greater degree than most, doesn’t mean you can call with a request to falsify some paperwork when I’m out fishing on a Sunday.
- No speakerphones in public. Uncouth chavs with chlamydia who broadcast rattly “music” in public from crappy phone speakers should be smeared with seal fat, chained to a killer whale and set loose in the Arctic.
- Cover your bloody mouth when sneezing – with your arm, not your hand (which you will use to shake hands with people and touch things for the rest of the day, potentially spreading whatever ebola currently haunts your sinuses to dozens of other people, who will in turn touch other things and shake other hands and…). If your kid is old enough to do it themselves and doesn’t, tell them to. One person’s special snowflake is everyone else’s plague bearer.
- Learn to queue. It is amazing how having to wait in an orderly manner for one’s turn apparently strips the hard-won layers of civilization from virtually everybody. Ski lifts even in nominally civilised countries (like Switzerland) are veritable galleries of stone-age level douchebaggery and sharp-elbowing. Just…don’t. And if anybody does, kick them in the shin with a ski boot, stab them in the gentlemen parts (it’s never women) with your stick and send them to the back of the queue.
- Respect night silence. If you’re in a shared camping area, even at a music festival, and make loud noises past midnight, everybody else is legally permitted – no, obligated – to lock you in the lavatories with an angry badger. It is unfathomable where the need to go “EEEEEEY!!!!! VAGINAAAAAAAA!!!” into the virginal night darkness amidst fifty tents of people trying to sleep comes from, but probably nonexistent sex lives. We legitimately discussed the tendency in an educated society and concluded it is a mix of Darwinian selection for the behaviour (namely scaring away nocturnal forest beasts with all the unnecessary screaming and hollering), and plain old macho-dissimulation on account of debilitating insecurity, which as the night progresses, I am increasingly inclined to prove right by inventive and protracted murder.
The ability of individuals, and even whole nations and cultures, to observe basic manners is a valuable guide to their general character. It’s a perfect measure of civilizedness – that is to say, the ability to endure justified limitations to optimise your own long-term interest.
I’ve turned down well-researched, numbers-backed, apparently bulletproof investment cases because I don’t trust the economic prospects of societies that can’t form an orderly line or use the bloody indicators on the road (which reflects deeper cultural problems with coordination/cooperation/simple coexistence that manifest reliably in the ways they do business and government – i.e. too often corrupt, chaotic and inefficient)
The above catalogue of everyday douchebaggery is by no means complete. I am sure you will be able to think of numerous other examples. Feel free to share them. The point is that pretty much all of the discomfort, incovenience and annoyance caused by the everyday “garden variety” impoliteness is entirely preventable, utterly unnecessary, and of no avail to nobody, not even the offender. It takes nothing but a little bit of attention and consideration to make everyone’s lives, including yours, appreciably smoother.
TLDR, don’t be a dick. Manners maketh man.
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