Thursday, 14 November 2013

Where have all your manners gone?

There used to be a time, as Italian correspondent Beppe Severgnini famously wrote, when it took no fewer than six ‘thank you’s to purchase a bus ticket in London. Those times, they are a-changing. In fact they’ve gone and a-changed and, to be frank, they are no more. 

The other  day, coming back from a hospital visit on a bus full of ill, old or otherwise infirm people I personally witnessed a driver/conductor eject an 8-year-old school kid after a screaming standoff over an expired bus pass, with much horrific language deployed on both sides.

“The English are so fake!” my visiting Italian friends used to moan, mistaking a) Britain for England and b) basic civility among strangers for canning duplicity, never having actually witnessed it at home. When those friends visit now they need no longer fear nuanced interactions, fraught with baroque circumlocutions of courtesy. The civic space here is now as joyless, pushy and downright brutal as anywhere else. 

This was already true when I started writing my memoir and this is what chapter three, which I've uploaded today, is about among many other things, things that include queuing, accents, holiday homes, answering machine messages, nepotism and mobile phones. A mixed bag of reminiscences if you like, about how your country has changed in all the time I’ve been here and what was happening meanwhile to my own.  

I hope you’ll have a giggle. The usual proviso applies: this was written in the years between 2003 and 2005, and although I've been doing much refining and rewriting since, I have not updated the actual experiences described.

To be sure the print edition will have to have a special post-scriptum dealing not just with the death of manners but with the messy, bloody autopsy to follow.  Internet trolls, twerking starlets, wall to wall porn will be the dismal Greek chorus of the tragedy of all once-great British institutions slowly collapsing into disrepute, scandal, corruption, ineffectiveness or simple decline, from the BBC and Fleet Street to the Metropolitan Police and the NHS, from expense-claiming MEPs to tax-dodging corporations, via a whole new low level of political discourse dominated by poor-people-kicking, immigrant-bashing and victim-blaming.

Although, come to think of it, I will probably not want to write that book. It's just too sodding depressing.

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