Really Not That Difficult

Incoming semi-rant. I apologise in advance.

I went into Durham yesterday. That in itself is nothing new; I go into Durham all the time. Hell, I live here. What made yesterday so notable was this.

I always tend to use to the Park and Ride bus rather than enter the death match that is searching for premium parking space in the city centre. Durham has a number of car parks, one of which is always chocka-block due to being the easiest to find, one of which closes at some ridiculously early time and another which has the most inconveniently situated posts and pillars you’ve ever seen in your life. Seriously, the designers of that car park should be taken out in public and be made to watch endless re-runs of Susan Boyle’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ audition. It’s no less than they deserve. So enter the Park and Ride facilities. Three big car parks, strategically situated at the arterial routes into Durham. £1.70 to sit back and let someone else worry about running Bloody Students[tm] over.

What made me smile was a young lad, perhaps the same age as Not So Small Anymore Son, who said ‘thank you’ as he got off the bus. Now, NSSAS always says thank you, because that’s how I brought him up. The reason I brought him up to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ was a reflection on how I was brought up. But it was really, really nice to hear another kid saying it. And it got me thinking about parenting and  how far NSSAS has come since came into this world two months early almost thirteen years ago to the day.

Try saying this when someone does something nice for you. You'll be amazed.

‘Always remember to say “please” and “thank you”,’ my mother told me. ‘It costs nothing and it means everything.’ Of course, when she gave me this critical bit of life advice, I was just a child. I had no idea just how true those words were. My mum worked in the local corner shop for much of my early memory and later moved to the glitzy glamour of the newsagents when it arrived in the village. Prior to that, there was a corner shop, a butchers, a baker’s (not a candlestick maker’s, although there was a place that made saddles if I remember correctly). As such, she dealt with the public on a daily basis. She was astoundingly polite. When obnoxious school kids came into the shop after getting off the school bus, she would actively refuse to sell them anything unless they were polite. It worked, too.

At her funeral, the local vicar started his eulogy with ‘Most people knew her as the lady in the shop.’ My mum. The legend. She brought me up with a plethora of good manners and I’ll always be thankful for that. I’ll always be surprised at the reaction good manners seem to get from people, but thankful nonetheless. An example of this was yesterday in Marks & Spencer; I was at the till with a basket full of things I didn’t really need, but really, really wanted (damn you, M&S Food Hall). An elderly lady with a pint of milk and a sandwich got in line behind me and I insisted she go first as she only had a little bit. I kid you not; this lady’s eyes filled with tears and she smiled warmly. ‘What a charming young lady you are,’ she said. ‘Thank you very much.’ Random acts of kindness go a long way, you know.

There was a lady in one of the aforementioned car parks just before Christmas. She was struggling with a child in a pushchair, a toddler who was obviously tired and cranky, armfuls of wrapping paper and a pay machine that wouldn’t eat her £5 note to pay her £1.60 parking fee. ‘Can you change my £5?’ It was a desperate voice; a woman who was on the verge of crying. I checked my purse. No, I couldn’t change her £5. So I did the only decent thing. I paid her parking for her with the £1.60 I did have. She tried to make me take her £5, but I wouldn’t. I told her it was a Christmas gift and smiled. ‘I hope something wonderful happens to you today,’ she said as I picked up the bag she’d dropped. What she didn’t realise was that it already had. I’d brought a little moment of niceness into her life. That works for me.

Yeah, I know, I’m old-fashioned. I hold doors open for people. I pass the time of day with people at the till. I thank them for their help (when they deserve it) and as a consequence, NSSAS is exactly the same. I still remember him being three years old and holding a door open for someone. ‘After you,’ he said in his baby voice. Adorable? Yes. Was I proud? Yes. Is this normal behaviour for a soon-to-be thirteen year old? Apparently not as much as you would like to think. People still register surprise when NSSAS thanks them for things. He’s a rare pleasure to take out for a meal. He carefully selects his choice from the menu and orders it himself. He asks questions about things he doesn’t understand, and he always always starts his order with ‘Please may I have…’ As a consequence, on more than one occasion I’ve been stopped on the way out of the restaurant and complimented on having such a nice child. I love that. But I’m also saddened that it seems to be such a rarity. On one of the occasions this happened, there was another kid in the same restaurant, probably a bit older than NSSAS was at the time. He spent the whole meal playing with his hand-held console. His mother ordered his food and cut it up for him. He never spoke a word throughout the entire evening.

But it’s so easy. If you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ yourself, of course your child is going to act the same way. Dearly Beloved works in retail and regularly returns home in varying states of apoplexy and assorted degrees of purple rage. One of his biggest bug bears is the Oblivious Parent; the ones who clearly don’t think that moral standards apply to them. I don’t know whether it’s a product of some poor education, something else or whether they just don’t care, but the story from yesterday was that a woman came into the shop with DB took to be a little of of about 5 years old. They picked out three games on the three for £whatever deal. One was Spyro, one was something else cutesy… and the other was Grand Theft Auto, or one of its derivatives.

‘Is this for him?’ DB asked.

‘Oh, yes,’ she said. ‘He likes that sort of thing. The driving, the shooting.’

DB then proceeded to pull no punches and told her about graphic sex scenes, blah blah blah blah blah. Or at least, that’s evidently what this woman heard, because she bought it anyway. As DB said, he could have refused the sale, but then the customer would have started complaining. It’s happened before.

Whilst in Curry’s yesterday, I got chatting to the sales assistant, a lovely lady by the name of Lillian. (See what I mean? I go in somewhere to enquire about a particular product and I come out with their life story). She was telling me about this family with two young children and how the parents refused to keep control of them. The little darlings were running up and down the aisle, opening and slamming oven doors… that sort of thing. Then they came over to the TV area where she was working and carried on being little tearaways. One of them shoved the other one into a display and the whole thing came crashing down… on the sales assistant. The thing that got me was that apparently the parents didn’t even chastise the kids. Not a tiny bit. Not even half-heartedly. Neither did they think to ask if the sales assistant was alright. And that, tragically, seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

It does make me worry that NSSAS is growing up in a generation of pig-ignorant fuckwads. The anonymity of the Internet gives people a shield from behind which they can inject various brands of vitriol into the ether and our kids are sucking this up. They’re growing up thinking it’s OK to be opinionated and yes… yes, it really is. But be opinionated with an open mind. Be prepared to admit there are other viewpoints. Thank someone for a good discussion. Don’t resort to mud slinging and name calling. You know what? Treat people with respect. Try checking out the Golden Rule.

Most of the people I know are decent folks. They say please/thank you and so do their children. It’s horrible that people with good manners seem to be a dying breed. Because passing that onto your kids? Well, it’s really not that difficult.

12 thoughts on “Really Not That Difficult

  1. Simon Howers says:

    Totally. I see this from the other side of the fence, but it doesn’t get any better I’m afraid.

    I’m firmly of the opinion that we have to keep on plugging away!

    Good post! I’d write something similar, but I imagine I’d be unable to do it without DB levels of vitriol rising to the surface and masking my actual point!

  2. Amen to that, Sarah. I was raised to be polite and show basic good manners, and it’s amazing how far it goes.

    Anecdote: A few years ago, I’d missed the last bus home from Manchester and had to get a black cab. It’s late, it’s been a long night, I’m exhausted, so not feeling in any state to strike up a conversation with the elderly West Indian guy who was driving. I asked him to please take me as close to my home address as possible (I only had a tenner.) I said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; other than that, hardly a word.

    I kept an eye on the meter and asked him to let me off when I saw it reaching the £10 mark. ‘Is this where you live?’ ‘No, but I’ve only got £10.’ ‘That’s alright, I’ll take you the rest of the way.’

    Which he did. I handed over my tenner, shook his hand and thanked him. ‘That’s alright,’ he replied. ‘You’re a very nice man.’

    Which is always nice to hear, of course… but I’d hardly spoken to him, just been polite. The most basic level of politeness which everyone should be entitled to expect. And yet- like your experience with your son- that had stood out to him as exceptional. Christ Almighty, what had his other customers that night been like?

    And I’m not even going to talk about the behaviour of some of the local kids round my way. I get 11 year olds taunting me on a regular basis: ‘Look at that fat c**t’, ‘Why are you so fat?’ etc, etc. Stuff I’d never, but *never*, have said to an adult at that age. (I’ll stop there before I go all Daily Mail.)

    Whether it’s a classic nuclear family, a single parent set-up or a gay couple bringing up kids, this is just something basic. As you say, it’s really not that difficult.

  3. G says:

    I don’t know if it’s a Cheshire thing or not, but the rudest people I encounter on a regular basis are actually in their late 50s / early 60s.

    Such a lack of manners, sense of entitlement and level of ignorance, it’s astounding. And these are the same people who rant about “the youth of today.” Well, if this is the example they set to their own children, they’ve no right to complain about the problem being compounded a generation on again.

    Grrr. I’ve given myself heartburn now.

  4. The thing is, Sarah, at the end of the day… you’re someone a bit special. 😉

  5. Tim Kenyon says:

    I think this ‘normal’ should be the norm. Though all too frequently our children receive messages that vengeance and pre-emptive self defence are just rewards and reactions. I’ve seen it at work in adults over the age of 45 who still behave, speak, and have manners that are those of poorly behaved children.

    A glorious future it would be if politeness, respect, and this golden rule were applied in every given situation.

    Thank you for this post, Ms. Pyro; and for reassuring me that I’m not the only one who feels like this.

  6. As a former teacher and grandmother of nine, I would like to offer the following suggestion. I feel it’s important to learn good manners early. In a society full of bullying and self-centered children, it is helpful to teach your children the benefits of consideration for others and being polite. A book emphasizing good manners as well as the Golden Rule is The Magic Word by Sherrill S. Cannon. This book is a rhyming story of a little girl who was rude, selfish and demanding – and had very few friends. Her mother suggested that she needed to improve her manners; so when she went to school the next day, she thought of her mother’s advice, “What is the magic word?” and she started saying “Please” and also “Thank You”. She tried to become more thoughtful of others, and discovered that she was a much happier person. The repetitive use of the phrase “What is the magic word?” has children answering “Please”! One of the important lines in the story is “If you want to make friends, you must be polite and treat them the way that you know you would like”. That’s what the Golden Rule is all about!

  7. […] reading this from author and semi-twitter buddy Sarah Cawkwell, and after putting up with some rather bizarre […]

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