April 3, 2012

DIFFERENCES

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2.  Manners

in the UK we live in an ordinary town full of ordinary people.  I have lived in the ordinary part of ordinary towns all my life but gradually I am beginning to feel that the ordinary British people have forgotten their manners.

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A few weeks ago I was in an ordinary supermarket looking intently at something on the lower shelf when I felt a slight nudge against my leg.  Then another one.  I looked up to find a woman pushing her trolley against my leg to alert me to the fact that I was in her way.

She didn’t look like the kind of person I should argue with so I stepped aside to let her pass then stepped back again to continue looking at the lower shelf.  Not a word passed between us and I was amazed that this could happen and that I should not feel outraged.  It made me think what on earth have we come to in this country?  Manners don’t cost anything but they mean such a lot.

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As I walk along the pavements in my ordinary town, I find myself stepping off into the road to avoid having pushchairs being shoved at me.  If two or three teenagers are coming the other way, side by side, occupying the whole pavement, I will brace myself for the inevitable jousting – who will step aside to let the others pass and what kind of language will I overhear?  Will I be a target for sniggering or abuse if I proceed in such a fashion that suggests I expect them to show respect to an adult?  (I find having a large dog with me, even a ginger fluffy one, often helps.)

The other thing that makes me cringe is hearing the F-word in public. I am no saint when it comes to the use of swearwords but I just can’t get used to the fact that foul language can be heard as a normal part of conversation everywhere.  In private conversation it doesn’t bother me at all but I find it especially unsettling when it used between parents and children in public. 

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In our little corner of France, when I step out of the door and head into the village I will meet people who politely say “bonjour” to me even they may not know who I am.  They say “bonjour” to everyone in the shop as they enter, the same to the person serving before they ask for their shopping and they say “au revoir” to everyone as they leave.

If youngsters are coming the other way I don’t feel uncomfortable or threatened.  When they meet up with their friends they are likely to exchange bisous and handshakes and they seem to be polite to their elders.  Maybe I think they’re not using swearwords because I don’t know what they are in French but one thing’s for sure – I don’t mind whether or not all this apparent politeness and good manners is sincere and heartfelt because it’s so much nicer to be around.

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Writing now on the 4th April, they said yesterday it might snow, but I didn’t think it would amount to much.

snow in April

I was wrong !!  This is the view from our upstairs window at 7am and it’s still snowing.  On 28th March it was 14°C as I drove to work and it reached 22°C in the afternoon, better than it often is in the summer.

The weather could well be the next thing on my list of pro’s and con’s !!

26 comments:

  1. Manners are beginning to fail on this side of the pond as well. But not quite as badly as on your side. Sigh. Living in a world where fewer and fewer are getting any kind of significant respect. Those who do get respect have broad shoulders, sharp elbows, and rage biceps. If they don't get respect, . . . well, I'll leave it at that.

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    1. Bear, I think a lot depends on exactly where you live but I feel it is getting worse.

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  2. Couldn't agree more, Jean. Every example you give is spot-on. How often these days do you even hear the words "please" and "thank-you" used and on the rare occasion when someone shows a common courtesy, it stands out like a good deed in a naughty world. What a lot we've lost and the affect of this on the quality of life in England (and as Rob-bear says, increasingly so across the pond too) is immeasurable. I never thought I'd be saying this but give me the French way of life any day.

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    1. C&E, I agree, instances of politeness, like good service, stand out as the exception rather than the rule and it's such a shame.

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  3. Jean, When I was in Deal last year, I was surprised to see how things in the UK had changed for the worse in the last 30-odd years manner-wise, I mean (I was there the last time in 1984).But things aren't much better overhere in Belgium. A similar thing happened to me in the supermarket a few weeks ago. I was looking at some merchandise when from the corner of my eye I saw a woman walking towards me. As the aisle was rather narrow, I stepped aside and even pushed my trolley in the next aisle to let her pass. She didn't even look at me, let alone smile or say thank you. It was as if I were made of thin air! So sad! Martine

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    1. Martine, it is sad yet a relief to hear you say this. As a visitor you must surely have noticed the difference and it's not just me being a grumpy old thing these days. I did wonder if I was out on a limb writing this post but obviously not.

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  4. I do agree with you. It always impresses me -- and often catches me out -- how the French always greet you when you enter a shop or the Post Office -- or where ever -- with Bonjour, Madame, or Monsieur -- as well as au revoir Madame/Monsieur when you leave -- not just 'bonjour', but also 'Madame' -- I often forget that, but get better as my time down there increases...

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    1. Broad, it is so refreshing and I love it. A polite greeting and a smile make such a difference.
      I dare say there are parts of France where people are rude and bad mannered but in our little corner good manners are the norm.

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  5. So much agreement here, Jean. Are we all just being polite? I think not.

    Great series of really interesting posts.

    As for the snow I was listening to 5Live with tales of roads blocked and your photo makes it all real! Get your snow chains out as you don't want to miss your 'getaway'!

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    1. Gaynor, we have three inches of snow at home but I struggled into work only to find hardly any - only ten miles from home!! So it's very localised. I'm hoping it gives way to rain so that we can get away as planned.

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  6. I may be about to be your at least partially dissenting voice here, Jean, as yet again what you write doesn't resonate with my personal experience of the UK. I think this may be because wherever I am Wales, Scotland or France, I'm in very small communities where people know each other and act accordingly.

    I think we have to be very careful to compare like with like when looking at the differences between France and the UK and I'm quite sure that if you were to live in a French town the size of your town in the UK, you would come across far more instances of bad manners. I agree that the French custom of greeting is very attractive and the decline in please and thank-you in the UK is sad, but it's all a matter of rigorous training in childhood, with parents and other adults consistently insisting on good manners until they become second nature.

    One area of manners where my experience of France is singularly worse than the UK is in the degree and manner of service offered by supermarket checkout staff. France has a lot to learn in this department and I'd far rather be served in Tesco or any other British supermarket than in the French supermarkets I know, where I have yet to hear an assistant offer to help me pack my purchases.

    That said, i will as always enjoy the Bonjouring and bisouing that I will find in my bit of very rural Normandy this summer.

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    1. Perpetua, I think you have hit the nail on the head, it depends a lot on exactly where you live in either France or the UK.

      The supermarket staff near to us in the UK are, I am sad to say, no better than some of their customers inspite of all their training. The older ones are fine but the youngsters have a bad attitude.

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  7. We have always commented on how well mannered the rural French people are. As I don't live in a city I have no idea if there would be a change in this sort of environment. In our village in the UK I would never go out alone walking at night, here I cycle to firework displays alone without batting an eyelid in the middle of the night.
    It has cooled down here but no snow (yet). Hope you bring some sun back when you come over :) Diane

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    1. Diane, I agree, I feel safer in our French village than I do at home.

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  8. I think Perpetua has a good point. The smaller the communities the politer the general behaviour as one is not so 'anonymous' --everyone knows everyone else [for good or ill].
    The French politesse of greetings is lovely and people are in general very friendly and helpful in our neck of the woods here. However, it is true that French supermarket staff could do with a bit of UK customer service training.

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    1. N&A, I think we're all agreeing on this, although why living in a town should excuse people from good manners is a mystery.

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  9. When I go back to visit my small home town in North Carolina, I find people very friendly and polite, even at the checkout stand in the supermarkets. But then I find the same behavior here in Saint-Aignan, even in the supermarkets. The fact that the cashiers don't help customers pack up their groceries, well... that's just the way the jobs are defined. American supermarket cashiers have to stand up all day and also pack customers' purchases. The French cashiers sit down behind the registers and concentrate on their primary task. It seems more humane and dignified to me. I can pack my own groceries, in bags I take with me to the supermarket.

    Paris is also France, as they say, but it really is a different world when it comes to saying bonjour or being friendly to strangers.

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    1. Ken, I can see a pattern developing here: small town makes for good manners, big town makes for bad manners.

      We could debate endlessly why it's not possible to have good manners in a big town or city but I think it's a lot to do with how people generally imitate the behaviour of the people around them.

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  10. You are right, Jean. It's a country mouse vs. city mouse thing, I think. I'm glad to be in the country now.

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    1. Ken, I'm sure you're right, but even in the country things aren't what they used to be in England. The influence of television and other media, plus people's aspirations are different I think.

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  11. That snow looks very pretty, but I am happy to enjoy it from a distance. Have put my thermals back on, but not all the layers, the temperatures have dropped but it is not dreadfully cold and we have not got any fires running. Just trying to add to your positive points in regards to your comparisons between England and France! Wishing you a very happy Easter.

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    1. Vera, as they say over here: "n'er cast a clout til May is out" - which roughly translated means keep your thermals handy until June !!

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  12. I have so enjoyed reading all these comments. Being someone who " teaches" manners I am fascinated by the obvious difference in all of the countries I visit between the country and city manners; although I have noticed, as did my French friend who now lives in Switzerland, that the manners in Paris had improved dramatically over the past 10 years. I love visiting France for the politeness which is rarely shown here Downunder...even in little country towns, unfortunately.

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    1. Louise, it's a modern problem everywhere perhaps, being polite no longer counts.

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  13. We are constantly muttering: "What am I, invisible?!?" as we walk down the street. But it was the same for us in California. It sounds like your part of France is a little bit of Paradise when it comes to manners.

    I'm not as bothered by it as Jerry. I grew up in NYC! One time in the '70s, I had torn a muscle in my leg and was wearing a splint from ankle to hip and using a pair of crutches. I went into the supermarket. While I stood leaning on one crutch so I could grab a container of milk. a woman used her cart (intentionally) to knock my crutch out from under me. I looked up from the ground and she said, "Well, you were in my way."

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    1. Mitchell, that's incredible, your story definitely takes the biscuit !!

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