Missed Manners

His body language screamed “look at me!” He sat, legs splayed out in front of him, such that people had to step gingerly over them. Then, he crossed his legs in the classical “4” position. Later, he got up and sauntered around the waiting room, rather as if he owned it and we were mere underlings.

He was wearing a particular item of clothing connected with a particular religion. Since I always get my information from the horse’s mouth, and I am currently researching a particular topic, I thought it would be a good time to make constructive use of my time in this waiting area.

I can lip-read a little, and I had seen that he was talking in Maltese to the person next to him.

So, whipping out my notebook and pencil from my bag, and removing my radio ear-buds, I walked up to him and asked whether he was (insert religion here!). No, but I am their friend, he replied, in Maltese, with a supercilious air, as if I ought to have known that “the habit does not make the priest”, albeit in a different context.

“That’s fine, anyway, because I would like to ask you a couple of questions, if I might…” Then, as I usually do, I introduced myself, gave the name of this paper, and held out hand for a handshake. He ignored that gesture, practically spat out the word no (in English this time), turned on his heels and walked away. With friends (public relations officers who wear specific items of clothing to identify themselves with a group, I suppose, must be called ‘friends’) like him, the people whom he claims to represent do not need enemies.

Ignoring people, of course, is one of the rudest things you can do. The message imparted is that they are “worth less than nothing” – because if the person whom you choose to disregard had been a fly, you would at least have shooed it off.

Two of my favourite chores are cooking and washing the floor – and those, indeed, are all I offer to do for friends when they need a helping hand.

Once, having done the former for someone who was heavily pregnant, I was giving the floor a quick once-over before going home. The doorbell rang, and since I was closer to the door, I opened it myself. I recognised the visitor instantly – the three of us had been at school together. She walked straight in, not even acknowledging me, and sat down on the settee beside my friend, solicitously asking about her health, and making small talk. By this time, I had finished; I got rid of the waste water, washed my hands and face, and picked up my shopping bag, telling my friend I was leaving.

At this point, she said “Hey, I just remembered – we were all in the same class for Geography, no?” The visitor looked at me and said “Hey, it’s Tanja – Sorry, I hadn’t recognised you at first!” I grinned, and told her that she hadn’t even looked at me because she’d thought I was the maid – and she had the grace to blush, thus proving my point.

I have been to press conferences where speakers deliberately ignore certain members of the press, for personal or political reasons. I have seen mothers ignoring their children because they were intent on gossiping with to their friends and did not want to miss one juicy titbit.

I have been t parties where it was obvious that some of the guests were there on sufferance, and the hosts made it a point to give them their backs for most of the duration of the party, and only bothered the “greet” them when they were leaving.

I have seen teachers ignoring certain pupils not because they were disruptive, or cheeky- or even because they asked questions that the teacher would not be able to answer. They just didn’t seem to think particular children were worthy of attention.

Ignoring people is also a ruse used in some families, where sons- or daughter-in-law fail to meet the expectations of the family. Sometimes, you can tell this easily from the way gifts for the children of the daughters of the family are much nicer (not necessarily more expensive) than for those of the sons. Sometimes, you can tell from the way future sons-in-law are coddled and fed when they turn up, and from the way potential daughters-in-law are barely offered a glass of coffee.

I know for a fact that indifference and coldness are ruder, and hurt more, than vitriolic hatred and acerbic comments.

What I do not understand is how people allow themselves to be mastered by animosity, prejudice, and resentment.

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