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What possesses people to forget manners?

Society’s grasp on civility and the value of public decorum seem increasingly in peril as we plunge ever further into the anarchic alternative reality of our own private worlds

Gulf News

What possesses these people to chomp and munch so freely and loudly in a cinema, even in the tense, silent moments? Why do people feel that it’s perfectly OK to blare their awful private video to everyone on a train carriage? The answer is not something, but its lack. Lack of restraint, consideration, awareness, and the basic desire not to inflict the smells and sounds of your personal consumer journey on everyone else. A lack, in a nutshell, of manners.

Movie theatre manners

One Tuesday night not so long ago, I took myself off to see Blade Runner on my own since nobody was around. It wasn’t long before my row filled, and I found myself between two couples. Snuggling in for the duration — the film is over two hours — they had brought with them enormous troughs of popcorn; the largest size. Surrounded on both sides, I comforted myself with the thought that nobody ever keeps munching noisily on right the way through to the bottom of the bucket. Do they?

Alas, as I found out, they do. And how. It was snuffling, rummaging, chomping and chewing all the way. I was trying to concentrate on the film, but the orchestral (and odorous) activities of my neighbours made it hard.

Such noise-related inconsiderateness abounds these days. Just the other day, a man opposite me on the train began — inexplicably unperturbed — to “sodcast” at full volume some Spanish football commentary. (“Sodcasting” is when people use their phone speakers rather than earphones to play something. Remember this. It will come in handy.) It was unbearable.

Do bad manners = Bad people?

It’s not that these people are bad people or even (necessarily) keen on being anti-social idiots. They just don’t seem to know better; if they were ever taught manners, those sensibilities have simply been let to slide. This is hardly surprising in a world in which the subjective is prized, and the very concepts of restraint, deferred gratification, and moral rectitude have become unfashionable (I know: I sound awfully Victorian).

How can things get better?

Ideally, everyone would chip in and informally police the upholding of basic manners. But a combination of fear of stepping out of line, being offensive and — of course — the effort and anxiety involved in telling people what they are being to their face, now means that we all just look the other way, preferring the private world of our phones to real-time interaction. So those who were never taught, or naturally imbibed, polite sensibilities, are left to get worse.

The fruition of this slow rot in basic social decorum was made comically clear last week. First was the news of measures taken by West End theatre operator Nimax to combat inconsiderate eating during shows. If, like me, you despair at the man there who gets out the wasabi peas during Hamlet’s best soliloquy, or the woman in the row behind who slowly unwraps a sweet from a fresh packet of Lockets during a pregnant pause — you’ll be pleased. Foods eaten at theatres including the Lyric, the Apollo and the Garrick will soon have to pass a “scrunch” test: They must be soft to chew and relatively rustle-free to open.

After my initial approval, though, I became depressed — ashamed, even — by the fact that theatres have to mandate this at all. It goes back to my original point, people simply do not seem to have a problem with munching noisily in a packed, quiet room as though they’re slumped at home in their PJs.

The same issue presumably underpins South Western Railway’s suggestion last week that it might axe quiet train carriages because they are unenforceable. The sorry truth is that quiet carriages are precisely what make Britain’s trains endurable on longer journeys. They are an ever-rarer island of socially-mandated decorum, in which rule-breakers are stigmatised with glares and collective disapproval.

In my experience this has always worked a treat. That such spaces are now felt to require official policing by conductors in order to work speaks volumes. And, of course, the fact that we need quiet carriages at all does too. In summary: Being able to escape fellow passengers blaring football commentary, yelling at co-workers on the phone, or knocking back six-packs on a stag-do journey, is a blessing. Having to escape from all this at all is a curse.

These are superficial, but telling details of a society whose grasp on civility and the value of public decorum and manners seems increasingly in peril. As we plunge ever further into the anarchic alternative reality of our own private internet worlds, the idea that our actions affect other people is becoming ever more remote.

No wonder my Blade Runner friends failed to connect the dots between their pig-at-trough style of eating and the experience of their neighbour (me). Rules are needed when manners fail. I’d prefer manners, but if it takes rules to get people to eat soft rather than hard foods in the theatre, then alas we have no choice.

Zoe Strimpel is a journalist and an author. The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2017

In the UAE we also deal with some bad manners

We love the UAE. Where else can you get a food delivery at two in the morning? Or such amazing shawarma? 

But there’re also a lot of things that we all just need to stop doing to make our everyday lives easier, whether it's in the office, in the gym or on the metro.

Watch: What can Gulf News staffers not stand?

Here are other annoying things that people in the UAE need to stop doing right now:

Stop rubbernecking

We get it. It’s human nature to slow down and look at the poor shmuck on the side of the road whose car bumper got hit. We are all curious human beings who want to slow down and find out why there’re flashing blue lights up ahead.

But guess what? You’re an inconvenience to everyone. Stop causing traffic and just look ahead of you and drive. Please. And thank you.

Driving slow in the fast lane

The left lanes in this country are reserved for those brave souls, who drive at lightning speed. It may not be the safest mode of transportation, but sometimes you to need to get somewhere fast. Don’t be the person who slows everyone down. If you choose to drive there, then speed up.

Breaking traffic rules

Don’t text while driving, you could die or kill someone else.

Don’t over speed, you could die or kill someone.

Don’t viciously cut in front of another car, you could die or kill someone.

Basically, stop breaking the rules. Focus on driving, be courteous, use your indicators and your logic. Let’s all work together to try and decrease the amount of fatalities on the road in the UAE.

Flashing headlights

Hey buddy in the back, we see your gigantic car tailgating us, we do not need your headlights blinding us as well! People who flash multiple times to get others out of their way are rude. Don’t be that rude person.

What else bothers us?

Chains of slow humans

Some people take it easy and stroll through the mall at a comfortably glacial speed. That’s fine. You’re a free person. What you shouldn’t do is link your arms with four other family members and create a chain of slow walking people, who block the way for shoppers in the mall. Just don’t do it.

Mobile phones in movie theatres

The ‘switch off your mobile’ rule is as old as the mobile phone itself. It still baffles us how people still insist on texting or taking a phone call during a movie. Your bright light ruins the experience for everyone.

Metro etiquette

In an ideal world, the train arrives, passengers on the train get off it, while people on the station stand to the side. At every metro station in Dubai, it’s very clearly indicated where you need to stand, when the train arrives, in order to let people get off. And guess where that is? It’s not right in front of the door.

So please just make everyone's commute easier by standing back and giving people the chance to get out without a wall of humans blocking their exit.

Throwing garbage

The beautiful lakes at Al Qudra are the newest place for people to enjoy the nature that the UAE has to offer. Guess who is ruining it for everyone? People who litter.

It’s tough to enjoy the sunsets with all these plastic bags floating in the water. The swans and other animals at the lake are dying because they are eating the garbage that you leave behind. This is just simple human decency. Stop littering in Al Qudra. Stop littering ANYWHERE for that matter. 

Not being on time

We get it, people in the UAE run on ‘Arab timings’, which means if you all decide to meet at a specific time, you should most likely add 20 to 30 minutes to that time. It’s easy to blame the traffic, but try and be a courteous person and arrive punctually. You are clearly disrespecting the other person by wasting their valuable time.

Spitting on sidewalks

This seems to be an ongoing complaint from most of our readers. We aren’t sure why people spit? And it baffles us that they would do it in public and on the floor right there! Please stop spiting. No one wants to step on your saliva. 

We spoke to people in the UAE to find out what bad manners peeve them?

Elevator etiquette

Shouldn’t it make more sense for people to get out of a confined space BEFORE you decide to get in it? Think about that next time you are waiting right in front of an elevator door, and rush in before the person inside can get out. We’ll just make it really simple. Do not enter the elevator, until people inside have gone out. Thank you.

-Joy Sawaya, Lebanese, 26 years old

Cutting lines  

In many situations, people here love to cut lines. Whether it’s on the road, in a grocery store, or standing in line for a bathroom. Wait your turn. It’s unfair and people hate you.

-Hiba Hani, Emirati, 26 Years old

Stealing peoples taxis, Ubers and Careems

Granted; these situations could happen by accident, but you have to look around you to make sure no one else was waiting for that cab. If you've ordered a car check before the car moves, that the one you are in, is the one you ordered. If you steal other people’s Ubers and Careems, while fully knowing what you're doing, then you’re not a nice person. Stop it.

-Nour Montasser, Egyptian, 25 years old

Basic Hygiene

This one is simple. Make sure you smell clean. Try to always carry a deodorant in your bag, so that you aren’t slowly killing the people around you.

-Andy Patinski, 28, Polish

Smelly workouts

I joined a gym in Dubai, and every time I walked in I was greeted by the overpowering smell of body odour and grunting weightlifters. It was almost unbearable and the machines were invariably dripping in sweat. I tried on several occasions, but then finally gave up. The washing of gym attire after every use should be common sense, but from the smell, I fear it isn’t.

-Caroline Tapken, British

Just plain bad gym etiquette

Many times when I would go to a gym in Dubai, I would see a group of women who always wanted to work out together. If, for example, two of them were using treadmills, and I started using the one in between them, they would glare at me rudely. They would always have loud conversations and laugh, and even though that’s acceptable in a social setting, it’s very distracting at a gym.

-Fauzia Yaqoob, Dubai resident

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