I sometimes wonder if I’ll die in a nasty revenge attack after I tell someone off for their bad manners or bad behaviour in public. It’s probably inevitable so why fight it? I have good rationale and right on my side. If someone has to be martyred for the cause of Courtesy then it may as well be me as anyone else.
Paul and various friends of mine wince in anticipation on occasions when I’m present where they sense a conflict about to ensue. I just can’t help myself. It’s like a red rag to a bull. As already detailed in a previous post on here (Shush!”), I have to tell people off if they talk during films or plays. I think it’s my right and generally I do it because they’re really irritating me and impinging on my enjoyment of something I’ve paid good money for. If they don’t know how to behave properly then they need someone to politely, but assertively, tell them off. I often get a mouthful of abuse in return for my polite request but they usually shut up (if they don’t I fetch the manager of the theatre, I had one woman ejected once) and that’s all good. It’s the aim.
I just hate rudeness and nastiness. I went to see a patient on a hospital ward the other day, in my capacity as a specialist nurse. I let myself onto the ward using my security pass and started walking down to go and visit my patient. I was stopped by a short young woman blocking my path.
“Who are you here to see?” she barked like a member of the SS. I told her politely with a faint smile, hoping to thaw her frozen attitude.
“Bit early for visiting don’t you think? Do we think we’re someone who can just choose when to visit a hospital? We have rules. You can come back in an hour when visiting starts, like everyone else has to.”
“Oh!” I explained. “I work here. I’m a specialist nurse come to see the patient.” I explained my role.
“Oh, sorry. I thought you were a visitor or I wouldn’t have spoken to you like that .I didn’t see your badge”
“O.K. Let’s just back track a minute and think about what you’ve just said.” I smiled at her and pulled myself up to my full six foot, flashing my ID badge also. “So, let me get me this straight because maybe I don’t understand the concept here. It’s alright to talk to me like a piece of dirt and be incredibly rude and patronising if you think I’m a visitor but it isn’t alright to do that once you find out I work here and am actually very senior to you? Is that how hospitals work?”
She was a little stuttery and was very apologetic and she clarified that indeed this wasn’t how it should be. I clarified that if I overheard her be rude ever again then she’d be facing some kind of disciplinary action for having such a terrible attitude. Fair deal, I think. It’s good to have standards and it doesn’t cost anything to show some respect, whoever the person is. I could have been a visitor who had been given special permission to visit an especially unwell relative or had merely made an honest mistake with the visiting times.
The following day I caught a bus home from work and the bus was as ever packed and steamy, smelling of unwashed clothes. There was a girl sitting near the back of the bus, across from me. She was sitting on the aisle seat with her handbag on the window seat, to prevent anyone sitting next to her. Fair enough, I understand her urge to be alone and to be honest she looked a little earthy and I wouldn’t have wanted to sit with her anyway but not fair enough when the bus is full. I’ve noticed recently that this has become the norm for people to do this on buses, blocking the window seat and sitting in the aisle seat, effectively claiming two seats. It drives me crazy. An elderly couple got on the bus and a young bloke and a nurse stood in the aisle to let them have their seats. The girl did nothing to acknowledge this and merely glared down the bus, hanging on to her two seats.
I got up, tapped the boy who was standing up on the shoulder and said “There’s a seat here. This girl’s bag hasn’t actually bought a ticket so you could have the seat if she wasn’t being so selfish.”
She moved her bag and said “What did you say?” Well, she hissed it through gritted teeth. I reiterated it and she glared away. The world felt put right. I just hate this attitude of the world being yours to do whatever you like in and screw everyone else and their feelings and comfort.
From eating smelly food on trains, talking at top volume about inappropriate stuff on your phone, not controlling your screaming kids through to playing your crappy music aloud on a tinny mobile phone speaker and dropping litter; it’s all just terrible behaviour. I chase after litter droppers and politely suggest that they maybe accidentally dropped the litter and I point out where the bins are. I ask people politely (the first time) to turn their music off. I ask people swearing loudly on buses to stop. I once caught a football which some boys were throwing across a bus, after it smacked the back of my head, and I handed it to the driver. OK, they called me every name under the sun for the rest of the journey, but who cares? What amazes me is that people sit there while a football flies up and down the bus or while someone plays loud music and pretend it isn’t happening.
I once had a vaguely scary incident where a girl with a baby in pushchair told me she’d stab me but I laughed it off. She’d been standing at the bus stop with two friends and her toddler was running up and down pulling at people’s clothes and putting his hands in their bags. A nice elderly lady had asked her to control him (politely) and she was now verbally attacking the old lady. I sat next to the lady and offered to keep her company, commending her for chastising the woman. The bus went off and the girl continued shouting a stream of really vitriolic abuse, shouting down the bus at the lady and then proceeded to walk up and jab her finger in the lady’s face repeatedly. I grabbed her wrist and told her to do one and stop pointing her finger in an old lady’s face as it was threatening and abusive. She didn’t stab me. I suspect she didn’t even have a knife. The consequence was that she spent the rest of the journey shouting about the old lady and the “queer”. Classy girl. The driver didn’t say a word but I stayed on till the girl got off and reassured the old lady who was very dignified about it all and thanked me for helping support her.
I failed once and was very ashamed of myself. I was waiting in a queue of about 20 people for a bus when a fight broke out. It wasn’t so much a fight as two boys knocking hell out of another one. The victim was cowering against a stall in the street whilst the two other boys repeatedly punched his face and head. He was crying out loudly. They were aged about 14 or 15. I was horrified and just stood and stared. The rest of the bus queue stared at their feet. It went on for a couple of minutes and an internal monologue raced through me. Did they have a knife? Would they punch me? What should I do as the boy being punched looked at risk of serious facial injury?
My questions were answered when a little old man in his eighties ran across from a nearby cafe, accompanied by a tiny young woman. They proceeded to break up the attack and I happily joined them, feeling very ashamed that I hadn’t done so before. The rest of the queue looked on still, passively. The two attackers got on my bus and hurled abuse at me for being involved in breaking the fight up, all the way to work. No one on the bus said a word. It was a little embarrassing but I had a strategy. Their school uniforms were poorly concealed and I rang the head teacher and described the boys and the incident. The teacher rang me back a few days later to tell me he’d had other reports too, which was gladdening, and had suspended the boys who were involved in attacking the other one.
The horrible racist rant, shown on Youtube, of a young woman on a tram shouting at black people was sickening and I'm glad she was arrested for it, but more heartened that other people shouted back. I got a taxi a few days later and the sweaty white taxi driver started talking about how he thought the woman had gone about it the wrong way but had a good point as black and Polish people were ruining our country. I asked him to stop talking and pointed out that as a taxi driver who I was paying he had a duty not to spout controversial and rascist views. He was less than impressed but he did shut up.
We seem to be told all the time that if we intervene or speak out then we’ll be attacked. The media convince us that approaching or reproaching will cause us to crippled or stabbed and maybe they’re right, maybe it is a risk. I hate to think what sort of society we might become eventually when no one at all speaks out. It’s a nasty thought. Please tackle discourtesy in whatever way you can. Just for me.