The universal language of rudeness

I love a good sandwich, and no trip to the UK is complete without a visit to Pret-A-Manger to grab a BLT or posh cheese’n’pickle sarnie. Standing in the queueline to make my purchase earlier this week, I heard the woman two people ahead of me ask for a coffee and a croissant perfectly normally, before making a strange sound that I just couldn’t make out. Then the person immediately ahead of me asked for a cup of soup, and followed it up with a similar word that I struggled to understand.

Had a new terminology of café culture emerged in the time since I’d left the country to head to the USA? I hate it when that happens. It took me about three years to start using the phrase ‘skinny latte’ without being struck down with potentially paralysing embarrassment.

Thankfully, it turned out that they were just local people using the word ‘please’. It’s amazing how easily you forget when you’ve been living in New York for a few months.

But while ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are an everyday feature of life in the UK, there’s always one person around to let you know that rudeness truly is a universal phenomenon.

Taking a train after work on Friday, I found myself in a ‘quiet zone’ – essentially a carriage where you’re not supposed to use your phone or blast music out of your iPod at a volume that causes bleeding ears to anybody within the same postcodezipcode. The train was particularly busy, and just before we pulled out of London, a small boy sat down next to me, with his young mummom sitting in the seat across the aisle.

Now, I’m not one for listening in on other people’s conversations. Actually I am, and it quickly became clear that this woman had some serious personal problems, with a missing brother who had just been found and sectioned. And, given these problems, it’s perhaps understandable that she was using her phone to keep in touch with her family. All while trying to control her son, who was making repeated demands for a hot chocolate much to her obvious discomfort.

If you’re going through all this, what you need from your fellow man is a little bit of sympathy and understanding. What you don’t need is an obnoxiously arrogant fifty year old telling you that you have to get off the phone now as you’re in a quiet zone. Rolling his eyes at fellow passengers, he did his best to make the woman feel like she was two inches high, and forced her to leave her young child alone to make her necessary calls.

I felt like standing up and asking the man if, when he was a boy, he dreamed of being the kind of person who attempted to humiliate his fellow man in public. While most of his friends were imagining turning out for Manchester United or Arsenal, was he picturing making women cry in their moment of need?

Of course, I may have felt like saying all this, but unfortunately, I was seized by my own unique Britishness and so buried myself deeper into my book and just stuck virtual pins into my virtual voodoo doll instead.

No doubt he’ll do it again though, and the next time it happens, I hope he’s not so lucky. And no amount of please and thank you’s will help him then.

4 thoughts on “The universal language of rudeness

  1. Jessica in Rome

    This maybe a dumb question, forgive my ignorance! Is there really a “quiet zone” train car? Is there signs and everything? For some reason that seems strange, and even stranger if people actually take it seriously. It seems when I ride public transport there is always at least one loud mouth! I can’t imagine having the choice to ride in a quiet car!

  2. Dylan

    Jessica – most British trains that are going any distance now have at least one quiet carriage, yes. Whether people actually abide by the rules is a whole other matter!

  3. Paul Sheffrin

    The worst perpetrators of let’s-make-a-noise in the quiet carriages are the train companies themselves. There you are blissfully immersed in your book when your silence is shattered by a PA announcement advising you that you are in a quiet car where, for the comfort and convenience of customers, mobile phones and MP3 players must not be used. I can never work out how it is that phone conversations or music may detract from my comfort and convenience but booming announcements do not!

    I really liked your piece today, Dylan. You seduced us into thinking that it was the kid or his mum who would be your example of rudeness (and let’s face it, their behaviour would certainly fall short of perfect). But you’re right – humiliating and shaming is far worse.

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