As you no doubt will be aware, British politeness is renowned. Famously. Worldwide.
The German word for politeness [Höflichkeit] translates directly into Courtliness or Courtesy (certainly something to do with courts)... which made me wonder about the origin of British politeness. Is it something steeped in tradition rather than rooted in human kindness? To a German, British politeness can be at times something quite stilted, a bit plastic and not quite entirely honest. In Germany Höflichkeit [politeness] doesn't rank as highly as Ehrlichkeit [honesty]... many times it seems the other way round in Britain: it's about pleasing the other person by telling them what they want to hear... and living with the consequences after (ie you get a "nice" Christmas jumper year after year).
I am totally digressing. Please do excuse me for wasting your time that way. Where were we? Yes. Politeness, a form of social interaction, a socialisation processs - behaving respectfully and considerately towards others.
Rules of politeness do exist. You can see them in action as polite patience and waiting your turn (queuing, an amazing spectacle!), giving people personal space (as a more northern society a lot of space is required), gestures of kindness and courtesy, a healthy overdose of sorries, thank yous and small talk, understatements and hedging statements. And in whatever you do never (never ever!) complain, please pardon my forthrightness but stiff-upper-lipness rules and Britannia's waves politely. Certainly if you speak at all (possibly small talk), don't speak too loudly if you can!
My observation, if you allow me, was going to be this. If British politeness is something that's there, it exists, it's real, something that everyone prescribes to, something the pervades society - why is it so solidly suspended on our roads?
An example? Consider this manoeuvre.
- a tailgating driver, quite possibly threatening to rear-end you [broken rule of polite patience]
- then a close-shave overtake [broken rule of personal space]
- followed by speeding away to "make up lost time" [broken rule of stiff-upper-lip]
- or a left-hook [broken rule of polite patience and personal space]
A most weird one is where 'rules of the road' and 'rules of politeness' directly collide. And implode. "Merge in turn"... your herd instinct tells you to get the h*ck out of that soon-to-be-merged lane as soon as poss... or otherwise the wrath of others would rain down on you, and you are forever doomed to stay in the merging lane till the end of days. Melt-down ensures and a wormhole opens up.
To me it seems rules of politeness are "on hold" as soon as you get into that thing. You close the door, and it transports you into a parallel universe where a new set of rules apply. A selfish retreat, a holiday from being British, polite and proud of it.
Unless you are aware, and you counteract it, you fall prey to Demon King Car and its Rules of the Road, so diametrically opposed to rules of British Politeness.
Why is that?
Maybe British Politeness is dead? As are nearly 2,000 road traffic victims every year. Politeness may have saved them. Yet society asks us to simply stiffen up our lips, and get on with it. A collision of principles?
Or maybe British politeness never did exist on your roads?
I leave you with the real Cholmondley-Warner...
A post where I haven't even mentioned the word b*cycles!