Where Etiquette is a Closed Book

Published: 25th June 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th June 2014 12:33 AM   |  A+A-

It was in the fourth standard at The Little Flower High School in Salem that we began learning the English alphabet. Even during the early 1940s our class teachers were keenly interested in teaching us social manners. We learnt that when one thanks us we should reciprocate by saying, “No mention, please”. If someone wishes us “good morning” or “good evening” we should politely repeat the same to the person. These manners deeply ingrained in our minds, we exhibit when thanked by someone.

Nowadays thanks are offered as an infinite quantity (“thank you so much”). Over and above this, the words “most welcome”—that came to be used later—expressed in response to the thanks offered prompt the thanking person to think that the recipient of thanks was very eagerly waiting to hear words of gratitude. Such polite wishes are snubbed these days, let alone receiving reciprocal gestures. An instance worthy of mention here crosses my mind. During my second innings in a private professional college after my retirement from the Air Force once I happened to call up on my landline, one of our senior lecturers, the only civilian among the faculty to enquire about something. As I wished him “good morning”, he responded, “Yes, tell me what’s the matter.” At this I resented a tad and repeated my gesture of wishing him and he responded again in the same manner, and this action was reiterated five times from both ends with my wishes failing to elicit a corresponding gesture. Chagrined, I hung up with a plump “nothing”.

What is more irritating than this is the rebuff your open-hearted wish receives generally from the staff in some of the public sector offices when you contact them on telephone. “Good morning, I am so and so from such and such place wanting to (the official favour)”. The immediate, humiliating response to this is always, “Yes—pronounced with a dragging tone—Mr. (caller’s name) what can I do for you?” or sometimes, an embittering “What do you want?”

If you call on an official in his office for an official purpose and initiate the overture wishing him well, he would set your wishes at naught and straight away deal with you. When certain officials are approached in their office with our wishes, they with just a bit of nod would raise and lower their shirt collar a couple of times holding it, besides having a panoramic glance at others around in an air of hubris.

Incidents of people visiting railway reservation counters, post offices, banks et al barren of their pens to write with, demanding us for one—sometimes even stretching their hand almost up to our shirt pocket as if to snatch it if refused—and placing it slapdash near us on the counter with not even a word of gratitude are common; some even walk off with that precious possession.

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