Last year, I was voted “Least Posh” out of the seventeen people I lived in halls with. While it’s one accolade I’m probably going to forget to mention on my C.V., I wasn’t offended. My competition was a Northerner who pronounces “pasta” “paahsta”, and a girl who legitimately owns a yacht. A YACHT.
Despite my democratically assigned title, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about etiquette lately. It has many ways of tripping people up- be it whether you have to wait and hold the door open for the person at the other end of the corridor, or that point in your third conversation with an acquaintance when you realise it’s just too late to ask their name.
For instance, not long ago, I had to rush out of the shower to answer the door. Imagine my frustration when I opened the door to two charming elderly women, who wondered whether I’d ever "encountered God."
I was wearing a towel, lone drops of water were running one after another down my nose, and the shampoo was turning cold in my hair. I was already going to be late and I knew there was a queue for the bathroom, but there was no way I was going to be one of those people that slams the door in a Jehovah’s Witness’ face.
Instead, I stood there, freezing in the breeze that my open door was letting into my already under-heated house, nodding along to what they had to say. I know that people of this particular religion do not walk streets in the cruel cold, knocking on door and door, just because they want to piss people off. And I know that they will get treated rudely on a frequent basis. I’ve always quite smugly thought that should I ever answer the door to a Jehovah’s Witness; despite having no invested interest in forming a religious belief in what they say; I would be at least polite enough to listen.
So I did. And they could clearly see it was not an ideal time for me to explain whether I had ever prayed, so they asked if it would be okay to call back at a more convenient time- an offer I accepted graciously, clutching at my slipping towel as they passed me a leaflet. They never did come back; I imagine the sight of my eye-make up half washed down my face put them off or something.
The point is, even though I was really uncomfortable at that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to come off as impolite. It’s a strange phenomenon often found in people who work in customer service positions. I’ve been insulted by customers, and mocked, and outright ignored by them- but it doesn’t shake the fact that I’m going to be cheerfully courteous to them.
When I’m with friends, though, it’s a completely different story altogether. In fact, on telling a friend what I’m currently writing about, she jokingly responded with “you’re not polite”. I was outraged and immediately shouted at her, probably disproving my point. Whatever, she’s a close friend and is used to my abuse by now.
What really gets to me is flamboyant impoliteness. Not saying thank you to someone letting you pass by. The train conductor who's intent on being as impatient as possible as you hand over your tickets. Drivers speeding up through a puddle to create a bigger tidal wave over the poor bloody pedestrians. That kind of rudeness that can only stem from arrogance, and is found in the people jumping the McDonalds queues at 4am, post-lash.
So while I might not be the type of person who knows the first thing about polo, I take some comfort in the fact that I find it almost impossible to be purposefully rude to strangers. The title “Least Posh” is fine by me, just so long as it doesn’t translate into “Most Rude” for others. Unless you're a close friend, that is. Then you can expect incessant abuse, and nothing less.