Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Manners maketh the Mensch*

Manners are important to me.

I tell my children frequently (now that makes them sound as though I have to constantly reprimand them and that isn't true) that manners cost nothing and first impressions count etc, and mostly my children are polite, although my father in law might disagree; last summer Jas apparently told him that her little cousin was being "a pain in the arse".  To me, the word arse isn't swearing, yes it's a four letter word but it doesn't start with F...and is it really any different to "bottom", "backside" or "bum"?  But we have advised Jas not to use this word in Grandpa's hearing again.

I hear from the Germans that my children are polite (they always seem amazed), and to be honest I think nothing of it, it's what's expected of them, "please" and "thank you" are easy enough to say after all, but when they're missing it drives me crazy.

Both my children have German friends (clearly) and there's rarely a day goes by when one or other isn't accompanied home by a friend from school.  Children are always hungry and/or thirsty, they wander into my kitchen and ask, quite bluntly, for food/drink (the older ones any way, the younger ones normally hang together because the scarey mommy (me) has a tendency to speak English.  Yesterday was a case in point, Ben's friend Vincent wanders in and asks (in German obviously) "can I have some water?"  I pointed out that there was a word missing, he paused, thought really hard and managed to come up with "bitte"**, but it was clearly a strain.

But it's not just the kids that seem to have a paucity of politeness, the roads are full of it (can something be full of a lack?) the very road planning itself doesn't lend itself to politeness, give way signs do not dominate but rather it's up to the driver on the main road to notice the side road and allow any car to pull out***, I'm sure the French used to have that crazy system and then changed it to the English "Give Way" sign system, some roads do give way, some don't, needless to say there are a fair few fender benders here, and giving way to oncoming traffic on a narrow road?  I'm happy to wait and wave a car through, but woe betide them if they forget to lift a hand in thanks, usually though you have to flash them a couple of times before they realise that they're being let through.

I had a chat recently with Ben's teacher (he's not performing to the fullest of his abilities - in other words, he's being lazy & has discovered girls) and Herr J was telling me how (in his opinion) the English people are so helpful and friendly and polite, I didn't feel the need to tell him that it's all a front and that we're only nice face to face and that as soon as the back is turned we'll bitch about them...

But that is maybe better than the German way, which is to say something straight to your face, without worrying about dressing it up or being tactful, if they don't like the colour you painted your kitchen and think it clashes with the living area, they will come right out and say it, dog the wrong shade of gold to be a retriever - been told that too, clothing brand too expensive to purchase, it goes on.

Germans may be the efficient ones in the European Union but they will never win medals for politeness, tact or diplomacy, leave them in charge of the finances but get a Brit to explain to the Greeks exactly why their pocket money has been slashed.

* I know, I know, the saying is "manners maketh the man" but the German "Mensch" = person and I like it.
** bitte = please
*** if I don't get pulled off the road for speeding (four years here, four tickets - so far) I shall be getting a stern talking to having being T-boned because I forgot to give way to the minor road on my right.

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