Good manners are the means by which we become and remain civilized in a far from civilized world. Good manners have nothing to do with ‘class’ or ‘Society’ or what Miss Mitford agreed was ‘U’ or ‘Non-U’. Bad manners, on the other hand, are what make it so exasperating and difficult to get on with being civilized. I shall call these Good Manners and Bad Manners GM and BM, though these initials are unconnected with General Motors or British Medicine.
GM at table in your house or in a restaurant are motivated by logic and common sense, not by being ‘rich and snobby’, or the opposite. Using your knife as if it were a fountain pen is not GM because the instrument is not under proper control. It may skid on the plate and transfer the mushy peas to your neighbour’s silk-covered lap. Holding the knife with first finger firmly placed on the blunt side of the blade and the rest of the fingers gripping the handle is plain commonsense. It does not denote you as a ‘fascist, landowning, upper-class Tory pig’. Equally, grasping your fork in the left fist is BM because in order to transfer what is piled on it to your mouth requires a bodily contortion that might give you body damage. You might also miss your mouth, which would be serious BM.
GM on the road mean, for instance that if you live on a narrow road in the country, where two vehicles cannot pass each other, and you are leaving your garage in the 4X4, that you wait a couple of seconds for the other car that is coming up the hill to get by your house first. BM on the contrary means you will drive straight out of your garage entrance into the path of the approaching car, causing its driver to stop precipitously with half the car’s side in the ditch/hedge while you sail past in your 4X4 with a derisive wave.
GM on the beach in summer means deciding not to strip off down to near nakedness in public. BM means exposing a nude body obviously not designed by or for the Gods. It is BM to raise a middle finger to anyone who objects, and shout “What I do with MY body is my business and nobody else’s!”, when by exposing it one makes it the business of everybody else.
BM in politics mean that once you have ascended the contentious road to political stardom, you will be inclined to arrange matters of government best to suit your political party, not your city or country. GM means that you will genuinely care for the people you represent and do your best for them. If you are BM by nature, politics is a priori an excellent choice of profession. Your lack of GM will be described by the press as ‘driving’, ‘forceful’ and ‘dynamic’. If you are fortunate enough to be possessed of excellent manners, do not enter politics. If you have GM and are foolish enough not to take my advice, you will be labelled as ‘weak, ‘lazy’ and ‘unmotivated’.
If you have GM, hide them on certain occasions. I once made the terrible mistake of holding a Selfridges street door open (it was a Spring Sale), so that two ladies behind me could sail through, pearls before swine as it were. As I stood holding the door, whole regiments of ladies in hats appeared by magic and marched through the door. One or two acknowledged my GM, or thought I was the doorman – I was not attired as an admiral that day. I held that door for at least ten minutes, whereas I should of course have swept through in the first place, allowing the door to swing back and knock off the ladies’ hats.
If you happen to be a professional assassin, show your GM by firing one shot from the Magnum into the victim’s sternum, and finish him/her off with another round between the eyes. This beggars months of expensive hospital treatment for a badly hurt but live victim. It also prevents his/her recognising you in a police line-up. Do not forget to wear gloves, always the sign of a gentleman. Gloves avoid finger prints, or spent gunpowder blackening the fingers. No one with GM appears in public with blackened nails.
To return to the road one moment, if you are driving your motor on a wet day, and you approach a bus stop where several patient persons await the non-arrival of their bus, do not drive as close as you can to the line so that a wave of almost tsunami proportions soaks the queue. Even if many of the individuals are in urgent need of a bath, one must avoid this enjoyable manoeuvre, because it is BM.
If you are a man and you have at last arranged matters so that the lucky female on whom you have cast a predatory eye is about to surrender, do not continue the seduction if, at the last moment, she says No. She will have good reasons for the negative option, or equally good reasons that have just occurred to her about you; like BO. You have only carnal reasons. Besides, it is she who might have BM, in which case you will receive a stout kick in the region of your fork. If she is non-committal about the proposed adventure, use your GM as a way out of what may prove otherwise an expensive charade. Say you have consulted your conscience, which will not permit you to take advantage. Saved, you see, again, by GM.
Should you stay in an hotel, do not be forced by GM to leave your room in any other state but untidy, with the bed unmade and used towels on the bathroom floor. You must leave the irksome task of cleaning your room or suite to an employee of the hotel, usually female. If you do their job for them, as GM might dictate, you run the risk of being hauled into court by the employee, on the grounds that you are doing her out of a job. It is also GM that should prevent you from behaving with the maid in a manner reminiscent of a seriously frustrated male gorilla suffering from the Strauss-Khan Syndrome. This kind of thing is genuine BM, and may result in an accurate kick in the same portion of your anatomy as mentioned earlier.
It is BM to boast about your wealth (if you have it) to strangers. They may be a tax inspector, and their GM will suggest to them that they should pass your information on to higher authority, leaving you up the creek with neither cash nor paddle.
Last, the eternal question about giving up your seat: there was no difficulty about this before 1945. In train, bus, tram or underground, men with GM surrendered their seat to a woman if she could find none elsewhere. No one questioned this. The times change, and with them – customs. In today’s atmosphere of equality, many women of any age feel offended by male generosity, and are fully capable of expressing themselves. In London I saw a middle-aged woman spit at a man who wanted to offer her his seat: “You saying I’m an old bag, innit?” she shouted, and for emphasis hit him with her bag. The man had suffered BM for his own GM, and the woman had vindicated her rights, all right.