Manners Maketh Man, But Not Always The Elderly It Seems

Last night I took my mum to the NTLive reshowing of Jane Eyre at our local arts cinema. This makes my third viewing for the play, which tells you everything you need to know about it. It was as absorbing and brilliant the third time around as the first. It is a triumph.

Now to the meat of the post.

The cinema was almost full last night, mostly of reasonably elderly people, it has to be said.

As I negotiated the evening with increasing levels of frustration, I was struck  by something that occurs to me at surprisingly regular intervals.

People will often, loudly and vociferously moan about the ‘youth of today’ and how we are in an age of declining manners, ignorance etc, and what is the world coming to? Blah, blah, but I am amazed, again and again by the sheer lack of manners and social niceties in the elderly, and it was never more apparent than last night, frankly.

I will, before I make my points, hedge it about with the understanding that I am not referring to all elderly people. There are, thankfully, many exceptions to the rule. It made such an impression last night because I was treated to a spectacular lack of manners on about half a dozen occasions in the three and a half hours I was out. Normally such things tend to be isolated incidents. Last night was, I would say, a clusterfuck of rudeness.

Things did not start well, when on an up ramp in a multi storey car park I was forced to hold the car on the ramp because the person in front of me stopped dead at the top of the ramp, even though the car park around them was 3/4 empty, and let out four elderly people who all stood, fussing with sticks, open car doors and the like for several minutes while I and the traffic sat behind me, waited. With the exception of one woman who smiled apologetically, they all singularly ignored both me and the cars behind me, as if it was their God given right to hold up the traffic whenever they liked. Eventually the driver (also elderly)  pulled forward as if they hadn’t a care in the world, at a glacial speed, forcing me to creep up and past them.

This was a small part of the larger issue of standing in people’s way, in aisles, in corridors, in doorways etc, where it seems that it was imperative to hold conversations or just stand, staring blankly at the people who are being held up as if the person who is doing the holding up has absolutely no idea why anyone would be wanting to go by them. Or worse, just ignoring them and tutting loudly if the person who needs to get by asks the person blocking the way to move. EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE STANDING IN A THOROUGHFARE. This happened every time we went in and out of the venue last night.

The queue for the toilets at the interval was absolute chaos as people simply stood about blocking the ladies, which meant that the queue, already long, simply got longer as people could get neither in nor out without some elaborate and pointless shenanigans in the doorway. EVERY BLOODY TIME. Everyone knows that venues always have a woeful lack of facilities for ladies, so the general consensus is that everyone works together to make it as easy as possible for people to get in and out quickly. Not last night.

Also, you do not get to jump a queue because of your age. If your bladder is full, think about the fact that everyone standing in the queue with you is probably in the same situation, and just because you’re twenty years older, does not mean that your need is more urgent than anyone else’s. Also, you know, if it is more urgent, then ask if you could go ahead. Try communicating. It works wonders.

There is the whole sitting staring when someone wants to get by you to their seat in a row, and failing to acknowledge that they want to get by. Then there’s the grudgingly standing up as if it’s a massive problem, and the grim stare as you politely apologise for asking them to get up so you can get by, even though that’s what you have to do and everyone knows that’s what you have to do.

Here’s a tip. If you don’t want to keep getting up for people, and your seat is at the end of a row, don’t sit in it twenty minutes before the performance starts.

I’d like to make special mention of the lady next to me, who not only came in late, thus forcing everyone on our row to stand up and block the view of everyone behind while she fussed to her seat, but then also spent the first twenty minutes of the play excavating her handbag, folding her scarf, refolding her scarf, putting it in her bag, forgetting that there was something she wanted in her bag, excavating her bag again, folding and refolding her scarf, and then folding her coat for good measure. Also, putting on lipstick. In the dark, in a theatre, where nobody is going to see it, and nobody cares, and you could bloody well put it on at the interval if it matters that much.

Props too, to the lady next to my mum, who repeatedly snored very loudly throughout the second half, and her husband, who failed to do anything to wake her up. Perhaps he had died.

Let us not forget the talking. The loud, whispering to explain stuff which then drowns out the next line, which means more loud whispering has to commence.

And the rubbish. Afterwards, as we left, the amount of rubbish on the floor of the cinema was really noticeable. What happened to picking up your mess and putting it in a dustbin?

Or acknowledging people’s existence?

Or acknowledging that you are not the only person that matters in the room and everyone has paid the same amount for their ticket as you, and not paid to listen to or watch you out for the evening?

Or good manners?

I have been on school trips with better behaved children than many of the people I was forced to interact with yesterday.

It strikes me that age is not a privilege or something you have achieved with skill. It is down to luck. It does not make you better than anyone else. It does not excuse you from what the rest of the world has to do, and if you think it does, and you are treated with what you consider to be disrespect, you need to think about what you have done to merit it.

The excuse of being elderly to justify bad manners ranks alongside the celebrity ‘do you know who I am?’ question in my mind as one of the most appalling bits of nonsense I’ve ever heard.

Someone once asked me: ‘Do you know who I am?’ when they considered that I had been impertinent, despite being breathtakingly rude to me from the outset of our conversation and my impertinence was actually just my refusal to give them what they wanted. My answer?  ‘I don’t care if you’re the Queen of England, until you learn to use manners, I am not going to deal with you.’

Before I get any responses from outraged of SAGA Magazine, I did not, at any point yesterday, lose my temper, raise my voice, or forget my manners. The provocation was, at times, enormous. The temptation, ditto, but I did not. So do forgive me if I blow off a little steam here.

I have always told my children that respect has to be earned. It is not awarded to you like a telegram from the Queen just because you’ve managed to live more minutes on the planet than anyone else, or you once went on television wearing a bad wig and some pan stick. If you want people to treat you well,  try treating other people well.

The youth of today? They’re your children and your children’s children. Breeding will out, don’t you think?










4 responses to “Manners Maketh Man, But Not Always The Elderly It Seems

  1. I so agree with you.
    The worst examples I came across were at an exhibition at the Royal Academy staged in an extremely cramped and very hot gallery. It was packed with oldsters – each more pushy and arrogant and oblivious than the last. Each had a large bag strapped to their dun-coloured anoracked back (stuffed no doubt with a money-saving packed lunch and Thermos). Each proceeded to stand in front of the exhibits, blocking the view and bashing and crashing their blasted bags in the face of anyone who wanted to actually look at the art.
    I appear to be ranting. Soz.

  2. Alas, as I speed ever nearer the (ever receding) age of retirement I find myself behaving badly. As someone brought up with Manners by a polite (and wonderful) Mum, I am ashamed when I realise what I’ve said/done. Sometimes apologies are possible. Other times I remind myself not to be such a jerk, and try to remember – which is increasingly difficult as I age!

    All the same, as I was taught Manners early I hope that the teaching sticks. Goodness knows I tried hard with our children too. That seems to have worked.

  3. Soooo agree with this. I have to put up with old people pushing in front of me in the bus queue at least once a week but obviously, I can’t be the stern-faced, thirty-something bitch who says anything because I’d be turned into some sort of pariah and chased out of the village with sticks. Grrr,,,

  4. You’re a better woman than I; I once entered into a shouting match with an elderly man in a branch of Waitrose, who got huffy with me when I failed to realize he was in the queue and gave the butcher my order out of turn. I was quite solidly in the wrong, but his attitude of entitlement and passive aggression so enraged me that I nearly knocked him through the display case. And then, of course, felt terrible about it for literally years afterward. Better to grit one’s teeth and smile, but I am still trying to learn the knack of it.

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