x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Observing Life: Good manners bring unexpected awkwardness

The trouble is, I still have to walk by the car park each day. So it's become something of an awkward experience, a bit like passing your ex every morning.

I've developed a fairly weird relationship with the car park security guard in the building next door and I'm not really sure what to do.

It all began last summer. Being a relatively cheery, friendly person, I try - on most days - to be fairly good at distributing the good mornings, thank yous, smiles and waves. There's a bit too much seriousness in the world these days, and it does at times seem a place falling short in good manners or common courtesy. And when you live somewhere where there are a load of folks basically employed to pack your bags, deliver things to your door, fill up you car with petrol and suchlike, the least you can do is thank them afterwards.

On this one fateful morning, I passed the car park to the right of my building and noticed that there was a new attendant sitting there on a plastic chair.

This chap looked quite friendly, so I smiled at him and he smiled back. The next day, it happened again. Smile. Smile. I think it was about day four or five that a smile was upgraded to a wave, which is how we progressed until week two, where I offered the full "Morning!".

This carried on for a short while, both of us shouting "Morning!" to each other as cars screeched past on their way to work. It was quite a nice, jolly way to begin the day, I thought.

A few months had passed and the guy actually got up to speak to me. Over the course of a very quick conversation, I learnt that he was from Pakistan and was fasting - it was Ramadan. I expressed my sympathy for him having to go without water while sitting in the intense heat all day long. He said it was going to be tough, but he'd manage it.

So that's how it went on for a while. Whenever I was passing the car park, I'd stop for a few seconds of short, stuttered conversation, dominated by weather-based topics (I'm British, it's what we do). Occasionally, he'd make comments about what I was wearing, on at least two occasions suggesting that I was "fashionable", a term I've never been troubled with before.

I was away over Christmas and for much of January, so didn't see the attendant for a good while until last week. And when I did, I bounded over with a loud "Morning!", expecting a hearty handshake. But instead, he seemed dismissive. "All change, all change," he said, pointing at my clothes and shaking his head. It was weird.

The only thing I can think is that on that particular morning I teamed some jeans with a denim shirt. Now, I thought their shades of blue were different enough to avoid claims of the dreaded "double denim", but maybe it was just too close for comfort for him.

Since then, even when I'm in a different ensemble of clothes, my greetings have been returned with a dissatisfied shrug. It's as if I've been dumped.

The trouble is, I still have to walk by the car park each day. So it's become something of an awkward experience, a bit like passing your ex every morning. Yesterday he blanked me completely. I might just start talking to the car park attendant in the building next door. Let's see if it makes him jealous.

Alex Ritman is a reporter for Arts&Life