x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The new etiquette

Are we all working with a manners manual that is out of date?

Manners maketh man - or rather woman, as I discovered upon joining a group of new friends for dinner in Downtown Dubai recently.

Having quickly settled into the plush surroundings of the modern Japanese restaurant, we found ourselves waiting rather a long time to be served. Some guests made small talk or patiently re-read the menu, others craned their necks - waving at the hurried staff in vain. One young lady took a different approach entirely. Arm held aloft, she snapped her fingers repeatedly until she caught the waiter's eye.

Stunned but nevertheless famished, I blushed when it came my turn to order and gave the waiter a big fat gushing "thank you very much indeed" by means of an apology for this rude beckoning.

Could it be that my manners manual was out of date and finger-clicking was back in vogue? All doubts were cast aside when the same individual ordered a drink by barking at the waiter "Can I get some water here!" In my head, the words "please" and "thank you" were furiously bouncing around like ping-pong balls with the ever increasing demands made of the resiliently polite staff. Cementing things for me, however, and surely the height of poor etiquette, was the same young lady not paying for her meal.

To watch everyone else contribute to the hefty total while she surprised us with the revelation that she didn't have the correct money to pay, as her notes were too big, was harder to stomach than the spicy tuna carpaccio.

Maybe I should lighten up. Perhaps this was nothing more than a cultural misunderstanding, I thought to myself on the way back home. And although this person wasn't French, my time living in la belle pays had taught me how manners can so easily be lost in translation.

For nigh on a year, my clumsily conjugated verbs were constantly corrected in public by nationals, in particular, opinionated Parisian taxi drivers and sales assistants who felt it their moral obligation to hear their beautiful language spoken perfectly or not at all. Now, at first I interpreted this as rudeness, but in time came to appreciate the free French lessons I was receiving.

The same questionable conduct applies to the rugby scrum I experience daily in my office building lift, where a woman's privilege of being able to enter the carriage first and have the door held for her most certainly doesn't apply.

What's a girl to do? Get mad, get even or simply get a coffee and relax, reading the paper? I'll pick the latter, and ponder the phrase from that immortal wordsmith Oscar Wilde that "bad manners make a journalist".

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