Lizzy Dening

Whatever happened to good manners?

Lizzy Dening
Whatever happened to good manners?
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When we shared TV presenter Ben Fogle’s comments on Britain’s ‘slipping manners’ we were inundated with post backing his plea to bring back politeness...

Whether it’s remembering your Ps and Qs, offering someone a seat on the bus, or simply smiling at a stranger, it seems manners are something you all hold incredibly dear. For when we recently aired Ben Fogle’s comments that, “manners have slipped” and “society seems to have lost its charm” dozens of you felt compelled to write in and agree.

Mrs E Jones from Essex summed up the overwhelming mood of the letters, “I agree with Ben Fogle (right) that manners in general are very bad these days; on the roads and in public places. Just a bit of common courtesy would be appreciated.” June Richardson from London, meanwhile, pointed out, “It’s sad because the respect and manners which seem to have been lost cost nothing.” Many of you gave specific examples of situations where you thought politeness was slipping in society, with lots of comments about public transport. “I agree with Ben that manners have gone out of the window. 

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There’s no thank you to the driver when you get on the bus, people push in front
when the bus arrives even though you have waited ages. How things have changed but not for the better,” says Jean Hickman of Middlesex. Meanwhile, Wendy John in the Vale of Glamorgan, says, “I am 81 years old and travel by bus and on numerous occasions I have seen people with their feet up and on their phones and I have to ask them to please allow me to sit. They just look at me and don’t even apologise.”

In fact, technology and the growing use of mobile phones seemed to be a big factor in this feeling of diminishing manners. “People no longer make eye contact and wander around playing with their phones. If you should accidentally come into contact with them, they give you a look as if to say ‘I can’t see you I am busy’,” says Mrs Muriel Nowell of Silsden.

John Stokes, who is the Acting Chairman of the Campaign for Courtesy, formerly known as the Polite Society, agrees that technology and the fact life has seemingly got busier, is largely behind this trend for impoliteness. “Manners have been too easily side-lined in the hurly burly of our lives. At heart, most people are nice but the problem is they’re often preoccupied and in a hurry to get places and in all that, manners are lost. It’s not because people don’t believe in being polite, they’re just thinking about something else at the time,” says John.

“In a superficial sense, technology certainly has contributed to the problem as there are a lot of ill manners when people are looking at their phones and don’t look where they’re going or who speak loudly on the bus.” Nevertheless, John is keen to point out that it’s not just the people most commonly associated with technology (ie youngsters) who should be blamed for bad manners.   “In my experience, many young people are extremely well-mannered but unfortunately the media sometimes portrays that differently. Yes, some rude people are young but equally I’ve met many older people who are rude,” says retired teacher, John, 66.

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But it’s not all bad. Many of your letters did also celebrate wonderful acts of good manners that you’d witnessed. Geraldine Costello from Northumberland says, “Who says chivalry is dead? On attempting to cross a very busy road in Newcastle recently, I seemed to stand for ages. Then a car slowed down and stopped and the driver, a young man, got out and waved me safely across the road.”

While the Campaign for Courtesy has been going since 1986, John is keen to emphasise that manners shouldn’t be seen as an old-fashioned idea. “There’s the perception that some people who talk about manners are fuddy-duddy. They’re not. It’s simply a very modern story of how we relate to other people and make them feel worthwhile.”

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One person who heartily agrees with that is our own columnist Roy Hudd, who you may remember recently wrote about why he’s a Patron for the Campaign for Courtesy.

‘The Campaign’s simple aims are the promotion of good manners, respect for self and others, courtesy for all and rejection of anti-social behaviour,” he wrote. “If these ideals seem old-fashioned – well, they don’t to me […] Life would be much nicer if all of us were politer to each other.” Now John and his band of supporters are spreading the word about manners, doing talks in schools and hopefully, eventually workplaces.

He’s also calling on anyone who supports the appeal to bring back manners to become a member of the Campaign and act as missionaries for manners in their local communities. “People shouldn’t be shy of being proactive and leading by example. I think some people worry about doing that because they don’t want to be seen as pushy but if you believe in something, show it.”

  • To join the Campaign for Courtesy please email amba@medicalflightline.com
  • Written by Katharine Wootton
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