There is a certain amount of rudeness that you become immune to when living in London, or any other mega city: people bumping into you without a glance back, much less an apology; strangers choosing not to say thank you when you hold open a door for them; commuters shoving their way through you to get on a packed train car, leaving you stranded on the platform. These everyday discourtesies that in a previous age would have earned heckles, today receive not so much as an eye roll or batted lash.
But every so often you come across one of them. One of those relics from a different era whose manners haven’t been dulled by urbanity, self-absorption, or – let’s face it – feminism. The ones who would tip their hats if men still wore fedoras these days instead of hipster women. The ones who still believe in a society where people handle each other with gentle detachment.
I found such a rare creature this morning on the Bakerloo platform, and felt an outsized flood of gratitude and warmth simply because he stood in front of the open train car doors, put his arm out, and said two of the most underutilize words in modern English: “after you.”
I smiled. Said thank you. Made eye contact. All the things that seem quaint, almost rural, in their open acknowledgment of another human being. This man made my day, and I wanted him to know it.
And yet I don’t think I should find this worth writing about. I don’t think something so pathetically small merits discussion. I don’t think something so mundane as civility deserves praise. Like self-esteem peddlers the world over, I’m applauding behavior that should be normal.
People should say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me,’ even if they mutter it. People should flash their lights or show a hand if you let their car pass yours on a narrow road. People should look over their shoulders when entering through a door to see if there’s someone coming behind them. People should, well, act like people.
But for some reason, in the 21st century, it seems we have to reteach ourselves how to interact with real humans in the real world.
Maybe someone will create an app for that.