BEING POLITE IS SIMPLY A combination of saying please, thank you and letting other people do things before you do them. If at any time you slip up and accidentally do something you want to do, or do it before someone else wants to do it, you must make up for this by sending a thank-you card immediately.
Passing tasty food items to others before you help yourself is a very good way of showing how polite you are, and also of rapidly losing weight. Giving up your seat to a woman is frowned upon in these days of sexual equality, so if you really want to be polite to a woman why not give up your job instead?
Holding doors open is also another minefield. Obviously, if it’s a swing door or revolving door, any attempt to hold it open is going to make you look like a complete tool. If you’ve held a door open for one person and the entire population of the UK seems to be following them through, eventually you’ll have to let it go. This will inevitably coincide with the arrival of the pregnant lady vicar on crutches.
The underlying principle of politeness is putting the desires and wishes of others before your own. Where this goes terribly wrong is in the bedroom …
Politeness used to revolve round the placing of doilies under everything. The verbal equivalent of a doily is to preface everything you say with ‘I wonder’ and to include the concept of ‘not minding’ in the sentence. Doing this means it’s almost impossible to be rude. For example, “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind not being such an arse,” sounds positively friendly.
In life-threatening emergencies, politeness can be a mixed blessing. When you’re trying to get out of a burning aircraft, holding the door open for others to escape is a good way of finishing yourself off. On the other hand, if you’re on death row, giving your seat up to someone else has the opposite effect.
When two polite people meet, nothing happens, and you’re just left with a pool of antimatter: no doors can be passed, chairs sat in, food eaten or initiatives taken – there is just a quivering of latent energy ready to be turned into thank-you cards.
Really, really polite people may seem to be dull, but they all have a little secret. Once you have the reputation for being polite you can get away with saying things like, “My word, what an interesting story,” to people who could bore a new English Channel tunnel.
© GUY BROWNING IS AUTHOR OF ‘NEVER PUSH WHEN IT SAYS PULL’ AND CREATOR OF ‘TORTOISE IN LOVE’ (DVD) – USED BY PERMISSION.