Pardon Me, Sir – On the Limits of Manners in London

You’ll excuse me, I’m sure, for my lack of blog posts. I have been busy preparing for, and then finally settling in to, University life in the great city of London. London is, of course, notorious for the hustle and bustle of its somewhat grubby – yet somehow attractive – streets. The question is then, I suppose, how is a Home Counties boy settling in to a place where street manners are somewhat non-existent? Or if they do exist, I am yet to fully experience them.

The Brits, I am told by American friends, are considered to be perhaps a bit too polite for their own good. I too, on reflection, would say that manners is most certainly our niche. In my hometown of High Wycombe, and many other places around the UK, you can hardly go anywhere without having a door held open for you, or being on the receiving end of a quick and light-hearted apology as you accidently knock into somebody on the street. Being from Buckinghamshire, a place where “excuse me” seems to be every babies first words, I have found London quite the culture shock in this sense. I wouldn’t be so harsh to say that manners are not appreciated here, but they are certainly not expected.

My journey to rudeness began inside my local Primark, where I turned a corner and almost bumped into one passer-by. “I’m sorry” I said with a smile, expecting the young chap to return the sentiment. However, he simply glanced at me, and continued with his trek through the store. At the time, I didn’t think too much of it. But now I have been in London for a few weeks, I have come to learn that this is quite the norm. London being London, and busy streets being busy streets, taking the time to apologise for harmless occurrences such as the one above is simply not expected of you. They say that ignorance is bliss, and my inner Buckinghamshire trooper of manners refuses to let the ritual of apology go without a fight.

I hope, dear reader, that you will not misinterpret this as a slur on London nor its noble people. There is, as far as I can tell, a reasonable explanation for this. It could be argued that London is simply so busy that if everybody stopped to apologise, hold open doors, say hello or wait for a fellow pedestrian, nobody would get anything done. It is, in essence, a cultural and environmental phenomena. Living in London, as well as mixing more with others from all over the country and the world, has truly made me realise that every area of the UK is different in some small way. I have come to the conclusion that people from the Home Counties are quite keen on their manners, and this is one of the very few things I will not apologise for!

However, this is simply no excuse for some behaviours I have seen during my time here. London is the only place I have witnessed an old lady, walking stick in hand, almost toppled over by a group of men in suits during rush hour. Partaking in such an occurrence in Buckinghamshire would probably have you named and shamed in the Bucks Free Press. But perhaps rudest of all is the Lewisham air itself. The borough of Lewisham has some of the most polluted air in London, and I dare to even consider what is happening to my insides as I breath in the ghastly poison during rush hour. I now picture myself as a fermented egg (though I am sure that is somewhat of an exaggeration).

Some things are still off bounds in London, I am pleased to say. I am yet to see, hear or smell anybody pass wind in a public place (although I am finding the small possibility that Londoners don’t find farts funny somewhat disturbing). Surprisingly, I have even seen the odd person yell “thank you!” to the bus driver whilst exiting from the busses side. There is something sorrowful about laying eyes upon a London bus driver – they so rarely experience that infamous “thank you, driver” mantra from exiting passengers; a social ritual that,for some biased reason, I have come to solely associate with High Wycombe.

All in all, London is an amazing city, and it is most certainly an experience living here. But I am feeling rather nostalgic about the small town manners of my hometown, something that I have failed to appreciate (or even recognise) until London became my official residency. I have a few years left until I return home for good, but until that day, I’ll fly the flag of the swan high… And I’ll keep on apologising for anything and everything.