Decorum

Our manner of behaving in public should at all times be marked by external decorum, which is nothing more than an instinctive understanding of what conduct is fitting and what is unfitting. It implies, above all, the exercise of common sense and a feeling for the convenience of others.

 

A Catholic, bearing in mind the example given by Our Lord in His public life, should need no further incentive to try to realize in his external conduct the high ideal of being another Christ. Our Divine Saviour was really man and so passed through all the phases of growth and development with which we are familiar. He grew up in the compact little community of the Nazareth township where it is reasonable to assume all the inhabitants were known to each other. Certainly the gracious manners of Jesus the Boy, Jesus the Teenager, Jesus the Young Man would not have escaped them. There is the model that is set before every man today. It is not too much to expect every man to study that Divine Model in order to reproduce in his own conduct the restraint and decorum of Him who could say, “Walk before Me and be perfect.”

With these thoughts in mind we shall not be tempted to look upon the many rules of good manners and etiquette to be observed in the street and in other public places as mere restrictions on our liberty. We shall see them as necessary for good order and the convenience of all.

In The Street

The first point to be emphasized is that the street is public property and that you cannot take there the liberties you might allow yourself in your own home or back-yard. Many forms of unseemly behaviour in the street arise from the failure to realize this rather obvious fact. As a tax-payer or potential taxpayer you may consider that you have a stake in every street and public utility and that therefore you can exercise some of the rights of a proprietor. Not everyone will see it your way, as you will quickly be made to understand if you presume to shout, sing, frolic and cavort in a way that disturbs others in the public street.

Rowdiness, horse-play and noise for the sake of noise are objectionable anywhere, especially in places that are for the use of the general public. This sort of discourteous behaviour may be an outlet for animal energies; it may be due to nothing worse than thoughtlessness; sometimes it is designed to draw attention to the offender. But it is always an annoyance to law-abiding citizens who with good reason consider that their right to use a public street or utility unmolested by others is being interfered with. If the urge to romp and roar is really irresistible, work it off on the football field or in the gymnasium.

In all circumstances short of fire, murder or sudden revolution, shouting, loud talking and whistling in the street are out of place. There are plenty of inquisitive people who find it diverting to listen to a loud conversation between strangers. It is therefore at least prudent to keep your private affairs to yourself by not raising your voice above what is necessary to carry on a normal conversation. Sometimes it is necessary, especially in a public vehicle or crowded place, to use a subdued tone in conversation. You should never shout to another person across the street or from one floor of a building to another.

 

A special word must be said on the subject of whistling. If you feel that you must give vent to your feelings in this way, at least make sure that your warbling will not annoy others in the vicinity. You may take it for granted that whistling is not welcome in the street or in any place where people are too busy with their own affairs to share your elation. The inveterate whistler can be a bore and a real physical torture. When he gets into your ear like an annoying insect you feel justified in swatting him.

The last thing that anyone would want to lose is the capacity for laughter. The situation is never hopeless as long as we can still laugh. However, we should avoid the kind of laughter that is little better than a hollow, braying sound. People compelled to endure it naturally make candid deductions about its source. Loud, empty laughter is annoying, but genuine laughter is pleasantly infectious. In public it is necessary to moderate our laughter, no matter how uproarious the situation may be. We need to take care at all times that our laughter does not embarrass others by being misunderstood.

On the footpath

We should walk, and not run, on the footpath unless there is some real need for haste. When others are using the path, the impatient runner is a source of inconvenience to others. In a crowded street he is a positive danger to people who are not alert or agile enough to jump clear.

Make sure that in normal circumstances you walk on the footpath provided and not on the roadway. It is unfair to cause an additional hazard to motorists who must stop for you or go round you – if indeed nothing worse happens. It is customary to walk on the left of the footpath in a busy street. Observance of this rule is necessary to prevent jostling. A gentleman, when accompanied by a lady, should walk on the side nearer to the kerb. When walking with two ladies, he may walk between them. In the case of a lady and two gentlemen the lady is given the middle position. If there are more than three persons, it is better to split the party. It is bad manners for a party of people to advance in solid phalanx down a busy footpath, compelling all lesser breeds to flow around them or be steam-rollered. Walking in line abreast may be unobjectionable on the wide stretches of a beach, but Commissioner Street and Church Street are worlds away from Surfers’ Paradise. Bad manners are shown by breaking through a party of pedestrians. In such cases you must step aside, even if it means descending into the gutter or flattening yourself against a wall.

Should you stop to speak to somebody on the footpath make sure not to inconvenience others by planting yourself squarely in the middle of the stream of traffic. There are times when some tow-away system for human beings is badly needed. You should draw the person aside and conduct your conversation out of other people’s way, preferably at the side of the path further from the kerb.

It is normally regarded as out of place to eat in the street, although allowances can always be made for small children in this matter. There are times when older persons too might eat such things as sweets or ice cream in public, but there is something incongruous in the sight of an adult munching an apple or finishing the last piece of breakfast toast as he hurries along the street.

Take care not to obstruct others if you are carrying an umbrella or large parcel along a crowded footpath. If you must really carry home a new set of sails for the family windmill it would be better to make the journey in the off-peak hours. Should you bump into somebody an immediate word of apology is needed. This simple requirement of good manners is often ignored. The hit-and-run menace is by no means confined to the road.

Always be on the alert to be of service to others in the street. Often a blind person or one with some other physical handicap will need a helping hand to cross the street or get into a bus.

In The Shop

Human beings never look quite the lords of creation when they meekly queue up at a shop-counter, a ticket office or a bus-stop. Yet there is often no alternative if a battling, bruising free-for-all is to be avoided. So take your place in the queue and wait your turn. The queue-jumper is likely to be manhandled. Remember also that the sales girl is not a robot. She will appreciate a clear statement of your needs and your polite “Please’ and “Thank you”.

Always allow ladies to enter a lift before you. This will often mean that, on leaving the lift, you will have to step out first to prevent congestion. Don’t overlook the obvious point of letting the lift-attendant know what floor you require. Nowadays it is customary for men to keep their hats on in a lift, as the removing of them in the confined space is likely to cause inconvenience to others.

Escalators are designed to save you the trouble of climbing stairs. Be patient then; simply take your place on the step and let science do the rest. There could be no better picture of the modern man-in-a-hurry than the restless character who runs up and down escalators. On a stairway ladies walk on the side nearer to the wall, provided there is a banister on that side. If there is no wall on either side, the lady walks on the gentleman’s right. If the stairway is narrow, the lady moves ahead of the gentleman when going up; coming down, she walks just behind the gentleman who will thus be in a position to assist her when she reaches the bottom step.

When passing through a doorway, the gentleman, after seeing that the door is properly open, steps aside to allow ladies to enter first. He leaves the door open or closed according as he found it.

All these rules relating to lifts, stairs and doors apply on every occasion, whether in public or in private.

Travelling

There are many points of good manners concerning travelling which apply not only to long journeys but also to the day-to-day business of getting from home to one’s place of business. In most big cities there is the daily scramble for public transport. Much of the discomfort involved could be avoided by more attention to courtesy and less selfishness. Even people who are not notably selfish in other respects will think only of themselves when it is a question of a seat on the bus or a parking-space.

When you are about to get into a public conveyance there is no need to surge forward in an unruly mass as though there were a free ride for the first aboard. Stand back quietly and allow the venerable of age, especially women, to go before you. In this way you may lose a seat, but at least you will not lose your reputation for good manners.

In these days of crowded public transport you had better resign yourself to becoming a more or less permanent straphanger. Courtesy requires you to surrender your seat to a lady who would otherwise have to stand. This is an old custom based not only on reasons of chivalry but also on the fact that women are less able physically to take the strain of standing in such conditions. Furthermore, even if she is carrying nothing more than a hand-bag, a woman nearly always has one hand less to support herself. A gentleman will not take time to reason out the lady’s prior claim to the seat; he will surrender it graciously and think nothing more of it.

This courtesy must frequently be extended to men also, especially if they are elderly or obviously disabled. In fact, any young man who is still in a position to travel free or at reduced rates should be willing to offer his seat to an adult.

Loud talking, laughing, singing and restless movement in the street applies also to public vehicles. In fact this sort of conduct is much more objectionable in the confined space of a bus, tram or railway carriage.
A gentleman should always precede a lady when alighting from a vehicle if he sees that the lady is likely to need assistance in getting out. This applies particularly when there is luggage to be handled. A public conveyance may be so crowded that some physical effort is needed to reach the exit in time. In such cases every effort should be made to cause as little inconvenience to others as possible. You should try never to be in such a hurry that you cannot even wait to offer a word of apology if you have offended in this matter.

It is a selfish practice to spread one’s luggage over vacant seats in order to prevent others from occupying them. A certain train-traveller who adopted this practice was taught a good lesson. He placed his large and expensive suitcase on the vacant seat next to him and then warned off an intending occupant of the seat by saying that the suitcase belonged to another passenger who had alighted at the station and would be back in a few moments. The would-be occupant quickly saw through the deception. He waited till the train was moving, then dashed into the compartment and hurled the suitcase out of the window, remarking that if the owner had missed the train he would not see him lose his luggage as well.

Be ready to offer assistance to ladies by placing their luggage in the rack and removing it when required. Little services of this kind rendered to ladies should be accompanied by the raising of the hat.

When travelling in any type of vehicle, do not take up more than your fair share of space. Some show a thoughtless disregard for the comfort of others by spreading their knees or stretching their legs out in front.

A gentleman should always open the door of a car to allow a lady to precede him. The gentleman alights first in order to hold the door and assist the lady. Should a lady require assistance in entering a car, the correct procedure is for the gentleman to stand just behind her, placing his right hand under her left elbow. After seeing that she is comfortably seated, he closes the door for her.

One of the most annoying species of bore is the back-seat driver. If the person at the wheel is so incompetent that you think he needs your advice, his driving is not likely to be any better for the stream of chatter poured into his ear from the back seat.

There are some special points to be noted when travelling by air. Obey promptly all directions given by crew or hostess regarding the handling of tickets, the use of safety-belts, placing personal effects in the cabin. Don’t annoy other passengers by playing with the fittings, such as seat-levers and air-vents. As you leave the aircraft you should offer a polite word of thanks to the hostess for her attention to your needs during the journey.

Courtesy

So far in this chapter we have been dealing chiefly with the rules of politeness that concern pedestrians. But there is a code of courtesy to which drivers of vehicles are expected to conform. The principal difference is that many of the requirements of the latter code are enforceable by law. The simple rules of good manners are the basis of all road courtesy.

Those who do not obey the traffic code are worse than bad-mannered; they are potential killers. We are familiar enough in our cities with road-safety campaigns and hopeful slogans like “Courtesy is Catching”; yet the ugly fact remains that in the number of those killed or injured on the roads we lose the equivalent of a major battle every year. This tragic loss is largely due to a lack of road courtesy. Obeying traffic lights, observing stop-signals, conforming to highway lines, dipping headlights, obeying parking regulations, — these are some of the ways in which the motorist or cyclist can show courtesy to others and a common-sense interest in the safety of his own skin.

A particularly offensive type of motorist is the one who tries to attract the attention of the whole street by the noise he makes. He is the larrikin of the roads. He may be physically a weakling and mentally rather dull, but what a surge of power and importance he feels in every little nerve and muscle as he opens the throttle and roars over the hill! Some admiring hearts may flutter at such skill and daring, but people who value their peace and their nerves are differently impressed. Noise will certainly attract attention; that’s why babies need comforters.

Another noisy type is the “horn-happy” motorist. He may be the timid driver who expects a Grand Prix to come sweeping round every corner, or he may be just the lazy trumpeter who finds his raucous honking the easiest way to summon his friends from their homes. The nocturnal horn blower is the most venomous of this species.

A cyclist should always remember that he is borne by the most fragile and unstable of locomotives. Therefore personal safety as well as road courtesy should urge the cyclist to observe the traffic laws. Always ride well into the kerb on busy roads; do not ride abreast with other cyclists when traffic is passing; do not ride your bicycle on the footpath or across the lawns of public parks and gardens; carry front and rear lights at night. If you observe these rules you may hope to live long enough to enjoy the comparative security of a car.

Vandalism

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This is an ugly word for an ugly thing—the senseless destruction or damaging of other people’s property. The vandal who destroys public property never seems to realize that he is hurting himself when he inflicts damage on what belongs to all. But you cannot reason with the vandal.

The lone destroyer is a comparatively rare type. Vandals generally operate in packs in which they can enjoy mutual approval for their feats of seat-slashing, their defacing of public notices, their damaging of public telephones and light fittings, their uprooting of shrubs in parks and gardens. Always shun the company of those who show any tendency towards this sort of reckless conduct. A man with common sense and sound principles, who understands the meaning of justice and civic spirit, will never be guilty of vandalism. Far from applauding the bravado that is generally associated with acts of vandalism, he will exert the force of his own example of respect for public and private property.