Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting WO to 80360, or email us
Failure to thank can spark a wave of anger
LAST WEEK, the people of Spain and Britain were both confronted by challenges to the way they lives their lives.
In Spain, it was the government’s austerity programme; here in Britain, it was the looming threat of a strike by petrol tanker drivers.
The Spanish drama is bigger, and more chronic, and it was met with dismay and violence. People demonstrating in the streets, clashing with police, and venting their frustration at the top of their collective voice.
On the same day, we in Britain were making our response to the petrol crisis very clear indeed.
Across the country, thousands upon thousands of motorists were queuing outside petrol stations, waiting to fill up with unleaded.
Jerry cans were being dusted down, or bought frantically, and cars were being rushed to the forecourt as soon as the needle nudged down from “full”.
And people waited, and waited, and waited.
In times of crisis, we like to get in a queue.
Nobody queues like the Brits. This may sound like a flippant cliché, but it also happens to have the benefit of truth.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a fair few countries around the world and driving in many of them, and I’ve rarely seen the sort of thoughtful patience that we take for granted. Japan and South Korea, perhaps. Russia certainly, where queuing is engrained in the memory.
They all do queuing well. Americans try their best. Australians and New Zealanders are good.
But, to be honest, I could come up with plenty of places where the concept of waiting in line just doesn’t register.
We could start in Italy, where driving is a delightfully anarchic affair, and move through the whole of South America, the shuffling crowds of India and Pakistan, the jostling of the Caribbean.
And then Africa. I’ve only been to seven or eight African countries so perhaps I’m being unfair. But I’ve never seen a good, sturdy queue that didn’t descent into a mass surge at the critical moment.
So it’s reassuring to see that, at times of national crisis, we still know the value of a good queue.
Of course there are those reprobates who try to push into the front or leave it to the last moment to leave the filter lane, but we all know what to do there, don’t we? Close up – keep them out there, scowl as you drive past.
There is a common moral code and how we behave in our cars is a pretty good guide to how we behave in the rest of our life.
Which is why I fret about waving.
Now I’m not talking about the simple act of waving to your friend, or supplementing a cheerio or hello.
What I’m talking about here is the driver’s wave, that simple act of recognition for someone who’s let you go first, or moved out of your way.
Those simple acts of generosity that drivers sometimes have to do.
Along the roads near us, you have to play the game.
You regularly find yourself going along a lane that isn’t quite wide enough for two cars to pass, so one of you has to pull over to the side, wait for the other car to pass, and then carry on with the journey. And at the critical moment when the two cars pass each other, etiquette comes into play.
If one of you has made that small sacrifice of slowing down and pulling over, there must – and I emphasise must – be some recognition in response.
It’s an unwritten law, a reciprocal agreement that we all know about. You can’t expect someone to move out of your way and not thank them.
Otherwise, the British way of life is, frankly, under threat.
Everything that we hold dear is symbolised by that simple wave of the hand or, perhaps, by the acceptable substitute of a flash of the headlights, accompanied by a smile. It suggests gratitude for the kindness of others, kinship, humility, humanity and a lack of arrogance. It shows you are a pleasant person, who recognises the same trait in another person.
So if you can’t be bothered to do that, it suggests the opposite.
What that means is that you consider yourself too important to display the merest sign of appreciation.
It means arrogance in bucketloads and if there’s one thing that offends the hardwired British psyche more than anything, it is overt and unwarranted arrogance.
A failure to thanks means, fundamentally, that you’re a bad person.
Sorry but it is as clear-cut as that.
It means I have the right to scowl at you as you pass, then to overtly and sarcastically wave at you and then to shake my head in disdain.
And if you’re in some big 4x4 then I have the absolute right to mutter “typical, just typical” as you charge off in the opposite direction.
In that small wave, the flash of lights, or that cheery smile, there are things that we might call life-affirming. And every time someone fails, every time they drive past with eyes straight ahead, my hackles rise.
Why would you do that? If a stranger holds a door open for you, surely everyone would have the decency to thank them?
If you drop something, and I pick it up for you, then you’d thank me. So why do people think they can simply motor past without a wave of acknowledgement? What’s wrong with them?
In the great scheme of things, you might imagine it’s a triviality and you might well be right.
But life is made up of bundles of apparently trivial things that coalesce into significance.
It’s about manners, and how we treat each other, and for me, that’s pretty important.
So the next time you’re thinking of blithely ignoring that kind person who helped smooth your day, please do think again. It might just be me, and I’d rather you said thanks.