Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"I'm at a play, LOL"

Living abroad does something to you that I think I have talked about before on this blog, it makes you aware of your national identity. While foreigners going to London for the first time often complain that we Brits are an incredibly rude race, I tend to think that in actual fact we are a pretty well-mannered bunch.

For the none Brits among you, I promise you that it is the case that our young are taught that it is good manners to say please and thank you, give up your seat on public transport for someone who is older, pregnant or disabled, hold doors open for people who are in front of or behind us, say thank you at the end of a meal even if the food is terrible, compliment people on their home even if it is a flea-infested hell pit, let the other passengers off the train first when we are on London Underground, and most importantly, if there is a queue, we go to the back, we don't cut in half way down the line, or, heaven forbid, try to cut in the front, we wait our turn.

It can be a bit of a culture shock when you first move to Dubai and encounter for the first time the hundreds of different nationalities that live here, and the many for whom manners are less of a priority. The first place you notice this is on the roads. People cut you up in order to cut you up again, refusing to let you out when you're trying to merge and get across six lanes of traffic to join another road. They'll refuse to let you across even though they actually need to be in the lane on the other side of you, so it would be easier for everyone if they did, but no. Usually it is because they are talking on their hand-held phone and haven't remotely noticed you, something that is illegal here, but that is a law I have yet to see enforced in my two and a half years driving on Dubai roads.

Then, it's quite normal if someone is walking down a corridor or through a door in front of you to allow a door to slam into your face once they've passed through it. And, if you are getting out of a lift or out of a metro train, don't expect someone to wait for you to get out first, they will have barged in and pressed the button for the floor they want or pressed the button to close the metro carriage door before you have even had a chance to get out. The only way to avoid getting stuck is to barge out before they get the chance to barge you back in, or shout at the top of your voice: "Excuse me, I need to get out!" Sometimes, I feel positively wistful for the neat rows of commuters waiting either side of Tube carriage doors on London Underground stations for passengers on the train to get off first.

Then there's the cinemas. Oh God, the cinemas. Texting, checking Facebook and Twitter, checking your email, answering your phone and talking loudly, making a phonecall and talking loudly, chatting loudly with your friends, taking a small child with you who cries, chatters and babbles all the way through an 18 certificate film - these are all perfectly normal activities inside a UAE cinema. Unless you are at a mass market Hollywood blockbuster with a soundtrack loud enough to drown it all out, you can kiss goodbye to having an uninterrupted cinema-going experience while you're living in the UAE.

We recently ventured to the theatre for our first time in Dubai, to see an amateur production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at DUCTAC, and while it was not quite as bad as the cinema, there were some pretty interesting interpretations of theatre-going etiquette. People checking Facebook three times within the first 30 minutes of the start of the play, presumably to then update their status saying: "I'm at a play, LOL, OMG, so funny". Other transgressions included people walking in 20 minutes after the play had started without a millisecond of thought for the concentration of the actors and phones left switched on and ringing loudly part way through the performance.

And you know what the terrible thing about all this is? The great British dirty look and loud "Tut" has no effect on any of it whatsoever. You have to go beyond that and actually engage people in conversation, risking the potential calamity of a very non-British confrontation. There's the rub really, I'm harping on making it sound like us Brits are such a good mannered race, in actual fact, it may be that we do not enjoy being good mannered, we just do not want to be appear to be bad mannered. After all, if we could get away with jumping a queue without being seen to do it, we probably would, but being seen to do so would be caddish and mark us out as a bounder, and, worst of all, mean we may potentially experience the shame, which only a true Brit really understands, of being on the receiving end of the great British dirty look and "Tut". I'm blushing just thinking about it.

1 comment:

  1. I was blown away about how soothing I found driving in the UK this summer.

    It felt so civilised & orderly. I felt like I was a mind-reader cos I knew exactly what the people around me were going to do next.

    Without having to do a safety check every 15 seconds, I was able to concentrate on REALLY singing along to my Eddie Stobart Trucking Songs CD as we sped along the M4.