Thursday, July 31, 2008

The English - their driving and their manners

Seriously lacking in both departments, if you sassenach don't mind me saying so. Recently back from a trip to sunny Engerland - driving, I was - so I read this post from Scribbles with amusement:
"You are travelling about 80 mph, he's travelling 90 mph, you are surrounded by other vehicles doing the same sort of speeds, and he thinks it's a great idea to cut you up.

He continues speeding. At 90 miles an hour he obviously can't stay in the middle lane, so when he slams up behind the next car in the same lane, he has to swing out into the fast lane again.

Why? Why do that? If you are intent on going twenty miles an hour and more above the speed limit, why not just stick in the fast lane?"
Hmmm - I found the drive south pretty goddam frustrating too, I'll tell you. My reasons, though, are slightly different from Scribbles here. Why not stick to the fast lane? Um, because apparently in England it is the convention for people in the fast lane to not drive very fast at all. What the fuck is that all about - this business of making the 'fast lane' something of a misnomer? Stay in the 'fast lane' and you'll get stuck behind some asshole doing not 90 but like 60 or 70! Now why are you doing this, pray tell? Maybe it's because like Scribbles you think the outside lane really is a 'fast lane'. It fucking isn't supposed to be - it's an overtaking lane. I don't have time to explain the highway code to y'all but let me reduce it to this: in this lane if I'm going faster than you - which is my default position - gonnae get the fuck out of my way? Because this is what you're supposed to do, in case you were unaware. Which you obviously are. But why?

Here's Scribbles again:
"The worst ones, on a less busy motorway, will also swing into the slow lane if there is space. You watch them making their way up the motorway, dramatically weaving in and out of cars at speed when the fast lane is mostly free."
Fast lane 'mostly free'? Eh, no - I think you'll find you've taken too many drugs. You were, in fact, driving in a country like Germany or Belgium or something but you were too stoned to notice. Because in England, in my experience, the 'fast lane' is the busiest goddam lane on the motorway - clogged as it is with people doing an average speed of 57 mph.

Noticeable as soon as you get south of the border, in my experience. As, by the way, was the distinct lack of manners. In driving, for example. Let someone in in front of you. Do they give you a wave? Do they fuck. Or at least not as often as in Scotland.

This lack of civility is not confined to the goddam roads, let me tell you. I know you'll find this more difficult to believe but people in Glasgow are way more polite than they are in Engerland - and it seems the further south you go, the more pig-ignorant people get. Take Morrisons - please, someone... No, take Morrisons in High Wycome. Same shitty supermarket with the same bullshit two for the price of one deals. But the staff? Nae chat - nothing. My six year old noticed it, goddamit! "Why does no-one talk here?", he asked. I swear this is true. As for the patrons! Banging their goddam trolleys into you without so much as an excuse me. And some asshole drove through the pedestrian crossing when I was walking across it with my six year old son.

"Ho you, ya fucking prick!", I said in elegant fashion - "Don't you know what a pedestrian crossing is?"

I was unable to ascertain if the gentleman in question was in fact ignorant of the purpose of these stripes painted across the goddam road were for because he drove off rather hurriedly. Perhaps it was because I tried to kick his car that put him off debating this issue.

Thing is, I'm not in the least an aggressive and intimidating person - people who know me will bear witness. Well, certainly not by Glasgow standards. And this got me to thinking. You know all this stuff we've been hearing about the 'broken society' - increase in violence, decline in civility and all that? Well, I have a theory. Unsupported, of course, by any quantitative data - but that doesn't stop journalists so why should I bother? Anyway, there's the thing: while it is notoriously difficult to measure, by most estimates crime has actually fallen in the UK. And what is surely impossible to measure is civility - but like most people I'm inclined to think this too has suffered from something of a decline in recent years.

So rather than thinking the two are related in the conventional Daily Heil narrative, I was wondering if the relationship might be inversely correlated? People are ruder these days because they are less likely to get their heads kicked in as a result of their ill-manners. Perhaps people are more polite in Glasgow because if they displayed the level of rudeness that I saw on display in High Wycome, they'd be inviting a slap, believe you me.

It isn't just in Engerland. I was in Edinburgh recently. People eye-ball you on the street in a way they would never do in Glasgow. It's noticeable. I found myself thinking, "What the fuck are you looking at?" Because it's rude. Thing is, I was born in Edinburgh. If I were a full-on Weegie tanked-up on Buckfast, I'd probably find myself saying this.

So maybe the decline in manners are a product of a less violent society? Can't say I can provide much in the way of evidence for this but it's intrinsically difficult to do so - and I think there's something in this. All mafia movies and dramas are about living in societies ordered by a strict code of manners. And the very point about these manners, codes of respect, is that they are a way of pre-empting violent confrontation. I may be wrong - probably am - but let me give you some free advice: if you're visiting Glasgow from the South of England, I suggest for your own safety that you mind your manners.

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