Why do people find the most inconvenient times to be polite and does it only happen here? The English have an overdeveloped sense of politeness, have had for decades. Admittedly the younger generation have tried to bury it under nonsensical slang and profanity. But this is the land of the queue, the polite cough, order and manners.
This is not an easy one way street, this politeness is a complex social dance. It would seem that some people are dancing to a different tune though. When I purchase my rail ticket it is a transaction not a social interaction. We recognise each other now so we exchange a few meaningless words while the transaction is completed. But this is still a simple transaction, don’t misunderstand it, don’t build on it.
The young lad at the station has this all wrong. He tries to engage socially and that is a disaster because we have no easy way to reject this. We don’t have the tools to close a conversation quickly. When someone talks to us we struggle to turn away from them, it is impolite after all. Every Monday I awkwardly leave the station, unheard words hanging in the air and its not just me everybody gets the same.
It is the same in grocery stores, I want to pay and leave not discuss the day. If you engage in conversation with the person in front of me I am obliged to queue patiently. A quick few words during the transaction is fine. My friend Barbie even gets offers of toe curling apparently. But this is not a place to chat, to gossip or to debate. There are places for this and they are not in the middle of a bloody queue.
I am not being rude, if you want to hold a discussion let’s arrange a time and venue. There are well acknowledged standard phrases for these interacions if we use them and recognise them then life will be much simpler. When a shop assistant asks ‘how are you today?’ the answer is ‘ok’ or ‘fine’ don’t detail your medical or social history. The weather, an English staple, is best summised in a couple of words not a thesis on holiday destinations.
Let’s please draw a line between commercial and social interactions.