Published in the Westmount Examiner in January 2012.
Not that long ago, my partner and I found ourselves in one of Montreal’s many BYOB restaurants located on the Plateau. As it was a weekday, and still just the very early end of daylight, we quickly settled upon sharing a near-empty corner of the multi-room eatery with two young men who occupied yet another table. They were both thirty something.
Anticipating a quiet, relaxing end-of-a-work-week event, we were to a certain extent taken aback when the same two men in question started engaging in a conversation that was both very audible and very profane. After several rather awkward moments, I finally got up to inform them that, because of their very public and ultimately graphic exchanges, we would be moving to another part of the rather large and elaborate restaurant bordering on Duluth Street.
Appearing somewhat surprised by my remarks of disapproval, one finally said that he regretted our annoyance at their dialogue but that they were, after all, talking to one another and not to us. As the other concurred with him, we, accordingly, sat elsewhere.
As we progress further into the twenty-first century, it would seem that more and more people are becoming increasingly indifferent to the actual notion of shared spaces – and the reciprocal obligations imposed by that very same concept. Into this category I would place the two rather rude diners we encountered on that most unpleasant occasion some time past.
Indeed, restaurants can have a way of bringing out the worst in people. Only a few days ago, I spotted a particularly attractive young couple in their early twenties seated not that far away from me in a very different Montreal eatery. If not in love, they certainly appeared quite content to be in one another’s company, obviously sharing a very special moment – that is until the young man’s smart phone rang.
After taking the call, the dynamics of the closeness changed considerably, to say the least. Seemingly indifferent to the feelings of his bistro partner, he proceeded to banter merrily on in front of her with some unknown (to her) interlocutor. Her face reflected her hurt.
Of course, it could be argued that the mobile phone is at the very heart of the decline of manners in our society today. Recently, on St. Catherine Street West I came across a man who felt himself obliged to stand in the very centre of an already narrow sidewalk while all the while, facing passers-by, shouting into his cell phone his disappointment at one turn of event or another in his seemingly all – important life.
More and more, the ubiquitous and pesky device is used in situations and locations never originally dreamed of. For instance, on one lamentable occasion a couple of years ago, I shockingly witnessed an individual take a call on his smartphone during a particularly grief-ridden funeral service. Even that, however, paled in comparison to a not even whispered conversation I heard some time past emanating from a cubicle in a toilet of a major city centre department store. Talk about doing two things at once!
It goes without saying then that bad etiquette and cell phones are frequent companions, especially when they are carried behind the wheel of an automobile. A few months past, while crossing a major downtown thoroughfare, a motorist, talking on his hand-held mobile phone at the same time as passing through a red light, gestured rudely towards me, nearly hitting me in the process. Happily, this incredibly nasty event was witnessed by a nearby police officer who dutifully, and quickly, gave chase.
There was, of course, a time when ‘good manners’ were thought of primarily in terms of the dinner table. You know, how to hold the knife and fork, not to put your elbows on the table, not to talk with your mouthful, etc. More often than not, proper comportment was imparted to us by our parents. Today’s ‘bad manners’, however, go much further than ever before in communicating a total disregard for the consideration and feelings of others. Basically, they have become an anti – social statement made by angry individuals seemingly at war with those in their very own community.
Otherwise, how can one explain the numerous doggie poop bags littering the sidewalks and streets of our city?