Practice in the Polite World

It’s a rainy day and I am standing in the middle of a bus queue surrounded by people waiting for the bus, which will take us to our next destination. Usually, I take my car but it is broken. Today I have an appointment with a real celebrity, a gentleman, ”a man of conversation”, an expression given by Sharon Miller in the article Eloquence and elegance. We are going to talk about politeness in the twentieth century, but as I enter his office, I feel that something is wrong.

  1. -Come in, Ms Hamedani, he says without turning towards me.

He is sitting in front of his computer and hammers on the keyboard. We’re never met before, so I am a little nervous and wonder what he looks like, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. While I am standing there I think of my editor who is expecting an article before three p.m. today.

-You are late; he says as he turns. He looks at me quite bitterly.

  1. -That’s right, sir. I am fifteen minutes late and I am very sorry. My car was broken and the timetable was rescheduled. I’m really very very sorry...

  1. -You trainees! Who do you think you are?

He stares at me with his forefinger in his mouth behind his two front upper teeth. If he dismisses me now it would entirely be a shame for me to go back empty-handed to my editor. It seems as if everything is upside down today and nothing can be worse. I look directly at him and find to my surprise that he is almost at my age, certainly the only thing we have in common. I know this, since I have read every single article about him before meeting. He is from the upper class and a celebrity with power. However, there is something unnatural on his negative face, which gives me courage enough to contradict him.

  1. -It doesn’t matter anyway, because I have ten minutes left to interview you and if you excuse me I am sitting right down here and starting to ask my few questions. I would like to ask you if you agree with Richard Watts when he says in his article From polite language to educated language ”it is the term ‘education’ which conveniently takes over from politeness in the twentieth century to characterize the elitist nature of the legitimate language - Standard English”?

  1. -At least in theory, he murmurs. You see, it is very difficult to apply in the real world!

  1. -As many have already written about you, you are a man of conversation. Do you think everyone could be a gentleman or ladyof eloquence as well?

  1. -It is more complicated than that, Ms. If you need to be educated; it means you are not a member of polite society although you can always be a social climber.

  1. -Do you mean that politness is as natural part of the language as our childhood? As a child, I learned many etiquettes and I did know what was expected of me.

  1. -You see, it is still an education.

-How could we ever be natural if our language consists of affections and jargons?

He laughs at this moment as if it hits him by surprise. Suddenly, he stands up to open the window and falls back into his chair. Before I could say anything more, he is on his feet again.

- Perhaps I should go. I thank him a couple of times and leave him behind.

On my way back to my editor, I conclude that it simply wasn’t his day. Nor mine! Millar says

”an essential aspect of gentlemanliness” is ”the ability to converse”. It strikes me that we all

are social climbers of a sort. Politeness, by and large, is a matter of widening our register as

a differece marker in different situations and it has nothing to do with who

we really are, a Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Trouble Hyde.