Bikram Vohra | July 16, 2014
The code of conduct for slaves in the southern states of the United States did not permit their masters from saying thank you to anyone that they owned since they were property and not to be thanked. Evolved into good manners it hasn’t yet found deep root on the home front. We don’t say thank you as a rule, not for services rendered or received.
At the loftier levels of society we may produce a plastic version of it but if you slip down the social ladder a little the expression of gratitude evaporates. People take and give without extending a simple thanks. Put gas in the car, pay and drive off, no need to say thanks to the attendant. Pay the bill in a restaurant, no need to compliment anyone. You establish the pecking order by not replying.
Much in the same way is the greeting. Wishing each other is just not done as a habit and wishing strangers is not even on the cards. Consequently, if you are the sort of fellow who says “hi boss” or “hi hero” to the worker, the liftman, the labourer, the milkman, the cleaner, the sweeper or the paper boy, he looks at you as if you were weird. He might overeagerly salaam you with that Stephen Fetchit servile expression as he cheerfully badmouths you under his breath but if you are socially superior you only curtly nod your head, if that.
You don’t say “gooood morning” with enthusiasm; he’ll think you are barmy.
I think when I watch this charade, were we like that one time? Maybe we were.
It is like tipping. The person I visit has ordered a Rs195 pizza. The delivery boy arrives with it. This worthy takes the box then waits for the boy to give him five bucks back. I look at him in awe. The guy belted down from two miles away in this heat and you cannot give him a small tip.
No, I am told, it spoils them.
Tipping is so unusual that on a long drive the other day we stopped at a dhaba, or what is known as a roadside cafe. The little kid cleaning the table with a rag and bringing water was offered '100 for his courtesy and because he was doing his job well.
He looked puzzled and then asked what we wanted to buy. Told him it was for him and his service and thanks a lot.
He looked at us suspiciously...this is just not done.
No, thanks, it is yours. Reluctantly, he pocketed it, then watched us all the way to our car till we drove off in case there was some trick being played on him and he’d be accused of theft.
Is it just us being picky or do you agree that we have lost these traits, that is, if we had them at all?
(This appeared in the July 16-31, 2014 issue of the magazine)
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