Diary Entry - 49
Back home in India my relatives laud my mother on raising a polite and well-mannered boy. The British however think otherwise.
It all started when I went to class here in the UK a little late and found myself without a pen. I was fortunate enough to find myself sitting next to a good female friend who I had acquainted myself with over the weeks. In India, if I forgot my pen and if the lecture was going on, I would take the pen out of my friend's pocket with only a few hand and eye movements being exchanged. I thought since I was in England and since the person sitting next to me was a girl, I should do things the old fashioned way and so I actually told the girl sitting next to me “Hey Christy, give me your pen” before I took it.
Never did I think I would offend someone so much by taking a pen. You think you know how to talk in English until you realize every word that comes out your mouth has the potential to offend someone. Later I learn that if I had to borrow a pen from Christy the proper way, I should begin by first exclaiming “Oh god I forgot my pen at home. What do I do now!” Most people don’t react to your problems and Christy might have been no exception. So then you look at her pen and say, “Oh that pen that you have there, looks really nice. Where did you get it?”. She will get the message and just so that she doesn't seem inconsiderate she will say, “Oh hey you can use my pen.” Now you don’t take the pen straight after she offered it to you, because that will make you seem like you are someone who exploits other people’s kindness. So what do you do? You say, “Oh thank you. But wouldn’t you mind if I used your pen to write down my notes?” for which she will say “Oh not at all.” Then as you take her pen from her hand, you repeat several times the words, “Are you sure?” before you actually take the pen and start writing with it. That’s not the end of it. While writing with her pen, you say, “Oh this pen writes so well. I have never seen a pen like this before in my life.” The idea is to compliment the pen that she gave you and you are supposed to do this even if it doesn't write properly. Then after you finished writing with her pen, you return it while remembering to say “Thank you so much”. It is important that you follow these instructions to the letter, otherwise you risk offending her. For example, if you forgot to say thank you Christy would have felt used. I had trouble saying thank you after borrowing a pen from someone I knew well because saying thank you after borrowing a pen is all it takes to freak out your friends in India.
It was very hard for me to talk in a way the British found polite but I have it all figured out now. All I do now is look at every normal conversation that I have, as a conversation with my high school vice principal Sita miss (Yeah we called teachers miss in our school, instead of madame because we didn't want them to feel old). Students of my school feared Sita miss because she was an angry woman who could talk on stage without the aid of a microphone. The entire auditorium would be able to hear her loud and clear. We always thought she could make a career in Italy as an opera singer, if she wasn’t so short tempered. So before every conversation I have in this country I think of Sita miss. Say there is this guy next to me having a pack of chips (or crisps as they call it Britian) and it is making my mouth water. Since I don’t want to be rude I think in my head, “How will I ask Sita miss to share her packet of chips with me?” It will not be long before I realize that getting my own bag of chips is the best course of action in the UK.
The skill of being polite is however a worthy skill to have and if you attain sufficient mastery of this skill, you can insult or be rude to someone in a very polite way. I will teach you a few things I have learnt on how to tell people the truth without offending them:
1. Say something very rude and say it is cute - Hey you are wearing too much make up. It makes you look cute.
2. Insult someone and say you don’t know any better - I think what you are wearing is horrible. My sense of fashion must suck.
This is especially useful, with members of the family or friends, where you want to say what you think but don’t want to offend them. Like say you have a sister-in-law and she comes to your marriage wearing a gaudy dress and with an awful lot of makeup. The only way to tell her the truth and have a happily married life is by being polite.
I know it is Monday. Just so that you know, I am still sticking to my new year resolution of posting every Sunday. My excuse for posting on Monday instead of Sunday is that the two days have only the first two letters different.