We need a culture of politeness, sharing and caring, so that the world goes back with the impression that we are a truly civilized city,” Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s chief minister, said as she launched the politeness drive to prepare the denizens of the Capital for the Commonwealth Games that will be held later this year.
But can a “drive” miraculously turn around our sour manners?
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
While etiquette specialist Sabira Merchant believes that chivalry and politesse are qualities that need to be imbibed at a deeper level, she isn’t as pessimistic as the rest of us on the merits of short-term workshops. “The cram sessions for politeness that are being conducted in the Capital will at least make one conscious that there is such a thing as ‘being polite’,” she says.
According to Merchant, one can start by acknowledging the presence of people around. “With our BlackBerrys and iPods it’s easy to forget that there are people around us. Make eye contact, smile, greet your doorman and your rickshaw driver—only then can you expect them to do the same,” she says, adding, “It’s not fair if you expect your attendants to pump up their politeness meter and (you do) not do the same.”
Merchant dons the satirist’s hat for Lounge as she simulates how ridiculous we really can be.
1. You’re on your way to a business meeting when you see a couple of foreign athletes—the kitbags are a giveaway—by the side of the road asking for directions. You:
a. Drive on. After all, you didn’t invite them. Sheila did.
b. Drive over them. Some of these foreigners have no road sense.
c. Your clients are always late anyway. Stop, show the athletes the way, maybe even drop them to their destination if security allows it.
Merchant says: Guys, the directions were included when you were given the invitations! Too bad if you can’t read the Hindi signboards. Why should we be the ones making linguistic adjustments all the time?
2. You’re standing in line at the stadium’s food stall, waiting for the foreign couple in front of you to finish ordering. The tongue-twisting ‘bisibele bhaath’ and ‘navratan kormas’ seem to have confused the pair and they can’t make up their minds. You:
a. Offer your suggestions and help them decide. Anything to get your food fast.
b. Sneakily start your own parallel queue and demand immediate service.
c. Speak to the attendant loudly in Hindi, hoping your combination of vulgar wit and crude innuendo will urge the couple to move on.
Merchant says: I’d suggest that they have just the one thing on the menu that I know is ready. I’ll freak them out about getting the runs if they try an adventurous alternative. That always works with the foreigners.
3. It’s the second day of the games, you’re late for work and the traffic couldn’t move any slower. An SUV with the Canadian hockey team is ahead of you and keeps pulling up because one of the players seems to be sick. You:
a. Honk like you’re powered by Duracell. You do not want to watch people vomit.
b. Get out and ask the SUV driver what the problem is. Direct him to a parking spot.
c. Try all possible ways to overtake the vehicle. There’s no way you can help.
Merchant says: I always keep a plastic ziplock bag with me. These annoying tourists should do the same. I’ll grimace if they try to roll down the windows and ask him to keep his vomit within the confines of the SUV...Delhi roads could do with less of that stuff.
4. Your five-year-old has to use the toilet. The line at the women’s restroom in the stadium is formidable. You:
a. Leave, of course. The boxing match between Jamaica and Malaysia was a newly cultivated interest in any case.
b. Ask her to pee under the chair. Five-year-olds can get away with anything.
c. Barge into the women’s restroom and plead with everyone in the queue to be let ahead.
Merchant says: Take her to the men’s room...five-year-olds can get away with anything. Well, almost.
5. A well-connected friend had promised you VIP entry but it turns out you were shortchanged. You’re embarrassed at being slighted on your date. You:
a. Threaten the security guard for not letting you into the VIP section without the correct pass. Insist on seeing the “guest list” that the guard says doesn’t exist.
b. Obsessively redial your friend while hurling profanities into the evening sky.
c. Stay refined. You don’t yell, you just grumble and sulk obstinately and hold up the queue behind you.
Merchant says: I have faith in my charms and would work at it till I can sweet-talk my way in.
6. You’re a vegetarian attending the games with your strictly vegetarian in-laws. You find a suspicious piece of tuna in your chickpea salad. You poke at it with your fork and:
a. Scream! Go back to the counter and warn people around to stay away from the evil animal-killing enterprise.
b. Put it away quietly because your mother-in-law is likely to scream louder than you ever could and temporarily stall the artistic gymnastics show.
c. Take aside one of the servers and explain. Ask for a refund.
Merchant says: Eat the delicious morsel and feed it to your in-laws as well. Looks just like good old paneer (cottage cheese). How would they ever know?
7. You think you’re India’s biggest fan, and the sight of the gymnastics team losing in the quarter-finals is too much for you to bear. To make matters worse, the Mauritius supporters next to you are buoyant, with chants, banners, flags and synchronized waves. You:
a. Wrap your own flag over your shoulder and stoop dejectedly out of the stadium.
b. Wrap your own flag over your shoulder and stoop dejectedly out of the stadium after ripping out the chair you were sitting on and hurling it at the Mauritius contingent.
c. Wrap your own flag over your shoulder and stoop dejectedly out of the stadium after ripping out the chair you were sitting on, hurling it at the Mauritius contingent, unleashing a stream of guttural insults at the world in general and conjuring up all your built-up phlegm for one last, symbolic spit.
Merchant says: I’d wrap my flag over my shoulders and do some exaggerated gymnastics on the chair. Not going to let my side down.
8. Although you normally don’t endorse violence, what fight would you pay to see at the Commonwealth Games?
a. Vijender Singh vs Mary Kom
b. Sheila Dikshit vs M.S. Gill
c. No, I really don’t endorse violence.
Merchant says: Never did doubt that answer. Sheila every time...with anyone!