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Nicky Marr: Have some lost the art of behaving in public spaces?

By Nicky Marr

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Is it ever suitable to pose with seafood?
Is it ever suitable to pose with seafood?

Help me out here, please. Am I just getting old and intolerant or has a proportion of our society forgotten how to behave in public? Maybe it’s worse, and they simply don’t care about the impact of their behaviour anymore?

We’ve all heard about poor audience behaviour in theatres. Maybe we’ve experienced it. Staff being punched, spat at, and abused while asking rowdy audience members to tone it down during shows, and performances halted while police break up brawls in the aisles. But it’s not just in theatres that we’ve forgotten how to act.

Mr Marr and I were out for lunch at the weekend. We booked a table in a restaurant that has been a favourite for years. There was wine, seafood and friendly service, and an anniversary to celebrate. It should have been lovely. But as we studied our menus, it all – as Daughter #2 says – kicked off.

The couple across the room seemed – if you’ll forgive my judgement – a little mis-matched. She was in her 20s, and incredibly well polished, with full-make-up and designer clothes. Pushy, too. He seemed to be a reserved bloke in his 60s wearing jeans and a golf shirt. But they had no conversation; it was all about her photos.

She posed this way and that, with and without the langoustines, sipping wine, teasing an oyster with her tongue… you get the drift. She directed every shot, even sending her companion outside to take photos through the window. Silent, looking mortified, he complied.

For an hour or more her antics dominated the entire room. The staff shook their heads.

“Can you ask her to stop, please?” an elderly couple asked.

“It’s difficult,” was the response. And it would have been. This woman’s level of entitlement was off the scale.

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Finally done with posing, she made a video call. On speaker. This was an intrusion too far.

The woman closest to her asked her to be quiet, or to take her call outside. This prompted much indignation, and a torrent of offensive language.

Would it get violent? We all held our breath. Instead she called the woman crazy, called us all crazy, shouted at the staff, and barked at her partner to get the bill.

Their exit was a spectacle; her with offensive hand gestures and more verbal abuse, him with bowed head. It’s rare to get an around-the-room conversation in a restaurant, but we were united in relief. Peace restored; we could enjoy our meal.

Cast your mind back three years, to April 2020, when we were in the middle of the most stringent lockdown. Our streets and skies were silent.

We developed new respect for each other, and it seemed like the world – albeit in the grip of fear – was becoming a kinder, more considerate place.

We felt we understood, finally, what was important, family, friendship, health, kindness, and respect. The world would – we believed – become a better, and more respectful place, if ever we escaped the grip of the virus.

Today it seems that we’ve not just forgotten our lockdown aspirations, but we’ve emerged more selfish and entitled, and less considerate, than ever.

It’s not everyone, of course – most folk are lovely, and know exactly how to have a good time when they’re out without ruining it for everyone else. But there seem to be more people than before who are determined to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and hang the consequences for anyone else. I’ve noticed it on public transport and in supermarkets too.

Did we have our chance to become kinder and we blew it? Surely, it’s not that difficult. We don’t need to completely rewrite the etiquette rules, just to remember that a little respect for others goes a long, long way.

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