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The music coming from the mobile phones further up the carriage was loud and tinny. It was the middle of the day and the train, creaking and groaning on its way from south-east London to Charing Cross, was only a third full. I managed about three stations before walking the few steps to where they sat: two very tough-­looking girls in their late teens. The adrenalin pumped.

“Excuse me, but would you mind turning it down just a bit, please?” I asked with the most ingratiating smile I could muster. They carried on, seemingly oblivious. I tried again, and then again. Finally they looked up, shocked, and then, almost immediately, angry. “Not doin’ you any harm!” one of them blurted at me. “What’s it to do with you? No one else has said nothing. Oi, mister” – she got the attention of a young guy sitting a few seats away – “we ain’t bothering you are we? You don’t mind, do yer?”

The man looked vaguely in their direction, and then up at me standing, and smiled with what seemed like the hint of a derisive snort before turning his gaze back to the window. “See! He don’t care. Thanks mister. What’s your problem?”

I looked over at the man. Yes, mister, thanks a lot. I turned back to the two girls. “It’s a public place, I’m just asking you nicely to turn it down a bit.” But if I ever had them, I had lost them now. It was obvious that my use of the words “public place”, combined with the fact that I was wearing a suit that day, marked me out as a stiff who could be dismissed. And nobody else was backing me up. They duly carried on.

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John Burke
September 25th, 2008
2:09 PM
Sadly, these outcomes are all too predictable, for reasons Patrick stated. Unfortunately, we all need to manage our expectations better before acting. When you look at the overall environment in the UK, and London especially, to me, it fosters unfriendly behaviour from the get-go. In the eight months I've been here (from Canada), I've seen just one person look up, make eye contact, and say "hello" when walking on a sidewalk and approaching a fellow pedestrian one-on-one. Just look at all the ghetto-like, metal roll down security doors that cover storefronts in even the so-called "nice" neighbourhoods and villages. Even spearhead-topped steel fences, no matter how ornate, send an unwelcoming, even confrontational message to passersby. Add a miserable, sunless climate, insanely high prices for everything and sardine-like public transport, and it's no wonder even smiles are extinct here, let alone civilized behaviour.

September 24th, 2008
12:09 PM
Thatcher famously claimed that..'there is no such thing as society'. The parents of those teenage girls were born into that mindset and no doubt have passed their beliefs onto their daughters along with hair and eye colour. If there is no society, then the world revolves around the individual, so why should the girls refrain from indulging in their pleasure in order to make your life more bearable?

September 23rd, 2008
10:09 PM
I agree with Daniel's point regarding norms of politeness not being shared across cultures and that increasing mulitculturalisation leads to increasing societal rudeness. Unfortunately this lack of politeness leads to previously polite communities losing their consideration for others. If one is polite (for example in a motoring situation) and that politeness is not acknowledged or worse, the other motorist appears to regard you as stupid for being polite, you would not feel inclined to be polite in future. As rudeness thrives, so the general level of politeness in society falls to the lowest common value. Living in Birmingham I find this immensely sad as my culture and the values it held seem to be disappearing. It's brought into stark relief when I visit small (mainly single original culture) market towns where politeness survives, at least for now. The whole process is so depressing.

September 22nd, 2008
9:09 PM
Morality is regarded negatively today. If you tell somebody off you are 'moralising' and 'interfering with their rights'. You are assuming a moral superiority to their moral inferiority, that is why they object. It's the whole idea of authority; you're pulling one over on them. There is no longer such a thing as public morality and there is no such thing as private morality either. The weird thing that gets me though, is that these same offenders appear to have very high standards of morality of our politicians. They will oppose the Iraq war, oppose perks to fat cats, etc., but they won't consider themselves bound by any form of morality. I call is the infantilism of the people.

September 13th, 2008
9:09 PM
why would you waste time writing any of this crap? so two girls have a loud phone. who gives a rats ass? they have their rights

September 5th, 2008
8:09 PM
Your cause was lost from the start. Anyone in a public setting that is actively engaged in behavior that is clearly self-centered and generally annoying is never going to respond favorably to a civil request for consideration of others.

German Pareja
September 4th, 2008
10:09 PM
Here is an interesting approach from the place where I was born (I only lived there as a child): employing mimes as surrogate spokesmen for civility in public spaces. Academic turns city into a social experiment Mayor Mockus of Bogotá and his spectacularly applied theory By María Cristina Caballero Traffic calmer Bogotá style

wendy kellett
September 2nd, 2008
6:09 AM
Recently,I travelled from Westbury to Tiverton in the 'quiet' carriage. At least 2 mobile phones were in operation throughout the journey:no-one said anything and the guard ignored the offenders:(probably for his own safety). I fully agree with the first comment:this country is grossly overcrowded;we have reached a 'critical mass' in terms of population density,and are now exhibiting anomie and aggression. Our government is obsessed with growth and greed,so little chance of a change from the top.

August 31st, 2008
6:08 PM
Asking people to be polite has to be done in a polite way, otherwise I myself am adding more rudeness to the world. How is this to be achieved? I have to accept that the other person is a fellow human who probably isn't very aware of himself or his effect on our surroundings. When I ask him to be quieter or whatever, I have to do it in a way that acknowledges him rather than dismisses him. It's also true that if my own mental state is poor then I have a tendency to look for external causes. Thus I have to hold open the possibility that both of us may be acting unreasonably.

Daniel Wiles
August 28th, 2008
10:08 AM
A very interesting article. Sadly the traditional qualities of public life that prevailed a few decades ago (politeness, understatement, consideration) have been undermined by two factors. Firstly the dramatic influx of immigrants to this country who do not subscribe to the same values (you only have to visit Bombay, Lagos or Islamabad), and secondly the overcrowding of this country which has the infrastructure (particularly public transport)creaking at the seams. Five rats in a cage may get on fine - put fifty in the same cage and they'll be at each others' throats.

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