Friday, 29 January 2010

Good manners are a piece of cake


Small, seemingly insignificant, acts of selfishness are the bane of my life. Often tiny, they fill me with an immeasurable irritation. Unable to let them go, I replay them over and over in my mind, brooding. It’s made even worse when they are in direct response to an act of kindness, like giving someone a beautiful little cup cake.

Last Sunday, once the tedious admin of life stuff was under control, as a treat to my inner child, I made a batch of cupcakes. Covered in coloured piped buttercream icing, they looked even more attractive than I’d expected. However I knew if they stayed in my house throughout the week I’d slowly eat my way through the lot, consuming some 20,000 calories and enough butter to give myself an instant heart attack. So instead, being nice, I sent them to work with the other half. If I was going to have enough restraint not to stuff myself silly then the least I could do was share.

The remaining pretty, petite cakes went out the door and I hoped that they’d find good homes. When other half returned home the insecure part of me had to ask: “Were the cupcakes eaten?” He nodded. “All by 11am, I didn’t even get one.” I allowed myself a little smile. With the topic almost forgotten he added: “Oh, someone scraped the icing off. It was smeared it all down the inside of the bin.”

Initially I felt mildly offended – what was wrong with the icing I had lovingly made? Within a few minutes that offence had hardened to rock-solid indignation. I sent 10 cakes to an office of roughly 40 people. By my basic maths that means there was enough for every fourth person. Now, why, please, I’d really like to know, why would you take something clearly in limited supply only to throw half of it away?

A cupcake comprises two constituent parts: sponge cake and icing. If you know that you don’t like 50% of something, why take it? Especially as this deprives someone else of having one, you selfish, self-centred, greedy person.

“Since when is it acceptable to use a handmade cake as prop in a demonstration of how embarrassingly immature you are?”

This is typical behaviour of the sort of people who never think about how their egotistical actions impact on others. They’re that person who always takes the last item off a sharing platter without asking if anyone else wants it. They’re the person who’s always at the pub for the first two rounds and then silently slopes off. They’re even the person who refuses to buy the designated driver a soft drink because “it’s not like they’ll get me one back, is it?”

Thoughts of this lowlife pestered me all through dinner. Eventually anger overcame me and before long I was calling for the installation of CCTV, disciplinary action and immediate sackings. At one point I even said “Heads will roll!”

In my defence, it brought back painful memories of a birthday party I attended a few years ago when, too broke to buy a gift, I took a cake. Carrying two sponges filled with handmade crème patisserie and covered in thick chocolate icing I teetered all the way there, holding it like an unexploded bomb. The birthday girl was chuffed and placed it, reasonably, on the buffet table.

The evening wore on. With about a third of it eaten, the overly-silly-drunker-than-everyone-else-party-guest, as part of a squabble, rammed someone’s face smack bang into the middle of it. It took all the self control in the world to stop me screaming in her face. Since when is it acceptable to use a handmade cake as prop in a demonstration of how embarrassingly immature you are? Aside from the time I’d spent on it, it was a gift to someone else who would now not be able to enjoy it.

Where have people’s manners gone? I can clearly remember my mother regularly barking at me: “Don’t take it if you’re not going to eat it all.” After a while I never did. And it wasn’t just her. Teachers, friends’ parents and every dinner lady in the world were chanting the same mantra. Has everyone else got a nasty case of selective amnesia? Or is it more convenient to forget it and to think about ourselves at the expense of others?

If you don’t want something, or don’t like it, it’s fine to politely refuse. But be mindful that when someone has cooked something, they’ve spent time, energy and money. Under any circumstances, it’s a nice gesture and to squander, or even destroy that, is nothing less than the worst possible behaviour. Read more by Rosie.