Monday, 11 April 2011

A plea to the man in the street: keep your opinions to yourself

Lots of things about modern British society perplex me. The culture of insanely long pauses on reality TV shows, the fact people seem to actually like eating at Nando’s and jeggins are just a few. However, all of these merely intriguing phenomena pale into insignificance compared to the entirely baffling, widely held notion that it is entirely acceptable to shout at complete strangers in the street, or in some other totally unsolicited way comment on people you do not know as they go about their business.

I’m not talking about greetings, pleasantries and other totally innocuous comments in the vein of "good morning" or "beautiful weather we’re having". If anything I don’t think there is enough of that sort of nice, old fashioned chit chat. Instead, what I take issue with is people who deem it their God given right to pester unsuspecting members of the public with their inane drivel.

Been running recently? That never fails to set the morons off. Walk down the street and no one has anything to say. Break into the gentlest of jogs and suddenly comments are hurled from passersbys, car windows and even diners sitting outside cafes. Oh why, oh why? Ranging from the exhaustingly unoriginal ‘Run Forest, Run!’ to the epically unfunny ‘your shoe lace is undone’, I cannot for the life of me understand what these grade A idiots are actually trying to achieve.

Then came the cake decorating class, complete with its own pitfalls the worst of which being the need to walk around carrying a cake in a transparent cake carrier. From the mass reaction of Joe Public I can only assume many people either never seen a cake before or believed they were delivered to your kitchen by some form of magic cake fairy meaning no one ever had to transport one anywhere.

I can just about deal with the caricature of seedy looking man at the bus stop wearing regulation dirty Mac who called out: "gis us a slice" as I passed. My good humour wore yet thinner when no less than three people stopped me to ask me if it was my birthday. Nice enough you may say, but when you’re rushing to catch a train, holding a heavy piece of confectionary having to explain repeatedly that carrying your homework is simply not what you need.

Sat on the windswept platform as I waited for my connection things went from bad to worse. The man in the next seat, turned to me and asked, completely deadpan: “got a knife?” Now really, how on earth could I possibly respond? My heckled brain had had enough, and mainly because I genuinely could not think of anything to say, I stared back in cold, hard silence. Unperturbed by his idiotic conduct all the while chuckling at his own wit, he proceeded made a series of phone calls discussing an upcoming interview for a job as a professor. So it’s not just the tramps, drunkards and flashers who are at it, but apparently the academics too.

Maybe I brought that all on myself by doing something unusual, exposing people to a sight they don’t often see. If that’s the rule why then, whenever I have to take a suitcase on public transport am I exposed to a great deal more of the same? Surely we’re all familiar with suitcases and I’d hope that even the simplest of souls would understand that when a person is clearly struggling with heavy or cumbersome bags, the last thing they need is some wise arse shouting stupid remarks.

Yet, the bigger the case, the more apparent my discomfort, the greater the desire people feel to come up to me and say things like, “Woah! Big bag!” No shit, Sherlock. Is the population having mass delusions that they are on an episode of Catchphrase complete with Roy Walker encouraging them to ‘say what you see’?

Now here’s zany idea. Rather than making someone’s obviously bad worse, why not use that energy to offer some assistance, failing that say something helpful or if nothing else give them a supportive smile. Or to put it as a very sweet primary school teacher of mine used to say, if you can’t think of something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Read more by Rosie.