What happened to good manners?
In a story of old versus new, Leroy Ndlovu reflects on his strict upbringing, in a bygone era when parents seldom spared the rod.
One of the many things I learned at an early age in my father’s house was the fact that protocol had to be observed to the letter if one hoped to live a beating-less existence. Ignorance was never an excuse. If visitors came to the house and left without so much as a Salibonani (hello) from you then you were in for it that day.
It takes a village to raise a child
As in any ordinary house the rules extended far beyond the walls of our home. Every member of the community who was older than you had to be respected, and it would not be surprising if the neighbour decided to pull you back in line with a firm slap to the face when you were found on the wrong side of the law. So we had to behave well where ever we went. All naughtiness was reserved for the wastelands far beyond the imaginary circle made by the house of your parents’ friends or relatives who lived furthest from your house, and even then you had to be away from public eyes. This was our reality.
It shaped my thinking to the extent that even now I mind my manners no matter where I am. So whenever I walk into a supermarket as a general rule I always greet first. If the till operator is older than me, my conscience rests easy. If they are younger I don’t mind greeting first, since I’ve worked in a front office and I am aware of how exhausting people can be. A warm greeting might just make someone’s day.
I have always loved fresh chips. Maybe it comes from growing up in the nineties, when any trip to town was an occasion for chips and a cold Fanta (every other brand was for grown-ups.) Whatever the cause, I am always on the hunt for the best chips in town. Currently I believe the pizza shop on the corner of 12th and Fife street in Bulawayo is the best. Don’t bother arguing with me.
So a few days ago, I found myself waiting in line during my short lunch break. The place was packed. In front of me there were two high school kids – a boy and a girl – chatting away like they were the only people in the world. The lady at the till was obviously swamped. Most times when I go there only one person handles the front desk. She was alone, looking tired but doing her best to be polite and smile. The teens didn’t offer any greetings. They shoved two ancient looking dollar bills in her face and demanded ‘two churps pleeeze.’ My turn came, and as is my habit, I smiled and greeted her.
She looked at me like I was crazy, then replied,
I placed my order and after what seemed like an eternity, the packets of chips came – two for the teen love birds and one for me. My stomach groaned a little in anticipation as I walked over to put salt and other condiments on my food. The containers were empty, and the lady from the till had moved over to refill them. The teenage girl looked like she would burst. After barely a moment, she bobbed her head the way it seems only teenage girls can manage and snapped,
“That awkward moment when you really wanna be quick!”
I cringed in anticipation of a slap that never came, even though the lady behind the counter looked like she wanted to dig out the child’s brain and feed it to the dogs. I left the shop shaking in anger. The lady serving the chips was easily twice the girl’s age. Disrespect like that would certainly have earned a serious ear-pulling from my world champion ear puller of a mother.
What happened to good manners?
It got me thinking about respect and customer service. I am what some of my rural relatives call a town fellow, so I am quite ignorant on certain aspects of tradition and culture. But one thing that we were taught growing up was a culture of respect. The concept ‘customer is King’ is foreign. It doesn’t matter if a man (or woman) is cleaning dog poo from your back yard. You respect adults. Full Stop. Nowadays we don’t respect our elders. It wasn’t the first time I had witnessed it. I’ve seen boys jostle women old enough to be their grandmother on public transport. Once I even saw a guy pull an old woman out of his way to get in a kombi. As he was doing so he shouted,
‘Ungabobalamawala!’ (Do not be overzealous!)
It left me wondering if we were doing our kids any good by cutting our neighbours off in this modern world.