My birthday is just under a week away and, based on past experiences, that date signifies the beginning of yet another Algarve season – my 20th – of mayhem, madness and long working hours.
By all accounts, 2017 is set to be the busiest since the ‘good old days’ and I have observed many bars, restaurants and small businesses gearing up following last year’s very encouraging upward trend.
As our relatively small holiday region – a friend and fellow resident has just returned from three months in Australia and was very much taken aback by the vastness of the place – slowly starts to swell from its 451,006 permanent inhabitants to well over 10 times that figure come August, I can only reflect on how much more smoothly the coming months would pass were everyone, locals and visitors alike, to treat each other with a healthy dose of good manners and respect.
It might be just the getting older or the ‘in my day’ syndrome – have people been saying that since time began? – but I do not like being glared at in response to holding a door open for a female member of my species or an older lady giving up her seat on the bus, even if I do have a bunch of shopping!
Regardless, the way I was taught to behave by my parents seems to have become obsolete if not outright offensive to some. One of the reasons I like southern European countries such as Portugal so much is patience – you need plenty of it and receive generous amounts in return!
Closer to ‘home’, patience appears to have gone right out of the window in our very busy “me, me, me” money-chasing society, where speed-dating is only one crass example of how little time we are prepared to sacrifice to what is really important. Whatever happened to romance? I left London, Brussels and Berlin because of the superficial nature of human interaction, barely flirting with issues that matter. No wonder loneliness and depression are becoming as commonplace as teenage pregnancies in previous decades.
When I first moved to pre-Brexit London – where I appear to be no longer welcome – in 1973, I was enchanted by the very British custom of queuing. Stoicism has now been replaced by impatience – today five minutes and 54 seconds is the limit before exasperation takes over. Skipping the line, engaging in conversation while waiting and even accepting an offer to go ahead of someone are perceived as impolite, sparking a huge sense of injustice among other members of the queue.
Abroad on holiday things don’t get much better. Hotels have adapted to the lowest common denominator and the way tourists tackle the breakfast buffet is just one such example. Greed no early-morning stomach could possibly digest prevails as plates are piled impossibly high, pockets stuffed with fruit and bread rolls while other well-to-do guests can’t wait to get their ‘booty’ back to their table, orange juice being downed and refilled en route and sausages munched before even sitting down again.
I blame many of the symptoms of today’s increasingly vulgarized society on a combination of ignorance brought about by falling standards of education and upbringing, both at school and in the family home, a lack of credible ‘heroes’ to be emulated – what kind of example do the Trumps set? – and an over-zealous insistence on political correctness bordering on fanaticism.
I have always loved reading good books – not the Kindle kind – and therefore find it depressing that a recent survey has shown that one in five people in the UK cannot name a single classic author.
The mention of Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy only drew blank stares as a quarter of those questioned also admitted to not having read a book of any description in the past six months and a further 15% thought that literature was too difficult to understand. In a sad testament to modern learning, one mother sent her son to school as an Argos catalogue for ‘World Book Day’ because either he or she could not think of a character to base a costume on.
And then we have the PC terrorists. Yes, women, racial minorities, children, animals and a zillion other disenfranchised groups have been the subject of institutionalised discrimination in bygone times.
A lot has been done to right these wrongs over the past 50 years and is continuing to be addressed, but surely a line must be drawn at some point.
In a latest development, University lecturers in Wales have been banned from using the terms ‘mankind’ and ‘manmade’ as they could be deemed sexist. Instead, politically correct alternatives should be used to promote ‘an atmosphere in which all students and staff feel valued’. ‘Inclusive’ language must be used to comply with the Equality Act, insisting that ‘forename’ replace ‘Christian name’ to avoid offending those of other faiths while stressing that the likes of ‘best man for the job’, ‘forefathers’, ‘housewife’, ‘sportsmanship’ and even ‘Polio victim’ should be replaced with ‘best person for the job’, ‘ancestors’, ‘consumer’, ‘fairness’ and ‘Polio survivor’ respectively – the list goes on. And the witch hunt – surely that expression must be on the list too! – does not restrict itself to the classroom.
Cambridge University has promised to reconsider its refectory menus after students claimed they contained cultural misrepresentations. Pembroke College was criticised for ‘micro-aggressions’ against ethnic minorities by offering dishes such as Jamaican stew and Tunisian rice. I am sure Yorkshire puddings, Frankfurters and Hamburgers will fall victim to the fall-out in the very near future…
Seriously, ridiculous or sublime, one must wonder when and under what circumstance these ‘diktats’ are concocted. How many bottles of organic wine does it take to produce such a Schnapsidee (German for a silly idea cooked up after a few drinks), or do they blossom during a taxpayer-funded spot of mbuki-mvuki (a Bantu word meaning to dance naked with wild abandon) on a culturally aware ‘field trip’ to Central Africa? The mind boggles – literally.
Having said all that, I do have a soft spot for the land of my upbringing. Most poignant is the ability of most people to face adversity in the most understated manner such as describing a life-threatening catastrophe as ‘a bit of a pickle’.
Many of John Cleese’s comedy sketches actually reflect everyday life, be it telling the hairdresser that the water temperature is ‘fine’ while being shampooed, despite fearing second degree burns, or burying yourself in a pile of onions while trying to avoid bumping into someone you know at the supermarket.
My personal favourites are concentrating so hard on the right ratio of eye contact to looking away that you have no idea what is actually being said, or not understanding someone at all in the first place despite that person repeating themselves for a third time, and then just laughing and hoping for the best. And finally, telling someone “honestly, I’m perfectly alright” just before going into meltdown.
Let’s face it, it’s not easy being British, but after involuntary saying ‘sorry’ over a dozen times in relation to anything and everything you’re not actually responsible for, where would we be without that stiff upper lip, in a manner of speaking.
By Skip Bandele
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Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 20 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.