Saturday, 7 June 2014

Saying hello.

Recently I have read a number of articles about how the British greet people. It would seem that since “How do you do?” has gone out of fashion – too stuffy, too old school – we don’t have a proper greeting. The French have “Ça va?” and the Spanish “¿Qué tal?”, both really non-questions that don’t demand a true response about the health and well-being of the person addressed. In fact, the proper thing to do is to repeat the same back to the greeter. I hear a lot of “How are you doing?” and “Are you all right?” but, according to the articles I have read, this is insufficient as a replacement for “How do you do?” and can lead people to think that (Heaven forbid!) you are making a genuine enquiry about the person you are speaking to. What a load of nonsense! 

And then there are the gestures. We British, or so I read, never know whether to shake hands, kiss, hug or just stand there looking sheepish. It’s that standoffishness that says, “Don’t you dare touch me; I don’t do that sort of thing”. Continental Europeans, on the other hand, know exactly when and who to kiss, and how many times, when to hug and when to simply shake hands in a formal manner. The writers of these articles have clearly never watched teenagers, especially female teenagers, who seem to have adopted the habit of hugging and squealing on meeting and hugging at such length on taking their leave that you might think they were not going to meet again for at least six months. 

The best thing I found in all this was criticism of “hello” itself. This greeting is apparently inferior because it does not contain the word “good”, unlike “BONjour”, “BUENOS días”, “BONgiorno” and “BOM día”. Good grief, even the Germans manage it with “GUTEN Tag”. The writer admitted, somewhat grudgingly, that we do say “GOODbye”. Obviously he or she (I don’t remember which it was) has never heard anyone say “GOOD morning”, “GOOD afternoon” or “GOOD evening”. 

Of course, it may be that people are just too busy to greet each other properly. 

I read this morning about a service that will tweet or twitter on your behalf if you are too busy to do it for yourself. There’s an odd thing! How do your surrogate tweeter-twitterers know what to say on your behalf? Mind you, as I neither tweet nor twitter, I have little real understanding of what all this hash-tag stuff is all about anyway. 

This must be a day for finding odd things in the paper. Stephen Bayley, writing in the Guardian, was talking about cars and attitudes towards them. He maintains that he is one of the last generation the remember “going for a drive” as a leisure activity in itself, not going somewhere in the car with a specific destination in mind but just packing the family in the car and setting off for a drive round just for the fun of it. He must be from my generation because I can remember people doing that, back in a quieter age when children could sit on the garden wall collecting car registration numbers because it was quite a novelty seeing them go past. I can remember doing that with my siblings as a little kid. What a waste of time and paper that was! 

Anyway, Mr Bayley says his (grow-up) children regard cars as “unnecessary and expensive encumbrances, not the status symbol and romantic attribute they remain for” him. They almost certainly live in the London area where the public transport system is rather more frequent than around here where most young people regard having a car as a necessity if they are going to get to work and manage to go and see their friends. 

However, I do agree with Mr Bayley about the fun having been taken out of driving. Unfortunately there are now so many cars on the roads that it has become a very stressful activity. 
It's not just in the UK either. Mr Bayley tells me that surveys in the USA reveal that young people feel they could more easily get rid of their cars than their smartphones.

Bring on the self-driving cars as soon as possible! Then it will be possible to use the smartphones - to tweet and twitter - while in the car. And it will be possible to geet people without the need for hugs and kisses. In fact you can probably do it in textspeak!

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