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A polite approach to shoddy manners

PLEASE, if I may, I'd like to talk to you about manners.

I imagine, really, it is now as it ever was but, at the risk of sounding like a retired Tory major, it does feel ever so like our manners are worsening.

Anyone who has served behind the counter in a shop and had the customer mouth a request while ­talking on their mobile phone will back me up. When you ignore a shop assistant for the sake of the invisible person at the other end of the phone, you are denying their humanity. That's right - denying their humanity.

In fact, a lot of shoddy manners essentially boil down to the ­dehumanisation of those around you. No, don't say I'm exaggerating; that's not polite.

A study this week showed that all ages considered certain manners important: chewing with mouth closed, not swearing and saying please and thank you.

More than half of children sneeze and cough without covering their mouths, it said, one in five push people out of the way in queues and swear.

Adults, however, are guiltiest of reckless mobile phone use: taking calls while socialising and speaking on the phone while at the shop counter. They also forget to hold doors open for others.

Five to 15-year-olds came out as least polite, while those aged 45 to 55 were the most polite. I also read this week that life begins at 45. Those who've hit the milestone feel greater attachments in their romantic relationships, more in tune with the world around them and generally happier.

Perhaps this is linked to manners. Happiness surely comes from positive interactions.

There is a difference between manners and etiquette. An over-­adherence to etiquette when those around you have no clue as to the correct colour of buckskin gloves to wear with morning dress is rudeness.

Life is a chain of very small things and humans are creatures of habit. If manners are repeated as habit then concern for other people becomes second nature; it's a self-perpetuating cycle. Without concern for other people you become self-centred and there is little point in you existing.

Small day-to-day politeness is central to life: smiling at strangers, offering seats, holding doors, putting mobile phones away. It all builds a sense of community and of respect and of enacting everyday ethics.

Of course, it's not all small things: in 2006 the UK Government claimed good manners could curb the flu virus - handwashing, using handkerchiefs, covering your nose and mouth. Good manners don't just stop you dehumanising the shop girl, they can also save your life.

More than one-third of adults in the aforementioned study placed the blame for poor behaviour at the feet of parents and teachers.

Remedial manners lessons might be a good way forward for now - not things like not peeing on the lawn at a garden party, but allowing other ­drivers out at junctions, making eye contact at the checkout and giving up your seat on the bus.

Financial incentive might also be a nice way to get everyone on board until manners become the habit I'd like them to be.

A cafe in France last year scaled the price of its coffee: €7 for "un cafe" down to €1.40 for "Bonjour, un cafe, s'il vous plait". But is hitting the rude where it hurts polite?

Some may say good manners are simply that: good manners. I say good manners are the everyday enactment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Good manners treat everyone with equality, no matter their age, gender or ability.

Jeremy Clarkson could probably take note, Nigel Farage too. Let that be a warning to children - mind your manners or you'll grow up to be Nigel Farage.

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