“There is one unmistakable sign of the collapse of good manners: dirty public washrooms.”
- Robert Anson Heinlein
I can’t stand bad manners. “Please,” “thank you” and “excuse me” remain the simple fundamentals of civil behaviour. People brought up to use these terms are (psychopaths excepted) generally decent souls who treat others in a similar fashion. In my experience, most people I encounter are decent people.
But what of the others? Why do banks have to now display notices asking customers to remove headwear, muddy footwear and sunglasses? When did retail outlets have to publicly prohibit the consumption of food and drink on their premises? Once upon a time people just knew those things having been taught from an early age. And who in their right mind would operate a cellphone inside a theatre during the film?
Littering also drives me nuts. Driving through our countryside, the rubbish lining the roadsides is a shocker. Travellers are treated to a succession of fast-food refuse, bottles, cans and cigarette packets, all tossed by erstwhile clean, green, anti-nuclear, sustainable, carbon-reducing, planet-worshipping Kiwis. I imagine the offenders would take umbrage at rubbish dumped on their property, but for some reason they feel free to pollute the countryside.
And then there are the creatures who dump truckloads of household rubbish in rural areas. Real gems, they are. Princes among men.
Do you think they might be the same people who misuse public toilet facilities? I’ve never understood people who do that, either. When travelling long distance, I normally avoid public toilets like the plague. The blessings of seven-day trading and the profusion of cafes that provide restrooms allows me that luxury, but every so often I find myself having to use a public facility. I generally wrinkle my nose and take care of business as quickly as possible. A supply of tissues and hand-sanitiser in the glovebox doesn’t just come in handy. They are necessities.
I had to use one en route to the Bay of Plenty over the weekend. It was in surprisingly good condition, had just been cleaned and was stocked with adequate supplies of soap and toilet paper. However, I shook my head at a large notice on the wall (of both cubicles – I checked) that read: Please do not stand on the toilet seats. It came with a large illustration under the text depicting a person standing on the toilet seat with a big cross through it.
What kind of arse (if you will) would even think of doing that, much less do it? And what of the diagram? According to Literacy Aotearoa, some 25% of school-leavers are functionally illiterate – yay, state education! – but decent people practise basic hygiene whether they can read or not and children young enough to not be able to read shouldn’t be going into public toilets alone in the first place. However, the signs were there so presumably the practise had occurred. There’s a comforting thought.
On my return, I needed the loo and stopped at a café. The facilities were nice and clean, even going so far as to provide a baby changing table with complimentary wipes. In addition to paper towels, there was a pile of fresh facecloths for hand-drying, with a basket for the used ones. Next to the linen was a notice requesting that people not use them for baby wipes. Once again I wondered the same thing: Who would do that and, further, leave the evidence? Answer: the same morons who flush things down the toilet that are not designed to be flushed; the same morons who stood on public toilet seats before they moved on to procreation. Another pleasant thought.
Back inside the café there were notices at every table regarding the Swine Flu, accompanied by boxes of tissues. Patrons were asked to sneeze into the complimentary tissues to minimise the spread of the virus, in line with Ministry of Health guidelines. There was also a separate small table displaying a large container of hand-sanitiser which patrons were also encouraged to use. I was disappointed. There were no instructions as to the preferred method of disposal for the used, sneezed-in tissues. What was one to do in the absence of any official notification – leave them lying around? After all, the rubbish bin wasn’t specifically marked for their use and I wouldn’t want to upset the official applecart.
The café-owner seemed a sweet lady and ran a pleasant business. I’m sure she thought she was doing the right thing and it goes without saying that she can please herself anyway; her property, her rules and all that. But it screamed of official overkill; of complying with regulations-cum-guidelines or whatever they are and then some. Of taking up the charge and falling into line like a good little comrade, Comrade. Or maybe she’d just given up and found it simpler to assume that everybody was going to bugger up the facecloths.
Incivility takes many forms, all of which are unpleasant and stem from inconsideration. People brought up to practise basic good manners do not generally wander into stores while eating, let alone misuse or vandalise public facilities. Minor littering remains annoying, inconsiderate and an ongoing public expense.
There are two issues here: poor standards of behaviour and the ramifications thereof. The existing public signage is a sorry indication of the cretins already out there and, worse, serves to taint everybody by association. And it seems to me that the more the official interference to address problems, the more they increase as a result. I used to joke that one day I’d receive a government leaflet in the mail advising as to how many times a day I should wipe my bum.
Don’t roll your eyes. They’re already telling you not to stand on toilet seats.
* * Read Susan Ryder’s column every Tuesday here at NOT PC * *