Neither electricity nor pomposity is the silent servant; it is manners—
Recalled with the assistance of Conrad, The Wine Wanker…
I am not renown for being pompous. It is however a useful tool to have in your armoury, particularly when it needs to be pointed out in others. As a communication method, it is practically impossible to take seriously, thereby lending its itself perfectly to other more declarative forms of expression. But under no circumstances would I advise for, the pompous rhetorical question: that would be in shockingly poor taste. Especially when it involves food.
When used for bringing volume to one’s airs in a manner more supercilious than enlightening however, I find the very register of immediate comic effect. It can sound so aloof and so lofty that I’d have little trouble receiving the positions of cannibals, revolutionaries, reactionaries, nuisance-callers, even vegans owing to the very towering nature of their argument. This is something I fail to see as bad thing, because in the end gravity always wins.
It’s actually a style I like to frequent from time to time, as it puts me in mind of a more civilised time and affords me the use of a lexicon that would otherwise look out of place and silly. Add to that an inwardly facing superiority, whereby rendering only myself as little foolish and it makes the business of remembering things a somewhat pleasant jolly. So with that throw-back in mind, I’d like to cast back some twenty years to Rheims, the world’s champagne capitol.
Rheims was hosting a week long, sister-city ceremony with the Germans, Austrians and Italians and of course the Britainnians for sporting events, drama, frivolity, art and food, with the intention to bring together the very best of our national and cultural identities and celebrating our differences. The Maastrict treaty was in its infancy, so it was a all a bit of a to-do.
Anyway, I had been selected for Canterbury’s cricket team and we had been selected to travel with the rugby squad— a term I use lightly: not before nor since have I ever witnessed beer-swilling quite like it in a bus, nor the heckling; as not a single lady escaped the collective cheers of Nicole Papa along the route, as our burly continent appropriated the same side of the bus to suck the windows. The driver was certainly nonplussed, harvesting fears, as some of us were, that we might at any moment capsize; fears, in no way allied by my impression that rugby was supposed to be a game played by gentleman. My dad however, was just praying they didn’t burst into the chicken song.
Upon arrival, we checked in to our hotels then made our way to the town-centre to be entertained by a gathering of troupes from our respective homelands. It was magnificent, the costumes, mediaeval weaponry, assorted acrobatics, the costumes and colour. It was pageantry at it’s very finest, all meticulously choreographed and splendid— until we found the British.
For all of the rich and vibrant history we boast, our contribution to this culturally dynamic affair, was Morris dancing: a side of black-faced, befeathered men and women in boiler-suits trying to brain each other with big sticks and bells. I cringed. There wasn’t a canon or spadroon in sight, just Morris dancing— and not even the type I mind least. Not only did it have an improvised feel to it, but when the mascot attempted to juggle with one ball, he dropped it.
To describe it as as a bit of a let down would be gross, but with the banquet at the mayor’s residence to look forward to, not to mention the cricket, the gala and evening laser-show— there was plenty potential to wipe the disappointment bare and salvage the experience. That was the hope anyway. Actual hope, and then the dinner happened…
You’ll have to imagine the dining hall for yourselves: hundreds of years old, a vast ceiling laden with gold leaf and quite the most exquisite carpentry. The tables were round and we were seated randomly for the most part— I found space for our group so we could dine as one and alighted with genuine excitement. It just so happened we ended up sharing a table with the chairman of one of the Arts Committees— no doubt the chap responsible for the fiasco earlier; and it wasn’t long before all the hopes and joy began to seep away.
If you’ll permit me, I must impress upon you how noisy his style was. He spoke loudly, his word choices thunderous. I think without labouring the point, you’ll know the type: he wanted to be in charge of the dinner table; in fact, left to his own devices, I’m sure he would’ve eaten our meals for us too. Unfortunately for us, he made it so we could hear everything he said, and the next table and quite possibly the table next to that.
I have mellowed a lot since then in a number of ways— I have become more tolerant of things others may say to me, about me or even near me— now whether or not these things are in the best of intentions or otherwise, what I do object to, now, just as I did then, is having manners thrust upon me. I deplore rudeness you see: it takes the same amount of time and effort to be pleasant as it does to be a dick; it never ceases to amaze me why certain fellows would choose the latter?
So, long before even the starters had been served, it had been impossible— quite impossible to ignore all the chat about etiquette. It was etiquette this and etiquette that and etiquette, etiquette, etiquette. To be fair to him, I had considered he may have been overcome by the splendour, but as long as he kept himself to himself. I may have been young, but I certainly knew not to eat from the inside out.
Suffice to say, I was taking an ever increasing dislike to him and his nose. When they are decidedly upturned, endearing yourself to another is quite the gift, and nostril-hair is the last thing you want to be thinking about before tucking into a posh meal. So when this chap leaned over, obviously mistaking us for riff-raff and reminded us exactly where we were and not to forget our etiquette, I turned to him and smiled and with as rounded and precise a smile as I’ve ever made, and told him ‘bollocks!’.
Then proceeded to eat my entire meal with a spoon..
Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential—
Image: Royston Cartoons