Those of us who are British and of a certain generation have to recognise that we were brought up in a very particular way with regard to our manners. Failing to say “please” and “thank you” were amongst with worst crimes we could commit, all disputes between children ended with an enforced “sorry” spoken with more or less conviction and respect for our elders was positively drilled into us. Children were tolerated up to a certain point and a certain time in the evening only, we were never allowed to interrupt adults, to display negative emotions and certainly not to answer back. We were told it was rude to stare or to snatch and that is without mentioning rules about table manners.
Even writing this sends a slight shiver down my spine at the thought of the disapproval that was provoked by any of these rules being broken, even though my family wasn´t particularly strict compared to some others. It was just a case that those were the norms and it was simply not acceptable to break them. As a result though, a lot of us have a horror of being thought ill-mannered. “Will they think I’m rude?” is a question we ask ourselves more than we probably need to in Spain.
I’m sure that a lot of people will read that first paragraph and think “Quite right too. Children should still be brought up in the same way. The world would be a much better place” and I must say that I also brought my children up to be polite and well behaved which, I am glad to report, they still are. However, we need to recognise that not every culture instils the same norms of behaviour into their off-spring and therefore it isn´t really fair to judge people as ill-mannered when we are measuring them by the standards of a completely different culture.
Let´s return to our list and see what might be different in Spanish society. “Please” and “thank you” exist and polite people do use them, but without our obsessive fear of breaking a social rule if one or two get missed out occasionally. “Sorry” it has to be said is not the word that comes most readily to a Spanish person´s mouth, although again, a polite person might use it when appropriate, but without grovelling or being hypocritical. However, when it comes to children interrupting and answering back, we are in a completely different world from the Spanish. Their children are brought up to be much more assertive and to feel that what they have to say is of equal importance to adults. It’s quite normal for an adult conversation to break off whilst a small children is listened too attentively. The real challenge for us is to accept that Spanish rules about manners are different and to entertain the idea that in some cases, they might even be better.