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Opinions of Sunday, 2 December 2018

Columnist: Rami Baite

Rami Baite writes: Manners maketh the man (and woman)

Manners? In Ghana? Really? Where exactly??

Okay, it's not that bad. But I think you know exactly why I sound cynical about manners in our wonderful country. It's a minefield out there! And I'm being polite...

We do not abound with good manners in this country. We do not seem to understand the meaning of making people feel comfortable and at ease when in our presence. And yet the benefits of good manners are so plain to see.

Would I be sounding too cynical if I say that these days when a Ghanaian displays good manners towards me I at once assume that they want something from me?

Do you have a Bible? Please read Titus chapter 3, verse 2: "....and to show perfect courtesy toward all men." That's in the Bible, not from RamiTalks. Perfect courtesy would be lovely if we could manage it, but we can't seem to in Ghana. Why can't we 'try small'?

These days even what I call the four staples of good manners are lacking: Hello, Please, Thank You, and Sorry. These are so basic that I believe one should not even have to think before using them. They should be used automatically. Not so anymore it seems. I have actually reached the stage where I am pleasantly surprised when a young person meets me with a greeting. Although sometimes they look like they have had to swallow quinine as they utter the greeting.

Does it affect my opinion of the person? You bet! Will it go so far as to destroy a relationship, whether formal or informal? Probably not. But it will definitely colour any future dealing, not that I will come out and say so.

We are not a particularly sensitive people in this country, and one of the ways this manifests itself is in our inability to take a hint. Try standing behind your table in the office, with a briefcase or file or folder in your hand, looking like you are about to leave. Watch what happens when someone arrives in front of you. Will they inquire as to what you are about to do? Oh no! Most likely they will plonk themselves down in a chair uninvited and start to speak about their mission. You do that to me and you lose my attention instantly. I won't be rude back to you, but I will have tuned out mentally.

This may sound like someone being overly sensitive about manners, but it reflects in other areas. For example, an inability to take a hint may actually affect your negotiating skills. How can you tell whether you are making progress towards obtaining your preferred price if you can't tell if your client is prepared to pay or walk away?

What about the Ghanaian ability to over-indulge in free stuff, especially free food? The average Ghanaian will always ask for more given half a chance. What am I saying?! Given one hundredth of a chance! There is usually no consideration for other people in such a situation, just a very keen sense of GIVE ME MORE! Have you seen the average Ghanaian at a buffet or any food setting? Ewurade Jesu. This is why you should NEVER EVER use the words "Help yourself" to a Ghanaian.

Why do people feel the need to give us a front row seat to a display of their tonsils when they yawn? Surely their parents taught them how to cover their mouth as they indulged in a silent shout? And of course yawning is naturally infectious. So if you have one person yawning in public and doing so with their mouth wide open, there is every chance that others will follow suit. Then you have a display of wide open mouths, possibly quite horrible, intermittent teeth, smelly, and offering differing rates of saliva projectiles! Ye gods! And just to make it perfect some people will continue to speak as they yawn...

Well, let's face it, yawning can be a very pleasurable activity. And even more pleasurable is stretching. Daughter #2 is a world champion when it comes to stretching. When we arrive at school most mornings she can stretch from her seat in the front and keep stretching until she arrives at the rear driver's side pillar of the boot. All this done with the most beatific grin on her face! But stretching in public is a definite no-no. First of all there is a chance that your extended hand in the form of a fist may connect with someone's unfortunately located face. Secondly there's a chance that you may pop some buttons, split some zips, rip some clothes, and generally mess up your appearance, with an over zealous stretch.

And yet people yawn and stretch at the same time in public....while speaking loudly. Please do not, I beg. I was going to devote a whole paragraph to noise in Ghanaian society, but my minuscule brain couldn't handle it. I don't think even a whole post is enough. The way we speak, shout, laugh, listen to music, walk, scrape furniture, preach, handle mobile calls, etc. etc. etc.

Does anyone remember who our colonial masters were? Anyone? The British! Yes, correct! Can any nation on this planet queue like the British? I don't think so, from personal experience, and I like it. So can anyone please explain why Ghanaians are so averse to queuing?? Because I don't get it. The British didn't leave much that was praiseworthy, true. But surely we could have picked up the British trait of queuing and kept it! But oh no, we much prefer a free-for-all attitude when it comes to forming lines. And this applies everywhere in Ghanaian society.

Just go out and drive for five minutes and you'll see how a single lane of road can become four lanes of traffic. Enter some shops and you will experience extreme favouritism. You were here first so what? This man is my friend and even if he is buying a tenth of what you are buying I will serve him first! Has anyone experienced the ticket queue at Silverbird Cinemas? I think you know what I mean.

Have you ever pissed (not kissed oh) in public? No, I didn't think you would admit to having done so. Let me state here and now that our system does not exactly promote public toilets. To put it another way, the cities in Ghana can hardly be said to be overflowing with public places of convenience. So when you are caught short in public what do you do? Exactly. Most men find the nearest wall or bush, doesn't even have to be that private, whip it out, and do their business. And you know this is not restricted to men, right?

Have you ever tried to lecture a man who is pissing in public, while he is pissing? You better be in a fast car, or be a very fast runner! I've seen guys conducting full conversations over their shoulder while they pissed, and most of them would rather not be lectured while enjoying the relief of an overdue piss. By the by, you should try writing your name in the dirt with your piss; a most manly experience. It evaporates quickly so there are no fears of being identified by your 'handwriting'.

You know there are still those amongst us who will quite happily pop a pimple, squeeze a spot on your face, scratch dandruff, and pick a nose, all in full public view. And all done with intense enjoyment! All these are indeed 'sweet' things to do, but they are all very private things. Not to mention how unhygienic they can get. Personally if I were to observe any of these being performed in public I would refuse to shake the hand of the person performing for at least a year.

I'm almost afraid to venture into the area of preferential behaviour towards women. It seems to be dying rather quickly. I refer to things like opening doors, pulling a chair back, offering your seat or place in a queue, carrying things, or even offering your arm. Ghanaian men simply do not see the need to do any of these. I think that's sad. Whatever happened to chivalry? Look, there's nothing wrong with offering your seat to a woman in a room where there are fewer seats than people. She feels special and you should feel good that you have made someone else comfortable. Of course there is always the possibility of meeting a feminist who will inform you that we are all equal....so you know where you can shove your chair!

An area of quite intriguing opposite manners is that of pregnancy. For example, in some Arab cultures a woman's pregnancy is announced literally as soon as the sperm hits the egg. There is great fanfare, the woman is treated like an especially fragile egg, and the man is celebrated as a hero. All the best with that in Ghana! In our culture a woman may be in her last month of pregnancy, with her protruding stomach almost touching the ground, but you dare not ask about her due date! If there is the slightest complication at the birth or soon after the birth, the person who inquired about the pregnancy will be labelled a witch, a wizard, and Satan personified! Better to pretend that the woman seems to have gained a lot of weight; say it with your eyes, but don't mention it.

Do you know what you should do when you see a woman's zip on her dress or top undone in public? When it's only the woman and you (a man) present? When there are others present? Do you know how to do up a zip without touching a woman? How about if it's a zip on a skirt or trousers? Yes, I hope you're wondering.

Times change and sometimes manners also change with the times. It's no longer an issue if you ask a woman her age, for example. But I will never get used to women wearing rollers and hair nets in public. Especially the brightly coloured rollers that resemble a rainbow in distress. Haba! And sometimes apart from the rollers and nets the woman in question is wearing a house robe. In a situation like this I am sorry to say that I shall get very judgemental.

Can we all please make an effort to adopt good manners? It's not that difficult. I believe we would be pleasantly surprised at the effect just being nice to each other has on conducting business. You can be shrewd, calculating, and profit oriented, but still have impeccable manners. And as for socially and romantically, having an appreciation of good manners will elevate you many levels above the person standing in front of you picking his nose, scratching his bum, talking as he yawns, and laughing at you. Yes, in public we should laugh WITH people, not AT them.

Here endeth this rant....for the moment. Thank you.