‘Comme il Faut’ Crisis, or Big City With Village Manners

Once me and my friend were having breakfast at one of those Parisian restaurants, where tiny terraces are situated along tiny cobblestoned streets and consist of small round tables that are close to each other in a row.

Everything there was too French, idyllic – the cobblestone, coffee, women at the next table holding cigarettes with their tiny fingers and having ascetic portions of salads on their plates, and the entire springish day. It was only us – me, my friend, a nice red-haired Swedish waitress and a huge burger that she brought to my friend like a trophy–that were not so French.

And while we were waiting for our meal, my friend having decided to make himself comfortable and fully enjoy a wonderful terrace view, put his legs together with his big and not so tidy (I’m sorry, hero!) boots appropriate, as I got it, more for mountain climbing, on the table in front of him.

I gave him a multi-hinting glance, trying to say: “Please, put your legs down on the ground,” but he looked at me with a crafty childish smile and asked surprisingly: “What? Why?”.

We’re in Paris, – I said. – That’s why! And this phrase had totally explained my confusion – it was understood by my friend just like it would be by any other person in the civil world.

Let’s agree that there are such special locations that sort of imply a special way of behaving while being there. And it’s not necessarily peculiar points like a theatre, school or library, but possibly entire cities. Thus, Paris is an antonym for legs put up on the dinner table.

But here’s the question: why, if such a situation were to take place in Moscow, would I hardly use the location as an argument? “Please, be more polite – it’s Moscow!” doesn’t sound as natural as “…it’s Paris!”

It seems like Moscow just doesn’t ask a lot from its citizens. Yes, we are kindly asked to pay respect to older people in public transport, yes, we are kindly asked to turn off the sound of our mobile phones in museums, yes, we are kindly asked not to throw trash out into the streets, but all those requests don’t seem too serious.

Why? What’s wrong? Why is Moscow not associated with high culture in people’s minds?

Here is supposed to be the commentary of an expert, the representative of one of Moscow’s school of etiquette, but infortunately she left me without any answer. Well, then I will let myself and my readers play a bit with suggestions and guesses on the subject.

Continuing on the topic of restaurants, I can’t resist telling you a short story that happened recently in Moscow that touched my soul deeply, awakening my darkest misanthropically desires.

Imagine: Sunday morning, at the hall of a popular city eatery full of people – some of them are just waiting for a free place to sit while holding their meal in-hand. Next to us a group of four young people are seated who have already eaten and are now just chatting. Their speech is  audible for everyone within a fifty-meter radius.

Mostly one of them was talking too loudly – a middle aged man wearing a colorful sweater and being apparently in a good mood. Everything in him was criminally vulgar, starting with his legs, which he placed too widely – almost the width of two seats — and finishing with his vulgar gesticulation. There was no such companion with him at that moment who could urge him to: “Put your legs together”, “Don’t shout”, “Don’t act like an asshole”, etc.

His friends were just giggling, while me and my friend were absolutely confused with the unsounded question: should we make a remark to this man, or would it be more etic to silently swallow this unbearable performance together with our now-slightly-cold Sunday breakfasts?

Is it ethical to generally point out the elementary rules of etiquette to a stranger? Later, I readdressed this question to another expert, who, unfortunately, only decided to indicate the difference in the concepts of “ethics” and “etiquette”, so we are again left alone with our guessing and speculations.

A megaphone-man in a restaurant, a mother screaming at her child in the street, a passerby, throwing a cigarette butt onto the pavement, a rough seller in the store … Are they ready to hear any remarks? Do we have to be perfect ourselves to make such a remark? Do we risk getting our asses kicked if we say to someone: “I’m sorry, could you speak a little quieter?”, and why doesn’t the metropolitan atmosphere serve as motivation for complying with etiquette?

I will tell you what. To hell with experts, dear friends. I invite you, as members of the capital society, to discuss these issues right here. Leave your comments here, or send us your thoughts and notes about what is etiquette in your view and how you would resolve the issue with a megaphone-man at yana@moskvaer.com – interesting ideas and useful tips, we will publish on our pages.

About Yana141 Articles
Journalist by education, barstool philosopher by heart. Moskvaer. Rebel. Frustrated hedonist.

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