Day 76 of the Shoe Challenge – Culture Crossing & Well Mannered Boots

Brazilio Knee High Boots

If you have ever had the misfortune to appear in court you will be familiar with the pounding of your heart, the dryness of your mouth, the roiling in your guts as you wait for your case to be called. A certain amount of adrenaline is  undoubtedly useful – it keeps the heart pumping blood round your body and your spine upright. The nervous energy probably expends a few calories too which is always handy.

After the first 30 minutes of being in court, your heart rate slows. After 60 minutes of being in court the immobilising fear fades to boredom.

There are, I have found, only so many times that you can read and re-write your own legal arguments so to get round my boredom I wear footwear that entertains me.These boots have nice crinkly textured leather and a lot of zips and studs which are entirely for decorative purposes but sort of work and are good fun to count. The pointed toes and high stilleto heels (with a little metal heel ring) are good for digging crop circles into carpets.  They keep me quiet and out of trouble.

If you want to get into a fight with an authority figure a courtroom is a great place to do so. For example, it is considered extremely  bad manners to talk on one’s mobile phone or even have your phone switched on in court. Judges take a dim view of people wearing iPods, eating, drinking, chatting to their neighbours, footering around on lap-tops, reading novels, filing their nails and so on.    For a non-lawyer the whole process is a bit, I imagine, like being a non-Catholic at Good Friday Passion Mass. There is a lot of bobbing up and done, indistinct muttering and occasional bits of unexpected verbal gore thrown in for good measure. Having been to more than my fair share of masses and court attendances in my life I have mastered the art of keeping busy quietly.

The useful thing about court etiquette of course is that it is fairly universal. The rules are pretty much the same in any court anywhere in the world and you know the parameters of politeness. This is not the case with social etiquette.

My son and I recently bought  a toy care. After the cashier had bagged our purchase I asked my son to thank her. “He doesn’t have to thank me” she said “I didn’t buy him the car“.

In the city when I still worked there, every mornng I chatted with and thanked the barista and the counter staff for my coffee. One morning the cafe manager mentioned that I was one of the very few people that actually said thank you.

Saying thank you is easy, so why don’t we do it?

Perhaps I am old-fashioned or perhaps Australians just do things a wee bit differently. In any culture crossing there are bound to be misunderstandings after all. In Scotland, for example, titles are still important and you are expected to address people you don’t know by using the Mr, Mrs, or Miss honorific, followed by their surname.  You only use first names and nicknames  when specifically invited to. When I arrived in Australia therefore I was horrified when people whom I barely knew referred to me by an abbrevetion of my first name.  My Scottish reticence stopped me from correcting them but it still felt like an assault on my personhood.

Social gatherings are always a bit of minefield. At one party in Sydney not long after I arrived a woman asked me where I was from. When I replied that I was Glaswegian she rolled her eyes and said “Oh well then that explains where you got your dreadful accent from“.  In Glasgow dear readers I would have verbally eviscerated her.  As I was new to Sydney and unsure whether or not this was Australian humour I simply raised an eyebrow and walked away from her. As is the case with most things in strange places and strange people it is best to err on the side of politeness.

Over the ten years that I have lived in Australia the minor cultural differences I have become used to. I now know when someone is being a bitch and how to deal with them accordingly. (Unlike the meat tray raffles which I will never get my head around.)

No doubt an Australian going to Scotland for the first time would be similarly flummoxed by odd Scottish behaviour such as the Loud Whisper (“who does she think she is?” if you skip someone in the supermarket queue being an example). Scottish people are a bit odd but if I was to pass on two getting-to-know-me  etiquette tips to Australians (or other nationalities) these would be:

1.  Think before you write something nasty about someone

Every time I see a verbal sword fight on a blog, on Twitter or on Facebook I walk away from the screen quietly. I won’t get involved not because I don’t care but because I don’t care for the aftermath of a stoush.

As some of you might already know, I am a media lawyer. During the time that I spent sitting around in courts on defamation matters I have spent a lot time thinking about words and how we use them – online and offline.  In particular I wonder whether people realise just how much we give away about ourselves with the words that we write. I don’t judge people by appearances. I do judge people by the tone and intention of the words that they use and the context in which they use them.

For the most part life would be a lot more  pleasant if we tried to get along and avoided giving our unsolicited opinions on other people’s characters.

If you decide to say something cruel, unwarranted or bitchy to or about someone for your own personal satisfaction I will think badly of you.  I won’t necessarily tell you of course, I am far too Scottish for that, but I won’t want to share anything with you thereafter.

2.  Don’t try to mimic my Scottish accent. Ever.

Unless you are a gifted actor or have Scottish parents you will stuff it up badly and insult me. If I am wearing stilettos I will hurt you with them. You have been warned.

14 thoughts on “Day 76 of the Shoe Challenge – Culture Crossing & Well Mannered Boots

  1. Ok, I’ll bite. What is a ‘meat raffle’ (my mind is boggling at this one).

    And lawandshoes, you have been out of the UK so long, you are unaware of the trend to first names from salespeople to students to anyone you know very little or at all. The only exception I have come across has been at the Mercedes salesroom–the salesman always introduces himself with his first name, but using the honorific “Mrs” when speaking to me or “Mr when speaking to my husband (who, by the way, is your father).

    And I both admire and respect your views about careful use of language and avoiding being nasty because it’s easy.

  2. I agree with everything you wrote, especially your second tip,

    “Don’t try to mimic my Scottish accent. Ever”

    I do, however, have to add that I don’t believe anyone can ever do justice to the accent, whether or not you are a “gifted” actor. I have done far too many shows with people who think, just because they’ve watched TRAINSPOTTING 15 times, they are fully equipped to open their mouths and recite their lines in what they believe to be an “authentic” Scottish accent. At these times I usually end up in a corner, hands over ears, humming quietly to myself in an attempt to drown out said “authentic” accent. I am also occassionally cornered by any actor who has taken the time to find out my heritage, and asked to say the lines with a Scottish accent, a request I never oblige. I have found that my American tongue can never quite attain the sounds my parents’ Paisley tongues could make.

    I always feel foolish when I try to mimic them, at least when sober. It all gets a little easier after a couple of drinks. Drinks that I always thank the bartender for.

  3. Two things:

    I don’t think the saying “thank you” thing is as much cultural as it is a big city vs. small city thing. I was born and spent most of my life in Miami, FL – and every year that passes I miss it more – but if you go there you will find that it appears that to make eye contact with someone is possibly criminal. People just don’t do it. You might even get the impression that it is a criminal act to work in department store and actually offer to help a customer.

    We moved in 1995 to Tallahassee, FL which is a “wee” town by comparison…and here, everyone (almost) makes eye contact, is helpful, opens doors, smiles at strangers. And people are effusively grateful. To their barristas, the bag boy, whoever.

    As for the using titles vs. first names, that IS cultural. Again, I grew up using “Mr.” “Mrs.” “Miss” and a last name. But Tallahassee is really deep south USA and the people here use titles with the FIRST name. I hate it! My friends’ kids call me “Miss Anne.” I don’t correct them, but I cringe inside. When I introduce my children to an adult they are “Mr. Jones” or “Mrs. Smith” – never “Mr. John” or Mrs. Sally.”

    So I am kind of a conglomeration. I have the politeness of the small town with the heart of a big city girl. I will simply never be a “southern gal” and that’s okay with me!

  4. I’m so with you on the ‘thank you’ and the first name thing. Apparently I’m a bit of a stiff for wanting to call people Mr/Mrs?Miss/Ms .

    I assumed it was a British thing, which would make sense 🙂

    For some reason, people here think that if you are being polite, you’re taking the piss and that being gratuitously crass is funny. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of crass amongst friends! They’re the ones who’ll forgive you for it, hehe.

    • Should have mentioned that I count the number of black patent heels, check out the colour of people’s tights and socks and mentally calculate the last time some of the lawyers had carnal relations with another person.

  5. I agree with you on the whole Thank You and courtesy title thing. I especially agree with you on the following…

    **Don’t try to mimic my Scottish accent. Ever.**

    However, I beg to differ with your belief that a “gifted actor” could do justice to the accent. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a show and had to listen to someone who thinks they have the accent down just because they’ve watched TRAINSPOTTING 15 times. This exercise usually ends with me huddled in a corner, with hands over ears, humming to myself so as to drown out the noises coming from the mouths of the so-called “gifted” actor. If the actor in question has decided to talk to the crew, and in so doing has learned that my parents are Scottish, they invariably ask me to “do the accent”. A request I always decline. My parents may be Scottish, but there are certain noises their Paisley tongues can manage that my California tongue will never wrap itself around.

    However, my ability to “do the accent” has a direct correlation to the amount of alcohol I’ve imbibed, alcohol which I have very properly thanked the bartender for pouring out for me.

  6. If people comment on you ‘dreadful’ accent, perhpaps you should introduce them to the delightful Glaswegian kiss? I lived on the shores of Loch Tay in Perthshire for a year and was in constant danger of being carried away to the bed of any man that spoke to me for more than 20 minutes in his lilting brogue. 🙂

  7. Beautiful boots, and killing time with crop circles is a wonderful idea (incidentally my husband has a crop circle in the back of his skull).
    Scottish accents are the sexiest in the world, that woman was clearly jealous and/or delusional. Have you read CrossStitch (the first of Diana Gabaldon’s series?) I’ve been in love with Scotland since reading those books.
    Also… Your family are wonderful, I love reading their comments! xox

  8. “Don’t try to mimic my Scottish accent. Ever”

    I certainly agree with that one. Mind you, if you (not you, the general you) come and live in Australia, don’t tell me my accent is wrong. The number of PR douches who bust out the Paul Hogan impression after a few drinks is boggling.

    • Other than my issues with meat trays and Havaianas, I am rather fond of Australians and the Australia. After 10 years I would never dream of trying to put on an Australian accent.

      I am sorry to say that my father frequently irritates and insults Australians working in Scotland by doing just that very Hogan impression.

      When you know someone well you can say things to them that might seem insulting to others. That is the benefit of intimacy and friendship. It can’t be faked and it can’t be rushed.

      Incidentally, next time we meet socially point me in the direction of these people. One of the advantages of my accent is that when I get irate I get less comprehensible. It’s a blast.

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