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.