Manners in public are a lost cause
Illustration: Simon Letch
JUST recently the Herald published a photograph from its archives of Martin Place in 1911. It pictured stylish Sydneysiders in bonnets and boaters swanning about the steps of the GPO, and was a charming reminder of a time when people dressed up when they ''went into town''. This was still the rule when I was a boy in the 1930s and '40s. We wouldn't dream of boarding that Circular Quay tram in anything other than our Sunday best. The same went for our behaviour; we were constantly being urged by a vigilant mother to remember we were out.
Sadly, those days are now gone. Grunge is now the fashion and as for the behaviour of today's youth, don't get me started. Today's young neanderthals are doing things in public they once would have done only in the privacy of their caves. And, speaking of privacy, we longer seem to know the meaning of the word. Exhibitionism rules. In overheard conversations on their mobiles and the pages of Facebook, we are spared nothing, not even the most intimate details. That once most private of emotions, profound grief, is now paraded in front of us on the TV news bulletins. Nothing is sacred. Being out, as in remembering you're out, now means letting it all hang out.
This is regrettable in the extreme, and all the more so because good manners and civilised behaviour gave us a sense of privacy even when we were out - one knew how to behave and expected others to do likewise. Respect was mutual and the idea of burdening strangers with your problems and indulgences - romantic, economic or medical - was simply not the done thing.
Today there is no escape, even when you leave the country. I recently spent two weeks in Japan where antisocial behaviour is almost a capital offence and remembering you're out is practically a religion. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven, but while waiting to board my plane home I was quickly brought down to earth. Three of my fellow Australians - backpacking ''yoofs'' - were horsing around in the departure lounge. It wasn't just their horseplay that offended my eye, it was also their garb: grubby T-shirts, football shorts and thongs. One of them added to the charm of the scene by removing his top until he was politely asked by Japanese airline staff to put it back on.
We may be the lucky country, but I think at times we can be also the least likeable. We need to take a leaf out of the books of the people in that 1911 photograph and, when we are out, to remember we're out.