Monday, September 15, 2008

P's and Q's

One of my earliest memories, is of my mom straightening out my dress and telling me to mind my “P’s and Q’s”, as company was coming. Though I had no clue what those stood for , I knew she was asking me to mind my manners and not put my extremely large foot in my larger mouth.

It meant that I have to say thank you even though the guest gave me a really old packet of biscuits and not interrupt people while they were talking. It also essentially meant that if I treated that person well, they would treat me well in return. Growing up I embarrassed my parents enough by saying something at the most inappropriate moment and I continue to embarrass K still , but one thing which stuck me to me was to always say my Please(P’s) or Thank you (Q’s) and to directly look at a person when they are speaking to you. Well, I don’t find that nowadays !!. ...I probably sound like an old lady with a cane, who most recent memory was Gandhi walking on the Dandi March :) !. But I really cherish , the now old age custom of P’s and Q’s. And no, I’m not going to rant over the kids nowadays. I see parents trying to get them to follow the manners and culture, its more a rant now against the adults I see.

Through my job I move with people across geographies. We may not really understand each others accents, but each of those team members, always are polite both in their mails and in their talk. But then I interact with the Indian sub-continent, and the new rush of talent fresh out of higher institutes of learning. Even though they are very good at their job, they assume that conversations can be conducted like an personal email. There are never any P’s or Q’s attached to these mails. I don’t expect them to send me thank you notes when I am doing my job, but when they request additional details, that’s when I would like to see some manners come into play. I know that the office and the means of communication that we use (email, sms) give rise to a more informal subculture. The emails that I get seem to be more an order to personal assistant than a request for information . I probably dont know them from Adam, so I really dont want them to ask me really personal questions about my visa status or if I'm married. This laissez faire attitude is not restricted to their official selves.

Last time in India, I was at dinner with a couple of family friends. Their daughter who had just joined a major IT company, got a call at the beginning of dinner, and continued talking through dinner, and walked into her room after dinner to continue the call, all the time ignoring the guests.. She conducted the call in the dining hall, so we lost half an hour of companionship sitting in silence, listen to her friend and her crib about their project manager . All her parents could do was mutely shrug their shoulders with an apology. My mom would have ensured, that my call was cut the very second it was received, considering we were at the dinner table.

Even when a gift is given or a compliment paid, the reaction now is to shrug it off or act as if it doesn’t matter. Its “cool” to be indifferent. That may work if your 15 and people shrug it off as an adolescent problem, but not when a person is leading a team.
I know that by being informal , we are trying to break down some barriers in communications and geography.
But that doesn’t mean that we forget that manners were integrated into the culture for a reason. That respect is shown and received is through words and acts.

When I went to lunch with a couple of friends, I thanked the waiter when he cleared the dishes. My pals looked at me if I had lost it. “He’s doing his job, why are you thanking him, we are going to tip him anyway” was the remark made. It may be the persons job, but maybe it makes it a little bit easier on the waiter, if you don’t act as if you are the “Queen of Sheeba”. But what’s worse is now people think it’s snobbish if someone is nice.
When I was in Chennai buying a few trinkets my last trip, I over heard the sales girls making fun of the American in front of me because she said thank you when they wrapped her purchase. They commented that only white people say thank you for everything. They didn’t get the fact, that the lady ahead was actually thanking them for their services, which I highly doubt their boss did at the end of the day.

Funnily enough in a land where “Athithi Devo Bhava” –(Guest is equivalent to god) , we keep saying that we are leaning towards the western civilization. But culture irrespective of the east or west part of it, remains the same. Be nice to the people around you, informality does not mean that we forget basic human courtesy. I know a lot of people shrug and say “Today’s generation”, but to me manners is a habit which is timeless. Irrespective of the age or the generation you belong to, its never too late to start minding your P’s and Q’s.

Whoever, has read my tirade, deserves their jokes, so here goes

A. One Christmas,mom decreed that she was no longer going to remind her children of their thank you note duties. As a result, their grandmother never received acknowledgments of the generous checks she had given.
The next year things were different, however.
"The children came over in person to thank me," the grandparent told a friend triumphantly.
"How wonderful!" the friend exclaimed. "What do you think caused the change in behavior?"
"Oh, that's easy," the grandmother replied. "This year I didn't sign the checks."

B. Ten Things To Say About A Gift You Don't Like
10. Hey! There's a gift!
9. Well, well, well ...
8. Boy, if I had not recently shot up 4 sizes that would've fit.
7. This is perfect for wearing around the basement.
6. Gosh. I hope this never catches fire! It is fire season though. There are lots of unexplained fires.
5. If the dog buries it, I'll be furious!
4. I love it -- but I fear the jealousy it will inspire.
3. Sadly, tomorrow I enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.
2. To think -- I got this the year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity.
And the Number One Thing to say about a gift you don't like
1. "I really don't deserve this."

Keep Smiling ppl,


Blogger CM-Chap said...

Ah Kudos Anu for writing this one... This has been the biggest problem ever.

In my case its my Dad who instilled the Q's & P's in me. But unfortunately most people think its not necessary.

Coming to office etiquette.. I'm struggling with some of the team members who are not ready to acknowledge that they can't use their mother tongue for communication... May be I shall write a detail post on it soon

7:13 PM  
Blogger SMM said...

I so agree with what you say Anu. And what gets me really pissed off is when someone calls me from another office, asks me to organise certain documents for them which is done, and they don't even bother with a thank you. This one guy did it. Next time he needed a document I made him call me twenty times so he appreciated all my hard work and sent me a big mail thanking me later. Give people something to them easily and they don't appreciate you, but when you also make them sweat for it then that's when they realize that your not their slave to do their bidding.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Keshi said...

**...I probably sound like an old lady with a cane, who most recent memory was Gandhi walking on the Dandi March

hahahahahaha Anu great humor there!


11:33 PM  
Blogger Chakra said...

Thats a good one Anu.

Once I was holding the door for someone in India. I sort of expected that guy to hurry up, but he not only walked on at his own, sweet pace but just walked past me as if I am a door man doing my duty. After walking past me, he turned around to give a 'nakkal' smile. Seems that some ppl don't deserve any kinda respects and manners. :)

1:29 AM  
Blogger Prashant Sree said...

Lovely thought inspiring post.,. Though the inclination is to blame the Generation Gap for the lack of mannerism, i feel its starts more on a personal level....

If childrens are made aware of such things from a young age, there would be no need to grind these things in them.

The responsibility falls on how the children have been brought up...And yes, its been considered a bit childish to be gracious to others nowadays.,.Seems we took that by seeing HollyWood films. In reality, the Foreign people are so gracious in behaviour(atleast some)

In our office, we had Company chief's coming from abroad,and he asked the handy Man in our office for some directions to a room. After which he said a loud "Thank You Very Much"., It was so heartening to see that...

High time for P's and Q's to be followed in our country again !!

Nice post :)

8:07 AM  
Blogger mitr_bayarea said...

A very good post totally apt for today's environment, all your examples were so true. I think in India, most people take things for granted so the Ps and Qs are not even part of their vocabulary. Also, some family members think that by saying thank you you are considering/treating them as an outsider, so they would rather not have you say those words. I learnt this from my mil, who told me not to thank her when she does something for me. Said it made her feel like a stranger and not a mother.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Solitaire said...

Anu, I cannot tell you how much I loved this post. Absolutely honest and true. It is very true that people in India are either not taught to say thank you and please or believe that they are entitled to what they receive. Maybe I was like that once upon a time too. But not anymore. Now I too face the same kind of strange stares when I say thank you to people when I visit India. People then taunt me saying "I am too americanized".

I don't care if I am or not. If I picked up something good from the Western culture, then I have nothing to be ashamed of. Its better than wearing tank tops and minis and walking semi-nude on the streets of india pretending to be very hep and "westernized".

12:04 PM  
Blogger Anu said...

@CM : I understand that fact too, I have conferences where the people talk in their native language and rest of the team are left guessing..waiting to check out your post

@SMM: The guys mark the managers and my higher up in the notes they send, if I dont answer in a day.Unlike their bosses, mine think of the emails as a escalation and ask me whats up. I dont know how to tell them to atleast wait a day, before jumping the gun!


@Chakra:I totally understand, they think we are the fools for being nice. But how do you pick out those who "deserve" the respect?

@Prasanth : I think children have to taught, but more of them are forgetting their initial teachings, because of the culture now. And the western movies dont depict the actual culture, just like culture like in our indian movies, we dont really have woman running in slow motion draped in a see through saree n thanks!

@Mitr:Yes, family is a totally different ball game. Though I know I cant change how my extended family thinks, I make it a point to say thanks with a smile, because they need to understand, that its the way I was brought up and being family doesnt stop me from being polite, but to manage doing it without being offensive is the tricky part

@Sol:Thank you and your right.. its become an attitude problem. I dont get the part where being nice has become western.. but everyone back in india seems to think so.!! and that to me is sad..

5:14 PM  
Blogger Pranathi said...

You said it all Anu!
It is not ok for a 15 year old to be indifferently cool, what starts at 15 as an adolescent problem will continue at 25 as an adults problem, nipping in the bud is most important and it has to be done by the parents.
Things are taken too much for granted, it begins at home and ends everywhere else!

5:33 PM  
Blogger SMM said...

Ha ha...I ca get away with it - blaming the red tapism prevalent in the administration side of the courts :P

And if my higher-up gets marked, I tell him exactly what I told you - that I am not his servant. When I get the time I shall come to it. I can't put all my stuff to one side just cuz this guy needs something and if he needs t so urgently let him call and ask me properly. I get away with it too :P

9:45 PM  
Blogger Fantasies of a Lifetime said...

ha ha!! loved the gift joke , esp "I dont deserve this" & the part about the dandi march :D

I agree, somewhere down the line, not to be courteous became cool !!

However I feel , if we mind our P's and Q's the other person does it too. . .

Nice post :D

11:26 AM  
Blogger The Seeker said...

Yeah That was a very thoughtful one, Liked it the way you put it, irrespective of traditional, modern, manners are manners. Remember My english ma'm often saying this, The measure of a man is how he treats his subordinates, !!! AS also our JKR tells thru Sirius, the same message...

I often wonder why dad n mom more stressed on lil things MOstly (the Ps and Qs) and the importance of being polite regardless of who'ure and where u're..
in life much than my marks or others things...

6:31 AM  
Blogger dintoons said...

thank you for this wonderful piece of writing, and for sharing your heartfelt feelings on the art of basic human courtesy! it's so nice to be reminded now and then of one's fundamental humanity and goodness, that needs to be brought out and expressed as much as possible... thanx again anu! :)

9:31 AM  
Blogger utopia said...

i say my thank yous and try to mind my manners as much as i can. think i am not too bad at that. i would never leave a room full of guests for half an hour just cos i got a phone call. but i know ppl who are like dat. sigh!

2:25 AM  
Blogger Keshi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Keshi said...

And I agree...we must learn to pick the good habits from any culture, and leave out the bad ones from our own as well as other cultures.


10:16 PM  
Blogger Avionic Spanker said...

Very well-written .. one of the biggest tragedies of the connected economy is we get to show our manners, or the lack of it, across the world :)

.. and those 10 appraisal one liners were hilarious

4:28 AM  
Blogger Ani said...


thats soo true..
i end up sayin thank u when i go to a restuarant.. and ppl look at me weirdly.. now here in the uk.. its a common practice.. but when i was at home.. it was more like.. what is wrong with her kind of look..

and yes the incident with the phone on.. if my mom see's me carryin the mob to the dinner table.. she'll just go crazy..she doesnt like it.. even if the land phone rings.. only she goes to answer it.. and depending up on the situation the call is passed if not all is dealt after the meal.. which is good practice.. because it gives one time with the family..

and this practice of thank you's and please is another form of Etiquette that one must learn.

3:02 AM  

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