The collapse of formality

Examples of social decline, especially in the UK

Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Caleb » 05 Apr 2013, 09:42

Call me crazy, but if I were consulted about how to improve my work(ing environment), I'd have three suggestions:

1. Pay me more money;
2. Let me go home as soon as I've finished my work;
3. Give me more holidays.

That's just me though. Some obviously prefer to play around on a slide.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Charlie » 13 Apr 2013, 18:37

Gavin wrote:A very good article by Peter Whittle, thanks. I bought and read his book Look at Me: Celebrating the Self in Modern Britain before even starting this forum. It is excellent.


This book fell through my letterbox this morning. Short and sweet enough to read in one sitting, I thought it was excellent - very well written and argued. Thanks for the heads up. I may buy Whittle's latest one too, and I'm going to check out Roger's recommendation.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Gavin » 13 Apr 2013, 19:46

Yes, I think I read it in one sitting, too. Glad you liked it. His latest does look interesting, as does the recommendation. Both added to "wish list" - hope to have time to read them at some point!
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Elliott » 02 May 2013, 11:53

This could go in the Iron Lady thread but I think it's a brilliant example of the uses of formality:
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Nathan » 02 May 2013, 19:35

Haha, go Maggie go! Compare and contrast with David Cameron's interview on the Jonathan Ross Show 20 years later (particularly from 5:45 to 9:20), which he felt would curry favour with voters by going on knowing full well the kind of questions he would be asked (though to be honest, I think he handled himself well in the circumstances).

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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Elliott » 02 May 2013, 20:15

To be honest, much as I dislike Cameron, I have to say that I think he dealt with that very well and actually put Jonathan Ross in his place somewhat, in a manner very typical of those who are well-bred and know how to deal with different sorts of people. Ross came out of it looking like an idiot.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Caleb » 03 May 2013, 01:06

Does it bother anyone else that, even aside from being a complete twit, Jonathon Ross can't even pronounce his own name correctly yet has his own TV show?
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Gavin » 04 May 2013, 12:35

There are so many instances of Ross behaving in an immature manner, but as for the collapse of formality, try this one for size.

Pay cheque from the BBC: approx. £6 million per year. Contrast with an example of what they pay their foreign correspondents.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Caleb » 04 May 2013, 14:43

Gavin wrote:There are so many instances of Ross behaving in an immature manner, but as for the collapse of formality, try this one for size.

Pay cheque from the BBC: approx. £6 million per year. Contrast with an example of what they pay their foreign correspondents.


That is quite startling. When you consider his expenses (not even including airfares, accommodation, meals, etc. -- just things like translators) and then work out his hourly rate, it's probably less than minimum wage.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Andy JS » 09 May 2013, 16:40

In today's Telegraph:

"For the last one hundred years, the favoured pursuits of the Girl Guides have included learning how to sew the hem of a dress, taking part in debating contests and performing in theatrical productions.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the organisation has acquired a reputation as the preserve of the well-to-do.

But now the new chief executive of the Girl Guiding UK, Julie Bentley, says she wants to shed the group’s “middle class reputation” and show people that the group is “cool”. "


I find it amazing that organisations like this are still trying to be "cool" by shedding the values that made them worthwhile in the first place.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Michael » 09 May 2013, 18:54

Andy wrote:
I find it amazing that organisations like this are still trying to be "cool" by shedding the values that made them worthwhile in the first place.


What we have here is an example of Salami Tactics, as practiced by the Communists parties of Eastern Europe after the Second World War. Rather than seize power outright, they advanced their agendas piece by piece by making coalition governments impossible without catering to them, giving them more and more power. Eventually every institution that mattered (police, army, security services, economy) were in their power, and the rest naturally followed.

It makes one nostalgic for the Cold War, where when this was happening inside Western institutions you could believe (and often be correct) that it was due to 'active measures' by Soviet espionage. Now, it's just self-hating Liberal elites.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Ian » 17 May 2013, 22:13

Connor wrote:This horrible trend, I believe, originated at Starbucks, but it has spread to many other places. In case you're lucky enough to live somewhere that hasn't picked up on this practice, I'll explain:

After you place an order at the counter (whether it be for coffee, food, a package, etc), the server then asks for your first name. Then, when your order is prepared, the server shouts out your name from across the room, signalling you to come back to the counter.

When on Earth did this become standard procedure? I swear that this wouldn't be considered normal just a few years ago.


My family used to go to a restaurant called Fuddrucker's when I was a teenager, and they employed this method, albeit with a PA system rather than shouting. One time we had some fun with them by giving the name "Billy Bob." It was amusing to hear them call out "Billy Bob, your order is ready, Billy Bob."
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Ian » 18 May 2013, 06:13

This is an issue I feel strongly about as well. When I was 17 I had a job working in a grocery store. I was required to wear a nametag, and it always annoyed me when a customer felt it appropriate to say "Hi Ian," to me, as if I were someone he or she knew personally. Though my views on proper manners were less developed at the time, it always came across to me as rude.

Another seemingly-meaningless incident from my life that I've never forgotten was when I was helping some people I knew move. There were other people helping who I didn't know, including some woman who took the opportunity to use my name whenever she could. "Let's lift this, Ian." "Put it over here, Ian." "There you go, Ian." I didn't even know this woman, yet she made a point of saying my name in every sentence she spoke. It almost seemed like she was doing it to bother me.

In some cultures, such as Korea, it's considered extremely rude to address anyone by his or her given name if that person isn't someone you know well, if you're in a professional setting, or even if it's just someone older than you. When one hears that fact, it at first seems a total contrast to our Western culture, but it really isn't.

A civilized society will have an established hierarchy recognized by everyone within it. Western culture's hierarchy is eroding, so we feel less inclined to make such distinctions between ranks of people. Korea isn't as far down the road of societal decay as we are, and hierarchy still plays a big role in their culture. As a Korea-phile, it pains me to say that I think the liberalism that's brought the West into decline has taken root in Korea, but that's a discussion for another time. As of right now, they still (mostly) follow their traditions.

The West was once like that too. Husbands and wives sometimes even addressed each other as "Mr." and "Mrs." That might sound unromantic to some, but it could also be seen as extremely romantic, because it suggests that these people hold each other in such high regard that they dare not show anything less than the utmost respect. There's real beauty in aspiring to a higher standard.

Perhaps television has also played a role in the loss of formality. Television allows us to see and hear people we don't know personally, and in a sense, it also allows us to feel more familiar with them than we actually are. For instance, there's currently a show in the U.S. called Shark Tank. The premise of the show is that there's a panel of multi-millionaire entrepreneurs (the "sharks") who are presented business proposals from aspiring entrepreneurs. If the sharks like what they see, they can choose to invest their own money in these ventures. Now, obviously, a meeting with potential investors should have the tone of a formal business setting, but because it's television, the sharks are treated more like TV characters than powerful businessmen (and women) who could offer life-changing deals. Most of the people who come in address the sharks by their first names, and it makes the whole thing feel artificial. It is a good show, but an entrepreneur looking for funding might behave differently toward investors who weren't seen as TV personalities.

Anyway, those are some scattered thoughts I have about the loss of formality. I personally am trying to be more conscious of how I speak to others, because the older I get, the more I recognize the need for respectful forms of address. I like to think I'm doing my small part to push society back in the right direction.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Elliott » 18 May 2013, 08:09

Ian wrote:This is an issue I feel strongly about as well. When I was 17 I had a job working in a grocery store. I was required to wear a nametag, and it always annoyed me when a customer felt it appropriate to say "Hi Ian," to me, as if I were someone he or she knew personally. Though my views on proper manners were less developed at the time, it always came across to me as rude.

Another seemingly-meaningless incident from my life that I've never forgotten was when I was helping some people I knew move. There were other people helping who I didn't know, including some woman who took the opportunity to use my name whenever she could. "Let's lift this, Ian." "Put it over here, Ian." "There you go, Ian." I didn't even know this woman, yet she made a point of saying my name in every sentence she spoke. It almost seemed like she was doing it to bother me.

I think I know exactly what you mean. It's always struck me as contrived and unnatural to address a shop assistant by their first name (after you've seen it on their badge), an artificial friendliness.

In these cases, I don't think it is informality that makes people do this but precisely their awareness of formality mixed with their belief that formality is on the way out, so let's be modern and informal. They're doing it because it conflicts with how they were raised; they're trying to take it on so that it becomes natural to them instead of what it is, contrived.

At least that's my theory, having seen older people (in their 50s) doing what you describe. It's very much a case of "vicar at a disco", really; they think that being informal makes them seem young.

But in the younger generations, I think it's totally different. I think that, for them, informality comes naturally since they have never known anything else, and formality feels contrived for them.

A year ago I was in a restaurant with a woman of 50 and her teenage daughter. When the waiter came to take our order, the woman spoke in a clear, slightly formal, voice - not because of any class pretension but simply because it was her way of being polite and civilised. Her daughter was embarrassed and pinched her mother and said "don't do that, it sounds weird". Needless to say the daughter had appalling diction.

But I think class does play a part in the collapse of formality. In escaping formality, we think we are escaping class. Again, about a year ago, I had a dreadful meal with a young couple (early 30s) and the woman, who works in a bank and addresses all her clients (successful businessmen) by their first names, said she thought that informality was good because it showed that people didn't think they were "better" than each other.

Can't you just hear the rumblings of an approaching civilisational earthquake? The poison feels good just now - yay! We're all equal! - but then who do you look up to? Who do you count on to know best, or be a good example as opposed to a bad one? And once you've made that decision, how can you defend it without contradicting your belief in egalitarianism? There's trouble ahead.
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Re: The collapse of formality

Postby Ian » 18 May 2013, 20:51

Elliott wrote:I think I know exactly what you mean. It's always struck me as contrived and unnatural to address a shop assistant by their first name (after you've seen it on their badge), an artificial friendliness.

In these cases, I don't think it is informality that makes people do this but precisely their awareness of formality mixed with their belief that formality is on the way out, so let's be modern and informal. They're doing it because it conflicts with how they were raised; they're trying to take it on so that it becomes natural to them instead of what it is, contrived.

At least that's my theory, having seen older people (in their 50s) doing what you describe. It's very much a case of "vicar at a disco", really; they think that being informal makes them seem young.


That's an interesting observation, because in recent years I've noticed my father (in his late 50s) addressing employees by their first names more frequently. When he calls customer service lines, the first thing he'll say is often something like "Hi Jennifer, I'm calling about..." and I presume it's because the rep answered with "Thank you for calling customer service. This is Jennifer, how may I help you?"

I'm not sure if he does it in an attempt to be "hip," or if he's just going with the informal flow. He's been a salesman before, so perhaps in his mind he sees an invitation toward familiarity, such as giving one's first name up front, as a potential aid in achieving his objective. Still, as much as I admire my father, I think he sounds silly when he does it. Like you say, it's a contrived familiarity, and the entire interaction seems fundamentally insincere.
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