The A-Z of modern etiquette

Hoodies, emails, religion, MySpace... If negotiating your way through society's ever - shifting codes of conduct is getting you down, Mark Hooper plays Mr Manners
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The Independent Online

A is for Asbo

It may have been conceived as a 21st-century version of the stocks, but the Anti-Social Behaviour Order has opened an ethical can of worms. Can the community at large help in preventing recidivism? And what is the best reaction to becoming "Asbo-ed"? The answers are simple: "No" and "Bothered". A report by the Youth Justice Board has found that almost half those served with Anti-Social Behaviour Orders have breached them. Why? Well, for a start, most people who are handed Asbos are kids. And, as any parent knows, telling a child not to do something is tantamount to a challenge. Particularly if it comes with the promise of a government-sanctioned badge of honour. The best course of action? Ignore them. They're only after attention...

B is for Blackberry

There is nothing more irritating in modern life than the message "sent via Blackberry". Think: why would anyone want to know that? And what sort of person would want other people to know it? Referring to your Blackberry as your "Crackberry" ceased to be funny in 2005. Admitting you're addicted to checking your emails while away from your desk is now considered nothing short of social suicide. Besides, it's far more impressive to be uncontactable outside of office hours.

C is for Cameraphones

While the "happy slap" phenomenon is as clear-cut as moral conundrums get (it's wrong), there is an increasingly large grey area where it comes to the correct usage of the cameraphone. In Japan, the tradition of "tachiyomi" (reading while stood up) has left newsagents and bookstores frustrated at customers photographing magazines rather than buying them. It's a small step, they claim, from digital shoplifting and information theft. Meanwhile, British Transport Police claim that their fastest growing problem is sexual harassment by videophone. Far more worrying, however, is the casual acceptance of the phone as the new cigarette lighter at gigs, with a sea of glowing screens now greeting every concert performer. Ask yourself: is it really worth the grainy footage?

D is for Drugs

A general moral ambivalence now engulfs the subject of drug taking, except for the rare Tabloid Scare Drugs (TSDs) that grip the nation: crystal meth, GHB, GHD... As a rule of thumb, it is perfectly acceptable for an individual to ingest any substance so long as it does not cause harm to those around them. For this reason, the combination of chemicals while in control of vehicles, heavy farm machinery or turntables is strongly frowned upon. So what's the wannabe social outcast to do? Simple: try sparking up indoors.

E is for Email

Emails are social timebombs waiting to happen. Remember: there is no "recall" button. While you can usually deny a verbal conversation, it's hard to do so when it's spelt out on screen. The appropriateness of your email etiquette will vary from office to office. If in doubt, consider whether you'd mind if your humorous clip, casual flirting or third-party bitching was forwarded to your parents or significant other. If you find yourself in the awkward situation of emailing the object of your ire by mistake, use the only defence available to you: "I wish there was a sarcasm font on this machine; I was trying to wind you up. xxx"

As for unwanted attention, it is safest if heterosexual men stick to sending kisses to each other and no one else. Never use internet smileys or "emoticons" unless you are a groomer posing as a seven-year-old.

F is for Free Papers

Free newspapers may be left on train or bus seats for the next harassed commuter to chance upon. However, once removed from their natural habitat, they should be disposed of responsibly: preferably in a recycle bin. They should never be left at the top of tube escalators, as they tend to blow back down the stairs and create a hazard. If in doubt, buy yourself a real newspaper instead and take it home with you.

G is for Green Angst

Some answers to the most common environment-related questions:

Yes, you can recycle plastic. Driving to your local bottle bank more or less cancels out any positive affect on your carbon footprint, but it's the thought that counts.

The tipping point for the global warming debate was that cute computer animation of a polar bear slipping off a glacier.

Yes, insisting that green companies make a healthy profit merely panders to the capitalists who are creating the problem, but let's not go there. No, being a carbon neutral citizen doesn't make a blind bit of difference in the face of the oil industry, but it's all about symbolism. Travel does still broaden the mind - but why not take two weeks off and go by boat? Hang on to those British Gas shares you bought when you were 16. If you sell them they'll just end up in less scrupulous hands than your own.

H is for Hoodies

Nothing defines the generation gap better than the term "hoodie". For the record, a hoodie is an item of clothing (involving a hood), particularly popular with effete fashionistas and "nu-ravers". If you're referring to a youngster up to no good, you may just as well call them hoodlums, ne'er-do-wells or rapscallions. Nothing singles you out as an embarrassingly out-of-touch adult than using a term that can be applied to any youth group, from street rats to emo kids, trackies to grungers. What does that mean? Ask your children. But never judge a youth by his hood, for the sole reason that you'd be hard pushed to find anyone not wearing one.

I is for iPods

iPods don't actually cause deafness any more than Walkmen did 20 years ago. But there are some general rules of etiquette everyone should follow. For starters, turn the clicker function off as soon as you get it out of the box. It's really quite annoying. Secondly, ditch the white headphones. They turn your ears into glowing beacons for Asbo kids in hoodies. Finally, don't fall into the trap of thinking an iPod is your property in any traditional sense. Instead, think of it as a loan from Apple, to be traded in for the newest model as soon as its built-in obsolescence kicks in, several days after the warrantee expires.

J is for Jadism

Unlike Jainism (the ancient Dharmist religion which holds that all living matter possesses a soul), Jadism holds that all living matter is "mingin" and it's open season on all classes or races different from you and your one-armed lesbian mum. Jadism inevitably leads to a state of "samsara" or human bondage and turmoil, which can only be escaped via the "enlightenment" provided by the goddess Davina and the nirvana of a photo opportunity in Delhi.

K is for Knitting Circles

The Alpha Male is in retreat. He is emasculated in the workplace. He is no longer the breadwinner at home. His natural urges are considered Neanderthal. What's he to do? Simple: take up macramé. Man needs to craft things with his hands, so in our super-protected society, it's only natural he learns to knit himself a scarf. Just so we're clear: there's nothing wrong with this: some might say it's his destiny.

L is for Love

Dating clubs have evolved into all kinds of peculiar permutations, from speed to online to singleton tents at festivals. But however desperate the format, never let it be said that love cannot flourish in this cynical age. If anything, we've become more exacting in our romantic lives than ever before. Marriage is now best entered into after a 10-year courtship, by which time you should have established if your partner is financially and psychologically viable. Largely because you'll be on your third mortgage together and your children will be preparing for secondary school.

M is for MySpace

The seven laws of MySpace:

1. Never join MySpace unless you are in a band and deluded enough to think that you might be discovered without a major record label building your page for you.

2. Never befriend anyone on MySpace that you would be embarrassed to send an (omega) email to in "real" life.

3. Except for Tom.

4. "Thanks for the Add" messages are not necessary.

5. Never accept invitations from girls you don't know with names like "Nikkee" or "Alexxxa". They're not who they seem.

6. Never befriend defunct bands, or those featuring dead members, or both - such as Joy Division. Chances are their pages were set up by someone else.

7. Lily Allen is not really your friend.

N is for Neighbours

For those living in major cities in the UK, it is acceptable to greet your neighbours in the following way:

(A) Upstairs/downstairs neighbours in flats - with an audible grunt/nod of the head.

(B) Next door neighbours - with a slight raise of the eyebrow.

(C) Anyone living further afield - best ignore them.

For those living in rural areas/small towns/ regional cities: anyone living within half a square mile of your house may be greeted with a hearty, slightly deranged bellow. Refer to everyone as "mate" just to be safe.

O is for Obesity

It is thankfully no longer considered acceptable to judge people simply because of their race, colour, creed, sexual orientation or gender. It is, however, still perfectly fine to publicly berate people over their waist size, preferably if done so on national TV by a condescending "expert" with a doctorate of dubious origin. This is wrong. Obesity is the only thing our children are still number one in Europe at - alongside having sex, drinking and swearing. The trouble with this country is we always want to do ourselves down.

P is for Patriotism

The rules of patriotism are quite simple: the modern world is dividing into ever increasing factions, each to be fiercely and proudly guarded. The flag of the smallest splinter group you belong to should be displayed wherever possible, with the exception of the St George's flag, which may only ever be brandished when supporting a racially integrated sporting team, such as the England cricket squad (as long as they have the correct quota of South Africans playing for them). If in doubt, fly the flag of St Andrew: even Idi Amin liked that one. As for foreigners: yes, there are far too many economic refugees taking advantage of Europe's lax borders. Most of them are in southern Spain, moaning about how you can never get a decent cuppa.

Q is for Quizzes

However tempting, you should never help anyone other than your own child to complete a Sudoku puzzle. If anyone ever attempts to tell you their Sudoku puzzle is superior as it was created by an obscure Japanese master, point out that the game is an invention of the 18th Century Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler, perfected by the modern American architect Howard Garns, and the only relevance it has to the Japanese is their equal need to pass the time on rush-hour metro systems.

While we're on the subject of quizzes; should you ever find yourself on Deal Or No Deal, just stick with the box you've got, it doesn't really make much difference what's in the other ones.

R is for Religion

The English don't take well to fundamentalism in any form: which is why they long ago fashioned their own bespoke church rather than be told what to do by anyone else. But, despite the rise of secularism, the British attitude to all faiths is one of healthy tolerance. Unless said religion is deemed intolerant. In which case, it should not be tolerated. Which doesn't, of course, make one intolerant to other faiths. Just the ones you don't agree with. But even in a godless society, religion is seen as a reliable source of moral and philosophical advice. That thing about false idols, for instance, explains the enormous popularity of Simon Cowell.

S is for Sex

With the spectre of Aids finally swooping off to spook someone else, sexual mores are looser than they have been in more than 20 years. Children are increasingly sexualised and Britain's teenage pregnancy rate is the highest in Europe. So if you're still struggling to deal with your classic, British, repressed attitude to the subject, try asking your kids - you'll find they're a lot less embarrassed to talk about it than you.

T is for Travelling

It used to be so much easier. Now, if we're not worried by our carbon (omega) footprint, we're out of pocket thanks to expanded congestion zones and road tolls. But rest assured public transport is the future. Those lucky enough to live in London can benefit from a subsidised free service known as the "bendy bus" (derived from the slang term "bent", meaning morally corrupt.) The Tube's straining infrastructure also allows every worker a half hour extension to their official morning start (known as "flexitime"). As for rural rail networks: they don't exist any more.

U is for Underwear

Underwear, as anyone au fait with the night-time antics of the Hilton/ Spears/Lohan generation will attest, is an unnecessary part of a young gentlewoman's wardrobe in the modern age. Particularly if she is planning to spend the evening hopping between exclusive nightclubs and negotiating her way in and out of the back of taxis while being photographed at compromising angles by the paparazzi. "Going commando" was once considered a guilty secret to be hidden beneath a pair of jeans. But, quite rightly, today's party-goers don't really see the point unless they can let the world's press in on the joke.

V is for Virus

Upon receipt of an email virus: never "reply to all" to point out the fact.

Upon sending an email virus: never follow-up with an apology email, however heartfelt.

Upon owning a Mac: refrain from pointing out to your PC-owning colleagues that you are blissfully unaffected.

Upon receipt of a "new deadly virus discovered" warning: (a) never forward on to your colleagues: they won't thank you for your timely advice. (b) never point out that said email is in fact a hoax: no one likes a smart-arse.

W is for Warfare

It is never a good idea to declare a modern war over, or to forget to plan for the uneasy peace that follows. It is also fairly impractical to try to invade terrorist organisations, given that they, by definition, tend not to all live in one place; or indeed, anywhere that can be differentiated from where you also live.

X is for X-rated

There was a time when pornography was delivered in brown paper bags from under the counter of discreet newsagents. Now it's downloaded on to handheld consoles to be enjoyed on public transport with your mates, or emailed around the office by bored workers on Fridays. Just as the mobile phone has destroyed our concept of personal space, so portable porn has dissolved our idea of privacy. Cybersex addiction is now an acknowledged affliction, with an estimated £20bn spent worldwide on online pornography per year, and one in four British adults downloading sexual images. But that's OK. Claim to be a sex addict and you can sue for unfair dismissal should you ever get caught surfing porn at work.

Y is for YouTube

Uploading has never been easier. Be you an exhibitionist or a bore, there's an online soapbox waiting for you. Even disgraced paedophile celebrities can have their say. It's democracy in action, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Of course, strictly speaking, you're not allowed to post copyrighted material. So any music video or clip from a TV network shouldn't find its way on there. And pretty soon, there will be a Napster-style test case in which ignorance of the law won't prevent regular punters being threatened with heavy fines or jail sentences. But the law of averages suggests it won't be you, so you may as well carry on regardless while you still can.

Z is for Zidanity

The World Cup finals have a habit of throwing up heroes that embody the spirit of the age. There was Pele and the Beautiful Game. There was Gazza and his heart-on-your-sleeve crybaby patriotism. And in 2006 we had Zidane. How did the sport's greatest poet cope with modern cynicism? Simple: he imploded with seething rage. The line between sportsmanship and gamesmanship no longer exists. It's perfectly acceptable to dive, feign and fight your way to success. And if you fnd yourself on the wrong end of it, hit someone.