I was walking in a mall in karachi, when a lady pushed past me. Her handbag smacked me hard on the arm. She glanced back with an annoyed expression as if the fault was mine for being in her way and continued walking ahead with a toss of her perfect blow dried hair. I was stunned for a few moments. I stood rooted to the spot until I realised how used to the word ‘sorry’ I had become living in the UK. I remember thinking how would this woman feel if I had smacked her with my bag and not given a toss?
Of course, there is a simple word for it – Empathy, which has somehow vanished from our daily lives. We think it is like a special dish to be served only to family and friends. We were always like this? Maybe not. There was a culture of pehle aap, tameez and tehzeeb in the sub continent eons ago. Chivalry was also the norm. I have heard tales of this culture from my grandmother. How did we loose it? I know the Pakistan I grew up in is devoid of basic manners as a society.
When I came to UK, 11 years ago I was a true Pakistani style born and bred girl, if someone did something nice like opening the door for me I never looked back to say thank you-I took it as my right and the most I would do was smile back and nod, breaking the queue was a fun activity- which idiot stands in a long line for hours if they can jump to the beginning by some influence or trick? Please? Who says that to house help or shop keepers or waiters? Ye Lao, woh Karo! That’s how you talk.
I thought my manners were perfectly adequate until I landed in the UK where minding your ps and qs is like breathing in air, breaking the queue is akin to killing a human being – it invokes the rage and fury of every member of the line, letting people pass infront of you who were there first is considered basic common sense not even good manners and if someone lets you go infront and you don’t thank them – well you will hear about it. Here, even if a Brit is dying and it’s causing inconvenience to another person he would apologise to his last breath, if I bump into them they apologise, when they accost you on the street to ask for the time they begin with sorry, when do we as Pakistanis apologise? let me think- never! Or only if its on gun point or it’s forced out of us with a pitch fork (read when we have no other choice left) or our giant sized egos get hurt. Speaking loudly is a strict No in a public place because they don’t want to disturb another persons peace, no one disturbs you or talks to you unless they must or it’s to say something nice because they respect your right to privacy.
It was frustrating and funny at times but compared to Pakistan well I guess they have it right. At least they care and make you care about Others not just yourself as a basic way of life. You are forced to look out for other people. I remember when I came back for my first holiday back from UK, I was holding an ice cream wrapper for three hours first while shopping and then in the car my mum was like why don’t you throw it out of the window and I was shocked, how could I litter? wouldn’t I be fined then it hit me, no I wouldn’t be because in Pakistan everyone litters – but I held on to the wrapper because I realised I didn’t want to dirty my own city and because I didn’t find a bin I went home and threw it in my dustbin while my mum rolled her eyes at me.
If we just learn basic manners we will learn empathy as well, showing class or being classy doesn’t mean flaunting the latest designer wear it is caring about your fellow citizens the same way you would care for your self and your own.