Society is full of little niceties and customs that we don’t always consider.
Earlier this morning, I was sitting at one of my favourite cafés, reading an article on my iPad Pro whilst I waited for my wife to arrive at the table. There was a father-daughter couple enjoying breakfast at the table next me, before she had to go to school. Although I was already browsing the Web and obviously using a digital device, the father kindly turned to me as he and his daughter were getting up and offered me his newspaper.
I thanked him for the offer but declined politely. He said, ‘No problem’, then they left.
The fact that he was reading a newspaper is probably a generational thing, however, I find this gesture to be quintessentially Australian. That’s certainly not to say that friendliness doesn’t exist elsewhere around the world, but the custom of moving on from one’s table and offering a newspaper to another patron is something that I have only ever seen at home… never overseas. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!) What amused me was that this was such a learned, ingrained behaviour that he did it even though I was visibly reading online news on my device.
No doubt, this kind of custom must be the result of Australia’s enduring ‘Britishness’. Having worked with Germans in the past, they often questioned me (as the only Australian-born staff member in the office) why Australians felt the need to engage in constant social niceties and small talk. ‘It’s simply inefficient!’, they would say, particularly when a queue of people is behind you at the local supermarket checkout. That’s probably why they fling your groceries down the end of the line… there’s no time for chit-chat once the venerable barcode scanner is in action.
Whilst I would argue that the very specific offer of a newspaper is on its way to being completely antiquated, I value these moments and increasingly take notice of them in everyday life. As we all bury our faces in our devices, it’s important to look up, acknowledge and say ‘hello’ to strangers. This fixed attention to devices is something that I have noticed particularly on public transport.
Whilst it may sound corny, small talk and everyday acknowledgements are the glue that keep civil society together. Always take the time simply to say ‘hello’ or make an offer. It makes a difference.