Us Brits are very polite people. Which is probably not a bad thing on the whole, however sometimes it comes at a cost, sometimes it leads us down paths of horrid obligation and we are dumbfounded as to how to get out of it without appearing rude. If we are not being polite then we must be being rude – right? This social balance is something most of us are very aware of and we don’t like to get it wrong, if we do then it sits very uncomfortably so we will always be polite no matter how awkward the situation may be. It seems our fear of offending another person far outweighs the tedium, pain or even torture that we may find ourselves in (Note to Trump: Waterboarding won’t work on us Brits, we will never talk because it would be bloody rude and “not a good show” to break a promise of secrecy and I’ll think you’ll also find that when torturing a Brit they will say “please” and “thank you” before and after every drowning – so there!).
I am one of the worst offenders in this area (politeness not torture). I have a terrible, almost over-British, sense of politeness which has more than once got me into weird scenarios that seem too daft to be real, and this was just one of them…
It was about a year ago on a Saturday daytime. Dan had taken the kids to my parents allowing me a free day to do a bit of writing without any interruptions “This is going to be bliss” I thought, naively. I settled into my chair and cosied up to the laptop, a strong black coffee in hand and the radio gently nattering away in the background. I’d been tippy tapping away for less than 20 minutes when to my surprise the house phone rang. I don’t know about you, but no one ever calls our landline anymore, “who’s that?” I asked myself. To be honest, I didn’t want to answer the call, I wanted to keep on writing and snub whoever it was ringing me, but I’m British, so I didn’t, because I didn’t want to be rude to the person who had taken the time to strenuously exercise a digit to dial my number. So I heaved myself from my lovely writing nest and picked up the phone.
When answering the phone us Brits are extra polite, just in case it happens to be the Queen or someone like that “Hello?” I said in my best, politest phone voice. On the other end was low, whispering voice that started talking immediately without pausing breath, however I could barely make out what they were saying so even if they did stop for a response I wouldn’t have known what we were supposed to be discussing.
“I’m sorry, I can’t quite make out what you’re saying, please could you speak up?” I asked as nicely as I could so that I didn’t offend this poor voice-impaired person, after all, it had to be all my British fault that I couldn’t hear what they were trying to say to me.
N/B Us Brits feel we have so much to make up for that we apologise for everything and anything that is not actually our fault, including people who push their shopping trollies into our ankles at supermarkets: “I’m so sorry for not being massive enough for you to see me and but too massive for you to move around me with your heavy, painful trolley. I’m sorry that my that my orange jumper and red hair weren’t bright enough for you to notice me, stood right in front of you, and that your two, working eyes couldn’t depict me from all the other people that aren’t here. I’m sorry my blood is on your trolley. I’m so sorry. Sorry”
Anyway, the voice on the other end of the phone hadn’t heard my request for them to speak up, so they continued to rattle on in the same, husky inaudible level so even more politely than before and a bit louder, I said “Hello? I can’t quite hear you, sorry. Would you mind speaking up a little so I can help you? Sorry.” The whispering voice paused for a moment and then cranked their voice volume up a nudge, but it was still too muffled and whispery to make out what they were saying. Feeling a little embarrassed to have to ask them to speak up yet again I took a slightly different tact, “Hang on” I said ever so slightly louder than usual (I didn’t want to shout because it’s rude)“just let me walk over to the kitchen were the signal’s a little better, it’s a cordless phone you see and I live in the country so there’s lots of hills blocking the signals”. After imparting the unnecessary information (or as us Brits call it: polite chit chat) to the stranger on the phone, the stranger stopped talking and waited for me to move into a better signal. I leaned against the kitchen worktop so that I could give my full attention to the poor inconvenienced caller.
“Ok, I’m here now, go ahead, I should be able to hear you” I told the voice loudly but in my smiliest tone. Although a little louder, loud enough for me to detect the voice was male, his speech was still very whispery and his still words were gibberish to my ears.
In a cringingly over polite manner I did my best ‘middle-England phone voice’ and called down the phone “I’m ever so sorry, but I really can’t hear anything you’re saying. Would it be too much trouble to ask you to start again please? But this time, I’d be really grateful if could you speak as loudly as possible. Thank you so much and sorry to be such a pain”. With that, the man on the phone sighed so loudly I could practically hear his eyeballs roll and then he practically shouted “I want to fuck your ass” and then continued to shower me with other unappealing details of what he would like to do to me.
I had the feeling this chap was strenuously exercising a little more than his dialling finger.
I hung up and called Dan. “I just had a dirty phone call!” I told him horrified. After explaining what had happened and what this horrible man wanted to do to my poor bottom, Dan was equally horrified and told me to call our phone provider and get the number blocked (which by the way, turned out to be long distance – thankfully!). So I did. Bye-bye you nasty pervert!
Later that evening Dan and I ruminated the day’s dramatic events.
“But why did you continue to try and get him to speak up? Why not just hang up?” Dan asked a bit confused, taking a sip of his beer
“Because it’s rude to just hang up!” I said sipping my wine, slightly appalled at the suggestion.
“Bea!” Dan exclaimed “it’s rude to call someone and tell them you want to fuck their ass!”
“But I didn’t know that’s what he wanted to do to my bottom when he first called, because I couldn’t hear him.” I said defending my actions with the full gusto of hundreds of years of ingrained unnecessary politeness in my blood.
“Next time Bea, promise me you’ll hang up straight away? Even if you can’t hear what they’re saying? If it’s someone you know, they’ll call you mobile”
“Good point. Ok, I promise” I conceded and feeling stupid I glugged my wine dry. “Can you get me another one darling, I’m still feeling a bit shaky” . This was a lie, I was absolutely fine, I was just too lazy to get up and pour my own drink.
The long distance perve obviously hadn’t done his cultural awareness course before dialling my number. Had he not skipped it he would had known to speak up so that I would have heard him immediately and I wouldn’t have interrupted his filthy flow with lots of apologies and asking him to start over – by the sound of his exasperated sigh when I did, I obviously tainted the experience for him. Good. On the other hand, had he spoken up in the first instance I would have hung up on him straight away, so perhaps he did know what he was doing?
I can see now that most people would have hung up on the first instance regardless of how loudly he was talking, damned any politeness, and quite rightly. But I am not most people and add on my Britishness then you evidently have a recipe for politely sticking out the worst conversations longer than necessary.
For a long time after the ‘dirty phone-call day’ I felt very angry towards the disgusting prat, that he dared to assume it was ok slime out those horrible words to me or any woman. Then I went through a stage of finding it very funny and shared it as a bit of a comic tale down the pub. I still find it amusing because I’m not threatened by it, however a larger part of me feels sorry for “long distance dick” (as he is now known in Wildered Towers). I feel sorry for him for not having had the people in his life to love him enough to teach him that women deserve respect just as much as men. He must be so lonely and cowardly that he has to resort to shallow, perverted phone calls in a pathetic attempt to gain the attentions of the opposite sex. What a sad, empty, spineless, prick – and that’s the polite version!