Feet off the Table! (JB)


julianabjornsdottir_dlThe one thing that bothers me to the core is ill breeding.

With ill breeding I am not referring to the pedigree of family history and wealth; on the contrary, I refer to the facade we present to the world as individuals representing the traditions of a family institution rooted in a native culture or cultures.

Too often do I encounter examples of bad pedigree in human interactions and in particular, in the department of manners.

Good manners are the first positive impression we make upon a stranger when introduced for the first time. We arrive to a job interview on time because we want the potential employer to think of us as a punctual worker.

The little gestures we make as we interact with fellow human beings brand our character and bad impression is hard to erase from the résumé.

Celebrities are particularly vulnerable to accidental bad impression, some unmerited in a moment of weakness and others merited in a chain of characteristic responses.

The “celebrities” I consider worthy of admiration are the quiet ones. The ones that are first and foremost an individual passionate about his or her art form. The success and the popularity accompanying it are both an added bonus and a curse. A mature individual will treat fame as a significant bonus because of the job security but without the conceited sense of entitlement, and a curse because of the unrelated attention.

On Saturday night, I found myself in the presence of a local “celebrity”, that is a person who is gifted with a beautiful voice and therefore becomes a person of interest to fans of the genre and other interested parties. This person is not someone whose genre I am a particular fan of nor do I pay much attention to his career; yes I’ll tell you this much about the identity of the person – it is a he. My media impression of him was quite benign. A dedicated professional to subgenres of popular culture who yes, enjoys the attention but last time I checked that’s no crime.

What caught my attention was the posture he presented. We found ourselves at an upmarket bar where having a conversation is possible on Saturday night.

Accompanied by a platonic female companion, the two shared a small corner table and were clearly involved in a deep conversation. The bar was very busy and the seating plan organized to the finest needlepoint.

The host and the hostess did their best to accommodate guests for as long as space allowed. My mom, sisters and niece were fortunate enough to find space with the assistance of a kind hostess next to Mr. Celebrity and few minutes later, two young guys came in clad in the celebratory green T-shirt and traditional Scottish skirt, presumably cut off by air, and took the seat for a person and half next to the pop singer.

With a seat and a half to share between themselves and clustered by needlepoint shoe line, the two friends made do with the limited space and too-close-for-comfort stranger.

I was hypnotized by the scene unfolding before me. After years of bartending and waitressing I have seen my share of bad manners, and as a guest, I have even been kicked out of a bar for not spending enough money in my Paris student days.

But the general rule of bar ethics is empathy with fellow bar guests in search of a seat, in particular on a busy night. We accommodate space where it is available; something the people seated next on the other side to us respected as the hostess found us seats, and respectfully acknowledge each other as we share the open space.

However, our celebrity companion broke the unwritten rule of bar ethics. He did not acknowledge the presence of the two jolly St. Patrick’s Day friends nor did he attempt to move his feet from the small round table to create space for two rather than person and half.

I didn’t say anything but it bothered me. So much I was happy to offer one of the jolly friends my seat when a table became available for us.

My new impression of the pop singer? Not so good.

Personally, I have grown tired of the perks of celebrity status. I think in the hands of an immature and ill-prepared individual, the status eats up the real man or woman behind the facade. The persona takes over and indulgence to all longings and spontaneity, and an over-indulged sense of importance presides.

But it’s not only celebrities that are guilty of bad manners. The problem is rooted in all corners of the society.

A group of kids run down an elderly woman causing her to drop all her bags. Instead of apologizing for the inconsideration shown, they leave her to pick up her things.

Parliament is no better.

Members of parliament fight each other on every case possible from the currency issue to political persecution.

One MP refers to females belonging to certain equality philosophy in a vulgar manner, and has been known to give less than flattering criticism to fellow parliament members, again females in particular.

A local journalist unapologetically shares his view of hateful Icelandic feminists whenever the opportunity arises.

But etiquettes and manners extend past the boundaries of direct human interaction. Public display of disrespect is a personal approval of ill breeding in a society already torn apart by malicious voices.

What do we do when this is the case? Is there a reason to believe the celebs and other citizens behave better when led by such an example?

Our own president provokes a constant strain on the public’s relationship with parliament. His own perception of national importance has led to a series of aggressive communication with international media where criticism is too often met with national pride.

Iceland’s sense of importance in the large scheme of things is a fault in the electrical wiring of the national pride. A single incident in a bar is insignificant in the scheme of things but how we behave as individuals is the impression we give of our nation to the world.

The geographical space we inhabit, whether it is a booth in a bar or landmass in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is our theater of life and the audience is the world.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.