Like many students, I was determined to earn some money throughout my three-month summer break from university. Admittedly, I wasn't too fussed about where I worked - I would have worked in a fast food restaurant if it meant seeing a healthy balance in my bank account at the end of the month!
However, I was fortunate enough to return to the uniform shop I worked at the previous summer. Whilst it was relatively small in size, it supplied uniform to some of the best independent schools in the area - the sort where the kids were most likely to end up as 'Oxbridge' graduates.
The atmosphere in the shop was light-hearted and my co-workers were lovely. Nevertheless, as much fun as I had, I often found that the people I served looked down on me. I knew exactly why - I was a just a shop floor worker on a £6/hour wage, and I supposedly lacked intellect and knowledge outside of this shop. The customers would be rude and demanding; their tone was condescending and they made me feel as if I was not worthy of their time. They were forgetting the simple backbone of life - manners.
There were times when I watched the other workers run into the staff-room to hold back tears because the pressure was too much. It sounds ridiculous, because we weren't on a sales and trading floor of a major investment bank, where the atmosphere is genuinely intense and the pressure really can get too much. But I guess people treating you as if you are inferior to them can affect you.
However, every now and then, customers would wonder what I did with my life beyond the summer peak time at a uniform shop. Naturally, the shop would have, at best, five customers on a random day in November, compared to the mad rush and queues outside the door during the summer break. But then as soon as I told customers that alongside my summer job I was a university student, they instantly changed their tone with me. It's as if I was suddenly in their league and I had the knowledge to have a conversation with them. Simple words like "please" and "thank you" were a regular occurrence as opposed to the demands. This didn't make me happy though. If anything, it angered me - why should someone change their attitude with me just because of my position in life?
A person's manners say a lot about them than they may initially realise. It defines who they are as a character and how they were brought up. Showing gratitude for a service or help given demonstrates that one is appreciative of the efforts someone has made to make your life simpler and easier.
However, someone talking to me in a condescending way gave me the impression that they were narrow-minded and they did not appreciate that people come from all walks of life.
I suppose what was sad about these episodes was how these customers - who were parents - were displaying such behaviour and attitude in front of their children. There is a saying that "children are a map of their parents". They are influenced by what their parents do, and if they are seeing that it is acceptable to look down on others, that is what they will grow up to believe. I'm sure these children showed respect to their parents; good manners, however, should not be restricted within the home. If anything, what one learns at home prepares them for future interactions with other people in the broader spectrum of society. I now appreciate the one line that was repeatedly said to me by my mother, "No five fingers are the same", and she could not be more right.
The irony is that the best kind of education is not one where you attend the top private school, achieve 10 A*s but leave with a mindset like an aristocrat. Rather, it is one where you learn that manners are the foundation of many aspects of life and that they don't cost a thing.
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