According to a newspaper report about Shahid Afridi's latest spat with the Pakistan Cricket Board, the player has said that he was wrong, and regrets his latest misbehaviour, but will not apologise.Say what? He admits his fault, but won't say sorry? In this, he is not alone. We as a nation have a very hard time not only admitting we are wrong, but apologising for our mistakes. Or, indeed, doing anything to rectify them, or atone for them.In the UK, where I have been spending several months every year for some time now, I lose count of the number of times people say “please”, “thank you” and “sorry” to me in the course of a single day. In a queue, at a shop, in a pub, or just walking down the street, people will apologise profusely if you accidentally brush against them, or if they interrupt you.
Similarly, expressions of gratitude flow thick and fast in the most mundane transaction. Just asking a waiter for a glass of water will involve the most roundabout circumlocution (“Please, I wonder â€“ but only when you have a minute â€“ if I could have a glass of water, please.”). And when the glass arrives, the waiter will be thanked profusely.
While I have fallen into this habit to some extent, I recognise that it is basically alien to the subcontinent. When we are at our holiday home in Sri Lanka and have English guests, I have to curb their excessive politeness because I can see the eyes of our staff glaze over while our friends go through the usual rigmarole. In fact, even though I speak no Sinhala, the lady wife often asks me to translate for her as she is convinced my more direct desi manner gets results a lot faster.
Talking of manners, I was taken aback by a recent posting on a public Internet forum about a woman journalist better known for her belligerence than for her analysis. According to the blogger who posted the story, she was having breakfast in an Islamabad restaurant when a 'military looking' American pulled out a chair to sit at a nearby table. In doing so, he accidentally bumped against her chair, but failed to apologise.
This angered the journalist so much that when she got up to leave, she deliberately 'rammed' her chair against his. In the altercation that followed, she said “President Zardari can't protect you everywhere”. I must confess that I was so appalled by the sheer pettiness evident in her rant that I pretty much switched off towards the end. When a young man tried to intervene to spare everybody the excruciating embarrassment others must have felt at her behaviour, she rounded on him and called him “a burger boy.” As I know her, I sincerely hope she was misquoted in the forum; if so, I apologise in advance as I have no problem saying “sorry” if I'm wrong.
I suppose she thought she was taking a nationalistic stand against an arrogant foreigner. But the truth is that she was just confirming the view others have about us as rude, prickly people walking about with a chip on our shoulder. Sadly, I'm sure many of her readers on the forum probably thought she did the right thing.
In England, I am often asked why people from the Subcontinent hardly ever say “please” and “thank you” in shops and restaurants. Of course this question is put very gingerly and with profound apologies lest I take offence. And it's true that all too often, desis demand service as a right, and feel no thanks are necessary as they have paid the sticker price.
This is an attitude all too familiar here in Pakistan, and I suspect it's widespread throughout South Asia. In a class and caste-ridden society, those higher up the social ladder feel they have no need to say “please” and “thank you” to mere servants. After all, they are paid to do a job, and don't have to be requested or thanked. Simple orders will do. And when they move to the west, they carry this mindset with them.
Of course, England is also deeply divided by class, but there, educated, middle-class people have an ingrained politeness based on old notions of 'noblesse oblige', or the obligations of the well-born. So while outward expressions of gratitude or repeated apologies might figure prominently in daily discourse, it does not necessarily reflect any sincere sentiments. Nevertheless, it does provide a pleasant attempt to pretend everybody is equal.
One of my pet peeves in Pakistan is the way spoilt brats of seven or eight sit before their TV sets and yell out to servants for a glass of water. My instinct is to plant a boot on their backsides and tell them to get it themselves. But I grit my teeth, and smile insincerely at the little horrors.
So why is politeness important? In our daily interaction with people, there are lots of areas where small misunderstandings could lead to abrasiveness or worse. So a soothing word here and there can's hurt. Above all, politeness is free, so why not be generous with it?
Returning to Shahid Afridi, let me just remind him that he has a lot to apologise for, and not just to the cricket board. Remember that incident in Faisalabad when he tried to rough up the pitch with his heel when there was an explosion nearby, and he thought everybody was distracted? Then there was the bizarre episode in Australia when he was caught on camera with the seam between his teeth, trying to alter the surface of the ball. And then, of course, there are the countless times he has thrown his wicket away, playing to the gallery.
So if he won't apologise to the BCCP, he ought to say sorry to the country for his numerous errors of omission and commission. And for all the entertainment he has provided, we might even forgive him.