A “gentleman” sitting opposite me this morning on a crowded London-bound train (thanks to signal failure, what a co-incidence, at the end of the May bank holiday) made a singularly revolting noise by sniffing. A few moments later he repeated the offence. A lady sitting close to him then plucked up the courage and pointed out that she was upset and disgusted by it. His response was the fairly typical “if you don’t like it why don’t you change carriages?”. Here, she let herself down through lack of preparation. Instead of pointing out that she had every right to sit wherever she chose, and was causing no offence to him, she rather lamely (no pun intended) said she had a bad leg. To which he muttered something about his own lower limb impediments and the matter dropped.
I looked up during the this exchange, noted that everyone else in the carriage was intently studying their newspapers (whilst earwigging at full stretch) and contemplated the simple lesson, dunned into us weekly through the popular BBC programme “The Apprentice” – Fail to plan and you plan to fail.
You cannot launch into a potential fusillade of contumely against a fellow passenger without a plan for the main contingencies of the insultee’s response. Forethought is essential. Had he said “Nobody else is complaining” she should have shot him down with “Nobody else has had the guts, so far”. To a plaintive “I can’t help it” she could have resorted to a matronly “Use a handkerchief young man”. Should he take a line from Mel Brooks and in a cod-German accent plead “My papers are in order, why are you persecuting me?” she must be hard and to the point “You are breaching the fundamental rules of etiquette, citizen”, with a veiled hint of Judge Dredd–type retribution to follow.
Of course it is easy to be wise after the event. I certainly am.
BTW, the title of this piece is based on a chapter in the book “The Six Days War” written by Randolph and Winston Churchill (jr) in 1967. Referring to Israeli patrol boat actions in the Mediterranean, it was titled “A Naval Impertinence”.