Saturday, April 30, 2011

Manners Maketh Mate

The worst aspect of David Cameron's calm down, dear was that it showed, once again, that politicians are best not trying to be funny. Unless they are plainly mad and have a gift for the comedic, a la Boris, they should zip attempts at gags. Cameron has come across as a buffoon; Eton boy tries to be populist by quoting an irascible old buffer and fails miserably.

It was the use of "dear" that exercised the indignation of those to the left and of a strident feminist persuasion. The dear salutation is as patronising as always prefixing "feminist" with strident or ardent. A feminist is never anything else.

I can sympathise, though. "Dear" or "love" is an expression of familiarity with an archaic quality that sounds out of place in a house of respect. It can sound out of place elsewhere and so can other familiarities of address.

Take "mate" for example. I mate, you mate (assuming you're a bloke), we all mate together. Well actually, I do and I don't mate. If someone is a mate, then I probably do. Otherwise, I tend only to mate if I am being condescending. Yet mate has become a sort of lingua franca of address. Everyone is a mate, especially in Mallorca and Mallorca's Brit bars.

Lingua franca isn't strictly accurate. Mate is more lingua antipodeana. Ricky Ponting and the inhabitants of Ramsay Street have much to answer for. They have mated spoken English and, in the process, have created an entire mode of intonation; what Rory McGrath memorably dubbed as the "moronic interrogative", the upward inflection of Neighbours-speak.

Ok, mate goes back much further, but it has now assumed a position of common expression that was once reserved for something less familiar, such as "sir". So used am I, in daily Mallorcan routine, to being mated that I was once hugely taken aback when two youthful gentlemen of bellydom and their respective Kylies sidled up to me and one enquired as to the whereabouts of the nearest bank. It wasn't the question that threw me but the fact that he said, "Excuse me, sir". I suppose he could have been taking the piss, and in case he had been I did somewhat relish being able to point to the building next to which we were standing. A CAM bank.

And mate is not solely an expression for those who have passed into adolescence or adulthood. In one particular bar, which for the sake of bringing down the wrath of the work inspectorate I shall not name, a child was once let loose on serving. "What would you like, mate?" he enquired, all ten years of him.

This familiarity might be said to be indicative of a loosening of the formality of expression. To some extent, it is not unwelcome, and other languages have similarly become less rigid. Once upon a time, the hugely formal Spanish were that stiff that a child might be expected to refer to papa as "usted" and not with the familiar "tú".

When I first arrived in Mallorca, my gestor addressed me by my surname, which was very nice of him, but as I was calling him by his first name, it seemed an inequitable relationship, while I explained to him that it was now pretty uncommon to do the Mister etc. routine. Even the Germans have started to relax, the younger generation having come to recognise quite how absurd it is to have so-called "duzen" parties at which people who might have known each other for years get together to break the ice of "Sie" and replace it with "du".

Though mate is, for me, a matter of selectivity, I can appreciate its prevalence. Of course I can. It may not be my preferred expression of address, but for others it is. The owner (Jamie) of a favoured breakfasting hole (Foxes) mates all the time and has to endure my referring to him as "landlord". And I'm not being holier than thou. I have my own term, one which, in terms of locating it linguistically, probably comes from slightly west of Walthamstow. I use it for women and it is a hybrid of "doll" and "darling" that comes out as though I were ordering something off an Indian restaurant menu. "Dal".

So, though I personally would eschew a Cameron-esque "dear" and might be a reluctant mater, I am not averse to the use of the familiar. Manners might require that we do not mate but sir, but now manners maketh mates and not (gentle)men.

Any comments to please.

Index for April 2011
Albufera at night - 10 April 2011
Alcúdia's mayoral candidates - 16 April 2011
Allergies - 13 April 2011
All-inclusives, First Choice and - 11 April 2011
Alternative per Pollença - 14 April 2011
Balcony-diving - 26 April 2011
Bank credit, bars/car-hire agencies and - 6 April 2011
Bicipalma and promotion in Catalan/Spanish - 4 April 2011
Books - 25 April 2011
Building and population in Mallorca - 18 April 2011
Cappuccino - 9 April 2011
Catalan, promotion of - 12 April 2011
Design - 29 April 2011
El Clásico - 28 April 2011
Electric vehicles - 22 April 2011
Familiarity, terms of - 30 April 2011
Magalluf - 5 April 2011
Mallorca-ism - 7 April 2011
Mayors in Mallorca - 2 April 2011
Motorbiking tourism - 20 April 2011
Naffness, resort - 23 April 2011
Palma Aquarium - 15 April 2011
Pedro Iriondo, Fomento del Turismo - 8 April 2011
Quality tourists - 17 April 2011
Royal wedding - 27 April 2011
Santa Maria Rural Mallorca tour - 3 April 2011
Swimming-pools - 1 April 2011
Teams - 21 April 2011
Weather snobbery - 24 April 2011
YouTube promotional videos - 19 April 2011

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