Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Manners

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Manners

Article excerpt

New York

As some of you may have heard, the Big Bagel is going through a period of grace. Civility is in, crass expletives, bluster and intimidation are out, out, out. Mayor Giuliani - no friend of `High life' - is taking most of the credit, a credit which I reluctantly agree he deserves. Even better, crime is down, the Bagel being the beneficiary of a clear national downward trend.

It wasn't so long ago that the old joke `Pardon me, sir, can you tell me the way to Times Square, or shall I just go and fmyself?' was the city's ethic. People were mugged in broad daylight, municipal policies were decided by the ability of one ethnic group to outshout the other, accusations of racism against officials earned the accuser a place at the decisionmaking table, and rabble-rousers staged riots at the drop of a yarmulke.

No longer. Rudi has done a good job by refusing to be intimidated by the bullhorns. The last two Bagel mayors were disasters. Ed Koch was a primadonna, more concerned with headlines and appearing on television than running a city smouldering with race problems. David Dinkins, the first black mayor, and a very civil man in private, was even worse. He did little but play tennis, and was responsible for one of the worst riots in Bagel history when he sat back and watched while blacks and Orthodox Jews went at each other in Crown Heights.

Rudi wants all Noo Yawkers to be civil to each other, because, as everyone knows, when manners disappear society disintegrates. This is easier said than done. First of all, there are no more ladies and gentlemen in America, only men and women. The `aristocracy of everyone', however, simply doesn't work. Quality of life cannot be codified and legislated, as the mayor seems to believe. It certainly cannot be enforced. People learn to act in a civilised manner by aping their superiors.

Needless to say, superiors nowadays are a no-no. There is superior money, c'est tout. Mind you, the city was created to make money. When Rudi cited Plato's concept of reaching for the ideal, the greedy ones reached for higher end-of-year bonuses, and to hell with that dumb-dead Greek.

Be that as it may, New York remains a mosaic ready to explode. What is amazing is how long the truce has held. …

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