Wendyl Nissen
Wendyl Nissen on being 'The Supportive Wife'

Wendyl Nissen: Manners make the man


It's not often that I carry large boxes along Auckland's Ponsonby Rd. I try to avoid it at all costs, especially when I'm heading out for lunch.

But this day was different. It was decided by committee (my husband) that as I was going to lunch right across the road from the shop where the box had to go, I might as well drop it off.

Which is why I was stuck holding a box weighing a tonne while trying to talk to some young men friends who were dining on the pavement, as you do in Ponsonby.

I was obviously in a bit of distress, trying to be coherent and hold the box at the same time. "Heavy box," I shouted, just in case the three sturdy types failed to notice.

They chuckled in sympathy and continued to eat their lunch.

"Gosh, love to stay and chat but ... heavy box!" I tried again. They continued to eat their lunch and waved bye-bye.

It wasn't until I finally dropped the box while attempting to cross the road that I realised that had my young male friends been my age, they would have stood up and offered to relieve me of my burden.

"Here, let me take that for you," one of them would have said, leaping out of his chair.

"No, let me," the other would have said.

"No, I insist, now which shop does it need to go to? Leave it to me, old girl. Finish my wine while I'm gone," the one closest would have added, grabbing the box from me while pulling out a chair and inviting me to take a load off.

But these young men didn't because their generation seems to have taken feminism literally and decided to treat women as equals - and I'm not sure I like it.

I remember a time when it was very fashionable for a young, go-getter, feminist-type girl to shout: "I can open my own car door, thank you," to any man foolish enough to treat her as a weaker species.

I can also remember walking with my father and wondering why he kept weaving across me and swapping sides so that he would be the one next to the road.

At first I thought he had developed one of those OCD conditions where you can't walk on pavement cracks, but he explained that he was protecting me from getting wet as a result of horse-and-cart wheels splashing me with muddy water and horse shit.

"Dad, it's the 1980s, we don't have carts and puddles any more," I explained carefully.

"Yes, but it's polite."

He still does it to this day. He also opens car doors, uses cotton handkerchiefs, stands up when women enter the room and offers them his seat.

So patronising.

But not. It didn't take me long to discover during my femi-nazi phase that the men who bothered to open doors and offer seats had other qualities which were becoming increasingly hard to find - such as not licking their knife while eating, wearing shoes to family functions and, most importantly, remembering to fill your wine glass before their own.

Generally, car-door-openers were reliably well brought up, which is why I married a car-door-opener who, in 2010, is a rare beast indeed. Several times he has opened the door to a taxi for me, ushered me in and been left behind on the street as the taxi has driven off.

My young friends are some of the nicest men I know, just not into holding boxes.

"They probably thought you'd be offended," my husband offered by way of explanation. "You are somewhat of a mother figure for them, after all."

"Let's not be ageist," I warned him.

Which made me wonder if we might have forgotten, in these enlightened ages, to teach our own sons, now grown men, about cart wheels, horse shit, footwear and boxes.

"I can't remember either of them ever opening a door for me," I grumbled.

"Why don't you stand around the kitchen holding a heavy box and moaning and see what happens," my husband suggested.

But before I had a chance, I simply tripped over and was delighted to see my son leap to my aid. "Ah, he does have manners," I reassured myself.

But as I dusted myself off, my son said: "I guess that's the first of your old-lady falls."

- Herald on Sunday

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