By Harry de Quetteville of the Daily Telegraph

Every so often in the UK you meet some poor soul who has lost touch with reality and says something totally unhinged like: "Wouldn't it be nice if we all just talked to each other on the Tube?"

Or bus, or whatever form of overcrowded public transport you have to endure.

My instinctive reaction is to shout: "Have you completely lost your mind?" and run screaming for safety.


But because I am British, I don't. Instead I smile wanly and try politely to ignore whoever it is by looking distractedly into the middle distance.

That's rudeness British style - staring distractedly into the middle distance.

Of course if I were French in more than name, I would make my utter disdain wholly apparent, scowling and performing the miserable reverse nod (start low, end high) which - when combined with a muttered "pah!" - signals unalloyed contempt.

And why not! Is there not nobility in making one's feelings plain rather than skulking away freighted with unspoken loathing?

A bit like Guillaume Rey, the French waiter who is taking a Canadian restaurant to court after being fired for being rude.

His defence is that French culture "tends to be more direct and expressive".

It's a great idea, Guillaume. We could all wear labels on our clothes, like bumper stickers.

Parisians could have: "I'm not rude, I'm just French"; we Brits could go for: "When I said 'Yes' I obviously meant 'No"'; North Americans could have: "Honestly, do have a great day."


Because I need to know something about all that North American good humour - all that relentless, "You have a good day now", "How's everything going here?"; all those constant sunny, optimistic interjections.

Are they real or are they fake?

To a British man it just seems inconceivable that they could be real. Is it possible that a whole society can exist in such a thermonuclear chain reaction of goodwill?

Surely, I think, it will go critical at any moment, and someone required to ask after my wellbeing for the 485th time in 28 minutes will break down sobbing and admit that frankly, my dear, they just don't give a damn.

Which is just fine. Don't worry. It's the natural order of things.

Can there be a more annoying phenomenon that waiters incessantly asking "How is your meal?"

No such problem with M Rey. Instead, you would be waving at him frantically for half an hour, until he finally deigned to stop ignoring you.

Then, after you bashfully point out the swarming, pullulating colony of flies in your soup, he would shrug: "Eh alors?!" and turn his back. And you would feel small and tip him too much to try and win him over. Because you are British.

The truth is that no one really wants to know if the food is terrible. That's why the faux-smiley waiters always arrive when you are halfway through your first mouthful.

All you can do is nod, silently, try to locate the molar dislodged by their rock-hard risotto, and hope against hope that you and your companions might be left in peace for five sodding minutes.

Is there not a middle way between over-caring and outright effrontery?

How about smiling wanly and staring into the middle distance?

It's time the world recognised our way of doing things is not emotionally stunted.

It's emotionally small but perfectly formed.