Regrettably, and not for the first time, I have spent most of my Christmas holidays visiting the hospital. And being a great believer in letting out anything that is playing on your mind rather than letting it gnaw away at you on the inside, I will use this column to air a grievance that sadly appears, to me at any rate, to be linked to a cultural phenomenon of a general lack of courtesy and consideration for those around you.
But before I get my teeth into that, let me just reiterate a sentiment that I have expressed before in this column, and that is the sterling work being done by staff in the Catalan health system. I have always found the admin staff, nurses and doctors in Catalan hospitals to be very professional and more than worthy of our respect for the incredibly difficult jobs they do dealing with members of the public who are generally either ill, anxious or otherwise suffering and therefore not the easiest to have the necessary patience with. Sadly for me and my family, these holidays have been spent visiting the oncology department, obviously the most challenging of workplaces, and the nurses there generally do an exceptional job.
So what’s my gripe this time? Well, a lack of courtesy and consideration, specifically in relation to the public use of smartphones. I mean seriously, what I’ve witnessed in the hospital waiting room and even in the shared room of the person I’ve been visiting these days has been staggering. People playing videos or having conversations with the speakerphone on without any earphones so that everyone around has to listen to it. Now, let’s be clear here, due to the smartphone culture we are immersed in, this is a phenomenon found everywhere nowadays, and I have often been subjected to teenagers in the UK playing their music loudly on trains in what I call a “look at me mother” statement of defiance to the world. But that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s a conscious attempt to annoy people as an expression of rebellion, and a lot of teenagers must go through that until they learn better about being part of a community. What I’m talking about here is adults, and often older adults, seemingly unaware that the noise emanating from their smartphone, be it a noisy homemade Christmas video, a music video, or even the voice of the other caller on speakerphone, is being heard by all around them.
The cultural element of this is the obliviousness. I was raised in a world where you were taught to be courteous and considerate of those around you, and I’ve previously lived in cultures - the UK, the US, Germany, Japan - where such manners were also valued and perpetuated by generation after generation (if you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ll know how exaggeratedly considerate they are of other people, almost farcically so in comparison with other cultures).
I’ve often used this column to praise the many positive things about living here; what would make it even better would be a bit more courtesy and consideration, in my opinion. There, I feel a bit better now.