Discretion

Private sign on brick wall

The British have a reputation for discretion - the 'quiet word in your ear', the whispered aside, the mask of disinterest. In the days when life was lived in front of a flock of servants, there was an absolute expectation that the household staff would observe their employers' comings and goings with complete sang-froid.

But discretion, once considered a great British virtue, is under threat. The barriers between public and private worlds are breaking down, and the public has a voracious appetite for television and news stories that lay lives bare, revealing every detail from embarrassing bodies to sexual pecadillos.

The merging of public and private worlds is also evident in the way that some people act when they are in public. There is a marked refusal to recognise that a mobile phone conversation, when it is held in a public place, is public property. However unwillingly, people around you are forced to become eavesdroppers, and may find themselves listening to hair-raising revelations and embarassingly frank discussions.

Take a leaf out of the book of the traditional English butler, and make a virtue of discretion. Keep your public mobile phone calls (eg in a train carriage) bland and brief. Avoid discussing the following: sex, bodily functions, illness and operations. Don't have full-blooded rows. Don't swear. Look around you - do you really want that elderly lady or small child to hear what you're saying?

 

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