I love that British phrase “I was dragged up, not brought up.” I love words that end in -ag, they’re so forceful and slovenly: slag, hag, fag, shag, bag, dag, nag… and then that idea of being dragged up. You imagine a skinny woman in tight white jeans and bleached blonde hair, pushing one baby along in a Kinderwagen and pulling one toddler along behind her as she walks down a busy British high street with stilettos on. It’s a romantic phrase. A glamorous one.
“Other men haven’t been brought up as well as me,” says my German friend Marc. “I was brought up really well. I always open doors for women, help them get down from trains.”
It’s true, Marc always helps you out a train. Not an S-Bahn, but a regional one. It can be quite useful if you’re really wobbly on your feet.
“Yeah?” I say.
“I just have really good manners,” he says proudly.
I love it when Germans are proud of their manners. They’re really sweet and unsubtle about it. They just wander about, announcing proudly that they have good manners and other people don’t. I love it.
“Some women think it’s sexist when men open doors for them.”
Marc looks at me blankly.
“You mean lesbians?”
I bite my lip. I should probably challenge him on this, I think, as it might be quite lesbenfeindlich, but then again I do think most of my lesbian friends would think Marc was a bit of a dick if he opened a door open for them.
“Not just lesbians,” I say. “Feminists.”
“Oh,” he says airily. “You mean a tiny, tiny percentage of really hardcore man-hating feminists, right?”
“No,” I say. “Like I’d say about 40 percent of slightly feminist women under thirty would think you were a bit weird for holding a door open for them. They might not say it, but they’d think you were sexist.”
“Sexist?” Marc shouts. “How is it sexist? I treat men with respect, I treat women with respect! I just treat them with respect differently.”
I dunno. I think in a world of Oskar Pistorius and Paddy Power, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and those prostitutes in India who get peed in, there are worse things men do to women than holding doors open for them or walking behind them up the stairs – although I always suspect the stairs rule is not really so they can catch you if you tumble down, but just so they can check out your arse. I really don’t think men trying to be gentlemen is the worst thing women can have happen to them in this world. BUT: I probably would get angrier about it if I had been brought up, and not dragged up. The truth is, I probably don’t even notice half the gentlemanly stuff people do for me. There are some serious advantages to having bad manners.