I remember a story, where a prospective suitor for the hand of a lady was invited to dinner at the latter’s home, to be judged by the matriarchs of the family, on how he consumed his meal. To many in our environment, the story may appear old fashioned and nonsensical, but the ‘eating test’ appears perfectly apt, when viewed with reference to the behavior of guests at weddings and other events. The ‘stampede’ usually following the announcement that buffet has been served, is only part of the decline in civilized behavior that hallmarks our society, wherein we appear to have forsaken dignified behavior that formed an essential part of our elder’s lifestyle, two generations ago. Social scientists attribute this decline to education, which is bereft of character building; incompetency of teachers and the callous lack of parental upbringing.

There was a time when the world was envious of the courtesy and norms that prevailed in the Sub Continent, recorded faithfully in the rivalry between Delhi and Lukhnow. In areas that now form Pakistan, all ethnic cultures also showcased their respective brands of hospitality and good manners with dignity and pride. History is witness to the fact that at the time when barbaric tribes roamed the European and American landmass, our part of the world was the seat of civilizations such as Gandhara - regretfully, these barbarians were quick to learn and then overtake us.

Recently while shopping in a large grocery store, I was appalled when one of the employees carelessly tossed a bunch of keys that missed the recipient and hit a customer smack in the middle of the face. Not a single word of apology was uttered by the culprits concerned, nor was any remorse visible in their demeanor.

Prospective shoppers in stores are increasingly confronted by ‘couldn’t-careless’ attitudes as sales people continue to be absorbed in their cell phones, oblivious of surroundings and the fact that a customer is waiting to be attended. In one such encounter, when ticked off by an elderly lady, the salesman turned ugly and retorted that “he was busy and in any case the complainant had not descended from heaven”.

Government departments responsible to provide services to citizens are a glaring example of rude – almost arrogant behavior. Take for example a visit to the WAPDA office for getting a wrong redressed – first the Sahib (a gift from our colonial past) is liable to keep you waiting and then on gaining admittance into his presence will display body language as if you have encroached upon his valuable time. A similar and altogether familiar scene can be witnessed in all public offices by officials, paid from our hard earned incomes.

The words “please” and “thank you” have disappeared from our dictionary as we interact with one another on daily basis. If only we could learn to utter four simple words i.e. “Have a nice day”, when interacting with strangers, this world would be brighter and happier place. I know this to be true as I learned to do this the hard way.

Rummaging around a small antique shop located right across the road from the central train station in Frankfurt, I tripped and fell against a rack containing small figurines. I was horrified, when I saw that the impact had dislodged two of the ceramic statuettes, which now lay shattered on the floor. My embarrassment and shame must have been very apparent to the elderly gentleman behind the counter, for he came forward with a benign smile, helped me up assuring me that the accident was not my fault and I need not worry about damages. My respect for the man was compounded, when he bid me goodbye with the words, “Bless you and have a nice day”. Throughout my train journey to the airport, I sat in a state of deep thought and the fact that I have not forgotten the incident is proof enough of the long term effect it had on me.

If only we could sit back and through introspection, locate the qualities of head and heart that made our forefathers great, we would once again be counted as a nation worthy of respect and not a people, the mention of whose nationality, generates looks from immigration staff at international airports.

The writer is a freelance columnist.