Monday, November 8, 2010

First greeting

“How do you do?” 

A famous delightful line uttered by the enchanting Eliza Doolittle in the Ascot scene in the musical “My Fair Lady”. It is a very gracious way of introducing oneself, is it not? A universal common greeting but if proclaimed in another language the phrase, I think, tends to loose that air of affability that graces its delivery in English.

The bastardised South African version of “How’s it?” looses that delicate English finesse. And the Zulu greeting of, “Gungani Baba.” although slightly better still does not sit well in the mouth or convey that intrinsic pleasant tonal ring of, “How do you do?”

As for the German,“Wie machen Sie?” and the Polish, “Jak sie masz?” Enough said. Maybe the French, “ Comment faites-vous ?” and the Italian, “Come lei fa?” get closer, but then with the Frogs, and especially the Italians they’re probably eyeing up your private parts whilst uttering the greeting.

No. Stick to the English!

That’s been my motto through my years of travels. It lets people know where you stand, and the greeting, if delivered in the correct, polite and gracious manner, conveys a touch of conviviality.

If you, as I often do, give a thought to the number of times you have uttered this phrase then I’m sure you’d agree that you would consider consulting a theoretical particle physicist or an actuarial scientist.

Why, you ask?

Well with the use of such brilliant boffins one could possibly work out the probable financial gains one may have accrued had one managed to follow the relationship through after this initial greeting.

In this day and age of global communication via the Internet the solution of whatever algerbraic equation, should the boffins manage to conjure one up, must be heading exponentially to infinity.

So that means there’s money in it and that means that the idea is worth exploring.

But the problem I’ve always had is that after this initial introduction, the next inane question I have always been asked by the civilian I have had the misfortune of being introduced to usually is, “So, how do you learn your lines?”

My responses to this infuriating question have been many. The first that springs to mind is, “The same way you wipe your arse.”

You can imagine this reply, coupled with my laconic delivery, has had me escorted off the premises of many grandoise establishments.

Having this gift, well that’s what I call it, of improvisational repartee is common amongst many of our trade, but not all you’ll be pleased to hear.

My talent in this area of communication has been finely tuned from years of experience gained from mixing with the rich and famous, and the lavatory cleaners who service the underground toilets at Piccadilly Circus tube station in London.

I would like you to note that I have learnt more about the art of impromptu communication from those lavatorial cleaners, than I did from the rich and famous, with a few exceptions. The late Princess Margaret being one. A damm fine tongue for the taste of gin that one. She was always able to advise as to the right proportion of bitters with which to encircle your glass to ensure you were served the perfect pink-gin.

I digress.

I have always found that the lower echelons of society, especially my lavatory cleaners, seem to possess a greater freedom of expression, and were always more eager to let you know what was troubling them. This over-exuberance can be illustrated if I tell you about a one-time request made to a bank manger and a lavatory cleaner on the subject of a small loan.

I was in need, as I always am, of a minimal cash floatation.

Mr. Bum–Slider–Pants was his normal courteous self, and we had completed the normal formal greeting. I was asked to take a seat in the minute chair facing him across his huge oak desk. This was in the grand old days of banking when you met your manager face to face to discuss the delicate matters of your cash flow problems. 

Not like today, when you are confronted by a spotty-faced juvenile delinquent just out of his or her nappies, who is glued to their computer screen. I believe it was called “the personal touch”.

Mr. Bum–Slider and I had had many years of “the personal touch”, concerned mostly about my financial needs, and he was fully aware of the intransigence of my income earning ability. He also greatly appreciated the opening night tickets that I was able to offer him. This was still in the days of regular theatrical attendance, and he and his wife, Eucelia, a keen furniture polisher, used to revel in the foyer small talk. They would handle their interval dry sherries as if they were some exotic Caribbean cocktail.

At this particular meeting I was in dire straits. Both the larder and my “Toddie” had been empty for some time, and although I had been shorted listed for five international TV commercials in as many weeks there was no cash on the foreseeable horizon. All my normal ports of call at the local hostelries had run dry, in fact I was barred from three of them. So, as much as I hated going on bended-knees, I thought Mr. Bum–Slider was a better option than my Piccadilly lav-cleaners.

How wrong I was proved to be.

Before I move on I’d like to side-step for a minute or two, and return to the perfunctory issues that are involved whilst one is uttering that opening gambit. Especially in the western world a handshake is the normal physical action that accompanies the greeting. And a fine civilised custom it is too. This gentlemanly gesture is way ahead of the far more self-effacing and grotesque Russian and Slavic bear-hug. And is certainly more stately than the Far-Eastern and African nod of the head, and downward glance and humiliating bow. At least with this firm nominal action, and a solid eye contact you are placing yourself on a more equal footing, even though you may be in the basement when it comes to social standing.

Seated in the Spanish Inquistion’s chair, as Mr. Bum-Slider called it, I knew I was in for the usual cross-examination about my financial affairs, and I had duly rehearsed my expected-for dialogue. But the crafty old chair-seat-polisher sprung a fast one on me. I had just completed a run playing the lead in Shakespeare’s Richard the Third. Hamlet is William’s longest play but Richard the Third is the character to whom he has given the most lines of dialogue. And as he had asked many times before how I learnt my lines, I was thrown completely off balance when he said, “So, did you learn your lines for that one?”

Foolishly I replied, “The same way I’ll ram Richard’s crutches up you arse if you don’t increase my overdraft facility!”

That was the last time I did business with Mr. Bum-Slider and his bank or any other bank.

With my lavatorial cleaners however I had a far more positive response. “There’s no way you could lend me a couple of hundred, is there?”

They replied almost in choral unison like something from a Greek tragedy, “Sure Cess, no problem. But what sort of interest are you offering?

I’ll buy you all a new brush when my ship comes in!”

A peal of laughter echoed, bouncing off the bleach cleaned shining tiles.

A quick hand shake and the deal was done.

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