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The National Rifle and Etiquette Association On:2007-02-17 06:00:24

I was at the office the other day, and I was working away merrily (...well at any rate I was working away) with a colleague towards the end of the day, when suddenly looking up I noticed that it was the end of the day and that all our other colleagues had gone home.
And we were alone.

Our co-workers hadn’t called out “Ta-ta for now!” as we might in England, or “Farewell!” or “Auf Wiedersehen!” or “Ciao!” or anything; not even "Hey!" nor (even evener) as they reply when I leave before them and initiate things with a cheerful cry of "Cheerio!"

They had just softly and silently vanished away, for the staff was American you see. Now it wasn’t that they were being rude or anything, (at least I don’t think it was that they were being rude or anything)---Americans just tend to be lot more casual in these things than other folks. And of course I now have to point out, as a base-line reference point, that in England we are rather more formal about these things: we’d have let you know we were leaving, in a reasonable and restrained manner, so would the Germans and even Italians, though of course in France they’d take it to ridiculous extremes; there before leaving the guys’d have gone round shaking hands with all the women and kissing all the men.
But not Americans.

Not with colleagues. Nor even with friends.

You see (and here is the interesting and essay-worthy point) the thing is that the Americans are more casual in their etiquette with the people they know well---however with complete strangers they are quite different. With strangers (and the completer and the stranger the better for this behaviour to appear) they are all respectful-being and have-a-nice-daying and even Sir-an’-Ma’mming and generally jest-friendly-‘Mericanning away like, well like... like nymphomaniacs embracing some sort of desperate displacement therapy for all they are worth!

My theory for this discrepancy between throw-away private manners and kow-towiness in public is a simple one---well at least the public half is simple; it’s all down to the NRA. You see (and I hope I’m not going to get into trouble for revealing this) you see, like one of Eliot’s Practical Cats, the National Rifle Association has, in addition to its practical everyday name, a secret Name: ineffable, deep, inscrutable, and of course singular, it’s secret real Name! And that Name is The National Rifle and Etiquette Association!

Let me elaborate: you see back in 1791 when there was a lot less difference between the sort of weapons owned by individuals and the sort owned by governments (the extreme being say between a cannon and a flintlock) than we are now used to (say between a MIRVed nuclear missile and a Saturday Night special); back then it was thus so much easier to switch between being a farmer (say) and a member of a well regulated militia, since you could use your own weapon or one extremely similar to it and afterwards you could probably take your arms away with you to use in your quotidian farmer-related activities (your legs too if you were lucky): and so, back then, when your government were getting all Billish and of-Righty, they started a process that has to date ended up with the amazing statistic (amazing to me even down here in Texas) that there is now approximately one gun for every single American1! If you couple that with the, one assumes, totally independent and unrelated statistic that somewhere about 30,000 people are killed each year and another 60,000 injured by those guns2; you start to get the vaguest hint at why people might have just the slightest tendency to be a little bit careful in their treatment of strangers.
Not only is it the reason for all that general public deference, but it gives me a bloody good idea for a t-shirt:

Now that there is approximately one gun for every single person in America...
What I want to know is who the hell's got mine?

Of course none of this really explains why the buggers won’t say goodbye to me---unless they know that they’re safe to be rude to me because they’re the ones who have got my gun!

Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton


1 “The US public holds about 230,000,000–280,000,000 guns—at least one out of every three guns in the world, and nearly one gun per person in the United States” according to the Small Arms Survey’s Occasional Paper No. 19 (Pdf 1.7 MB) A Guide to the US Small Arms Market, Industry, and Exports, 1998–2004, by Tamar Gabelnick, Maria Haug, and Lora Lumpe, September 2006. Page 77

2 According to the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control website

Year Fatal Non-fatal Population
2004 29,569 64,389 293,656,842
2003 30,136 65,834 290,850,005
2002 30,242 58,841 287,984,799

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