I do not know about other people but personally, I always take an upper berth in the compartment, when traveling by train. Simply because I do not like when some strangers sit on my bed. And fellow travelers often like to sit on the lower berths because that is where they eat, drink tea and chatter with each other. So taking a lower berth basically means to voluntarily share it with someone else. And this “someone” is not always a blue-eyed third-year female student who is eager to speak about literature. So, again, that is the reason why I always prefer a top berth in the train.
In the first twenty seconds, I unfold the bedclothes, throw my belongings onto the berth, wish my fellow travelers a pleasant trip, climb up, take a book, and – arrivederci. Meanwhile, a young couple enters our train compartment. There is a lovely slim girl and guy whose long beard looks so unnatural it seems to have been glued to his young face. They do not waste time as well and start to unfold their bedclothes right away. Once the train starts off the last passenger comes into the compartment. It is a good-looking man of the advanced years in an elegant hat and a slightly wrinkled coat. Everything in his appearance points out that he is an intellectual, for he has a wealthy, successful and a bit careless look.
The man greets us with a voice all radio stations of the world could fight for and suddenly does something that makes my heart sink. He takes off his hat, bows, takes the girl’s hand and kisses it.
‘A hand-kiss,’ he adds solemnly.
At this point I am already putting my book aside, getting ready to get off my berth to protect this handsome man. For he is going to have a hard time. He will get a slap in the face at a minimum. Not from the bearded guy, of course, such guys are not capable of anything. He will be hit by a lady. Because how is it possible in 2018, in the 21st century, to kiss the girl’s hand? What a stupid sexism! What a terrible frivolity of a caveman!
Six years ago a nice-looking lady almost clobbered me simply because I stopped at the door of the Warsaw Railway Station, letting her go first.
‘What do you think you are doing! You don’t have to pass me, I can do everything myself!’
Honestly, it made me feel a little uncomfortable. Because I was thinking my own thoughts, and I slowed down mechanically out of an old habit because that is how I was taught. It was not flirting, God forbid. I did so only because that was the way a man had to behave when I was young. Just as it must have been nice to kiss a lady’s hand when the elderly man was young.
I would love to kiss hands myself, but for some reason, I always thought that this was the prerogative of men in the advanced age. When, for instance, Bogdan Zadura, my favourite Polish poet and my favorite Pole in general, gets acquainted with a woman, he always bows and kisses her hand. He does it with ease and it looks beautiful in an old-fashioned way. He is 73, and I doubt that his actions are a manifestation of flirt or sexism. It is just a level of culture and a set of good manners, which were once considered a good tone.
As for me, I do not kiss hands, because it would look a little funny. Or somebody can think I am showing off. But when I spread my hand for a modern handshake to older women, they often look at me like modern feminists look at those who try to kiss their hands. They look at me like I am an idiot.
The thing is that there are always several acceptable patterns of behavior and good manners coexisting simultaneously within one epoch. And idiots are only those who condemn those who do not behave the way they want them to. It is some kind of a Soviet trait: to want everyone to think and do the same. It is an attempt to level everybody. It seems to me that diversity is always better and more productive than uniformity. Homogeneity is gray. Nobody has to march in a lockstep. Allow people to be different. To be natural!
When Atatürk introduced the Latin alphabet in Turkey, a large part of the population became illiterate. Older people simply could not acquire a new writing system. I suppose that modern radicals should remember that time is not linear, and in the 21st century, we live with people who were born and raised in other circumstances and cultural codes. Do not try to re-educate them. Do not build concentration camps for them. Let them kiss hands.
The elderly gentleman goes to the vestibule, the unobtrusive smell of his perfume still lingering in the compartment.
‘Why aren’t there any men with such manners nowadays? It is so beautiful!” the girl asks her boyfriend. But he only waves his buffoon beard, without understanding anything.
And I return to my book, contented by the thought that our world is not yet completely lost.