The Platinum Rule

I love the Financial Times Weekend edition – it\’s almost Celeb-free, it has excellent arts coverage and it has Tyler Brule\’s column.
Admittedly, for a long time I assumed that the magnificently spoilt, arrogant and picky Tyler was one of those amusingly exaggerated fictional characters that clever old satirists invent.
Then I discovered that there actually is a style magazine called Monocle and that Tyler Brule is, presumably, real. Or realish. I was gobsmacked. Of course, his wittily preening columns immediately became even funnier.
A few weeks ago he got himself into an entire column\’s worth of  hilarious passive aggressive tizzy when some dreadful woman stopped him getting to the treadmill at a gymn by digging in her bag and texting on her Blackberry… For a whole ten minutes!
This weekend, he was having a moan about the general charmlessness of modern First Class life – especially airlines and luxury hotels. The poor love had actually had to drink cranberry juice out of a plastic tumbler on a plane.
And yet he\’s right. Modern life is generally charmless at the moment because all the idiots in charge are squeezing the things their uncharmable accountants deem to be an unnecessary cost. Among which, of course, courtesy is number one and high-quality detail number two. And so with its roots gone, charm dies too.
The result of this self-destructive stinginess is that the most vital oil of society – courtesy – is replaced by computerised switchboards, robotic scripts for operatives and plastic tumblers.
Courtesy is expensive – though often not directly in terms of money, funnily enough. It takes time, effort and empathy. It\’s also something you can\’t really fake because it comes from applying the golden rule of \”do as you would be done by.\”
For any high-end company to have charm, courtesy has to permeate the whole business. It has to be in the cultural DNA from top to bottom. And any company where the directors grab as much money as possible for their pay and bonuses while cheeseparing their employees, will not have it. That kind of greed is the ultimate discourtesy to the people who need to be courteous to their customers: they\’ll know they are being taken for a ride. They may parrot the courtesy scripts and the mission statement and whatever, but they won\’t be able to be truly courteous.
The platinum rule backs up the golden one. It says that you get back from life and other people what you give out. If you go around with your passive aggressive teeth gritted, hating 99% of your experience for being charmless, what you\’ll get will be even less charm and courtesy. Your discourtesy will surround you with discourteous people. It\’s amazing, really – like magic. The minute you start giving out genuine pleasantness, you start getting it back.
Tyler Brule\’s columns are a perfect demonstration of the platinum rule. Everyone should read them.

Why I love Americans


I\’m just back from a book tour in the United States, promoting my new sixteenth century crime novel, A MURDER OF CROWS (fifth in the Carey series). Now then. A curmudgeonly old-fashioned ranter like me might be expected to use this opportunity to have a good old shout about American-awful-this and the ghastly-Yankee-that.
Nope. Sorry. I have plenty of reservations about the vast politico-military-industrial behemoth that is \”America\” but about Americans, not right now. They\’re very good at criticising themselves, mind, which I\’ll get back to as one of their strengths, but first, my reasons for being so uncharacteristically lovey-dovey.
1. Their airports work. This is important when you\’re on a book tour from bookshop to bookshop in different states. I hit six of them in ten days – Washington Dulles, Detroit, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco. They were all of them clean, pleasant, easy to use and if you didn\’t know something you could find someone who did and who was also willing to tell you. The flights pretty much took off on time and if they didn\’t there was an apology and (much more important) an explanation. There was air conditioning that worked. The toilets were spotlessly clean and everything in them worked, excepting on automatic towel dispenser I forget where, for which the attendant apologised.
So coming back into Heathrow was a culture shock. Mainly because of its maddening air of naff sleaziness, the feeling that the place has dandruff on its shoulders and a fag still stuck to its bottom lip. For instance: is there nothing they could do about the filthy, patched and stuck-down-with-gaffer-tape disgrace of a carpet in immigration where you queue up to show your passport? Really? I mean, it would probably cost, ooh, several grand to get some new industrial haircord laid, as opposed to however many squillions Terminal 5 cost.
2. Generally, Americans are polite, nay, courteous. Even their children are polite. A teeny tiny little girl sitting on her mom\’s lap next to me on a plane, knew to say \”Thank you ma\’am,\” when I passed her something. Nobody called me \”dear\” or \”Pat\” or \”Patricia\”, ever. Oh yes, my publisher did call me \”my dear\” a couple of times, but seeing as he\’s my publisher and a darling himself, I think that\’s fine. Don\’t get me wrong: my friends can call me what they like and often do. Strangers who are taking my money in exchange for a product or service may not because they are not my friends. The Americans understand this and so your whole day slips along on an emollient base of courtesy and it\’s just so much more pleasant. Yes, of course, I know it\’s not sincere, I know they\’re trained to do it, I know they don\’t really respect me at all (and why should they?) It\’s just so… relaxing.
Also they are polite and courteous to each other in stressful circumstances. The one carbuncle on the face of every US airport is the security check with its queues for scanners and its byzantine semi-religious rules about liquids and shoes. It\’s tedious, it\’s pettifogging, it\’s inconvenient and for the non-exhibitionist like the lady in front of me with the hip replacement, it can be agonisingly embarassing. I also doubt it does much good against seriously organised terrorists and probably does some harm by encouraging complacency. I grudgingly accept its psychological and political necessity. But there are the Americans patiently waiting in line, slipping shoes off, unloading their pockets, putting stuff meekly into grey plastic trays. San Francisco security unerringly identified my bra as a security risk (twice) and I was asked to wait in a glass box presumably intended to protect everyone else from my exploding underwear – fair enough. Exploding underwear has been tried, after all. The women who frisked me very thoroughly twice were also courteous and professional and had none of that pervy self-righteousness of the average Euro-security person.
3. They are smart and surprisingly open. They listen (I love this about anybody). They ask intelligent questions. Idiots in Europe think all Americans are stupid. This is so far from true, I think it might be a quiet practical joke played by Americans on the rest of the world. Hey, we\’re so stoopid, we\’re selling you rich 1980s Japanese a lot of Manhattan at a hundred times its worth! Hey, we\’re so stoopid we\’re letting you Chinese finance our debt binges! Both my late husband and his father were Americans and they were brilliant at playing the \”Hey, I\’m just a big dumb Yank\” trick, followed by an embarassing turnaround. Americans might sometimes be naïve or ignorant but they are not stupid. They can\’t afford to be. American society is brutal to the stupid.
4. If it\’s broke, they want to fix it. They really really want to fix it. Hence the self-criticism. In fact, they so love fixing things, they have a whole saying warning them not to fix things that ain\’t broken. This is so thunderingly different from the way life works on this side of the Pond that it\’s completely invisible. We should have the opposite saying: \”If it is broke, don\’t fix it, but pretend you have.\” Heathrow is aging and a bit broke, so patch it up and pretend you\’ve fixed it with shiny bits and a new terminal. That\’s just as good.
Yes, I know, the global financial system is at the moment in a Heathrowesque state of patched-up-let\’s-all-pretend-it\’s-fine bullshit. America, the institution, is trying to sort it out and getting stymied by special interests and greed-rotted plutocrats and smug bankers. But Americans know this and they don\’t like it at all.
Even with President Obama – that great shining example of how extraordinary Americans can be when they choose – it could all go wrong. But I think it doesn\’t matter. In the end, perhaps irrationally, I once again feel totally confident in those amazing Americans.