The Death of the Unspoken Rule

February 19, 2007 at 1:34 am (Uncategorized)

I think there are too many rules these days, I do. I think everyone’s a bit trigger happy with the word “no,” and I think Australia is a lot less laid back than it famously used to be. Our local council is run by some rule lovers, and they like brandishing big signs everywhere – everywhere – about what residents and visitors are not allowed to do. Naturally this invites derision and vandalism, and a lot of the time these signs get defaced or removed by people who quite rightly want the council to shove its DON’T DO THIS, DON’T DO THAT signs up its authoritarian arse.

Not to be deterred, the latest genius idea from the council is to flash large messages of rule-keeping on the pedestrian shopping strip in a variety of menacing, we-mean-business colours. Personally? I think they’re completely insane.

So it’s not that I am a rule-monger. Quite the opposite. I don’t mind a bit of chaos and cheek. But I’ve always been a big fan of the unspoken rule, that little gem that everyone knows intuitively, and abides by just because it makes sense and there’s no need to make a fuss. I love the unspoken rule because it’s there by unspoken community agreement. Everyone just gets it, and because it’s there, understood by all, society hums along just a little better. Or at least it used to. Now, the unspoken rule lies abandoned, in tatters, and it’s time to actually speak it. Speaking the unspoken rule changes its nature forever – part of its charm and its effectiveness lay in its not being said – but I just don’t know what else to do. It’s either say it or lose it, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

Unspoken beach etiquette has always dictated a certain distance between towel groups. If I place my towel at point A, so the unspoken rule goes, then the closest point B will be, at least, equidistant from the towel at point C. This way, you never sit your summer reading right on top of my towel, and I never dump my bag of crap right on top of yours. This has got to be the unspoken rule most in danger of extinction. Every single bloody time I go into the surf these days, I emerge to find some extended family or other has absorbed my little patch of sand into a landfill of towels and umbrellas that would be visible from space. Who does that? Who doesn’t know the unspoken towel space ratio rule????

Another unspoken rule is that if I am walking in a group of people in one direction, and we are spilling all over the path – hogging it, as it were – then it is I who moves over to make room for you, the people attempting to walk past in the opposite direction. It’s only fair – we are otherwise blocking your path completely. This unspoken agreement between walkers is also right out the window. In its place, a new agreement seems to be in force. Under this new strategy, groups agree that they are the most important users of everything, everywhere, and that all paths exist for their benefit and for their benefit only. Woe betide the individual trying to get past a group these days. Not only won’t anyone move across for you, but group members will actively stand in your way. There is strength in numbers indeed. I have ended up in the gutter, up the embankment, and on the road, all thanks to the ignorant arseholes who have forgotten how to share. This includes mothers who travel in packs with prams. They are among the worst and most selfish of any pedestrian group, and I don’t understand the evident and advanced atmosphere of entitlement they exude. It’s perplexing, but all groups seem to have it these days. Well, all I can say is cut it out. It’s really rude.

One final unspoken rule, may it rest in peace, is that litter is…well, out. Don’t drop your rubbish on the street, at the beach, in the water. Are we all that lazy and that selfish and that ignorant that we no longer heed that little gut nudge inside that says “don’t litter”? I live in a beautiful and pristine natural environment. When I see some slob dump their cigarette butt on the beach, or chuck their McDonald’s wrappers in my front flower box, or casually drop their empty can over the side of the ferry so they can watch it float on the otherwise rubbish-free harbour, I want to scream my head off, right up close in their face. What the fuck is wrong with you? That’s what I want to scream. And I’d be completely hoarse by now, that’s the really sad thing. It’s part of a bigger problem, I think. I think the unspoken rule is dead because people are so obsessed with themselves these days that far fewer people care about those little things that made it easier to live with each other before. There are fewer little courtesies. Fewer people giving up their seat on the bus. Fewer people letting the person with only two items in ahead at the checkout. Fewer people spotting you twenty cents if you’re short at the shop. Fewer people lending assistance by the side of the road. Fewer people helping the pram up the stairs. Fewer people, that is, stepping up to do something small for someone else just because it’s quite obviously the right thing to do. And that, my friends, is a damn crying shame.



  1. Some Say said,

    Very interesting and I agree. Don’t even get me started on The Nanny State discussion. I prefer not to be protected from myself, thank you very much. If I want to wire my own plug, I will…. you just try and stop me….grrr.

    To your other point re entitlement, people honestly do think they are better than others and so fully entitled to litter/mess up the towel ratio.

    According to a recent poll reported in Newsweek, 31 percent of US teenagers believe they will be famous when they grow up. I think this inflated sense of self worth is seeping into our world too. Driven by celeb obsession, this Me-Culture leads to people behaving like they are famous (or what they perceive fame to be) which manifests itself essentially through self-centred rudeness. “Fuck you. I can litter if I like cause I’m Robbo from Fairlight” (puffs chest).

    The only solution is rebellion Di. Are you with me?

  2. doctordi said,

    Oh, I am WITH you, Some Say, all the way. I don’t know whether to laugh or weep about that “When I grow up, I’m going to be Britney Spears” statistic. 31 percent?! How deluded can people possibly be?? And you’re right – it’s absolutely here, and it’s being exacerbated by things like MySpace and YouTube because any idiot narcissist can train a camera on themselves and launch their stunning self-love career.

    I have actually seen people STRUT. Seriously. On the street. A little posse of femme fatales in enormous sunglasses and short skirts is a common manifestation, and they peacock around like they’re the guys in Entourage. It’s kind of sad. Just like Sydney’s so-called A list.

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