Back from holidays now. While away I was very tickled by this from Saturday’s Guardian.
Two old women finish their tea at a cafe in Lichfield. One holds the bill…
Anna Oh, you. Now don’t be so utterly ridiculous.
Eva I insist. I insist, my dear.
Anna Absolutely not and I won’t hear another word from silly old you.
Eva Well, I won’t hand it over.
Anna You give it to me right now.
Eva I won’t. I won’t, and that’s the end of it.
Anna I can’t have you paying for this, can I?
Eva You paid for the last tea.
Anna And that was nearly a year ago, silly.
Eva Exactly. Just put that wallet away now, you troublemaker.
Anna That’s enough. Give it to me.
Eva I’m going to pay and that’s that.
Anna Then I’m putting some money in your purse.
Eva You’re going nowhere near my purse.
Anna I need to say thank you.
Eva Then a simple thank you’s enough.
Anna You know how I feel about this, dear.
Eva Well, fair is fair.
Anna I don’t believe it is fair, if you don’t mind.
Eva Then you can take me out for a nice meal next time, can’t you?
Anna This is my treat.
Eva It is completely my treat and I want to pay. The end.
Anna No. [Pause]
Eva Now sit down. I’m just going to put it on my credit card and we’ll go on with our lovely afternoon.
Anna Tell me how much it is.
Eva And we’ll see the dahlias out in Biddulph.
Anna I’ll sit right here then. I’ll just sit.
Eva Well, you’re being silly.
Anna You’re being silly.
Eva I don’t want your money. A simple thank you is fine.
Anna I’d like to give you some money.
Eva Just say thank you now. Just say it.
The anger is palpable.
And notice that their civility isn’t actually a cover for their rage – it is precisely the vehicle for it. Far from hiding their hostility, their manners are the menacing thing. They will kill each other with ‘kindness.’
But what is this ‘kindness’ that they hurl at each other?
‘Fair is fair.’ ‘I want to pay.’ ‘I don’t want your money.’
They may as well say ‘I don’t want your friendship.’ For what friendship is founded on ‘fairness’ and ‘payment’? No these are not the words of friends. And this is not a demonstration of good manners. Here their manners are their weapons. And they destroy themselves and each other by them.
What is the essence of this ‘friendship’? What throbs away at the heart of this ‘civility’? It is their refusal to receive in gratitude. The turning of gift into duty. A determination to achieve what can only be given.
And by this mentality, however cultured, they despise the gratuity of God’s little pleasures and they despise each other. Here is the clenched fist in the presence of grace. It is the deepest perversion of all our natures.
And it’s all amply illustrated by two old ladies in a tea shop.