Would you give up your seat on a city bus for an elderly person? A pregnant woman? Someone with a load of shopping bags? A disabled person?

I would do pregnant women. Well, when I say “do” I wouldn’t literally “do” them there and then on a city bus, but I would give up my seat unless of course the lady in question had a brand new batch of pregnancy hormones that morning and told me to “stuff your seat up your arse you bloody chauvinistic pig.” In which case I’d comply out of sheer terror.

I heard this week that commuters in Japan using Yokohama’s public transport will be subject to a dressing down from a new group of Etiquette Police. 90% of Japanese are allegedly terribly concerned that manners and etiquette is losing it’s once hallowed place in society, and see the Etiquette Police as the way to solve the problem. Amongst those targeted are: people listening to loud music from headphones, people who remain seated while an older person has to stand, vain ladies who touch up their make-up in public, and those who talk too loudly on their mobile phones.

Enter the “Smile-Manner Squadron,” clad in bright green uniforms, to right these wrongs. The team is made up almost exclusively of over-60’s, as they are deemed to be the guardians of “old Japan standards.” Of course, busy-bodies who tell people what to do or not do on a city bus or train risk a smack in the face so they’ll be accompanied by bodyguards too. There is no legal power to force etiquette-breaking commuters to pay attention to the Squadron, so at the minute they rely solely on a mixture of charm and shame to win people over.

I heard this story on a local radio programme, and of course the discussion inevitably turned into “wouldn’t that be a great idea here too.” Most of the panel thought Northern Irish society needed its own Etiquette Police, in particular to take action against people on mobile phones and those who sit while leaving the elderly to stand on a crowded bus. I imagined sitting on the bus after a hard day’s work (OK, day’s work) only to have someone tell me to get up off my seat so some little old lady can sit down. I must admit if this ever happened it would unleash much worse manners than remaining in a seat while an elder woman remains standing. They would be told in no uncertain terms to fuck right off. In fact, it would solely tempt me to rebel out of sheer bloody mindedness.

Here’s my problem: old people on buses are amongst the most rude, horrible, smelly, sour-faced bastards on the face of the planet. Of course I do generalise here and I’m far from averse to giving up my seat to a pleasant looking little granny struggling with her shopping. But I’ve never experienced anyone on a bus being rude to me in any way except people over 60 who seem bitter that the world wasn’t more kind to them over the years. On one particular rainy day the bus driver had let three prams on (one with my son in it) and admittedly it was a bit of a squeeze. One elderly gentlemen couldn’t stop himself from ranting about the blight of prams on buses, leaving us in no doubt that if he was to become prime minister his first act would be to ban prams from buses altogether. None of the other pram-pushers piped up to defend themselves, so old muggins here had to step up to the plate with this offering: “Really? If I was prime Minister the first thing I would do is ban geriatric old fuckers from buses.” He looked shocked. Most people pretended not to have heard me, while others glanced a wry smile in my direction. My wife looked slightly pissed with me and gave me a dressing down afterwards, but I was unapologetic. On another occasion I was manoeuvring our pram to get off the bus and an old man obviously deemed I was in his way so pushed past me and nearly toppled the pram. It was a red rag to a bull, and I shouted “well, pardon the fuck out of me!” He ignored me and got off the bus, but I wasn’t letting him away so easy. I hurried off after him hurling a few more obscenities, and had my wife not been with me I think I might have hit him.

I’m always amazed at the sense of entitlement many people have, but old people excel here. They really do think that the world owes them a living. Children are often taught to respect their elders, but what I’ve discovered is that many elders don’t deserve respect and tend to treat everyone noticeably younger with downright contempt. When did society ever get the idea that the amount of respect that a person deserves increases in proportion to their age? Why is turning 80 a badge of honour? Congratulations you’re still not dead: roll out the red carpet! Respect must be earned, and many old people, despite having lived far too bloody long, have done little to earn it. Now, I agree generally that “basic respect” for everyone is a good default position, which is why I mind my “pleases,” “thank yous,” “excuse mes” and “sorrys” in public. But I don’t find old people specially deserving of honour just because they happened to have lived a bit longer. Nor do I regard myself as any more worthy of honour than a 20 year old because I’ve 10 more years on the clock.

I hope that when I’m old I won’t do what so many of today’s old people do: constantly decry the decline in standards of public behaviour and reminisce about how good the world used to be.

The other main point of etiquette that our local commentators started blabbering about was the use of mobile phones, and here I really don’t know the problem. The big wide world can be a noisy place. People like talking to each other and virtually everyone owns a mobile phone, so just who is it that hates the use of them in public? It seems to me that perhaps those who complain about it are the kinds of boring old pricks who don’t have many friends to call them in the first place. If they whinge about mobile phones in public, what else would they whinge about? No one likes a whinger.

The very idea of a government sponsored enforcement of “manners” strikes me as obscene. Firstly I’m not sure exactly how we’re meant to define what “proper manners” actually are. It’s completely subjective, and what we’d end up with is the enforcement of a bunch of rather quaint social mores. I know some people who regard it as rude to walk up a flight of stairs while someone is walking down them, so they wait until the stairs are clear before they begin to ascend. Other people think putting your elbows on a dinner table is rude. Talking and eating at the same time. Sitting with your legs open. Putting your feet up on a piece of furniture. Most of these customs are little other than a pile of piss. And most are bad enough at the social level but how much worse if the powers-that-be try however gently to enforce them, with the associated intolerance that would bring.

The correct response to such an idea is the same as the one I would give to any member of the Etiquette Police who tried to make me follow someone else’s quaint custom: “piss off, and leave me alone,” thus rendering the use of Etiquette Police counter-productive.