New money, Old money and Manners for Men

Where I come from we have a new currency called the Euro. In fact for the next few weeks we have two parallel currencies. And if one visits countries outside the Euro-zone (uncivilized places such as Britain and Switzerland) one ends up with pocketfuls of different currencies. The other day my son and I sat down to sort out all the excess coinage which has been left in pockets during 20 years of travelling the globe (there were several tons). It proved to be an alarming experience for we discovered coins from Czechoslovakia, a country which ceased to exist 10 years ago. I do not remember ever visiting Pakistan but somehow or other I had a coin from there, not to mention a collection of exotic items (now located in a draw marked "Assorted Curious") which includes coins which once worked Brazilian telephones, which will get you on the Manly Ferry in Sydney or are "Good for One Ride" on the Staten Island Ferry. There are several coins which say simply "No value" and for which I have no explanation.

What on earth is the point of a coin with no value?

The search became more interesting when I discovered that I owned a two shilling piece from British West Africa (dated 1939) and an Italian 10 lire coin (which is worth about as much as a grain of sand) but which features King Vittorio Emanuele III, who abdicated in 1946 in favor of his son King Humbert II (Yes, really...).

Having sorted everything out I headed off to the local bank to trade in my French "shrapnel" for some Euros but the banker looked horrified, shrugged and said she was not interested. What should I do? I demanded. Do I throw them in a dustbin? Do I use them for weight-training? Or do I bury them for posterity? Do I make statues out of them and sell these for vastly more than the coins are worth? Or do I fly to Afghanistan and throw them out of the aircraft in the hope that one will hit Osama bin Laden on the head as it falls to earth?

The banker shrugged and I left the bank feeling decidedly evil.

Money, so they say, is the root of all evil and this point was driven home to me when I went to my first annual meeting of the apartment owners in the building in which I now live in Paris. Life would surely have been quieter on the Front Line at Verdun in 1917. Little old ladies shrieked at one another over centimes and disputed the value of carpet rods. For four hours the battles raged. Insults were traded and then everyone went home with none of the problems having been solved.

Halfway through this appalling meeting (I had lost interest in carpet rods) I realized how Mr. Sauber must feel when he sits in an F1 team bosses' meeting and tries to understand what is going on around him. When one person is talking in a foreign language it is easy enough to understand - if, of course, you have a grasp of the language in question. When two people are talking at the same time things become more complicated but when three people are shouting at each other it becomes impossible to make head or tail of any of the arguments.

I am one of those people who would rather pay the entire bill in a restaurant than sit there and listen to my fellow diners arguing over why they should pay less because they ate the goldfish souffle and only had one glass of wine.

To me such things spoil an evening and are, fundamentally, bad manners.

Manners are a subject which I find fascinating. What is acceptable and what is not acceptable? Is it correct to arrive on time or should one be politely late to allow the hostess a few extra minutes to repaint the kitchen and redo her hair after the dinner has exploded on the stove.

Manners in Formula 1 are terrible. People are constantly arriving and butting into discussions in the paddock, often without even acknowledging the second person in a conversation.

But there are moment of humor. I remember years ago being told off by one of the current F1 team bosses at a dinner because I was smoking before "the loyal toast" (anti-smoker campaigners please note that I gave up 10 years ago). The fact that there was not a loyal toast was apparently not the issue.

The team boss in question came from a rough-and-tumble background but as he made more and more money he felt the need to climb the social ladder and acquire the manners of a gentleman. He had (and still has) the morals of a clam. His behavior in business makes a mad dingo look like a hairdresser's poodle but he seems to think that it is fine to stab anyone in the back so long as you say "Please" and "Thank you" and you pass the port only to the left.

These kind of people have read Mrs. Humphry's "Manners for Men" (published in 1897 and not ageing well) but skipped over the boring bit at the beginning that explains that the art of being a gentleman is only acquired by "constant association with those so happily placed that they have enjoyed the influences of education and refinement all through their lives".

Coping with money is something which few self-made men can handle. Old Money in Britain goes out of its way so as not to be noticed. New Money thinks that by exposing its wealth it will be welcomed with open arms in the higher echelons of British society. New Money has flashy automobiles and wears nasty expensive watches. They have shooting parties on their country estates.

There is a parallel here somewhere with the race fans who turn up at Grands Prix wearing "genuine imitation" team shirts because they want the other fans to think that they are part of a racing team.

The secret is that those involved in racing do everything they can to hide the fact and get out of their "ice cream man" outfits as quickly as possible after they leave the paddock...

Funny old world, isn't it?

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