After finishing the book All Quiet on the Western Front, only then did I realize that soldiers who survived the war truly were scarred for life. Unlike other stories of the war, All Quiet really hits you with the reality and horrors of the front line, life in the trenches, and watching everyone around you drop like flies. In the middle of the novel, the protagonist, Paul, goes home for a seventeen-day leave. As he encounters people and memories from his life before the war, he became aware of the fact that no one back home really understood what having the life of a soldier really meant. Despite the enticement of glory and the insistent persuasion of Paul’s schoolmaster, willingly fighting for the war didn’t entitle any of the things people promised. There was no glory, only gore. There was neither victory nor spirit, only misery and death. Back at home, Paul’s father wanted him to keep his uniform on so he can be shown off to his father’s friends. What Paul’s father didn’t understand was that the war was brutal and cruel. He did not realize that his son was now a different person, hardened by the barbarity of fighting and numbed by the deaths of his comrades. As a result, being surrounded again with civilians of the likes of his father, Paul was faced with the challenge of how to fit in again and interact with others on a different level than his fellow soldiers out in the front (line).
As with any environment, people have to be able to adapt to their surroundings and act properly (according to the standards of society). That is where etiquette comes in. Like Paul’s rehabilitation as a war veteran to a member of society, there are unspoken rules that have to be abided by in restaurants. Theoretically, let’s say we have Bill, a man who has never interacted much with people besides his family and has never stepped foot inside a restaurant. Bill will not realize that his open-mouthed chewing and boisterous laugh does not belong in such a public place. As Bill is surveying his menu, how will he properly flag down a waiter to put down his order? Will he wave his hand in the air like an overly-eager student or stare down a waiter and motion with his index finger to come to his table? After Bill’s plate of spaghetti arrives, how will he choose to eat it? With chopsticks or a fork? Spoon or no spoon? To twirl or not to twirl? As Bill eats, he is greeted by a waiter who checks up on how he is doing. “Is everything okay, sir?”, the waiter asks. Bill doesn’t realize that the waiter isn’t referring to his life, but merely his food. Oblivious to the shallowness of the question, Bill pats the seat next to him and tells the waiter to sit down. With a mouthful of pasta, Bill begins to tell the uncomfortable-looking waiter the problems he is having with his colon and how he has trouble sleeping at night because of his cat’s incessant snoring. After a while, Bill asks what’s the matter with the waiter. “Are you alright there, pal?” Finally, Bill receives the check for his meal. Now, how shall he go about paying the fourteen dollars and seventy-eight cents when he only has a twenty-dollar bill in his pocket? Bill shrugs and tears off a fifth of his twenty-dollar bill and inserts it into the black book.
Clearly, this demonstration with “Bill” was exaggerated, but it does help to clearly show the little things that people have to deal with as they decide on what proper etiquette is and what is not. It ties in with the behavioral issues some shell-shocked war veterans have with day-to-day interactions most people don’t even bother to think about. We all have our little eccentricities and confusions about what society thinks is best and what is unacceptable. What’s your quirk?