I seem to recall it was in the early Seventies that I first heard ‘Cheers’ used as a way of saying goodbye. Until then it had only been said on raising a glass with someone. At first it was quite trendy and was used by smart young men in charcoal suits who used the telephone a lot and drove sports cars. Then it spread and by the Eighties it was normal, although only at first among the middle classes. The working classes still used ‘See ya’ and the upper class ‘Cheerio’. This was before the whole thing went democratic.
By the Nineties the traditional English handshake was yielding in a most cowardly and unnatural way to the ‘man hug’. Men had hitherto shaken hands but now a man risked being seized by his interlocutor and slammed against his chest. It seemed to be a habit among sportsmen at first but then it spread like a virus. Whatever the man hug may be, it’s not English!
This very un-English over-familiarity is further evident in the impolite and unsolicited use of what we used to call our Christian name but which now, for reasons of political correctness, has to be called our ‘first name’. It could be the gas company, the Internet provider, the telephone company or Uncle Tom Cobbly, you are immediately called by your first name, not by your title, Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms or Sir or Madam. If you are asked for your name by one of these call centre clowns and you reply Jack Jones, you should thereafter be addressed as Mr Jones and not as Jack. That is downright rude, even in this current social climate of self-conscious mateyness, supposed to be like the easy informality of the Australian outback, I imagine.
In a similar way, we now have ‘Alright’ as a general greeting, spoken with a rising tone on the second syllable to show that this is in fact a question, asking how you are. Even stranger than that, the correct response is ‘Alright’ without the rising tone at the end of the word, because it's now a statement. It's a bit zombie-like and graceless, isn’t it? And so the handshake morphs into the high-five as surely as mealtimes become a grazing session from a brown paper bag.
As the UK becomes more and more crowded and people are squashed together and traffic becomes ever more dense, social conventions will, I suppose, evolve from a more distant and aloof footing to something more relaxed.
But hey guys, come on, ya? This is getting ridiculous!