Manners. It’s one of those things I wish I cared about less than I actually do. It’s one of the reasons I don’t think of myself as a laid-back person even though I often seem that way to other people. My Mom was first and foremost the person who made me care about manners. She knew every rule and let me know what they were. I was a rule-follower by nature and I took to it naturally. I read Miss Manners books and columns. For fun. (I still do.)
As an urban dweller I’ve had to shrug off manners a lot because here in the Northeast people tend to be a bit brusque, plenty brash, and not exactly readers of Emily Post. We’re all smushed together and sometimes you just have to stop caring.
I’m not always successful. Which is one of the reasons why going back to a rush hour commute is the biggest downside of going back to work. I try to drown it out, I try not to care about the lack of courtesy, but it’s an effort.
Lately, though, I’ve had a string of worse than usual encounters with bad manners. Not just having everybody stand at the front of the bus instead of moving back (ARGH!), not just people cutting me off in traffic (GRR!) but in-your-face rudeness.
Two of them were about exactly the same thing. Apparently to some people “sorry” is a lesser word than “excuse me.” While I care about courtesy, to me it’s the thought that counts. I don’t care if you say “I’m sorry” or “pardon me” or whatever you choose. But in Target when I saw a pair of tights on clearance and reached for them, then realized they were the wrong size and reached for the pair next to them before I saw that I would be sticking my hand across another woman’s line of sight, I let out a quick “Sorry!” snatched the tights and got out of her way as fast as I could.
For this I received a tongue-lashing in the middle of a crowded Target on a Saturday because didn’t I have any manners and know how to say “Excuse me”?
But here’s the thing that makes me crazy when this kind of thing happens. It is bad manners to correct or call out someone’s bad manners. I mean, I’d be willing to make a case that it’s okay if it’s your kid since you’ll want to direct them to apologize for their behavior to the aggrieved party. But if it’s an adult, even if it’s a family member or someone you know very well, if you’re going to let them know they did something impolite, you do it quietly and privately and kindly.
So yeah, this was a double whammy. Someone I didn’t know called me out for bad manners when I’d already apologized for my bad manners. I wish I could recover from this kind of stuff and shrug it off, but I haven’t yet developed that skill. When someone flips me off while driving I feel angry and frustrated for a good hour or so afterwards. And this was no different. All afternoon I felt annoyed and angry because I’d been treated badly even when I’d already tried to make it right.
It happened again last week on the bus. To avoid making a woman with a baby stroller move from her spot in the aisle, I had to squeeze my way through a packed aisle to get to the other exit. As I walked I said, “Excuse me … sorry … excuse me … pardon me …” but one woman yelled at me after I walked by and said “sorry,” angry that I hadn’t said “Excuse me.” This time I was happy that another man nearby took up my cause. “She SAID ‘Excuse me,’” he called out. Even though he was showing just as bad of manners as she was (correcting someone else’s behavior in public) at least he was trying to look out for someone.
One thing I’ve learned from those experiences, coming in such close succession, is that to avoid them in the future–the only way I can really help myself is to avoid them–is to say “Excuse me” loudly whenever I get in anyone’s way.
Another lesson learned: no more trips to the Cinema Pub, a movie theater with food in a Boston suburb. I was there this weekend with a friend seeing Her, and I admit the audience didn’t quite look like I would’ve expected for a decidedly quirky and unusual film with a rather small audience. Sure enough, they were a raucous and rude group. I can’t help but think the setup–which felt more restaurant than theater–contributed to the atmosphere.
I did my best to hold myself back. While it’s impolite to call out bad behavior, there are times when it’s okay. Like, for example, when you’re in a place like a theater where quiet is expected and a manager could be summoned to remove people for impolite behavior. I kept my mouth shut as a few groups of them chuckled through serious scenes and giggled like children during sexy scenes.
But I lost it when they started making wisecracks about halfway through, joking during the dialogue and laughing in response so loudly I couldn’t hear the movie anymore. I looked over and gave the glare. When that didn’t do anything, I shushed. I shushed maybe 2 or 3 times over the course of half an hour. Yeah, it didn’t matter much. They could’ve cared less.
And yeah, it made my blood boil. I wish it didn’t bother me so much. I wish it hadn’t pulled me out of the movie and lessened my experience (I, for one, loved the movie). More than that, I wish I could shrug things off, just move forward, not hold a grudge.
That’s just how it is, I guess. There’s a lot of things that have changed in my life and in my personality. I have become more relaxed, more laid back. I worry less. I don’t spend so much time focusing on the future, I live day to day. There are just some things I won’t ever shake.
There are worse things.