I may have mentioned in a previous post the challenges faced by those of us who try to be polite as we make our way through a world sometimes populated by other people who couldn’t spell the word ‘polite’.
It’s one of those things that we are required to do, and most of the time we just deal with, get on with it, and remain silent about it. One of the privileges, however, of having a blog is that on occasion I get to complain about it.
Selflessly, I’m not just whining for me about this. I’m whining for all of us, the well-mannered and considerate, the courteous and the kind, the chivalrous and the merely patient.
I suppose a few incidents have piled on my normally tolerant psyche: the tourist from hell (yes, they’re back) who knocked on my apartment door last week and asked if it was alright if he parked his car in the covered walkway of the building. (No, it was originally constructed for carriages; and no, tenants of the building now use it to, you know, walk from the street to their apartments; and no, why are you knocking on my door and asking me?). When he asked me where the guardian of the building lived, I lied and told him we didn’t have one. There was no way I was going to send that ninny to my friend the guardian and have him waste her time, as well.
Then there was the woman who simply cut in front of me at the grocery store, queuing up to check out without so much as a nod of apology or recognition. The cashier noticed, looked at me, and rolled his eyes. I shrugged. It may be the only experience of privilege she has, I thought to myself, and who knows what kind of day she’s had, or life she’s had. Perhaps she’s suffering from an illness.
These rationalizations comfort me most of the time, but I do have my limits. I’ve discontinued meeting for coffee with the neighbor who never makes a move to pick up the tab at the cafe, even though it’s rarely more that 6 euros for two drinks. Morphing daily into more and more of a Parisian, I am becoming comfortable simply ignoring people: those familiar faces who have not responded to my repeated “Bonjour’s”, even though we’ve seen each other several times a week for the past four years.
This tactic seemed to impress one aging local. When she sees me now, I no longer say a word. She says nothing. She does smile, though. And I smile in return. We understand each other completely. We acknowledge each other with silent elegance.
Of course, none of these Parisian social experiences are unique to me. An American friend who has lived here much longer recounted his own experience. Fluent in French, he said ‘Bonjour’ to the neighbors in his building for a full year without once receiving an acknowledgement. Having had his fill one day, he said Bonjour to a woman as he held the elevator door open for her. She ignored him. And he let her have it in very sophisticated but specific terms, at the top of his lungs, much to her surprise.
The next time he was in the foyer of the building, he encountered another neighbor. ‘Bonjour’ they said, as if they’d been saying it all along. ‘Bonjour,’ he replied. Word got around quickly. He had had enough.
But do we really have to get to that point? Screaming at someone to elicit courtesy? Are we relegated to only socializing with a closed group in order to be certain that everyone understands the rules? I’m leaning toward one more than the other, but only because my French isn’t good enough.
Nevertheless, let’s hold up the side. Let’s continue to be polite. Let’s suffer in silence when others are not. And let’s feel free to complain about it, but only here, among our own kind.