Manners Among The Masses

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.

  • BGT

14 thoughts on “Manners Among The Masses

  1. Keep up the forebearance. It’s helpful to know one is not alone. You are indeed making a difference.

  2. This post reminds me of the Commencement speech by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College called This is Water. You can find it on YouTube. I highly recommend it.

  3. You read my mind. This past weekend, we were at the Finger Lakes (Ithaca area), and throughout our 5 day stay, I encountered some of the rudest people, ever. They were not in the wineries, no, they were in the stores, markets, restaurants, and in the marine park (non-boaters) where we stayed on our boat. I was grousing to my husband that there needs to be book (read by everyone, of course!) that concentrates – again – on the Old Money mindset with relation to general public behavior. And I won’t even start on the way people dress in public these days. The behavior of people, really. Just, well, really.

  4. My late grandmother had an expression: pervasive rudeness is our “cross to bear.” Let’s keep fighting the good fight and simply respond with continued politeness. Not always easy, but the best defense perhaps. On a related note, the excuses people come up with to explain away others’ lack of politesse and/or justify why pleasant manners (in all respects) are somehow no longer necessary boggle the mind. But that is nothing new. Covid, the rise of the internet, social media, and the now ubiquitous iPhone have little to do with it. The problem has been with us a long time now.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

  5. There really is something to be said about remaining self-possessed when repeated attempts of greeting of others have been ignored. Instead of remaining the super friendly American amidst less than friendly local immigrants, I’ve finally let go of my hopes that they’ll reciprocate. There’s freedom in this, and I’m enjoying being the dignified American matron.

    My own immigrant husband says, “You don’t have to speak another language to understand the universal language of a greeting. Just nod and maybe smile.”

  6. Several thoughts . . . we never really do know what people are going through–what news they may have just gotten, what diagnosis just reached them. Then again, there are people who are simply rude 24/7; forbearance comes in at times like these. I’m first to confess that I don’t always show that forbearance. Every morning, I consider the day a clean slate, and try and do better than the day before. I’m appreciating all the posts above; thank you!!

  7. I boarded a bus near the Saint-Lazare station in Paris and to my astonishment an attractive 16-17 year old girl offered me her seat. I declined, but thanked her sincerely. My only wish is that her parents had been nearby. I could have told them what a wonderful job they had done.

    I’ll never see that girl again, but her courtesy remains with me.

    Byron, do not lose heart. It only takes one brief moment such as that for all the palookas one ever met, to turn to dust.

    Regards,
    David.

  8. Hello, how do OM types react when neighbors have no regard for others? Case in point, hours of ridiculously loud music that I can hear in my home with all my windows and doors closed?
    p.s. it is not instrumental practice, but music with an aggressive beat. You could have guessed that!

  9. Hello Elle,

    In the short space available here I can tell you this: If you have been through all the ‘gentlemanly’ steps such as speaking to them civilly, your best recourse is The Law. That of course depends on how much you’re prepared to spend and drag it out.

    It’s the sad old story. Whatever the issue, one has to speak in a language others understand. Much the same as it is useless going to a village on the Kazakh Steppe and assuming an elderly person will be fluent in English. They probably won’t. It is the same here.

    When the ‘Law stage’ is reached one needs to put aside all neighbourly sentiments and act in cold blood. I have had to do it twice. On both occasions the problem was solved. It cost me financially. It also resulted in people “keeping their distance”. I am presently considering a third occasion for the very same problem you have. We used to have a bumper sticker here that read: “Don’t speak to me, speak to my lawyer”. It says it all.

    Elle, I truly hate to tell you this.

    Regards,
    David.

  10. Despite the fact that I am somewhat of a recluse, I will continue to deport myself in a polite manner regardless of how others act. As a Father I had to suffer through the vulgarities of places like that cater to toddlers, but now that my son is older that is in the past. As a relief from rude people I have read several books on developing ones emotional intelligence, thus not letting such things bother me.

  11. Being polite is nothing more than one knowing how to express their own value in a wold where most do not know their own. Thank you for continuing to champion the cause for self worth and self respect.

    K. Lee George

  12. Oh Dear Byron. I do sympathize. Here in the US, as you can well imagine, things aren’t much different. Like you, most of the time I just let it go and proceed with my day. But every now and then, events just come together in such a way that I MUST speak…and I do. When those times come, I keep my composure, speak softly and slowly, but in no uncertain terms tell the other person what they did and why it’s unacceptable. The vast majority of the time, I’m met with complete confusion or a stunned expression, followed by a mumbled apology and a very flushed face. Perhaps they are so used to living in a rude world they think their behavior is normal. Or perhaps, like all of us, they are only focused on their own thoughts and busy schedule. I’m not naïve enough to think my little ‘corrective discussion’ will change them or their lives; but perhaps, for just a moment, it will make them reconsider how they move through the world. Either way, it’s me who always benefits when I speak out.

    Kimberly

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