The Alabama Moderate

Painting the Red State Purple.

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Manners are a lost art

Posted by ALmod on December 16, 2005

I don’t have an article to reference today. Instead, I only have my own experiences to draw from. But this is an issue that has been bothering me for some time now.

During a recent cruise to the Caribbean, I was pushed to the point of frustration with other passengers. I was even driven to say that I would not be going on another cruise for a long time and that it wouldn’t be longer than a four-night cruise unless the port(s) of call required a longer sailing. My reasoning was that I simply could not stand to be around that many people for that length of time.

I was raised in the South, and I’m proud of that, to an extent, because the people tend to be raised with a certain level of congeniality. There is a reason that they call it “Southern hospitality.” No matter how polite the people are in a certain region, it just doesn’t measure up to what you will find down here. I’m not saying that people elsewhere are rude. I’m just saying that we’re a little better at making people feel welcome down here, and we pride ourselves in that. At least most of us do. In recent years, however, I’ve seen that attitude deteriorate. Not only has it slowly vanished from the majority of the U.S. and other countries, but it’s started to work its way into the South. It seems that nobody is willing to teach their children (or adults) the value of good manners anymore.

It just so happens that the two most polite couples we met during our travels were from Chicago and Mexico City and sat at our table. The people we met in Mexico were also very polite and were very helpful. Most people in the Caribbean are, but those in Mexico were just extra special. Oddly enough, the rudest behavior we witnessed was in Birmingham and Atlanta. Not good at all.

For example, during a recent meal out with my husband, we were unable to enjoy our dinner due to a group of very loud teens sitting with their parents and playing with cell phone ringtones in a volume that others in the restaurant complained about. (The cell issue has gotten to be so bad that our church staff is currently considering putting a dampener on the roof of the building so that our pastor will no longer be interrupted multiple times each week during his sermon.)

But then let’s get past the technological advances of recent decades and go to something a little more basic. Since when is it considered acceptable to shove someone out of the way in order to cut in front of them to get to an elevator or food line, especially when the other person was waiting patiently for the same thing. I happen to be obviously pregnant, but let’s forget that for a second. When is it acceptable to do that to anyone with the exception of an emergency?

The icing on the cake was that I could not climb a lot of stairs due to my condition. I am also not able to stand (or sit) for long periods of time. My husband and I adopted the rule of “down and two decks up.” We would take the stairs at all times unless our destination was more than two decks up. Going down stairs was not an issue. But when going from Deck 1 to Deck 11, there was a bit of an issue with the stairs. One such time, my husband and I waited for what seemed like an eternity on Deck 2 for an elevator. By the time one came, there was a considerably long line behind us. One woman in particular shoved me (obviously pregnant) to the point where I nearly fell to get onto the elevator. I was still able to get on, but was promptly shoved out of the way a second time when the woman got off on the very next floor.

In another example, I was standing on a tender and waiting to get off when the boat started to rock a bit. Since my center of gravity was off, I reached out to grab the railing. A woman beside me slapped my hand away and nearly knocked me down so that she could grab the railing (and cut in front of me in the line). A child nearly knocked me down to cut in front of several people in a food line. (At least the child wasn’t an adult.)

I understand that there can be confusion at times as to what to do in a particular situation, so I’ll list some of the things that my parents taught me. Hopefully, they will catch on again:

  1. Never, and I mean never, attempt to run over a pedestrian with an airport cart, car, or other form of moving vehicle. I don’t care how many points they are worth or how badly they deserve it.

  2. It is never okay to shove someone. If you wish to cut in front of someone for whatever reason, the very least you can do is say, “Excuse me.”

  3. Patience is a virtue. That being said, understand that making others wait for unreasonably long period of time while you make up your mind is not good manners. If you can’t figure out what you want to do, it’s a good idea to let others go ahead of you.

  4. Smokers, if you are lighting up in an area that is not clearly designated as a smoking area, and there is a large group of people around you, it is generally accepted as good manners to ask those around you if they mind. Even if they say no and you choose to disregard them, at least you can say that you gave them fair warning.

  5. Pertaining to bodily functions, please read the above rule for smokers.

  6. Gentlemen, I realize that the feminist movement has made some of you think twice about chivalry, but I assure you that we still find it very flattering for you to offer us your seat or open a door for us. Slamming a door in our faces is not acceptable under any circumstances.

  7. Ladies, as to the above rule, if a guy does something nice for you, please take it at face value. He was trying to do something nice. He was not trying to discredit your ability to think, act, or otherwise care for yourself, and he does not deserve to be screamed at or lectured for doing so. Just appreciate the sentiment.

  8. Sometimes it’s nice for you to be the one to move out of the way for someone else. Plowing over them if they refuse to make way (or do not have the ability to) is not. This goes double for handicapped people, pregnant women, people with hands full, and parents with small children.

  9. Every language has an equivalent to, “Can I help you with that?” If you happen to not be able to speak it, a tap on the shoulder and point toward an item the person is struggling with seems to be universally understood. (On a side note, I’m very proud of my husband for demonstrating this one on several occasions.)

  10. Above all else, treat people the way that you would expect them to treat you. Going beyond that is even better.

To my fellow travelers who happen to be European, please keep in mind that just because someone is a U.S. citizen does not mean that he/she can’t understand your language of origin to at least some degree. I happen to know several key phrases in German, Italian, French, and Spanish that just happened to have been used in my presence. I don’t appreciate them being used, especially when they are not true. Please save your stereotypical remarks for someone else who has shown you that they deserve them. You may also wish to not automatically assume that they are too “stupid” to understand you when you say something while standing right next to them on a crowded elevator. I do not now, nor have I ever, felt “entitled” to anything special. I merely expect my fellow grown-ups of all nationalities to act like civilized human beings around each other. I don’t think that this is too much to ask.


One Response to “Manners are a lost art”

  1. The Alabama Moderate said

    After my rant, I felt like I should recognize some of the better manners that I experienced during my trip. I’d like to thank the people of Pakistan, India, Mexico, Chicago, and Aruba for producing some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting!

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