Polite Civility and Manners
It is not unusual in the South to walk down any street, pass by perfect strangers who will look you straight in the eye, then say: “good morning” and ask how you are doing. Contrast this to the advice my brother gave me when I moved to New York City in 1973 to do my Internship and proactively asked him how to survive on the city’s streets. He had already lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section which left him privy to some previously painful mugging experiences.
He told me the best thing to do was to put my money in my shoes, to wear old clothes with holes in them so to appear as a low profile target, to never make eye contact with anyone, to wear sneakers in case a quick getaway was ever in order; and to always avoid the Subways. What a way to live. Or in the case of one of my closest friends who was shot and killed in a mugging—what a way to die
On a more mundane level, my ex-wife was standing in line at a local Hampton’s gourmet delicatessen, and finally making her way to the counter, ordered a sandwich and a Coca-Cola. The man standing in line behind her upon overhearing a transaction that was really none of his business yelled out in a whiney New York accent:
She turned around and confronted the man and politely stated:
- Excuse me.
To which the man again exclaimed:
- I’m sorry, sir, but if you are referring to me, I don’t have the slightest clue as to what your issue might be.
- Well it just so happens that I am the President of Snapple, and you ordered a Coke. So, in my book that makes you a traitah.
It might have been humorous except for the fact that the man was dead serious in his self-important zeal to not only announce to anyone in earshot who he was, but to also publicly air a personal offense that anyone could possibly want to drink anything other than his own proprietary product. When my ex told me about the incident, I suggested that she should have turned to him to let him know precisely the reason she did not order a Snapple. His beverages tasted like artificially flavored, sugar-free Sani-Flush and that he was the real traitor in the first place for trying to compete with America’s National Soft Drink with his own noxious crap. I guess in the long run, he did have the last laugh after all. Coca-Cola bought his little company only to then find out the hard way just how truly awful the stuff really was when the Coca Cola Snapple Division nearly caved in under itself. Coke had behaved like a cattle buyer at a blind auction, bidding for a cow listed on a livestock sheet without ever first tasting its milk, as it’s Snapple Division floundered financially.
On another occasion I was at the head of the Deli line on a Sunday morning, when after selecting a dried Whitefish from the numerous carcasses piled up behind the glass display, the man behind me whined:
- But that was moyyy fish.
- I said
- Excuse me?
- To which he replied in a nasally New York accent:
- Yes. That was the fish eeyyye wanted, and you just got it.
Unbelievably to me, because I thought all those little desiccated White Fish behind the counter glass looked like identical clones, I taunted him by saying:
- Well. Perhaps you should hurry up and go look at the Lox before another dead smoked fish you want gets away. Maybe the poifect one. Maybe that one ovah theyah.
One other early Sunday morning when I was at the fish market there was a bona fide “salmon incident.”
A man walked in and said to the counter girl:
- So, when did we cut the salmon and is it a fresh salmon that is freshly cut?
- Excuse me sir, but “We” did not cut the salmon. I cut the salmon about two hours ago and yes, it is fresh. All our fish is fresh.
- That’s what you people always say. So how do I know you are telling me the truth? How do I know I can really trust you? And is all that salmon in there fresh and freshly cut and how can I tell if the ones you are going to give me are really the freshly cut ones that you say you cut two hours ago, but maybe you didn’t?
- Excuse me sir. But if you are calling me a liar, I think I’ll let the owner take care of you.
When the owner came out to ask if there was a problem that she could she help him with, the man said:
- No problem. I just want about five pieces of that salmon over there. But just be sure that you give me only the fresh one. The one that was freshly cut only two hours ago.
- Sir. All of it was cut two hours ago.
- Maybe so and maybe not. I guess I’ll just have to take my chances then.
I cannot tell you how many times I have stood behind people at a counter of any sort and heard the person in front of me present himself to the server who will say something in the vein of “Whaddaya want?” only to be answered by the equally manner less customer who then orders something with any of the following prefaces:
- I wanna…
- I’ll hava…
- I needa….
- I’ll take a….
- Could I getta….
- Gimme a….
- Let me have a….
Or even the crudest requesting version of all:
- I’ll do a….
As if the words “may I please have” or “I would like” or “thank you” or “please” had been completely deleted from the modern social interaction dictionary and banned from common usage.
Come to think of it, if I was taking an order as a waiter and a person told me
- I’ll do a Chicken Parmigiano.
I would have to politely tell him:
- I’m sorry sir but having sex with your food is strictly prohibited in this establishment.
All this being contrasted with an experience I once had at a Five and Dime store in Houston when I had a severe chocolate craving and went in to buy a small package of Hershey’s Kisses; which happened to come in the seasonal Christmas version of red and green foil wrappers.
The woman at the checkout counter said to me:
- Why sir. Did you notice that what you have is the holiday wrapped chocolate and that the same chocolate in the silver wrappers are priced twenty-five cents less?
- That’s quite all right, thank you, it doesn’t really matter that much to me. Right now, just having the chocolate would be okay.
To which she replied:
- Well no, sir, all of that just idn’t right. Prices. Craving. Rushing. Just all of it. So, hold your horses there for a minute. And by the way, didn’t your Momma ever teach you anything about shopping?She then promptly walked to the back of the store where I had picked up the original candy, exchanged them for me, and forced me to take back a quarter. The South may never rise again as a military force. But somewhere along the line, and just like fine cream that hasn’t yet separated itself from the milk, it would not hurt to let a little bit of its old-fashioned civility and courtesy come floating back up to the surface.
Only figuratively speaking, of course
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