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On My Soapbox

2010 June 22

I started to write this article several times in the past, but usually ended up deleting it. My sense of propriety told me that it’s not the way to change behaviors. Lately, however, it seems that in order to bring something like this to light, I need to lower my standards of decorum to the level of those I’m addressing.

“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” That’s what the character Howard Beale said in the movie, Network. He said that after talking about how bad the state of the world was. That movie was made 34 years ago, and sadly, not much has changed. We still have a depression, people are still losing their jobs, and we have a different kind of oil crisis. And instead of the Russians to blame for our woes, now it’s the Chinese. Something else has changed though, and it has been so gradual that most people have overlooked it or grown accustomed to it. Some people have developed a misplaced sense of entitlement or maybe an over-developed self-esteem. Known in the vernacular simply as assholes or jerks, they somehow believe they are above everyone else and society’s norms and mores don’t apply to them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a couple of examples from recent incidents in my life.

Common Courtesy is Uncommon

What has happened to the words, PleaseThank you and Excuse me? Have they disappeared from the English vocabulary? One of the first things I learned in sign language and often taught to children is how to say, please. In ASL, it’s a clockwise motion with the right hand on your chest. Sometimes, I forget this word, but my wife often reminds me by signing it. A gentle reminder to use these social lubricants, and especially with those closest to you, whom you would otherwise take for granted.

When someone holds a door open for you, the polite thing to say is, “thank you.” Instead, I often hear nothing, as if that small act of kindness was not worthy of thanks. It’s almost as if they felt entitled to having that door held open for them. Sorry, but I’m not your doorman. Anytime someone goes out of their way to do something for you, no matter how small, they deserve your thanks.

It’s even worse when you’ve done something more substantial and you don’t even hear an acknowledgement. Just because I live in wine country, doesn’t mean I have to make recommendations for wineries or restaurants for people from out-of-town. When I go out of my way to compile a list for you, along with reasons why you should visit each of these places, at the very least I would hope that you have the common decency to thank me for doing this. After all, I’m not your travel agent.

Or what about that awkward situation when boarding the airplane and you have the window seat when someone is already sitting in the seat next to the aisle? The proper thing to say in this situation is, “excuse me,” not, “I’m in there.” One of these days, I’m just going forget my upbringing and say, “That’s nice,” and not move an inch until I hear those magic words.

Come on, people. These are common social courtesies that you should have learned when you were 2 or 3 years old. In a way, it’s partly the parent’s fault for not teaching manners to their kids or being so hypersensitive to bruising their child’s delicate self-esteem that they’ve never taught them humility or shame, only arrogance and conceit. Which brings me to my next pet peeve.

Drive Friendly

If you’ve ever driven through rural Texas, I’m sure you’ve noticed the signs along the road that say, “Drive Friendly,” and how other drivers on two-lane roads will often move over onto the berm to allow you to pass. I’ve almost never experienced such courteous drivers anywhere else, except maybe Hawaii. Elsewhere, they have to put up signs that say, “Slower traffic keep right,” yet people still plant themselves in the left lane doing the speed limit. Just because you own a fancy German luxury car or gas guzzling pickup truck doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the left lane. Please, if there’s room, MOVE OVER!

And speaking of entitlement, who gave these people a pass to the front of the line when one of the lanes is closed? You know what I’m talking about: a sign warns about a lane closure ahead, yet many drivers choose to ignore it and keep driving right up to the last minute and rudely jump into the front of the huge line of cars that they’ve just passed up. They’ll even drive on the berm to pass you. While the rest of us have patiently waited our turn to get past this traffic obstacle, these people think they shouldn’t have to wait. Hey, jerk, WAIT YOUR TURN!  Are all the bad feelings and bad karma you’re creating worth getting to your destination a couple minutes sooner than the rest of us? Unfortunately, no matter how mad you get, there’s little you can do about this. You can only hope for instant karma and that they’ll get pulled over for speeding or some other reason, but I find that rarely ever happens. I just hope there’s a special place in eternity where these people are forced to wait in a line that never moves.

Don’t Shovel Your Food

Last month, I went to a food and wine event where we had a formal sit-down meal—proper linens and table settings in a formal dining room with gourmet food. As I watched my neighbor hold his fork like someone about to shovel a bowl of gruel into his mouth, I was thankful that despite years of eating Chinese family-style with chopsticks, I still knew the proper way to hold Western utensils and remembered my table etiquette.

Some of you may ask, why is this even important? Some may think this is just being a snob, but proper table manners are important. If nothing else, etiquette is a matter of politeness to your host and proper behavior. It’s a public display of your learning and upbringing and reflects upon, not only you, but your parents and mentors as well. Besides, who wants to go out on a date or be at a business luncheon and not know how to eat properly. You could repulse the person of your dreams or lose the next promotion or big sales deal.

There are lots of books written on the subject of table etiquette, but in a nutshell here are some basic tips:

  • Place your napkin in your lap, not tucked into your shirt. If you leave the table, place the napkin on the table not in your chair.
  • Keep your elbows off the table. You can place your free hand in your lap or, in some cultures, on the table.
  • Use your outer-most utensils for each course. If you drop a utensil, simply ask for a new one.
  • Bring the food to your mouth, not your mouth to the food.
  • Avoid clanking or scraping your utensils against your teeth.
  • Don’t slurp your soup. To get the last spoonful, slightly tilt your bowl away from you.
  • Don’t saw your meat with the knife, slice it gently by pulling the knife toward you to avoid shaking the table. If the knife doesn’t cut easily, ask for a new one.
  • Do not cut more than one or two bites at a time. It’s acceptable to bring a bite to your mouth with the same hand while holding the knife or setting down the knife and holding the fork with the opposite hand.
  • When finished, place your utensils at the 4 o’clock position on your plate to indicate to the server you are done and to remove your plate. Do not set the plate aside, wait for the server to remove it.
  • Be mindful of local customs. Touching food with your left hand is bad manners in many cultures.

Do you have any pet peeves like these? I’d love to hear what rankles you. Leave a comment. Here’s your chance to get it off your chest.

This concludes this soapbox session. I now return you to my regularly scheduled blog already in progress.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. June 22, 2010

    Dear Eric,

    Allow me to say it here – thank you for all that you do to promote Woodinville Wine country. The family of wineries bring together some of the most amazing individuals I have ever known — hard-working, interesting, fun-loving and caring. I can tell you with certainty that everyone greatly appreciates a nod and thoughtful insights into our wines, tasting rooms, events and winery stories. Sending gratitude from DiStefano Winery!

    Your overall commentary on social graces has long been a hot topic on my mind. It reminds me of sociological works on civility…the rise, the fall, the potential for civility to become fashionable once again. We shall stay tuned together. Meanwhile, sorry for your bad experiences!

  2. June 22, 2010

    Thank you for writing this post. It does seem that common courtesy, which I often equate with common sense, has been so badly neglected that it is withering away.
    Thank you and excuse me are phrases that I would hope are ingrained in us as we grow and mature through elementary school, but those phrases seem to be left behind.

    On the other hand, I am ashamed to admit that I don’t always uphold the basic rules of etiquette. Part of that is those skills were not taught in my household growing up and I had to learn them from others. The other part is that as my MS progresses, I am physically unable to do some of them. I am very self conscious while eating now and I certainly do not mean to offend, but that is my reality.

    But if you catch me not saying thank you, you can give me “the look” that my grandmother did to make sure that I behaved!

  3. July 15, 2010

    Frigging awesome post Eric! Thank you for getting up on your soapbox and expressing what so many of the rest of us feel. If you ever talk to my wife, she’ll tell you how much I despise bad manners. It may be my Midwest upbringing, but how hard is it to say please and thank you?

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