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Author Topic: Good manners, social graces, and etiquette  (Read 10646 times)
Power User
Posts: 42556

« on: November 10, 2008, 11:47:15 AM »

Kind of a whiny bitch tone to this, but it addresses something I suspect many of us have felt.

All Apologies
Published: November 10, 2008

I SOMETIMES find strangers’ manners so lacking that I have started engaging in an odd kind of activism. I call it reverse etiquette: I supply the apology that they should be giving me.

When the ebullient young woman behind the cash register at the grocery store dropped my apple on the ground, she smiled nervously, picked it up and put it in my bag, but said nothing. So I offered, in a neutral tone of voice, “Oh, I’m sorry.” This did not elicit the remorse I hoped it would — she simply grimace-smiled and said, “That’s O.K.” So I added, “Sorry about that — I really didn’t mean for you to drop that.” At which she stared off into the mid-distance as if receiving instructions from outer space.

A few weeks later, the skinny, 20-something gentleman manning the cash register at the pizzeria told me, “I can’t break a 20.” So I asked, “Would you mind terribly if I went next door and got change?” He said, “That’s fine.” When I returned, no thanks or apology forthcoming from him, I said in a flat, non-sarcastic voice, “So sorry — I hope I didn’t keep you waiting?” Confused, he shook his head no. “I forget stuff sometimes,” I said — a cue that went unmet.

How did I get here? I’d feel like a marm or a scold if I told a stranger that he has bad manners; so instead I wage a campaign of subtle remonstrance. That this subtle remonstrance was, in its initial forays at least, mostly lost on my interlocutors did not faze me: being able to sublimate my irritation was its own reward.

But I like to think that in some instances my behavior, by causing others to wonder what I’m going on about, may help to carry out etiquette’s mandate: to promote empathy. It’s my distinct hope that the person who is apologized to when she drops my apple is a person who will have an epiphany the next time someone drops her apple.

And yet, placated though I am by the realization that I am providing others with gentle, time-released lessons, sometimes the angry little man inside me wants more. Much more. To wit, an apology.

So I have become more explicit in my acts of reverse etiquette. The other day I apologized to a tall, bearded man who slammed his duffel into me at Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street. Then I told him, “I’m saying what you should be saying.” He responded, in toto, “Oh, right.”

Though this response could not be described as “blanket-like,” it nevertheless gave me enough ground to see that I was on the right track. I realized that I just need to be even more explicit with people. So the other day, when a stroller-pushing mother semi-vigorously bumped into me at Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street — this corner is apparently the Bermuda Triangle of manners — I expressed remorse, and added, “No one says I’m sorry anymore, so I do it for them.”


“My idea is that if I say I’m sorry, then at least the words have been released into the universe.”

She stared at me with equal parts irritation and faint horror, as if I had just asked her to attend a three-hour lecture on the history of the leotard.

I continued: “The apology gets said, even if it’s not by the right person. It makes me feel better. And maybe you’ll know what to say next time.”

“Wow,” she said. (The tickets for the leotard lecture were $200, or $500 at the door.)

And then, finally, came the words I have longed these many months to hear: “I’ll think about it.”

Henry Alford is the author of the forthcoming “How to Live.”

David III
Posts: 20

« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2008, 09:28:21 PM »

I read this on another forum, oddly enough it's dedicated to the 1930s and 1940s, the so-called "golden age" -- so they talk about that era clothing, fashions and wearing fedoras (I'm into cowboy hats myself). Anyway, I think the entire concept of manners and social graces has just gone away and apologizing for someone else is kind of like that old saying about trying to teach a pig to do something. Makes one upset and annoys the pig, but doesn't solve the initial idea of teaching.
Years ago, I lived in Philadelphia, which I consider the haven of no manners and a big attitude. I moved to nowhere Missouri and everyone was polite. Not much anymore. That PA attitude has moved across the nation.
My observations have led me to the belief that most people are so self-absorbed that they just don't even notice that they are not interacting with others in a reasonable manner. I cite the many drivers chatting or text-messaging on cell phones while simultaneously running others off the road.
I don't believe stating their apology will do much good. I've only found that being mean and ugly looking while driving a giant Dodge pickup makes a bit of difference. But, only a bit.
Power User
Posts: 513

« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2008, 11:48:08 PM »

Why were manners developed in the first place......hmmmm?

Simply food for thought. I feel I know why and if more people thought about it they would adopt manners.  Our society has been sheltered for so long they have forgotten what used to lay beyond the firelight.
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2008, 07:24:19 AM »

Our society has been sheltered for so long they have forgotten what used to lay beyond the firelight.

Wow, what a great quote.
Power User
Posts: 42556

« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2008, 07:46:52 AM »

Indeed it is.  Its even better when rendered the verb is in agreement with the subject:  evil

"Our society has been sheltered for so long it has forgotten what used to lay beyond the firelight."


"People have been sheltered for so long they have forgotten what used to lay beyond the firelight."

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