Polite Society is often neither

It was as innocuous as a day could be; a late morning, a poolside visit. There are some times when working the night shift is the best thing in the world. To complete my sweet summer day I swung by the deli counter at the local market before heading into work.

When you work in a busy bar or restaurant, going somewhere that is not busy is about as good as it gets. Working weekends also means that I haven’t made reservations or stood in line for a long time, and truth be told, I don’t miss it at all.

If fewer people tolerated rudeness, there would be less rudeness around. It’s our acquiescence that allows it to happen.

I approached the counter and noticed a solitary man standing off to one side. Being in the customer service industry, and thinking myself a gentleman at heart, I asked him if he had already ordered. Common decency right?

“Yup,” was his answer. Not particularly gentlemanly but better than that “how dare you talk to me stare” that some people give, and certainly far better than no answer at all.

I turned back to the deli counter just as two women pushed by me, one grabbing the little number turnstile so violently that several of the numbers fell to the floor.

I stooped over to pick up the numbers.

Usually inadvertent rudeness doesn’t bother me — in my business you learn to let it go otherwise it drives you right out the door. Deliberate rudeness on the other hand, is something I rarely tolerate and certainly not on my day off. In gentlemanly fashion however, I was poised to give the two women the benefit of the doubt. Until, the ticket-holding woman smirked at me.

Now to be clear, there was no doubt that I was next. Mr. Yup knew that I was next, the man behind the counter knew I was next and both women knew it, too. No little number ticket was going to change the truth of that.

So, when the man behind the counter sidestepped the whole number system and looked right at me, asking rather rhetorically, “Whose next?” I stepped up and ordered my sandwich.

The lady who had smirked at me instantly became the victim.

“Well I guess they aren’t taking numbers,” she said indignantly.

I see this sort of thing all the time. There are people who obviously know what common decency dictates, but count on other people playing by the rules. They know they didn’t make reservations, but they lie and they bully until they get what they want. Outside the restaurant it’s no different; these people see the no parking sign, but park there anyway. They know it is “first come first served,” but they push in front of people anyway. The sign says “Dogs must be on leash” but theirs is not. “No cell phones” obviously only applies to other people. It goes on and on. Just because I can run around you faster in order to get to the ATM machine first doesn’t mean that I get to. That is what polite society is all about.

People confuse being polite with being a pushover. It is not rude to stand your ground. If someone is being rude to you, you are not obligated to be polite back. It’s that simple. If fewer people tolerated rudeness, there would be less rudeness around. It’s our acquiescence that allows it to happen.

However there is a catch. If you lose track of civility then instead of everyone seeing one rude person they’ll see two rude people arguing. It was with that thought that I turned back to the line cutters.

“Thank you, ladies,” was all I said. Smirkless I might add.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• “Ladies first” is not a right but rather an option conditional on the fact that the woman is actually behaving like a lady.

• Polite society is often neither.

• The Bible says to turn the other cheek; it doesn’t say to do so twice.

• “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me,” is a famous saying.

• “Fool me once shame on uh you? … Uh … uh … you can’t get fooled again,” our 43rd President George W. Bush, both a Harvard and a Yale graduate said, butchering the saying.

• “The historian’s job is to aggrandize, promoting accident to inevitability and innocuous circumstance to portent,” wrote sociologist Peter Conrad. One wonders if that also applies to sociologists, too. Or writers and bartenders for that matter