Service of We Get What We Deserve
December 17th, 2009
Joanne Kaufman wrote a column, “Too Polite?” in Town & Country‘s January issue in which she ponders the surprising dynamic of being snapped at when she offers her seat to older people who are standing in a subway or bus.
I mentioned this to Pierre, a charming, young, very helpful doorman who guards our office building. He nodded his head and said, “I will never again offer my seat to anyone. I have been yelled at for the last time.” (Could this be why so few give up their seats to women who are 9 months pregnant?)
For goodness sakes, can’t people recognize and encourage others for doing something generous? Are people so self-centered as to misunderstand a gracious gesture? The person who gives up a seat isn’t trying to insult, only to be respectful and compassionate AND polite. What’s wrong with a big smile, and “Thank you, no, I’m getting out at the next stop” in return?
Obviously when they were little, Joanne and Pierre’s mothers–as did mine–nudged them in the ribs when someone older entered the bus to remind them to give up their seat. Joanne wrote that she is instructing her children to do this. In the article she marveled that friends and family reprimand her for training her children to write thank you notes as well as for what she considers other standard customs of civilized behavior.
This kind of attitude has repercussions, albeit small ones. When someone crashes into me, or my package, on a city sidewalk, I can’t remember the last time I heard an apology. Has “excuse me” dropped from our vocabulary? Yesterday someone slammed into my niece and said nothing to her as she gathered her footing.
If you apologize, be sure to check out the crasher’s expression: He/she will look angry at you!
I’m sidewalk savvy, having grown up in New York, which means I have invisible antennae that gauge when there are others around me. City nubies, take heart–this doesn’t matter. Bumping and slamming happens anyway and not only in NY, but also in Paris, where, like here, the silent treatment trumps an apology.
So many people grouse about “young people today.” I’m ashamed of older ones who should know better.
How do people think we will live together cordially in an increasingly jam-packed world when they merrily shrug off and diminish the importance of the most fundamental and simple ways we can lubricate human interaction? What happened to “peace on earth, goodwill to men-and women?”