Service of Chutzpah II

January 26th, 2023

Categories: Chutzpah, Etiquette, Museums, TV

A picture by Edward Hopper at the Whitney Museum

It’s been eight years since the first post with this title so I’d best translate chutzpah for those still unfamiliar with the word. According to the Urban Dictionary it means “Unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall. 2. Audacity; nerve.” There have been plenty of examples since then that appeared under different titles.

A Vuillard at MoMA

Here’s an example. Mrs. Beck illustrated chutzpah in the recent “Surviving Siegfried” episode of All Creatures Great and Small on PBS. First, she chiseled the price of neutering her cat Georgina to way below market value and next she created more work than expected for the time-pressed vet. She handed the James Herriot character and his bride Helen an empty box. She told them to find and pick up her rambunctious feline who was roaming in the garden. Then she scampered inside her house. When the vet returned the cat—who had badly scratched several in the household—Mrs. Beck grabbed the carrier–a nice one while she’d started with a ratty cardboard box–and skipped out of paying the reduced fee saying she would at the checkup in a week’s time.

However, the instance in this charming series didn’t inspire this post. A friend’s irritation about a pushy couple at a Manhattan museum did. She wrote that “People who join your private group and latch on when it’s meant to be intimate and exclusive,” is what got her. The tour of the landmark Hopper exhibit at the Whitney Museum was organized by a university alumni association. She wrote that a couple slipped into their group of eight which was deliberately small as “crowds get unwieldy.” She continued: “eventually the woman asked our guide if she and her companion could join.” The stranger admitted she wasn’t a graduate of the university. “I thought our guide said ‘no’ but in the end, she let them stay.” My friend added that the guide’s voice wasn’t loud so to hear her you had to stand near which made adding two more to the group even more uncomfortable.

Impatient, entitled and pushy New Yorkers cross the line all the time—literally and figuratively– but human nature being what it is, residents were also doing it in a lovely town in the Yorkshire Dales in the shadow of WWII and long before. Some feel that they are above the informal rules of etiquette that are made to help people live together in peace. I wonder how they acquire that approach.

Don’t you think that the trick is for the rule-followers to learn how not to be disturbed by the obnoxious ones while figuring out how to stop them from taking advantage and overstepping? Any ideas?

A picture from the Tudor exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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13 Responses to “Service of Chutzpah II”

  1. BC Said:

    I am confrontational-Quiet Direct approach to the offenders.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It really depends on the circumstance for me. When a nasty looking fellow lit up a cigarette in a subway car in the tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan, I did not explain to him that we might have an oxygen issue if the subway stopped so please put it out. Yet when people try to break into a line where I’ve been waiting a long time I speak up.

    I doubt if I’d have had the presence of mind to suggest that the couple check with information at the museum to see what private tours they might attend. It was up to the tour guide to do that.

  3. ASK Said:

    Whenever I arranged guided tours of museum exhibits for alumnae groups, we were confronted with “strays” latching onto the group. Most museum docents, at least the ones we had on our tours, were quite upfront about “disinviting” those who tried to join. But then, most of the guides were alums of my alma mater, not especially known as a shy bunch!

  4. Martha T Takayama Said:

    Chutzpah I am afraid transcends time and place. We often tend to associate it with particular regions or social groups, but it is also a matter of personality and temperament. I always have found it supremely annoying and rude, but in the era of Donald Trump and Bruce Santos, I am totally overwhelmed by how innocent basic chutzpah seems. One can only condition oneself to not get upset. As for combatting it, I often feel that only ignoring the attempts to circumvent the norm or restrained, formal disapproval may inhibit it, but not much. I don’t have any other suggestion except avoiding exposing yourself by not including people who have this quality in excess in your plans.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    As I responded to BC, I think that it is up to the docent or tour guide to discourage intruders. It’s not an easy thing to do at any time. These days people are quick to yell “ABUSE!” or “DISCRIMINATION!” and worse–take revenge in a physical way.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am too thin skinned. I let rudeness in the form of pushy behavior bother me even though I know it shouldn’t. In fact, I feel a twinge when I say hello or good morning to a tenant or guest of a tenant waiting by the elevator and the person doesn’t respond. I try to tell myself that they probably have on earbuds playing loud music and they don’t hear me. And that behavior is miles from chutzpah. So confronted by chutzpah, in a situation such as the pushy couple in the museum, I’m sure I’d have been dumbstruck and would have suffered in silence.

  7. EAM Said:

    I like the topic.

    I went to see the Grace Kelly exhibit years ago at Sotheby’s. This woman pushed through the line going into one of the galleries {she was pushy but young}. I remember being unnerved.

  8. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: Poor parenting!

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I suspect that in some cases those at the top of the chutzpah list are copying a parents’s behavior.

  10. lucrezia Said:

    In real life, the meek don’t inherit the earth, so phooey on rules when someone inserts him/herself in a line. My approach is to move ahead of the intruder asking, “Am I invisible?” This draws unwelcome to the perp, who swiftly backs off. Blindly abiding by the rules simply doesn’t pay.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I was in a memorable line to see a movie. Temperature 4 degrees. We took turns to get hot chocolate or coffee to warm up. As the line finally began to move inside a woman swept out of a taxi with what looked like her grandson and tried to wedge herself in front of frozen us. That didn’t happen. But someone a few places behind us let her in. When I think of the instance and the people behind us who let them in I still get annoyed. I propose that the grandson is acting this way to this day.

  12. Deborah Wright Said:

    Great question! As a former teacher, I get very indignant when people exhibit rude and obnoxious behavior. I never let my students get away with shoving in line, etc.

    Recently, I was at the post office. I was waiting in a line of about eight people. A middle-aged woman, very well-dressed and lovely make-up and all, didn’t even get in line. She went to the clerk’s window and told her she was in such a rush that she had to be taken care of right away! And the clerk took her before the rest of us! The rest of us peasants in line muttered and we looked at each other. When it was my turn, I asked the clerk why she allowed this woman to bulldoze right in front of people. She replied that this individual does it frequently. I would have told her to wait her turn, but I was not the clerk!

    How to coexist with people who deliberately think the rules are not for them? I guess ignore them when possible. However, it goes against my grain to be quiet and I have been known to correct teens. At a League of Women Voter’s forum for a local election, I was to be a monitor –no posters allowed or t-shirts, etc. Well, I was sitting next to two teens who were one of the candidates’ children. They kept talking and texting to each other; I already told them to turn their shirts inside out which they did. Finally, I leaned over and hissed at them to knock it off and that they were embarrassing their father who was running for mayor of McHenry. I am sure that they thought I was an old bat, but too bad. I am aware that in today’s world, I cannot go around confronting people whose behavior I don’t like!

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I was waiting in line at a post office in Avignon, France. I was to be next when suddenly a woman appeared in front of me. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, in rusty French: “Excuse me, Madame, but I’m in line.” She looked indignant and I went next. Chutzpah is international.

    As you note, best choose your battles. With everyone on tenterhooks it’s crucial for safety if nothing else. An outraged person with hidden weapon could do harm.

    Good for you for making the kids turn their tee-shirts inside out and asking them to settle down. Sometimes a reprimand by a stranger can open a youngster’s eyes, especially if he/she has been spoiled and indulged and made to think they are the center of the universe while they wonder why they have a hard time fitting in.

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