Tag Archives: Manners

R. E. S. P. E. C. T.

Made famous by Toulouse Latrec. you’ll find it in Paris.

One thing that seems to be in short supply in America these days is respect. I mean respect for each other’s basic humanity. I guess it is largely because social media seems so anonymous, and can in fact be so, that I see so many cases of someone blaming entire groups of people (MAGA wearers, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Rastafarians, Pastafarians, Vegans, meat eaters, women, men, and whoever created mosquitoes, for examples.) I’ll tell you this right now, folks, if you do that, you’ve just lost your argument. Sure, it feels good, but it just shows your own weakness. Ironic, that. Anyway, interpersonal respect is what keeps a society functioning. Respect of authority isn’t it. Respect of social position isn’t it. Respect of wealth or job title isn’t it. It is simply respect for the basic humanity of another person. That is what we need to cultivate, and stat.

We might look to France for some guidance on this, because the French are very much committed to respecting each other’s basic humanity. My first morning ever in France, in 1976, I went to a change booth in a train station (no ATMs in those days) and received a stern lecture from the change lady on how to be polite in society. Fortunately for me, I took her lesson to heart. Not only in France, but after I returned home. I generally say hello, goodbye, please, and thank-you. For years I took that as basic courtesy, and was at first amazed at how much easier simply being polite made things. But, to the French, it is courtesy, yes, but also much more.

In France, the word for hello is “bonjour.” Literally that means “good day,” but it has been used as “hello” for so long that people had to adopt “bonne journée,” which originally meant “good trip you can take out and back in one day.” FYI. Anyhow, you first say “Good Day” and then you add, “Madame” or Monsieur.” Madame literally means “My Lady.” Monsieur literally means “My Lord.” So, no matter who you address in France, you are saying, “Hello, My Lady,” or “Hello, My Lord.” Sounds a bit over the top, but it works. If the President of France wants to speak to a beggar on the corner, the President must first say, “Hello, My Lord” or “Hello, My Lady.” Only then is it proper to begin a conversation. This is why sometimes Americans believe the French to be impolite: because in America we don’t go for such ceremony, and anyway, shouldn’t the shopkeeper say hello first? (Sometimes they do. I would, but it isn’t required.) No matter who you are addressing, it is assumed that you are invading their personal space, and you owe them the simple acknowledgement of that fact, which is to say, a polite greeting. Is the beggar on the corner a Lord or Lady? Probably not, but by using those terms, you grant them the basic dignity due to any human being.

When you combine this basic respect with the French educational goal of being able to discuss literally anything without getting personal, you end up with a polite society where it is considered normal to argue. (No, shopkeepers won’t argue with you. Once you’ve exchanged “bonjours” they’ll be so eager to help that you’ll almost feel guilty.) Imagine a society where arguments were not the Monty Python type (No they aren’t!) but rather reasoned and defensible. We could have that, if we respected each other. We certainly don’t need to go to the lengths of calling each other My Lord or My Lady. In fact, a bunch of patriots once fought a war for the right to eliminate Lords and Ladies. But we can still be respectful. A few suggestions:

  • Don’t call people names. Not even if you hate them. Remember, as we writers occasionally point out, that everyone is the hero of their own story. You may not agree with their reasoning, but you can respect their right to an opinion without getting snarky.
  • Say hello to everyone you expect to interact with, and to anyone on the street with whom you happen to lock eyes. And when you want something from someone, say “please,” and after you get it, say “thank-you.” and Maybe throw in a Sir or Ma’am to really seal the deal. (Yes, watered down versions of those old titles, but still appreciated.)
  • Don’t blame groups, any groups, for society’s problems. We are all members of society, so we all contribute, each in our own way, to the problems. Boomers didn’t wreck the world (trust me,) nor are they any better than any other generation. We all have our quirks. Millenials aren’t lazy. Generation X has never slacked. And Generation Z, while pretty young yet, will make a great contribution (that history will forget) to the welfare of humankind. (Such generations always do. The last one invented rock and roll. They called them “silent,” ironically.)
  • Don’t get over invested in a particular world view. For one thing, in philosophical terms, it’s as likely as not that you have some significant information wrong.
  • Stay cool, stay respectful.

Ladies and Lords, we can do this. We can make America better simply be being mutually respectful. And, very importantly, by being respectful even of those who don’t respect us. In that case, remember, that’s their problem, not yours. Okay?

Great. Now go forth and be respectfully kind to each other! Thank you.

Stereotypes

The oldest house in Paris, next to the Jardin de l’hôtel de Sens

Which makes the house, duh, l’hôtel de Sens. Since you’re curious, here’s a bit of the garden.

The garden and hôtel pictured are in the area of Paris known as Saint-Paul. You can call up a walking tour of the quarter on your phone and follow it around, which is what we were doing when we visited this garden, which is in fact a lovely park in a quiet neighborhood. The building is medieval, as you can see. Most of Paris was razed and redone during the 19th century at the behest of Napoleon III, but a few things, like this and Notre Dame, were spared. So it’s worth looking for.

While we were looking for it, and other parts of the quarter, we walked looking at our phones. Time after time a Parisian native would stop us and ask us if we needed help finding something. Of course, we didn’t, but this behavior was from people popularly thought of as snooty and unhelpful, on the good side. I’m here to tell you that such is not at all the case. Indulge me in another story if you will, this time involving motor fuel and cash.

Tami and I carry the same credit card, so when one of ours (nevermind) was lost on the bus from the airport to the Gare Montparnasse, we had to cancel it. This meant that we had no credit card with which to buy gasoline for our rental car. (We did set it up so that the card was valid for the rental car company, and nobody else, until the end of our rental period.) (Europecar. I recommend them.) We took a train to Angoulême, where we stayed for five days. Charente is a beautiful area (formerly a province, but long story,) and here’s the view out of our bedroom window to prove it.

A view to the East from Angoulême near the center of town.

From Angoulême we drove to Bordeaux, Saint Émilion, Cognac, Royan, and Chabonais over the course of several days. By that time we were low on gas. The station we found (there aren’t as many as we have here) was credit cards only at the pump. The kiosk where one can convert cash to a ticket with which to buy fuel was broken. Thing is, I had never really spoken French before, but when we decided to ask someone to use their card and I’d give them cash (our debit card still worked at least, but not on gas pumps) I looked around and saw only French people. It was raining hard, too. I asked the man at the next pump, “comprendez-vous Ainglais?” and got a “non.” Digging deep, deep into what I’ve learned from various sources (Duolingo is a great place to start) I then used my no doubt horrible French to ask him the favor. He was eager to help the poor American, and I gave him fifty Euros, after which he pumped fifty Euros and one cent worth of gas into our car. (Amazingly, that exactly filled the tank.) I gave him every compliment in French I could think of, and he smilingly said goodbye.

I ask you, is that rude and unhelpful? (Spoiler alert — no, it is exactly the opposite of rude and unhelpful.)

I’ve posted about this before, but whatever you do to other people is reflected back on to you. In France, we take pains to be polite. French polite. That means always say hello, please, thank you, and goodbye. To everybody. Sounds silly, right?

Not to the fine, friendly, helpful people of France it doesn’t. Votre santé, France!

 

Being Considerate And Other Anachronisms

White Buffalo -- Not So Rare in Williams, Arizona
White Buffalo — Not So Rare in Williams, Arizona

The bison are at Bearizona on the East side of town on Route 66.

I recently commented on a comment on a friend’s Facebook page, offering to start a discussion around what causes the rape culture in America. I have my ideas, others have theirs. I hoped that some like-minded individuals could possibly brainstorm some things that might be done to help make sexual assaults less and less common, if not eliminated altogether. What I got was accused of “mansplaining,” whatever that means. Here’s a hint: just because a man explains something, it isn’t “mansplaining.” And I wasn’t offering an explanation, but a hypothesis. I tried defending myself once, and got answered again with name calling and invective. I posted that I didn’t allow anyone to slam women in my home, nor men neither, and read the reply that I was “okay with dissing women on the Internet.” My last post was that I have never done that, and I haven’t. Everything I’ve ever posted is still out there, somewhere, so anyone who cares enough can check for themselves. And, I am pissed about that incident, but of course I literally can’t argue with those people. And that brings me to the theme of this post.

Stating your positions in a way that cannot be argued against isn’t all that difficult. Books have been written about how to manipulate the public discourse, after all. Many blame the current administration in DC for the coarseness of our national conversations, but that doesn’t explain why some apparently anti-trump, avowedly feminist individuals, are using the same techniques. My hypothesis is that boomers are responsible, but that really doesn’t matter. What does matter is what we can do to make things better. As I’m still pissed off, this may sound harsh,  but here are a few ideas:

  1. Everyone must remember that whatever they know or believe to be true is based upon only their own limited view of the world.
  2. That being the case, some humility is in order when offering opinions. No one has a monopoly on the truth.
  3. Arguing in a manner that can’t be refuted (literally) means that you can never learn anything new. Everyone has to simply relax and realize that their own answer may not be an answer at all for anyone else.
  4. If someone seems to oppose your views, talk to them rather than slamming them. You might be happily surprised that you were wrong about them.
  5. And, this is important, the world survived for eons without your input. It will go on for eons after you, and I, and everyone else, is no longer alive. Relax. You’re going to be okay, I promise.

Tomorrow is regular writing post day, and I’m going to write about how writers can help improve the world, because we certainly can. Check back in the morning!

More About New York*

Well, not New York per se, but being in the humongous crowds on Times Square last week did inspire me to try to create a comedy routine based on how idiotic people are in large crowds. And in traffic. And in general.

What happens frequently in Times Square is a group of people, five or more, will stop dead on a street corner to discuss what they’re doing, where they’re going, all the tall buildings, all of that and more, and possibly, how to inconvenience the maximum number of people who would just like to cross the street before the light changes. Yep, they block several hundred people from getting on with their business, whether those people are fellow tourists (no native New Yorker would ever block a sidewalk in that way except in strict dire need) or Natives trying to go about their business. And for some reason, that is okay?

I believe that I understand why people from the sticks think that New Yorkers are impolite. I’ve always found New Yorkers to be the nicest people imaginable. They’re helpful, they’ll tell you what you need to know, if they know themselves, and they are sympathetic with each other and with visitors. But, they have things to do. The polite thing to do with public right of way in a large city, even in Las Vegas, is to use the public right of way as you need to, and then get off of it so that somebody else has a chance to use it. If you dawdle, you’re being extremely impolite. Extremely. So, since impoliteness begets impoliteness, the average small townie gets a lot of rudeness our of New Yorkers in return for the rudeness he or she is dishing out. Personally, I fantasized about picking up the offenders and setting them down in front of a bus! (No, I didn’t do any such thing.) The people who dawdle on Times Square without being impolite do it on the pedestrian mall that has been developed in the middle of Broadway. There are even tables and chairs out there if you want to sit a while and contemplate your next move. That’s where the Naked Cowboy, the costumed characters, the naked women, and anyone else with consideration for their fellow humans, who wants to dawdle, does their dawdling. Is that so much to ask?

For small town America, I guess it is.

*Sorry if I sound bitter. At least I can hope that the bit is funny!