Last Sunday, the family unit descended down upon the Mobile Chowdown in the heart of W. Seattle. Twenty trucks of diet-wrecking temptation lined up and down two blocks, each staggered and facing opposite sides of the street so that their serving windows could accommodate the winding lines of people waiting to taste the sumptuous fare. The smell of pork and hamburger sliders, freshly made doughnuts, mesquite wood smoke from BBQ and even a full-blown wood-fired pizza oven, all filled the air and wafted down the street like a nearly lickable cloud of goodness. Strangely absent while waiting in line for all of this off-the-hook food was the sound of “Excuse me” or “Pardon me” or “I’m sorry, can we get by.” The condiment of common courtesy was, yes, the one ingredient folks forgot to pack along with their appetites.
Now I understand people are wanting to find a short way to get to a particular food truck or to catch up with friends and loved ones or chasing a stray kid (hey, I’ve got a 3.5 year old, too), and I was certainly going nowhere fast. But how hard it is to simply say, “Excuse me” to alert someone you’d like to pass through? Instead, silence. Nothing. Not a peep. Not a mumble. Maybe a sheepish smile, and that’s if I was lucky. After the 8th, 9th or 10th person did this, I wanted to say “The phrase is “excuse me” or simply to stick my foot out and trip them—even then I doubt they’d have said anything. But decency and kindness got the better of me. Damn virtues.
Rather than occupy my mind and stomach with the thoughts of a sweet and spicy pork sandwich from Maximus Minimus which would only make me more impatient, I began to wonder what has happened to common courtesies like “Excuse me” or “Thank you” or “You’re welcome” (which as strangely been replaced by “No problem”). Teenagers and
young twentysomethings not saying it? Okay, I kind of expect that sort of self-centered rudeness from them. Then again, I don’t. I wasn’t raised that way. I know most of my friends weren’t raised that way. So where does this disintegration of common courtesy originate? My guess is that all boils down to the parents, and, in some cases, it’s cultural. (Newly immigrated Chinese folks can’t be bothered with such pleasantries among 2 billion or so people. And Slavic Eastern Europeans and Russians, who are just plain fucking rude at large. I lived in San Francisco for years, I encountered both groups often. ) I want to be able to point and say “Oh, this X group is the culprit,” but I can’t. It really stretches across all ages, races and creeds; there is no detectable pattern. I’ve seen it everywhere, even in places far less crowded than a street fair—grocery and department stores, along the sidewalk and, heck, I can even recall an incident on a hiking trail.
The question is, how to fix it?
Well, I’m going to stand up in my little corner of the world and start saying something. I’m going to try the Old Fuddy Duddy approach, “The phrase is excuse me…”, or to an older person, “You’re too old not to say excuse me”. Of course I should be careful where and on who to drop these little bombs of courteous correction. (Example: gangbangers, heavily tattooed men wearing leather and sporting handlebar moustaches, and butchy looking women, which rules out 3/4’s of West Seattle women.) And no doubt someone will at some point retort with the all-too ironic “You don’t need to be rude about it…”, thus naturally deflecting and blaming their own original rude behavior on someone else. (Good old absolution. It’s not just a religious trait anymore.)
Lastly, it should almost go without question that should The Boy commit such an infraction that he will be corrected (I always think of the ghostly bartender, Delbert Grady in “The Shining” saying the word “corrected”. “And when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty, I “corrected” her.” ) and I’ll extend the apology to the victim. Though I’ll not go all Delbert Grady on The Boy, I promise.
Dear 2.5 Readers, I’ll hope you’ll join me in my little quest to restore a little bit of common courtesy to our society—even if you have to be mildly rude about in the process.