Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why are people so damn rude?

This is something I contemplate on a regular basis - perhaps along with a lot of other people whose parents raised them to say "please" and "thank you" and not to talk loudly in a public setting and not to push to the front of a line.

Dave raised this issue in his recent post. The precipitating factor: a story about a person who proposed separate movie theaters for people who wish to text, talk on their cell phones, etc. - so the people who do not wish to do that, and who do not like being disturbed, can have their movie experience the way God (or at least Louis B. Mayer) intended.

And people went nuts about that. As I said in a comment over there, people often get tunnel vision about stuff (I admit, at times I am guilty of it) and they see what they want to see and get OUTRAGED! and it all led up to lots of breath being wasted. Some people thought it was a call for ALL theaters to allow, willy-nilly, every behavior (cats and dogs dancing together! or something like that). Others, including Anil Dash, thought it was jerkish for people to expect that the movie they paid $10 or more to see shouldn't be interrupted by someone telling their boyfriend when to pick them up....

Okay, here's my two cents: If you go out in public and act like being in public is no different from being at home on your sofa, you're a jerk. If you don't consider that there are other people around you who might not appreciate your noise, either your parents did a poor job raising you or you're a jerk.

And if you're in some kind of position of authority - an usher (do theaters even still have ushers?) a store manager, a restaurant manager, and you see someone ruining everyone else's experience, and you do NOTHING, you are spineless. (And yes, I get it: some people are violent jerks. But most jerks aren't, and threatening to throw them out might just shut them up). And if you are spineless, then you deserve for the decent people who don't want to sit through a barrage of loud cell-phone convos while eating dinner at a nice restaurant to leave and never come back.

Some years back, when I was visiting my parents, it was my last night there. We went out to one of the old, established, well-thought-of restaurants in town. We wanted a quiet dinner together. We had the bad luck to get stuck next to a table where a guy who apparently had had some travel problems was sitting - he had called up his secretary (? At 7 pm at night? Not very fair) and was cursing her out. I mean CURSING. Using the m-f word, using the "c" word you should never use to a woman....all because she made a mistake. The waiter walked up to him and said, "Sir, either end your call now or leave. You are disturbing everyone else here." I can't remember if the guy hung up or just left in a huff (I think he just left), but I know my dad doubled the waiter's tip after that bit. But really? How hard is it NOT to say the m-f word in public, even if you're really angry?

But we see this stuff all the time now - so much so that, as I said, the idea of separate "go here to play with your cell phone; go there if you want quiet" theaters seems reasonable. (I would be a lot more prone to go to movies again - well, if my town had a theater, which it does not - if I was reasonably sure of not having people who talk loudly through the film. Otherwise...I have a dvd player and I can sit at home and watch movies in blissful silence - in fact, I can even turn off my phone during them).

But there are other things you can't avoid. I don't have grocery-delivery in my town, so I have to trek out (usually to the Wal-mart, which is the only grocery store of any size within an hour's round trip of me) and deal with people. And you know? I've had people nearly run into me because they were walking the aisles and texting. I've had people push ahead of me in line. I've had to go around people engaged in a massive argument ("Get a room!" should apply to more than amorous displays). I've had kids nearly trip me, or knock over displays, or bang those stupid mini-carts some stores used  to have into my shins, because apparently it's haaaaaaaaard for a parent to encourage their kid to obey at the grocery.

I try to shop early on Saturday mornings so I can avoid the crowds and also the worst of the pushy or loud-rude people. But some days I have to go after school, and I've walked out of there on occasion shaking or angry at humanity or swearing I'd rather just go hungry next time.

And then there's the issue of noise. I use a reel-type lawnmower which makes almost no noise, but when I have to use the noisy edger, I wait until after 10 am on a weekend day, just to be sure I'm not waking anyone in my neighborhood. It's how I was raised. Most of the people in my neighborhood follow rules similar to that - not mowing before 10 am, not mowing after 9 pm or so. Even though it's awfully hot here in the summer and those times might be marginally less hot.

One thing I noticed during my recent visit to family: my parents live in a VERY quiet neighborhood. There are no through-streets (really, it's a good innovation, even if it makes getting places more involved), so no one uses them as a regular route - only the people who live in the neighborhood use them. I live near the corner of a street that is a through street and I regularly get lots of street noise,  even late at night. Boom cars, cars that have been badly tended to (Okay, for some that's an economic issue, but I have also known guys to get muffler cut-outs because they "like" a loud car). 

But what gets me? The guys with the "boom cars." I am not sure what possesses a person to think it's OK to share their particular choice of music, played at volumes sufficient to rattle any sheet metal in the car (for a while, there was a fad to use older-model Cadillacs and similar land-yachts, because apparently they have lots of metal to rattle). And to do that at 11 pm. Or 2 am. Or some damn hour. (Even midafternoon on a Sunday, I find that mildly offensive.)

And I get it: some people DON'T think. I once asked a student who was a former smoker why smokers thought it was okay to drop their butts everywhere, including in park areas, and she shrugged, and said, "I guess I never thought about it. I guess you don't think when you are doing that."

But, it's part of what I see as a coarsening of life: getting awakened at midnight by a booming bass car is just not good. It's not pleasant. It's not a huge thing, but it's one of those small things. And the small nasty things build up: getting stuck in a grocery line behind someone who is going over the details of their recent surgery in a level of detail I don't want to hear; the person who lets their dog run loose and it dookies in my yard; getting awakened in the middle of the night by noise that I consider frankly unnecessary. And it just sucks out some of the goodness of life. I know, it seems like a little thing - but little things build up.

And it feels to me some days like the rude irresponsible people are winning. And it makes me want to become even more of a hermit than I already am. Which means they win even more. Sometimes I wonder if American culture will split, not into Morlocks and Eloi exactly, but into a group that dominates the public square, is loud, is rude, figures that they "own" the public square rather than "sharing" it, and a second group that winds up venturing into public as rarely as possible. (I think part of my fantasies of a cabin somewhere high up in the mountains stems from the "avoiding the jerks in public" desire.)

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