April 1st, 2008

summer reading

New Rules? Or, Is it Just Me?

Have we turned some new corner in the world of what constitutes politeness that I didn't know about? Am I just on the wrong side of the corner?

Annoyances of late have included:
*A person talking on a cell phone while lackadaisically using a machine at the gym, during the busy time of the day, while others wait for the machine
*A person discussing someone else's virginity on the public bus (no, seriously - I'm not interested in hearing about that!)

That last one is the straw that broke this camel's back. I swear, over the course of the last couple of weeks I've been more than a little tempted to get a t-shirt printed up saying WHAT?! in big, bold letters.

There've been the usual, garden-variety looky-lou moments lately like the toddler on the elevator (they get a pass on the rules), the guy looking at me as I ate my salad who promptly looked away when I raised my eyes, and the lady at the gym who felt compelled to smile at me every time she made a lap around the track and walked by me. But then there's also been these other people who have taken rudeness to a new level, and when these things are added all together it's had me questioning whether it's me or everyone else who's crazy.

Exhibit A: I'm sitting in a restaurant eating my lunch, reading (natch), when I get that feeling. You know the one. That animal instinct feeling that tells you to pay attention to your surroundings. I look up and this man across the room is looking right at me. Which, ok, I've done myself many a time because who doesn't enjoy people watching? But the thing is, when the person you're looking at notices that you're looking, politeness demands that you move those eyeballs along. Immediately. You don't sit there continuing to stare at them. That's just creepy. And rude. It took the lifted eyebrow move to get that one to quit the staring.

Exhibit B: Today was even more exasperating. I had just hit the sidewalk to go out for lunch when a group of about 5 college aged guys crossed my path. They were discussing the ugly architecture of the buildings in that immediate area and I had to agree. Then I started thinking about a project I did in high school where we were allowed to choose anything we wanted as a topic for research, so long as it fell into the broad categories we had been studying in that class: art, architecture, literature, or music. A couple of friends and I chose architecture and we took the class on a walk around downtown Portland and talked about the major trends and important buildings, architecturally speaking. I was so engrossed in remembering some of my favorite buildings from that project that I didn't notice that one of the guys wasn't actually a part of the group that went walking up that way as I went this way. We stopped at a corner next to one another to wait for the crosswalk light to change. He walked a little faster than me, but at the next crosswalk corner there we both were again, waiting. Then the exasperating part: he turned and looked at me, not briefly like you would expect and can easily accept, but at length and without stopping when I turned my head to look back at him. Who does that?! We were standing right next to each other and so far as I know the only people who are supposed to look at one another like that are ones who are conversing. According to the rules I know, politeness demands that you keep your space and I keep mine and we don't violate one another's spaces by looking, touching or talking unless something unusual in the surroundings requires it.

Exhibit C: The absolute topper was when I returned to my building after lunch and hopped in the elevator and got the same extended look-thing from two girls who got on just ahead of me.

After that one-two punch from the lunch hour I went straight to the restroom to see if there was something hair-wise or outfit-wise or hygiene-wise that I should know about. But no, it was all situation normal.

All I could conclude is that it's apparently perfectly ok nowadays to look at a stranger for as long as you like, as directly as you like, and to hell with considering it rude.

But so far as I'm concerned, politeness is all that keeps us from killing one another some days. There are rules related to how one is supposed to behave with other people for a reason. Without these rules, the center can not hold. Chaos will ensue. If the rules are going to change this drastically, there ought to be a memo at the least.

If these are the new rules, I must say I'm not impressed.