Sunday, July 31, 2005

Bad Manners

How many times has this happened to you here?

Rudeness, Interrupted by Bob Morris

The party was crowded, but without many familiar faces. So when a young woman walked up and interrupted a conversation I was having with one of the few people there that I knew, it made me feel particularly excluded. Not only did she not excuse herself, she didn't even make eye contact with me. I was mortified and disgusted.

Walking away would have been dignified. But maybe because I was both annoyed and old enough to be her father, I felt compelled to say something.

But is it ever worth speaking up to the rude who cut lines, yell into phones and let their children run wild? Or is it too likely to cause a confrontation?

John Dobkin, a confident New Yorker I know who sits on many boards and at many prominent dinner tables, pipes up regularly. A friend blew off his luncheon at the last minute by e-mail. He let her have it. Fellow board members sending text messages while at meetings? He asked them to desist. "As long as I feel people can be educated," he said, "I'll say something."

It's no wonder he's a happy man. A study at the University of Zurich last year found that the dorsal striatum region of the brain is activated when people tell others off for wrongdoings, and that it actually stimulates happiness.

Of course everyone knows that you never criticize children who aren't your own. Etiquette arbiters also caution against criticizing the poorly behaved in front of others, because it embarrasses or incites them. Miss Manners points to the escalation (in our rage-prone time) of counterrudeness, which can end in violence. Her own arsenal for letting people know they are out of line consists of withering looks, an upturned nose and a cool tone. Civilized, but unsatisfying.

So if you're not so confident, yet want to take the bull (or bully) by the horns and address rudeness on the spot, how do you proceed without provoking tension or a scene? "You have to encourage compassion by telling your story," said Laurie Puhn, the author of "Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life," "and then laying out what you want." Ms. Puhn, who is a consultant on effective communicating, is always thinking about ways to whack knuckles painlessly.

She advises passengers seated on flights near loud talkers to say quietly, "It sounds like you're having fun and that you have very interesting lives, but you know, I've had a rough day, and I'm really tired, so if you wouldn't mind keeping it down, I'd really appreciate it." When she sees a subway rider leave an empty soda bottle, she says, "Excuse me, I think you forgot something." It always works, she says, and without repercussions. "The important thing," Ms. Puhn said, "is to be positive and give the rude person a way to save face." That might not be as much fun as issuing the perfect put-down. But it might keep things from getting ugly.

With the young woman who had so rudely interrupted my conversation, Ms. Puhn suggested extending a hand and cheerfully saying, "I'm sorry, I don't think you took a moment to introduce yourself to me."

I wasn't that straightforward. But when I took a deep breath and told the young woman that she looked like "the kind of person who was brought up with manners" and that I probably didn't need to point out how excluded she made me feel, she stood still. Then she apologized and said that, in fact, she had been raised to know better and had even been a debutante in Florida. Why she had behaved so badly is anyone's guess. It might have been the booze, the heat or maybe that I didn't look like anyone she wanted to meet. Who knows? All I know is that I felt immensely satisfied the rest of the night.

The next time you see rudeness, think about whether it's worth flagging. If it is, proceed with the caution of an actor, therapist and plastic surgeon. You might annoy the offender. But you might have an effect. Call it self-serving civility.

Or call it making America a better place, one rude person at a time.


  1. Here's what I did when a kamakazi gave me the Finger last night on khaleej road as he was flying on the left lane.... I simply caught up with him at a traffic light and apologized for not givin way! Damn you should've seen the look on his face:) as if someone poured cold water on him the gal next to him gave him this despized look....That wouldnt be the case 4 maybe 5 years ago I would've cracked his head open....أمي الله يرحمها كانت إتقول إنا إالواحد لازم إيخلي إنسمه طوووويل

  2. الواحد بعض الاحيان يترفع عن الرد عن مثل هالتصرفات و انا الحمد لله بارد و اتبع اسلوب الحقران يقطع المصران بس الشي الواحد اللي عجبني هو الكتاب اللي في المقال اسلوب المساير مرات تره ينفع بس اهم الشي الواحد و انا دوم اقول حق نفسي ما يسوى اخسر اعصابي على شي تافه

  3. Informative and useful report.

  4. مشكلتنا في الكويت ان الناس ما يعرفو يفرقون بين السنع والاتيكيت...
    I have a friend of mine, one of asna3 banat Kuwait, but her etiquette is crap. She will be the nicest woman to ummi wa ekhti, a perfect young lady, but interrupts me all the time, answers her mobile phone while I'm talking to her about something important, is always late, gets invited to dinner and doesn't RSVP... هذه الاشياء تنرفز بس في الكويت، مو معترف انها قلة سنع. Ppl don't have respect for the value of other individual's time, and this is a huge cultural problem for me, because my time is limited, and quite frankly, precious. We have to first define what is rudeness before we can confront it.

    Good article, Zaydoun

  5. try living in France :) it won't bother you anywhere else :)

  6. I did live in France when I was 20yrs old. The rudeness didn't bother me... back then, I had guts, so I confronted everyone. Now I worry that everyone is either coked up or mentalled unstable and is wielding a gun or a knife or something...

  7. I spent some time in France when I was 18, and I didn't sense any outright rudeness... just indifference, which is probably worse because you feel you don't exist and that's murder for an 18-year old's self-esteem.

    But I still managed to get by with my wicked charms ;-)

  8. How many times a day are we welling to say to ppl , HEY I GUESS U FORGOT ....... ON THE GROUND BEHIND U .
    All what i can do is keep swallowing the frustration till nothing like Eno , Maalox , Chooz , Alka seltzir , Zantac , Pariet , Omeprazole , Tagamet and Losic would work on my acidity and ulcers . WOW I really know a lot , ill try cocktail next time i c rudness .. And I guess it wont be long , so ill prepare it on the rocks immediately .. Cheers

  9. Talk about bad manner I'm the type who just can't keep a sealed lip when I c something wrong in front of me. When someone throws a cigarette but or tissue out of the car window I would honk my horn or at least give a dirty look, when kids bad mouth a poor worker I interfere when appropriate.
    My post yesterday was on the same issue, a very disgusting experience.
    And Mushmushi I absolutely agree with u on the disrespect of time and cell phone etiquite.

  10. يا جماعة دريتو؟ "مصري يعمل في ديوان الخدمة المدنية في الكويت يرشح نفسة لرآسة جمهورية مصر العربية" لقد تفآجانا بهذا الخبر المنشور في جريدة الرأي العام الصادره اليوم 31/7/2005
    الصفحة 36.
    المصري يدعى فريد غانم ويعتبر "الكل في الكل" بالديوان وهو مستشار وكيل الديوان محمد الرومي.
    صح النوم يا كويت، المسؤول عن سياسة الاحلال هنا في الكويت سيكون الزعيم المصري القادم. بينما يمنع تعيين متقاعد كويتي بالقطاعين الخاص و العام و يمنع على الموظف الحكومي استخراج رخصة تجارية أو ممارسة أي عمل تجاري .... صباح الليل بالليل يا كويت

  11. Sorry Bu Zee this comment is not to ur subject..I just wanted to tell you that..........Kinga Is Back..!!

  12. Off Topic

    bin 3aqool : seriously u need to get ur own blog !

    can't wait to read ur blog ;-)


Keep it clean, people!