Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Etiquette – Not Just For the Dinner Table

In the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing a lack of manners in a variety of situations. In no particular order, I wanted to share my observations with the hope that some of this rude behavior might be corrected. Most people can pull together a basic set of manners when they’re in a formal dining situation, but I think it’s important to recognize that etiquette goes beyond the salad fork and the bread plate.

The Bathroom

I know there are men out there who believe the women’s bathroom is a place of powdered noses and eyelash curlers, but I’m sorry to say that it’s not. Lately I’ve been opening the stall door and asking myself if I’ve mistakenly walked into the men’s room because there seems to be a trend with women urinating on the toilet seat.

I understand that us women have to get creative when we’re using public bathrooms that seem to be negligent in their hygienic maintenance – rather than place our bare skin on any questionable surfaces, we opt for a quick thigh workout and perform a balancing act over the toilet bowl that could pass for an audition to be in Cirque du Soleil. Be that as it may, there is no excuse for finishing your business and then leaving it behind for the next person to discover. If you tinkle on the seat, wipe it with a sheet (Let’s all commit this to memory by way of the cute rhyme).

The Theater

While recently attending a play, I found myself momentarily removed from the world on stage after noticing a small stream of sound coming from behind me to the left. It was as if the playwright had penned in parenthesis after one of the leading character’s most dramatic lines:

Insert crinkling M&Ms wrapper here.
Cue annoying blonde chick to start talking about Facebook stalking again.

In case you weren’t a musical theater geek in high school like I was, with a chorus teacher who preached etiquette to us as often as she ran scales, let me be the one to tell you that making extraneous noise in the theater while a show is going on is super rude. If you must fuss with wrappers and other noisy items, you should wait until a louder scene is being performed – preferably something where a cannon might go off, or several people break out in song during a large musical number that will dilute your fidgeting into irrelevance. Otherwise you should sit still and enjoy the show like everyone else manages to do. Or leave.

The Parking Lot

The other day I pulled into the parking lot at the store and was gathering my things to get out of the car. Just as I was about to open the door, a truck rounded the corner to park in the space right beside me. This wasn’t an issue until I realized he’d left me only five inches to open my door and slide myself out of the front seat. What made it worse, was the driver looked across the passenger seat of his truck and directly into my eyes, before he decided there was no problem. He got out and walked away from his vehicle with no concern for the fact that I was desperately trying to shove myself through the small crevice between my car and the door. Since my body has a girth that is larger than a sheet of paper, it would have been nice for him to see the panic in my eyes as my non-verbal communication begged for more space. I probably could have made it through the opening, but would have definitely had to slide my body down the side of the car for a good two feet before I could clear the door.

If you know anything about upstate New York in March, you would know that you do whatever it takes not to make contact with the outside of your car lest you want to be covered in a special kind of dust made from the salt, dirt, and powdered debris that stays faithfully stuck to your vehicle for the entire winter season.

The parking lot is a fairly easy concept, people. There are two yellow lines, and you pull the car in between them. The yellow lines are wider than the outlines they put in coloring books for a one-year old. The margin of error is two feet! This shouldn’t be a challenging task, so let’s park between the lines, not on top of them.

The Gym

Ah, the gym. It’s almost as if donning Lycra and sweating in public gives you carte blanche on all things polite. Stand at the water fountain for long enough, and behold the parade of ball-scratching, wedgy-picking, nose-wiping individuals who will amble past you to place their salty, sticky bodies onto the surfaces of all of your favorite machines (and then walk away without wiping them down). It’s not the hygiene factor that irritates me the most though – it’s the sense of entitlement I notice from the benches of the locker-room to the lane lines in the pool.

The other day I was changing after my swim, and was taking up about two feet on the bench. My bag was placed beside me and I was routing through it for various articles of clothing. A woman approached the bench, set her things down, and proceeded to pick up my bag and place it on the floor so she could place her items in the same spot. Confused by this, I apologized for apparently taking up so much space on the bench, despite the fact that she was now occupying three-quarters of its total surface area. She said nothing back to me. The same woman would later use the blow-driers provided in the gym to dry her feet, but that’s a story for a different blog.

Other times in the locker room I will find myself leaving and nearly running into someone in the hallway because they are barreling down the middle of the walkway without any concern for “oncoming traffic.” While I’m flattening myself and my many satchels of gear to the wall to avoid being knocked over, this person continues to walk by as if I was inconveniencing her by using the same hallway in and out of the locker-room.

Basic etiquette resides in two simple words: “Pardon me.” A simple “Pardon me” as the woman moved past me would have immediately changed my attitude to this situation. It would imply that she is somewhat accountable for her reckless walking. That’s all I’m looking for, a little accountability for one’s actions.

The Door

I have a theory that you can tell if a person is a jerk by the way they deal with the door. Most everyone knows to hold a door open if you are approaching it with someone. If it’s a woman and a man, old-fashioned tradition says that the man will open the door for the woman. Or if someone is carrying many items, the other person will open the door. However it plays out, one person opens the door while the other enters.

But that isn’t what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the gray area where two people approach a door, and the first person will likely make it in the door just as the second person arrives to it.

The problem with the “gray area” is that the person is at an awkward distance away from you. If you stand and hold the door open, you’ll be there for a minute and could come off like some kind of weird stalker-type as you stare at the person advancing toward the door. In that scenario, you could look away while you’re holding the door open, but then you risk looking like you have one million things that are better to do that taking a couple minutes out of your day to be polite. The other option is to go in the door and let it close. Then you have to deal with the awkwardness once the person makes it inside with you and they give you the look.

The “Really? You’re so busy that you couldn’t hold the door open an extra second?” look.

My feeling is that if you’re the kind of person that can take a couple of seconds out of your day to hold the door open for the person coming in the building after you, then you’re alright in my book. It’s simply polite to do this when the alternative is to basically let a door “gently slam” in the face of another person.


Travis Olivera said...

I once saw signs posted in a restroom that read "if you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be sweet and wipe the seat." Of course that didn't stop people from pissing all over the place, but it was good rhyme that I had forgotten until today. I just love poetry that either comes from the bathroom or is about the bathroom. Great blog yet again.

John Richelsen said...

I've always wondered on the door thing. Being in a building that has about 29 separate doors before you make it to the elevator, the challenge/question comes up at least daily. It becomes a timing thing. You learn to judge it. I'm a door-holder-opener, but there are times when I just have to let it go.

And where's the etiquette lesson on gum snapping? I think it should be forbidden once you pass 14. Thoughts?

The Singlutionary said...

Thank you!

KZ said...

I can not believe you didnt shove that gym nag's stuff off the bench after she moved you bag?!?! Holy Crap! And the description of the behaviours apparently permitted in the gym is dead on.