Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Rudely Interrupted

The stories of bad manners over at Jonniker's post are apt to curl your hair. Rudeness abounds, apparently, particularly among our families-in-law and surrounding special occasions. The combination of the two - weddings! - is a powder keg, especially because it involves gift-giving and catering and lots and lots of money. Soliciting gifts! Proffering laxatives to encourage weight loss! Holocaust references! Reading those comments should have made me feel superior, right? I write thank-you notes. I get along with my mother-in-law. I strive not to tell people they look like concentration camp survivors. But as I read, I began to cringe. Because some of those stories could have been written about me.

-Before I had a kid, breastfeeding kind if icked me out, and I expressed disdain for the idea of nursing past a certain age.
-I once called a bride and asked if I could bring a date to her wedding, even though the invitation was addressed only to me.
-I did not make an effort to greet all the guests at my own wedding reception.
-I've made comments to a friend, favorably comparing the size of my home with the size of her smaller home.
-I've straight-out asked people about their ethnic backgrounds.

RUDE, RUDE, RUDE. I'll admit it. I do strive toward good manners, but sometimes I fail. And all of the incidents above have context that might make them sound slightly less horrifying, but they probably really bothered someone who was around when they happened, maybe even the people involved, probably people who I love and would never want to offend. They all involve situations that make me uncomfortable. And so I avoid them (see: wedding reception) or over-compensate by trying to justify them (see: house conversation, breastfeeding conversation) or just plow ahead with the discussion, searching for a bright light and a point that everyone can agree upon. Never mind that I may have shocked everyone in the room.

I am not easily offended. I like to talk about what's really going on, what I'm really thinking. I want to hear what you're really thinking. Most of the time, unless it's way over the top or a repeated problem (a family friend who never fails to make a sexist remark to me each time I see him comes to mind), I see rudeness as either a manifestation of nerves, a colorful personality, or laughable idiocy. I try not to take it personally. But I've finally learned that most people don't really feel like that. (Well, except the Germans. And maybe the Dutch.) (See? Now I've offended some people. But probably not anyone who is really German or Dutch.)

And I find it all a bit exhausting. Hurt feelings are one thing - I do my best, and sometimes fail, not to be insensitive. But taking a circuitous route to asking a question or sharing an opinion just because culture dictates it annoys me. If a good friend who is known to be a bit spacey invites me to her wedding and doesn't put my fiance' on the invitation, I'm going to quietly ask if she would mind if he comes. (She said yes. She just forgot to put "and guest" on the envelope. Wouldn't it have been a bummer if I'd gotten angry and felt slighted because of her perceived rudeness in excluding my date? Then again, maybe she still can't believe I called and asked if he could come. I'll never know.) If I have questions about nursing and how it feels and wonder why someone would want to extend it into toddlerhood, I'm going to ask, hopefully of someone who will answer me honestly and confidently, but I don't know, sometimes I misjudge my audience. However, if living abroad taught me one thing, it's that behavior is judged on a continuum. There are few objective standards of right and wrong, rude and polite, cruel and kind.

I'm sure I've horrified some of you with my behavior. But I'll bet you have some confessions too. Here's your chance. Any rudeness you'd like to share?