Saturday, April 2, 2011

Miss Manners

There are ways of doing things, and there are ways of doing things.

One of my closest friends is from Mexico. One year I helped her set up for her daughter's birthday party. My friend had told the people she invited that the party was to start at 2pm. (No "end" time of the party was given.) At promptly 2 pm, some of the "gringos" she had invited started showing up - but my friend and her husband were still out at the grocery store, not expecting anyone to arrive until close to 3 pm. A little later, her daughter's Latino friends showed up - with their siblings and their parents and with other friends. They came at 3, at 4, at 5, and at 6pm, and didn't leave until late, late, late. And they all came with food. This was a party, Mexican style. You don't arrive until an hour after the official invitation time, you stay late, and you always bring some food to share.

The French think Americans are rude, probably for more than one reason, but to start with, all French conversations start with "Bonjour madame" or "Bonjour monsieur" no matter who you are speaking with, and even if the building is on fire. Americans start conversations with "hey you". No wonder the French think we're rude.

Once I was at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, the orchestra was in the middle of playing a piece and smoke started drifting through the hall. No one, not one single person, interrupted the piece until it was finished. Seriously. The hall could have burned to the ground, but not a single concert goer was going to interrupt the orchestra with so much as a cough. (A few people slipped out quietly to inform management and management came on stage as soon as the piece was finished. The smoke was from a nearby fire and had come in through the ventilation system.)

So what's my point? Well, I guess my point is....when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But the problem is that this is the US, and we live among Mexicans and Irish, Israelis and Muslims. We interact with people from different cultural backgrounds and different religions, not to mention different socio-economic backgrounds, and different generations. ("Dude".) Even different families have different expectations of how things "should" be done. Heck, even people who grew up in the same family end up with different expectations of how things should be done, my own sisters being a case in point.

I think we should all start by lowering our expectations. Yes, I will still report the guy I see beating his wife or his kid, which might be acceptable behavior in some Middle Eastern countries (this is the "when in Rome part"). But I will "chill out" and relax when my twenty-something year old friend lets her pre-schooler eat ice cream for dinner or when my sister doesn't use a coaster under her glass. (Actually, I do not own any coasters, but one of my sisters does.)

I would like others to lower their expectations as well. I would like others not to label me "rude" if I don't meet their behavioral expectations. No, I didn't grow up in a barn, and yes, I know how to use a napkin. But perhaps others were not as fortunate.

I am writing all this, putting it out for public consumption, knowing that I will be put to the test when I go "back East" to visit my family. I can always tell when I enter New York City, without even opening my eyes. We will see if I can be less judgmental next time I visit.

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