February 21, 2014

F5 #3: Can't we all just get along?

I come to this week's F5 installment with six words on my mind: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." All of us are both capable and guilty of doing very irritating things, and I'm sure that if someone else were writing up this blog post, I'd see myself as, in part, the object of their ire. (Let's get pet peeve #1 out of the way: procrastinators. Though it's back-dated on the blog, I'm writing my obligatory February Friday post on Saturday afternoon.)

We have etiquette for a reason. It helps us get along with each other in company. Some past societies have taken the rules of etiquette to a ridiculous extreme, but the point was the same: the art of courtesy and politeness makes our social interactions go a lot more smoothly.

Sometimes we don't realize we're breaking a rule, and sometimes there actually is no rule per se so much as a vague feeling that we've commited a faux pas and gotten someone's blood pressure up a bit. Here are a few of the things that raise mine.

  • Phone addicts: There was a time when we kept our phones in our houses, and so we also had a "telephone voice": generally quiet, and politely full of genteel phrases such as "May I ask," "I'm sorry, but," and "May I take a message?" Then, the mobile phone arrived, and we carried it around outside in the big loud world, and the "telephone voice" has given way to yelling on the bus in order to be heard by the person on the other end, who is also wandering about in the big loud world. At about the same time, everyone seemingly started to think that they existed in a personal bubble, which is an extension of the home where they used to keep the phone, where the same rules apply, and which travels with them everywhere they go. So now we are constantly bombarded with phone conversations about all the sweaty things want to do with each other. But woe unto you if you breach their "privacy" by complaining that you can't hear the Iron Maiden you're listening to over the loud phone sex.

    Now, thanks to smartphones, people don't use their phones as phones anymore, and they walk around with their heads down, running into other people and things. At least texting is a lot quieter.

    Look, if you're out there with people, pay attention to the people. I don't know how many times I've been in a Second Cup and seen a group of people—or a couple—obviously together yet oblivious to each other's company, since apparently there's billions of trivialities going un-Facebooked. And if you're at the supermarket or Subway or wherever, kindly put the phone down and show some respect: both for the people behind you in line, and for the person serving you on the other side of the counter. (If the person on the phone is telling you what veggies she wants on her footlong, that's perfectly fine, of course.)

  • Card grabbers: There's an etiquette to card playing, and you can often tell who grew up in a family of card players versus who didn't, just by the way they deal or handle their cards. The etiquette is fairly simple and common-sense: Keep your hand above the table; don't peek at other people's cards; conversely, don't get mad at another player if you accidentally let him see your cards; don't start play until everyone has had a chance to organize his hand; and so forth.

    The card faux pas that annoys me beyond all others, probably irrationally, is picking up your cards from the table, one by one as they are dealt. No one should pick up his hand until the last card is dealt out. Not only does it "feel" greedy or impatient, but you might also have compromised the hand. If the dealer makes a mistake, it is to be corrected while the cards are still face-down on the table. If you've looked at every card you were dealt, you know something about someone else's hand. If I were a player in that game—let alone the dealer— I would ask that the hand simply be redealt, and I would remind you to leave your cards on the table.

  • Crosswalk hogs: The stop line is over there, buddy. There's no need to block the crosswalk with your car. In fact, if you screeched to a sudden stop as though the red light took you by surprise (even though you should have been able to see the yellow light a quarter mile away), I may walk straight out to your passenger-side door, then do a semicircle around your front end, just to underscore the point. If I'm really peeved, I might climb over your hood.

  • Swearing: The liberal use of four-letter words isn't my thing, though under certain circumstances and with the right company, I've been known to drop a precision bomb every now and then. There's a concept in linguistics called "register," which simply means that our choice of language is determined by the particular setting in which it is used. Imagine a hot date; then, imagine how you would describe that hot date to a) your best friend, b) your mother, or c) the Queen. You now have a rudimentary idea of what register means. All that to say: if you're out at a party with a bunch of relative strangers, fellow churchgoers, or other people who aren't your closest friend or family—the indiscriminate use of vulgar words of Anglo-Saxon origin might make you the talk of the party, but not necessarily for reasons that you would appreciate.

Of course, perhaps we shouldn't take this all too seriously. Sometimes, slavish devotion to "the rules" is itself a major irritant. Nobody likes a bureaucrat. Pardon me for eating with my elbows on the table, and we'll all get along just fine.