Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Simple Manners

Yesterday, we had another Awkward Bagel Meeting at work. This is because we had a new person starting and my boss brought in the bagels. This time, at least, he did introduce the new person but Bagel Day still evolved into "Staff Crowding into Conference Room and Talking to Their Friends." I don't really mind; it gave me time to talk to my friend and not have to work for a half-hour.

Yet it did occur to me that, as a group, we're a wee bit rude. Fortunately, this time, the new person has actually worked for our company before- prior to my starting here- and so he knows mostly everyone.

I hate being rude. I don't know if it's a British thing or just the fact that I've been raised by a good mother but I'm horribly conscious of bad manners. Yet, there are days, particularly Awkward Bagel Days in which I find myself slipping into the bad manners of those around me by ignoring the new person and chatting to my friends at work.

To be fair, if it's someone I know I'll be working with directly, I do try to converse with them, to get to know them. Yet if it's someone I know who will be only a peripheral in my workday, it's easier for me to ignore them. Sometimes, I'd like to be ruder to people but I have the hardest time with that because if I am even slightly rude, I feel guilty about it for the rest of the day.

I'm noticing more and more that manners are flexible things, changeable things. There are manners while driving, manners while talking, manners while on the cell phone...everything has an etiquette to it.

For example, this morning, I had to get on the interstate, as usual. My entrance onto it has been under construction ever since I moved. I'm used to it but it's still a little tricky. When I get on the interstate, I'm forced into a short lane that merges with the far right lane. If I can't get over into the real lane, I have to sit.

Most mornings, it's not hard. People tend to be kind and move over to let me in. This morning, I didn't have that luck. I had to stop in the temporary lane until a car had passed and I could get over. I hate having to do that, especially when the car that blocked me could easily have gone into the other lane. Instead, they ignored me and blocked me.

It's a small thing but it speaks volumes about that driver's view of the world. To me, driving is one of the simplest ways to express manners. You can be a good defensive driver and still be polite. If someone is 'stuck', it's nice to be generous and let them cut in front of you. However, if that person cuts you off in an attempt to get ahead of you, you shouldn't let them in.

I know, I know...driving manners are skewered to a driver's preference. Me, personally, I try to be a polite driver but I have no tolerance for rudeness. If you tailgate me, I will slow down and make you go ten miles per hour slower than we were going before. If you try to cut me off, I will speed up to make sure you don't get to do so. If I see you trying to get into a line of cars that's been sitting there a while by taking a 'shortcut', I will not let you in. You have to wait like everyone else. It's amazing how much of a 'code' you develop as a driver, the more years you do it.

Driving in Ohio is different from driving in L.A. There are different 'tricks' here. For example, in L.A., if you're on the freeway and you need to merge over during rush hour, the easiest way to do it is to find a big semi in the lane next to you. When traffic begins to move after being stopped, that semi takes a lot longer to accelerate and thus will leave a gap between it and the car in front. In Ohio, those semi-trucks go on the interstates but rather than the stop-and-go traffic of L.A., the interstates tend to move consistently at 60-75 mph. Unless there's significant space, it's a bad idea to try and cut in front of a semi here because once they get going at 70 mph, they can't stop that quickly.

It's just interesting to see how the manners of driving change in different regions. Since I work close to a college campus, it means cutting through campus to get to work in the mornings. There are rules of driving that pertain to pedestrians and I hold no qualms about admitting that I've made them up myself. Case in point: Students are dumb. I don't care how good their grades are, how many scholarships they earned, what rank in their class they hold: College students are dumb. Every morning as I attempt to weave my way through town while attempting to avoid as many of these students as possible, I inevitably have to pull some tricky driving maneuver to avoid hitting one.

Throughout town, there are a lot of crosswalks. These are clearly marked by horizontal stripes across the road. There's not really even any words to read. Each morning, I see at least one student who decides to cross the road without using a crosswalk. The sad thing is they assume that we drivers are going to know they're just going to walk out into traffic. The sadder part is that nine times out of ten, they choose to jaywalk within ten feet of a crosswalk.

Here's the thing: If I see a crosswalk, I instinctively look to see if there's anyone waiting to cross. If they're waiting, it means the student isn't quite so dumb because they intelligently assume that not all drivers are going to want to stop. So they wait for the ones that do stop. I get a little more irritated with the students who just assume everyone will stop and they just step into the street without looking.

These students are silly. However, they are, at least, using a crosswalk.

The ones I have no patience for are the ones who, as I said, decide to cross the street when there is a crosswalk within glancing distance. Yes, there are times when you need to cross the road and the nearest crossing is a block or two away. Jaywalking is understandable in this situation, provided it's done responsibly. This means looking and making sure it's clear before you cross. Playing Frogger with cars in a small town like this is just stupid. However, if you can see the crossing out of the corner of your eye, it's just plain lazy to not walk towards it and use it to cross. Seriously, it's less than ten feet away.

Of course, I'm not even factoring in the texters/phone-talkers. The phone-talkers are slightly more up on the evolutionary scale than texters although they both rank in the not-so-bright category of street manners. It is possible to talk on the phone AND make sure you don't walk into traffic. If you're so engrossed in your conversation you forget that a car moving at 35 mph will hurt you if it hits you, perhaps you ought to sit down and not move while you finish the conversation. As for the texters...well, those students need a good slap over the head with a shoe. I confess, I have walked and texted. It's easy to do. I just DON'T DO IT WHEN WALKING INTO TRAFFIC.

Sorry. I almost hit one of those yesterdays. He was one of those dopey looking students with the messy hair and tight jeans. He was texting, very focused on his digital conversation when he stepped into the street. My light was green. He had a big "Don't WALK" hand as his traffic signal. I had to stop, suddenly. He blinked at me as though he'd just woken up.

As I said, students are dumb. It means that my Theory of Driving Manners goes out the window when I'm near the campus. It's hard to be polite when you're dodging students who appear out of nowhere.

I digress. As usual. Back to the original topic...manners. I could go on about this for hours since they effect every aspect of life. I'm no Miss Manners but I am a human and I can't help but think there are times when manners should be instinctive. Yet we're all different so maybe I should take that into consideration.

Then again, I've been to the DMV a fair amount this year. Perhaps we're not all human after all.

That would explain so much.

Happy Tuesday.

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