The whole concept of good manners really seems to be lost on some people. To be fair, I’m not entirely exempt from that, but I’m not going to put myself on trial on my own blog. That would be crazy.
There are words and phrases that we were all taught as children (well, maybe not all) as expressions of politeness. They’re still commonly used today, but often in just the shallowest sense. They’re basically a way of saying, “Hey, at least I’m not a total asshole.” Let’s take a look at some common polite expressions and what they really mean today.
How are you: Along with its more informal variations ‘how’s it going?’ and ‘what’s up?’ or even the super casual ‘sup?’, this was meant to be a greeting. Not just that, but a small attempt at empathy. How are you? Tell me about what’s going on in your life. Nowadays, it’s pretty much the equivalent of hello.
Many times, I’ve had acquaintances pass me by with a smile and a cheery ‘how’s it going?’. None of them ever paused for me to tell them how it was going, though. Just the fact that they asked was good enough I guess? Nobody really wants to know about you. They don’t care if your dog just died or your house almost burned down. When you’ve just smiled and nodded at someone in greeting, you don’t want to be bummed out by their life story. It’s not an expression of empathy. It’s basically a lie.
Thank you: This one hasn’t really gone out of fashion or changed in too significant a way. Some people don’t even bother with a thanks, of course, and just accept your help/gift/whatever in silence. But they are the cursed ones, whose souls would be violently ripped from their bodies if they were ever to express gratitude, so they can be forgiven.
As an aside, I’ve used the phrase ‘thanks a lot’ as an expression of sarcasm so many times that I feel weird using it sincerely. If someone helps me out with something big, I just emphasize my thank you with a smile (or exclamation mark) or say ‘thank you so much!’. But saying ‘thanks a lot’ makes me feel like a jerk, even if that’s what I really mean. Thanks a lot, sarcasm.
As yet another aside, or perhaps a footnote, or some other term that makes me feel like a fancy writer guy, is anyone else really weirded out when people don’t acknowledge a ‘thank you’? It doesn’t happen very often, but I’ve had a few occasions where I thanked people for helping me and they didn’t respond to that at all. No ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘no problem’ or anything. A chill goes down my spine when I think about that, and I don’t know why…
Please: Is this still officially a word? Because I don’t hear it often enough. Most requests I come across are phrased as imperative, with no magic word attached. This is one of those instances where I occasionally slip up myself. But what’s up with that? Is please too old school?
Excuse me: Another phrase I don’t hear too often. Especially here in Dubai. If you’re blocking someone’s path, there are two possibilities.
One is that they will see the tiniest gap (say the one formed between the curve of your back and the wall) as an opening and will try to squeeze through, making pained and apologetic expressions along the way to try and convince you that they’re not shoving you out of the way (but they totally are). There are, of course, those who just shove their way through unapologetically, but they’re just trying to get away from the horde of wild monkeys that will tear them limb from limb. Wouldn’t you push people out of the way if you were being chased by homicidal monkeys?
The other option is for them to just stand behind you without any attempt to make you move. Maybe they’ll sigh or click their tongues, or perhaps roll their eyes in the hope that somehow you’ll see them through the back of your skull. But they won’t say anything. When you do finally move out of the way, they’ll walk past shooting you a look that might turn a lesser man to stone. You, of course, will be thoroughly confused about why this person’s so annoyed when a simple ‘excuse me’ could have cleared their path, but that is why you are an enlightened being.
This is another one of those expressions that I’ve used sarcastically so often, that I always feel awkward when I genuinely want someone to excuse me. I can almost feel myself saying ‘excuuuse me’ while rolling my eyes every time I say it.
Sorry: Also known as the Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card. I sometimes wonder why this word even exists. In fact, this word irks me so greatly that I think I’ll give it its own blog post. But to summarize, it’s a word that’s used way too often, and without any meaning or emotion behind it. It should just be preceded by the word ‘not’ in parentheses whenever it’s used.
And that, in a nutshell, is the state of good manners today. Words used insincerely or not at all, but very few that contain the politeness and consideration for other people that they really ought to.
Minding your manners is well and good, but I think it’s important to really think about what you’re saying and what it means. I’d much rather someone shove past me and wear their assholishness like a badge than throw out a token ‘excuse me’ in a horribly misguided attempt to be polite.
So please, be mindful of your manners. I (and much of humanity, I’m sure) would really appreciate that.
Thanks a l…err…so much!