Tuesday, August 14, 2007

on etiquette

I take the bus to work. Everyday. Sometimes you see something very nice, like a young feller getting up so that the elderly woman or the blind man can sit down in one of the first few seats near the front of the bus. But what intrigues me is when there is a breakdown in that accepted civility. I am curious as to what creates the absence of etiquette. Or maybe it's the opposite of etiuqette. Take the examples above. I am not referring to a situation in when the young feller doesn't give up his seat for the more needing sitter. I am thinking of moments such as I will list in a moment, in which a person goes out of their way to prevent the moments we've come to appreciate in a civilized culture.

Scenario 1: "The Keeper of the Seat" or "The Seat Boss"
This scenario also takes place on a bus, though I can see it happening on a train or subway too. This persona has two plays, both with sinister motives. Move #1 is to sit in the window seat, but to put their bags (and coats, if applicable) on the aisle seat next to them so that as the bus fills up a person who wants to sit down must ask the Keeper of the Seat to please move their things or even a humble "may I sit here?" It's obnoxious. Accept as a given, Seat Boss, that the bus before 9 in the morning heading into downtown is going to fill up and that your seat will be needed.

The second, and more attrocious of the Keeper of the Seat's arsenal is the one in which the Keeper sits down in the aisle seat, leaving the window seat empty. In what universe is this acceptible behavior? At this point, new entrees onto the bus are forced to request passage to the open seat, now requiring more than moved baggage, but the Seat Boss to get up (if they're kind) or just turn their knees to the side, wedging the new window occupant against the seat in front of them and putting them through a generally rough experience.

Scenario 2: "Airplane Sprinters"
Let's just accept as a given that anyone traveling on an airplane is eager to get off the plane when it lands. This could be for any multitude of reasons, among which are: late for a connection, want to see family, it's been a long flight, etc. If one can concede this contruct, one must realize that the folks who sprint as far as they can from the back of the plane to the front when the "unbuckle your seatbelt" bell chimes, like a herd of Traveling Pavlovians, are in violation of another cultural etiquette: letting the person in front of you exit before you. I have been late for planes. I have missed connections. I have not one time caught a connection just as the terminal doors were closing which is the envisioned scenario of the Airplane Sprinter, who must assume that by moving with LaDainian Tomlinson-like agility for the extra 4 yards before being absorbed by the mob of people who dared take a small breath before leaving their seats after the bell. Let it go. Let. It. Go.

In the spirit of not continuing attempts at cleverness, I'll settle on a point. At what point did decorum go out the window? These are isolated instances, yes, but I see people pushing their way onto elevators, cutting others off on the freeway, cutting others off from speaking (dear GOD! look for an entry on etiquette in the workplace coming soon), and acting in actively selfish ways. It is the "actively" part that frustrates me. Not realizing or accidentally doing something rude is defensible. But going out of your way with the sense of absolute entitlement is the result of what? A society that allows self-selected technologies and other options? Distance from formality on the whole (casual workplaces replacing casual Fridays replacing casual functions replacing semiformal workplaces...)? Truly, there must be something to point to. I just wish we could stem the tide and live with more of a sense of community. Not formality, just harmony.

I'll wrap by saying that at one stop today, in front of Dan's Belltown Grocery, a young feller came running out of the store, long hair flapping behind him, an apron covering his camouflaged shorts and obligatory iron cross calf-tat and he stopped a middle-aged, pear-shaped woman from getting on the bus in order to give her the (what...) dollar thirty-six she'd forgotten to get back for her iced tea? It was a nice moment. Etiquette and goodness are out there. I'm a believer.

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the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)