Tuesday, December 07, 2010

the courtesies of rudeness

I pick up a newspaper at CVS, the local Post-Standard, 75 cents. The checkout counter has two or three registers open; people queue up and go to the next available cashier. Or perhaps they form a separate line in back of each cashier. I am standing in the back of an imaginary line, trying to discern where and how to check out. A young lady, presumably a Syracuse University student, approaches from my left. She is carrying, oh, maybe some cough drops, bobby pins, hair clips, deodorant. I don't know. Two hands holding smallish items. She calmly and directly walks in front of me, cutting ahead of me in this imaginary line. (Some cultures, we know, do not even hold to any semblance of a line, imagined or otherwise.)

"Oh, are you in line?" she asked, and when I nodded or spoke in the affirmative she responded as if she already knew this, as if it were a given that, yes, I was in line, why else would I be standing there?

But -- and I cannot prove this -- I got the sense that she wanted me all along to say, "No, you go ahead; go on," waving her on ahead of me; giving her the entitlement she felt she deserved.

Sometimes I will do this. If I have several items in a store and someone has one item, I let them through. Wait. Wait. I'm the person with one item, the newspaper, here.

As I waited the few brief moments before being called on, my line-competitor seemed to reflexively dart ahead of me -- as if we had not had the briefest of conversations earlier -- and then halt, inviting me silently to let her proceed. Perhaps my perceptions are wrong, but I had the keen sense that she was determined to be ahead of me -- and not because she was in a hurry. Just because. Or this was a rich fantasy played out in my imagination; something to blog about.

I bought my newspaper and, when prompted by the cashier, I agreed to contribute a dollar to a charity. I don't deny I was making a "statement," telling the woman in the "line" in back of me to think wider and larger. Yeah. Right.

Afterward, I was reminded of a little tussle I experienced at an SU football game, when I myself darted out in front of a guy quickly coming down the stairs at intermission. We exchanged words. I was seen as the rude on. I guess I did mean to slow him down, the way you want to slow down those people on the plane or are crazy trying to get their luggage from the overhead bins, only to stand there, blocking the aisles. But maybe in that case I was the jerk.

Perception.

Reality.

And then there are those who in traffic, for example near toll booths, smile, push ahead, barge through, wave, smile, and thank you -- thank you! as if you are so privileged and pleased to be sanctioning their discourtesy, as if you had a choice. Some marketing of rudeness!

2 comments:

Andrew said...

I once approached a cashier in a grocery store. Three or four lines were open, without another customer in sight. What a great deal for me, multiple cashiers waiting, no line ups to plow through. The sign on this line said something like "10-15" items. I had maybe 18 or 20 items in my cart. I said to the girl, "Looks like I have a couple of extra items." She immediately turned on her heel and threw over her shoulder a rude, "Next line please." If I were the manager and saw that, she would have been fired on the spot.

And don't even get me started on the story of the rude girl working at the the McDonald's in Paris.

btw, I just posted a new Dismaying Story.

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel