Growing up, I came from a family of manners. We said, “please,” “thank you,” “yes, sir,” “no, ma'am,” and just about every other variation. We chewed with our mouths closed and sat with hands in our laps. We didn't use an adult's first name unless if we had express permission to do so. Every birthday, Valentine's Day, Easter, etc., we wrote thank you notes if a gift was given. My grandfather summed up manners thusly: “Someone has done something nice for you that they didn't have to. The least you can do is say thanks, because not everyone has to be nice.”
Ah, Gramps. Too true. Too true.
Another nugget I received along with the one above was, “Be nice to someone. It can turn around their bad day.” Grandpa was a wise man, so I listened. I did, and still do, hold doors open. I say excuse me if I need to get through a crowd. I write thank you notes. I don't do this entirely out of a sense of duty – I do it because it's nice to give that back to someone. Call me selfish. When I was younger, I didn't mind it if someone didn't say thanks for a kind act; I just figured, “That was how he/she was raised. No biggie.” Despite that sometimes when I do so, I get looked at as though I've just waded through three feet of manure in 90 degree heat and haven't showered in a week. You know that look – the “what the fuck smells?” glance, as I like to call it.
As I've gotten older, I've become a bit of a jaded prick.
It's one thing to occasionally be busy and not say, “Thanks” when someone holds a door open for you; we've all been there (we're thinking about how we're running late. Or how we need to get that present before it flies off the shelf. Or you have to get home in time for the school bus.). When you stare me down with the air of, “That's right, peasant, HOLD THAT DOOR FOR ME BECAUSE THAT IS YOUR PLACE!” well, that's when I take issue. In my book, no one's above being kind to someone else. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people walk past someone struggling with a package or stroller, look directly at them, then head in. The way I was raised, you offered to help. Try it; it's usually met with gratitude. Plus, expressing gratitude doesn't cost a thing; just a breath. If you can't spare that, then please do me a huge favor and stop breathing. You're wasting space anyway.
Some people are a mystery – it's as though those two little words have never made it into a collective lexicon. It's not contained to one socioeconomic sector (although, I have to say, the higher up on the ladder you are, the guiltier you tend to be of entitlement). Grateful people are hard to find. I'm starting to turn urban explorer and am actively looking for The Lost Thank You. It's mythical. Some days, I think I have a better chance of finding the Holy Grail before finding someone in Pittsford who is capable of uttering those two words. (Sidenote: to see what I'm talking about, visit Barnes and Noble on Monroe Ave. Really. Try it. Wear hockey gear. You will be tousled, stepped on, glared at, cut in front of, interrupted, and kicked from behind, amongst other things. If I'm getting that kind of reception, come on, at least buy me a beer...).
Of the worst offenders, I've noticed two sets (please bear in mind that I don't believe this of all of them, but a chunk of them, as I hate generalizing as a rule): upper-middle-class soccer moms and senior citizens. The soccer moms think that their 2-carat engagement ring and designer handbag seem to preclude any act of kindness bestowed upon them by the lower classes. Sorry, but to me, that's bullshit. No one's better than anyone else. Likewise, the senior set can be just as guilty. I can understand and appreciate everything you've gone through in your 75 years; however, that does not give you the right to glare, snap at or haughtily walk by someone, then complain about the state of young folk. My taxes are paying your social security which your generation is bankrupting for my generation, so the least you can do is offer a meager “thank you” if I hold a door and smile.
You know what's terribly sad? When people act like a little kid who happens to be schooled in manners is some sort of alien. When I was a kid, no one praised me for it because about 90% of us did it. It wasn't so rare that other people felt the need to comment on it. My kids use manners, and have since the time they could talk. They heard it at home all the time – a “thank you” for passing the salt, an excuse me after a burp. The everyday experience is how you teach; it becomes second nature, not a long process they learn starting at age 14. My 4-year-old is currently holding doors. She's quite proud of herself, but still working on the mind-to-mouth filter. She asked, rather loudly the one day, “Mom, why didn't that lady say thank you?” after an old lady glanced down at her as though she were owed the favor. The woman looked shocked by the question I was asked, obviously abhorred that a little kid would question her silence. On the outside, I explained that not everyone is as polite as her. On the inside, I chuckled and thought, “Lady, you just got pwned by a preschooler.” Simple pleasures...