Monday, January 7, 2013

In Good Consciousness

On New Year’s Eve, midday, I received a text from someone who had extra tickets to that night’s Jay-Z/Coldplay concert in Brooklyn. There’s a long pattern of my being out of town when these kinds of last-minute invitations come down the pipeline, and I’ve never seen Jay-Z perform live. “I always miss the good stuff,” I peevishly blurted out to my best friend a few minutes later. She laughed at me. 

The good stuff is generally simpler and more regular. Over the weekend, I walked down a boulevard I’m so familiar with that I rarely pay close attention to anything on it other than the traffic lights and my fellow pedestrians’ paces. This time I didn’t zone out.

I noticed a poster announcing a major going-out-of-business sale at a stationery/party supplies/novelties store. The space was small, overcrowded, and overheated. I expected no fewer than 3 or 4 of the bargain hunters to massively, mindlessly, act up in the claustrophobic heat.

Not at all. The customers – smiling, making warm eye contact, unnecessarily excusing themselves when they shuffled past one another - had scrupulously read their “How to Behave Like a Midwesterner” manuals. There was an unspoken agreement to obliterate obliviousness, at least that afternoon, in those awkward aisles.

I stocked up on discounted decorations, birthday cards, and thank-you cards. The birthday cards are the higher-end elaborate ones that I would never buy full price and the thank-you cards are a cheery shade of yellow.


  1. I love a good deal and will generally buy most things on sale. Problem with that though, is that I often end up buying some things I don't really need.

  2. Sounds like more than just a good deal. It sounds like a pleasant day. Kind people make me happy. I'm glad you didn't miss it.

    Stopping by from SITS.

  3. Yay, Midwestern manners! Love yellow! There was a Papyrus store there that went out of business and I bought some gorgeous stationery. Too bad I never actually WRITE to anyone anymore.

  4. I've been thinking about public politeness and rudeness lately, partly because I am aware that little by little I myself have become slightly more rude over the decades. (Just for the record, I, also, started out a Midwesterner.) But what really, seriously got me started thinking about it was a scene at the 86th Street Barnes & Noble. I was about to step into the elevator when a British woman rushed out, shoving against an American woman who had to use a cane for walking. Now, I should mention that I had been observing the American woman during a five minute wait, and I can report that she was clearly mentally ill. While waiting for the elevator, she had been screaming nasty things at a workman who was trying to fix a broken escalator. In fact, I was nervous at the prospect of getting into an enclosed space-- the elevator--with her. Well, the British woman did not apologize; she merely rushed on, and the American started screaming things at her. The British woman turned and yelled, "You Americans are so rude!" (Couldn't the British woman tell there was mental illness going on here?) Then a younger British woman, presumably the daughter of the older one, came back, and in great embarrassment at her mother's actions, delivered a profuse apology. Which--of course--only stimulated the crazy American woman to greater heights of insult, ending in a triumphant, "Go back to your own country if you don't like it here!" Then a store manager came up and ordered the American woman to leave the premises. I escaped into the elevator as the American woman's face was turning purple and her mouth was just opening for some choice epithets. On the elevator, the passengers couldn't help bursting into laughter: "She missed the elevator!" We were practically doing a little dance, but we were also trembling a little. It had gotten a little scary at the end--everyone could see that the American was mentally ill. Might she have hit someone with the cane she had been waving around? But, when it came to international rudeness, there was plenty of blame to go around.

    Well, later that day I happened on an AOL desktop survey of travelers on the topic of, "The Top Ten Rudest Countries." I am ashamed to say that the United States was number seven. (Oh, no! Was the British woman right?) But then I saw that England was number three! I crowed with vengeful delight! And, of course, everyone wants to know, who was number one? It comes as no surprise: France, my friends, the land of both romance and rudeness.

  5. Awwww...Good old Midwestern politeness! Love that you got some good supplies! Found you on SITS today!