4 Good Manners It's Time to Stop Pretending We Care About
Listen, I'm the most genteel motherfucker around, and I'll violate your useless slop-hole if you say otherwise. But even I have to admit that some aspects of our polite society are at best outdated and at worst needlessly complicating our already hectic lives. (And some of us have long days of slop-hole violating to get to -- life's busy enough.) There are some social faux pas that, for better or worse, we just need to let go. You're not going to help anyone by ...
Holding the Door
I know it seems like a small gesture of courtesy to hold a door for somebody. And it is, in theory. In practice, however, holding a door for a stranger is an upper level physics problem where all the variables are sentient, stupid, and possibly insane. Every time you volunteer to hold a door for somebody, you are presuming to know not only their every thought and motivation, but their pace, dedication, and priorities. They might slow down, speed up, swivel in place, change direction, or just dance every single step to the "Thriller" video right there in the parking lot. You just don't know. That person you're so arrogantly holding the door for may interpret the gesture as chauvinism -- are you saying she couldn't possibly heft a whole door by herself, or maybe just that she lacks the mental capacity to understand a basic hinge and, if not for your heroic efforts, would be left standing outside, pawing at the glass like a dog in a Humane Society commercial?
"... in the aaaaarms of the aaaangels ..."
Or worse, that person you're holding the door for may have been going somewhere else entirely and just happened to be passing by when your insistence and presumption pressured him into crossing a threshold he was not intending to cross. Now you've just ingress-raped a total stranger; I hope you feel good about yourself, monster.
Every time you hold a door open, you're attempting to solve one of those "a train leaves the station going west at 120 mph" problems, only in this case, the station is an entryway to a JC Penney, the conductor has shitty depth perception and no sense of timing, and the train is another human being who may be jogging up not to catch the door, but to nail you with a flying dive tackle. Why do we even bother anymore? Almost every public doorway has a handicap assistance button that will swing the thing open automatically if somebody is so distressed by the concept of portal-wrangling that they need external help with the issue. So I propose that we do away with the institution altogether: Starting today, everybody needs to turn around and carefully force every door they pass through shut afterward -- even if other people are actively trying to slip through it at the time. You just stand on the other side of that glass and determinedly wrestle the door to a complete, full-click latch while looking the other person directly in the eye the entire time.
It's the only way to avoid an awkward situation.
Calling the Fart Police
Let me tell you a purely hypothetical story about a veritable mountain of a man named Bobert Rockway. Bobert was at his office one day, taking the elevator down from the weekly meeting of the World's Greatest Detective Society, when a small Asian lady stepped into the car with him. The pair waited in polite silence as the ride progressed uneventfully. Suddenly, Bobert's stomach grumbled -- being the bastion of public service that he is, Bobert is often too busy knockin' out supervillains and knockin' up supermodels to grab a reasonably timed lunch -- and, after a few seconds of silence, the diminutive woman turned to our hero and said, "Did you just fart?"
Somehow, Rockway restrained himself. He did not laugh in her face and tell her, "No, honey, I have man-farts." He did not jab a finger in her accusatory eye and inform her that "When I fart, you'll know it." He did not go on to elaborate that "When I fart, the fire alarm will go off. When I fart, confetti rains from the sky like a fucking Rip Taylor bit. When I fart, it's like somebody says the secret word on a kid's show: Everybody stops what they're doing and just. Starts. Screaming. My farts have flashed veterans back to 'Nam."
"Charlie's deployed gas -- get your masks on, boys!"
He just smiled pleasantly and said, "Nope, my stomach growled. Missed lunch."
The Asian lady turned away from Bobert, visibly disgusted, and said, "Yeah. Right."
This is not a unique situation. There are entire comedy bits about this exact scenario: Somebody moves a chair across rubber, or their leather jacket squeaks just so, and then they have to awkwardly explain to a roomful of witnesses that what kind of sounded like flatulence was but sound and fury, signifying nothing. My question isn't "Why do we persecute these people without evidence?" Nor is it even "Is not a man innocent until proven guilty?" My question is: Why do people even ask? I'm genuinely curious what answer would make somebody happy in that situation. Do they really want personal confirmation of whose guts they're inhaling? If you inquire after a fart, and the offending party says "no," what are the other options? "Oh God, it must be a natural gas leak -- let's get outta here, gang!" If they look you dead in the eyes and simply answer "yes," how does the ensuing conversation go? What if they follow it up with "Welcome to the wrong side of my butthole" -- do you shake their hand because, damn it, you don't condone the act, but you have to admire the honesty? Some questions are better left unanswered, and when it comes to a stranger's intestinal musk, maybe we just embrace the enigmatic nature of life and try to take shallow breaths until the mystery passes.
Correcting the Pronunciation of Foreign Words
Bobert Rockway was in class one day -- yes, ladies, he takes classes to better himself in between shark races and hot air balloon fights -- when a shy classmate began relaying a relevant personal anecdote to the other students. Rockway had more pressing matters on his mind at the time -- I believe he may have been remote-defusing some kind of panty bomb -- so he doesn't remember the details of the story. But at one point, the girl related that she had bought a Coke from the "fell-uh-fell" stand outside. The teacher immediately interrupted her tale and asked, "Did you mean fuh-LAH-fuhl?" The entire class laughed snidely, and the girl lapsed back into silence. Rockway quickly finished tele-defusing the underwear ordnance, back flipped across the table, and snapped the snide instructor's neck with a transcendentally executed pile driver. But the damage had already been done: The girl had been shamed for never having had occasion, in her short life, to purchase a fried chickpea dish in person.
"I mean, what kind of ASSHOLE do you have to be to have never ordered fried bean paste from a swarthy cart man?"
Mind you, nobody busted out laughing when she first mispronounced the word -- only when the teacher immediately, shittily corrected her for it. This is a huge part of why people correct any social faux pas: It's not that they want to instruct the discourteous party, or even that they're offended at the mistake -- they're leaping at the chance to show that they know something somebody else doesn't. They want a public acknowledgment, no matter how brief and petty, that they are somehow superior in the realm of Arabic street food elocution. In this case, the teacher wasn't a Middle Eastern man trying to preserve his culture -- it was a 30-something white guy trying to get inappropriately laid by his impressionable young students at the expense of somebody's dignity.
This needs to stop, not because I advocate and foster cultural ignorance in all of its forms, but because everybody says something wrong habitually. I love burritos: They're like sandwiches you can take on a roller coaster. But I technically have no idea how to say the word "burrito." I'm pretty sure you're supposed to roll the double "R," somehow -- like, maybe you turn your head and spin around while you're saying it. No fucking clue. I'm not saying that correcting somebody makes you an asshole, but there's a very simple way to do it that doesn't embarrass anybody. You just find an occasion to say the word correctly yourself, a minute or two later: "Man, since you mentioned falafel, all I can think about is falafel now. Do you want to grab some falafel and then maybe bone a little bit on top of that falafel?"
See that? You just advanced somebody's knowledge in a way that doesn't shame them, and also got drilled atop a steaming mash of chickpeas and tahini. That is the very dictionary definition of "victory."
Enforcing Pretty Much Any Dining Etiquette
If you're out for a fancy dinner at some esteemed establishment with vaguely racist undertones, by all means, practice your finest restaurant etiquette. But if you ever catch yourself telling somebody to keep their elbows off the table at a White Castle, kindly shut all of your fucks in the upright position. Listen, I have worked in the restaurant industry -- mostly at those aforementioned fancy private dining establishments old enough to have been, at some point, a fully functional plantation -- and I can promise you one thing: There has been a dick gently laid on every inch of table space you're using. This goes doubly true at places like White Castle. I don't mean it's more likely at a fast food joint; I mean literally there have been two cocks resting, one atop the other, in a Frankfurt Dogpile, exactly where you just set down your Sierra Mist. I promise you, wherever you choose to place your elbows, be they resting on the lip of a plastic table or softly brushing against the dignified surface of a 19th century leather dining chair, you are putting your eatin' parts where minimum wage employees have drunkenly fucked away their customer service rage.
"I say, does this pinot gris stink of sex and fury to you, Madison?"
Next time you're about to correct somebody on which type of fork is appropriate for a cool summer salad versus a more hefty autumnal fare, stop and remind yourself that it has absolutely been up some cook's ass before. I have known many, many chefs in my lifetime. They are awful, crass, wonderful human beings. If the sous chef hasn't shoved that soup spoon in his rectum for a drunken laugh, then the head chef has shanked your entree fork into the butt-meat of some idiot prep cook for daring to ask what the difference between buttermilk and heavy cream is. Eating is not, by its very nature, a dignified affair. You're shoveling flesh and dirt-fruit into a hole filled with spit so you don't die. You can cram food into your mouth with two fists and some determination and achieve the exact same results. Let's not suddenly pretend like we're the dowagers of Downton Abbey at dinnertime: Elbows go on the table because they are the fulcrums of the food-levers that are our forearms, and if you can get steak in your face with a shrimp fork, you go for it.
It's just less surface area exposed to chef-butt that'll be gracing your mouth.
Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.