Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dear Miss Manners and Other Stories

                Dear Miss Manners and Other Stories
            Know thyself. I am the first to tell you that I am selfish and self-centered to an uncomfortable degree. I would take a melon scooper and remove those traits if that were possible. I don’t have impeccable manners; I know that. I like to blame my imperfect childhood. I never had a mother to teach me the niceties. To compensate, I became hyper-vigilant. I watch you to see how you do it. Imitation is a form of flattery.

            Unless it isn’t. Unless I see less than desirable traits. The particular trait I would like to isolate and stomp to death is “the sense of entitlement”. Where does this come from? I see it in rich and in poor, in healthy and unhealthy, in high class (What does that mean?) and in every other strata of society.

            The horrible thing, that which makes me cringe, is that just by being American, I know I carry pieces of this seemingly un-erasable cultural trait. The Ugly American is alive and well. The Canadian is no different. So I hang onto my hyper-vigilance, hoping to nip any actions of mine before they offend another person, of any culture.

            By living in a foreign country, it seems I view ugly features like entitlement through a different magnifying glass, one with few smudges.

            Case in point. Kathy and I were on the beach, lounging under a resort palapa. Yes, we exhibit entitlement just by being there. A group of young people on holiday, corporate workers from a company in Chicago, spread out on the stretch of sand next to us. These fellow tourists, I’m sure, are all good folks, nice people, hard workers. Maybe they had begun celebrating a tad too early.

            Jorge took food and drink orders, one man, on this busy day, running his legs. He turned to go up the stairs to the restaurant with a fist full of orders. Oh, but wait just a minute. Mr. Chicago and company wanted three buckets of beer, shrimp platters, chips and salsa for the group; get the picture. Chicago’s arm swung in circles, fingers snapped, and he screamed, “Hey, Taco.”

            Jorge heard the call, reversed stride and took the order. I mentally dug a hole in the sand and buried myself. Later in the afternoon, I cornered Jorge and apologized for the behavior of the Chicago group. 

“We’re not all like that,” I said. “I know. It’s part of the job.” Part of the job. Sad, that.

            Entitlement rears its ugly head in various ways. Same resort. A couple from California scooted down to the beach every morning before six; the sun not even up. They secured four lounges, two tables and a couple chairs, dragged them beneath a palapa, laid out towels, books, shoes, and lotion: the message—we’ll be back soon. Most days, they never showed up. The new message—we want this particular area reserved for us, just in case. Yep, we’re pretty important.

            This is Mexico. There is a cultural ethic here of manners, of politeness, even in situations which would strain any one of us. Mexican people are inherently polite. Because of that, our inherent rudeness looks nastier. But place is irrelevant. These incidents could have happened anywhere, anywhere in the world.

            So a woman from my neighborhood, happens to be a Canadian woman, went to a ball game a couple days ago, her ticket in hand. A man sat in “her” seat. The seats are numbered, so you could say she had a point. The stadium is huge. It’s a baseball game. There were empty seats next to, in front and behind.

            “Shoo, move.” She waved her arms in get-out-of-here motions. “You are in my blankety seat. You. Go. Get. Get the blankety out of here.” She used language that I never heard in the corral at branding time.

            The man was rather stunned. He indicated she could sit in the empty seat next to him. “Senora, do you know who I am?”

            “I don’t give a . . .” Well, you get the picture.

            What I know, and I know with my knower, is that she could have graciously sat down next to this gentleman and had a conversation, like, “Which team are you rooting for? How about a ten peso bet. I’ll take the team from Culiacan. Good game so far, eh?” And I would place a hundred peso bet, with perfect assurance, that the woman would have been invited to the after-game party, a guest of the Mayor of Mazatlan.

            Dear Miss Manners, Please help me remember that I am human. You are human. We all are human. Nothing else much matters. Sincerely,

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

December 11, 2014

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