Manners, courtesy and queuing in certain places


There are certain things that are undeniably dead: Jimmy Hoffa, rotary phones, the Ottoman Empire.

There are other things that, while not extinct are clearly racing headfirst towards it: those little white price stickers on cans of vegetables in supermarkets (could be arguably extinct), V-8 engines and muscle cars, the Amazon rainforest.

And then there are some things pronounced dead, but with fortune and practice will hopefully live on: remote dialects in rural America (being devoured by urbanization and cable TV/streaming videos), the electric car, and of course manners.

I’m a strong defender of manners because I’m an avid practitioner. Please read “life on wry’s” piece on the ingredients of manners:

For a guy, good manners are just one part, a key part, but one part of being a gentleman. And for the record, I know through trial, experience and pain that “nice guys finish last”. But like a dedicated soldier, or unyielding zealot, I continue on because it’s so ingrained into my life.

So….taking this manners thing into the real world, I now transport you to your local convenience store. For this essay I use the Wawa, a series of stores so heavily infested throughout the Delaware Valley. They make a very good business and customers are constantly streaming in and out, like the red blood cells entering, pausing, and then entering again the chambers of a huge financial heart.

At the Wawa there’s this ritual that occurs at the entrance, for people take great pains to hold the doors for other customers. Well, almost everyone but quite a lot for a heavily urbanized plot of land called New Jersey. Anyway, it’s a sight to see people of every walk of life, color, creed and shape employing the dying art of manners and patiently holding the door for that next corpuscle to enter the left ventricle. And of course, the “thank you”. Not everyone mind you, because manners, like the signals of Wi-Fi, only extend so far.

But good manners unfortunately only exist among the threshold of steel, glass, CCTV and that colored tape alongside the door that measures a person’s height – not to mark our stages of life but to help identify armed assailants. But the display of manners through this door, this Torii gate of Shintoism, unfortunately loses its power once inside. And here’s my observation….

People have a somewhat limited degree of patience when it comes to the cash register. Now I’ve been to many small towns in rural America; places where time is to be savored like some delicate morsel. I remember waiting to pay for my things at the Cranberry Island general store in Maine and behind two older gentlemen who exchanged delightful banter with the cashier. I was in no hurry and neither were they. But take those two guys and the same situation and transport them to a Wawa in New Jersey and the balance shifts. For there’s this expected talent one is supposed to deliver when it comes time to pay for something. Patience has run out the door and into the storm drain. Customers get visibly irritated if the transaction runs longer than the few seconds of what social custom has allowed. People huff, people roll eyes, people look at their smartphones for the time (who wears watches anymore?). If you’re at the register you’re expected to pay, make the short staccato responses and move on. In fact, when you get your change (if paying by cash – but who uses cash these days?) it’s tossed into your hands along with the receipt and your goods. You’re supposed to exhibit such dexterity as to separate the worthless receipt, put the bills into your wallet, grab your bag and move on. Dawdling is not allowed. Once the transaction is over the next person in line will expect you to vacate that space at the counter – please do your acrobatics somewhere else.

One place where I’ve seen it even worse is at the horse track. Especially as time gets closer to post you need to spit out your bet, saying the key words, no elaboration, quickly. It sometimes feels like you’re on a bomb disposal unit and godammit cut the freaking red wire already! Words and transactions are minimized to the bone. Other places where this impatience exists is at the train station or subway trying to get a ticket at the counter or kiosk. Like the explosives expert you’re supposed to know exactly what to do, how to do it and do it fast because people behind you are waiting.

But back to the Wawa. If you’re able to conduct your transaction without pissing any of the other customers off, able to maneuver your coffee, your money and your things like some Chinese acrobat spinning plates on a stick, you will find yourself walking through the door and be greeted by another customer holding the door for you. Good manners.


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