I went to dinner last night with my husband.
As we sat down, ordered drinks and an appetizer and began to chat (we so seldom get to actually have a full conversation due to work and parenting duties), the woman next to us chatted as well with her companion.
Well, I'm not sure the word 'chatted' is the right word.
In short, she simply sat perched in the booth and flung her words at him from across the table so that everyone in earshot could hear not only every single word but each breath that both preceded and followed each word.
Several times I leaned in toward my husband to tell him something, and then the woman would begin talking, and I literally could not raise my voice high enough to compete.
I finally gave up.
As I ate my crab and mango guacamole, my husband's phone rang and he proceeded to take a work call at the table.
At the table.
I sat with my little tortilla chip, a mango chunk precariously balanced on the tip, wondering why the hell I'd agreed to go out to dinner at all. I could have been back at home bracing myself against the startling beauty and threatening violence of The Road.
Then, as I sat outside returning a text about my son, a man was on the phone, pacing in the landscaping outside the restaurant and taking a work call himself. He was perfectly respectable, and I admired him for remaining outside...until his wife came out and said, "Our food has been served."
The way she said it indicated he'd been out there a while.
He turned and gave her what can only be described as a look of utter disgust and contempt, grimacing and throwing his hands up before returning to his call.
The whole evening made me ponder the issue of manners as we drove home from our dinner.
Am I simply too sensitive? Are my expectations too high?
I was at a coffee shop the other day trying to work. Now, I realize that's not a great idea, so I was only half-working, but any work (or thought even) was rendered impossible by a mother who was, again, bellowing at her friend. Her friend spoke in a normal voice. This woman was all but screeching. And her conversation was intensely private. Everyone in the coffee shop was looking around at each other in solidarity.
A year ago I was using a restroom at an airport, and the woman in the stall beside me was discussing the private details of her son's divorce while literally sitting on the toilet.
Readers: where has our sense of decorum gone?
For me, manners don't come down to a particular way of behaving or whether or not to send a thank you letter or any of that. For many years, that's what manners did mean to me, as if I could define them by exact behavior.
But Emily Post's quote above really does sum up what manners are: a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.
It's an awareness of your own voice and tone when in public and how that might affect the experience of someone else.
It's an awareness of the fact that your son may not want the details of a private moment in his life on display in a public bathroom.
It's an awareness that your wife, the one you so seldom take to dinner, may feel humiliated while you sit on your phone.
It also makes me wonder how my own behavior has been insensitive and lacked awareness of the feelings of others.
That makes one cringe, no?
This is probably most present with my children, whom I often rush along with me, failing to view the world through their own lens or think about how they might feel about a situation. I think it's easy to think, as parents, that we know best or that our plan is the best course of action, and though it may well be, having a sensitive awareness of my children's feelings isn't just good parenting, it's good manners.
Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to manners? Do you think you have good manners? Is it even something you consider important?