Friday, April 27, 2012

France: the mood is rude

Ok, it’s official—France is the rudest country on the planet.  Seems that a company called, which claims to be Europe’s leading travel search site, surveyed its users seeking informed opinions (i.e., from people who have actually travelled to the countries they are disparaging) about how various nations treat foreign travellers. A whopping 1200 people responded from all over the world (although a preponderance of them were European) and to nobody’s surprise, 19% named France as the place most likely to insult or offend foreign visitors, with Russia following closely behind with 16.5% of the vote. With 33 countries named by the respondents, just three countries—France, Russia and the UK—managed to amass a full 46% of the total vote!

So, if France is the rudest country in the world, it must stand to reason, then, that the French are the rudest people in the world, right? Never having been to France and having met precious few French people in my life—although the one I knew best certainly would win no prizes for her courtesy towards others—I am not in a position to definitively declare the French a race of boors, but simple logic would lead you to the conclusion that, in order for France to be declared the rudest country in the world, it must be because its citizens are significantly lacking something in the courtesy department, hein?

So this got me to thinking…

When people want to give something a touch of elegance, when they want to evoke sophistication and grace and classiness, the go-to vibe is inevitably French. Whether deciding to call your coffee shop a bistro or sidewalk café, whether evoking illusions of Versailles or the Champs Élysées, whether channelling Coco Chanel or Christian Dior…if we want to bring to mind class, elegance, and style, we turn to the French.

We even do it with language. If we want to sound erudite and urbane, we toss in a vis à vis here and a faux pas or billet doux there, knowing the cognoscenti will recognize us as one of them, and everyone else will just pretend to know what we are talking about. Despite our recent falling out with the French, renaming their delightful fried potato fingers “Freedom Fries” in a petulant attempt to teach them a lesson about reciprocal support in times of trouble, we still look to the French for those things we subconsciously consider better than prosaic American sensibilities. If it’s French, it must be classy!

So how do we reconcile this sense of Frenchness being sophisticated and worldly with their apparently deserved reputation for being the rudest people in the world? French was once the language of diplomacy and international business, having been supplanted by English in recent years, and a mental image of couture-draped women dripping gems, French tripping lightly off their tongues, is what pops up when one thinks of embassy functions and soirées. Exceedingly polite diplomats and foreign functionaries concealing their deceitful intentions behind correct smiles and polite French phrases, rigidly correct, excruciatingly refined…this perception does not square with the exasperated “Merde!” muttered as another foreign tourist butchers a patriotic Frenchman’s mother tongue with his crude accent and ridiculous phrase book.

I suspect that France—and the French—are no more rude than anyone else, that the denizens of big cities like Paris fall prey to the stress of their environment like New Yorkers and Johannesburgers, and that in more laid back environments we might find gracious hospitality rather than rude rejection.

Then, again, maybe the French are just more willing to be honest than the rest of us, less politically correct, more true to themselves and their expectations of what it takes to make a satisfying life—which, in their culture, may not include being excessively patient with visitors who seem to think everybody in the world should speak English and drop what they are doing to serve the unintelligible stranger.

There is something inherently flawed in judging other cultures based on our own values. An American or Brit might find himself repulsed by the Japanese visitor’s loud slurping and lip smacking at dinner—while the Japanese host would find himself insulted at the carefully silent dining habits of their American or British guests. Perhaps what we non-French consider rude the French consider merely expedient. It is absurd, after all, to go to a foreign country and expect its denizens to ape your own sense of manners and courtesy. When in Rome, do as the Romans do—don’t expect the Romans to suddenly exhibit the manners and mores of your culture.

Maybe we should apply that to our judgments of the French as well, n’est pas?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Earn respect?

Do you think people should earn your respect? Really? Why?

When I was growing up, respect was not something you earned. Respect was freely given, in fact, it was considered an entitlement. It was DISrespect that had to be earned. Now, if you think I’m full of crap on this, put on your thinking cap and follow along with me.

In a circumstance in which respect is not freely accorded to others, disrespect reigns. When you respect the rights and feelings of others, you don’t do things that might infringe on those rights or impinge on their feelings: you don’t cut in front of them in line, you don’t cut them off on the highway, you don’t interrupt when they are speaking, you don’t insult their politics or religious inclinations, you don’t assault their ears with loud cell-phone conversations, or impair their breathing with your second hand smoke—and they don’t do the same to you.

Common courtesy and manners, the lubricant that oils the wheels of social interaction, are based on simple respect for the feelings and rights of others. When respect is absent, disrespect reigns…and when you behave disrespectfully, you invite others to behave towards you in the same way.

Speaking altruistically, you must give respect to get respect and a society that values pleasant social interaction must be based on the simple tenet that we must all respect each other if we are to avoid conflict and make progress.

But there is another, more practical and less esoteric reason that respect must be freely given rather than earned: the sheer impossibility of doing so.

You see, there are billions of people on this planet and even if you live an insular life in a small town, you are going to meet quite a few of them. And each person is going to be different, have different mores and beliefs and feelings…and each one will have different criteria for earning respect. Moreover, those criteria will not be tattooed on their foreheads, nor will they thoughtfully hand you a list of them…in fact, if asked, they will likely be hard pressed to even articulate what it takes for you to earn their respect. And if they really thought about it diligently, it is most likely that one of the critical criterion would be that you show respect to them.

You are no different. You have some kind of nebulous concept rattling around in the back of your brain that defines what it means to earn your respect. And you hold countless numbers of complete strangers to this amorphous, undefined criteria in order to “earn” your respect, without telling them or even being able to articulate it yourself. This is grossly unfair. It is setting a standard to which you expect others to measure up without ever telling them what the standard is. It virtually guarantees failure on the part of others and virtually guarantees you a conscience-free pass to be rude and disrespectful to the majority of people you meet! I mean, if they don’t earn your respect, why should you treat them respectfully?

This attitude is the most basic underpinning of bullying. If you don’t respect someone because you believe they have to earn your respect and you have made it impossible for them to do by creating an impossible and/or invisible set of standards, then you don’t need to respect their rights or their feelings, do you? If you further create some gates that a person must pass through in order to even try to earn your respect—like they must be straight, or Christian, or politically conservative, or a certain race or ethnicity or gender—you further create a situation that you feel absolutely justified in not respecting those who are unable to pass through those gates. If they can’t jump through the hoops and avoid the obstacles you have set up, then you feel perfectly justified in disrespecting them.

When you consider that there are potentially billions of people doing this, that if you meet 100 people in the course of a week, each one of them may be doing this to you, you may begin to see how this cannot work as a way of life. If you meet 100 people and each of them has a different criteria for having their respect earned and none of them are willing to tell you what you must do to “earn” their respect, you are basically screwed. It is a hit or miss situation where “earning” someone’s respect is accidental rather than by design or intent. It is, with rare exception, impossible.

But it goes even deeper than this. Consider for a moment: what kind of a person truly believes that his respect is so rare a commodity that others must earn it? What kind of a person has so little respect within his heart that he must dole it out only to those who are willing to abase themselves to “earn” it? If you think of yourself as a “good person,” what are you doing withholding that most basic entitlement of humans, the right to be respected simply because they exist?

That’s right—we all have basic human rights—and the right to be respected is one of them. We earn DISrespect when we have done something worthy of it, but respect is your birthright. And to expect others to earn your respect is tantamount to saying that you are entitled to withhold from them a right that came with their first breath, setting yourself as a superior being above those from whom you withhold your respect. It speaks ill of your character, and reflects badly upon your moral fibre.

Many of us have bought into the notion that respect must be earned out of ignorance and lack of critical thinking. We aren’t really bullies and we deplore the lack of common courtesy we are subjected to in daily life. Curiously, while we take the position that strangers must earn our respect, we fully expect those strangers to treat us with the respect and courtesy we have made no effort to “earn” from them. It’s a one-way street in our minds—others should treat us with respect but they must earn ours—and we don’t even realize it!

If you take the time to really think about it, you have to come to the conclusion that respect simply cannot be earned. No one person is sufficiently intuitive and simultaneously fluid of personality that they can divine and appropriately react to an infinite, and infinitely changing, set of demands. You cannot please all of the people all of the time—and when it comes to earning respect, you cannot even know what all of the people think you need to do.

If you want to be respected, there is a simple way to achieve that: respect others. Respect their feelings, their rights, their existence. Give them respect as a matter of course and only withhold it when a specific person has done a specific thing that is worthy of withdrawing it. Set the bar high—determine that taking your respect away from a person is a serious thing, not to be taken lightly or in response to something small, like disagreeing with you politically. In fact, to my way of thinking, it is only demonstrating an ingrained lack of respect for others that warrants the withdrawal of my respect.

You might consider this the next time you think another person should earn your respect rather than you giving it freely and giving him a chance to earn your disrespect instead.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Manners, people! Bring your manners!

Geeze, there are days it just doesn't pay to leave your house!

I only had to be out a couple of hours this morning--refill some prescriptions and pick up a few groceries--nothing major. And while it is a Monday morning, it is a public holiday here, so I expected things to be a bit more crowded than on a normal Monday. It wasn't nearly as busy as I expected, but that was probably because I got to the store as it was just opening.

One sack of groceries--that is all I bought, which isn't much. I was in the queue, waiting for an open till, within a short time. The little automatic queue monitor flashed "6" and the electronic voice intoned "Teller Six" and Hubby and I set off for the till. Oddly, the woman behind us cut in front of Hubby as we headed for the till and when I hesitated a moment to allow him to get around her and catch up with me, she swooped past me and presented herself at Till 6 in my place! Fortunately Till 7 was available so I took my trolley there, but the Rude Cow at #6 never did seem to figure out that she had jumped the queue in such an egregious fashion--she was absolutely shameless--even clueless--about it.

We then had to go to the big market to pick up the prescriptions and I needed a couple of things from there as well. Much to my amazement, a younger version of the Rude Cow from Woolworth's appeared! She and her male companion, apparently oblivious to my big trolley being pushed by PlusSize me (who knew a woman my size could be invisible??), decided to enter an aisle as I was turning into it. My trolley was already more than half way through the turn when they jostled it and leaped in front, rushing past. Good grief--would their worlds have fallen apart if they had waited a whole two seconds while I completed the turn and left them sufficient room to go past without crashing into my trolley? What about the woman who parked her trolley in the middle of an aisle so that nobody could get around it and when I said "excuse me?" to her back, she moved but left the trolley in the middle of the aisle?

What is it with people who behave so badly in public? We were in another store on Saturday morning where someone had let a completely unmannered little girl of about 5 loose. Every aisle I entered, she got there ahead of me and every time I needed to stop to choose something, she managed to park her little body right in front of where I needed to be, doing absolutely nothing except taking up space and refusing to budge even when politely asked to do so. Where were her parents? Why was she allowed to run amok in the store? Where are the kidnappers when you need them?

There was a time when people left their children at home until they could behave in public (do not give me that lame tripe about kids needing to be in public to learn manners and I should be more tolerant. If you are a parent and truly believe that, then you are in desperate need of a course of etiquette yourself!) and if a child transgressed in public, s/he was brought up short, on the spot. Now, parents seem to be unaware that "having a baby" equates to raising (as in teaching, training, disciplining, and paying attention to) a child. Like the bride who doesn't think about the marriage, only the wedding, these parents seem not to look past their expectations of adorable, cooing babies and into the real future of the savage little beasts they are supposed to tame.

These little beasts grow into the thoughtless, self-absorbed Rude Cattle I encountered this morning. From supermarket trolley wars to airline passengers refusing to turn off their phones to women having no shame about dating married men, this "me me me" mindset has just gone too far. Manners are an expression of respect for others--and the idea that strangers have to "earn" your respect is a completely bankrupt, narcissistic, utterly stupid notion--and when you show disrespect for others, you invite them to reciprocate. Discourtesy and disrespect breed further discourtesy and creates a hostile environment. People with good manners will not point your faux pas out to you, as that is just as rude, so you must monitor yourself. Slow down--nothing is so important that you cannot wait 3 seconds for someone or at least say "excuse me" in an apologetic tone of voice as you go past. Think before you stop in the middle of a walking space to chat with a friend, before you leave your trolley in the middle of the aisle then block the rest of it with your body as you leisurely peruse the selections, before you gridlock an intersection because you just cannot wait for the next light, before you cut off another driver or refuse to let someone in--THINK--

You just aren't THAT important that everyone else on the planet should give way to you, now are you??

Friday, April 06, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dear Hubby!!

My husband's 40th birthday was last Sunday. We celebrated it by going to Sun City for a week, being careful to come home on Good Friday so as to minimize being stuck in crowds--South Africans loooove to travel over the four day Easter holiday and Hubby timed the trip so that we would be leaving as they would be arriving.

We wanted to try the off-road Segway safari, but a big rain before we arrived left the trails too muddy for that, so it is postponed until our next trip. This trip we decided to try a 6am game drive since the later ones seldom turn up a lot of animals. Seems they rise and eat early, then retire to the shade of trees and thickets when the sun starts to heat things up, so the early morning game drives show more promise.

And it worked! Although the leopards remained elusive, I have finally seen my first wild lion (unfortunately a sighting too brief to photograph), and we actually happened on a rhino actually standing in the road! A small herd of elephants were snacking on some trees and I saw kudu for the first time in this park (our third game drive in this park).

We made it down to Waterworld where Hubby learned to jet ski. And while he seemed to enjoy it tremendously, I couldn't convince him to try parasailing or any of the other water activities (save swimming and floating in the heated pool which was, unfortunately, thickly populated with children).

We took a boat ride on the lake, which afforded us some lovely views...
And at the boat dock there was a huge cluster of carp and catfish (and those fish were gigantic!) including this monster of an albino catfish...
We drove back this morning and have been greeted (and kissed to death) by the little doggies, sent the maid (who was house sitting) home, wer  and are blessedly, peacefully, home again. I love our little trips and travel, but the best part has to be getting back to my own cosy environment!!