Best manners, please

The other day, while exiting a building, I was passed by a gentleman coming in. As he entered the building he automatically removed his hat. Very old-fashioned. These days you are lucky if people do not wear their hats to the dinner table. Nobody seems to think anything about it. In the military it was a big deal to know when it was or was not appropriate to have your hat on. Not following the rules made you “out of uniform,” an offense that could go on your permanent record. It is bad enough in combat to draw fire. You don’t need to also draw criticism.

As you get older it gets confusing. I have had young people offer me their chair when there was a shortage of seating. This made me uncomfortable. Did I look that feeble?

Now some of the social conventions do seem pointless. Do you say “excuse me” when you have to walk in front of someone who is trying to view items on a shelf in the grocery store? Did you have any other option for getting past? Probably not. So if they set it up so that you had to walk in front, why should you apologize? They should apologize. It was a setup.

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Children used to have all of the conventional polite phraseology drilled into them. Sometimes it took a while for them to get the context. When my brother was about 4, he got into a fight with another 4-year-old. Fortunately, the mothers were nearby and broke it up before any serious damage occurred. Kids this age do not understand that when they see one TV cowboy smack another with his six-gun, they were only fooling. So apologies were in order. My Mom prompted my brother, “Jackie, what do you say?” My brother responded, “Thank you.”

Sometimes good manners are misplaced. Several years ago while driving on a four-lane road I stopped to make a left turn across oncoming traffic. It was hard to see when it was clear as the sun was setting and was right in my eyes. The driver in a car coming from the opposite direction saw my predicament and stopped, waving me ahead.

I turned slowly and while crossing the second lane was broad-sided by another car, which presumably had been following the polite driver and in an impatient move had swung around to pass on the right. I was driving a Ford van and sustained only a minor dent. The other car bounced off of my van, like a cartoon, and the front end just disintegrated.

I don’t know. Maybe I am making a big deal out of nothing. If so, as Steve Martin used to say, “Well then EXCUUUUUSE MEEE!”

Bill Abrams resides in Pine Plains with his manners intact.