1. Archive

City folks could use some country manners

All you could hear was a BOOM, followed by varying pitches of metallic vibration.

BOOM! Rattle-rattle, rattle. BOOM! Rattle-rattle-rattle. Over and over.

Somewhere between the booming and the rattling, words, indistinguishable but repetitious, were shouted.

Apparently, someone with poor taste and less talent had recorded these sounds coming from the car two places ahead of me in the Taco Bell drive-through. Apparently, there are people somewhere who call those noises music. Except for the occupants of that car, those people were not in the Taco Bell line.

"Turn that mess down," the woman in the car ahead of me yelled, but probably not loudly enough for the people in the offending car to hear over the BOOM! Rattle-rattle-rattle.

The woman's shouts must have eventually gotten through, maybe between the booms during one of the rattles, because the noise got louder. It remained so, even as the vibrating car waited at the cashier's window.

I couldn't help but wonder: What brand of idiot is sitting in that car?

They obviously had no regard for their own health, subjecting their ears to sounds loud enough to cause vibrations three car lengths away. But that's okay. Such idiots have the right _ and by definition, maybe even the obligation _ to subject themselves to harm.

But they don't have the right to assail the rest of us. And that's what the noise coming from their car amounted to: a physical assault on everyone in range. For no apparent reason except rude inconsideration, they had brought turbulence into the lives of at least a dozen people. They had selfishly and unnecessarily intruded on the lives of people with whom their only interaction ever would probably be this aggravation.

Yes, they finally drove away. Yes, things were quiet again. And yes, the dozen or so people probably recovered the moods they were in before the interruption.

So what's the big deal?

The big deal is this: To the degree possible, you should avoid interrupting the lives of others.

People who have roots in the country, or at least an appreciation of country living, will understand this. City folks may need to be walked through it.

Country folks live that way naturally; city folks seem to live by the opposite creed.

The big deal is that we have become a culture without manners. Worse, we seem to have forgotten that manners were not just a matter of convention or quaint tradition. They had a practical side. Common courtesies put people in good spirits and they pass it along. The absence of manners _ rudeness, thoughtlessness, selfishness _ causes irritation, and that is also passed on.

A nation that loses respect for civility becomes mean-spirited and violent, a description that is all too familiar.

Were the problem just the occasional loud car, it would be insignificant; the car eventually moves out of earshot. But the epidemic expresses itself daily, sometimes hourly, in so many symptoms.

It is a rare drive when someone doesn't dart around you and immediately slow down to make a turn, causing you to brake. The disruption is minor, but aggravating. I and anyone else who consciously tries to keep their lives from inconveniencing others would have no qualms about sacrificing the tenth of a second and falling in behind you to make the turn.

You can't walk far on a city sidewalk without encountering a group of people walking abreast who refuse to yield to your rightful share of walkway, sometimes looking away and pretending not to see you as they barrel ahead.

I have no problem stepping aside for you, but being pushed aside causes resentment.

There are people who think nothing of interrupting a conversation, using "excuse me" as a demand rather than a request, simply because they think what they have to say is more important than what is already being said.

I wait for the conversation to finish, or reach a natural break.

Co-workers have been startled a couple of times to look up from their work to see that I am standing at their desks waiting to speak to them. I consider it rude to interrupt them in the middle of writing a thought or finishing a sentence, so I wait. I know that I am irritated when someone derails my train of thought because they think theirs is more pressing. Sometimes it never comes back in quite the same way.

Even ordinary conversation reveals an increasing lack of civility, often becoming contests of who can speak loudest or fastest, with no points awarded for listening.

I listen, sometimes to a fault, then respond as needed. I listen so patiently that I have often fallen victim to people who see a conversation with someone who doesn't compete for air time as an irresistible opportunity to spill their life story.

I listen, even though life stories tend to be long and boring except to the person who lived it. And I usually don't answer their rude intrusion on my time with the rude truth that they are boring me. I am not one of the many people who use the excuse of "just being honest" as a rationale for saying mean, hurtful things that didn't need to be said.

People with a country orientation can easily appreciate space and respect that of others. City people compete for it.

But no matter how urban we have become, perhaps even because we are so urban, we can't continue to lose touch with the common sense behaviors that have allowed us to live increasingly closer to each other.

If we could all see our lives as one of those cars that go BOOM! Rattle-rattle-rattle, but realize the volume control is in our hands, cities might begin to feel a little bit roomier.

To reach Elijah Gosier, call (727) 893-8650 or e-mail