It doesn’t hurt to be polite

I just finished a fantastic audiobook called Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  It’s a touching and sad story about what happened to a young Jewish girl during the German occupation of France in 1942.  Interwoven into Sarah’s story is the contemporary story of an American woman, Julia, who lived in France for 25 years.  This book has parts that made my stomach clench with fear, anger and grief, and moments that made me almost cry for the love of the characters.  If you are at all into audiobooks, or even just books, I highly recommend it.  Toward the end of the book, Julia is comparing American and French customs of greetings, being polite, and the lack thereof in either culture.  It got me to thinking about myself and how I interact with strangers.

Growing up, we would go camping, and during those camping trips the family usually went for an evening walk.  My dad would always greet the people walking toward us.  “Howdy,” “evening,” those sorts of things.  My sister and I made friends with the other kids in the campgrounds.  We were friendly, open children, with friendly, open parents.  We were raised to be polite, say thank you, please, excuse me, and all the phrases that indicate some good manners were instilled in us.

As an adult, I became a little more closed.  Even though I would say excuse me while trying to make my way past another shopper in the crowded aisles at Ross, or beg your pardon as I pushed her cart out of the way (when she stubbornly refused to grant me access to the sizes I wanted), I realized at some point that I really didn’t speak to strangers unless absolutely necessary.  I didn’t feel the need or the desire to share superficial banter with the people in the elevator at my office, or exchange platitudes with other frazzled and frumpy middle-aged moms at Vons.  It wasn’t that I intended to be rude, I just didn’t find a need to be friendly.

Having a child has changed this about me.  Strangers come up and compliment us on Melody’s behavior.  They ask about her age and what she is doing.  They comment on how cute or sweet she is.  I can’t just ignore them of course, so I talk to them.  In turn, I have found it easier to approach strangers and engage them in conversation.  Here’s a perfect example.  Today I was at Joann’s (where my expenditures are quickly rivaling Target’s) and I saw this fluff of curly brown hair sticking up over the top of a display of buttons.  If you’ve been to a Joann’s you know that these button “walls” are about 7 feet high.  Perplexed, I wondered if it was a toy, a tall person?  What?  Then it disappeared and I heard a child giggling.  Of course, it was someone holding their child on their shoulders.  Once I finished what I was doing, I happened to walk in that direction and saw the family was still there – a very tall man, a petite wife (of course!) and an adorable little boy with a fluff of curly brown hair.  I told them what I had first thought…that is one really tall dude!  We all laughed, I walked away, smiling.  They were smiling too.

In the sharing of that little story, I brightened my day and hopefully theirs.  It doesn’t hurt to be polite, nice, friendly and courteous to strangers. Try it some time.  You might find that just by saying “thanks” to a cashier – and actually meaning it – will enhance your day as well as theirs.

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4 thoughts on “It doesn’t hurt to be polite

  1. I specialize in this kind of behavior. I talk to everyone. I tell them if they look pretty or pick out something special about them. I this from my mom who does it and now my daughter does it as well.
    It does freak people out sometimes, but just to get a smile out of a stranger is worth it.
    Great post on a small but important point!
    Have a good weekend!

  2. I remember Dad saying “Howdy” to people on walks. He still does that. I try to get eye contact and say “Hi”. It’s a difficult thing these days. But, funny thing I noticed last Halloween. I dressed in Victorian garb and everyone was acknowledgeing me as ‘there’. Shop guys who would just look through me the day before said hi or good morning. It was the same feeling as being at a reenacting event where everyone would tip a hat and acknowledge you. I’ve tried to acknowledge people in the elevator or on the street but a lot of people don’t want to recognize you back. I think it is part of our culture to be wary of strangers no mater what age you are. Although, its always nice when they return the greeting. Especially in the elevator, where you are trapped for 2 floors.

  3. I’m a naturally shy person (yeah I know you’re laughing right now….) and this is one of the techniques I’ve learned to use to overcome it. I just TALK to people. I can remember feeling embarrassed and mortified when my Grandma would talk to anyone and everyone when we were in public. We used to say she could ride into town on the bus and come home with two new best friends.

    It is good to interact. I’m glad I’m more like my Grandma these days. I still don’t make friends easily, but I like to talk to people.

  4. I will say, that’s one of the things I love about the South. You can’t go grocery shopping without leaving feeling like you know half the store. Definitely a different culture than in CA. I never felt really comfortable being so friendly there, but here…its kind of expected.
    I had to get hair clips to decorate for Cassidy today, by the time I’d left CVS (Joann’s didn’t have them), the women in front of me and behind me had notes on how to make the clips too!

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