Carolyn Hax: Call out that rudeness — but be careful about nostalgia for a kinder past

Knowing your place in line is better than knowing your place


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)
Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 8

Dear Carolyn:

We visited a local theme park on Saturday, taking visiting relatives who have a 2-year-old. After a day of walking in 90-degree weather, we lined up for the tram to the parking lot. We were in the first line with a very large stroller that would fit only in that first row.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

As the tram stopped, a much younger mom with three children ran in front of us from another line and grabbed those seats. I was appalled.

When we arrived at the parking lot, I told the young lady that what she did was very rude. Of course her response was, “Too bad for you.” I suggested she raise her children with better manners.

My husband said I shouldn’t have said anything, but I disagree. I hope this mother discusses what happened, and someone in her group of friends suggests that what she did was indeed rude. If we don’t speak up, it will only get worse. Your thoughts?

Sad That Gentility Is Being Lost

I’m glad you spoke up, and I wish others in your place would attempt a calm correction — or a friendly one, even better. No one remark will cure rudeness, but, collectively, people have the power to set a tone: “You can’t operate with impunity. Not here.”

Now it’s my turn to speak up. If the implication in your signature is what I think it is, then you see this line-jumper as proof in miniature of a larger collapse of civilization as we know it. (If not, disregard what follows.)

But the gentility I remember was predicated on membership in society’s preferred groups. The “Little Rock Nine,” to use an infamous example, were not greeted by a society with manners that put today’s manners to shame. Given that the courtesies of yore were as much about knowing one’s place as knowing one’s place in line, nostalgia for them hits me wrong.

Yes, the victories by exposed flesh and Spandex over recent decades have done our public spaces no favors, and unrelenting profanity gets old — but when it comes to manners, there were losers before and there will be losers ever after. Believing otherwise suggests revisionist history or, worse, an agenda.

Dear Carolyn:

Do I buy the bride-to-be a wedding gift, even though she owes me money she borrowed and never paid back? I’m not the only person to whom she owes money, by the way. It’s like we’re paying for her wedding because she’s kept the money and it rankles to have to fork out more cash to buy a gift. It complicates matters that she’s a family member. Is there a polite way to say your wedding gift is that you don’t have to pay me back?

J.

The way you’d want to hear it if you were in her shoes is, as a general rule, the polite way to say it. So, no. Right?

You don’t have to buy a gift, though. No matter what people tell you, gift-giving is purely at the giver’s discretion. Stick to a card here with a thoughtful message — yours, not Hallmark’s. When enough time has passed for the gesture not to be associated with the wedding, then tell her you’re forgiving her debt — perhaps with a follow-up gift of a well-reviewed book on personal finance.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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