I was raised to be polite. I say please and thank you. I don't take up extra seats on a crowded train. I sneeze into my arm. I don't play music on public transportation. You know, all the normal things that not rude people do. But, unfortunately, some of my fellow humans take advantage of nice people like me (and you) by doing whatever it is they want without a whit of concern about other people. Jerks.

I live in a town with amazing public transportation--so amazing that I don't even own a car. There is also a town center with wonderful street musicians and other performers. I often give money to these people. I truly enjoy listening to most of them. And if I don't? (Like the guy who plays the pan flute.) I can just walk away.

There is one woman who loves to sing for money, but she doesn't do it on the street. Instead, she gets on a tram, where you're trapped for at least one stop, sings a short song, and then asks for money. That, by the way, is illegal, but the police aren't focusing on it, and she jumps off after one or two stops anyway.

She drives me utterly insane. I refuse to give her any money. But I never say or do anything about it--until last week.

Standing up for Myself

She got on the tram, stood right next to me and announced she was going to entertain us all with a song. Instead of groaning inwardly, I turned to her and said, very politely, "Please don't sing. I prefer to ride in silence and it is illegal anyway."  She gave me a shocked expression and then walked to the front of the tram. Two stops later she got off the tram. 

Huh, I said to myself, that worked. I felt the power that comes with no longer tolerating other's rudeness. 

Why We're Rude

I've long been a fan of Amy Alkon, who has written extensively about manners in a modern society, including I See Rude People: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society I liked her ideas in theory, but Alkon is much more confrontational than I am, and well, I'm a wimp. 

Alkon says rudeness comes because our towns and cities are too large--once we pass 150 or so people we don't know everyone, so we kind of feel like we're in a bubble. We can do what we want because we don't have to interact with these people again. She says: 

When you know people, you behave differently than if you didn't. You couldn't be rude because you'd be voted off the island. So our brains are slow for the times we live in. We're around strangers all the time, but contrast that to living in a small town. If you robbed a bank, your mom would know about it before you took off in the getaway car.

This is what makes the singing tram woman think it's okay. She doesn't know people on the tram and she doesn't care about the opinion of people like me. She's just hoping to get a few franks out of the people who either enjoy her performance (she's a meh singer) or feel pressured to do so.

But, her behavior is rude. The city provides a way for her to earn money by singing in public. She chooses not to avail herself of that method and instead imposes on everyone else's ears.

Confronting Rudeness in a Business Setting

So, after having a positive experience confronting rudeness, I was ready to confront it again. And I did not have to wait very long.

On Tuesday,  I sat down near the front for the opening presentation at the HR Tech World conference in Amsterdam. I'm not sure how many people were there but in the thousands. In other words, large enough that people could feel safe from retribution for mildly bad behavior. 

It started with an awesome video presentation and the woman in front of me raised her smartphone and began to make a video. Her raised arm made it difficult for me to see anything other than her arm and her phone screen.

She recorded the entire video presentation.Then the first speaker got up. She continued to record. I started to fume. I couldn't see well, and that probably meant the people behind me couldn't see well either. 

So, I tapped her on the shoulder. "Do you intend to video the whole conference?" I asked, "Because all I can see is your arm." She sheepishly said no, and lowered her phone. She didn't record anything else.

Now, she may have gone back and complained to her colleagues about the rude lady behind her who wouldn't let her film an entire presentation, but I doubt it. If she wanted to film, there were plenty of places she could have stood that would not block other people's views. She was being rude, thought she could get away with it, figured her needs or desires were more important than everyone sitting behind her, and was counting on my politeness to allow her to continue.

I'm not turning into someone who will confront every bit of rudeness I encounter--heaven knows I'm not perfectly polite and there are sometimes good reasons for the way people behave. I'm willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt in most situations.

But, I've learned that rudeness in all situations doesn't have to be tolerated. And, it's not rude to ask people to cease being rude. 

Published on: Oct 26, 2017