What to do when people are rude.

6 Mar

what-to-do-when-people-are-rude-pm-forni.jpgI probably should have used Title Case capitalization in that headline, as it is part of a book title. What book? It’s Dr. PM Forni’s, of Choosing Civility fame, second book, and it’s called The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude.

Anyhoo. I saw this book title today and told my friend and Choose Civility Partner Cherie about it. She scowled slightly and said, “Rude, according to who?” Maybe she said, “to whom.” I don’t remember.

Interesingly, we happened to be standing outside of the Columbia Borders just then: the same place where, a couple weeks back, I had one of my biggest ever You’re-Rude-No-You’re-Rude incidents.

Here’s a little story without a happy ending.

I was at said Borders when a rather handsome man, about my age, and carrying a girl about three years-old came in to the cafe. He put this child on the counter. Not on her butt. On her feet. Her feet (shoes) on the counter. The same counter where people put their hands, which they then put to their mouths as they eat and drink various and sundry things one buys at a cafe.

The child started to meander — as little children do. She leaned over to the area protected by the plexiglas screen. She moved around on the counter. How fun to be up so high!

This is all during prime flu season, mind you. I think bottom of shoes and I think spores, bacteria, germs, viruses, protozoa from animal feces. Ya know, icky things.

So, I consciously and intentionally chose to be rude. I really did. “Dude, I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t put your daughter’s feet and shoes on a counter top where I put my hands.”

He glared. I repeated my position. He glared.

We happened to be already packing up, but he glared at me some more and said to me, “I find you very rude.”

“I know you do,” I responded, rather upbeat, actually. “I find you rude, too. The difference, as I see it, is that my rudeness impacts you. Your rudeness is a public health issue.”

And I left.

He probably glared some more as I did.

So, back to the book The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know what Dr. Forni would prescribe. Probably not to be rude in the first place.

I don’t know. I did not feel like being polite in this situation. I actually wanted to give this man a memory so that he’d consider his actions in future situations.

What about you? What do you do when people are rude?


6 Responses to “What to do when people are rude.”

  1. Heather Kirk-Davidoff March 7, 2008 at 7:47 pm #

    The entire Kirk-Davidoff family discussed your moral dilemma tonight over dinner, and 4/5 of us thought you were totally right to scold the man with the girl on the counter, and were actually fairly restrained in what you said. (Many of these people have been known to put their feet on the table, by the way.)

    I (the lone dissenter) am left wondering. Would you have acted differently if this incident occurred at a coffee shop that felt more like a local hang-out than Border’s does? Maybe then you’d have in the back of your mind that this man might be your neighbor, or the friend of one of your friends. Maybe you’d then think, “This is someone with whom I am building a world.” That thought–I’m convinced–leads to a different set of behaviors than (1) calling a stranger “dude” and (2) having a conversation with the purpose of enforcing a rule.

    If this man was your neighbor–someone you recognized from around–maybe you would have tried first to establish some kind of connection. “Hi, what’s your daughter’s name? Are you three? Wow, you’re so tall up on that counter! You’re taller than me up there! Are you ready to get down and go see some of the cool stuff they have over there? There’s something I’d love to show you….” OR, “Hey, your daughter is really fun to watch up there on the counter. But I’m looking at her feet, and looking at the spot where my food is going to go… Call me a germ-a-phobe, but…would you mind if I took her to see the mugs over there while you’re waiting for your drink? What’s her name, by the way?”

    If you tried one of those tactics, then, when you saw the man and his daughter again, you’d wave and greet them by name and have a little story to share. Now, if you see that man again, he’s going to glower and remember a “rude” encounter.

    What really matters–being right and disciplining those who are wrong, or creating a community that’s more hospitable to all of us? If you really are aiming at that second goal, I think we’d all act a bit differently than the “Choose Civility” campaign suggests.

    I think the real problem in your story is the Border’s cafe which feels so corporate and generic that we don’t have a sense of being neighbors with each other when we’re there.

  2. Iconic Xer March 9, 2008 at 8:58 am #

    Dang, I wrote a robust response to your comment, Heather, but it *disappeared* on me. :-} Well, I’m glad to hear Rosa, the twins and Dan concur with my actions. And I’m rather impressed by how you might have handled the situation. Your perspective seems so logical and civil when I read it from my office.

    Here’s a twist to add to your theory: I do know this man, at least by face. See, he is quite handsome and I’ve seen him a number of times at locally owned cafe (Lakeside Deli) over the past half year or so. We’ve even nodded Hellos at each other.

    It’ll be interesting to see what comes to pass next time we see each other …

  3. Mike Morucci March 12, 2008 at 11:22 am #

    Hi Jess-

    I avoid direct confrontation at all costs. I would have glared, dropped a heavy sigh or two and maybe even shook my head but just slightly. I wouldn’t have said anything to him, or to the clerk who actually should have been the one to say something, like “Excuse me sir, I can’t believe I have to say this, but if I’m not allowed to walk on the counter, neither is your daughter. Would you mind taking her off the glass? I hope you don’t ask her to test the pond ice for you too before skating.”

    So I guess I’d actually have a really long conversation in my head afterwards of all the things that should be said to someone whom for whatever reason feels it’s OK because he’s a parent.

    Then again, maybe his initial thought was not of the world of germs, but the world of fear in general. If he put her down next to him, and handled the books and his wallet, he would not be connected to or watching his child, even briefly. Perhaps he was worried, even subconsciously, about someone whisking her away.

    As Heather said, calling him “Dude” with a tone set the tone. He may now feel more entitled as warrior parent instead of planet neighbor.

  4. Omar March 12, 2008 at 10:47 pm #

    Jess, I enjoy your course of action here. Restrained, to the point — more polite than I might have been. We’re adults out here and we have to be expected to act like adults (which includes taking responsibility for our children).

    Heather has a nice, amicable suggestion which would avoid conflict nicely. BUT it has two issues that make it useless to me:

    1) I don’t feel the need to parent anybody else’s children. The parents should know better on something clearcut like “my kid is walking around on the service counter”.

    2) I’m not a mom or any kind of parent figure — and I really have less than zero interest in interacting with somebody else’s toddler unless they’re family.

    So Heather’s approach simply wouldn’t have been an option for me — it also involves somewhat more substantial time and effort, and there’s never enough of that (free time and energy) to go around. I only have so much to spend on strangers, much less rude strangers.

    So short response: “you did good”!

  5. Sam C April 10, 2008 at 11:50 am #

    You know, you keep mentioning how handsome the guy is.

    I wonder if he ever has anyone question his actions. We tend to melt at the sight of the beautiful and give them leeway they don’t deserve. Perhaps he expects such leeway everyday of his life. “I can get away with anything within reason.”

    It may just be a foreign event for him and he doesn’t know enough to be gracious to another who is in the “right.”

    His daughter’s shoes on the counter wouldn’t bother me. But that says more about me, than him. Then again, I would never be so inconsiderate to do the same with my daughter were she that young again.

    He was wrong. You were gracious in your protest.

    What’s odd, is that he took offense at being called offensive? My, my how the insulated feel so vulnerable when challenged to prove their worth, mvalue or civility.

  6. frantic December 4, 2008 at 2:15 pm #

    you were right, I would never day to say it myself, I’m a bit shy in that way. But I would think it, want to say it, and get very nervous about it.
    I work in a shop too, and often people let their kids run around screaming, lying on the floor, taking stuff out, letting them run out of the shop (hence turning the alarm on), all that stuff…I get very upset by it. Cause you have to teach your children to be quiet and respectfull in other places. They can’t just throw things on the floor and yell and scream…
    And a lot of parents never react on these things.
    I’m a teacher too, in primary school, and that makes you aware of how people raise their children. The consequences are that they have authority problems when they get older and we see this a lot at school.
    Some people think they can do anything.


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