Friday, January 1, 2010

Thoughts on politeness (lots of thoughts)

Thursday was a rough day for me in some ways. When we showed up at OMSI (the science museum in Portland) about 30 minutes after opening, the main parking lot was already full and the overflow parking lot had only a few open spots. As I've mentioned here before, I have serious personal space issues. It's kind of a mental health thing with me.  But I was doing okay, because the museum was large and I was able to take myself out of situations where I was feeling crowded.

Then came lunch. Daniel went and got his food at the cafe while I waited with Mr. Cranky Toddler and gave Vivian her lovely lunch of baby food peas.  Then I went and got in line for my food. Where I was quickly joined by a man and his wife, both in their late 50s, early 60s. And they kept crowding me, even though there was plenty of space behind them. I did lots of deep breathing and tried not to think about the constant bumping from behind. And then I got to the front of the line... and the man behind me moved over and placed his order with the lady at the counter. I was shocked, and said "I haven't placed my order yet, I'm in line still here." And the man behind me just sort of looked at me, and the nice lady behind the counter said "I can take both your orders, go ahead." But when I get claustrophobic, the world closes in around me and I shut down, so I just ran back to my table and put my head down and cried.

Poor Daniel, he was so trapped between a crazy wife and a toddler who wanted to go play. So we visited more of the museum, then I couldn't take it anymore and called an end to things and we were getting ready to go. And it was pouring down rain, so Daniel went to get the car while I waited with Vivian in the stroller and holding Ethan in my arms. After a few minutes, he pulled up out front and a nice lady held the door open for me while I tried to push Vivian and carry Ethan. I said thanks, then walked a few steps away and heard a loud voice say "BY THE WAY, YOU'RE WELCOME" in a very angry tone of voice.

She hadn't heard me thank her.  I was so upset and said "I did thank you, but you didn't hear me. Anyway, I'm sorry, I do appreciate it." She huffed and I said again "I'm so sorry, thank you again."  Then I pushed and carried my kids through the downpour, got in the car and totally lost it.

After a few hours, I had a realization.  I think of myself as a polite person. I write thank you notes faster than pretty much anyone I know. I always say thank you and please and try to smile at people that I interact with. BUT- I also have a bit of a people phobia, so tend not to look people in the eye or speak loudly when I'm talking to people I don't know.

So does my politeness count if people miss it?  I think this whole thing has reminded me that I need to be intentional. If I say "excuse me" at the store, or thank someone for holding open a door or fetching something for me that one of my kids has dropped, I need to make eye contact and be sure that the person hears me.  Elsewise I'm wasting everyone's time.

That's my New Year's resolution right there, to make sure that my politeness is not perfunctory, but that it is truly something that speaks to the heart of the person who is being kind to me.  Even if it means I have to interact with a stranger.


Lindsey said...

I feel your pain! I have a problem with looking strangers in the eye, too. I mean, for all I know they could be serial killers! lol Okay, I'm not that paranoid. I'm just not the type that thinks "That could be my next best friend!". I wish I was more outgoing, though. When someone is nice to me I can't help but be pleasantly surprised, so I would like to be that way more. Anyway, that's not exactly what you were talking about. lol

I can't believe that woman got all huffy because she didn't hear you say thank you, especially you with two kids in tow. I wouldn't think a thing of it - it's her problem if she expected a tip or something. :-) I think your resolution is a nice one, though!

kirida said...

Oh Carrie, I'm sorry that happened to you. That kind of stuff makes me seethe with murderous rage, only, I never think of anything to say at the time. And I would likely have my son with me and I have to be all RESPONSIBLE so I couldn't just hurl some expletives (though I'd be thinking them, along with the said murderous rage).

But your politeness shouldn't be considered a fault! You are a sweet woman and a wonderful mother and Vivian and Ethan will be better people for it.

A said...

I like your resolution - although it would be cool if you could also look people in the eye who you don't want to be polite to! Like that old couple who cut in front of you! grrr.

I think it's a pretty Seattle-y thing to avoid eye contact with strangers, lots of people do it here. But it's harder for folks to take advantage when they know that you've seen them. Eye contact lets them know.

Lindsay said...

An excellent resolution. And it will be rewarding to you, as you improve, because obvs you ARE a polite person and enjoy treating people well.

I am pretty shy too so it's difficult for me to just take charge and help out at people's houses. I WANT to, the mess is ususally driving me crazy, and it's the least I can do right? when someone is hosting me. Anyway after sevenish years at the in laws I am finally starting to feel comfortable jumping in and it's rewarding even if I feel out of my comfort zone. I feel like I finally showing them I am grateful as opposed to just telling them so. I'll think of you as I continue to push my boundaries in that department. :)

maggie said...

OMG CARRIE. !!!! I love how I am positively OUTRAGED on your behalf, when I know that if it had happened to me I would have felt awful and horrible and guilty for, like, a week, because OH NO SHE DIDN'T HEAR ME AND THEN! SHE YELLED AT ME! WAH!