Monday, March 16, 2009

The Common Courtesy Crusader: MYOB

I don't know about where you live, but in South Florida we live on top of each other.

The South Florida motto should be "leave no piece of land undeveloped!" Tim and I were on our way to the beach this weekend when I noticed a square of undeveloped land. "Look," I said, "open space." Three hours later there was a Super Target in that space. True story. Fine, it was six months later, but still.

My point is that wherever you go, whatever you do, you have a 99.9% chance of being within earshot or elbow range of another human being. Here's my sage piece of advice for this week: MYOB. Mind Your Own Business.

If someone is on their cell phone in a public place, takes a personal phone call at work or is searching WebMD at a public library, please have the common courtesy to at least pretend you have not been minding their business.

Example 1: Back before I was cool enough to have my own office, I was part of cubeland. Once upon a time in cubeland, a close friend of mine called in a panic, needing a friend and some advice. After I talked her through her current crisis and hung up, the idiot who sat in the cube in front of me wandered back to my desk. "So," he says, nonchalantly, "helping a friend plan a shotgun wedding, are you?"

Are you effing kidding me? Is this your first day among the civilized? I am perfectly aware that everyone in a four cube radius more than likely heard my conversation, but in the polite world everyone pretends they have heard nothing and goes about their day.

Shortly after the above incident, Tim called and asked a question of somewhat sensitive nature. "You sure you want me to answer that?" I ask. "Yeah, why?" "Because I sit in a cubicle. There are at least three people listening to every word I say, and the asshole in front of me is probably taking shorthand notes."

Example 2: I'm in Super Target (a.k.a. the modern day Mecca), doing my weekly grocery shopping and talking to Liz. I'm complaining about the stuffy nose and immense amount of boogers that have been plaguing me for weeks. I feel a tap on my shoulder. "You might want to try Zicam," a probable well-meaning co-shopper says. Helpful? yes. Ridiculously intrusive and extremely weird? Double yes.

Example 3: Taking advantage of the free wi-fi that comes with having a registered Starbucks card, surfing the net for possible one-year anniversary vacation destinations. Dude next to me peers over and says, "I wouldn't recommend that cruise line. I had the worst experience with them back in 1982 when one of the waiters dropped an entire tray of mai-tais on my will-never-be-in-style white deck pants..." Umm...I forget...did I ask for your effing advice and life story? No.

I realize that there is a second side to this coin. Plenty of you are frothing at the mouth with the desire to play devil's advocate. I know your argument: If you don't want your conversations, internet searches or personal hygiene choices to become public fodder, don't air them in public.

Yeah. I get that. See above where I noted that in South Florida we live on top of each other. Oh, and welcome to 2009, the age of technology in which we don't have to be chained to rotary phones in our kitchens in order to communicate. I don't necessarily think that talking on my cell phone while I wander the aisles of the grocery store is rude. I think it is modern multi-tasking. We could debate the level of rudeness involved if I were to remain on the phone while in line, and then during the length of my transaction. It's debatable, so I'm not going to go there.

All I'm saying is that in the age of growing technology and lessening personal space, mind your own business.

Or at least pretend to.


  1. I remember reading about Japanese courtesy - possibly in Shogun. Their paper walls aren't exactly good for privacy so there was a pretence of not hearing/seeing. Seems like this is needed in S Florida too (and loads of other places too)

  2. I love the people who try to tell me what to do with my kids...unless the little buggers are about to die, MYOB. Of course, I don't allow my children to be rude, but if they're, for example, splashing in a mud puddle and getting filthy, I know that and do not care...I don't need a busy body to tell me I'll never get those socks white again.

  3. Perhaps we are all so busy with our electronics that we any face to face conversations are becoming intrusive. If you talk on the phone, use your computer, reprimand your kids or whatever publicly, you set yourself up for a public response. Human nature is an odd thing. I am not saying it is right, it is just a fact.

  4. Sorry for the typo, "we" was not supposed to be part of that comment.

  5. It was interesting to read this and get the other side of the story. It used to really annoy me to hear people talk on their cell phones in public. But I’m getting used to it, so long as they’re not being rude, such as talking on the phone when they’re making a purchase. I told myself that talking on the phone in public is not that different from two people talking to each other in public - and that doesn’t annoy me. And now that I have my own cell phone I have my defence. If I find myself beside a phone chatterer on a train, I become one myself.

    But common courtesy works both ways. When you have a conversation in a public place, whether on the phone or otherwise, you’re disturbing the peace of those around you, and to also expect them to somehow block out your noise is unreasonable. If you want privacy, wait until you’re in a private place.

    Barbara (from "The Bridge")