Excuse Me

This morning in church I happened to sit at the end of a row with many empty seats in the middle. Attendance seemed low due to a concurrent event, so there were a number of available seats.

A couple came in and asked if they could squeeze past me to get to the middle of the row. I moved my stuff, stood up, and let them by. It was no big deal, but I’ve often wondered why people gravitate towards the middle seats when others are available. A lot of us latecomers just slide into the end seats.

A few minutes later, another couple walked up. They simply stood there. I thought, “do they want me to move?” For a fleeting moment I was tempted to just sit there until they said something, but I moved my stuff, stood up, and they squeezed past. They did not say “excuse me” or even nod in thanks. “Hmm,” I thought. “Typical.”

When the service was wrapping up, the second couple was discussing whether they should leave and stood up a bit early. I wanted to finish listening to what the pastor was saying. But they again walked toward me without an “excuse me” or a “thanks” after I stepped out into the aisle for them to go past. And I missed what the pastor said.

They weren’t worried about being disruptive or quiet because they were already talking. They were in high spirits, so didn’t seem to be having a bad day. I couldn’t invent an excuse for them. I wanted to, because this was church, and surely they had a legitimate reason for forgetting an acknowledgment.

The point here is not that it’s difficult to move; my frustration is the increasing number of people who seem to have forgotten basic manners. I was just discussing this with a friend the other day, and the same self-centeredness that can influence bad driving seems to be at work here. Some people just seem to have minimal to no awareness of how their actions affect others.

There are two situations in which I have noticed an appalling lack of manners more and more in recent years. One is when I’m shopping for greeting cards. A lot of cards have crude humor or aren’t that funny, so it can take time to find the right card.

As I’m idling in the card aisle, sauntering up and down the rows of overpriced paper products, there’s usually several other people doing the same thing. Sometimes I wind up laughing with others about cards or exchanging recommendations for the right cards. But more often than not, someone barges right in front of me and either grabs something or plants themselves there without the slightest acknowledgement that I’m in that space.

Again, I don’t mind moving. I don’t own the church seat or the card section. It’s just common courtesy to say “excuse me” when you need to get in front of or by someone. Several times I’ve been so irritated by this behavior that I’ve said, “excuse you” or “am I in your way?” to alert people to their rudeness (or state of oblivion). I’m working towards a less bristly “oh, do you need me to move over?”

I’m not a doormat and don’t feel that I have a faith-based or ethical obligation to accommodate rudeness. It’s not right to react aggressively or be just as rude in return, but if we all become doormats and slink meekly away, this behavior will persist. This is true of all bad behaviors, whether we’re talking about sexual harassment, domestic violence, bullying, and other byproducts of the human condition.

The grocery store also seems to be a cesspool of forgotten manners. Years ago, when I’d just gotten out of a walking cast for a foot fracture, a little boy and his sister were goofing off in the checkout line. Okay, that’s normal. But then the little boy, in full view of his mother, squeezed between me and the checkout counter as if I were a jungle gym, stepping right on my feet. I looked at the mother, who said nothing.

The greeting card aisle phenomenon happens in other parts of grocery stores. I’ll be standing close to a shelf staring at the multitude of canned beans when someone sails in front of me and takes over. “Am I invisible?” I wonder, then remind myself it has nothing to do with me. People are omitting their manners for whatever reason (low blood sugar? brainwashed by MTV?).

This also happens at the check stand. Countless times I’ve been standing at the counter paying for my purchase when someone either a) starts piling their purchases in front of me as if I’m supposed to move or b) stands uncomfortably close as if to signal to me that I should have moved on already. I’ve started to stay near the cashier until they hand me the receipt, which is normal except to those who try to take over the space without waiting their turn.

On a related subject, have you ever noticed how quickly baggers work? They must get a really good workout being on their feet for hours sorting groceries into appropriate carryout containers. They almost always tell me, “have a nice day,” yet I don’t hear a lot of people telling them thank you for being so efficient. So a few years ago I decided to always thank the baggers, who are often teenagers whose behaviors and principles are still being formed.

It’s no secret that our society has become more and more self-absorbed. But I wish there were some way to force a large segment of society into remedial manners classes. Where have basic, even habitual practices like saying “excuse me” and “thank you” and using our turn signals gone? Sometimes these practices are necessary not only for civility’s sake but for safety’s.

None of us are perfect and if we were to pick a day’s events apart we’d all find room for improvement. It is clear, though, that we need to remain cognizant of how our actions affect others, whether in small ways or big ways. It is because the little things have happened over and over and over that I’m writing this blog entry. The totality of both the minor and major incidences of rudeness or oblivion have led to my decision to speak up about this.

So please, thank the baggers, excuse yourself when you have to reach in front of someone, don’t block hallways and aisles when talking to others, and drive like others’ lives depend on you. They do. Everything we do creates a ripple that we don’t usually see the end of. The lack of manners in our society is making waves, and I don’t doubt that it’s creating an all-out narcissism typhoon for the next generation. We need to lead by example, and we can all do better, myself included.


It is human to imitate the habits of those with whom we interact. –Epictetus

©2011 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

8 thoughts on “Excuse Me

  1. I had not thought of answering the phone with “who is this” but it would be a good idea. Now that all I have is my cell phone I love that I can see who is calling and if I do not know the number I can either answer it or I can let it go to voice mail and see who it is and what they want. My ex father in law used to call ( back before caller id ) and when I would say “hello” he would say “is the party to whom I am speaking” I hung up on him every time he did this, love him to death but to me it just was not very funny.

    I do believe that every time we use good manners we are teaching, it is what keeps me from losing all control of my manners and screaming while at the grocery store. 🙂


    1. I’m sure we all lose control from time to time.

      I guess that “party to whom I am speaking” thing is a Laugh-In reference? I’ve never been sure. It’s a bit before my time, which is probably why I can’t pinpoint the origin. My nephew would probably have a similar response if I told him “and live in a van… down by the river!”


  2. Heidi,
    You really struck a chord with your article. We often comment on the lack of manners which seems to permeate our society. Rudeness has become the norm. It takes so little effort to change a person’s day. We have seen many a weary cashier or bagger perk up when thanked and called by name.


  3. Heidi,
    I could shout from the highest mountain, “Amen”, but that wouldn’t be enough. Thank you for expressing your concern. Unfortunately, what you have written, is all too true in today’s world. And it’s not just the young people. I have had the not so pleasant experience of abject rudeness from ‘seniors’ in stores, restaurants, and on the highway.


    1. Thank you Norman! You had me thinking about this, and this does seem to span the age spectrum. Excellent point, because that makes it more of a cultural or spiritual issue than a generational issue.


  4. Thanks! And good for you for working with your kids to abide by the Golden Rule. I’d like to hire you as a teacher for my “remedial manners” classes!

    A friend of mine from Brazil answers the phone “who is this?” I laughed hysterically the first time he did it; it sounded so odd rather than the American “hello?”

    Once he explained that “who is this?” makes more sense than “hello?”… I understood the logic. Although sometimes I now feel like answering the phone and yelling, “who are you people?!!” just to take it a step further.


  5. Great post… The basic of manners truly seem to be lacking in so many these days it makes me sad. One, of many, things I try to work with my kids on is that when you call someone you always say who you then ask for who you would like to speak to. I am amazed when someone calls me and says “who is this” Thank you for writing about this subject… It is nice to know other people notice and care … I do think that when someone forgets to say “excuse me” that a giving them a nice smile while you say “excuse me” surely won’t hurt anything 🙂


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