You have no manners (and neither have I), part 3: Watch your mouth

Politeness and propriety cover vast swaths of our behavior. Take the language of greeting, for instance. A Texan arrives in London for the first time and is introduced to a proper Englishman.

“How do you do?” asks the Englishman.

“Oh, I’m doin’ great,” says the Texan. “But why is this beer so damn warm?”

The Texan misunderstood the Englishman’s question. This is how it was supposed to go:

“How do you do?” asks the Englishman.

“How do you do?” replies the Texan.

The question isn’t even a question, but a greeting—given in the full expectation it’ll be answered by the very same greeting. It doesn’t mean “How ya doin’?”, as the Texan assumed. The Englishman DOES NOT WANT TO KNOW how you’re doing, and his greeting is designed to indirectly let you know that.

In France, where I live, it’s an absolute obligation for everyone to greet everyone else by saying “Bonjour.” You walk into a bakery and the baker says “Bonjour.” You MUST say “Bonjour” back. It doesn’t matter how friendly you behave yourself, how full of smiles, how appreciative of the baker’s goods. If you don’t say “Bonjour” you’re as rude as a Barbarian taking a pee inside the Notre Dame cathedral.

The French learn their “Bonjour” so early in their lives, and so insistently from so many trustworthy sources like parents and teachers, that the reflex is totally integrated into their psyches and out of reason’s reach. The baker doesn’t think this:  “Ah, yes, we the French learn to say bonjour so early that we take it extremely seriously—so seriously it’s kinda funny. The Americans have a different way of expressing their friendliness, which they too learn early and take seriously. But since we all understand how the sense of propriety is different from culture to culture, we can appreciate one another without enmity and, indeed, with a lot of humor and tolerance.” No, the baker thinks this: “Mon Dieu, how rude. Get this Barbarian out of my bakery.”

Okay, you blog readers out there. In your opinion, who is being rude to whom in that proverbial French bakery frequented by the proverbial American? And who’s being rude to whom by serving you a pint of goddamn warm beer?