09 April 2008

Keeping the Barbarians at Bay

We live in an overwhelmingly nice age, where a plastic politeness abounds, and where people are afraid to speak their mind for fear of offending others. In such an age, the truth suffers and dishonesty reigns.

I can therefore tolerate a certain degree of rudeness in others. I am referring here to people who speak their mind and converse in an engagingly direct manner. They are a refreshing variation. They are flawed, certainly, but their errors are open to correction. Plus, they can serve as a reminder to the rest of us. I do not of course encourage rude behaviour in any form, but an occasional manifestation here and there is a cost I am willing to pay. What I really can not abide is an absence of manners in others. People who exhibit a lack of self-knowledge, who are unaware of their deficiencies, who simply don't give a shit, are a bane to society.

A fresh incident has given rise to my thinking, in case you are wondering. I met with my jeweler yesterday to look at a new piece I recently commissioned from the Middle East. I wore a Luciano Barbera lightweight tweed sport coat, a pink dress shirt with spread collar, grey flannels in a 10 oz. weight, and C&J semi-brogues in burnished chestnut. His office was nearly empty. However, as we inspected the piece together and I pretended to know something about jewelery design, a small crowd gathered, among them a plump thirtysomething blonde American woman and her equally chubby mother. The younger woman immediately hurled questions at me: “Is that yours?” "How big is it?" “Who is it for?” “How much did it cost?”

As I fended off the intrusive questioning, she snatched the item from the jeweler’s hand and attempted to try it on. Mere words can not convey the magnitude of my revulsion at that moment, but you may imagine what I was thinking. I seized her wrist and took hold of the piece, telling her, “This is not yours.” The woman looked startled, laughed, and walked away. As they neared the door, the mother approached me and whispered an apology.

They are not alone, of course. This is an area brimming with the self-made rich: celebrities, entrepreneurs, professional athletes. In other words, nouveau riche. Along with the wealth comes complete self-absorption. Success seems to infect them with a bloated self-regard and a disdain for boundaries, customs, rules, and standards. People mistake informality for friendliness. The lack of reserve, presumptuousness, and over-familiarity are infuriating.
The only solution in these situations, I have determined, is to shore up a Hadrian's Wall of coldness and detachment, to keep the barbarians at bay, while adopting a more resolute policy with the ones who somehow make it through. At the same time, taking a cue from nature, it might make good sense to sport more distinct clothing, including bolder emblematic ties and more colourful madras shirts, as if to say: approach with caution. I will let you know how it all works out.


Easy and Elegant Life said...

Please keep fighting the good fight on the other coast. We may well soon have the bastards surrounded.

Your final paragraph made me laugh aloud. A dandy denouement.

In the meantime, forgive the vulgar "latin"
Illegitimi non carborundum.

Gabriela said...

Interesting… Rudeness can somehow be quite charming if it’s used in an intelligent way. In a Groucho Marx sort of way to set an example (and don’t tell me now that he repealed you to the core too!).

Where I come from, asking how much your house or your jewellery is worth or how much you make per month, etc. is tremendously and stupidly rude, almost a taboo. Those silly women, how I hate them… Probably you reacted in the best way.

I would have done the same or perhaps, being a woman I could have –might have- afforded to push them back and they would have felt one over the other and I would have clapped my hands and laughed at them and created a scandal and the guards would have arrived and how fun it would have been!

PS. I’ll hope you’ll enjoy your Kazakhstan(?)piece.

Pete said...

the absence of manners, the demise of grace, the boorish nature of so many, now exceeded only by the rise of raunch culture, especially disconcerting in young women, only lends support to the fact that in some area it was a lot better a generation of two ago. There are few , if any, redeeming qualities to be found in American culture.

Benedict said...

How appalling. I simply cannot believe it, LBT, and I applaud your reaction; I would most likely have been rendered catatonic by such an egregious display.

Incidentally, E&EL, regarding a wonderful phrase, which my mother often used; Henry Beard offered the more correct translation 'Noli nothis permittere te terere', but it lacks the forcefulness of the original, I think.

Richard said...

The lady in the story sounds disgusting. I can imagine the type. I applaud you for handling the situation the way you did. I am very kind to others, but I have no restraint once someone crosses the line.

In general, I think people are rude because of jealousy, or because of self-absorption as you described.

Still loving your blog, but I wish you could post more. However, I understand that work and other things in life prevent us from doing the things we want. I can barely find time to post on my blog.

OldWorldGent said...

More power to you!
Keep on fighting the good fight!

Reggie said...

It is only due to my absolute, slack-jawed astonishment when confronted by such aggressive and invasive rudeness that I don't slap away at such an odious creature then and there, which is what they deserve. Reading your post gives me resolve to do so in all future occurances.

Thomasd said...

Bravo LBT! Fend them off with whatever you find handy--A brusque look of disgust is a powerful weapon against the masses.

ricola said...

Cheers you. Not all of us Americans are as terrifying as those whom you encountered, however there are more of them than there are of us.