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.