There seems to be a growing trend these days where people have decided that bad behavior is not only acceptable, but a desirable trait. We have reached a level where manners seem antique and quaint. Basic human decency is something so alien to most people these days, that they would not know it if it hit them like a truck. Imagine the looks you would get from most people these days when you offer a cheerful “good morning” instead of a simple curt nod.
I have dealt with the public in one way or another for more than 30 years. I have seen social trends come and go. Some, very few actually, have remained steadfast through those 30 years. I certainly see it more here in North Carolina than I do when I visit my old stomping grounds. Here in this part of the country, it seems as if the concept of manners has not been totally lost. I recall the first time I was driving on a two-lane road here in the east on a Saturday afternoon and I saw a man mowing his lawn. He looked up, saw my car, and offered a friendly wave. For no reason at all. Well, maybe there was a reason. Maybe his reason was just to be polite and friendly. A few years ago, I had a traffic accident where my car went off the road and down an embankment. The owner of the land pulled my car out with his truck and, after asking me if I was okay, asked if I liked peanuts. I looked at him as if he were crazy and my suspicions were calmed when he pulled a big burlap bag of fresh peanuts from the cab of his truck. He not only grew turf on the land on which I had wrecked my car, but peanuts as well. He figured he might as well offer me some peanuts because I had just been through an ordeal and it was, well, the polite thing to do.
The adage that the customer is always right has gone to such ridiculous levels that the things people will do to get “customer satisfaction” have reached obscene levels. You’ve all seen that customer in the store who can’t get their way, so they throw a temper tantrum that not only brings attention to them, causes the target of their behavior to cave in simply to get them to shut up. There are videos on the internet of customers doing pretty much anything just to get their way, whether it’s a discount or something for free. One woman assaulted a fast food worker because the amount of chicken nuggets in her order was not correct. The punchline was, she had actually gotten more nuggets than she ordered. She pitched a fit just to pitch a fit. She got her 15 minutes of fame, as well as an assault charge.
The problem is, we as a society keep elevating these people to near celebrity status. YouTube and Facebook allow us instantly to see someone exhibiting behavior that just a few years ago would upset or disgust us. We would be embarrassed as a culture to see someone acting is such a way. Now, we glamorize it. Google “customer meltdown” or “person going crazy at (wherever)” and you will see hundreds of videos of the basest of human behavior.
My wife and I were in a quick-service restaurant here in town a couple of weeks ago and the guy in line in front of us spent his entire time in line berating anyone behind the counter because there was something incorrect with his order. He was condescending, arrogant and rude. He was also aware he had an audience and played to his crowd as if he was an entertainer. The cashier and the manager stood their ground and would not buy into his antics. When he received his order, he thrust his phone into the cashier’s face and shouted that he had been waiting an hour. By my watch, it was more like 10 minutes. I understand his phone order was not ready, but there was no one in line, so was it really a big deal to wait 10 minutes for food that would be fresher than what it would have been if it was prepared a hour ago? When it was my turn, I smiled at the cashier and manager and asked how their day was. I cheerfully took my food and thanked them with a smile.
At our table having our food, we were interrupted by the manager who asked us if everything was okay. It was, and we told him so. He was a nice guy and we chatted for a few minutes. He offered us some extras for being patient and having to deal with the other guy. We politely declined, thanking him and we shook hands and he went on his way.
Since writing this column, I have become a sort of public figure. I’m nowhere near a celebrity and I don’t want to be. Folks comment on the column when it’s posted on the newspapers’ social media sites. Some of the comments are nice, some of the comments are not. Some are gracious and some are remarkably ignorant, insulting and obnoxious. I don’t like reading those, but I do. I understand I can’t please everyone. I appreciate each and everyone of you who reads this column, even the person who compared me to a part of the human anatomy a couple of weeks ago. I may not have liked your comment, but I appreciate it. We all have opinions and you know what they say about those.
Baltimore native Joe Weaver is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.