Americans are considered polite by world standards. At least that’s what the 2005 Pew Global Attitudes survey found. The majority of Western nations thought Americans were, if not polite, at least not rude. Obvious the Pew crew never made it to New Jersey while conducting this study. Rudeness abides in the Garden State.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to give my home state a pass. New Jersey is the most crowded state in the union. And the most corrupt. And arguably the most expensive place to live. That trifecta of stress promotes a lot of anger. Although the term “road rage” originated in Los Angeles, its execution was perfected on the pockmarked streets and highways in north Jersey and New York City. In this part of the country, being polite doesn’t get you through the next light.
Not everyone thinks America is a pastoral place of politeness. Canadians don’t. According to Pew Research, a majority of the folks from the Great White North (53%) think Americans are rude. Some neighbors they are. That kind of international trash talking might upset some people, but not me. I’m an American. I don’t let their frostbitten ignorance bother me and you shouldn’t either. Live and let live, I say. If Canucks are happy sitting in their igloos and eating seal blubber sandwiches, who are we to judge, eh? Rude indeed.
So, how has America earned such a stellar reputation for good manners among its peers? What is our secret? It’s simple, really. Americans know how to lie. And we do it with a smile, day in and day out.
The setting: Your neighborhood grocery store.
You run into a Bertha, a woman from your church who you can’t stand. To your delight, Bertha has put on a few pounds. She sees you first and there’s no way to avoid an encounter.
“Oh, looks who’s here!” Bertha rolls her cart down the aisle and blocks your escape.
“Bertha, how are you doing?” You don’t care. Technically, it’s not a lie but the conversation is just getting started.
“Really good.” That’s a lie and a big one at that. Bertha just found out that her husband has a chippy on the side. “And how are you doing?”
“Just great.” It’s your turn to lie. Yesterday, you caused a nasty car accident because you were texting. An awkward pause ensues. You realize that Bertha is waiting for you to continue the conversation. Now, you have a problem. You don’t remember is she has any children or not. To save face, you decide to opt for something vague. “How’s the family?”
“Terrific, Tommy’s on the football team now. Bob and I are so proud of him,” Bertha replies. This may not be a lie but it stretches the truth to the breaking point. Tommy is on the team but he never gets to play. Hubby Bob may be proud of his son but he can’t make the games. He’s too busy chasing a special someone that Bertha affectionately calls ’that red-headed whore’.
“That’s exciting.” Another lie. You hate football. “And I guess you’ve been working out, too.”
“Oh really, you can tell?” If you consider walking from the couch to the refrigerator and back working out, Bertha is all over it.
“Well, that dress looks great on you.” No, it doesn’t. “You have lost some weight.”
Bertha beams. “Well, maybe a little.” She wouldn’t know. Bertha doesn’t even look at the bathroom scale, let alone step on it.
“Well, it’s so good to see you.” You make furtive glances in search of an exit.
“Yes, it’s been too long.” Bertha senses their talk is coming to an end and feels a little sad. Isn’t it time for another Prozac?
You smile. “Yes, it has.” Not long enough.
“We should get together.”
“We should.” Over your dead body.
“I’ll call you.”
“Great.” Time to finally get rid of the landline.
You decide that picking up a bag of chips isn’t nearly as important as leaving Bertha in the dust. Instead of completing your grocery order, you take a short cut to the self checkout lane, bag your items, run the credit card and hot foot it out to the car.
The cell phone rings. It’s the insurance agent.
“This is Wally Stevens from ABC insurance. I wanted to go over your accident report. Do you have a minute?”
“No, I’m so sorry. I’m in the middle of a very important business meeting. I’ll have to call you back tomorrow.” Click. One more lie for the road. You start the car and drop it into drive.
You’ll be home soon. Thank God you picked up that bottle of Merlot before you ran into Bertha.
“Life is sweet,” you whisper as you leave the parking lot. You might as well lie to yourself. It’s the polite thing to do.