This was my motto at my first Primary School in Johannesburg. I have never forgotten it. Primarily because my parents wouldn’t let me. My household was one of “Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Don’t put your elbows on the table,” and “Tip your soup bowl away from you” when attempting to drain the last morsel from the bottom.
I was brought up to say “Please” and “Thank You,” greet people and respect my elders. I remember my father telling my sister and I to “Be quiet!” whilst swimming in a pool at a holiday resort. We were splashing and yelling, as children do, and he said in no uncertain terms “Do you see the grown ups behaving like that?” If you knew my father, you’d know that was all it took for us to become “young ladies” playing mermaids instead of dive bombing whales. It was just as much fun.
You see this blog is spawned from another Facebook post I wrote a few days ago. I ranted about the lack of manners I have experienced since moving here. My post went as follows:
“I find people who don’t greet so rude. Especially if you see them everyday. In South Africa we are brought up to say “good morning,” allow people to get out of the elevator BEFORE you get in (and not look at them like they’ve offended you deeply.) We even acknowledge when someone lets us into a lane in traffic, by flashing our hazards or giving small wave in the rear view mirror. It takes 30 seconds out of your day to acknowledge that you are not the ONLY FRIKKEN PERSON ON THE PLANET. Perhaps it might make you a nicer and happier person too. #rudeHollywood #manners”
Now, I was met with the response of me being old fashioned and perhaps too judgmental on the general upbringing of people here is the US. Let me be clear, I do not feel LA represents the entire United States of America. As I don’t believe London represents the entire United Kingdom. I do however feel there is a sad fact that in these career orientated, money making urban sprawls, people have lost the ability to be connected. There seems to be a fear of personal interactions. We’re all too busy trying to survive in this cut -throat, warp speed, cancer inducing lifestyle we seem to find an optimum climate to exist in.
This is supremely evident when dealing with Industry professionals here in LA. You can literally be on the phone to someone (if they are brave enough to answer your call,) and be cut off toot sweet, and asked to please put your inquiry in an email. It’s safe there. You don’t have to form words on the spot and communicate in such a vulnerable fashion.
The excuse you hear is that they are “too busy” to take your call. Well, perhaps you would save some time having a quick chat, rather than having to follow up on the 18 emails back and forth, where you can’t read my tone or I have left out some information that you need, or perhaps you have misunderstood my intention altogether.
Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a brilliant place to communicate. This blog proves it. I just feel that we have lost a little humanity along the way. We no longer have to meet at 12:30 because you made plans on your home phone and now there is no way to reach you. We don’t even call when we have a phone…we text.
I believe this has bled over onto the way we interact outside of technology. We all walk around like individual plug ins disconnected from the server, terrified that if we make eye contact with another program, a virus will begin to spread and change our whole interface – into…..a smile, a wave, an “excuse me whilst I pass you,” or “let me hold the elevator for you.” Crap! Now I’ll have to change my password. Maybe that’s really why it’s called an I-Phone.
No one likes to feel vulnerable and exposed. You do have to cradle yourself gently on this mad city. I know its because, out here, you think everyone wants something from you, everyone is using their search engines to create a successful commodity. But imagine that we stopped being afraid of others. Imagine we took a little more time to see people. Perhaps people would start seeing you…differently.
LA can make you hard. It can make you aggressive. You can be so busy fighting, you do forget that this is your life, and you share the world with everyone else. I never want to lose the ability to let someone move ahead of me at the store because they have 3 items and I have a trolley full. I don’t want to ever stop gasping in disbelief when a woman interrupts a cashier, who is in the middle of helping a customer, because her slip hasn’t printed from the petrol pump, and then leaves as if he has insulted her twisted, angry face personally, and wasted her time by not attending to her immediately. WAIT YOUR TURN WOMAN! The traffic on the 405 isn’t going anywhere.
The look of absolute fear in a strangers eyes when you greet them is quite amusing to me. I do it on purpose now. You can almost hear the cogs turning as they snap into “the now.” “Where do I know you from?” “Are you talking to me?” “Did we sleep together once and I forgot to call?” It’s my private fun game.
It’s a shame really. You can miss out on meeting a lot of really interesting and good people that way.
I don’t want to become so insular that I forget smile at passing strangers. That world will become a lonely place. LA can be that, if you let it. This place is run off fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the “what if.”
You know what I’m scared of? I’m afraid that through the desperate hunt for “Bigger, Better, Faster,’ we end up “Bitter, Indifferent and Closed Minded.”
Clock yourself. Time is all we have to make a good impression. So called me old fashioned, call me an idealist, but please preface it with “Hi Jo, how are you?”
Thank you and have a lovely evening,