Thursday, May 1, 2008

Get Some Fucking Manners


I lived, briefly in the late ‘70s, with a fellow counselor at the methadone clinic where I worked. She exaggerated when applying for the position, claiming that she was a recovering addict with several years clean when, in truth, she’d only been off of heroin for a month or two. She had a three year old son. He demanded a cookie and I coached him to say “please.” She hit the ceiling, and accused me of trying to turn him into an ass kissing soulless automaton. She relapsed shortly after this and stuck me with rent and an enormous phone bill.


The kabob joint I wanted to try with the kids was closed and we ended up, against my better judgment, at the breathtakingly mediocre California Pizza kitchen. A couple with a sour faced kid was seated at the booth next to ours. The boy excavated his nose and flicked his findings hither and yon. Their food arrived and the boy and the father gobbled huge pieces of chicken with fork and fingers, although if the original set up hadn’t included a knife, I’m sure the restaurant would have been happy to provide one. The waiter asked the lad if he wanted a soda refill and the response was a grunted “nah...”

I am not Emily Post and I am the mother of a child who recently shouted “fuck” a number of times during a meeting with his surfin’ rabbi Spanish teacher and the uptight principal of his school. Both of my parents were devotees of colorful language and having spent most of my working life in the company of men, most as salty tongued as my father, I have developed an over reliance on vulgar verbiage. Sometimes Spuds and I overhear the drunks surrounding us at the stadium using “fuckin” in lieu of any other adjective or verb, and yes, I am a hypocrite, but it makes my skin crawl. At least I use lots of other words too. Really. But there are times when it seems that only “fuck” or “shit” or some conjugation thereof will do. My children have picked this up from me, much to Himself’s disgust. I regret it and feel embarrassed when they use these vulgarities without imagination, like the drunks at the game, and when they are too stupid to realize the consequences of swearing in certain company.

The curse words are a work in progress but my kids have written thank-you notes for every gift they have received ever since they’ve been able to write their names. They know that it is important to RSVP when an invitation requests this and that when invited for a meal at someone’s house, one brings a small hostess gift and should call the next day to say thank-you. Sometimes they say that I am weird and call me a snob but I think they are starting to get it. The fifteen year old experiences the harshness of the city every day on his train ride. Spuds sits surrounded often by drunken louts at the game. We are cramped in and subject to myriad indignities and humiliations and people glower at you instead of saying “excuse me” when they bump into you.

Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, says that manners have nothing to do really with making people feel better but are merely a demonstration that a person was “raised correctly” but to me, humility and tiny acts of thoughtfulness and consideration are a small anecdote to the mean, aggressive vulgar reality televised world. They may say “fuck” but they also say “please” and “thank-you” and “excuse me.” My boys appreciate thoughtfulness and they like to make people feel good. I often receive compliments on their manners from their friends’ parents and despite their frequent impatience with my tight assedness, I know that this makes them feel proud. I have encouraged them not to lord the code of conduct I require of them over others and they know that it is particularly egregious breech of etiquette to criticize anyone else’s manners, unless of course you are his mother or his wife.

Manners are important to me and I strive to impart this to my kids as a way of being gentle rather than as a vehicle to feel superior to others who were not raised to be soulless automatons but thoughtless assholes. Perhaps Miss Manners is partially right that manners are important because they are an indicator of how one was raised. I want the world to know that I raised my boys to be humble and considerate and thoughtful because I love the little fuckers.


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4 comments:

Fionnchú said...

Speaking of urban and not urbane indignities on the train, if certain interlocutors were bereft of a couple of interchangeable four-letter words as adjectives, nouns, and verbs, our public transport'd be a lot quieter. They'd have practically nothing left to say. No admirer of English lit or Irish culture can claim he's offended at swearing when done artfully, but the piss-poor levels to which it's sunk into these two words ad infinitum in the anglophonic (and from what I can suss out from the hispanophonic and celtophonic realms) does show the paucity of invective available to the boobosie. (Mencken's term which deserves resurrection into our demotic declamations.)

It's as if we have a nation of sniggering George Carlins all boasting their knowledge of the seven words you used to not be able to say on TV. Every other rap song's full of them. Half my students blather them in class and the other half still have at least enough decorum to only contemplate them.

I blame the decline of religion. You have fewer terms to swear and curse by these days in both our purportedly Christian U.S. of A. and post-Christian realms here and elsewhere. Excrement and copulation. by the way, should earn more options. I read that while there are 300 slangy synonyms for penis in English, there are only three for vagina.

On that note, I am your devoted mate. Although I blame you and your side of the family for our sons' potty mouths. xxx me

Cari said...

I taught my daughter to use potty mouth ONLY when it was well deserved. Not as casual adjectives or verbage or intead of "and, the, um, it, to, etc" She is quite creative with her lingo, but "please and Thank you" are more prevalent in her dialogue than any scatological or reproductive inference. We appreciate good manners too, dammit.

Cari said...

I feel really lousy...I have had bad manners with you for a long time. I never write thank you's and have never brought a hostess gift. I suck. I am not worthy. Am I still your niece?

Cari said...

I've just read both of my postings...am I schizo?