The Politeness Project
The Project Begins
Recently three people were rude to me in as many hours. First a bank teller shrugged and snapped her gum when I asked why she put a hold on my paycheck. Then a teenager whizzed by on a skateboard and nearly knocked me flat. Finally, at lunch, the waitress forgot my order; after I reminded her, she brought me cold soup and shoved it in front of me without a word. I'm no doormat, so naturally I let these people have it. But when I saw the rude waitress stomp into the kitchen to tear into the cook, I instantly regretted my bad temper. She'd been dissed by me, so now she was setting out to do exactly the same thing to someone else.
I thought of my British grandmother, who knew how to pour a proper tea and schooled me in the power of good manners early on. When faced with a rude salesclerk, for instance, Grandmother was apt to pat the woman's arm, compliment her sweater, and apologize for bothering her -- which inevitably led the salesclerk to scurry off to find whatever item my grandmother required, pronto. Grandmother would never have gone off on the waitress the way I did. Instead, she would have sweetly asked her to reheat her soup because it was so delicious that she wanted to savor every sip.
"You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," Grandmother always said. As I listened to the muffled shouting coming from the restaurant kitchen, I wondered if it was really true. I would try it, I decided: For one full week I would make a point of remembering my manners, especially with people who seemed determined to make me forget them. I would attempt to disarm with charm -- and see if my suddenly improved attitude would have any effect.