Arun is Bringing You...Your Daily Remedy

Friday, December 22, 2006

Courtesy: More Trouble Than its Worth?

The other day, I was sitting around pondering (I like to ponder) all of the ways we act everyday out of courtesy. Actually, this pondering began after I had held the door open for someone behind me (I'll get into that in a moment). The more and more I thought about all of the courteous things we do everyday, the more I realized how much effort it is for both parties to observe these "common" courtesies. Let me give you three examples.

1.) The Door Hold. Whenever I enter or exit someplace, I always subconciously check to see if someone is following me. If they're close behind I always hold the door for them. The funny thing is though, that each of us is doing this lightning fast mathematical calculation in our heads as to the distance and approach velocity of the follower. "Is this person close enough where I need to hold the door? He's kind of close but he's walking sort of slow. If I let go and proceed, am I a jerk if the door slams in his face?" Sometimes, as I'm approaching the door, I'll purposely slow down so that the person behind me can catch up, and thus I avoid that awkward distance where you don't know whether to hold the door or not.

When I do happen to get in the situation where the follower is in that "in-between" distance of letting go or holding the door, I always err on the side of holding the door. Ironically, the person sees you holding the door and actually speeds up or runs so you are not troubled holding the door. This is ironic because in the effort to be courteous and hold the door, you are actually causing more trouble for the follower who feels the need to run so that you needn't hold the door for so long.

I'm definitely one of those people who speeds up too. Its funny because it would have been less effort for the follower to just leasurely stroll up to the door and open it himself.

2.) The Bless You. Isn't funny how when you sneeze, most of the times you will get a "bless you" (or some form of it) if people are around. I'm generally not a huge "bless you" giver but I do chime in on about 55% of the sneezes I'm around. I do sometimes get confused by "bless you" etiquette.

First of all, a lot of people have different sneeze patterns. Some sneeze just singles, some doubles, others triples, and I've even seen quadruples! My inclination is to "bless" after the first sneeze. But then what happens if they rail off another one or two? Does one "bless you" cover them all if it was administered before the sneeze series was finished? Does each individual sneeze need its own blessing, or does one "bless you" at the end of the sneeze series cover them all?

I experimented with a delayed "bless you" to allow for additional sneezes after the first or second, but that didn't work as I was generally beat to the bless administration by someone else, and thus couldn't be the courteous one. The delayed bless you also sounds a little awkward because if you don't get the blessing in right after, the moment has sort of passed the the "bless you" sounds too forced.

On the other hand, I definitely feel cheated if I get blessed after the first sneeze but it ends up being a two series (I never have more than a two series). I feel like an ending "bless you" is key. Personally, I think one at the end can cover them all.

I guess the real question is, why the hell do we say "bless you" anyways, especially when 99% don't believe that our soul is lost when we sneeze without a blessing? What if you sneeze in your sleep, or when nobody's around? Is it really a sneeze if no one hears it?

3.) The hug. In general, I always feel funny shaking a girls hand in a friendly environment. It just feels so formal. Obviously, when I first meet someone, a hand shake (or one of my cool variations) is fine. There are two situations however, where a handshake seems too formal, but a hug might be a little much.

When first meeting a girl and one of you is leaving. If I've actually spent any significant time talking to her, I always go for the full on hug. But what happens if we've introduced each other but beyond that haven't had much interaction or established any rapport? Maybe she's a friend of someone else I've been talking to. Is it then appropriate to hug only the girl I've been talking to but relegate the friend to a handshake?

The other situation is when you've already met someone but aren't exactly friends with them, and are meeting them for a second time. You know that awkward moment when you see like a friend of a friend whom you don't know well. A hug seems a little too familiar sometimes but a handshake is way to formal.

What's the solution you ask? Well I always err on the side of doling out the hugs. A goodbye or introductory hug in itself establishes more rapport and makes people naturally feel warmer towards you. A full on hug though may not be appropriate. This is where the side hug comes in. You know what I'm talking about. The hug where you each approach each other from the side and put one arm over one anothers shoulders while giving a light squeeze. The side hug is just enough to say "hey I'm friendly!" but not too much for someone you don't know too well.

Yes I do waste some time each day thinking about these things. Despite how impractical a lot of these attempted courtesies are, I still do them everyday. But, next time you do one of these, just think about how funny it is that this behaviour is so ingrained in us.

My recommendation? Always err on being too courteous. I am never dissappointed in having to run to a held door, getting too many bless you's or an excessive hug (well depending on who you are).


Shaan said...

HEY no commentS!? that was a wonderful summary with useful insight into each one of those socially pertinent topics.

I noticed that I only offer 'bless you's to colleagues and cohorts, rarely to strangers -- usually only to the prettier ones :P. I also have the habit of holding the door open, but your tip on slowing down to let people behind catch up is extremely thoughtful, I'll keep it in mind.

I'm not sure how I came across your blog, but so far its terrific! *Subscribed*

Joe said...

Haha...this is hilarious because these are all so true!

Danifer said...

I can relate to all of this! Your detailed descriptions make me feel as if I am right there, going through the situation. On a side note, taking the time to hold the door for someone and then having them casually walk through without a word of gratitude is frustrating. I usually end up saying, "You're welcome!" Sometimes they notice what has just happened, and other times they just walk on. Oh, well, at least I did a good deed.

Sully said...

OMG! THis is HILARIOUS! So true!