What people won't do in public

Continuing with Perception Week here at Communication FUNdamentals blog, I bring your attention to the word perception and how things are currently perceived in society.  Last week on my Facebook wall, I wrote about society's current perception of manners.  I'll recap that a bit now and then I'd like to discuss society's current perception of what is inappropriate to do in a public setting.  You won't believe this...or, sadly, maybe you will. A few days ago, I took my son to his theater class.  I have to preface this a bit so you'll appreciate how blatant this was.  His class is upstairs in a tiny room so the kids hardly all fit in.  The parents wait outside in a small room, in the tiny hallway, or the small landing area on the other side of the hallway. The door to the parents room was open and there were several parents sitting in both of those areas as well as a few standing in the hallway.  I was in the hallway and could hear the conversations in both parent areas when I sneezed. I wasn't shocked when nobody said "God bless you," or some facsimile thereof.  I was a bit surprised, however, when not even one person so much as blinked.  It was a small area where even a whisper carried quite well.  You'd have thought the loud sneeze would have caused at least one to stop their conversation or look up.  Nope.  Okay.  But what happened in the next few seconds was shocking to me.  The woman across the way who had been sprawled out on the couch like it was her living room, sneezed.  I said, "God bless you" as did NOBODY else.  Nobody else even so much as blinked.  But she never said thank you, never looked up, never acknowledged me in anyway.  Even with her entire family in that waiting area on the couch next to her, she wasn't embarrassed enough at her rudeness to warrant even a belated nod. Apparently, this is the case all over the country.  Simple courtesy isn't perceived as necessary any longer.  My Facebook friends all shared similar stories of indifference and rudeness.  It saddens me as our perception of courteous behavior is one of the reasons our discourse is so curt and often full of outright anger.  We no longer have any regard for the civility and manners of the past generations.  Perceptions have changed. Then a few days later, I found myself at my son's Theater performance.  We were outside under an awning of sorts with a stage and a full audience.  It was about curtain time and all the parents and grandparents were seated waiting breathlessly for their dazzling darlings.  I wasn't surprised when several of the children were being rambunctious and almost none of the parents made so much as an attempt to round them up.  But then, in the middle of the audience, a girl of about 10 yrs of age began to pull her dress up and put on a pair of jeans.  I thought surely the mother, who was sitting next to her, would discourage undressing in public.  To my surprise, she made a vague suggestion that she could go into the bathroom while proceeding to help her daughter get fully dressed for the performance.  And I used to caution my 5 year old that pulling her dress up in public was inappropriate.  Well, those were the olden days, I guess. I thought that was the boldest departure from appropriate public behavior until the very next day.  I honestly don't believe any of you have seen anything like this before, but do tell me if I am being naive. In my day, you didn't put your elbows on the table and you didn't wear your PJs to the store.  You went into the bathroom to apply your lipstick and you were horrified to have to say excuse me if you happened to burp in public. Now I know that perceptions have changed a great deal with respect to these things.  It is acceptable even in fine restaurants to put your elbows on the table.  It is not considered a social faux pas to re apply your lipstick in public and in some places, public burping goes practically unnoticed.  However, am I showing my naivety to think that the following is still inappropriate in a public setting, let alone a restaurant? My son is in the Young Marines and was marching in the Veteran's Day Parade on Saturday.  By the time we were out of there, it was after lunchtime and we stopped at the McDonald's inside a Walmart to eat.  A casually dressed, yet well groomed young woman and her boyfriend sat down to eat in front of us.  As we (and several other patrons including this couple) were enjoying our food, the woman took a stick of deodorant from her purse and, still leaning over her food, applied it! I was shocked, horrified and a bit grossed out.  Nobody around me seemed even to notice. I was contemplating how society's perceptions of what is appropriate in public has deteriorated in my lifetime.  It was clear to me that manners are mostly a thing of the past and civility in communication is a casualty.  Still in shock at the Deodorant Lady, something happened to renew my faith in our culture if only for a bright shining moment. My son was done eating his Happy Meal and began to play with his toy.  He didn't know what would happen if he pressed the button and, as a curious boy, he had to find out.  Part of the toy flew across the table, right across my meal and landed on the floor.  After giving my son a look to discourage further "fly bys" and as I prepared to get up to retrieve it, a young father of two sitting near us got up from his chair and did it for me! While the public's perceptions of manners and appropriate public behavior has changed drastically as a whole, I am heartened to find some who still practice and no doubt teach their children to do the same. This brings my rant on my pet peeve of manners, civility and public behavior to an end, but  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  What do you think of Sneezeless in the Theater, Underwear Girl and Deodorant Lady?  Do they live in your city?  Please share.


  • jojosblog

    I saw it and I still can’t believe it.

  • Carla

    This is the 2nd time I’ve heard the story of Deodorant Lady and I still can’t believe it!!! I live in what I call Lower Cowpie Heaven and manners are something sorely missed around here. I’ve seen lots and lots of things that have totally freaked me out. The times I’ve actually said something, I’ve been told something to the effect of. . . “The world has moved beyond you, old lady.” Well, maybe, but why can’t you be polite about it?

    I’ve seen many instances of nobody paying attention to sneezes, God Bless Yous, thank yous, etc. I’ve also seen kids changing their clothes out in the middle of very public places with more than their undies showing! Nobody cares anymore. They all do their own thing and if anybody doesn’t like it. . . well. . . (insert raspberry noise here).

  • jojosblog

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts everyone! This has apparently touched a chord with many. I’m glad to hear that there are others who still find these things inappropriate. Perhaps we can start a trend back toward civility and manners.

  • Can You Pass these Perception Tests? » Communication FUNdamentals

    […] Perception Week began with my article on your perception of what spam is.  It continued with What People Won’t Do in Public chronicling some of the changes in what society believes is acceptable and how that has changed our […]

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