Last week I was at the Acme, taking my items out of my cart and putting them on the little conveyer belt, when the man in front of me in line began shouting at me.
“Back!” he yelled, motioning angrily with his hands. “Back back back!”
I stopped what I was doing and stared at him.
“Back! Back! Back!” he shouted again. “Six feet! You aren’t six feet away from me! You have to be six feet.”
Actually, I was six feet away from him. Although maybe I was five-and-a-half feet. I’m not 100 percent sure. But there was a grocery cart plus some extra space between us.
“There’s no need to be rude,” I told him. “You could ask nicely.”
“BACK BACK BACK BACK BACK!” he responded, continuing to make shooing motions at me.
I stepped back. “There’s no reason not to say please and thank you,” I said.
Apparently, some folks can’t see any reason to be nice. For them, a pandemic means good manners can go right out the window.
I have a friend who is just as vigilant as my fellow Acme shopper about maintaining his space during the pandemic, but he always does it with good humor. In a public space, if folks start to crowd around him, he’ll call out, “Hey, people! Can we please get a little social distancing around here?” Because he says it with a light tone, the response is always positive. People will smile and move back.
It would never occur to him to start shouting at people. I hope it would never occur to you, either.
I'm visiting California this week. Yesterday I was waiting for a hotel elevator. There’s a sign posted near the elevator buttons requesting that unrelated people not ride together, although in the week I’ve been at this hotel, I’ve noticed that plenty of folks are just fine with sharing an elevator for the brief time it takes to move a few floors.
When the door opened on my floor, there was already a couple on the elevator, both masked. “Are you OK with my joining you?” I asked them.
“No! No!” one barked. “No! You can’t! You have to wait!” The other glared at me and shook her head vigorously.
The elevator door closed. Then the other elevator arrived at my floor. There was a masked couple on that one too. “Are you OK with my joining you?” I asked.
“I’m sorry, but we’re really not,” one of them said. “Do you mind waiting for the next elevator?”
“Of course not,” I told them. And off they went.
Here’s my point. Both elevator encounters resulted in people not having to share their space during a pandemic. One was about common courtesy and good manners and left everyone involved feeling OK. The other was about rudeness and fear and defending your turf. I’m not sure how the angry couple felt about our encounter, but I can’t say I loved the way they responded.
What toddlers know
I get that we’re all scared and fed up, and that we’d really like life to get back to normal. But while you’re warding off Covid by protecting your personal space, which you are 100 percent entitled to do, is a little common courtesy too much to ask for?
I’m a grandmother. One of the things I’m teaching my grandson is that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to say no. Shouting “No! No! No!” to a polite question is a response that I wouldn’t let my four-year-old grandson get away with. And he’d understand. He knows that good manners are part of being a grown-up.
Too bad that so many grown-ups seem to have forgotten this.
Image description: A photo of the outside of a city Acme store, with a sign advertising Covid vaccines in the foreground. The Philly skyline is visible in the distance.