“So, do you have big plans for the weekend?”
A nineteen-year-old cashier at Publix asked me the question as she tallied up my vegetables. I had never seen her before. I was taken aback.
“Uh, I’m a pretty private person,” hoping she would get my meaning
IMAGE FROM ENVIROMOM.COM
The bag boy chimed in. I'd never seen him either.
"Oh, I can tell she’s the kind that goes with the flow, aren’t you ma’am?”
“Well, as I said, I’m a pretty private person.”
I walked out stunned, and all the way home I thought of what I coulda shoulda said.
'I’m having a triple bypass.'
'I'm planning to assassinate [any one of various political candidates].' That one would lead to complications.
'I'm going to eat potatoes, broccoli and carrots and curl up with People magazine.' (Yes, I bought People. Gabby Douglas was on the cover. I’m embarrassed to admit they can also get me with Michelle Obama or the British Royal Family.)
GABRIELLE DOUGLAS ON UNEVEN BARS AT 2012 LONDON OLYMPICS
Apart from the intrusiveness of the question, it poses another problem. My memory isn’t so good, and besides, I’m apt to be wool-gathering as I wait for my groceries. When yanked back and forced to think about my weekend, it’s quite a struggle. ‘What am I doing this weekend? Let’s see. There’s riding lessons, and Girls Place volleyball try-outs. I thought we’d go to church. Wasn’t there something else? I thought there was something else. Hope I wrote it down.’
When I answer the phone and it's my step-daughter she says, “Hi Liz, what’s up.” And I’m stumped. I suppose there’s a stock reply to this, but I don’t know what it is, so I scramble to compose a status report. “Oh, I’m just sitting on the couch and staring.” “Nothing much, just about to do laundry.” The boring bleakness of my report brings me down.
I’m used to “How do you do?” “How are you?” I know that the response is “Fine, thank you,” though it feels odd and dishonest to say it when I’m in trouble. I think maybe young people felt that traditional greeting had lost all meaning, and they wanted to be friendlier, so they came up with this.
My sister Luli tells me that at her grocery store the clerks are required to ask, “How has your day been going so far?” They clearly do it grudgingly. She went to the manager and complained that it was NOT a good idea, and he told her glumly that the directive came from higher up.
I’m on Twitter because a literary agent recommended it, but I’m hopelessly out of date. I’m not interested in the private life of total strangers (except the royal family) and I don’t want total strangers inquiring into mine.
Manners differ, not only across cultures, but across generations. And manners are artificial. Within broad bounds, polite is whatever contemporary culture says it is. If enough people no longer return phone calls, those of us who leave voice mails must just learn to text. If the new standard greeting is going to be 'Do you have plans for the weekend?' or 'How’s your day going so far?' I suppose I’ll have to learn the standard and meaningless response.
Still, I’m allowed to grumble to my sister and friends about the astonishing rudeness of the younger generation. And once you start doing that, you are well on your way to curmudgeonhood, a status I confess I find appealing.
I suspect the Inuit people don’t really put their aging parents on an ice floe to drift off and die. But if I am hopelessly and happily out of date, it may be time for me to go with the floe.
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