Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Courtesy Wave and Other Social Nuances

We were pulling out of the driveway the other morning and the neighbor across the street pulled out at the same time. I waited for her to go first but she flashed her lights to tell me to go ahead. I pulled out and gave her a little way and a whispered "thanks."

"Why did you do that?" Ethan asked.

"I had to give her the 'Courtesy Wave.' Do you know what that is?"


"It's when someone in another car does something nice when you're driving, like letting you go first, and you give them a little wave to say thank you."

Since we were talking about manners indirectly anyway, I decided to seize the moment. "Sometimes it's nice to let people go ahead of you. That's called preferring others. It's like when you choose not to barge ahead of me on the stairs but let me go first."

"You like when I do that?"

"Yeah. But you know, there's one time when you don't need to let people get in front of you. Do you know when that is?"

"When?" Ethan asked, looking out the window.

"When you're waiting in a big line, like at an amusement park." One of my pet peeves. I can't stand people cutting in line. Especially if I've been waiting a while.

"If that happens, you can tell them, 'Excuse me, I've been waiting here. You need to go to the end of the line.'"

Well, not exactly, I started thinking as I was driving. What about when people have been waiting ahead of you but hold a place for other members of their family? This grows increasingly more irritating depending on how many family members they have. If it's one other person, fine. But when six other people suddenly jump ahead of you, that's annoying.

Suddenly my mind was no longer on the highway but on a visit to the Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. I don't remember exactly what happened anymore but I do remember it was one of the few times I was miffed enough to actually speak up and say something, and the person turned on me in a rage, which made me wonder if speaking up had even been worth it (I hate making people mad. It makes me feel sick to my stomach.).

I thought about that nervous dance I always do in my mind when people are I bite my tongue? It's such a "gray area." Speak up in that line at Six Flags and come off as obnoxious. Don't say anything and teenagers might let half the friends in their high school cut in front of you while we all stand sweltering on a mid-summer day. Where do you draw the line? I thought about the tension...the fears about how I am perceived and about making a social faux pas.

The more I think about it, the more I'm amazed at how many subtle social rules there really are. It's rather mind-blowing, actually. At the same time, I wonder how freeing it might be to actually not be worrying about social rules all of the time. Like Ethan.

But this is the society in which we live: chock-full of the smallest of social nuances, where one small slip can have big implications. Where even we typical people can't always figure out the gray areas.

For right now, I'm sticking to teaching Ethan about the "Courtesy Wave." At least I'm getting that one right. And better we focus on that than any other kind of hand gestures he might see anyone do on the highway when tempers are short. Yikes. Let's not even go there.

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