Thought Catalog
December 20, 2010

5 Typical Acts of Politeness That are Inefficient and Should be Banned

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What is the issue?
I understand the function of politeness and social conventions: how they make people feel at ease, how they provide a familiar, comfortable context for interactions in which all is not known. I like politeness and social conventions for this, but I think that some are inefficient and should be banned. Here are five.

When you’re waiting to cross the road and a car stops for you and holds up all traffic behind you so you can walk across – all of them now waiting for you (and staring at you) to get to the other side

When I wait at the side of the road to cross the road and you’re in your car coming my direction, please don’t stop to let me pass. I appreciate the gesture, but what you really seem to be doing is endangering yourself, breaking traffic laws, and making me uncomfortable, because I’m forced to make eye contact with you, try to smile in appreciation, and walk across the road, the whole time knowing that you and your family and your dog are sitting there watching me, judging how I look, how I walk, and wondering what kind of headphones I have on. The time it takes me to cross the road, in this situation, feels like an eternity.

What’s especially inefficient is when you stop for me on a busy two-lane road and I have to begin walking in front of you, only to realize that I have to wait for a number of cars going the other direction to pass. This situation can not by its nature have a positive outcome. The first outcome this situation can have is that I have to wait – in front of you, in the middle of the road – an inordinate amount of time, and cars behind you start piling up, all waiting on me to cross the road. What’s more likely to happen, though, is that a driver going the opposite direction sees me waiting in the middle of the road and thinks that they are now obliged to stop and let me pass.

And so now I have two, four, six cars waiting for me to pass, when the whole time I simply, innocently, and unobtrusively wanted to cross when the street was empty. Now I’m subject to the glare of innumerable eyes and the impatience of countless hearts as I try not to make eye contact and try not to ‘skitter’ across the road.

Suggestion: Just keep driving. Stop at crosswalks and red lights for pedestrians.

Holding the door open for someone when the distance between that person and the door is too large to make it worthwhile

It’s okay, really – you don’t need to sit there staring at me, compelling me to almost run, while you hold the door open for me when I’m half a block away. I can probably manage to pull the door open on my own. If I can’t – if the door’s too heavy – I’m sure there will be some other people that can help me pull its massive weight open. I appreciate when you hold the door open for me when I’m right behind you, but I would rather you not stand there waiting on me to get to the door while I’m minding my own business and having a leisurely stroll on the sidewalk. I don’t need that in my life.

Suggestion: Open the door, walk through, and let the door close behind you.

“Yes, we are definitely going to stop for a second and have that conversation that everyone has when they’re talking to someone they don’t really know in a chance sidewalk-encounter.”

Long goodbyes

I don’t know what ‘gets into’ some people at parties or social gatherings but at times they seem to become possessed by this desire or social need to extend their goodbyes with singular individuals to gigantic lengths of times that can often approach 15 or 20 minutes. These types of ‘goodbyes’ actually seem as if they’re ‘hellos,’ as if they’re invitations to have a vague surface-level conversation about a variety of topics separated by awkward bars of silence.

The real uncanny aspect of such ‘polite’ acts is the fact that during every pause in the goodbye-conversation it becomes extremely unclear whether this is the moment one will finally say, “Well, it was nice, see you guys later.” The anticipation, during these pauses when one doesn’t know if an entirely new topic is about to be introduced, such as “Oh, how’s she doing?” or “Oh yeah did you hear about what Oprah gave her audience this time?!?” is brutal. And inevitably, some side point like the aforementioned is struck up, and to the waiter’s horror, a whole new person comes into the conversation, completely unaware that a goodbye is trying to be achieved. It suddenly seems time to get another drink, because you’ve actually just said ‘hello’ – not ‘goodbye’ – and you won’t be leaving for awhile. This attempt to extricate yourself has failed.

Suggestion: Say “Goodbye,” turn around, walk out the door, and keep walking until you reach your destination.

Saying “Hi” to someone that you know you will never hang out with when you see them approaching on the sidewalk and then asking them where they are going or how that person is that you both know

If I know you but it’s obvious we’re never going to hang out exclusively and we only know each other through some mutual acquaintance, please don’t force me to stop on the sidewalk and ask me asinine questions such as “Where are you going? How has it been? How’s [name of mutual acquaintance]?” that will garner information that is useless to both you and I.

I don’t hold you at fault for this, because I understand that you’re just trying to be nice, and that it’s actually easier and more comfortable for you to stop me and start saying completely useless stuff, because I know that when we first saw each other in the distance it was unsure if we were going to stop and there was some tension involved so you thought you would be proactive and friendly and just stop and communicate to me that “Yes, we are definitely going to stop for a second and have that conversation that everyone has when they’re talking to someone they don’t really know in a chance sidewalk-encounter.”

But by stopping me what you’ve actually done is stretch the awkwardness of the fact that we actually have nothing in common and know that we will never see each other again (unless at some party or brought together by our mutual friend) out over a long, perhaps neverending (and what feels like an inescapable) period of time, and I don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to be doing this, because it will just increase the chances of us having to stop and have the same conversation in future situations such as these.

Suggestion: Make eye contact with me, nod, and keep walking.

Using capitalization, “How are you,” “Hope all’s well” and “Regards,” in emails whose sole purpose is to get a small piece of information

I really dislike the stigma against emailing someone solely for a piece of information without checking to see ‘how they’re doing’ – that it’s somehow bad to simply want to know something without wanting to know if someone is ‘good.’ Social conventions have turned an email that could, in a more efficient world, read “hey did you ever read that submission I sent last week,” which takes about 15 seconds to compose, to

Hi Patrick,

How’s everything going over in NYC? Hope it’s sweet. I’m wondering if you ever got the chance to read the submission I sent you last week titled “The Depression of Being Single vs. the Depression of Being in a Long-Term Monogamous Relationship”?

Just thought I’d ask.

Again, hope it’s going good with the magazine and all.

Regards,
Brandon Scott Gorrell

Which takes about 2-4 minutes to compose, depending on your familiarity with social conventions.

Suggestion: Do not think a person unseemly if they decide not to capitalize their one-sentence, functional email that is simply asking you to give them a short piece of information. Employ the same efficient manner in your response. TC mark

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