Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's the little things...

Have you ever noticed that when you finally have a blow-up with someone, it's usually triggered by what appears to be a small, insignificant event? Maybe your spouse didn't wash the pot the way you like or a colleague was chewing her gum too loudly? Of course, these seemingly small annoyances are usually just the final straw on top of an underlying resentment that's been festering for weeks or months and has finally come to a head. Next thing you know, you've gone from a mild-mannered, respectable citizen to a vein-popping, profanity-spewing, rage-filled haridan. Or maybe that's just me...

While today's society offers up no shortage of major etiquette breaches I've found that it's the small, daily violations that drive us crazy and bring out our inner rageaholic. They might be minor when compared to, say, taking investors' money and spending it on yachts, but they rankle just the same in their flagrant disregard of the golden rule.

Here then, are the little indecencies that set my blood boiling every day:

The four-way stop - It's a simple concept really. There is a bright red stop sign at each corner of the intersection. Each driver is required to stop and check that the way is clear before proceeding. The rule is, first in, first out and, in the event that two vehicles arrive at the same time, the one on the right goes first. Yet every day, I see motorists violate this and go when they want to, not when it's their turn. And they know they're doing it, they look right at you and dare you to challenge them as they fly by, leaving you in the middle of the intersection wondering what happened.

The deli counter - Deli counter lineups operate on one of two principles - you take a number and when your number is called, it's your turn or, if there's no number spitter, use the honour system to determine whose turn it is. That means when you arrive, you need to look around and see who was there first and, if the deli counter employee makes a mistake and calls on you before it's your turn, speak up and let the rightful person have their turn!

The stolen parking spot - You know how it is. It's the holidays and you've been circling the mall parking lot for 20 minutes, looking for a spot. In desperation, you end up stalking a shopper on the way back to her car in the hopes of claiming it for yourself. You stealthily follow her down the asphalt, assume the position, turn on your indicator and wait for her to finally back out of the spot. Just as she drives away, some cretin swoops in and steals the spot right out from under your nose. You can try politely explaining that you were waiting for the spot but good luck with that. You're liable to get told to go do something anatomically impossible.

The express checkout - This one is my favourite because people don't commit this particular etiquette sin by accident - it's a blatant disresepct for other people's time. If it says eight items or less, it means eight items or less. It doesn't mean nine, ten or 15. Bananas and apples can't be grouped together as "fruit" and passed off as one item. C'mon people you know who you are. You are not exempt from the rules.

I'm not sure why these little things seem to grate so much but I think as humans we all have a basic need to be acknowledged. When people steal our parking spots or sneak in front of us at the deli counter, it's as if they're saying: "I see you but I choose not to acknowledge you."

What are some little etiquette sins that drive you crazy?


  1. Hi Louise,

    Totally true. My personal pet peeve is sidewalk etiquette. There are a few points of common courtesy that people should acknowledge:

    Don't walk two or three people across (unless you're certain there is no one else behind or coming up)If you do see someone coming, make room to allow them to go by you.

    If you want to go by someone, make sure you have enough room to do so without colliding with someone else (this morning I actually go smushed against a wall because some lady was in such a rush on a crowded sidewalk)

    If you're going to walk so slow that snails could pass you, please do so in a straight line.

    And by the way, this is my favorite line of your post: "You're liable to get told to go do something anatomically impossible" - I've never heard it put so politely!

  2. Hi Louise:

    Sidewalk etiquette is a big pet peeve of mine as well, but I won't repeat what was just said.

    Along similar lines though is escalator etiquette. I take public transit every day and I go through my fair share of frazzling moments in the morning and afternoon rushes.

    When people refuse to walk down an escalator, stay on the right side. If you're with another person who also refuses to walk down, both of you should be on the right, not taking up the entire step.

    Another issue I've come across far too often is people deciding to stop and have a chat at the bottom of the escalator. PLEASE move off to the side and continue your conversation.

    Thank you for allowing me to vent.


  3. Great additions. I love the one about people walking slowly but not in a straight line. It's a game of Russian roulette to try to get past them and figure out which way they will go next. And escalator etiquette is another one of those situations where you don't need to be a rocket scientist to grasp the concept - stand right, walk left.

    I just thought of another one - people who park their full grocery cart in the middle of an aisle and wander off to look for something in a completely different section.

  4. My blood is already boiling from reading these. Here are two more:
    - When companies keep us on hold for more than 30 seconds (due to a higher than normal call volume)
    - Cracking anything (knuckles, gum, fingernails, etc.). And I confess that I'm sometimes guilty of this one...

  5. Above comments very true for Toronto where I lived for 22 years. Here's one I can share living in Shanghai now:

    Trying to pretend you did not hear the hoarse clearing of the throat, then the spit hitting the sidewalk or wherever (look out I tell you). I am trying to go one day without hearing or seeing this. So far, not so good and I have lived here for almost two years. Oh and by the way, this spitting is not considered rude and everyone seems to do it - men, women, children and all ages.

    OOOH yes another one:

    holding up your baby along the sidewalk so he can poop diarrhea then walking away. This sidewalk is next to the door of a large Chinese chain grocery store. Lovely. At least by the time we left the grocery store, the street cleaner had come by thankfully.

    Welcome to a whole new level of etiquette or lack thereof!

    I have many more but I don't think it's fair of me to go on about another countries etiquette mishaps since I am looking at it from an ethnocentric viewpoint...but then again, it's poop people! C'mon...isn't that what diapers are for? And spitting gob is not my idea of good manners in any culture.

  6. Thanks for the "detail" Paris. I guess every culture/country has its own idea of what's acceptable but I must say I'm pleased I don't have to sidestep diarrhea or spittle when I'm walking down the street.