Let’s Stop Calling Having Strong Opinions “Rude”

Murder has nothing to do with manners

Murder has nothing to do with manners

If there was one etiquette rule that I internalized my entire life, it was the idea that you should NEVER call someone out for being rude. (Ok, except if they try to upstream you.) Someone forgets to send you a thank you note? Rude. You call that person to chastise them for not sending one? WAY MORE RUDE. Don’t invite +1s to your wedding? Totally fine, though some people seem to think it’s rude. Yelling at a bride and groom for not getting a +1? YOU ARE THE WORST HUMAN.

This has made it so that being called “rude” is a terrible insult, and thus, if someone has felt the need override this rule because of what you’re doing, then what you’re doing must be inhumane. Sure, we’ve probably all had a momentary outburst at a stranger who is bothering us, but I’m hard pressed to find a time in my life when I’ve told a friend or family member that what they’re doing is a rude action, even if I’ve felt it with all my being.

However, there is one thing that is not and never will be rude: having an opinion about your own life. So let’s stop treating it like it is.

Ama Yawson recently wrote this incredible piece for The Atlantic about racism, tolerated behaviors, and teaching her children to stand up for themselves. Please go read it now. This is important. But what struck me about it is the whole thing was couched in the language of etiquette. People laugh “politely” when they hear racist speech. The idea of having courage to speak up  is weighed against basic “courtesies.” Apparently being a good sport means never disagreeing with someone. She writes, “As a child, I was taught to refrain from reprimanding others for fear of causing them shame.  Moreover, many of us are conditioned to avoid the potential discomfort and social ostracism that such reprimands might trigger.”

Let’s be clear: “Polite” and “rude” are not synonyms for “right” and “wrong.” There is a huge difference between yelling at your houseguest for not making the bed and calling out a barber when he calls your son the N-word*, and speaking of the latter in terms of what is “polite” and what is “rude” is doing both sides a disservice. Yet this idea of something as “rude” has been turned into an insult you can hurl at anyone if they happen to disagree with your twisted view of humanity. “You don’t want to be rude, do you?” is now a a sinister threat. We’ve all been taught that being nice means never voicing a different opinion.

Obviously racist, sexist, and other intolerant behavior is something you should stand up against. But there are other times, smaller times, where having a personal need that goes against someone else’s plans is treated as a breach of etiquette. I immediately think of wedding planning, when so often brides stating opinions are referred to as “bridezillas.” I think of how I worry about my friends thinking I’m rude if I cancel plans because of a sudden onslaught of social anxiety. Hell, I worry that if my fiance and I are trying to figure out what to eat for dinner and I suggest “pizza” too powerfully he’s going to think I don’t respect his opinion.

It is often difficult to figure out the difference between being polite and being a pushover, especially when adhering to social graces is held in such esteem. People like it when other people are nice to them; that’s the whole reason we even have this damn website. We can all think of times where we should have spoken up but didn’t, or should have kept our mouths shut.

We all want to be treated with common courtesy, but sometimes that means demanding it. Not putting up with bigoted behavior is not a matter of etiquette, it’s a matter of basic human decency. You should never apologize for your fundamental being. You deserve space on this earth just like everyone else. So let the language of etiquette be used to discuss noisy neighbors and baby shower gifts. Don’t you dare worry about being polite.

*Which, by the way, you have every right to speak out against if just for the fact that you are paying him for a service you specified and he did not do it to your liking.

To The Man Who Upstreamed Me A Few Days Ago

To the man who upstreamed us in Queens a few nights ago:

I apologize that my fiance called you a “piece of shit asshole” when a cab pulled up to you before us, but let me explain. You see, despite your insistence that you wouldn’t/shouldn’t be paying attention to us, I must insist that in the future, you become more aware of those around you, especially when catching a cab.

Catching a cab in New York City is an art, and I could tell by your form that you were unpracticed and possibly new. You held your arm out for cabs that didn’t have their lights on, a telltale sign of a newbie. That’s ok. Everyone is new to hailing cabs at some point, but really, you should learn the rules before you attempt such a brazen move as an upstream.

Nathan W. Pyle of the popular NYC Basic Tips & Etiquette gif series puts the practice thusly:

However, I would argue that upstreaming someone for a cab–which, by walking to the corner ahead of us after we had been standing there attempting to hail a cab for about 10 minutes, you most certainly did–is more than just a “cheap way to win.” It is a cheap way to live. It means you assert yourself as more important than your neighbors and community. It is why New Yorkers hate gentrification so much: you’re saying you’re here, but you don’t care.

I’m sorry if this comes off as too serious, but I have a long and uncomfortable relationship to upstreaming. Sometimes, as a child, I’d be late getting out the door for school, ensuring that a ride on the M15 bus would make me late. So, not wanting me to get to school late, or to hail a cab by myself, my parents would put me in a cab to school. They both lived at busy intersections, and it was often a time of morning when lots of other people would be late for work/school if they did not catch a cab. But that did not seem to bother my dad; getting his only child to school on time was important. So he’d walk against traffic, getting ahead of those who had been waiting longer, and as I’d pass them by again from the comfort of the backseat of a Crown Victoria I’d slink down in shame, knowing that the only reason I was there and they were not was because I decided to take their civility for granted.

But back to you.

There are a few other circumstances that made your move so frustrating. Firstly, we were in Queens, and though that corner was probably the best bet for cabs in the area, it’s hardly a hot spot. Secondly, it looks like you were coming off of work at a film shoot that was taking place, given that you were saying goodbye to a lot of people still inside the giant trailers parked everywhere. This city already has a tenuous relationship with film crews, who often block our streets and sidewalks and tell us where we can and cannot walk, and you’re doing nothing to help their reputation with your behavior.

So what should you have done?

Firstly, you should have looked around. You should have paid attention to us. We were at the opposite corner from you, clearly waiting for a cab to come in the same direction. Once you noticed us you should have either walked to a different block to try your luck there, or come over and waited behind us. Yes, I know it was late at night and yes, I know you were “just trying to get home like everyone else,” but “everyone else” includes us, who were waiting to get home before you.

Being a New Yorker (though, I’m presuming, a new one) you may be thinking “why should I care? New Yorkers are rude people, so I have the right to be rude! Plus, that guy just called me an asshole!” It’s true, New Yorkers have a certain–and in my opinion, false–reputation for being rude. But these rude outbursts are not just for the sake of being mean to strangers. Any time a New Yorker yells at you, it is punishment for disrupting the balance of the city, a place where the needs of millions must be sorted out in an incredibly confined space. In order for everyone not to go nuts, we’ve developed a dance. You keep to the right of stairwells, and don’t stop in the middle of moving traffic (yes, sidewalks count as moving traffic). You define your space on the subway in order to maximize your comfort, yet not encroach on the personal space of those around you. You’re constantly balancing your needs versus the needs of others, putting yourself first when it counts, and taking one for the team when someone else needs it. The whole idea is the foundation of good etiquette.

So, when my fiance yelled at you, it was not because he likes yelling, but because you were disrupting the balance and must learn, lest you spend the rest of your life pissing off every New Yorker you come in contact with. If we had the time to have a full conversation we would have, but let’s face it, we were all trying to get home. Yes, there are some who are rude for no reason, but you’ll find those people across the globe. Perhaps you were shocked that he would call you out, but really, consider it a favor. Hopefully, you’ll remember this the next time you attempt to grab a cab from someone who has been patiently waiting for longer than you have.

There may come a day where you legitimately need to upstream someone. One day your wife may be in labor, or you’re late for a job interview at a cutthroat firm, where being one minute late would guarantee that you’d lose the opportunity. Go forth and upstream then, knowing that it’s necessary. But if it’s a Wednesday night at 11 pm and you see two tired and slightly cold people waiting on a corner, leaning into the road to look for cabs, I implore you to cross the street and wait behind them.

Best,

Jaya

Not such a great idea now, huh hotshot?

Not such a great idea now, huh hotshot?