Know Your Neighbors
I’m having a problem with some of our neighbors. Unfortunately, it’s just that—my problem.
Social Rule System Theory, a field of sociological study, analyzes how human social activity is organized and regulated. These often informal rules include language, customs and codes of conduct. The theory holds that the “making, interpretation and implementation of social rules are universal in human society.” It’s how we learn to live with other people.
Many social rules are culturally influenced. This helps explain why people from densely populated areas, like Southeast Asia or New York, tend to push to the front of any line rather than neatly lining up to wait their turn. Where they come from, if you wait, your turn will never come.
A New Yorker friend, Peter, recalled his experience in London, where people were confusedly dithering about while lining up to get on a bus. He purposefully strode to the front of the throng, got on the bus and, when he heard grumbling behind him, turned around and proclaimed, “I’m an American.” Somehow, that seemed to settle the matter—the “ugly American” concept of “loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior” is, unfortunately, well-known and accepted throughout Europe.
One of my pet peeves is people who talk in movies. There are unwritten rules about how to shush someone. It starts with the quick turn-around to locate who is talking, which should alert them we overheard them. Next is the longer turn-around, with a glare and a quick but audible “Shh!” When that doesn’t work, some turn and hiss, “Be quiet!” Others just give up and suffer through to the end.
The worst incident I’ve ever experienced came in a Palm Desert theater, when I shushed a woman sitting two seats over, who was talking in a normal tone after the movie had already begun. I followed the “rules” about shushing, including finally hissing, “Please stop talking.” I couldn’t believe it when her husband, sitting beyond her in the row, leaned across her, got into my face with a coiled fist, and said through bared teeth, “If you shush my wife again, I’m going to put my fist down your throat!”
“Well,” I loudly whispered back, with uncharacteristic nerve, “tell her to be quiet!” Needless to say, when the movie was over, I stayed in my seat for quite a while to make sure they were well gone before I left.
Why do people feel the need to share out loud every detail of what they’re watching? It’s particularly galling when, for example, at a vocal performance, people talk while the singer is singing, rather than waiting to comment during the applause that would cover their comments.
I’ve noticed that many of our neighbors don’t seem to realize that movie theaters are not their living rooms. People don’t seem to understand that the director of the movie fashioned the opening to set the mood for what will follow.
I’m really not interested that you know which prior movie that actor was in, or how much older that actress looks. As for comments like, “Why did he do that?”—we’re all there to discover that together, so please just wait and see along with the rest of us. Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?
Here’s my short list of other social rules:
- At public performances, don’t talk while the performer is performing.
- Hold the door for someone coming in right behind you.
- Teach your children the difference between “inside voice” and “outside voice,” and that it’s not OK to disturb other diners in a restaurant.
- Don’t take cuts in line.
- Say, “Excuse me,” when you pass in front of someone or step on their toes.
- Move your shopping cart to the side so others can get past you while you try to find something on the shelves.
- Let someone with only one item go ahead of you when you have a cartful.
- Return incorrect change.
- Let at least one vehicle into the lane ahead of you when the driver is obviously waiting for a break in traffic.
- Don’t leave clothes on the dressing room floor—rehang them.
Many years ago, I took “est” training. One of the mantras we learned was, “What you resist persists.” In other words, we get repeated chances to learn to incorporate into our reality things which we cannot control or change. I presume that’s why the talkers always sit near me. As long as it’s an “issue” for me, I get to keep having opportunities to learn to handle it!
My most instructive incident happened when I went to a summertime movie in Palm Springs. I was sitting with my friend at the left side of a row in a nearly empty theater. At the right end of the row behind us was an older woman with her husband. Shortly after the movie began, she started telling him everything that was happening on the screen. I tried the look, the simple “Shhh,” and then a much louder “Shhhhh!”—all to no avail. She continued her running narrative of the film through the entire performance.
When the film finally ended, I raced to the end of the row so I could confront the woman. “Ma’am, why don’t you wait for the movie to come out on tape so you can see it at home without bothering others, since your husband is obviously hard of hearing?” I said.
She smiled sweetly—and patiently—at me, and said, “Honey, my husband isn’t hard of hearing. He doesn’t see well.”
What you resist persists.