City Pulse

By Lili Eros-Sarnyai

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Do you ever have those days when it feels like the whole city is against you, in a coalition of rudeness just determined to ruin your day? You know, when you’re already running late for the meeting and then that guy at the coffee shop has the audacity to cut in front of you with his self-assured “one grande semi-skimmed organic latte with an extra shot – but not too hot please.”

But how to react? A typical response would probably include a liberal amount of shouting, hand-waving and perhaps even a few expletives thrown in for good measure. After all, if the cab drivers can, why can’t an intelligent NYC Miss delve into her inner rudeness from time to time? Well, the answer is pretty simple. Yes, New York City is notorious for rudeness in all its glorious forms, but that does not give you carte-blanche to become a tourist’s cliché. So here it is: ideas on how to make those manners work, girl, work!

On the subway:

Rush hour crowding seems to bring out the worst in even the best of our cosmopolitan counterparts. Perhaps it’s the combination of the dank air, the crush of bodies, the newest It-bag that you’ve been on the waiting list for thrust mockingly into your side by that impossibly tall model-type, and that unidentifiable but distinctly unpleasant smell wafting around the carriage (cheap perfume? left-over takeaway? hygiene-challenged person?). Whatever it may be, most of us end up pushing, shoving, jostling and swearing in a way that puts an angry mob of Italian soccer fans to shame.

Far better than joining in with the general fracas, why not concentrate on smiling benevolently on anyone who resorts to rudeness, à  la Mother Theresa? Not only will you demonstrate your maturity and sophistication by refusing to respond in the expected manner, but with any luck, the offender will be so freaked out by your attitude (how dare she smile at 8:30 on a Monday morning – and on the 4 of all places!) that he/she will begin to slowly retreat, no doubt fearing a certain level of mental derangement on your part; a small price to pay for a little breathing space, n’est pas?

Sale-shopping:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an end-of-season sale is often little more than a thinly veiled excuse for a female feeding frenzy. Otherwise cultured and polite women suddenly become vultures in skinny jeans, trampling, clawing and shouting their way through the mountains of merchandise in search of that elusive size/color/style that they simply have to have.

This is a tricky scenario for any well-mannered fashionista, and the easier option of simply missing out on all the chaos – sorry, all the fun – is felt to be somehow morally reprehensible. The alternative is to arrive at the sale as early as possible (camping out the night before is optional) and go into diplomat-in-killer-heels mode. This basically requires a certain amount of restraint on your part, a willingness to negotiate in polite terms, and a pair of spiky heels if the worst comes to worst: not very diplomatic or well-mannered some might say, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

You should aim to shop as quickly as possible, avoid crowded areas, and basically grab as much clothes as you possibly can; you can always pick and choose later. If it helps, repeat a soothing mantra in your head to keep you focused and to remind you why you subjected yourself to this zoo in the first place. For example, “Marc Jacobs coat 60% off, Marc Jacobs coat 60% off.” And remember ladies: keep those pretty peepers focused straight ahead; do not let the rudeness of others intrude on your shopping karma.

When dining out:

Another forum for often unintended rudeness is dinner at that hot new restaurant. With many of us on some sort of a “diet,” a relaxed meal often ends up being anything but. From bread basket etiquette to how much wine to drink, the social dinner table can be a hostile and confusing place. You may feel slighted that the steak you recommended is merely being pushed around the plate across the table and feel like screaming “Just eat it already!” or appalled at some outrageous dietary requirements from some gaunt, 100-pound chick: “Do you have anything that’s non-dairy, fat-free, and low in carbs ” (um, water?). Or you may feel embarrassed yourself at not being able to choose the “right” option from the menu; after all, choosing a salad versus pasta can make or break you socially.

Rather than unleashing your frustration on your fellow diners by a well-timed, dramatic sweeping-off of the table-cloth (doesn’t that look like so much fun?!), try to ignore their peculiarities and concentrate on enjoying your meal. By this I mean order what you feel like, but make sure that unless you happen to be dining with the Kennedys or Bill Gates, the price is within reason. Eat slowly and with the proper etiquette, and hopefully, your good example will eventually rub off on the subconsciously rude ones in your midst. And if all else fails, there’s always the wine; just remember to pretend you thought it was water.

So ladies, manners maketh the woman it seems, even in a city as rude as our fabulous metropolis. Do not despair if all this seems impossible to implement on a daily basis: Manolo-heeled baby steps are the way forward. And for all you lovelies who still prefer the “Talk to the hand” mentality, take refuge in the words of Evelyn Waugh: “Manners are especially the need of the plain. The pretty can get away with anything.”

Originally published May 2007
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