Fresh New Ideas for Civilized Behavior!

Well, I hope I’ve made it perfectly clear that I love New York and we’re having the time of our lives here.  But don’t go patting yourselves on the backs, New Yorkers.  The fact is, this city’s behavior could use a little polishing — especially in the venues where I tend to hang out: Theaters and restaurants.  Let me count the ways.

1) Who knew there were so many knuckles in the world and people who like to crack them?  This is fine, I guess, if you’re an adolescent boy fishing on the Mississippi.  But you — the guy exploding his knuckles as loudly as a master percussionist in the middle of some of the magical silences in Our Town — you were no adolescent and we weren’t on a big river raft.  You were old enough to know better.  Are you wondering why your romantic life is so dismal?  Well, your noisy little habit might be the reason.  Just a thought.

2) I hate to be rude, but I did not come to The Glass Menagerie to hear your words — you, the woman who sat right behind me and possessed the mellifluous voice of a foghorn.  I came to hear Tennessee Williams’ words.  Even when you quoted Williams — a few seconds before an actor delivered the same lines — you should have been beaten severely.  Either that or poked with a cattle prod.  You’ll get no kindness from strangers when you’re ruining their theater experience.

3) Intermissions are when you should unwrap your noisy packages of candy, not during the most significant passages of a play.

4) A standing ovation is a lovely tribute that should be rare.  Not every performance deserves one.  Aren’t New York audiences supposed to be tougher than the current another-night, another-standing-o routine?  And no, those aren’t all tourists who are leaping to their feet like it was an aerobics class.

5) I also don’t know why the younger generation is getting such a bad rap when so many of the cultural loudmouths are as old or older than I am.  “What did she just say?” the elderly husband asks the wife, who then has to repeat it twice, in louder tones.  You want to follow the plot, I know.  But you know what?  So do I.

6) My husband and I ate lunch at one of those haute-cuisine joints on our anniversary — La Grenouille, to be precise.  I loved the restaurant’s admonition that: Out of consideration for your fellow diners we ask you to refrain from using cell phones or other devices, and that children under 12 be left in the care of a loving babysitter. Mais, oui!

7) I said it before, I’ll say it again.  If you’re coughing up a lung every five minutes, you should probably be in a hospital and not sitting and wheezing and dripping all over me.

8) I realize that I am sounding cranky.  I really hate that.  I’m usually kind of cheerful and laissez-faire.  I realize that, too, maybe I was just in a bad mood and wasn’t sensitive enough to your need to talk, rattle papers, gurgle and sneeze, and haul your loud, unsightly children to inappropriate venues.  Maybe so.

But why don’t we just try it my way, for a change?  I think the rest of the audience would probably back me up on it.  And then we wouldn’t have to resort to audience tasers.  We could all just, you know, get along and enjoy the show.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about how learning can be harmful to your self-esteem

13 comments… add one
  • Sigh. A world sorely lacking in civility…all good examples. It’s everywhere, I’m convinced.

  • Gungadun Link

    It just ain’t right to pay good money to have what you paid for get all ruint by trailer park wannabes.  And I ain’t gonna do it no more.

  • I think the Drafthouse has the right idea as they remind the audience before the show starts: “Don’t talk during the movie or we’ll take your ass out.” This applies everywhere…and to all noises.

  • Preaching to the choir here. Same goes for movies. Not sure why people just can’t be polite.
    There was a recent kerfuffle along this vein in our local Auckland paper. Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin was in town speaking and evidently someone let their squalling child ruin it for other people until someone shouted them out of the room. There was much back and forth about the event in a write-in section of the paper. Was the baby REALLY loud (mum says no), was the shouter out of line (most people said no). Remember mums of small children, “not very loud” to you may be rude, loud and annoying for anyone not currently immersed in the constant din of young child rearing.

  • At the last performance I attended on Broadway, I noticed that much of the crowd did not seem to be New Yorkers. Could we blame the bad behavior on tourists, maybe? That might be too easy–maybe New Yorkers are just getting too used to going to the theatre…I hope the next performance you attend goes better.

  • Winston Link

    I believe civilized behavior is the new oxymoron of the day.

  • I so agree!  We are fortunate, here in Wellfleet, to have relatively civilized theater-goers, which solves the problem.  What’s more, our local theater, (WHAT) has started showing foreign films in the off-season ….

  • Amen, Ruth! I once went a theater where they reminded people to unwrap candy before the performing during their pre-show cell phone speech. People laughed, but it’s so an important reminder!

  • I’m leaping to my feet, like an aerobics fanatic, and yelling “Encore” to this post! With knobs on …

  • You nailed it! This was so funny to read – but to experience the same in real life = no fun whatsoever!

  • Thanks for the reminder, Ms. Manners. I’m with you, these impolite intrusions really bug me in public life, though I’m probably guilty of a few of them at one time or another myself!

  • Bravo and so true. There’s nothing more annoying than an annoying person in the audience.

  • Well, I reckon you are going to have to stop all lists at 7 or else tackle your HTML demon.  Because I just cannot take seriously crankiness from an emoticon in sunglasses.  🙂

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