Impolite Company

Yesterday I accompanied Mr. Beale to one of his periodic social events at work, a company picnic sort of thing. Mr. Beale’s workplace is a conservative place in every respect: socially conservative, politically conservative, you name it. So at these affairs my job is to be pleasant, talk about the weather, ask after everyone’s health, kids, pets, etc. This is how people behave when they are being polite.

In all my years of attending these events I’ve only once crossed the line into confrontational territory, and that’s when someone used the “N” word with me. I made clear that I found such language offensive and to please never use that word around me again. But other than that one time, my conversation stays on the weather, the disease du jour, the grandkids. This is called manners. It’s how I was raised.

So it really struck me when one of my husband’s Teatard colleagues tried to yuk it up with someone he did not know about the wretched President Obama. The man was quite literally just walking by and the Teatard shouted his disparaging words about Obama at him in a way that indicated he thought they shared the same views. They may have, I don’t know; I just can’t imagine assuming that someone you don’t know feels the same way about politics that you do. I find that very strange.

Then, not 30 minutes later, I’m sharing a casual conversation with someone I don’t know and he starts in on the religion stuff with me. “Woman comes from man, I know that,” he says to me, almost apropos of nothing, as I had just made a joke about “belonging” to my husband by way of introduction. I’m so stunned I find myself grasping for some witty comeback and failing miserably. I stammered something like, “that might be news to your mama,” in my best Southern drawl, and the man snorts and says again, “well I absolutely know that if it weren’t for man there would be no woman, it’s in the Bible.”

I’m one of those people with what the French call l’esprit de l’escalier, “staircase wit,” meaning I usually think of the right response long after it’s too late to be useful. While I should have said something like, “that’s one interpretation of the Bible but it’s not the only one,” or “my church views that Biblical story as a metaphor,” or even just, “well, okay then!,” instead my brain files through every Amy-Jill Levine lecture I’ve ever heard explaining the origins of these creation myths and all I can think to say is, “that’s a fairy tale.”

The man looked so shocked and repulsed, I might as well have sprouted horns and a forked tail. He slowly backed away from me shaking his head, and if he could have made the sign of the cross, he would have.

Far from being embarrassed, I was pissed off. I didn’t ask for this confrontation. Since when do people spout off about religion and politics in what was once called “polite company”? When did that become okay? I guess that’s the world we live in these days, where everyone broadcasts their opinion to everyone else, manners be damned.

Yes, a political blogger just wrote that last paragraph. This isn’t cognitive dissonance, I am very aware of the irony here. But isn’t blogging different? People go to blogs to take part in a conversation, they seek it out. I don’t force my blog on anyone.

Whatever happened to “polite company,” anyway? Do people just feel the need to spout off about their political and religious views with strangers because this is what they see happening on TV and the internet? Is this the result of reality TV and opinion-oriented “news”?

Do we not account for circumstances any more?

A few weeks ago I read an interview with one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett. This quote has stuck with me:

I just feel the world is choking on disclosure. I think we could all stand a little less reality, and a little more creativity.

This from someone who in addition to writing amazing fiction has penned a heartbreaking memoir and numerous personal essays and articles. But goddamn, sometimes I feel like our entire society has just unzipped itself, spilled out its guts, and we’re all walking around in a mess of entrails.


Filed under politics, rants

24 responses to “Impolite Company

  1. i don’t mind when people talk about their opinions on these subjects. i do mind when they don’t recognize them as opinions & are shocked, _shocked_, when i don’t agree with them.

  2. efgoldman

    You should probably post this whole thing over at BJ, from where I followed your link.

  3. merciless

    Courtesy, freely given and graciously received, is the very cornerstone of civilization. BUT. It only works when it’s reciprocal. Otherwise it devolves into being nice, which devolves into being a doormat for a bully.

    Americans have never been particularly courteous, and now the art is practically gone. Its last stand is the never-ending admonishment to the little girls to be nice, be sweet, rub some dirt on it, keep smiling, over and over and over again. Meanwhile, men who never got those lessons, and women who ignore them, bully and abuse. The kids learn it from cable news, reality teevee, the dinner table, the schoolyard.

    I’m getting too old for this nonsense. While I understand your need to maintain a pleasant demeanor for the sake of Mr. Beale, you shouldn’t have to submit to idiots and blowhards.

  4. As a Catholic, I can tell you there are a small handful of fundamentalist Catholics who might well believe in the literal interpretation of scriptures, they’re few and far between. Certainly my church is long on understanding the full role of women within our own denomination, such fundamentalism, again, is not generally a Catholic trait. So it’s unlikely he might have made the sign of the cross as he is probably among those who assume I’m going straight to hell since I’m a Catholic.

    That said, I hate when people assume I’m in agreement with them when they don’t even know me. And I’m with you, I don’t ever allow someone to drop certain terms in my company and I’m not shy about saying so either.

  5. Years ago, at a birthday party for my mother, one of her brothers-in-law (a delusional reptilican fuckwit–and very Cath-O-Lick) asked me if I still lived in the Boston area. I said, “Yes.”. He then proceeded to attack Bill and Hilary, John Kerry and other dems, thinking I was a liberal democrat. I said, “Fritz, I’m not that into politics, I don’t really like to discuss it. However, the GOP is a bunch of fucking assholes.” (or very similar words). End of conversation, shocked faces all around the room. I went outside to be with my nieces and nephews and I’m thankful that no one followed me to upbraid me for my “disrepectful behavior” towards the pompous, arrogant blowhard. Fuck good manners if it means having to swallow your tongue around racist, classist, homophobic and anti-feminist assholes.

    Joe M.; I grew up Cath-O-Lick and must dispute your assertion that fundamentalism is limited to a “few”. Most of the Birchers and racists I met growing up were Cath-O-Lick.

    • john f

      I have similar situations come up at work. A dittohead/Tea Party coworker always sits at the break table ranting about the “brain dead idiots ” that vote for those damn liberal Democrats. One night I challenged him repeatedly on a political topic and finally he said “he didn’t want to get into it, right now.” I said “why you’re the one always bringing this stuff up?” He then responded, “Look, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” I told him “Of course you don’t, because you have no idea what you’re talking about!” He didn’t talk to me for a week after that.

      I too am Catholic, and I know quite a few relatives and old friends that sound like “fundies” sometimes. I wonder, we all went to Catholic schools back in the 70’s and 80’s, so where’s this thinking coming from? I also get sent those debunked e-mail chain letters from the same people. I scratch my head, you
      really don’t believe this do you?

      • Catholics haven’t cornered the market on debunked e-mails, my Jewish cousin sent me a horrible Islamophobic e-mail over the weekend. That just really capped off a whole week of suckitude and bigotry for me.

  6. If I talked like that at the company picnic my husband would lose his job. On the upside, no more company picnics ….

  7. You know what? I see more than my share of this type of behavior, living as I do in Klan stronghold. This guy wasn’t trying to be rude is my guess. Rather, he probably isn’t adept at conversation, so this is how he seeks companionship, or maybe accurately…kinship. Or, yea, he could just be an asshole.

  8. Geeno

    “l’esprit de l’escalier”
    I like E.B. White’s term “departée” better.
    He also coined “prepartée” for coming up with clever things to say in case the situation arises in the future in the same essay.

  9. Not all Catholics are racist, y’know. My family’s largely Catholic, and we don’t tolerate that kind of noise. One time, one of my siblings’ sons looked uneasy as we were all traveling through downtown Macon, GA looking for a place to spend the night. When asked what was wrong with him, he said he didn’t want to stay there because “there were too many black people”.

    The sibling in question took five smacks to the head from five very angry relatives (all “Cath-O-Lick” – such tolerant and loving liberal individuals you’ve got here, Ms. Beale; I wonder how they feel about religious terrorists?) and received an hours-long dressing-down regarding how to properly raise a child.

    So, yeah. Not all Catholics are raging bigots. Unless, of course, one truly WANTS to see them as such, in which case there is little that can be done to help the perceiver.

  10. Mack:

    I think he just assumed, as so many other commenters have pointed out, that I agreed with him, that I was a Fundiegelical who buys the literal interpretation of the Bible hook, line and sinker. I don’t know why anyone would assume someone is a Christian let alone religious … as it happens, I’m a member of a liberal PC(USA) congregation, so he was only half right.

  11. I don’t disagree with Democommie that there are certainly racist & bigoted voices within Catholic circles. And Boston & most East Coast Catholics are often their own breed of animals. I was speaking mainly to the biblical literalism, which is there among Catholics (I was shocked when a Catholic couple pulled their kids out of the Catholic school because the school taught evolution, so I know such folks are out there). I’m in the midwest, and particularly in our diocese, we’re a bit of a Jekyl & Hyde faith community. On one hand, we’ve had considerably progressive voices (Joe Bernardin was our archbishop before he went to Chicago) as well as very conservative voices (Right to Life also started here).

    That said, to Brian, did you grow up in the south or were you just visiting? I’m always impressed with the history of courage shown by some Catholic diocese in helping to end segregation, integrating Catholic schools long before public ones were. Of course, Catholics in the south knew they stood third in line behind blacks & Jews when it came to the KKK. I continue to marvel at the courage priests & nuns showed in standing against the racial bigotry of the day. Obviously though, as with any human institution, there were exceptions too.

    • I guess it’s safe to say I was raised in Tennessee for the most part, having moved here when I was 10 from the Great White Northeast. As far as Macon was concerned, however, we were just passing through on the way to Florida.

  12. Brian Paone:

    And one person being smacked by five others and berated for his child rearing is “tolerance”. Right.

    Joe M:

    I grew up in Omaha, NE which is about as mid-west as it gets–sorry Chicago, hogs and all, you ARE the eastern elites!;). The bigotry, distrust, victimhood, faux superiority and intolerance of conflicting views on GOD were constant and palpable. Within the Omaha Archdiocese there were numerous churches that were solid ethnic blocs into the late 60’s. One of the major reasons I left the RCC was the factional tribalism.

    Southern Beale:

    You are correct in saying that Cath-O-Licks have no corner on the market when it comes to religious based nuttiness. Religions, in general, excuse whatever anti-social wrongheadedness their particular brand espouses on the basis of “revealed truth”. As Napoleon is supposed to have said, “God is on the side of those with the most artillery.”.

    • I’m so, SO sorry, Mr./Ms. DemoCommie. Exactly how tolerant should I or my family be of racist noise? “OH HARF HARF HARF LOOKIT WHAT YOUR KID JUST SAID ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL”

      Go fuck yourself, kid. Or is that too intolerant for ya? 😉

  13. Good friend of mine, who is gay, is from Lincoln, NE. He couldn’t get out of there fast enough and only goes home under rare circumstances. I’ve never been there but I drove through South Dakota once and after taking pictures of Mt. Rushmore, the Corn Palace and Wall Drug Store, I felt like I’d pretty much seen enough of South Dakota.

  14. Braindead Paone:

    You are less than what Mack describes you as. You seek to school me on the “tolerance of catholics”and then tell me to get fucked because you don’t like my take on your pet religious delusion? Fuck you, fuck your GOD. Sorry, no smiley face, asshole, I mean it.

    • I tried to be nice about it. Then you acted like a spoiled little kid about it. Still are.

      You expected me to respond to that… how, exactly?

      Careful of the logic traps.


      I’m not religious. But feel free to try and take another passive-aggressive shot at me, keyboard cowboy. I’m sure it’ll make you feel better about yourself and your outlook on life as you approach its twilight. I mean, really, how old are you? Probably pretty damned old. And the seconds ticking away as you rage online aren’t getting put back on the clock, are they.

      Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

      Go on and get pissy some more. I hear the stress is good for the heart. Or not. One of the two. But in the end it’s just a bunch of whiny nerdrage, right?

      (Such wonderful company you keep, Ms. Beale. Remarkably tolerant, too. I’m deeply and sincerely appreciative of the irony this thread has produced.)

  15. Brian you’re the one who stunk up my blog with troll shit. Now both of you boys behave or I’m cutting you off. Mama’s had just about enough of this nonsense from both of you.

    • Really?

      *I’m* the one who “stunk up your blog with troll shit”.

      On an article about tolerance.

      When I see such gems as “Cath-o-Lick” bashing, “dittohead” talk, “fundie” fussing and rather pathetic attempts at blasphemy just to try and goad a person with whom one does not agree.

      Huh. I guess some people CAN be judged by the company they keep.

      It’s your blog. Do as you see fit.

  16. Dear Southern Beale:

    Please feel free to cut me loose anytime. Just make sure that Brian Peabrain goes out in the same trashcan.

    Poor, poor, Mr. Paone:

    You got ugly with Mack the other day, you talk really, really tough. I’m scared to death of you, honest, I really am. I am fainiting right now, putz.

  17. The post was not about tolerance it was about MANNERS.

    Clearly you have none. Goodbye.