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October 18, 2004 - 9:12 am


Could you give or do something without asking or expecting anything in return?

Not many people could (more than a few times, anyway) because the laws of human nature deem this unfair and dictate an equitable exchange of social commodity (not to mention the quid pro quo of capitalism).

As a way of addressing this, the Japanese have a custom that says you shouldnít do too much for people in times of grief or joy (such as bringing food, flowers, cards) because it puts too great a burden on the recipient to respond with gratitude during a difficult or very personal time. I think this is a great custom and one which we should adopt in our easily offended society.

For example, as a rule, I donít write thank-you notes for the gifts my kids receive at their birthday parties (yes, I realize this is neither a difficult nor a very personal time, but itís my story, so shut up). Iím surprised how many people do this for their children regularly, and thatís fine if they want to. I just donít think itís my responsibility. My kids say ďthank youĒ when they open the gift; and when theyíre old enough, they will write their own notes if they so choose, and I certainly hope they do. For my part, I throw a good party, which I think is a pretty even exchange for the gifts Ė no thank-you notes necessary. Any parent who finds this rude has too much time on her hands and needs to get a life. Itís a kidís birthday party, not a State Dinner, and I told you gifts were optional.

Okay, better example: I was eating lunch at a Mickís restaurant recently (out of curiosity, not high expectations) in our fair city of Decatur. As I was finishing my sub par grilled chicken sandwich, I noticed a huge spot of green mold on the bottom bun, out of which I had obviously taken more than one bite. Now, as grossed out as I was, I knew it was not the end of the world, and I quietly pointed it out to our waiter and asked him to take the sandwich away and off my bill. Sincere apology accepted. End of story? Not by a long shot. He took the plate and then shortly returned. I was accosted with more apologies, offers of free dessert, even a sandwich to go.

No thank you. Thatís okay.

When I saw the manager approaching I wanted to duck under the table because by this time people were beginning to wonder what the buzz at our table was all about. She assured me that none of the other bread was like that, and followed with more apologies, explanations, offers of stock options, oral sex, etc., etc. For godís sake, enough already! If I had to reassure them with, ďThatís alright. No big deal. It happens sometimes,Ē one more time I was going to scream!

It wasnít over yet, though. Oh no. The waiter made TWO more trips out JUST TO APOLOGIZE again, and then REITERATED the apology when we paid our check. Christ-Almighty-On-A-Pogo-Stick-and-Give-Me-A-Fucking-Break-Already! You didnít serve me arsenic! It was a little mold! Iím not suing, okay? Get off my back!

Erik suggested that next time I should raise my fist and demand, loudly and in no uncertain terms, ďto see the Mexican immigrant dishwasher immediately! I donít care if he doesnít have anything to do with food preparation! I demand an apology from him at once! In Japanese, Czech, and Farsi, damn it!Ē And you know what? I think he's on to something. I really think theyíd appreciate that reaction more, as though if I were a pain in the ass about the whole thing their efforts at apology would not be wasted or something.

Donít get me wrong. Iím all for etiquette and general good manners, but there is such a thing as rudeness by way of over apology and exaggerated politeness, or by unrealistic expectations of reciprocated niceties. And that idea, I guess, is what constitutes the delicate balance Iíve attempted to strike between being completely Southern and having some sense.


reading -The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
viewing - Big Fish
listening -"Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen

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