Did anyone tell you September was officially declared National Courtesy Month? No? I didn’t get the word, either. Whoever was in charge of notification was too busy charging by to notice no one got the memo. Filling us in on the details may have fallen outside of his/her job description, so the ball was unceremoniously dropped or otherwise not returned to where it had been found, which is even more discourteous.
Who decided it was National Courtesy Month? Who knows. But the Farmer’s Almanac said it was, so who am I to question my elders on the editorial staff? That would be disrespectful. However, when I was doing my research about this matter of manners, I discovered March 21 has been designated at “National Common Courtesy Day.”
What’s the difference between courtesy and common courtesy? I wanted to ask, but again, didn’t want to seem rude. So I respectfully raised my hand and patiently waited my turn for someone to call on me. No one did. So I still don’t know the difference. My hand’s remained up because by now, I am respectfully trying to alert someone I need to use the bathroom. Hopefully, I’ll get noticed soon and won’t need a rude gesture or profanity to get someone’s attention.
In the interim, I’ll do what I usually do when I don’t know the answer: I’ll make up something. I’m guessing common courtesy is treating others the way you want to be treated. We’ll assume there are no masochists reading this. Here’s a self-test: if your frame of reference wouldn’t send the bubbles in a carpenter’s level between the two defining lines of the fluid-filled tubes, you might as well stop reading. You’re hopelessly unbalanced.
For those qualified to continue, I’ll go all Webster on you. Courtesy without the word “common” in front of it is “the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward others through good manners.” Therein lies the difference. Common courtesy is much more nebulous, “When in Rome, do as you would have the Romans do to you.” Alternatively, courtesy says, “You better not set toenail-trimmed foot in Rome unless you receive a formal invitation, RSVP by the specified date, brush up on your table manners and wear the proper attire.”
That suggests National Courtesy Month was designed to call attention to the more prescriptive, civilized behaviors the average person – who was NOT born in a barn – is expected to exhibit. Acquired during life skills class at school (back before that programming was unwisely cut from curriculums) and through social discourse (not intercourse) with others, courtesy is the set of social rules to be followed.
I’d like to think that courtesy, like charity, begins at home, amongst family members. But I would be wrong. At my house, a leprosy-ravaged, cigar-chomping, pornography-displaying, door-to-door Giraffe Chow salesman who showed up on our porch during mealtime would be treated with more dignity than would a family member. The only manners we collectively possess is all manner of rudeness.
While we’re working on better behavior, change has been glacially slow. We arrive places late, leave early, chew with our mouths open, talk while chewing, complain, name call, curse, interrupt others who are talking, and gossip.
My children refuse to take turns, borrow without permission and don’t return things. They randomly discard shoes and clothing, leave crumbs and dirty dishes around the house, and clean only at gunpoint. Horrible roommate behavior! I predict that during their first week of college, they will be invited to a late night, roommate-hosted, personal “blanket party” for which an RSVP will not be required. And frankly, I would fare far better with a heartless public than at the hands of my children.
Publicly, National Courtesy Month ended on a low note for me. I went into a stall in a women’s public restroom and realized, too late, there was no toilet paper. Seeing someone’s feet in the next stall, I politely knocked on the divider and asked, “Excuse me, I seem to be out of toilet paper over here. Could I please borrow some?”
“No,” came the reply. And so ended my National Courtesy Month: in the toilet, with my pants down.