I’m starting to think one of the things that’s missing in the US these days is an emphasis on manners — particularly things to do or not to do in public. In the past, books on manners were widely read, but these days, I think I’m pretty safe in assuming manners are not on people’s radars. That’s a shame.
We’ve got a huge influx of immigrants and visitors from all sorts of countries. We, as a country, should do what we can to let them know what’s expected of them while they stay here. If we don’t, we run the risk of lowering public standards for everyone, and I don’t think that’s what we want.
There are two urgent issues that ought to be addressed right away:
- Personal hygiene: in this day and age, with such easy access to water and soap, there is NO excuse for not staying clean. A shower every day ought to be the recommended standard for everyone.
- Passing gas in public: this should be a big NO-NO. You’d assume people would know not to do this in public, especially in tight spaces, like on airplanes, but they either don’t know or they don’t care.
On two recent flights, we had the misfortune of being seated next to people who smelled horribly — they had this acrid stench of stale sweat that filled your lungs and made you want to cough and run away. On both occasions, they were from under-developed countries.
I’m not saying all folks from those countries have hygiene problems. We’ve known and befriended quite a few good, decent, clean and well-mannered people from third-world countries, people who are living and working in the US and have integrated themselves nicely in US society.
Still, it seems quite a few people from under-developed countries have a hygiene problem. For whatever reason — customs, habits, etc. — they either aren’t aware that they smell, or aren’t taking steps to remedy the situation. They should be educated, because they need to know what our standards for hygiene are. Don’t think we’re offending them — we’re doing them a favor by being honest with them. Or would you rather prefer we laughed at them behind their backs and ostracized them?
Passing gas in public is a nasty habit that isn’t restricted to recent immigrants. I’ve seen this across all segments of US society, and it’s disgusting every time. Doing it in closed spaces, like on airplanes or buses or trains, makes matters worse, because the rude and filthy people who do it turn the unwitting passengers next to them into helpless victims. What can you do when there’s no place to go and the air around you is filled with the putrid stench of someone else’s bowels? You hold your breath, your eyes bulge, you hide your nose and you curse under your breath, but still, you say nothing, because you don’t want to offend, right? You’re wrong. You ought to speak up and ask whoever’s doing it to stop, because it’s offensive. Shame the shameless creep, speak up! You’re doing yourself and everyone else a favor.
Tonight, while on a flight, I did just that with a woman whose children kept passing gas behind us. They were even bragging to each other, saying “I farted!” and “I farted again!” I asked her as nicely as I could,to tell her children to stop doing it. Her reply was, “Do you have a control button?” To which I wanted to reply, “You’re the control button, lady. You’re the moral compass of your children. The education and manners you instill in them now will guide throughout their lives, so if you can’t even teach them when to fart and when not to fart, you’re not a good parent.” But she was clearly argumentative, so I simply told her that it smelled very bad, and she had no manners if she didn’t do something, then turned around and ignored her.
In spite of the unsuccessful exchange, her children stopped passing gas for the remainder of the trip, so I got the result I wanted. That’s why I want to encourage you to speak up the next time someone does that to you. Stay calm, but shame them, publicly, because public shame has always been a good reason for people to change their behavior.
Of course, the better, more mannered course of action would be for the government or for a NGO to put together a few PSAs about things one is expected to do and not to do while in public spaces in the United States. It’s high time that happened.