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Proper Burnettiquette

Afternoon folks. Hope you all had a good weekend. Mine was excellent, but I won't bore you with the details, except to say that Mrs. B and I are one step closer to our new canine companion.

Instead, let me bounce a scenario off of you. Actually, it's one of my major pet peeves - the assumption by one person that his time is more valuable than the person next to him. That's very poor Burnettiquette.

So earlier I ran down to the cafeteria here at 1 Herald Plaza to grab a coffee with a colleague. We were in a hurry, because we had to get back upstairs for a meeting with bosses. We got our coffee, we stood on line, and we finally made it to the register. Just as my colleague, who stood in front of me, extended his hand toward the cashier, so he could pay and bounce, a woman neither of us knew darted in front of him, scrunched up her face and shoulders in that I'm-sure-you-understand-and-approve-of-me-doing-this look, that look that feigns apology and at the same time seeks empathy, hurriedly told the cashier "I'm in a hurry - just have coffee," thrust a buck and a quarter at the cashier and then darted off. The whole transaction really did take less than 30 seconds. But that meant my colleague had to wait 30 seconds longer to make his transaction and leave, as did I, and the woman behind me. We were in a hurry too. But the interloper with the scrunched up face wouldn't have known that 'cause in her bubble, our time was apparently not as important as hers.

I could ask something like "where do people get off?" But even approaching the topic that way is a cop-out. It's deeper than that. Sure, it was rude. But it's deeper than that. I think the face-scruncher's action spoke to an ever present attitude, a lifestyle, in which some folks have grown completely accustomed to getting their way - in all things small and big - when they want their way, without consideration for the people who represent hurdles to them.

A couple of years ago, in a column for another newspaper, I asked Dr. P.M. Forni about this phenomenon. Forni, is an expert on how humans treat one another, and author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct (St. Martin's Press 2002).

Here are a couple of excerpts from what Forni told me back then:

  • "Civility comes from the Latin 'civitas,' meaning city...The ancient world believed that living in the city had a civilizing effect, because you learned to be with others and you refined your taste.
  • "According to the origin of the word, then, you are civil when you are a good citizen and a good neighbor. We are civil when we believe that other people's claim to contentment and happiness is as valid as our own."

Forni also told me then that inconsiderate people could be fixed. I'm starting to doubt it, once they reach adulthood.

What do you think?


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I would have made a scene.

When she said, "I'm in a hurry" and proffered her money I would have said, "So are we b-tch, get your ass to the back of the line."

I would have also berated the cashier for taking the money and not pointing her to the back of the line.

I believe Forni was correct. Inconsiderate people can be fixed, but it takes the social repudiation of their actions for the correction to occur.

James B.

WavemanCali, I like your approach. But with my luck the woman would have turned out to be one of the senior VPs at the paper, or something.


Well James I heard through the grapevine that your employer just downsized so I imagine there is alot of stress running through the rank and file. I would just "chalk" this up to stress in the newspaper world. Heads are being chopped off at an alarming rate in your chosen field and the McClatchy group has swung a mighty big axe.
ps Im glad your talented head has been spared.

James B.

Mark, you're too generous. But for your sake, maybe I'll give her the benefit of the doubt...unless, as I speculated, it turns out she was a big boss. Then I welcome her to step on my toes any time, after which I'll always smile and say "Thank you ma'am. May I have another?"

As for the downsizing across McClatchy recently, you're correct. It was a pretty big chop. I salute my colleagues who chose to go and those who had to go. Thanks for the vote of confidence. And I'm grateful that for now I can still do what I do best: write.


"Forni also told me then that inconsiderate people could be fixed. I'm starting to doubt it, once they reach adulthood."

Actually, it used to be possible to fix them, until lawyers got in and mucked up things. When I was growing up, if someone was rude, they got smacked upside the head, which tended to make them remember their manners the next time. These days anyone attempting to teach someone manners would be arrested for assault.
Some of these people had parents who didn't believe in spanking rude children, so they grew up to be rude adults.
Just my opinion.


I suspect that not much has changed over time, the difference is that we didn't have anyone to write about it before. Well done!

The Sarcasticynic

I had this very thing happen to me at an airport over twenty years ago. Guy comes flying up to the front of the line to buy his coffee. Had a look on his face as if, "Hey, I've got a plane to catch." What were WE doing, getting a haircut?!?


I'da tripped her. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.


OH, that is seriously one of my pet peeves. Now had she been behind me and I was buying lots of stuff and she only had a coffee, I might have just said to ring her up first.
But to just step in front of people and expect it..... arrrrgggghhhhhh. I'd have probably said something snarky.
The other thing that makes.me.eyeball.popping.crazy is when you're in a long line and a cashier opens another line and THE LAST PERSON IN THE LINE GOES RUNNING FOR IT TO BE FIRST!!! Now if the cashier says, 'I'll take the next customer' and pays attention to that crap and stops the ignorance in it's tracks, that's great. But alot of times they do not and then it's a free-for-all of bad behavior.


What do I think? I think people aren't so "civil" any more. I run into women (and men) like that on a daily basis; there's no excuse for it, and no explanation beyond sheer self-absorption, a phenomenon that appears to be taking our culture by storm.

We're all in a hurry and if this woman was facing an emergency situation — perhaps the only time such rudeness might be excusable — she wouldn't have stopped for a coffee in the first place.


I don't think uncivil people can be corrected. I think they either (i) grow up that way or (ii) have that type of personality.

You can call someone out for one particular instance, but that won't stop them from doing the same thing again, at a later date, because let's face it, most people won't say anything at the time. They'll just complain about it after the fact. Waveman may say he'd have said, "fill in the blank" but really, he'd have just bitched about it afterward, like we all do.

I think it's because the majority of people DON'T behave that way, and when someone does, we get our payback by knowing "we'd" never behave so boorishly.


The social sphere is a world of constant give and take and we're often punishing one another for transgressions even to our own detriment, enforcing normative behavior.

It's a shame that so many individuals choose to mistreat you in particular, however.


My take on this issue is simple. I'll tell you the same thing I explain to my daughter. In this world, a few people do the right thing and that makes them special people. Unfortunately the majority of the people will do whatever they are able to get away with. They usually do it until someone or something stops them.

Aislinge Kellogg

I have to agree that this woman clearly does not respect others and their time. I have the same problem with doctors. There are too many doctors who very obviously feel that us little non-medical people do not have the same value to time that they do.

I am at the bottom of the medical food chain, but guess what - when a patient needs me, I have to be there within minutes! That's right. But when I make a 10:00am appointment and it is creeping up on 11:00am fast and I have not made it to the nurse, well, that is okay. How so? Because I am a volunteer EMT and a Human Resources Manager, my time is less important than theirs? I can save lives, too. But you don't see me strolling in an hour later with the jump kit, saying, "Gosh, I'm sorry, were you waiting long?"

The patient may well be dead by then.

So time - our time, no matter how we use it - is important to us. And if you can't respect anyone else's time, make your coffee at home or pick a line of work where you are not dealing with the public.


Regarding the 'civilising' effect of living in cities. Not since they became so big it was possible to be anonymous in them.

With anonymity comes all kinds of bad behaviour we/others wouldn't dare in a smaller community where they were known by most!

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