Sunday, March 14, 2010

Common Courtesy - Not So Common

On Sundays, my husband and I go to Panera Bread while my daughter is at Sunday school. It's our cheap date, and it's nice to just spend quiet time together. Sometimes we talk about practical things like schedules and finances, other times, we have the kinds of conversations that are hard to come by once you stop being just a couple and become partners in parenthood. It's a nice part of our routine, and one we both enjoy.

I especially enjoyed our Panera morning today because it was all of those things...and because it was so different from what I experienced yesterday at another establishment.

Yesterday afternoon, I took my laptop to a local coffee shop (which shall remain nameless as it is blameless in this story) to try to get some writing done. I have gotten into the habit of leaving my house to write on Saturdays because when I'm at home, too many things (and people) distract me. Away from home, the surroundings quickly become ambiance, and all that I have to focus on is the work in front of me.

Except yesterday, some college-age patrons came in for coffee shortly after I did. I know that they were college-age because I could hear their conversation. Everyone in the room could hear their conversation, a fact which didn't seem to bother any of them in the least. If they'd been in a dormitory, or at a fraternity house, I'd have been the interloper, and I expect that their discussion of the details of their "recreational pursuits" - who was hooking up with whom and
what substances might or might not have been involved in facilitating those interactions - might have been expected, and perhaps even appropriate.

But I was not on campus. I was in a public place that serves people of all ages, including families with young children. I was grateful not to be one of those parents, grateful not to have to explain the meanings of the words the young adults in question so freely - and loudly - uttered.

When did it become acceptable for our private conversations to be broadcast as public record? Was it when we began to talk on our cell phones no matter where we were, oblivious to those around us? Was it when we began to blog, to share the minutiae of our days? Or have some of us always been so self-centered as to believe that we owe no respect or courtesy to those around us?

I must admit that my feelings yesterday were quite mixed. At first, I was annoyed. Then, I tried to remember if I'd ever been that way. Were they just young and oblivious? Worse yet, was I just old and cranky?

But as the subject matter grew less and less appropriate and the volume showed no sign of abating, annoyance returned, along with concern. These children had parents somewhere who believed that their offspring were safely ensconced on a campus, making rational and intelligent choices. Would this be my daughter someday? Was this transformation inevitable?

Eventually, as you can probably tell, annoyance won out. Well, annoyance with a side order of fear. While I certainly didn't have the right to expect complete silence and a coffee shop all to myself (although that would have been nice), I did have a right to common courtesy and conversation that didn't inspire grey hair to proliferate on behalf of these children and my own.

I am happy to report that common courtesy was, indeed, common at Panera this morning. My husband and I had a quiet conversation, and although some of the conversations around us grew loud at times, none involved subject matter that made me cringe, and none made me feel the need to run home, hug my preteen and wrap her in a sheltering cocoon.

But I know that one thing I will make sure I teach my daughter is self-respect. Because, without that, conversations like the one I was privy to yesterday are indeed inevitable. And while I can't make her respect other people, I can try to model for her the behavior I wish I'd seen
yesterday - behavior that indicates that she respects herself too much to make the same choices, as well as showing those around her that they don't need to know which choices she makes.

I know it's not that simple, but it's one way I can improve the flavor of that side order of fear.


  1. Thank you! I felt so old and crochety...but in the end, I decided that good manners never go out of style.

  2. My hubs and I often do the EXACT SAME THING while our kids are in Sunday School. I'm talking the location and everything. We love Panera after church on Sunday mornings! :o) Great topic as well.