I work in a classy Manhattan office building with lots of elevators, security guards and important people … except for myself.
Several years ago when I migrated here from the newsroom, which was an environment that suspiciously resembled Animal House, I knew I had to become cultured very quickly or risk becoming a jobless statistic. So I read Emily Post and Miss Manners, along with a few websites on etiquette, and figured I was fit to be a part of the civilized corporate world where you’re not supposed to cut your fingernails at your desk, or even your toenails, for that matter.
Nevertheless, I still engage in my old habits and have a fingernail clipper in my drawer along with floss that I occasionally use during client meetings, but only when food is served. My desktop is cluttered with candy wrappers, chips and other assorted foodstuffs, some of it healthful but most of it junk.
I’ve made progress in some areas, however. For example, over the past five years, I’ve observed corporate protocol and when I’m standing in a crowd of people waiting for the elevator, I always let the ladies on first when the doors open.
Once they’re on board, the rest of us guys push and shove to squeeze inside, just like in the junior high cafeteria where we would break one another’s arms, legs and fingers and then stomp on our classmates’ faces as we fought for the last dish of cherry Jell-O with whipped cream.
Then, when it’s time to get off, we gentlemen stand aside and let the ladies egress. It’s like a scene out of Pride and Prejudice. Civility is so important to us that pretty soon we’ll be speaking with British accents.
But I should confess that I acted like this even before I went to work in a stately building with cultured Manhattanites, because my mother, God rest her soul, drilled it into me as a boy. There were many rules a young man in Pine Rock Park had to follow.
I was told to hold the door for ladies, to walk on the outside of the sidewalk so my woman companion wouldn’t get splashed by water from passing cars, to never hit a lady in the head with a snowball and to give them my seat on the train, bus or stagecoach. Now, however, I do that only if they’re old enough to apply for Social Security.
In my younger days, I gave my seat to any and all members of the female species, but I’ve changed my operating philosophy because I figure that young women who have their eyes glued to mobile phones should stand while I rest my weary middle-aged legs.
Since coming to the Big City, I estimate that I’ve let women on the elevator ahead of me at least 5,721 times. And I estimate — I’m prone to exaggeration, but this is the God’s honest truth — that I’ve heard “thank you” eight times. That’s a bit discouraging for a guy struggling to stay courteous in one of the rudest cities in the world.
I wonder whether this is a commentary on a) my stupidity b) their stupidity or c) the fact they’re staring at their phones and don’t realize there’s a world out there.
Maybe I’m too thin-skinned. Or maybe women in their 20s and 30s were never given proper training in manners. Or maybe it’s just not cool for a Manhattan working girl to say thank you. Or maybe they’re so obsessed with acting like Kate Moss and Kim Kardashian that they think the world revolves around them. This condition is called “narcissism.”
Last week I got on the elevator and was the only guy surrounded by six women. I was standing in front of the door, and when it came time for the young ladies to get off, I didn’t move until they said, “Excuse me.” It was a great feeling.
Anyway, I’m text-messaging my four daughters to tell them that if some geezer holds the door for them, they should promptly respond with an enthusiastic, “Thank you, sir! Have a great day!”
Joe Pisani may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.