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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, July 28, 2006

It's all in how you see it

A reader, who emailed me off the blog and asked not to be identified, said that he (or she?) was confused about my definition(s) of courtesy. The reader said my use of the word from time to time was fuzzy. And the reader thought I might sometimes use the word in a "stuffy" context.

Of course, I disagree, but I figure I owe something deeper than "it means being nice," 'cause there really is more to it than that.

So how about a description, rather than a definition.

Earlier in the week I was ranting about nutballs on the Metro Mover, downtown Miami's free elevated trolley. So here's one more public transpo story for you. Hopefully it'll answer the reader's question.

While riding the M&M to another station where I was going to connect with another train two people boarded one stop after I got on the trolley: a young man, and a young woman. A quick once over told me both they were likely college students at the nearby Miami-Dade College. Both wore backpacks. Both carried notebooks and textbooks, and she had an art portfolio under one arm. Later they proved me right, getting off the trolley adjacent to the campus.

Right after they boarded the trolley though, they both whipped out headphones to music players and popped 'em into their ears.

Here's where the similarities diverge: I couldn't tell what she was listening to, and unless the other folks on board were part bat, I doubt they could either. She had the volume set to where only she could hear her music. She gently bobbed her head and mouthed the words to her tunes.

He, on the other hand, made sure everyone knew what he was listening to - not 'cause the volume was so bad, but because he shouted the lyrics defiantly, staring down anyone else who dared glance curiously at him. It was almost with glee that he went on and on about "bitches" and "hos" and shoot this and kill that.

Dear anonymous-by-request reader, I hope this story did it for you. But just in case, she was courteous. He was not.


  • Coureous? Your anonymous emailer is obviously from Miami. I would tell your anonymous emailer that if he/she wanted a defintion of what courteous, that perhaps she should go north of Miami. And rather than explaining courteous. He/she would "feel" what courteous is defined as. It is not what courteous is defined as. Rather, it is a feeling a climate. Here in Miami for example i can immediately distinguish who is from Miami, and who is from up north. How? Easy. The people from up north are the ones that will look you in your eyes and say hello. The people from Miami, will quickly avert his/her eyes in an attempt not to say hello.

    By Anonymous john longfellow aka lou dobbs, at 12:19 PM  

  • Good catch on the spelling error Mr. Longfellow/Dobbs.

    I just corrected it.

    As for the differences, I won't paint every native Miamian with a broad brush, 'cause I typically despise broad generalizations, but my wife and I were joking the other day about how often "coincidentally" when we meet a nice, friendly-without-coaxing, cheery (but not goofy) couple, they happen to be from somewher up north.

    That's not to say we haven't met a ton of friendly folks who are from here. But it is a funny coincidence about the others.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:09 PM  

  • James,

    I'm a young Canadian who does have a slight beef with etiquette these days -- though I must say, as someone who is older, you don't have to suffer through the strangeness (or rudeness) of the kids my age! (At least not to the same degree)

    It's very strange that I managed to stumble across your blog because just a few days ago I wrote a post addressing some of my concerns. You'll be able to read it in the June 25th entry.

    Hopefully, I'll try and pop by often and see if there's something worth linking and commenting to in the future.

    By Anonymous Phil, at 1:15 PM  

  • Phil, thanks for stopping by, and do come back often. I read your post on guys of your generation and how they treat women. Good stuff. Actually I read several more of your posts. I'm impressed.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:39 PM  

  • Have you ever noticed that the people who 'sing along' to stuff on earphones are out of tune too? Not, I suspect, that there's much of a tune in some kinds of music, but what would I know?

    What really gets me is the people who get into train carriages which are labelled as "Quiet Area", ie: mobile phone, radio & loud personal stereo free zones, & then proceed to make calls, play loudly etc.

    & as for the people who have mobile phone 'conversations' for the whole train to hear. . . It _is_ possible to talk quietly on a mobile in a noisy area. You're nearer the mike for starters!

    Meanwhile another definition for Courteous - treating other people as if they really matter to you, as much as you think you do!

    BTW - I don't think the 'won't look you in the eye' is exclusive to Miami. You try travelling on the London Underground! It's a city thing, I think. People in cities just don't want to relate to other people, there are too many of them.

    On the other hand, you travel by country bus (if you can find one) & most people will not only look you in the eye & smile, they'll also chat with you, tell you about themselves, ask about you & your family etc.

    Not saying city dwellers are less courteous, just that it's hard to relate to too many people. Even if they aren't mean mugging you!

    By Anonymous Bronchitikat, at 5:37 AM  

  • At first, one could argue that a headphoned listener is often unaware of the volume of their own singing. (It sounds all right to them, because of the volume in their ears.) But this man sounds like he's abusing already controversial lyrics, as if to say, "hey, it's out there, so you can't ride me for singing them out loud." Yes, we can.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 11:02 AM  

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