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Manners matter

Julia Fabian | Fulcrum Staff

“ARE YOU A man or a woman?” It was about five years ago when these exact words were spoken to me. It was during an elevator ride, which on the whole is an awkward enough activity on its own (do you stare at your shoes, that speck on the wall, or the mirror?) But this particular elevator ride was made even more horrifying when the sole other occupant—an adult, might I add—stared at me for a good five seconds before deciding it was a good time to inquire about my gender.

Her voice was not lowered; her tone was not particularly sheepish, jokey, or deferential. In fact, there was nothing in her manner that indicated she found her question inappropriate in any way. She might have been asking what floor the English department was on, or where I had bought my shoes. Maybe her nonchalant delivery was the reason I was caught so off-guard, why I couldn’t formulate into words any of the indignant retorts I wanted to throw at her. I was so shocked that all I could muster was a polite “a woman.” To which she nodded almost distractedly, as if she had either been expecting the answer or was already bored with the topic. Then she got out at her floor, and I felt stupid. I felt stupid.

Now, come on. I know I might have been going through an ugly duckling phase, complete with glasses, braces, bad skin, and a coiffure that was in recovery phase after an overzealous hairstylist rendered it out of commission. My hair was too long to be short and too short to be long, and I looked more like Ashton Kutcher than I cared to admit. But is that any grounds for rudeness? We all see individuals who we wonder about, whether it’s on the bus, passing us on the street, or in our lecture hall. People-watching is fun, and humans are a curious breed. But the fact that someone could pass for either a Joe or a Joanne does not, or at least should not, be sufficient grounds for a point-blank interrogation.

We are no longer cave-people who meet their needs by swinging heavy clubs and grunting monosyllabically. We are not golden retrievers who just cannot help but sniff the crotches of guests who come by. We are not children who say the darndest things (and even then, there’s a cut-off age). We are respectful and polite members of society who can keep our less refined thoughts and impulses to ourselves. Right? My experience in the elevator that day would seem to prove otherwise.

While my hair has grown out, dental work has vastly improved my smile, and contact lenses have allowed me to feel the wind fluttering my eyelashes for well on four years now, that day always sticks in my memory as I imagine it doesn’t in my tactless elevator mate’s. If only a wounded ego would heal in the time it takes to get to ground floor. Until humankind has evolved that far, I say to everyone: there’s such a thing as manners. Please use them.