My (and PT's) good friend, advice columnist Amy Alkon, wrote the landmark "I See Rude People," about which reviewer Ed Morrissey said: "Amy Alkon's I See Rude People seemed like a fun diversion - and it's definitely fun, but it most definitely has something serious to say about modern living and the price people have to pay to ensure that the world does not treat them like doormats."
I disagree slightly. I don't think you can protect yourself from rude people -- I think society has given itself over to them.
My 23-year-old daughter -- with whom I often dine -- has (almost) given up shushing me for telling people at the next table not to yell into their cell phones ("You know, everyone in the restaurant can hear you").
But let's leave restaurants aside. What about libraries?
After Hurricane Irene, the power went out in my condo for over a day. So I biked over to the library in the next town (which happens to be closer to me) to write. I sat at a wonderfully equipped table (each four-seated table had four electrical outlets to power computers) with wonderful green views of this wealthy, leafy suburb out the windows.
I was enjoying the setting, thinking maybe I ought to come here to write regularly, when the first cell phone rang to one side of me. As the man kept talking, I finally said, "Would you consider going outside to talk?"
It turns out I got to use that line two more times, the last of which the guy turned on me and said, "Do you mind -- the electricity's out in my home. This is an emergency." Then he turned to his table mates (he was at the table right behind me) and sneered, "Can you believe this guy?"
True, no one joined in in condemning me. But not one other person objected to anyone answering -- and continuing to talk on -- their cell phones there.
This time, I got up and left myself. On the way out, I asked the librarian if speaking on cell phones was permitted in the library. She said, "Of course not. We tell everyone it isn't." When I said, "There's a guy over there who hasn't got the message," of course she ignored my gesture -- a librarian's not going to get into a fight with a patron at the Summit, New Jersey library.
As I left, I reckoned I was the one out of touch with social standards, like my daughter always says. After all, I was the one leaving, the phone-caller who lashed out at me went unpunished, and no one else objected to his behavior.
I guess now I'm wondering why they don't simply put up signs, "Speaking on cell phones permitted. Those who object -- forget it."
P.S. Do read Amy's book, in which she makes a variety of recommendations for correcting individuals' -- and society's -- rudenesses.