The “experiment in retaliatory manners” QUESTION

This way-too-cheerful guy walking up the street says, “Good morning!”


I was reading this review of a new book on manners when I stopped short:

“Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?” is that rare consideration of courtesy that admits you can carry the crusade too far. Take, for instance, Alford’s one-man “experiment in retaliatory manners,” a period during which he apologized elaborately to people who had failed to say they were sorry for such minor transgressions as bumping into him on the street. “I’m saying what you should be saying,” he’d then invariably have to explain to these oblivious souls. Eventually, and ruefully, he realized that “reverse apologizing is usually as rude if not ruder than the incident that inspires it.”

I recognized that, in all likelihood, I might have done this at some point in my life. Moreover, I have a very specific recollection of this happening to me, back in the mid-1990s. It is dark in the morning when I usually go to vote in the November general election near the beginning of polling hours at 6 a.m.; I like to vote early whenever possible, minimizing the calls I’d get from candidates “reminding” me.

So I’m walking down the street around 5:45 a.m. and this way-too-cheerful guy walking up the street says, “Good morning!” I, who am still waking up, respond weakly in kind. Then the guy says, “I said, ‘GOOD MORNING!'” And I found myself acknowledging that I DID say “good morning”, but that he was the very first person I had spoken to that day, which was true. His second greeting was an “experiment in retaliatory manners.”

Do you do that? (If so, please stop.) Do others do that to you?
When I read that the 29-year-old babysitter, the ex-boyfriend of the child’s mother, suffocated 21-month-old Avery Cahn “when he placed his hand over the child’s mouth…[acting] recklessly in a frustrated attempt to quiet the youngster,” I said, over and over, to the sky, “You are an idiot.” I may have said more than that. Coincidentally, I was listening to Green Day’s American Idiot at the time.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

5 thoughts on “The “experiment in retaliatory manners” QUESTION”

  1. It grates on my nerves when people don’t acknowledge a courtesy with a simple thank you. I find a pleasant “Don’t mention it,” does the trick. Followed by a look of surprise and “Oh, you didn’t”. Unfortunately, I’m too polite for my own good and this rhetorical conversation only takes place in my head!

  2. Rog, I’ll only comment on the first part of this post, as the second sickens me beyond belief.

    The one and only time I ever shout back “GOOD MORNING” at a weak response to my greeting is, believe it or not, in church. If folks are sleepy and timid in their response, I put on a big grin, raise my hands, and give it to ’em, loud and clear.

    The response is always enthusiastic; it gets the worship started with wide-awake participants! Great thoughts, Roger. Amy

  3. I’m sure I’ve only done an “experiment in retaliatory manners” in my head, which is a good thing. Actually, it’s even better that I never heard of such a thing back when I was even more self-righteous, or I may have (probably would have?) ended up with a broken nose. At any rate, New Zealanders are relaxed and easy-going about everything, including courtesies, which suits me well nowadays.

  4. In my mind, the bigger question is, what on earth are you doing awake, dressed and walking down the street at 5:45AM!!!! 😉

  5. “Early to bed,” and all that. Plus I REALLY hated those political phone calls after work.

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