Monday, February 06, 2006

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Well, here we are, on board the Norwegian Majesty cruise ship, heading for somewhere warm. I think Grand Cayman Island will be our first stop, but I don’t really care. I’m relaxed and as happy as can be. I have to be. The cruise line and its employees do everything they can to make sure that I have everything I want, and then some. And then there is that visual commandment, displayed both at the top of this post and at the bow of the ship, that leaves no doubt whatsoever. Smile. Be happy.

OK, I’ll be happy. I will be happy throughout the voyage. I promise.

It isn’t written anywhere that being happy precludes being observant, does it? I don’t think so. So, I will make some observances.

Have you ever wondered about stereotypes and how they arise? The politically correct point of view is that stereotypes are evil and that it is wrong to prejudge people by any prevailing stereotypes about them. I usually agree with that, at least to a point. I believe that no individual should be prejudged according to some stereotype. But that doesn’t mean that stereotypes are universally wrong. Stereotypes usually arise out of a number of observances, made by many individuals, over an extended period of time. The observances are then passed on, person to person, sometimes generation to generation, and at some point everyone just ‘knows’ certain things about a group of people, based simply on the stereotype. Sometimes, stereotypes arise out of propaganda, whereby one group uses manufactured or exaggerated characteristics to denigrate another. That, however, is not the type of stereotype I am addressing here.

For example, it has been proven to me, beyond any reasonable doubt, simply by my own observations in fewer than twenty-four hours onboard this cruise ship, that the stereotype of the boorish, ill-mannered American is dead-on, absolutely accurate, irrefutable. How can I make such a sweeping generalization? Well, for example, I have found that Americans walking in groups tend to take up all the available space in a hallway. Anyone coming the other way has to squeeze up against the wall or get jostled or trampled. And, Americans get up from their tables without looking to see if anyone is coming, thereby forcing those people to bump into tables or chairs to avoid a collision. Also, Americans butt into lines, and then react in shock when their transgression is pointed out to them. There are, of course, exceptions. Not everyone fits any particular stereotype. Still...

I have noticed these things because I am observant. I am a people watcher. I can tell good manners from bad. I am a stickler for good manners, for considerate behaviour, for kindness, and for truth. Especially, the truth.

Okay, Okay... I have a confession to make. I haven’t told the whole truth.

My observations of rude and unacceptable have been made over a lifetime, not just in a few hours on this cruise. I have observed tens of thousands of individuals, in thousands of situations, in numerous countries. I believe that many Americans do fit the stereotype: loud, brash, uncouth, ill-mannered, inconsiderate and often unkempt. Sorry, folks, it’s a fact.

But. There is always that ‘but’ with me. Any observations I have been able to make about Americans are equally true about the French, the English, the Germans and many other nationalities, including (get ready, folks) us Canadians. I know that Canadians, like many other groups around the world, like to look down our noses at Americans, but the fact of the matter is that we are no better. Sure, after a group of Canadians has transgressed in any one of numerous ways, one of the group might utter a “sorry” by way of an apology. The French, the Germans, and the Americans are not as likely to do that.

So, the stereotype about the boorish Americans may be true, as far as it goes, but it is also true of nearly everyone else on the globe. We all getting ruder, more inconsiderate, year after year. Why not, after all? There is no penalty for being rude. It is simply a fact of life and we all deal with it. It gets worse every year.

I don’t like it. I wish the trend would stop. Soon.

So, my American friends, this post is what might be called a left-handed compliment. Sure, your behaviour leaves much to be desired, sometimes. But so does that of nearly everyone else on our globe.

Whoever you are, from wherever you hail, whatever your age, whether you are male or female, when next you bump into me while rising from your table or while passing me in the hall, please make damn sure you don’t make me spill my rum punch.

Happy cruising.

1 comment:

  1. Well Sieg,
    Now you know what happens when Johnny-Reb goes on vacation!