Look Me in the Eye

I have been meaning to write about this for months. It is well that I forgot because I have had new experiences which have led me to be even more pissed off.

I live in Portland near Lewis and Clark College. A small liberal arts school that is charging students $39,970 per year in tuition so they can graduate with a really useful degree in art history, Hispanic women writers, or the sociology and economic traditions of the Dobe !Kung. I know because I went to one of those schools and I have studied the above and now I’m a receptionist. But that is not what pisses me off, that’s a choice you make and if you don’t like the debt and lack of jobs, don’t Occupy anything, learn a trade and shut it.

So I live near L&C, I walk my dog around the campus and the adjacent roads quite often. During the course of these walks, we encounter L&C students. I would venture to guess that about 90 percent of the college students we pass do NOT make eye contact with me. Two people walk past each other on a college path and you don’t even acknowledge the other person?! I know this because I look right at them once we are within 6 feet of each other. They have their stupid ear things in and either look straight ahead or at the dog. That’s just rude.

I wonder how many of these asshats would look me in the eye and say, Good Morning!

I have taught four French classes at juvie. I was early for class on July 6 and waited in the entry area of the administration building where classes are held. There is another French class before mine but I can’t make it down from Portland in time for that one. I was sitting waiting and a Youth came out of the bathroom, looked right at me, smiled and said, “hello”. When their class was dismissed, the half dozen Youth walked past me to return to their quarters. Each one looked at me and if not smiling, they were at least curious as to who I was. They all looked at me and they all greeted me. Every freaking one of them.

I bet those guys would look me in the eye but not stare because that’s not allowed.

This past week was the Bastille Day party for my French class and I will write more on the fun and irony of that later when I get the photos cleared. For now, I am simply comparing two groups of people, same age group, living in starkly contrasting circumstances; one group has worked hard to get into a good school and are studying to be lawyers and bankers and executive directors or whiners, I don’t know. The other group is working hard to get out of the mess they have gotten themselves into. Only one group (according to my very personal and non-scientific research) is polite enough to Look Me in the Eye and freaking say Hello!!!

My father was a hardass about handshaking, eye contact and introducing ourselves to my parents’ friends. I taught my children the same things. Do people not instill the value of a firm handshake, eye contact, manners, etiquette any more???

Maybe my inmates could teach a class in interpersonal communication at Lewis and Clark, I bet the pay is pretty good.

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29 thoughts on “Look Me in the Eye

  1. I think it boils down to, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Juvie students are working harder at life, even the small things, to gain back what we all take for granted.

    • Maggie O'C says:

      You’re right. But I remember my college days when I was grateful everyday for where I was. I think we have a generation of children now in their early 20s who were given a medal just for showing up and as Brigitte noted, interact on phone screens. Grrrr….

  2. Brigitte says:

    Maggie, I so know what you mean! I come from a small town and I grew up with people saying hello to one another, making eye contact, giving a nice, “How are you?” You know — human interaction. I went to a hairdresser here once and I was going on about how I say hi to this person and that person and normally they respond. She said, “Why would you do that? I don’t want to know my neighbors and I don’t want to talk to anyone…why would I want to know anything about their lives?”

    Not sure what the deal is — maybe those college-types you refer to have way more time to social-media-lize that just socialize.

    Social etiquette does matter. Maybe we should start an online class about it. (irony, in case you didn’t catch it.) :). Great post.

    • Maggie O'C says:

      I think NYC is different, although my sister’s neighborhood was very friendly.
      I think on online class of the evils of social networking would be very popular!!! 🙂

  3. Cheryl Hansen says:

    I attended a wedding rehearsal dinner this weekend, sat with the parents of the groom at their table and not ONE member of the wedding party of 20somethings managed to saunter over to the table during the course of the evening to acknowledge or thank the people paying for their lavish dinner. At the wedding dinner after the ceremony, same thing. Let’s talk about self-absorbed. Geesh. I was appalled.

  4. There is nothing worse than a limp handshake. Seriously.

  5. I’m very guilty of this myself. When I was in college I rarely made eye contact with anyone, and I don’t really do it now, either. To me it seems very odd to *make* eye contact with someone on the street, to be honest. Not because I’m being rude, but because it’s just not done here.

    Although to be fair, if I’m walking towards someone walking a dog, I always make eye contact with the dog.

  6. unfetteredbs says:

    damn New Yorkers always getting a free pass 🙂 Just kidding M. Weebles but your NYC kind infiltrate my town on the weekends and I’m just saying I’m with Maggie on this one. I am painfully shy and I still will blush and muster a hello

  7. La La says:

    I went to Catholic girls school where we learned manners (or else!). However, I don’t look strangers in the eye as we pass because I don’t want to be followed.

    Otherwise, manners are important to me, too, and I feel ya.

    • Maggie O'C says:

      I hear you but this isn’t like NYU or Univ. of Maryland, it’s a small town sort of setting. I don’t worry about this when I’m in downtown Portland.

  8. clownonfire says:

    Maggie,
    My wife is from Ontario. One of the things she noticed when she first arrived in Montreal is how us “Frenchies” lack manners. And it wouldn’t be the first time I hear this. I’m not saying ALL French speaking dudes and dudettes are ill-mannered, especially this magnificent clown… But.
    Le Clown

    • Maggie O'C says:

      Oui M. Le Clown, I don’t think anyone has ever accused the French of being overly polite (sauf pour toi!) Though we do appreciate your honesty.

      Where in Ontario? My dad was from Belleville.

  9. Margarita says:

    I still remember my dad telling me to shake the man’s hand when I was 18! In any event, I live in Harlem, and I make eye contact and talk to everyone, law-abiding citizens and drug-dealers alike. And I take pride in saying that by doing so, I’ve changed the attitude of a lot of my neighbors who wouldn’t give me the time of day a couple of years ago, and now ask how the family is doing! 🙂

  10. Andrew says:

    Okay no eye contact is definitely rude. But have you been walking around with your ninja sword on your back again?

  11. acflory says:

    This post really caught my interest because the other day when I was out shopping I was surprised by how often I did make eye contact with people. To be honest I tend to be so wrapped up in my own little world that I let strangers slide past my retina, so to speak. Except when something happens. Like when you accidentally bump into someone and stop, quick glance, quick smile, a mutter ‘oh sorry’ and then you’re off again.

    Maybe the boys at Juvie are aware of you because you are one of their privileges? A link to the outside world. Maybe even a link to a life that just doesn’t seem possible at the moment?

    Whatever the reason I’m glad that they do make eye contact and say hello.
    Next time I go shopping I may give it a go myself. 🙂

  12. Addie says:

    Proves my point that having money doesn’t mean you have manners.

  13. jules1707 says:

    A couple of weeks ago my partner and I took our kids with us to a family wedding for the weekend. Upon our return we were bombarded with compliments about how well behaved, polite and respectful our children are. I am proud of my kids but I can honestly say I didn’t do anything special with them…we have just taught them to respect their elders to always have good manners etc. These things are just not taught to kids nowdays 😦

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