Thursday, October 30, 2008

What’s with the pleasantries?

In summer of 2007, one of my aunt and uncle visited us in New York. Over breakfast on a Saturday morning, as I gave my husband my share of samosa and thanked him for it, my uncle questioned the needless gratitude. He pointed out something pertinent. “You over use thanks.” He wasn’t far from the truth. If I was the one giving away my share, what was I being thankful for? It’s not that my husband expected a “thanks” from me. Did I just say it without thinking because politeness is pointlessly engrained in me (and most of us desis)? End of the day, we are all creatures of habit.

The philosopher in me took my uncle’s comment to another level of introspection and interrogation. I started analyzing our desi “verbal exchanges” under a microscope.

So, I was in India two weeks ago. Okay, I truly believe that Asian hospitality and services are probably the best in the world. In an airplane, the food, the service, the crew is truly there to serve you. Even in economy class, you are treated like borderline royalty. But, there is that problem of unrequited social graciousness—passengers don’t always listen to the flight crew’s directives.

Here is what happened: In a three-seater in front of me, a family of four was seated; a man refused to wear his seat belt; despite repeated reminders, majority on the people in the plane switched on their cell phones just as the plane landed in New Delhi from Mumbai and the list goes on. It’s not like the flight attendants didn’t verbalize the instructions. So, why did these passengers completely disregard them? One of them first apologized and then literally begged a passenger to remove her luggage from the overhead cabin due to her baggage size. The passenger replied in the negative and suggested the stewardess move it herself. I remember thinking, “You do this in New York, and FBI agents will greet you in an unpleasant way.” Anyway, the stewardess lugged the heavy baggage awkwardly out of the overhead locker and hauled it in front of the passenger’s seat and ended her statement with a “sorry.”

I believe that the flight attendants in some way are like marines—simmering with poise and eloquence. Not obeying their orders isn’t an option. They could take you down for endangering the safety of the crew or fellow passengers. I don’t think I felt that confident energy on the flight. As a result, in their deranged and unique ways, all of these passengers jeopardized the wellbeing of people onboard. Needless to say, my sense of safety, on a scale of 1 to 10, was about zero at this point.

Here is the problem from my perspective: right from the time the flight attendants made the announcements to the time they asked people to remain seated until the flight reached the tarmac, there was no authority in their voice. They were beseeching people. C’mon, hospitality is one thing but desperate urging is a different issue. The flight crew shouldn’t be apologetic about doing their jobs.

My uncle was right; us desis are too quick to let words like sorry, thanks, and please flow out of our mouths -- even when not required. This can be misconstrued as a weakness. Nothing wrong with being gracious, but to my uncle’s point, it should be time and action appropriate. Politeness can overkill. On a deeper level, do we mean any of these pleasantries as we use them or is it just another item on our list of socially approved behavior or maybe a mode to avoid confrontation?

More until next time.

Copyright © 10.30.2008

“How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a single word you say.” --Oscar wilde


PJ said...

hmmmm, interesting but very true....

BCS said...

The point is whether these "THANKS" are just mechanical or there is any emotions attached. Most of the time it is not difficult for the receiver to separate the two -- unless someone choses to be DUMB.

2write said...

This is good observation Sweta.

Nice blog too.

Best Regards,
Ujjwal Dey
Bomb-aye, INDIA.