It's hard being a man in the modern world. The roles and expectations keep changing as the world keeps on turning. Sometimes, it's a good thing; other times, I'm not so sure. When you think you've found your place, you've got your groove, something happens that makes you realize that you're out of tune, out of step, maybe out of place with the rest of the world. It's all very confusing at times, makes me wonder whether I've lost my way or if I am being left behind.
I was at a dinner party when my cellphone rang. Ordinarily, I would've turned the thing off, but I had arrived straight from work and forgot to turn it off. I excused myself from the table and headed outside to have a short conversation with a friend, letting her know I'd call her back before heading back inside to rejoin the other guests. I returned to the table, sat down, only to have the host, a friend, ask if everything was all right. I replied that it was. When she asked who it was that called, I said just a friend.
She raised an eyebrow before telling me,"You always leave the room when you talk on your phone. It makes me wonder what secrets you're hiding."
That got the attention of the other guests, the table conversations stopped as they all looked at me. I just smiled, let out a small laugh and said, "It's just courtesy."
I could see the puzzled expressions on the other guests faces, but I didn't elaborate on my answer. The truth was, I didn't know a polite way to tell people that I thought it was rude to answer and talk loudly on a cellphone in the presence of company. A cellphone is just like a regular landline phone. The same rules of courtesy apply: Excuse yourself from company to answer a ringing telephone. A private conversation needs to stay private. Let your caller know that you're in the presence of company and unless it's an emergency or a long distance call, you will get back to them.
Not everyone wants to hear you talking on the telephone, putting out your business. Although, I don't think most people realize that when they speak on their cellphones in public, their conversation is heard by everyone around them. Sometimes, it's just loud and annoying. And I get irritated sometimes when I'm talking to someone and their cellphone keeps ringing, constantly interrupting the conversation. Usually, I excuse myself and move on. Partly, because I don't want to listen in on someone's call; and also, because I think it's a little rude to keep breaking a conversation with a person because of interrupting cellphone calls.
I feel the same way about texting while talking to company. It's just rude. Don't try to text or talk on the phone while in the presence of company. You may think that you're impressive, holding two conversations with different people, multitasking. But it's just rude. The person on the other line or receiving texts may not notice, but the pauses in conversation with company are very noticeable. You may not think so, but trust me, they're awkward and long pauses, and seeing you text or talk on the cellphone gives the impression that: One, you don't care. Two, you're being disrespectful, wasting the other person's time by not giving your full attention or participation in the face to face conversation. I just excuse myself and walk away in such situations. I figured, well, the texting or cellphone call must really be important, so let them focus on that.
I guess I'm old school. Never really thought of myself as such, but it's true, given how I've noticed that things that I thought were common courtesy just aren't so common anymore. I still open doors for women. At work, some of them stare at me blankly, wondering what I'm doing, holding the door open for them. Some just express shock that people still do that. A few have told me that I don't need to do that anymore. But I still do. It's second nature to me.
On the buses and trains, I still offer my seat to the elderly, the injured, the ladies and small children. Although, it's been quite a while since anyone actually took up my offer. Most people just smile and say they're fine and remain standing. Recently, I was on the bus with a friend. It was a holiday schedule, so there were fewer buses running, making for a crowded ride on this bus. An elderly woman and her daughter ended up standing next to our seats. I whispered to my friend that I was going to offer the elderly lady my seat.
My friend suddenly had this horrified look on her face. She narrowed her eyes and whispered fiercely, "Don't!" I was unsure if I had heard her correctly, but she continued, "Don't give her your seat! Why would you do that?"
I was a little surprised by her reaction. I didn't think the old lady looked dangerous. She didn't smell funny or look dirty, so I was confused by my friend's reaction. Was it just an issue of personal space? Did she not want to sit next to a stranger? Honestly, the bus ride was going to be about twenty minutes. I was unsure of what to do. I felt conflicted for a few minutes. Do I give in to my friend's demand, respect her wish? Or do I go ahead with my own intention? In five minutes, I made up my mind. I went ahead and offered my seat to the elderly lady, and in the corner of my eyes I could see my friend stiffening in her seat. She was not happy, but I didn't care.
The truth was, I would've felt terrible for not offering the elderly lady my seat. Even worse, I'd've felt upset at myself for not following my own instincts, doing what I felt was right. I am what I am. So I went ahead and asked the elderly lady to take my seat. She smiled, thanked me, and politely refused. I offered again, but she assured me that she was fine. I repeated the same offer to the elderly lady's daughter, but she also politely refused. I was happy that I offered. I felt better. My friend was quiet for the rest of the bus ride. Later on during lunch, she spoke, saying that she knew that the old lady would refuse my offer, that's why she thought I shouldn't have bothered. I just told her that I was being courteous.
I suppose I'm a relic of a bygone era. Times have changed. What used to be common courtesy is but a faded memory, almost irrelevant in today's fast paced world. It makes me wonder if I too am becoming irrelevant. It's hard to be a man in a modern world. The rules keep changing in the game we keep playing. Are there any winners? I'm not sure. I suppose I have a lot of catching up to do to keep up with this modern world, to find my place and try to fit in. But then again, I'm not sure if I want to catch up; maybe I don't want to.