Years ago when my European travels first began, I noticed the rudeness of many American travelers. We made ourselves too much at home, said one of our guides. We were partying, shrieking at the sights, snapping photos of people who didn’t want to be in our scrapbooks, trying to engage reserved and reluctant Brits in conversation. At lunch in a pub in London, my gregarious husband literally forced a sextet of English building contractors to let him join their discussion at the next table. He shared their trade, he was interested, and he wanted in.
Then one day in Greece I met another obnoxious group: a big busload of French tourists who tossed us out of their way as we waited, lined up, for the changing rooms next to the beach. Their countrymen hounded us through the islands and around the Pelaponese. We were stomped on in museums, restaurants, railway stations.
In China, on a boat going down the Li River, I kept bumping into people; I’d say excuse me, move away and then bump into someone else. What was happening was that the boat was crammed with Japanese tourists with, of course, cameras, and the wives were posing their husbands beside me. I’m five-foot-nine, absolutely dwarfed the diminutive men, and had — at the time — blonde and wildly permed hair. I figure I got my comeuppance and wound up in quite a few scrapbooks.
I got to thinking about all this — especially the line-breaking French tourists — the other day after I saw a movie at Canal Place. I had decided to pay cash for my tickets instead of using the computer and wanted to get some candy right at the counter. So I breezed up to it and told the young man in charge of my wishes. Yes m’am, he said politely, and I’ll help you right after I finish with these folks. I looked back, and to my mortification beheld half a dozen people through whom I had bullied my way to the front.
Why was that? Was I so intent on what I wanted that the presence of anyone else escaped me? Has advancing age made me intolerably rude? Everyone else has gotten more courteous as my hair has gotten whiter. When I wait to merge into traffic from a side street, the other motorists see the sun glinting on my mop and politely let me in. The other day I said they’re almost out of ketchup while fixing my po-boy at a dispenser in a seafood restaurant, and a man who didn’t even work there offered to go and get me some more. EVERYBODY holds doors for me. I had a flat on the Crescent Connection, made it off the next exit ramp, and two men followed and changed the tire. My husband and I are offered chairs at outdoor festivals by young folks who’ve gone to the trouble to bring them from home. I get called baby and sweetie and unlike some touchy seniors, I don’t mind at all. I’m humble and grateful.
The other day a friend said that the older she gets the less she cares about whether everybody else likes her or not. Well, that happens and I think it’s because at some point in life we just realize that we won’t ever get approval across the board and it’s a waste of precious time to strive for it. I think that’s called wisdom, but it doesn’t have to translate into disregard for others.
Ever since I played tourist and ran over those people at Canal Place I’ve tried to be more mindful of where I tread. And whenever I bump somebody I remember a press party eons ago at Gallier Hall.
My husband and I — both in our 30s — were trying to navigate a passage to the buffet table. I kept colliding with bodies and couldn’t fathom why I had suddenly become so awkward. Focusing fully on those around us, I saw we were in the midst of a crowd of older ladies who were making a charge toward the party food.
Good gracious I thought. I hope I never behave like that.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times-Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.