The tyranny of fake politeness

Sunday morning, Museum station. Stairs are under repair. An elderly couple stand on the one escalator, and move sharply over to the right side to allow others to pass on the left. A young woman begins to pass on the left, then hesitates, as she realizes (to her apparent horror) that the fabric of the sleeve of her heavy winter coat might brush the fabric of the sleeve of the elderly woman’s heavy winter coat if she presses forward. Young woman throws an anguished look back to her overcoat-clad husband, who is standing on the right behind the elderly couple. The husband makes a face indicating she should not press forward. 8-10 people are now stuck behind the younger woman, while the elderly couple’s considerate gesture is completely undone.

Frustrated passengers ask young woman, “Why don’t you go past? This couple is standing to one side so people can walk on the left.”

Young woman’s husband answers for her, “Because it’s Sunday.”

Holding back other passengers and ignoring two older people’s considerate attempt to ensure others can move at their own pace around the station in favour of the concerns about the propriety of gentle fabric-to-fabric pressure? What’s polite about that?

It has nothing to do with manners, which exist to make navigating society easier for all. It is, rather, a perfect example of fake politeness, which is more concerned with oneself and one’s public image than in actually greasing the wheels of social interaction. In the scenario described, the only winner is the pompous Sunday-venerating young husband, who is able to bask in the self-generated glow of his righteous behaviour.

Another common example of fake politeness in action:

Someone is at the front of a line for a cashier when a cashier becomes free. But is this person the first in line, or could someone else be? Why not argue with the second person in line about who was there first, and should thus go to the free cashier? This is the fake polite thing to do, inconviencing, as it does, as many other people in line as possible, while allowing the fakely polite person with the impression he or she has demontrated to anyone within earshot his or her exquisite manners.

This week’s challenge to the practical readers of Mock Turtle: your own examples of fake politeness. Remember the rules: an act of fake politeness must benefit no one except the fakely polite person, and must inconvenience others. Bonus points for self-satisfied comments about propriety.