Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oh fiddle-de-de, Hattie

Today’s blog addresses a concern of mine that often leads even my most liberal Southern friends to demand my birth certificate.

Can anyone explain to me why it’s so disrespectful to wear a hat indoors?

In my tween years, I wore a baseball cap constantly. At home, the atmosphere was live-and-let-live and no one ever said a thing about it. But when I’d go to school, or to someone else’s house, they made a massive deal about it. I’ll never forget the first time my teacher raged at me to take my cap off in the classroom. I mean, she didn’t just ask — she demanded it as if I was openly rebelling against her. Which I wasn’t, because I literally had no idea that’s what I supposed to do. And once I knew, I was equally testy about the treatment and the fact that I had to do it.

Eventually I’d learn that taking off your hat indoors was a sign of decorum and respect. But no one ever explained why. And even as a child, I liked to understand the logic behind doing something. Especially something that robbed me of a feeling of personal comfort and security. And, more often than not, led to either me misplacing my cap or having it swiped by a classmate. And confusing one for the other.

Later still, I’d learn that former Saints coach Bum Phillips, known for his ubiquitous cowboy hat, never wore it in the Superdome because he always took his hat off indoors. I just thought that was silly.

To this day, I still don’t get many mannerisms. I mean, yeah, I’ll call an old man or a stranger sir, for example, and genuinely mean it. But even when I take my hat off indoors in certain situations without prompting, that’s more about defusing the residual Big Daddy Gawd voice in my head that seems to prompt those sorts of things.

Respect is something I always struggled with in the South. At least, that’s what I was told. I always felt like I was polite, welcoming and respectful of others, but I often heard from authority figures that I was anything but. I didn’t say “sir” or “ma’am” enough. I often forgot to take my hat off inside. I didn’t call everyone older than me “Mr.” or “Miss.” I sometimes had the audacity to innocently question something I was told to do. (Maybe I should have tried being a complete heel in my heart, as long as I smiled at the right time and said all the right words — that seemed to work for a lot of people.) And, perhaps worst of all, I did not insist on holding others to the same standard.

To wit: I don’t like being called “mister” or “sir,” because I don’t like being deferred to any more than I like being condescended to. I’d just rather have everyone call me Ian. Or McGibboney. That’s my name. I respond to it and not much else. And while I’m happy to call anyone whatever name or title they prefer, I only wish that other people would accord me the same respect.

More than once, a friend of mine has ordered their child to call me “Mr. Ian,” even after I told the child they could just call me Ian. The parents would object, saying that their child is going to learn manners. And in those situations I always think, well, how respectful is it to address someone by something that they know makes that person uncomfortable?

And that question gets to the core of why many traditional Southern mannerisms gnaw at me so badly — because in many cases, they’re simply facades.

Even that wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t all that counted. Again, I consider myself a good guy who always has a smile for people. But when the (often-unspoken) rules override actual person-to-person respect, things just get ridiculous.

It’s my hope that society in general begins to favor genuine respect over stilted respect, meshing the best of Southern mannerisms with good hearts and a real love for all people. If we forget a word or custom here or there, we’ll be decent enough to let it slide. Because we will be decent people.

If we can accomplish that, my hat’s off to us.


rcs said...

I consult Emily Post when I need to see the fine print:

Hats Off! The Who-What-When-Where of the Hat

I think it's considerate to observe etiquette where possible; to me, it's an important social lubricant in an increasingly tense society. Sure, the etiology is obscure and archaic, but what tradition isn't?

Michael said...

Gentlemen take their hats off indoors. But sports arenas, even if they're covered, don't really count.

This made for some interesting interior monologues when I was in Israel--where a hat was less a fashion accessory than a defensive one, to keep the sun off of one's head (and the back of one's neck). My instinct is to take it off when I walk inside--but one does not do that in a synagogue (or the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, as I found out). It felt weird to me, but when in Rome (or Jerusalem)...

The parents that insist their kids call you something other than what you've asked the kids to call you are the ones who need to learn manners, though. They shouldn't start calling you "Ian" first thing, but once you've said that's how you prefer to be addressed, then that's how the children should speak to you.

Anonymous said...

At work there are about 150 of us & everyone generally refers to one another by their fist names except for three of us. For us, co-workers add Mr. or Ms. Before our first names and although it's meant as a sign of respect I cringe whenever I hear it. It reminds me that I am not who I used to be but rather much older. It's like getting those black over-the-hill balloons for your 50th birthday EVERY DAY.

Ian McGibboney said...

I feel that way when I'm addressed as Mister by a woman in her early 20s.