How to Be Nice: A Guide for (Mean) Philadelphians
So the whole way into work this morning — a drive that included a serious detour because the morons at PennDOT had a slow-moving maintenance vehicle blocking one lane of the Schuylkill Expressway — I was racking my brain to find the perfect example of modern-day rudeness to start off this essay about how to be nice. On arriving at the office, I discovered that the President of the United States had obligingly provided it, with the following series of early-morning tweets:
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came…
…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!
Whatever your political views, I hope we can agree: This was not a nice thing to say.
Or perhaps we can’t. And that’s even more problematic than a leader of the free world who’s fixated on women’s looks and petty slights.
When I was growing up, the mantra my mom repeated most often was: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it. It was a simpler motto for a simpler time. Today we live in a world where a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives can body-slam a reporter to the ground for asking a question — and be elected the next day. In which the Washington Post reports that only two out of every 10 youth sports officials return for their third year, largely due to “escalating verbal abuse.” In which, in the wake of flight cancellations in May by Spirit Airlines, a mob of 500 people in Fort Lauderdale begins “pushing, screaming and cursing” and threatening law enforcement officials with physical violence. In which, asked what worries him most in his job, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis replies, “The lack of a fundamental friendliness.” This from a man whose nickname is “Mad Dog.”
What is wrong with the world?
I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world: Nobody is nice to anyone anymore. We live in a culture that prizes hot takes and snark, immersed 24/7 in technology that forces us to be terse and childish emoticons that stand in for actual feelings. We no longer have the time or energy to expend on simple pleasantries, like “Hey, how are you doing?” or “Can I hold that door for you?” And every choice we face seems so fraught: If I do hold that door for you, will you think I’m sexist? Ageist? Ableist? Will you take my picture and post it on Facebook and make fun of me?
Even when we try to be nice, we’re not. Consider the comments on a recent Philly Mag story, COATESVILLE LOSER SUCKER-PUNCHES MAN WITH CEREBRAL PALSY (which is not, I fear, a very nice headline). Here’s Jim:
I don’t blame him. Those people can be quite annoying. They are constantly flailing about, making grotesque facial expressions. They are loud, demanding, and rude.
Naturally, a kindly reader springs to the victim’s defense:
Oh really? Would love to see you face to face so you could be the first person I ever punched.
Sigh. What happened to turning the other cheek?
According to historian John Kasson, author of the book Rudeness and Civility, formal codifications of behavioral rules sprang up in the late 19th century, “at a time when the growth of cities and mass transit forced Americans into close quarters with strangers.” So long as we were all still living down on the farm with Gram and Paps and the neighbors, we were bound together by shared needs and a common fate. But jostle hundreds of thousands of us together in a hodgepodge of heritages and customs and religions, and we require etiquette. The word is French for “a note attached to something indicating its contents,” which is precisely what manners do: They lubricate social situations, grounding us in what to say and do and expect. They civilize us. Nice-ify us. And as Miss Manners advised in the wake of TWA’s crashed Flight 800, “The more horrendous the situation, the more you need etiquette. This is why etiquette is so extremely strict in situations where the issues you are debating are of major importance — the courtroom, the government legislature, diplomacy.” (Remember when President Bush barfed in the Japanese prime minister’s lap?) At high-stress events like funerals, we’re grateful to fall back on well-worn platitudes: “He’s at peace now.” “She had a wonderful life.” “He’s in a better place.”
When we use good manners, we find we like each other — and ourselves — a little more. But technology has forced us into ever closer quarters with an ever-expanding universe of strangers, at the same time that cultural upheaval has called into question the motivation, even the need, for rules of behavior. Since the 1960s, we’ve seen a steady erosion of formality in social intercourse, manners, even our dress. Our exaltation of the individual over the group requires us to overlook the most peculiar eccentricities. And an economy that turns brutes like Travis Kalanick and Martin Shkreli into insta-millionaires makes navigating the turbulent waters of wealth and class ever more challenging.
The lack of agreed-upon rules puts us all on the defensive, all the time — an exhausting posture. Our weariness makes us even more rude and impatient, in an endless spiral. And the problem is particularly acute here in Philadelphia. If you don’t believe me, check out the timeline of accelerating local not-niceness later in this story. We’re the city of the Broad Street Bullies, of Frank Rizzo with a nightstick tucked into his cummerbund, of WHITES MAKE BREWERYTOWN BETTER headlines and SPEAK ENGLISH cheesesteak signs and the up-yours to manners that’s the Mummers Parade.
How did a city founded by polite, open-minded Quakers devolve into the town that tore a cheerful hitchhiking robot limb from limb? It didn’t happen all at once. It wasn’t easy earning our worldwide rep for outrageous behavior in every category from sports fandom to political corruption to bicyclist beaning. A whole long line of raging assholes — Thomas Penn, W.C. Fields, Chuck Barris, Stu Bykofsky, the Tartagliones, Kobe Bryant, Colleen Campbell, Meek Mill — made us what we are today.
But it’s not too late to stem the tide — to turn ourselves around and make amends. We need to foment a second American Revolution, starting here and now. Let’s buck the rudeness trend and be, well, nice to one another. Remember that old Golden Rule, do unto others? It’s not all about your preferred pronouns; it’s about how other people feel, too. We need to worry less about our self-esteem and more about brotherly love.
To help you, our dear, dear readers, find your way to new summits of courteousness, we’ve assembled these updated rules of etiquette, drawing on our own experts in every field of human interaction, from dining out to social media use to political discussion. Think of it as Emily Post for an era, not of top hats and bustles, but of man buns and yoga pants. Good manners aren’t dead; they’re simply dormant. Let the revival start now. Middle fingers, stand down! Let’s all be nice today.
The Philly Mag Rules of Etiquette
From driving on the Schuylkill to posting a comment on Facebook, the official do’s and don’ts for how to treat your fellow humans.
1. In a Restaurant
The proper dining-out behavior, whether you’re at Parc or Pat’s. [by Alex Tewfik]
After a particularly long night — one full of kitchen setbacks and, because of them, nasty guests — it was a rather trivial moment that did me in. It wasn’t a low tip, though there were plenty of those. It wasn’t an irrationally angry diner. No, it was the older man, maybe in his 50s, sporting a heavy Philly accent, summoning me with an aggressive wave and a cool “Oh, gare-sonn!” Yes, an American man in (at the time) 2015 referred to me, his server, as “garçon.” Not ironically. Not in jest. He meant it, and I know he did because his body language said so, plus it wasn’t the last time he called me “garçon” that night.
People act so strange in restaurants. It’s as if there’s some invisible coat-check where diners stash all their notions of proper social conduct because they know they won’t be needing them during the meal. To some of us, dining out means you get to pull out your best Mad Men impression and treat your waiters like servants and your waitresses like strippers. Maybe this springs from a false sense of empowerment over another human being. Maybe it’s the drinking. Or maybe it’s our high anxiety in unfamiliar situations. Whatever; there’s a workaround. We can all be better. Start by following these rules.
Help! I reserved a table at a restaurant! Now what?
Do: Be punctual. If you’re running late, call and let the restaurant know how much longer you’ll be.
Do not: Get upset if you can’t be seated immediately. It’s almost never the restaurant’s fault. Really, you ought to be upset with the table that already paid the check but chose to hang out for 20 more minutes after they were done.
Never: No-call/no-show. Restaurant seating plans are complicated, calculated, and precise down to the minute. Smaller restaurants — which Philly is chock-full of — may have to turn people away if they’re completely booked up. If you decide not to show up for your reservation without letting the restaurant know, it could turn away business for no reason.
Help! I need more mayo! How do I get my server’s attention?
Do: Find your server and lock eyes with him or her. (Don’t make this a stare-down, just eye contact.) Smile, if you’re prone to that sort of thing. That’s it. No more. The server will come over, and you can explain what you want. Servers’ heads are always on a swivel, and if they can’t get to you right away, they’ll get to you shortly. I promise.
Do not: Wave them down; shout across the room; cry.
Never: And I can’t believe I have to say this: touch, poke, or physically grab your server to get attention.
Help! I’m staring at the bill and don’t know what to tip!
Do: Move the decimal point one place to the left and then double that amount. That’s 20 percent, and that’s the minimum you should tip. Don’t like it? Go to a restaurant where the gratuity’s included, or go eat out in a country where tipping isn’t built into the restaurant-industry economy.
Do not: Tip on only the food, not the drinks; pay with both cash and card and only tip on the card amount; only tip what you can afford. (If you can’t afford 20 percent, you can’t afford to eat out.)
Never: Calculate your tip based on how you liked the food (that’s not your server’s fault); tip less than 15 percent.
Help! My experience wasn’t perfect! What do I do?
Do: Politely let your server know about any issues during your meal, preferably as soon as they unfold (thus providing a chance to fix what can be fixed). If your issues go unresolved, speak with a manager.
Do not: Complain for comps (meaning to get free food or have items removed from your bill).
Never: Yell. At anyone. Ever. No matter what.
2. While Driving
Imagine a honk-free Philly! [by Sandy Hingston]
One morning on my way to work, I wasn’t driving fast enough for the guy who was tailgating me on the Schuylkill Expressway even though I was going 75 mph and the traffic was bumper-to-bumper. So he whipped past me using the exit lane for Lincoln Drive, then <em>stopped his car dead</em> right in front of mine, got out, and started toward me. I don’t know what he had in mind, but I was so scared, I was shaking. This is the least-nice thing another driver has ever done to me, and that includes a few who have hit my car. My car is my castle. You don’t come at me when I’m in my castle. That’s how we end up with road-rage incidents. Here are a few more rules of the road.
Don’t talk on your cell phone. Just don’t. Don’t text, either.
Use your goddamned turn signal. Do I look like I can read minds?
Don’t tailgate. Imagine that slow driver is your mom. Would you want some idiot in a pickup truck crawling up your mom’s ass?
Don’t block the box. It’s rude, and it makes tie-ups worse. Just wait your turn and let the pedestrians and opposing traffic through.
Don’t whip back and forth between lanes. You think you look cool and European when you do this. You actually look like a dick.
3. In a Bar
Follow these rules — or drink at home. [by Joe Trinacria]
It’s a frigid January night, and my friends are already showing symptoms of frostbite. Me? I’m perfectly toasty thanks to this boss fur coat I’m wearing. The only problem: I stole it from the bar we’re standing in front of. I think I look like Joe Namath, but in reality I’m somewhere closer to a drunken Cruella de Vil. As 18-year-old mischief goes, this one is up there for me. While I was busy strutting my stuff like an extra in Super Fly, the bouncers were calling the cops. After some short-lived defiance, I handed over the coat (which was made for ladies, by the way) and walked away with a lifetime ban.
Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about bar etiquette. Here’s some advice to keep you in good standing at your local watering hole.
If you feel yourself getting to the point of sloppy mess, just go home — you’re gonna fuck up.
Tip based on quantity. Dropping a buck for a beer is standard. Tipping only a Washington for a pitcher means you’re cheap.
If you’re going to request that a TV be tuned to a specific game, make sure it doesn’t suck. Unless it’s the Phillies, nobody around here wants to watch the last-place losers you grew up rooting for.
Don’t hit on the bartender. Calling a person pouring drinks “Toots” or “Babe” won’t get you a date, only spit in your vodka tonic.
If you’re going to pee, please make sure it’s in a toilet. Or urinal.
4. On Public Transit
To avoid hell on the El. [by Sandy Hingston]
This past spring, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced a plan to hand out buttons saying BABY ON BOARD to pregnant women, and others saying PLEASE OFFER ME A SEAT for the elderly or disabled. People, for God’s sake. Has it really come to this? Who among you, upon watching a seriously pregnant woman haul herself up the bus steps, wouldn’t offer her your seat? And don’t give me that old “How can I know for sure that she’s pregnant and not just fat?” bull. You don’t have to ask for her due date. You just have to say, “Would you like to sit here?” Buses and trains and subway cars aren’t just public spaces; they’re tightly confined public spaces, microcosms of the city at large. That means an even greater need for basic rules of etiquette. Follow these.
Don’t crowd at the bus stop or subway platform. We’re all paranoid enough without having to worry you’re going to shove us over the edge.
Don’t smoke. No matter how much you’ve been drinking. You can wait. This goes for bus stops, too.
Don’t eat. Seriously. Nothing bigger, or smellier, than a Life Saver. I don’t want your raw onions in my nose.
Don’t shout or sing or curse or talk loudly on your cell phone. Especially if you’re in the quiet car.
Don’t hog the seat. Your backpack/guitar/Di Bruno’s bag is no excuse. Tuck in. That goes for manspreading, too.
5. In Political Discourse
There are two sides, you know. [by Holly Otterbein]
Twenty-five percent of Philadelphians live in poverty. America’s middle class is dying. North Korea is completely mad. Every other week, there’s news of a terrorist attack. The world is rife with problems. But instead of stress-testing solutions in the marketplace of ideas, most of us are hunkering down in gerrymandered political districts, where we hang out with people who think exactly like us and read news that Facebook’s algorithm has filtered in a way that won’t offend us. Talking about politics with people who have different beliefs — and doing so in person, no less — is a great way to check your own ideology for holes and maybe even change others’ minds. More importantly, it’s vital to know how to broach political topics politely if there’s any hope of staying close to your friends and family members from the other side. But there are land mines galore. Here are a few tips on how to stay civil.
When talking about politics IRL, remember: You aren’t fighting a skinhead on Twitter or pwning a libtard on Tucker Carlson Tonight. In the Internet age, it almost takes a lobotomy to get out of the take-no-prisoners mind-set. But it’s a necessity.
Be respectful. People usually don’t change their minds after being called evil fascists.
Show that you’re genuinely interested in why your friends think differently about abortion or immigration or what have you. If your only goal is to convert other people, you won’t.
Read political op-eds that you disagree with. Regularly. It’ll give you the strength to listen to your relatives with grace at Thanksgiving dinner.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know something about a current event. You don’t want to be that guy who suddenly became a Russian expert on November 9th. No one likes that guy.
Be genuine. This is also tough. But what’s more appealing: a heartfelt explanation of why you’re a feminist or an NRA member — or a smug, snarky take on those topics?
Learn to speak the other side’s language. A recent report showed that conservatives are more likely to be persuaded by a liberal argument if it’s framed as supporting patriotism or moral purity; liberals, meanwhile, are more easily persuaded if conservatives assert that a given policy is fair or caring. So if you want your Republican aunt to take global warming seriously, explain that it’s vital to keep America’s forests pure and that pollution is disgusting.
6. In Public Spaces
Can you hear me now? [by Sandy Hingston]
The keyword here is “spaces.” You have yours, and I have mine. Stay out of mine. The problem is, you can’t do that unless you’re aware of where I am and where you are, which you’re not because you have a freaking phone held up in front of your face. It would be best for the future of all mankind if you tossed that phone in the gutter, but you won’t. So here are some simple, easy-to-follow rules about when you should not hold your phone up in front of your face.
While walking on the street. Or, worse, when stopping dead out of the blue while walking on the street, with no warning whatsoever to those around you, so you can play Words With Friends or whatever the hell you’re doing.
While waiting for the elevator. I already waited for this elevator. Do you really think I want to wait for you to finish sending that text now that the doors have opened at your floor for you to get on?
While standing on a corner and checking GPS. You’re blocking the crosswalk, brainiac. Go stand against a building.
While getting into a revolving door. Somebody’s going to get hurt, and it’s not going to be me. I’m not even kidding.
While walking your dog. That mutt’s been squeezing out a dump for the past half block and you’re not even paying attention. Yo! Pick that shit up!
While pushing your child in a stroller. Listen, honey. You won’t believe it, but these years go by really, really quickly. Before you know it, that kid will have her nose in a phone of her own. Feel the love while you can.
Plus the cardinal rule of public spaces:
Don’t spit on the sidewalk. It’s disgusting. Spitting anywhere is disgusting. But doing so where I have to walk is the grossest of all.
7. When Working Out
Muscles don’t preclude manners. [by Adjua Fisher]
When a friend of mine recently came from Florida to visit, she — being the sunshiny person she is — pranced down our streets, singing out “Good morning!” and waving at strangers in a way some would describe as neighborly. Not one person responded in kind. Those confronted by the greeting mostly cocked their heads at her, like a dog does when it doesn’t understand your command. She eventually turned to me and said, “People really don’t wave hello here, huh?” My answer: No, no, they don’t. Unless, that is, you’re running.
Runners might be the only polite Philadelphians. We often go against the city’s head-down grain by extending a wave or nod to perfect strangers along the Schuylkill River Trail. And not returning such a wave is plain bad form. Waving builds community. It makes fellow runners feel safe. And it proves that folks in the fitness world dole out niceties for no other reason than simply being friendly. Here, seven other nice habits we wish the fitness world would stick to.
Wipe down your machine/mat/stationary bike. Seriously, it takes two seconds and makes you 500 times more likeable.
Put those dumbbells back — properly. We’ve all seen a neatly stacked corner of gym weights transform into a hulking landfill-like pile. Eventually, <em>someone</em> has to disassemble that mess.
Stay for savasana. Don’t stomp out over everyone else’s yoga mat, ruining the few minutes they’ve had to just lie in peace in God knows how long.
Don’t hog the shower. There’s a reason people rush out of a fitness class early, though: to get to the shower first. They’ve been burned by that person who stands under the water for a blood-boiling 20 minutes. Don’t be that person.
Move over. Sometimes I think treadmills exist solely to lessen the chances of trail-rage confrontations. If you’re running in a pack, leave room for people to pass you — it’s just polite.
Shhhhh. Don’t drown out the fitness instructor’s inspirational mantras with the story of how your crappy-ass boyfriend didn’t do the dishes, again. We need those mantras, eye-roll-worthy as they may be.
Wear deodorant. Just c’mon.
8. When Online
War is not the answer. [by Timothy Haas]
I know the seductive power of the scorching reply.
As the overseer of all things digital here at the magazine, I strive to make sure everything we report online is accurate, fair, informative and, when it can be, fun. Of course, we occasionally fall short of these goals. And that’s when the comments and emails come booming in.
I’ve seen it all, from blunt jabs about proofreading skills and lack of educational attainment to baroque rants that question our website’s existence — and I have, more often than I’d like to admit, returned fire with righteous vigor (and then obsessively refreshed the screen, waiting for the next volley so as to measure the megaton effects of my mots justes).
But you know what? I finally figured out that my mots justes were mostly wasted. No argument is ever won on social media or over email — the fueling outrage just dribbles away as one side or the other checks out to seek a fresher dopamine hit.
Armed — or is that unarmed? — with this knowledge, I came up with the following mantra: When it comes to electronic communication, never assume irredeemably malicious intent. Sure, the number of epithets in a particular tweet or email might make such magnanimity difficult — and yes, there are honest-to-God trolls out there — but frequently, what seems like rudeness or even aggression is either harmless brevity or passionate immediacy. Think of a guy in a bar who just found out that you believe the Phillies could go all the way next year — he’s going to be waving his arms around wildly as he tries to convince you otherwise, but he’s not about to hit you with them (unless you also tell him you’re a Cowboys fan).
Once you’ve internalized this rule, it’s much easier to remember your manners. Here’s what I recommend.
First, ask yourself whether you need to comment on or respond to something at all. Discretion is the better part, etc.
If you must respond, keep things brief. Go ahead and pound out a point-by-point screed if you can’t help yourself — then read it back (out loud, so you hear how you really sound), identify the point or two you actually want to get across, and delete the rest. (This works equally well for work emails.)
Take public disagreements private whenever possible. A one-to-one response to public provocation can immediately cut the temperature in half. And initiating contact about a touchy subject privately is just classy, period.
Cite your sources. It’s the first thing you get asked when you assert something online anyway, so save yourself, your interlocutor, and everyone else who’s reading the thread that bit of wheel-spinning.
Ignore typos in all but formal writing. With auto-“correct” and miraculous-yet-hinky voice-transcription services built into every phone nowadays, it’s hard to get through a simple message without making some mess of the mother tang. Unless you’re honestly confused, let slightly garbled language roll off you — but do let us know (nicely) if we’ve missed a typo in a story.
9. When Biking
This ain’t Fury Road. [by Brian Howard]
When I started cycling in Philly in the mid-’90s, it was a rough-and-tumble world. No bike lanes to speak of. No highfalutin Vision Zero plans. You had to roll with the doorings, the ragey-driver dustups and so many close calls. Within that framework, the typical cyclist’s anarchic attitude and civil-disobedience streak were understandable. The grid wasn’t making space for you; you had to claw it out yourself.
Now? That whole vibe feels anachronistic. There’s still lots of work to do, but Philly’s become so much more cycling-friendly. We’ve got bike lanes. We’ve got bikeshare. There’s a whole fleet of pedalers out there (more or less) following the rules. Yet there you are, hot shot, still careening through red lights like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush. Here, some tips on how to bike nice.
If you arrive at a stop sign or stoplight and no one is coming, common sense says you shouldn’t have to stop. But remember: You’re not required to not stop. Follow the Idaho rules: Treat stoplights as stop signs and stop signs as yields. There’s no shame in slowing down.
Pedestrians use intersections, too. Don’t hit them. Don’t scare them.
Pro tip: Slow down when you approach a stop-signed intersection. Drivers are often so pleasantly surprised that they’ll just wave you through ahead of them.
If you ride one of those electric bikes, stay out of the bike lane. Same goes for motorcyclists. And joggers.
When you find a line of cyclists waiting for the green light, do you cut to the front? That’s called shoaling. Don’t do it.
Don’t ride the wrong way in a bike lane. They have those directional arrows for a reason. Swimming upstream is for salmon.
When you’re going to turn, please: Signal, signal, signal! All anyone wants is a little predictability.
When you’re passing another cyclist or a pedestrian, call out, well in advance, “On your left!” Don’t wait till you’re right up on their butt — this just increases the likelihood they’ll startle into your path.
Wave or nod at fellow cyclists (you’re in this together!), and give the thumbs-up to drivers and pedestrians who cut you a break. Goodwill is contagious.
10. At the Office
Don’t be Michael Scott. [by Fabiola Cineas]
BuzzFeed-esque listicles like “9 Ways Being Nice at Work Is Holding You Back,” “11 Ways to Stop Being Too Nice at Work & Start Being Assertive” and “The Problem With Being Nice at Work” now seem to define progressive office culture. But news flash: Business deals never come out of screaming matches, and talking about your co-worker behind his back won’t make for smooth collaboration. Rudeness can also deflate workplace focus. In one study, employees who were belittled before being asked to complete a word puzzle performed 33 percent worse and came up with 39 percent fewer ideas than those who weren’t insulted. And though in surveys, people say they’re not nice at work because they don’t have time to be, rudeness in the office could cost you your life: A mean boss can screw up the hormone balance that controls your appetite and weight. To live long and prosper, start with these tips.
Turn off your phone and computer during meetings. Be present and signal interest.
Give others credit. Do so liberally.
Verbally express your appreciation. “Thank you” is a good way.
Don’t form office cliques. You’ll inevitably leave people out.
Listen to others. Don’t be that person who won’t ever shut up.
Bonus: Don’t be afraid to be nice — it’s not a weakness. Polite behavior pays off in the long term.
11. When Parenting
You’re not the boss of me. [by Ashley Primis]
My toddler is a biter. She’s also a hair puller, a hitter and a screamer. Recently, one of her daily day-care summaries read: “Willa had a good day today! She did not push any of her friends!” This, of course, is just one side of our Willa. She also kneels next to friends who are crying and gently asks, head tilted, “You okay?” She takes wonderful care of her baby dolls. One of the first phrases she ever said was, “Love you, Mommy.” I swear.
When my first child was a toddler, she wouldn’t hurt a fly. (Actually, she hid from them.) But with this second one — well, the angry looks, eye rolls and rude words that come my way from other parents when Baby Girl is just being Baby Girl took me by surprise. And of all places — at the playground!
My husband and I discovered that the more we hovered and coached — “Sweetie, wait your turn!” “Be gentle!” — the more she lashed out. So we back off. We give her space. But this space is often filled with ire from other parents busily scanning the playground for this tiny interloper’s caregivers. I love it when they talk to me through their own kids: “It’s okay, honey; that little girl should know how to wait her turn.”
Let me be clear here. I do make my kids apologize whenever they’ve physically harmed another human being. But I won’t play referee on minor infractions, will not manage the slide line or be the gatekeeper on the drawbridge. I’m more of a red-card mom. Does this make me rude? Maybe. But here’s another way to think about it: You have no idea what my day has been like, just as I have no idea what your situation is. When you judge me because I’m letting my kid cry it out, you are not being nice.
You have no idea that I’ve already scolded this kid 57 times today and just can’t muster up the energy to make it 58. Or that I have strep throat and had a really bad day at work. Please, stop judging me. Stop being mean. If I want to sit on a bench while my kid works out her own problems, don’t assume my non-reaction is bad parenting.
Actually, let’s assume that the lessons about pushing and shoving and sharing are ones that all kids will learn eventually. Instead, let’s work on teaching them a bigger lesson by showing them how to be kind and empathetic and mind their own damn business. Let’s all play on the same team: parent.
A Timeline of Philly’s Accelerating Not-Niceness
May 1779: Newly married to Philly’s own Peggy Shippen, Benedict Arnold offers to spy for the British.
April 1880: James William White and Robert Adams Jr. duel after Adams makes fun of White’s First City Troop uniform.
December 1946: W.C. Fields dies, leaving for his epitaph “I Would Rather Be Living in Philadelphia.”
September 1972: Philly actress Blythe Danner gives birth to Gwyneth Paltrow.
March 1981: Mob boss Phil “Chicken Man” Testa is killed by a nail bomb hidden under his own front porch.
May 1987: Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga” works — drawings and paintings of a comely neighbor that he hid from his wife — go on exhibit at the National Gallery of Art.
December 1989: Eagles fans pelt Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson with snowballs as police escort him off the field at Bounty Bowl II.
March 1990: Native son Danny Bonaduce is arrested in Daytona Beach for trying to score cocaine — while reportedly in town for a D.A.R.E. anti-drug campaign.
October 1994: Stephen A. Smith takes a job with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
November 1997: The city opens a courtroom in the bowels of Vet Stadium to deal with bad fan behavior.
January 1998: The Pennsylvania PUC institutes mandatory etiquette classes for the city’s cabdrivers.
April 1999: Eagles fans boo Donovan McNabb at the NFL draft.
August 1999: Phils fans hurl batteries at Cards outfielder J.D. Drew in his Vet Stadium debut.
June 2001: The Sixers’ Allen Iverson steps over Tyronn Lue.
July 2005: Release of the documentary The Aristocrats, in which Temple grad Bob Saget tells the dirtiest version of the title joke.
March 2008: The city’s Commission on Human Relations rules that Geno’s Steaks’ “Speak English” sign is permissible.
June 2008: KYW news anchor Larry Mendte is fired for hacking into co-anchor Alycia Lane’s emails.
April 2010: Jersey’s Matthew Clemmens throws up on two kids at a Phillies game, earning the nickname “Pukemon.”
June 2013: Kobe Bryant requires that his parents apologize in writing for trying to auction off some of his memorabilia.
August 2015: After successfully making its way to Philly from Boston, cross-country-traveling hitchBOT is torn apart in Old City.
April 2016: Flyers fans hurl bracelets commemorating recently deceased owner Ed Snider onto the ice to protest crappy play.
July 2016: Travel + Leisure magazine ranks Philly the nation’s fifth-rudest city. We’re insulted not to be ranked higher.
June 2017: After the jury in his sexual assault trial deadlocks, Bill Cosby announces a tour to educate young people about sexual assault.
Quiz: Are You Nice or Not?
Perhaps — and we’re being very charitable here — you’re not nice because you’re not always sure of the nice thing to do. Actually, we think you do know and you’re just not trying. But in case we’re wrong, here are some hypothetical situations to help you determine if you’re capable of playing well with others.
Q: The bartender at that hip new bar brings you the wrong craft beer. You:
1. Point out to him that it’s not the chocolate-cherry double brown stout you ordered.
2. Take his photo and post it on Instagram with a snarky note about stupid barkeeps.
3. Throw the beer in his face.
A: Give yourself a point for number 1. How the hell else will he learn? Besides, we’ve worked in the food-and-bev industry, and trust us: You do not want to make enemies of the people who serve comestibles to you. Sometimes being nice is just self-preservation.
Q: A goateed hipster driving a BMW with Jersey plates cuts you off as he’s trying to get to the Route 1 South exit on the Schuylkill Expressway. You:
1. Honk and give him the finger.
2. Honk, give him the finger, and speed up to cut him off.
3. Shrug it off.
A: One point for number 3. Hey, he’s from Jersey. He’s not going to notice anyway.
Q: A friend posts a heartfelt paean on Facebook to his dog, which just died. It contains a conspicuous and embarrassing typo. You:
1. Point out the typo privately.
2. Point out the typo publicly.
3. Ignore it. Man, the guy just lost his dog.
A: One point for number 1. The really nice choice would be number 3, but if you do that, some other asshole is just gonna point out the typo. This is what we’ve done to each other.
Q: A woman pushing a baby stroller and leading a toddler by the hand is trying to enter Starbucks just ahead of you. You:
1. Hurry to hold the door for her.
2. Hang back; who wants to get involved in that?
3. Try to close the door on her fingers. She shouldn’t be having so many kids if she can’t deal.
A: One point for number 1, of course. What’s the matter with you?
Q: A bro who’s hanging around outside Frankford Hall pitches his empty Bud Light can into a fire pit. You:
1. Toss your empty in there, too, so he’ll feel okay about it.
2. Pull the can out and throw it at his head, saying, “What a freaking pig.”
3. Pull the can out and hand it back to him politely, saying, “Hey, that’s recyclable.”
A: This one’s a little tricky. We hate litterers. On the other hand, we are supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love. So we’ll award a point for either number 1 or number 3. Definitely not for number 2, though. That’s just not nice.
Q: The next-door neighbors are having a Labor Day barbecue in the backyard that kicked off at 10 a.m. and is still going strong at midnight. The music is really, really loud. You:
1. Shout at them over the fence.
2. Slash their tires.
3. Shrug and put on headphones.
A: None of the above. Silly, you call the cops on them. What are neighbors for?
Q: Your boss is in the midst of giving a big presentation and you notice that his fly is unzipped. You:
1. Mime to him to pull it up.
2. Giggle helplessly.
3. Take a photo and post it on Slack.
A: These are all pretty valid options, frankly. One point for anything.
How to Score Yourself:
What are you, one of those millennials who need constant validation? A trophy for participation? You know how you did. You want a trophy, join a bowling league.
Published as “How To Be Nice” in the September 2017 issue of Philadelphia magazine.