The last time America understood the phrase “Excuse me…” is when Steve Martin exploded on SNL in 1975. Why have we all turned into a band of passive aggressive push-arounds? Although born and bred right here in these United States, I lived and learned manners “whilst” living an alternative life in a land 7,000 miles away on a tiny island known as Great Britain. I didn’t know I was an American until I moved to England. What I mean is that I really stood out. There’s a bad joke over there about us Americans. Why do Americans talk so loud? So you can hear them over their clothing. You see the Brits are notoriously reserved. But it’s more than that. They are indeed unconsciously sinister. Everything is fair play, run on a society based logic, understatement, and indeed implication. Over there, Excuse me, is fighting words.
A joke from my stand-up act points out the difference. In America, we’re very direct. The typical American is like (spoken with a tough New York Brooklyn accent) “Bob, you’re full of shit!” Direct, you see? But, in England, it’s delivered much more cold and even paranoid making. “You know, Bob. If one didn’t know you any better, one might think you were playing with the truth!” More sinister you see and less confrontational. In England, “we” say “sorry” dozens a times a day. You’re going into a store and someone is coming out through the same door and there’s not enough room for you both, so you cover your face and say, “Sorry”. Sorry for what? You didn’t build the door. Or if you want to interrupt a passerby’s solitude, you open with “Sorry…” before you ask for their watch and threaten to stab them.
You’re in line at the supermarket, you leave the line for a moment to get some chewing gum on the nearby rack. You get back to your place in line and there’s someone there. What do you do. If you use the phrase “Excuse me”, meaning you are about to simply politely inform them of your rightful place in line, fear awaits you because the phrase “Excuse me” has somehow become a prelude to a confrontation. “Excuse me? Excuse YOU!” and then guns ablaze. Try going to your local Starbucks. You know that little sugar and cream stand for making your coffee exactly how you like it?
Notice next time how a stranger who must pass his or her arm in front of your eyes to reach for the yellow packet of carcinogenic fake sugar, never says “Sorry”; oh no. What you’ll hear is very quiet whispering. Indecipherable mumbling, which is supposed to indicate, “I deeply apologize for invading your space and I hope you can forgive me and not think me a crazy pervert.” Something like that. I say, teach your fellow American how to be polite. Just communicate. Don’t be afraid to let a stranger know you don’t want to kill them. You just want some bloody sugar.
This has been Steven Alan Green for The Hollywood Dog. 1/31/17