That American Manner

It is hurricane season again, Z-titlan members, so it is time to watch the National Hurricane Center website.

I have been to some parties since arriving in the United States and there was more drinking and lecturing, and less interaction, than Mexicans seem to undertake. It is as though we had been trained to compete for space rather than share it, even when we would prefer the latter, or as though we wanted recognition more than we did conversation.

In Mexico I read an article by Morris Berman on rudeness in the United States; now I see he has an English version of it on his blog. It quotes extensively from a book by Dick Meyer on American society. I am not sure I agree fully with either analysis, but both writers make interesting observations.


Just simple, rude noncommunication…. [R]udeness in everyday interactions in the US is simply coin of the realm.

‘Americans are basically robots; they just go through the motions, they really don’t know what they are doing or why.’ [N. Ed.: This was the conformity Reeducation wanted, I believe. –Z]

Interactions with the staff of stores now boils down to nothing more than a cash transaction, for both parties; [there is no longer] a human dimension to these interactions….

Thus the environment is little more than a “receptacle” for…activity; it isn’t something people have a real relationship to, any more.


Much of what we hate in everyday life are the things that make us feel alone, invisible, disregarded, or dismissed. That’s how we feel when someone is using a Blackberry in the middle of a conversation….

U.S. citizens are isolated because it is unhealthy to risk contact with one’s fellow citizens. When bullies are free to act out their aggression and disdain for others…then others will act to limit their exposure to people…. It is healthier to be lonely than to risk contact with a society without decency….

Boorishness and vulgarity are sanctified by public culture and thus omnipresent.

[One cannot be] an admired leader of a corrupt institution, a noble player in a decadent system, or a clean pool in a toxic stream.

Meyer appears to find the cause of the malaise in the “egotism” of “the sixties.”  It has to be older than this and it has to stem from something else, I strongly suspect. What do you think?

Berman has another piece on societal violence, with an interesting comments thread. And one hotel I stayed at in Oaxaca expected American guests. It had a lot of signs in English requesting, essentially, that people be polite, in ways it assumed or knew they would not know how to be.


3 thoughts on “That American Manner

  1. One of my favorite comments on those posts is this:

    “The counterpoint to this free-floating rage we sense below the surface of life north of the Rio Grande is a cynical deployment of surface courtesy as a tool in social one-upmanship, in the dealings of authority with its subjects, or market handling of the public. No other society uses such behavior in quite this way – to patronize, to deflect justified anger, to deny the uncomfortable reality of what is being said. The particular tone of officious security personnel enjoying a couple-of-points boost above their actual class origins. The voice of telemarketers or credit card help lines not bothering to hide their contempt for the insincerity of the scripts they talk us through. It is an excessively smiling, yet fundamentally hostile and unhappy tone found on the therapeutic left as well as the sanctimonious right.

    “This has a direct, chicken and egg relationship to the growing rage we all sense is bubbling beneath the surface, but I’m not sure its a result of cultural decline. It might actually be something from pre-modern court culture that has been hardwired since the Tudor era or so into that enduring part of Anglo cultural DNA we term…smarm, refracted by a thousand training seminars and a million media iterations into a standard mode of adversarial communication for all demographics.

    “It seems to me that when practiced abroad, (except perhaps in similarly afflicted Anglo Saxon cultures) such behaviour has no purchase, no ability to stoke helpless rage. Instead it stands revealed for the pathological and parochial cultural tic that it is.

    “Other cultures have other tics. The finely honed perversion of reasonableness and courtesy for uncaring ends is something particularly well inscribed in ours.”

    Down thread, Berman says Dale Carnegie’s _How to Make Friends and Influence People_ is a classic in that genre; I obviously need to read this book, then, as it would explain a lot.

  2. Win, quite right. Key.

    It also occurs to me, reading through that comment again, that the smarm just a socially sanctioned way to not only express or give vent to the rage, but to engage in abuse one then cannot be called on. Simpler than a counterpoint, really, a yet more direct correspondence, although it sometimes behaves like a counterpoint.

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