Rude People, Rude Behavior
“Do you think about why some people think it’s OK to be rude?” This quote is a question my friend, Leslie, asked on her Facebook wall today. I think it’s a really important question.
Having been thought of many times in my life as a rude person, this is a topic I have thought about. Quite a bit actually.
And the conclusion I have come to is that rude behavior and whether or not someone is a rude person is very subjective. And the way rudeness is perceived especially varies from culture to culture. We have to ask ourselves…who gets to decide what IS rude?
I’m Jewish and was born in England to one English parent and one parent from Long Island New York. We immigrated to the US When I was about two years old. You might think that immigrating from England isn’t such a different cultural shift from American culture, but if we judge the difference based on the number of times I heard “You Americans” in a distasteful tone out of my English grandmother’s mouth, I would say it’s pretty different.
My husband Timothy, on the other hand, was raised an evangelical Christian in the southern United States. It’s an understatement to say we have, or at least we had, exceptionally different understandings of what is rude. Over the years that understanding has become much more nuanced for both of us as we have grown used to each other’s perceptions of rudeness that we inherited from our respective cultures.
But the extended family relationships weren’t as easy to grow into. His family has always thought I was rude because I say what I think. If I disagree with someone, I tell them and I also tell them why I disagree. In my mind, this is an opportunity to open a conversation. It’s a chance to grow, to learn and to challenge one’s mind by challenging our own perspectives.
To most people who have met a Jew, it’s no surprise that Jews argue. And I’m not the first Jew to be taken by surprise when my questioning was seen as rudeness in a cross cultural context. His family never did get used to my mode of conversation, even though I tried my best to be respectful and thoughtful of their perspective, while still being genuine. Timothy and I had many, many post-family-visit conversations in which I would grill him about everything I said… Was I nice enough? Did I offend anyone? Did they have a good reasons to be offended?
But I wasn’t the only one making a social faux pas. His family exhibited plenty of behaviors that they might be surprised to learn I felt were extremely rude. I was always offended and felt his family was rude, when they refused to answer a question I asked directly. I knew they harbored ill feelings about me, but they would never say it to my face. We couldn’t seem to air things out and come to an understanding. Truth be told, Timothy and I had many of the same cultural misunderstandings. But because we worked through them, and made the effort to see things from one another’s perspective, we communicate well and don’t take offense to our different styles of communication.
Food was another big source of frustration. We’re all taught as kids the social rules of our culture and the the things we should do and not do to maintain the status quo. In my husband’s family there are unwritten rules about being a guest in someone’s home. They thought I was rude because I didn’t eat what I was served when visiting.
In my family it is incumbent upon the host to make sure your guest has food that meets both their taste and dietary needs. In their family it was incumbent upon the guest to make the host comfortable. Even if it meant eating something you found disgusting or were even allergic to. I was surprised at one point when I heard my sister in law say how proud she was of her husband, Timothy’s brother, because he had eaten a food he was allergic to when it was served their host. His throat had swelled up a little, but he was able to get through it.
Who is right? I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong. (Well, except with the throat swelling thing…I definitely think there is an objective “right” in that issue.) But generally speaking, when our cultural norms clash with those from other cultures, we can perceive others and be perceived ourselves, as rude. Such is the melting pot of the United States. I believe it is worth the effort to understand one another and give a lot of leeway with other people’s behavior.