I am waiting in line in the grocery store buying milk and bread shortly before it closes. As it is late, there is only one checker, a young high school-aged boy. There is a woman in her late fifties behind me, but the store is mostly quiet, save for Hall and Oates’ “Your Kiss Is On My Lips” (as uncomfortable a song as ever was written) playing on the store’s speakers. The customer in front of me pays for his items, takes his bags and leaves. I step up to take my turn.
The transaction, for your amusement:
Me: Good evening. How do you do?
Checkout Clerk (scanning items): Wow! That’s awesome!
Me: What is?
CC: Your accent! Where are you from, dude?
Me: I beg your pardon?
CC: Easter Europe? No, no, waywaywait. Australia?! Oh, Australia would be so bro!
Me (clearly confused): My accent?
CC: Yeah, yeah! Where’re you from?!
Me: Actually, I’m uh- I’m from here.
CC (clearly disappointed): Oh… (long pause) uh, $7.22.
I swipe my credit card and take my items. I briefly consider saying something and then decide against it.
The subsequent scene outside wherein the older lady approaches me in the parking lot and the humorous thing happens:
Older Lady: You don’t have an accent, do you?
Me: No, ma’am, I do not.
Older Lady: I think he mistook your having manners for an accent. Sad, isn’t it?
Older Lady: How did he decide that your accent was either Eastern European or Australian? How are those two places remotely similar? Do students still take geography?
The furthering of irreverence so as to prove that I, despite my near hermitude, consistently have odd and unexpected social interactions with complete strangers:
I am walking my dog on a local trail. It is a crystalline and cool Colorado early morning. Though I did not expect to see anyone else this early (and perhaps because of the assumption), there appeared a couple walking toward us with another dog, I had my dog stop and sit next to me in order to be polite. As the couple approached, I called out a greeting.
“Good morning. How do you do?”
The late middle-aged man did a double take, glared in my direction, picked up his pace and strode toward me.
“What did you say?” He wasn’t overtly aggressive, but his sentence was much more a declarative statement than a question.
“I, uh- how do you do?”
“My god,” he begins to laugh. He puts a palm to his forehead. “I haven’t heard that greeting in nigh on twenty years! ‘How do you do’?! Wonderful! I’m quite well, son. How do you do?”
“I uh- very well, thank you for asking.”
“Are you a local?”
“Well, you have yourself one hell of a fine day! It’s good to know there are some good eggs out there!”
And he walked away, chuckling to his wife and pointing a thumb over his shoulder at me.
The realization that, like Brian Wilson, “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”:
I am rereading Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley and with every page I find myself more and more entranced by his language, his manner (and manners) and the manner (and manners) of those he encounters. I don’t want to be called ‘bro’. I don’t appreciate being greeted with a “Whazup?” ‘Yo’ is reserved exclusively for ironic purposes, thank you. I wouldn’t mind a lot more “please” and “thank you”, “I beg your pardon”, “With your permission” and even (perish the thought) “Excuse me”. Moreover, I wouldn’t mind a lot more of the things that these phrases represent- the conscientious and selfless care for those around us and the recognition that we are not, in fact, the centers of the known universe.
I get it. I’m a crotchety old man in a twenty-seven year old body saying “How do you do?” to those I encounter, completely taken aback when people who are unused to such things believe me to be from Eastern Europe or Australia. I don’t have an accent. I’m just a walking anachronism blindly tooting my own horn in the impolite wilderness.
So, that’s good.
I just wasn’t made for these times.