Sunday, October 23, 2011

Miss Manners Must Speak

One topic I write about often in blog posts is my discomfort with being stared at.  I suppose it goes back to the fact that we humans are just animals like everyone else in the kingdom, and one who does the staring is usually a predator while the one being stared at is usually the prey.  When someone stares at me, I cringe because I feel like I am about to be eaten.  Also, my mother taught me as a young child not to stare at people because it makes them uncomfortable.  I thought everyone's mothers taught them that, so it never ceases to astound me when I run into grown ups who stare.  Do they not care how it makes others feel?

I remember when every time my mother and I ran into someone she knew, the adult would always fawn all over me, saying what an adorable child I was.  It scared me to have their eyes bearing down on me while they were showing their teeth, so I always hid behind my mother's skirt.  She'd apologize and tell the people that I am shy.

My husband and I have this routine in which whenever we are seated in a restaurant, I always take the seat that will allow my back to be facing the majority of the other customers in the restaurant.  Why?  Because for some reason, people are fascinated with my face.  They stare at me so hard and for so long that I lose my appetite.  It could be my head tremor attracting their attention, but I seriously can't understand why a head tremor would be so fascinating.  Ronald Regan had a head tremor throughout most of his presidency and people looked at him all the time on TV.  It's not like a head tremor is something new and alien.

So, the other night we went to a restaurant and were seated in a booth.  We tend to face each other so that we can look at each other while we talk.  There's a difference between giving someone your attention and looking at them when they are speaking to you, and just downright staring at someone you don't even know.  So, the hostess seated a man and woman in the booth across the aisle from us, and this couple preferred to sit side-by-side, which made it so that they were facing my husband and I.  Since the aisle was so narrow and the booths so small, it felt like they were sitting at our table with us.

As my husband and I talked, this other couple listened and reacted to everything we said by whispering comments to each other.  They were close enough that I could hear what they were saying, and it definitely had to do with us.  I got so annoyed that I almost told them to pull up a couple of highchairs and join us instead of eavesdropping and whispering.

The woman in particular was staring so hard at the side of my face that I turned to look her in the eye.  She knew enough about etiquette to look away and pretend like she was studying all the items on her table.  I looked at the man too, and he quickly averted his eyes to a painting on the wall.  No sooner did I return to my conversation with my husband and they were both back to staring at us.

When our meal arrived, they got all excited as if they thought it was theirs.  They kept commenting on how good the food looked.  I thought perhaps they ordered the same thing.  They were still waiting for their meal while we were eating, and they watched us eat the entire time.  My husband kept getting food on his face, and I had to keep telling him to wipe it off, because he had an audience.  Normally, I couldn't care less if he had food on his face, but on this occasion I felt like we were on stage.  When the couple's meal arrived, it wasn't at all what we ordered.

All I could figure out was that this couple was on a date and didn't feel comfortable enough with each other to look at each other and have their own conversation.  They could only people-watch and discuss what was right in front of their eyes.  Had I gone out on a date with someone who wouldn't look at me or talk to me over dinner when I was single, there wouldn't have been a second date.

I was watching House Hunters the other day and a single woman was looking for an apartment.  She brought a friend along to give her opinions.  For a first floor flat, the friend said, "Oh, you don't want to live here.  People walking by on the street can just look right in the window at you."

Then they looked at an apartment a few floors up in a skyscraper that had a balcony and the friend said, "Oh, this will be great for people-watching!  We can sit up here all day and no one will know we are looking down on them."

I rolled my eyes.  Obviously, the woman doesn't want anyone watching her, but she's perfectly comfortable making a sport out of watching others.  The only time I ever remember being interested in watching other people was when I was a teenager on the hunt for boys.  I admit that one time my friend and I went to the mall and sat on benches across from each other to rate the boys.  Each time a young man walked between us, we each would hold up a number between 1 and 10 to rate his looks.  That's terrible, I know, but it was a "turnabout is fair play" situation, because my friend and I had been on the other end of that game for so many years.  I was usually rated around 7 by the boys, but I also had my share of boys barking at me and calling out, "Dog alert!"

Usually, when adults watch other people, it is because the person is doing some activity that interests them, such as playing a sport, acting in a play, giving a speech, marching in a band, or jumping a horse around a course.  People expect to be watched when they are participating in public activities like that.  However, when I am sitting in my own booth eating a meal with my husband, watering my lawn, or shoveling manure in my horse paddock, I do not expect to be watched.  If I'm just walking down the street to pick up my mail, I don't understand why driver's driving past all have to slow down and turn their heads to stare at me.  I'm doing such mundane things.  I'm not a pretty, young woman with a nice figure.  I'm a middle-aged, pudgy slob.  So, what is so fascinating about me?

Maybe it's time that I just ask.  I wonder what would have happened if I turned to the people at the table next to us and said, "Why are you staring at us and commenting on our conversation?"

I'm guessing they'd deny it and try harder to cover up their behavior.  If I wave at the unknown drivers who slow down and stare, they will probably look away and drive faster since they don't know me.  Either that or stop me to ask for directions and waste more of my time.  It's easier to confront people who you probably will never see again than to confront people who you have to see every day like your neighbors.  Although I do get some sick pleasure out of being nice to everyone else in the neighborhood while purposefully ignoring my nosy neighbors who stalk me and stare at me.

When I invited my nice neighbors over to my property to pet my horses, I could see that my nosy neighbor was livid.  She hovers around me all day and I ignore her simply because I don't like her approach.  It's predatory.  My other neighbor just walked up, waved, and announced her intentions for why she was approaching me.  That's polite.  Politeness deserves politeness, so I invited her over.

Oh, one other story while I'm on the topic of the neighbors.  When I was getting Lostine ready for her trail ride, all the people who live in the house next door came out and were making a racket on the other side of the fence revving engines and throwing tools into the back of a truck.  The woman yelled, "The dog got out and is loose."

The younger man said, "Oh, don't worry about it.  He just runs around the neighborhood and eventually comes back."

I was fuming.  What a self-centered thing to say.  All that man was thinking about was them getting their dog back.  He didn't once consider that the dog was coming over to my property and pooping on my lawn, and going over to my neighbor's place and chasing her horses around.  I know they know what the dog is doing when it's running around the neighborhood.

I can't call animal control, because we don't have leash laws and they know this dog belongs to these neighbors, so they'd just tell me to take it back to their house.  I used to do that, but I'm tired of putting my energy into getting the dog back to their house when they just keep releasing it despite knowing that I don't want their dog crapping all over my property.  Yes, I could put a flaming bag of their own dog's poop on their porch, but I'd probably be arrested.  If I skip the flames, I can skip prison, but they are probably too stupid to make the connection that it is their own dog's feces.  Plus someone is always home at their house, and they'd probably have me arrested for trespassing despite them trespassing on my property on a daily basis.  The best I could do is to collect the dog poop off my lawn and throw it over the fence, just like they let the kid they babysit throw rocks over the fence at my horses.

As a stark contrast to my nosy, annoying, inconsiderate neighbors, my good neighbors had some kind of big get-together at their place this weekend.  There were 15 to 20 vehicles, many with out-of-state plates parked up and down the street, kids were playing on their front lawn, adults were partying in the house and the back yard, occasionally people would spill out onto the road, but not once did I see anyone come onto my driveway or front lawn.  Not once did I see anyone staring at me while I did my barn chores.  Not once did anyone come over to my fence to feed or pet my horses.  Every single one of these people understood that there was a line between us and them, and they respected it.

I even saw some ladies walking their dog on a leash, and they didn't make a beeline for my driveway island, but politely walked the dog on their side of the road down to the main highway.  Also, the neighbors instructed everyone to park on their side of the street, and only when there was no place left to park did they allow people to park in front of my house.  The only thing that would have been more polite would have been if they let me know ahead of time that these people were coming and ask if it was okay for them to park on my property.  They have done that in the past, and we were so impressed with their considerateness.  The party was amazingly quiet compared to the window-shaking way that our nosy, annoying, inconsiderate neighbors slam their doors fifty-thousand times a day and let their engines idle for hours on end, creating a low-vibration hum that radiates throughout our house and wakes us up both at night and in the morning.

Though the party did put a crimp in my horse plans for the afternoon, it did give me hope that there are still some normal people with manners who exist in this world. 


lytha said...

in America, it is socially acceptable for very young children to stare. then like your mother taught you, you stop. in germany mothers do not teach this and staring is socially normal here. the ex pat forum i'm on has a lot of offended americans wondering wth with the staring! i get pretty ticked but this issue isn't nearly as bothersome to me as the personal space bubble issue - lack of.

you'd love germany for the noise ordinances but you'd sure hate the staring and crowding!

achieve1dream said...

I'll be back to read this post, just wanted to respond to your comment about the pictures of me and Chrome. My secret is that I took 530 pictures lol. :D And got those that I posted and the ones on my Farmer Life blog. I always take a ton of pictures to get a few great ones, I just usually only post the great ones. :)

Yesterday was a good day because Chrome was in a relaxed, laid back mood. Some days he would have been all up in my face if I tried that, but yesterday he did fantastic waiting for me while I set up the shots. We've also been working on ground tying with the clicker and that carried over sometimes too even though I didn't use my cue (since I didn't want to have to back it up). He's a good boy and I actually love the soft, sleepy look that came across in the pictures. :) Thanks for commenting!

achieve1dream said...

Yep I hate being stared at too. It makes me very uncomfortable. That's one reason I have stage fright and don't participate in any sports (including showing horses).

I guess I'm not as nice as you are. If that happened to me at the restaurant I would have turned myself sideways in the seat and stared at the other couple. I doubt I would have said anything either though because I don't like confrontation, but I have no problem turning the staring back on them. I've done it at work. My store shares a building with a restaurant and their booths line up with the door between the two making it perfect for the people eating over there to stare through the door at me where I'm standing behind the counter. So I just stare back. So annoying.

As far as the dog is concerned I'm also not as nice in that situation. I chase them off, throw rocks at them (don't hit them because my aim is horrible and I'd feel awful if I got it in the head) or shoot them with a pellet pistol (stings, but can't harm them, again don't get them in the head - I have much better aim with a pistol than a rock). If they see me doing it I don't care because there are laws that say you can keep animals off of your property (to protect livestock). If they have a problem with it they can pen up their stupid dog. :) I feel bad for the dog (which should learn to avoid my property even if the owners won't do anything about it). I hate using punishment as a training tool, but training the poor fellow is the neighbor's responsibility. Not mine. I don't have time to waste caring for other people's animals. I've even thrown things at dogs who cross onto my property when people are walking them off leash in front of my property. The reason I'm so strict about it is because I have free range chickens that they could kill. People learn quick not to trespass on my property.

I'm very rude to trespassing humans. I get very in their face, demanding their reason for being there and telling them I will call the cops. It's just something I have no patience for. They usually get the hint and it only happens once.

Okay I'm making myself seem really mean, but I'm not. I just don't put up with disrespect. I'm really tall so I can be very intimidating and I use that to my advantage. If those people actually knew what a pushover I was they'd walk right over me. I guess I have my bluff in on them though. :)

Unfortunately since the noise and staring are happening on their property I really don't know what you can do about it. I can usually tune out most noise, but my neighbors are not as close as yours are. The staring would definitely get on my nerves. I hope you can find something that works. Did you try photographing them when they are staring? You have every right to take pictures on your property. If they say something just tell them you never even noticed them and that you were photographing something behind them. They will know that you were photographing them, but what can they say to you? You aren't doing anything wrong. It might be enough to make them realize how uncomfortable it is to be stared at. Good luck!!