The difference between “excuse me” and “excuse me, please” is huge – like I’ll let you take that last can of Bruce’s Yams kind of significant.
That’s the power of kindness. Yet the little word that signifies it – please – seems to have gone out of fashion.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had “excuse me!” barked in my direction, be it the designer shoe aisle at Nordstrom Rack (really lady, you can have first dibs at the Tory Burch section; I’m not willing to tackle you for them), or my neighborhood grocer.
Even if you’re in a hurry (as I often am), it’s always ok to acknowledge the other folks in your immediate vicinity, preferably with more than a general grunt expressing your own inconvenience.
One of the crusty high school teachers from my upbringing, known for dispensing grains of curmudgeonly wisdom from his desk in the sophomore laboratory, put it this way:
“If you hold the door open for a lady and she doesn’t say thank you, let go of it.”
While that’s not quite my approach, I kind of get where Mr. Owens was coming from. Basic social graces go farther – and mean more – when they are returned in kind.
Equally important? Saying it like you mean it.
I can count on one hand the lectures I attended during college that to this day, are with me clear as the day I first heard them.
One included an exercise from an elective class, focused on the fundamentals of communication. To drive home the point of how tone impacts interpretation, the professor wrote nine words across the whiteboard:
“I did not share a bed with your sister.”
As we read it aloud together, emphasizing a different word each time, giggles turned to full on snorts.
Tone means everything.
And if yours is full of impatience, irritation, and sarcasm, that “Excuse me, please” is about as effective as flipping off the person who is in your way, not moving fast enough and otherwise oblivious to their surroundings.
Even in a season of life when we can have our groceries delivered, and most every other amenity on our doorsteps within 24 hours, there are still (blessedly) times when we’ll find ourselves elbow to elbow with folks, when a little common courtesy is in order.
Unlike those sickeningly sweet tubers, I bet you’ll actually like it.