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The Vine: August 25, 2010

Submitted by on August 25, 2010 – 10:26 AM61 Comments

Dear Sars,

I am writing because I find myself increasingly…angry. I live in London and have done so for almost ten years. Because of my family situation, I won't be leaving the city any time soon.

I find that the little things about urban living are getting to me. Drivers who honk at me because I'm not driving fast enough for them (I drive just over the speed limit, and have been caught by a speed camera for going 37 in a 30 zone — it's really easy to get caught speeding here). Cyclists who speed through crossings where pedestrians have the right of way, knocking old ladies (and, once, me) to the ground. Taxi drivers who hear my accent and disregard my perfectly clear instructions on which route to take.

I guess I just feel like the basic rules of interacting in society are being eroded, and it's really getting to me. These don't tend to be situations where you can calmly speak your mind, they tend to be situations that happen very quickly and then the person is gone. Sometimes I yell at the people who do these things, but that just ends up making me feel worse. But if I don't say anything, I feel like they…win, somehow? You've lived in a major city for a long time now — how do you avoid letting this kind of thing get to you?

Bikes are supposed to stop at zebra crossings, you know

Dear Bike,

I'd like to tell you that I have a trick for letting these things go, but I don't. I agree that it seems as though the world has gotten less considerate in the last few years, and I have a theory about that relating to smart phones, texting, etc., and the way portable devices isolate users from the concept of sharing spaces courteously, but theories don't do much in the day-to-day.

Two things do help me somewhat. The first is getting out of the city now and then. All the rudeness and cluelessness has a cumulative effect, at least for me, and it helps to go to my parents' house, or up to the Cape, or wherever, even for an overnight, and get away from it. You don't have to go far, or stay over; just break your routine somehow. Take a different route to work. Find a green space in the city and chill there for an hour after work — read a book, catnap on a blanket, whatever. I like to go to Floyd Bennett Field periodically and walk around or watch the remote-control-car races; it's like a reset, and it's right there in the city.

I also like to go to my hometown, where everything is shuttered and dark by 10 PM, to remind myself that the quiet suburban life is wonderful…and utterly not for me. So, just change things up a bit for a day or two.

My other trick, which is ridiculous and should not work but does for some reason, is positive affirmations of other people. I started doing it in a horrendo traffic jam on Staten Island once — cheerily waving and thumbs-upping fellow drivers who allowed me to merge; complimenting everyone else on the road on their patience and reminding them that we had to work together; informing a toadstool who cut me off that I knew he had many fine qualities and probably looked great in that shirt, and I totally did not hope he stepped in poo and then tracked it into his Escalade. Then I made up a song about the Pooscalade and sang it loudly. I know: weirdballs, but anyone who's tried to get over the Goethals on a summer Sunday feels me. Nobody could hear me, and it began as a kind of a joke — "You gained half a car length squeezing out a Smart! Well done, Inahurry O'Gasguzzler!" — and maybe that's why it works, but I had gotten so tired of actively hating other drivers and wanting to jam bees into everyone's transmissions that I had to try something else, or I was going to have a heart attack.

The hard part is that you know you shouldn't take it personally, but then you take that personally — "How can nobody be paying attention?!" Turning it around and trying to make it personal with a friendly attitude, even if it feels (and is) fake, somehow has the effect of negating those feelings that everyone in the city is actively ignoring your comfort.

Living in a city, on top of everyone else who lives there, is tough. Give yourself a day off, literally if you can — and switch up your mood with something dumb like Compulsive Waving Family: UK Edition.

So, I sit about eight feet away from a co-worker who chews gum. Big, huge hunks of sticky gum…loudly. And with a visibly open mouth, so that all the wet, slappy, spitty mouth noises (as well as the cracking and bubble-popping) float into my ears…all throughout the day (when she's not eating various snacks, like peanuts, which, oddly enough, present the same problem — minus, of course, the bubbles). Why, I don't know, as it seems more difficult to chew that way than it would be to…NOT.

This is flat-out gross. It is disgusting to listen to this smacky, moist, squishy sound all day (and gum in general — the idea of it at all — just makes me queasy). My problem is, when headphones are not an option…what then? I have found in the past that you can ask people to, say, turn down their music or even turn off a cell phone, but this is taken as an insult, as if you're insinuating that someone is devoid of manners and social skills.

I would not like this to be the case. My co-worker is otherwise awesome. We have traveled together, and have our stupid inside jokes, and can often guess what the other is thinking when a random expletive is unleashed. Yet, she's not close enough that I'd have no problem saying, "Cut that shit out!" like I would to a longtime friend. On the other hand, she is far from a stranger to whom I might (but probably not) say, "Excuse me, but could you…?" Every time I hear a crack, pop, or chew sound, I feel…rage!

How do you tell an adult to chew with her damn mouth shut without sounding like a total jerk?

Dear Mouth,

"Excuse me — I'm so sorry, but the gum-popping is making it kind of hard for me to concentrate. It's just a thing I have, so…would you mind chewing silently until I'm done with [x]? Thanks so much, I really appreciate it."

You'll have to do it a few times. Eventually, you may reach a shorthand for it if she's someone you generally feel comfortable with: "Uch, effing spreadsheet. …Gum? Great, thanks."

A lot of people 1) chew the hell out of their gum, and 2) don't realize how much noise it makes (and how gross that noise is) when they do so. Start by asking occasionally that she knock it off, and if that's going okay, start asking more often (or wait for her to figure out based on when/how often you ask that it's not that awesome for her to make squirgly noises with her snack substitute).

To everyone else: if it's an otherwise quiet environment, gum stays in mouth, mouth stays closed.

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61 Comments »

  • Lisa says:

    Dear Mouth:

    I would quit that job. THAT'S how much I despise gum-chewing. Seriously, my hatred for it borders on the obsessive. I dropped a class in college once because the girl behind me chewed gum and the teacher wouldn't allow me to move. I always sit on the back row of any public meeting place, like a movie theater, because the thought of someone sitting behind me chewing gum (even with their mouth closed, you can still hear it) makes my heart race and my palm sweat.

    So, yeah. I feel your pain. When I rule the world, gum-chewers will be beheaded at dawn. (I kid!) (Only sorta.)

  • Jeanne says:

    I second the rec for Bike. Whenever I feel like I'm going to go crazy if one more car just misses running me over while I'm in the crosswalk with the right of way, or when a big-ass vehicle parks itself right on the crosswalk forcing me to walk in traffic to cross the road, I think about how crazy I would go if I had to live in the boonies where my parents and brother are.

    Whenever I visit the quiet unsettles me after a while, and the fact that everything closes at 10 and 6pm is late for dinner bugs me immensely. There's nothing to do other than eat and drink. There's no decent shopping. The public transportation sucks so you really can't get anywhere without a car, forcing me to spend so much time with my family that if I'm there too long I start to resent them.

    Then when I get back to the city I appreciate being able to walk to a convenience store at 1am if I need to, and being able take a train or a bus to several malls and movie theaters. It's awesome.

  • Amie says:

    I agree with Sars advice to give positive affirmations while in traffic. I noticed that I really appreciated it when people would give me a wave or nod when I was being a courteous driver to them, so I decided to do the same, and overall it just makes me feel better, knowing I'm positively reinforcing courteous behavior. It may sound silly, but I feel like I'm adding to a net positive of niceness in the universe, and hopefully will spread, even a tiny bit.

  • attica says:

    I went to a Halloween party once in another borough, that required me driving some of the meanest stretches of road dressed in a nun's habit. Lemme tell you, I have NEVER gotten such consideration from my fellow drivers. It was eye-opening, shocking. And it cracked me all up, because: Delivery Van Guy Who Would Cut Off His Mom And Be Proud Of It, if you think you're getting heavenly brownie points by letting me merge, oh, what a bad bet you've made.

    And the remembrance of that drive has tempered many a potential road rage since ("Yeah, if I was dressed up like a nun, you'd'a let me in, you bastard!" "Heh.").

    Costume shops are plentiful, habits are cheap and easily doffed once you get where you're going. Is all I'm saying. ;)

  • Maren says:

    I do wonder if the national level of consideration for others is changing, or if our tolerance for public rudeness just lessens as we get older? I used to live in a tiny college town overriden by inept cyclists and it drove me bonkers, but come on — traffic in places like India is so insane you are literally taking your life in your hands every time you go out on the streets. The proliferation of vehicles with high centers of gravity (nowadays I live in SUV Town, USA) does seem to mean that the people in them develop a form of assholeish driving based on "if you can't see me, I can do whatever I want", but I am also guessing that medieval cart drivers were not particularly careful of pedestrians. Did the US maybe just have some kind of crazy period of peace and sanity on the roads in the 20th century, and the shift to normalcy feels rude to those of us who were born at the tail end?

  • EB says:

    Hey Bike. My wife created (or borrowed, not sure) a device that helps in those traffic situations. Sounds goofy, but it works: Mad maracas. She drew an angry face on a maraca, and when another driver does one of those infuriating things in traffic, instead of flipping them the bird, she grabs her maraca and shakes it at them. It's so silly, it's tough to keep the anger flowing.

    Otherwise, breathe deep and know you're not alone!

  • redacted says:

    I had that exact same problem as Mouth. It got to the point where noise-cancelling headphones cancelled everything except the gum popping. Many times I tried to initiate The Sars Solution ™ but stopped myself in fear of being rude or causing strain in an otherwise pleasant work friendship. I even started chewing on my own gum like cud in an effort to a) make her realize how disgusting it sounds and b) drown out her smacking except the cumulative result of that was annoying myself further. The problem has temporarily abated since she works from home most days but I no longer look forward to the days she comes into the office anymore. Is bringing the subject up repeatedly really not considered to be rude?

  • Jackie D says:

    Bike, I think life is really hard if you focus so much on what other people are doing wrong, what they should be doing, how you'd have them do it, etc. At least that was/is my experience. When people are assholes, all you can do is not be an asshole and hope that they will someday not be an asshole, too. Sinking to their level isn't the way forward, and neither is wishing you could control what you can't. If you believe in a higher power, I suggest praying for the bastard – somehow, and I don't know how or why, that seems to help. (But I do think that getting the hell out of London as soon as you can is a great idea. Many of my friends have, and I did after a decade. For a day trip, I highly recommend getting the train from Charing Cross to Sevenoaks and spending a day at Knole Park, the 1000 acre deer park where Virginia Woolf based "Orlando". Windsor Park, the New Forest, Richmond Park, or any other huge space will do.)

  • nsfinch says:

    Oh my gosh, I thought I was the only person who sang songs at idiot drivers! It's usually opera-like, and I imagine myself in a horned helmet and a brass brassiere as I emote, "Yooooou, sir, are an aaaassshooooole, and I'm so glaaaad you gained one measly car length before you hit that red light!" Unfortunately, I don't drive that often, and I haven't been brave enough to do it when I'm a pedestrian and can't roll my windows up and sing at the top of my lungs.

    Singing instead of yelling has reduced my road rage from "So scary I once aggressively tailgated an idiot driver, running a red light" to virtually nil. That's only one part of Bike's problem, of course, but I find that being totally silly on occasion helps reduce my stress in most areas of life.

  • cayenne says:

    @Mouth – "I have found in the past that you can ask people to, say, turn down their music or even turn off a cell phone, but this is taken as an insult, as if you're insinuating that someone is devoid of manners and social skills."

    But…the point is that she IS devoid of manners. Her behaviour is impolite and disgusting to be around, which seems to be what defines "unmannerly" and "antisocial" in every vocabulary, social and etiquette dictionary I've ever encountered.

    People like that just don't like being told so, and thus "I'm an adult and you are not my mother, so don't call me on my shit" is the oh-so-mature response. Don't indulge that – you wouldn't encourage self-indulgent, whiny crap in a 6-year-old, and it's even less to be tolerated in a grown woman. Ultimately, too bad if they don't like it; if they act like a civilized adult, then no one will criticize. Amazing how that happens.

  • Alison says:

    For Bike…

    Some of those people, probably not all but some of them, have really awful things going on in their lives — are on a way to see a dying parent, just found out they themselves have cancer, just lost a job, etc. It's so easy to forget to be thoughtful of the world around you when that kind of thing is going on. For me, sometimes remembering that that could be the explanation will help.

  • Ashley says:

    For Mouth (and Lisa), turns out there's a disorder called misophonia, with which you have an actual physiological fight-or-flight reaction to other people's gross mouth noises, like eating and breathing. Swear to god. I just learned about it and it was one of those things where my whole life just made sense all of a sudden. So if it's a problem for you beyond your co-worker, Mouth, and it sure sounds like it is for you, Lisa, I'd recommend finding a behavioralist who can help you deal with it, because it is a real thing and not just an irrational dislike on your part.

  • Bike,

    I also try to remember the good parts about living in the city (for me, having access to so many movies right when they open, and all the bookstores and libraries I can browse), and while this may sound corny, there are all kinds of random kindnesses performed in the city as well, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to be on the receiving end of those. I know it can hard sometimes (with all you mention above, there's also the cost of living), but I still think living in the city is ultimately worth it.

  • Arlene says:

    Mouth: It is a noted scientific fact that chewing gum reduces stress: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/119826.php. Perhaps you would do well to adopt the practice too.

  • Cara says:

    Bike – My friend Tim has an excellent philosophy. Whenever something bad happens, most people assume that it is inevitable (e.g. "I'm running late for an appointment so of course I hit every red light.") He thinks that the reverse should be true. If something good happens, he assumes it was meant to be instead of just luck.

    All this is to say that it helps to shift your thinking. If you start looking for the positives, you'll start to notice and appreciate them more. It takes work and it will make you feel like Stuart Smalley and Pollyanna wrapped up in one cheesy package, but it does help. It's easier to deal with the petty annoyances when there's a counterbalance.

    Otherwise, definitely find a sanctuary. London is full of spectacular parks. By the way, every time I've been to Hyde Park on a Sunday, there has been at least one group of hot Eastern European men playing soccer. You know, if that's your thing.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I may have to steal mad maracas.

    @redacted: Asking politely that a sound you find distracting or nauseating be stopped is not rude. Repeatedly asking politely is not rude either. You're not saying, "That's really rude and gross," but rather, "This one behavior is making it hard for me to focus; would you mind putting it on pause for a while?" "I" statements, basically. I get the sense that Mouth's co-worker just doesn't know it's bothersome.

    @cayenne: I don't think she's antisocial; again, she likely has no idea that it's making that much noise, and once it's pointed out, the awareness may put a stop to it. Mouth implied that her co-worker is actually *not* "people like that" in most other regards, and sometimes people don't realize they're being annoying. Skyrockets almost stepped out a window one time because a particular wristwatch of mine was clacking on my laptop while I was typing. I was oblivious because I'm used to that watch, but when it was pointed out, I had no issue with just taking it off.

    Yes, some people are buttholes, but you have to give people at least that one chance to work with you.

  • Carrie Ann says:

    I also practice the "put on a happy face" method when I feel irritated by other drivers! My rules:

    1) Call everyone "sir," "ma'am," or make up a name based on the model of their car or state on their license plate. The key is speaking in polite, cheerful tones. "Mr. Indiana Camry, kindly move your slow ass to the right lane, thank you!"

    2) I give the thumbs-up or a wave to anyone who makes a particularly jerky move, along with a big happy grin.

    3) In the case of an erratic driver, I pretend that there is a puppy loose in their car! And they're desperately trying to wrangle it back in its crate before it gets hurt!

    Anyway, I don't usually have to drive for longer than 30 minutes, and I find that these methods can really entertain me and keep the rage at bay for just long enough.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Aw…a puppy loose in the car! I mean, please crate your pets responsibly etc., but: loose puppy!

  • Suz says:

    Bike, I could have written a letter exactly like yours any time in the last six months. I've lived in the Washington, DC metro area for ten years, take public transportation, and cross many busy intersections on a daily basis, and I feel you. I have been struck by bike messengers going the wrong way on a one-way street, had a hardback book spine jabbed into MY spine for a 15 minute subway ride, had more than one close encounter with a jerkoff turning when the "NO TURN" signal/sign/whatever is clearly visible and in effect…I could go on. If you dwell on every little thing, you will be grumpy and grouchy forever, and in my experience, become more prone to rude behavior yourself.

    Spend a night out where you can hear the night creatures and see the moon. Make an effort to do things you love in the city that you can't do in the suburbs and more rural areas. Sing lullabies to the hyperactive kid who lives above me and simultaneously think of ways to "thank" his mother for installing hardwood floors that transfer sound like a good stereo system.

    But mostly, just breathe. It's easy to get caught up in the hyper-competitive, rude, always-in-a-hurry, rules-don't-apply-to-me-because-I'm-a-bigshot mindset of urban landscapes. Don't give in.

  • Lianne says:

    My mom used to jump down my throat when I "chanked" my gum. I learned very early on to chew quietly with my mouth closed. And I did like my gum. I chewed it every day all day (a new piece for each class) to help me not have to ask a teacher if I could go to the water fountain every 20 minutes. Now that I'm not in school, I can have a water bottle nearby, but it wasn't the case back then.

    Having been drilled in gum-chewing manners, though, it drives me NUTS when people chew with their mouth open. My fiance does that. My solution has been to never let him have gum… he doesn't buy it for himself and I don't chew it around him so he can't ask for it. Avoidance, I know. But it always seems such a minor gripe that I don't want to bring it up.

    But with a co-worker… I'd definitely try the Sars route. "I" statements and asking politely. I also got the impression she just doesn't realize how loud and upsetting it can be.

  • Nicole says:

    Thanks, you guys — the "Mouth" letter is mine. At the very least, I wanted to see what other would think/do in this case. Still not sure what I will do, but this week has actually been gumfree! Dare I dream that it was just a phase?

    @ Arlene: Gum, as I mentioned, revolts me, so I doubt chewing it would de-stress me in any way possible. Maybe it's a "noted scientific fact" that it relieves stress in some people, but I am certainly not among them. If it relieves my co-worker's stress, I'm happy for her; my problem is not that she chews gum, it is that she chews it extremely loudly and sloppily.

  • MC says:

    Mouth – I don't have a problem with gum chewing – my particular intolerance is whistling. And I work at a place where, I swear, 75% of the men who work here are whistling constantly. I decided that I could drive myself crazy wincing every time one of them came near, or I could say something. I decided to tell everyone ONCE that I am physically pained by whistling, and they have all pretty much stopped whistling within my earshot. Occasionally one of them slips, but I figure it is a pretty mindless habit that they forget. Honestly, I think people are all pretty kind when it comes down to it.

  • Jessica says:

    I am totally stealing Mad Maraca. Actually, Merging Nun with a Mad Maraca is the title of my next Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel. Or, more realistically, Junot Diaz's.

    (Aside to Sars: Can we add The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to the read-along consideration list?)

    Anyway. My solution is a strong and firm belief in karma, or carma, as Pamie once put it. If people behave badly to me on the road, I either (a) assume I earned some bad carma somewhere else or (b) try to take pity on them for the bad carma they just earned. Doesn't always work, but sometimes.

    This will not always work for Bike, especially if he/she is commuting by foot, since the power differential between car and pedestrian sounds like it's contributing to his/her feelings of helplessness. Would being in more pedestrian-friendly settings, even within the city, help? People can't run you over in Trafalgar Square (now). Or on that bridge in front of the Tate Modern. Or on that other bridge that I used to love walking across when I got the Thistle Charing Cross on Priceline.

  • DriverB says:

    @Sars – Pooscalade! Hew.

    Making up things about the other drivers, and various annoying people, really does work for me. I sometimes drive a Prius, and feel myself being judged and subsequently zoomed around by bigger, sportier cars. I say to them 'have fun wasting your gas!' and it instantly makes me feel better.

    Also in college, my friends and I made up a phrase for those people who are just so beyond that there is really nothing that can be done – we call them 'children of God'. Not in a religious way, but because they are such asshats/dimwits/jerkwads that you can't help but hope God himself takes pity on them!

  • attica says:

    I was once told by a coworker that 'a woman whistling offends God.' She'd been raised in a church that held women tuneless, I guess. (Men blowing melodies was apparently okay with the big G.) I remember looking at her like she had fortyseven heads (all whistling), but I think I made it a point to hold my human-fluting to times when she wasn't around. A nutty reason, imo, but too late to fix the reflexive repulse she felt, and ultimately not a big deal for me to accommodate.

    Mad Maracas is indeed an idea worth stealing. Even when you don't have road rage, sometimes a bit of rhythm's just the thing!

  • Nicole says:

    Oh, whistling! We have a whistler in my apartment complex. He walks around the common courtyard for hours, weather permitting, and just whistles — not even a particular tune; it's just a cluster sounds.

    While whistling doesn't unhinge me like loud chewing does, I do find it annoying once I can't block it out. Like, the person may have been doing it for 30 minutes, but suddenly I can take no more. And I will say so because it's the sort of thing people don't take offense to (sometimes they laugh and apologize and admit it's annoying!) like they do with a "please stop chewing with your mouth open" admonishment, which probably makes them feel like children no matter how polite one is when saying it.

  • Nicole says:

    Oops; I meant to say "cluster OF sounds." Sorry.

  • Nik says:

    I try to do the other extreme. When a jerk cuts me off when I clear have a right of way and then gives ME the dirty look and the finger, I smile and wave like I just spotted my grandma in his passenger seat. It keeps me from raging in the car and also kind of makes me giggle that he is wondering if the middle finger means something else where I come from.

  • Jane says:

    Bike–this is pretty much in the same vein as other people's suggestions, but what the heck. For me a lot of the stress is the feeling is not just the unpleasantness but the feeling that I lack control over it. A nice whammy stick for both in one is being deliberately generous to strangers–not in a weird hand-out-money way, just in a "no, no, after you" kind of way. There does seem to be a genuine passalong effect from such maneuvers, in that I'm a lot likelier to be nice in a crush if somebody's just been generous to me, and I think it travels along the chain like that.

    Arlene–that's not a noted scientific fact, it's the single-study hypothesis of the Wrigley Science Institute, based on a small-sample experiment; what it mainly suggested was that people who habitually chew gum get stressed if they don't do it. And at no time was it demonstrated that these benefits exist only if the subjects chewed with their mouths open, so there's no indication that they'd suffer if they chewed with their mouths closed as Mouth—and, I suspect, everybody but her chewing colleague–would prefer.

  • JB says:

    Ohhhh, chronic nervous whistlers… drives me UP THE WALL.

    And I would NEVER, after being cut off in traffic or tailgated by some man in a Large SUV of Overcompensation or the Red Convertible of Mid-Life Crisis, say anything to myself about how it must suck for that poor guy to be equipped with a lap pinkie as he darts and weaves down the interstate like he's in the chase scene in Blues Brothers.

  • Erin in SLC says:

    Your in-car music will also make a huge difference. I find that mellow or cheerful (but not manic) selections put me in a better frame of mind to deal with other drivers — who, by the way, are generally devoid of self-awareness and high on Rx drugs around here. If you're a fan of spoken-word comedy albums, there's always that, too.

    Tailgaters are awful, but I take a sick sort of comfort in knowing that I'm annoying them.

    On foot, it's another story. I've stopped walking with earbuds because they mess with my self-awareness, and, like Bike, I've felt threatened by motorists, cyclists, and other peds — sometimes within seconds of each other. Ped rage is tougher for me to control than road rage, because the threats are much more serious when you don't have crumple zones. I still haven't figured out a good outlet, so I'll trot out the shopworn chorus about taking every possible precaution — bright colors, flashing lights, and generally assuming you're invisible.

    On further reflection, the nun idea might be worth a shot there.

  • dk says:

    Bike:

    I'm with you on the feeling angry thing all the time. I find myself obsessing over slights for far longer than necessary. If someone butts in front of me in line, for instance, I can sit there quietly fuming for the next two hours. I don't know what it is that makes me hold onto those wrongs, because it certainly doesn't make me feel good.

    One tactic I've picked up is to try identifying one positive thing about the person that pissed me off. I think "what great shoes!" or "he has nice forearms!" or something else to get me to find something good about the jackass. Or if we actually have to interact, I try to be ridiculously overly enthusiastic (I'm with Nik on the frantically excitable waving at someone who flipped me off) to the point where it's just ridiculous for them to still be rude to me.

    It helps, sometimes. But I still struggle with letting shit go.

  • Lisa says:

    @Ashley — THANK YOU. I've always wondered if it was something more than "gum chewing bothers me," because my reaction is, I know, beyond the pale.

  • Isis Uptown says:

    My ex-husband used to (maybe still does) call bad drivers "Clown Boy." Something about the way he said it made it really funny. I haven't been married to him in many, many years, and our child is an adult, so I never have to speak with him, but I still use "Clown Boy."

  • Jill TX says:

    For any of you driven nuts by gum cracking, whistling, and even the annoyances of city life, I highly recommend you check out the Highly Sensitive Person:

    http://www.hsperson.com/

    The website and books have changed my life. Evidently some of us (the author guesses about 10-15% of the population) are particularly sensitive to sensory stimuli — noises, rapid motions, smells, etc. — and are prone to go crazy when we can't block them out. It can be very beneficial in some instances, and maddening in others, and as you might surmise, is believed to have an evolutionary purpose.

    Once I discovered the idea of the HSP, I felt instantly better, just knowing it was A Thing, and that I was not alone. Hopefully it can help some of you, too! (And no, I am not a paid spokesperson!)

  • Nicole says:

    That's really interesting, Jill; I'm going to check it out, I think.

  • patricia says:

    OMG, JB, "lap pinkie" slayed me. Hew.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Ahhhh, Bike, I feel you and everyone else. I don't drive, but I do live in the city, so the "almost got run over by a bimbo who shot through the crosswalk while talking on her MOTHERFUCKINGCELLPHONE" merges beautifully with "ah, smelly weird man, how charming you would sit by me on the bus, and start in on how I look like your ex wife whilst staring at my tits." Gah!

    And I'm a CSR taking pizza orders, so that a whole 'nother Pan Of Irritating: Slow talkers, soft talkers, yellers, people who have their five year old place the order, drunks, potheads, and grunters who act like they're being charged by the syllable. I get so stabby some days I shouldn't be left alone.

    Some recommendations:

    Buy Lynn Truss's magnificent "Talk To The Hand", a lovely and slender tome that deplores human manners while also putting them into historical and philosophical persective, all in her dry and witty British way. You feel all justified and at ease by the end.

    Follow Erin's suggestion on music selection and pick out the happiest, silliest music you can find. I personally find it physically and mentally impossible to be angry when They Might Be Giants is singing "Birdhouse In Your Soul." Maybe mix it up with some mellowness so you don't get too prepubescently hyper in the car.

  • queenjawa says:

    Mouth, I have been on the other side of things — I was the infuriatingly obnoxious coworker. I am a loud talker by nature. It's always been that way. I just forget myself. Several years ago, a coworker very nicely asked if I could talk more quietly on the phone. We sort of laughed about it, but I could tell she wasn't joking and might have been plotting to bludgeon me with the phone receiver…so I was glad she'd asked. After being politely reminded a few times, we developed a shorthand — she pretends to twist an imaginary volume dial and I know to crank it down a few notches. It's true that not everyone will respond favorably. My Swedish coworker was highly offended when I requested that he not microwave his daily lunch of fishhead stew in the staff lounge, which spews fish fumes all over the public library where we work and inspiring retching among even the strongest of heart and stomach…but it's worth a real try.

  • mctwin says:

    A crazy lady almost hit the bus I was on; the bus driver opened her door, asked the lady, "What are you DOing?!" The lady starts spewing vitriol at the driver. All the bus driver said was, "Oh, Jesus, help this poor woman!" We all laughed and, ten minutes later, we all exited and thanked the driver for her good sense.

    I WISH I could be that calm!

  • Leia says:

    Hm, the office letter and comments remind me of times I've asked people to do things.

    I had an officemate who was quite boisterous and some people didn't like him. Turns out, you could just tell or ask him to do something different and he would (or try). Talking loud on the phone? Ask him to lower the volume please. Rambling on a tangent that you don't enjoy? Cut him off (disagree if appropriate) and return to work. No need to be rude, but you don't have to just take it. Plus, he was a great person for finding things at work (food, supplies, etc). He was a good one to have on your side.

    During a crappy time at work, we were stuck in the lab rather than our offices and one of my coworkers was singing along with his music (headphones) on. It was sort of odd and distracting. Finally I said something (I don't remember what I said anymore). Turns out…he didn't realize he was singing. After that, when it got annoying, I'd let him know he was singing out loud again.

    At work, I have an officemate, I try to be courteous. Throw away food in hallway bins. Take private phone calls more than the brief "I need an car tune up, thanks" out of the office (although this is really more for myself). When it can't be helped (having a runny nose and going through a box of tissues a day)…I lament my gross self so he knows that I know…its unpleasant.

    In offices, its give and take. Although, I think I've been pretty lucky. No total weirdos sitting with me. I know other people who have The Packrat. The Pop Can Collector.

  • Stephanie says:

    Bike, I have noticed that living in the city (10 years in Chicago) has made me MORE courteous, simply because so many other people aren't. I open doors for people, help old ladies across the street, help mothers lift strollers onto buses, etc. I still get annoyed with all the people who are jerks, but I agree with whoever above (sorry, couldn't find it again) said that it feels like being nice to others will make them be nice to others. I still yell at taxis that almost run over me, and make sarcastic comments to people who drop doors in my face (my HUGE pet peeve), but somehow it makes me feel better to add positive energy.

    Also, if you want to see people in the city behave differently, go out with a baby in a stroller. People will jump to open doors for you, let you cut in line at the post office, etc. I've been nannying this summer, and it is amazing how helpful and nice people are when you've got a baby.

  • Clover says:

    My sister and I lived together and drove many places together throughout our twenties, and developed a game involving making up the most charitable and, generally, absurd explanation possible for the inexplicable things we saw.

    Little old lady driving too slow? She didn't actually have her license, and was driving a borrowed car to a rendezvous she'd arranged on Craigslist, and was about to get laid for the first time in forty years.

    Jerkwad driving too fast? He'd injured his penis in a freak polo accident and was forced to drive himself to the ER because no one in the polo game was willing to halt play and take him there, and because he was too embarrassed to call an ambulance.

    Fashion faux pas? Clearly, the person had lost a bet.

    Clueless cyclist crossing against the light? High as a kite on pain meds after getting his wisdom teeth removed, and cycling to the store for a pack of gauze.

    Co-worker chomping on gum? Had been instructed by her doctor to chew gum aggressively in order to strengthen her weak chin and jaw.

    Co-worker who couldn't handle gum-chewing? Had spent her childhood locked in the cellar, being forced to perform menial labor for her godmother, an ancient, maniacal, gum-chewing old bat, and as a result had developed a lifelong terror and aversion to the sight, smell, and sound of gum-chewing.

    It's amazingly entertaining to come up with this stuff. It's better with good company, but it works when you're alone, too.

  • JB says:

    I am LOL-ing at "injured his penis in a freak polo accident."

  • Cyntada says:

    Mouth, we are SOULMATES! I've been (barely) holding back the urge to smash people in the chops for that since 1985 or so. Wish I had some magic formula for you, but for now, all I can offer is commiseration.

    And this: "Turning it around and trying to make it personal with a friendly attitude, even if it feels (and is) fake, somehow has the effect of negating those feelings that everyone in the city is actively ignoring your comfort."

    Word. I decided years ago, just for an experiment, to refer to everyone in traffic as "friend." So rather than blistering the windshield, it would come out more like: "Friend, that lane change was RATHER close to my fender there, just to let you know. Drive safe!" Foolish? You bet, but it was really surprising how my attitude changed. At this point, anytime they don't make contact, that's a win. (If I could only get that blase about stupid people blocking aisles in Costco, I'd really have Orange County living down pat.)

  • Cyntada says:

    Huh. The other tab I had opened along with TN had this article about freeway merging. Coincidence?

  • Alexis says:

    I also suffer from the dread cumulative-road-irritation. For me, two things have really helped. One, if I find myself getting irritated, I actively try to travel in such a way as to be in harmony with everyone else's intentions on the road. I used to get myself into all kinds of needless stitches about people who wouldn't stop for me in the crosswalk. Now I'm a lot more patient about when I step out and will often let a couple people go by and wait for someone who looks patient. Yeah, I have the right to do it the other way, but it doesn't make me happier or really save much time. Ditto cycling fast and trying to get past slow or stopped people and vehicles. Sometimes people still behave so dangerously or idiotically that it either freaks me out or pushes my angry button, but it's a lot rarer.

    The other (which is a good complement to the first) is that I make a habit of observing how useless it is to do any of the dangerous things I see other people doing. When I stop at a stop sign and the cyclist behind me blows by, or I stay at a red light and they go ahead, I notice that most of the time, I catch up. Somehow realizing that they aren't achieving much helps me just laugh at them and hope (and despair) for their safety out there. And it reminds me to just cool down and practice the first strategy, because I'm not helping myself when I do that stuff either.

    I think these strategies are probably more generally applicable, but since I live in a city filled with Inordinately Nice People for the most part, I've mostly practiced them on the roads so far.

  • Kindred says:

    Bike, it sounds cheesy, but the book 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (and it's all small stuff)' changed my world with regard to the minor – but still frustrating – annoyances of modern life. I really recommend it.

    And sorry to say it, but: please don't speed when you're driving in urban areas! It's one thing to go 75mph instead of 70mph on the M25, but the damage you'd cause at 37mph if you hit somebody crossing a city street is substantially greater than the damage you'd cause if you were sticking to 30mph. [/public service announcement]

  • Bike says:

    Bike here. Thank you all very much for the excellent advice! I don't know why I put the car thing first as I don't drive very often, but I will seriously think about getting some maracas for the next time I do, because that was brilliant.

    Whoever said that it was about control absolutely hit the nail on the head, as most of my commuting is done on foot, and unfortunately there isn't any way to avoid walking in close proximity to bikes and cars. I know that walking in the city can be dangerous, but I have this idea that if I just cross at the designated crossings and when I have the green light, I should be okay. And when someone doesn't obey the rules and knocks me down or almost does so, I feel really angry and frustrated.

    However, Sars is absolutely right that getting out of the city is crucial. I just spent a week hiking in the mountains and feel so much better. Also, it was really funny to read about going to American suburbs where everything closes at 10, as most shops here close at 8 or (in rare instances) 9, and 6 on Sundays.

  • phineyj says:

    @Bike, as a long-time London resident, I sympathise – when I moved here from North Yorkshire I was shocked by the poor driving manners and what a shovy rush everyone was in (however, it's catching — now I go to Leeds on business and feel like elbowing people out of the way because they walk so s-l-o-w-l-y).

    I avoid driving in London as much as possible as basically you're just going to get cut up by an angry white van man on a regular basis, even in the outer suburbs where I live.

    However, my top tip is to book a holiday in Athens (or Beijing, if funds allow). You won't complain about London driving or manners for a while!

    Also, London cab drivers ignore instructions from everyone – it's not just a special thing they do to expats.

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