I have a cousin whom I am close to in age. We grew up together and for most of our lives have been very close. Unfortunately, she always wants to tag along with me and every time I introduce her to my friends she is unbearably rude! Along the lines of loudly proclaiming what a lame party it was when I took her to my coworker’s Halloween bash. Or, worse, pretending to be interested in a starting a friendship with a good friend’s girlfriend while actually not being interested in the least. (After after two weeks of friend courtship she suddenly didn’t reply to any texts, e-mails or calls from said person.) She’s family and I care a great deal about her, I just don’t know how to go about never introducing her to anyone I know without lying or it being incredibly obvious what I am doing.
It’s not just her. Is it just me or is everyone ruder than they were five or 10 years ago?
People will check messages on their “smartphones” while you’re talking to them. They go postal in traffic, yelling, screaming, shaking fists, flipping you the bird. And at parties – it’s at the point where I don’t even like to go out any more. Social occasions have devolved into a festival of zingers, unsolicited observations and unfiltered comments.
(The most annoying trend I’ve noticed: people who say “Really?” Like you put a lot of butter on your popcorn and someone goes: “Really?” It’s so smug and passive-aggressive. The next person who “really”s me is getting a Three Stooges-style eye-fork – “Yeah, really” proink! – right in the peepers.)
Human beings in 2012 (homo textus), it sometimes seems to me, are on the verge of completely losing the art of polite intercourse and civilized interpersonal interaction.
So your cousin should feel right at home.
Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t do something. But suddenly ceasing and desisting from introducing her to other people, without explanation, isn’t the answer. She’d probably pick up on that pretty quick and get upset.
Why not do your boorish cousin a favour and drop a Henry Higgins/Pygmalion number on her?
Or maybe I should say a reverse Henry Higgins. In Pygmalion, if you recall, phonetics professor Higgins teaches Eliza Doolittle how to elocute in an upper-crusty fashion, but meanwhile is rude and mean to her, calling her a “heartless guttersnipe” and a “squashed cabbage” and so forth.
Whereas true good manners are not some sort of surface polish (“etiquette”) but emanate outward from the soul and are a product of humility – the mother and father of all other virtues. Good manners are also all about “trying to imagine the feelings of others.”
Sit your courtesy-challenged cousin down and (for starters) explain to her that she can’t just loudly announce that a party you brought her to is “lame.” It reflects badly on her, and you for bringing her. It hurts your feelings, the hosts’ feelings – and the feelings of everyone in earshot.
I’m not saying this discussion will be an easy one – and I wouldn’t be surprised if she bristles, rears up on her hind legs and starts zing-monishing you right back (“Really? You’re going to lecture me? In that outfit, which is almost as lame as the last party you brought me to?”).
The few times I’ve taken friends or family members aside and said, “Listen, on the q.t./down-low, I’ve got to tell you that you’re kind of screwing up in the following manner,” they’ve almost always lashed out – and it can sting.
But sometimes, I’ve noticed, after a period of reflection, what I’ve said can sink in and have an effect.
Now, I wouldn’t be saying any of this if you didn’t say your cousin is “family” and you care for her. If it was a casual acquaintance I’d say: “It’s her problem, doesn’t reflect on you, let it slide.”
But in this case it does reflect on you: Family is allowed (though how fervently I’ve wished at times this weren’t true) to say stuff to you other people aren’t – if it’s in your own best interests.
And you would be doing her a favour. If her rudeness is bugging you, it’s probably bugging other people too. If you’re tempted to stop inviting her to things, other people are too – which is how rude people end up in isolation, standing in bathrobes on their porches, shaking their fists at neighbourhood kids and writing angry letters and e-mails to publications and politicians.
(Though I wouldn’t apologize to others on her behalf: You’re her cousin, not her mother. She’s responsible for her own behaviour, and you can be pretty sure everyone gets that.)
If you want, to give your comments heft, you could bring in another family member, mini-intervention-style. But I wouldn’t. Remember these “home truth” conversations can be tough for the recipient. The fewer witnesses – and the less she feels ganged up upon – the better.
No, it should be mano-a-mano – a tête-à-tête that’s also, after all, tit-for-tat. I mean, if she has the effrontery to declare that parties you bring her to are “lame,” I think you’re allowed to take her aside and tell her that her manners could use a little work.
David Eddie is the author of Damage Control, the book.
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