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Rich: Man’s missing manners force an end to love

POSTED: September 16, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Not too long ago, I met a nice guy, a renewing of an old friendship actually, and I tried to fall in love with him. I tried but I couldn't.

He was from New Jersey.

Now, this isn't to say that I couldn't fall in love with a man from New Jersey. I think I could love Jon Bon Jovi. He seems like a very nice man.

And though he has departed from this earth, I have always had a huge crush on Frank Sinatra. So, that proves that I do have feelings for at least two men from New Jersey.

But this recent one? This one was really a no from the get-go.

He had lots of good, solid qualities. A real go-getter, nice and very handsome with blonde hair, golden skin and crystal blue eyes. Oh, and he had beautiful hands, which is something I always notice on men. Long, slender fingers that gestured gracefully.

But, in the end, the South and the North found itself in conflict once again.

Over lunch one day, he listened intently as I conversed with the waitress. Order completed, she hurried off.

He placed his elbows on the table and leaned closer.

"Why are you always so polite to everyone?" He asked the question in a nice but curious way. There was no smart aleck tone in his voice. He was genuinely perplexed.

I was taken aback and showed it with my wide-eyed expression. "What do you mean?"

"You always call everyone ‘ma'am' or ‘sir' and you say ‘please' and ‘thank you' for everything." He shrugged. "I just find that interesting."

"You don't call people ‘sir' or ‘ma'am'?" I asked.

"No!" He was emphatic. "And I'm not going to, either. Now, I might call an old man who's 90 years old ‘sir', but I'm not calling anyone else that. No way. They haven't earned my respect. Why would I call a waitress ‘ma'am'?"

Now, it was my turn to be floored. The words: sir, ma'am, please, thank you and "if you don't mind" are so deeply ingrained in my mind that I use them constantly.

Regardless of age, gender, ethnic background or job status, I speak with courtesy to people. Unless, of course, they have been blatantly rude to me; then Southern manners are momentarily disposed.

I studied him for a moment with complete astonishment.

"When you were growing up, didn't your mama make you call people ‘sir' or ‘ma'am'?"

He shook his head vigorously. "No, she didn't. We never had to address people that way. That's one thing I don't understand down here in the South. I like the way people treat me here. It's much nicer and friendlier than up North. But you guys take it too far. Calling someone you don't even know ‘ma'am?" He shook his head again. "That's way too much."

I narrowed my eyes and folded my arms. This is the moment that any glimmer of hope for falling in love, died. Right then and there in a Mexican restaurant in Greenville, S.C., another budding romance took a nose dive and crashed.

"Well, frankly, I think the least I can do is treat people with courtesy. Especially those who aren't as blessed as I am. Waiting tables is a tough job. The least I can do is to be respectful."

We finished the meal with awkward conversation that stayed away from our differences, especially one that seemed as basic to me as breathing. We walked to my car, said polite but distant good-byes and that was that. Unlike the Southern guys I have known, he didn't call to make sure I had arrived home safely.

He hasn't called to ask for another date and I seriously doubt he will. But if he does, my reply will be succinct.

No sir. Thank you for asking. Please don't call again.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter


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