This young man walked into the bank today. I can always tell when they don't have an account with us. He looked about twenty-two. He was tan, probably from working in the sun. Dark hair. I wasn't really seeing him in detail. Sometimes, people are blurry. I'm not looking straight at them. He passed me a check drawn on our bank, something one of our customers had probably given him for some work he had done. I asked him for his license. He included "ma'am" in his statement of assent as he passed the i.d. to me. The driver's license was from South Carolina. "Southern hospitality. Truly," I thought, noticing that he'd said "ma'am" more genuinely than I'd almost ever heard it. It was not an automatic addition to his sentence. It was a soft but present statement of praise. When I was growing up, I resisted polite phrases, thinking of them as inauthentic, considering etiquette a prison. Sure, I used the expected language. I didn't want to come across as a jerk. But I still, to this day, can't use the word "please" without cringing. I try to get around it with other nice ways of asking for things. I collected some twenties for the young man, and he used the word "ma'am" one more time. As we said goodbye, he sort of bowed. This guy BOWED. A little curtsy in the middle of a Wednesday at a bank he'd never been to. It was sweet. We do like to be respected. I guess I just didn't like respect when I was younger because I didn't like power, and I wanted us all to be equal. But I guess it's better if we all treat each other like royalty.
I still don't think polite phrases are for me. I cannot wrap my head around the custom of saying "Bless you" after a sneeze. As long as I have the spirit of treating them like royalty, I'll say and do good things.