My wife’s grandmother used to cook a big Sunday lunch with amazing biscuits, vegetables and pecan pie.
“Take out,” she said as we took a seat at the long, old wooden table.
That’s not an expression of my generation, but I wish it was. For my elders, “take out” meant big tables, copious food and courtesy.
But “take out” to us means that we’d like to skip actually eating in the restaurant, getting the food in a bag to go — not quite the same warmth in this modern use.
I take note of social graces more than I once did. It interests me.
For instance, I still occasionally hear “come go with us” when someone is leaving. This is, of course, a rhetorical phrase. It doesn’t mean that the person actually expects you to up and leave, but it’s an old way of saying, “I gotta’ go, but I wish you could tag along.”
Once we hit the road, there are other social customs some observe. There’s the old country wave. I like this. Naturally, it’s kind of silly on busy roads. If you’re on Hwy. 29 or Hwy. 98 and you’re throwing up a two-finger wave off the steering wheel to every passing vehicle, then you’ve carried rural courtesies a little too far. But if you’re on Rogers Church Road and you happen to live in the area and you see a lone approaching vehicle, then it makes sense to throw up a courtesy wave as you pass. It could be someone you know. Likewise, the other person is likely to wave at you. A lot of people would find this strange and unnecessary, but I appreciate the rural road “hello.”
Of course, there is the appropriate time for a city wave, too. And when people fail to observe this, I get annoyed. When someone lets you into a long line of cars, you should offer up the “thank you” wave. If I let someone in and they fail to acknowledge this, I immediately wonder what’s up with them. On the flip side, I know people might feel the same if I fail to acknowledge their courtesy towards me, so I hate it when I don’t think they saw my wave of “thanks.”
Likewise, if you’re in a long line of cars and someone has been sitting and waiting to get in from another direction, it’s courteous to let one car get in line in front of you. If you don’t let anyone in, traffic doesn’t move efficiently. It’s annoying when you allow a car in and then the next driver tries to fly in behind the first car, as if you’ve opened the lane for everyone. One is enough in a traffic jam. Because if you let four cars pull in front of you, then you’re not being very courteous to the people waiting behind you. This stuff seems like common sense to me, but people often don’t observe such rules.
Eye contact is another interesting interaction. Some people seem to avoid it; others don’t. For me, it’s about the numbers. If I’m in a hallway and it’s just one other person walking past, I will always make eye contact and offer a hello or a nod if that person looks back. That just feels right to me. However, if it’s a group of people I’m passing by, I will likely look straight ahead.
What about doors? If I’m approaching a door and someone is right behind me, I hold that door for man or woman. The gender is irrelevant. But it’s important to judge the distance right. If you hold the door for too long, it puts pressure on the person behind you to hurry up. And that’s awkward. Again, this is a pretty trivial thing, but it’s just a tiny acknowledgement of someone else’s existence. And that seems worthwhile.
Who knows where our social graces will be in 20 to 30 years? I doubt “take out” will be around in its old form. Perhaps other phrases will emerge. I love hearing about old-time customs and phrases that are no more, that have “fallen by the wayside.”
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.