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The Bad Manners Of Polite People
by [?]

All my life I have suffered from politeness–not my own, but the politeness of other people. So far as I know, nobody has ever accused me of being polite. I suspect that I must be, however, for hitherto I have borne the politeness of other people without a protest. But I must protest now, if only to vindicate my lack of politeness; in other words, to prove my good manners.

For what I object to in polite people is their bad manners. It is this I have suffered from, as, I suspect, have many thousands of my fellows, to whom life is real and earnest, and gabble not its goal. As a rule, the politer the person the worse are his (or more often, perhaps, her) manners. The limit is reached when the amateur is sunk entirely in the professional, and that curious product of “Society” is developed, the professional hostess. I cannot better illustrate my theme than with a description of the professional hostess.

I call her professional because all the joy of entertaining for its own sake has gone out of her work. She does not invite people to her parties because she is glad to see them, because she is interested in them, or wishes to give them pleasure. She invites them because to entertain them is a part of her day’s work–whether her work be to get into a certain social stronghold, to keep that stronghold against assault, or merely to kill time, her arch-enemy. And, in performing this task of hers, she has developed a technique of politeness which is to the amateur’s technique what the professional golf-player’s style is to the form of the mere bumblepuppy. Her politeness is astonishingly brilliant, flexible, resourceful. It is aspired to by the lowly and aped on the stage. And yet her manners are the worst in the world.

Let us suppose her about to give a dinner. She is trimmed down to the fashionable slenderness (perhaps), and brilliant with jewels. Cannel coal snaps pleasantly in the drawing-room grate, and the lights are gratefully shaded. A guest or two arrive, whom she greets with affable handshake. The man moves over to the fire, warming his back; his wife talks to the hostess rapidly, in the way women have when they seem to think it better to say anything than not to speak at all. But the hostess is quite at her ease. Her politeness is triumphant. Presently she turns to the man, who is, perhaps, an author.

“Your new book,” she begins, as if she had been waiting all day to ask that question, “–what is it going to be about? I’m tremendously eager to know.”

Already the genial fire has warmed the noted author after his chilling ride in a street car to this mansion of luxury. The kindly question positively expands him. He launches eagerly into his answer.

“You see,” he begins, “the great modern question is–“

But suddenly he is aware that he has no listener. His hostess has gone toward the door with outstretched hand, and his own wife is gazing at the gowns of the women entering. The author turns and prods the grate with his toe. Perhaps, if he is new at being “entertained,” he fancies that his hostess will presently return to hear his answer. He holds it in readiness. Poor man!

The newcomers are brought into the circle. When introductions are necessary, they are made with studied informality. And then the author hears the hostess say to a big, energetic woman, who is among the arrivals, “Oh, dear Miss Jones, I have heard so much about your perfectly splendid work down there among the horrid poor! I did so want to hear you talk about it at the Colonial Club, this afternoon, but I simply couldn’t get there. Won’t you tell me just a bit of what you said?”