The rudeness factor

Last Saturday, I was pumping my way through an aqua-aerobics class.

The instructor called out the routine, her voice barely intelligible over the thud of disco and the splashes of two-dozen bodies. Just as I moved into "the zone" - where the body responds without conscious thought to music - a noise intruded: the sound of two women chitchatting. (How they could even hear each another over "Shake Your Groove Thing" was a mystery.)

I tried to tune them out, but my irritation was too great. I stared at them with an aggrieved expression. They kept talking. I looked beseechingly at the instructor, hoping she would intervene. Nothing. Finally, I paddled over and in my nicest voice said, "Would you please stop talking? I'm having trouble hearing the instructor."

The women glared at me as if I had just insulted them. Three minutes later, they were at it again. I was flabbergasted. How could someone ignore a reasonable request? How rude to yak while the instructor was talking.

In a civil society, people work out frictions by practicing good manners. British movies always contain scenes in which people say, in charming English accents: "Why, William, you are an incorrigibly preposterous liar," and William never seems to take offense. So why is it whenever I work up the nerve to assert myself, even in a feeble way, the recipient is always resentful and totally unrepentant?

Later in the locker room, I overheard one of the women complain to another about "that woman who told us to be quiet."

Maybe I should have used an English accent.

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