Monday, July 13, 2009

That was just so nice of him...

When I picked up George from the groomer the other day, a tall woman with a beagle cut in front of me in line to pay. I just stood there, nicely, not saying a word, wishing that the salesgirl would realize I had been waiting much longer. But she didn’t, so I nicely stood there and waited till the beagle-lady left and George was finally brought to me, sparkly clean and fluffy.

Sometimes people tell me I’m too nice. I smile too much. I let people treat me badly while I just sit and take it. While that may be slightly true, I also believe I just pick my battles. And I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. That tall woman probably didn’t think about the fact that she wasn’t next in line, so I forgave her (after inwardly cussing, of course). The Midwestern girl in me was taught to be nice.

In my hometown high school years ago, niceness was as big a virtue as popularity. Often the Prom King and Queen weren’t the most popular people, they were the nicest. It was just so nice of us to elect so-and-so even though she had a funny looking nose and was painfully shy. Oh, weren’t they a nice-looking couple?

I don’t always feel that “nice” is such a nice thing. It’s actually kind of a blah attribute, when you think about it. I’d prefer being labeled confident, independent, strong, or any number of less mediocre-sounding words. Nice seems kind of meek. It reminds me of my favorite line in the musical Into The Woods: “You’re so nice. You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.” Nice is awfully middle-of-the-road.

This topic makes me think of the way other countries view Americans’ niceness. They see our too-easy smiles as signs of weakness. Our smiles! Those things we value so much – that are such a part of us. Welcoming. Inviting. Friendly. It amazes me that many other nationalities have such a different take on such a deeply ingrained part of our culture. But this knowledge makes it much easier to take the attitudes of the French or the distance of the English. It isn’t rudeness or distain – it’s just a cultural difference that shouldn’t be taken personally.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe society needs more niceness, in this world where so many seem to believe their self-absorbed emotional rantings and petty desires trump all else. I will keep being nice as often as possible, in a “do unto others” way. But please don’t describe me as nice. I prefer adjectives such as fun, professional, optimistic, or even fair, amiable, or just plain happy. Pick anything but nice.

After writing these last few paragraphs, I sat in the shade at the dog park and suddenly heard a man yell across the park, “Don’t worry! I’ll get it!” I looked up and saw him headed for George, who was pooping. The man scooped it up in the doggy bag and threw it in the trash so I wouldn’t have to get up and do it myself. Before I could think anything else, I thought, “Boy, that was so nice of him.” And it really was.

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