With Rosh Hashana around the corner already, I say we work on respecting other people’s feelings. Unless they disagree with our own, of course.

The truth is that a lot of us would actually like to respect other people’s feelings. Really we would. But the problem with respecting other people’s feelings is that they don’t always know that we’re respecting their feelings. Like if there’s something we really want to say but are biting our tongues, we can’t even say that we’re respectfully not saying it. And what, I ask, is the point of respecting other people’s feelings if they don’t even know we’re doing it?

The best way to show people that you respect them is to be polite.

So experts say – and I agree – that the best way to show people that you respect them is to be polite.

Now what the experts and I are saying is not that you should have proper table manners. That’s a given. If you don’t have any table manners, or at least any positive ones, then go eat in a cave or something. Don’t even bother with a table in the first place.

No; what the experts and I are saying is that you should be polite even in situations where you have to go out and interact with the world. Because there are certain things that are pretty much universally impolite. Like if you have a blue-tooth in your ear, and you’re using it to carry on a phone conversation, but there is someone actually standing next to you who very obviously thinks you’re talking to him, and every time you stop talking so that the party on the other end of the phone can, say, answer your question, this guy also starts answering your question at the same time, and it’s getting pretty annoying, then one of you is definitely being very rude. Maybe you should say something, (“Look, you’re being very rude. I’m on the phone,”) even if you will momentarily confuse the person at the other end of the line. (“What? I know you’re on the phone. So am I.”)

Saying, “I don’t mean to be rude” negates the rudeness of anything you’re going to say.

And likewise, there are some things that everyone agrees are not impolite. For example, you can say pretty much anything you want, so long as you preface it by saying, “I don’t mean to be rude.” This totally negates the rudeness of whatever it is that you’re going to say:

“I don’t mean to be rude, but are you wearing a toupee? The experts and I can’t decide.”

There are also certain polite phrases that we can say to each other, such as, “Excuse me”. “Excuse me” is a multi-faceted phrase that can be used in many different occasions. Like at a party. Sometimes you’re at a party, and you see two people talking, and you want to get by, so you walk up to them and say, “Excuse me,” and they both stop talking and look at you. Then, for a moment, no one says anything. You don’t say anything because you’re waiting for them to move, and they don’t say anything because they thought that you interrupted so you could say something witty. So then there’s an awkward silence as they stand there, staring at you, and you can’t help but notice that they’re still not getting out of the way.

So it’s not great that “excuse me” has two meanings. Maybe once, many years ago, “Excuse me” was used to get people’s attention, and then, if you wanted them to step out of your way in addition to that, there was a second sentence that you would say. But nowadays we no longer know that sentence. It was lost to time.

“I’m sorry” is one polite phrase that we do say a lot, though. Not to our spouses. It’s really hard to say it to the people close to you. But to strangers, we will say “I’m sorry” for the silliest things, like slightly bumping into them as we walk by:

YOU: “I’m sorry.”

STRANGER: “No, I was in your way. I’m sorry.”

The difference, of course, is that “I’m sorry” is an admission of guilt; you’re saying that you’re at least partially at fault for what happened. And if you admit guilt to your wife, she’ll never let you live it down. But with strangers, you basically don’t expect to ever see them again, so you don’t mind admitting guilt. It’s not like you’re going to bump into that exact stranger again at some point in the future.

YOU: “Whoa, I’m sorry.”

STRANGER: “You know, that’s what you said six years ago, but I guess you weren’t sorry, were you? Because look! You went and did it again!”

YOU: “I’m sorry!”

STRANGER: “No, no, it’s too late for that!”

YOU: “Look, I didn’t want to say anything, but you were at fault too. I clearly said, “Excuse me.””

STRANGER: “Actually, if I remember correctly, the last time this happened, you also ended up apologizing. So that time it must have been your fault, too. Obviously, you have a PROBLEM, sir!”

Another reason it’s easier to say it to a stranger is that most of us will have manners for the people we don’t know, but not for the people we do. Our excuse is that once we know a person, we can just hang out and be ourselves. But apparently, “ourselves” are people without manners who never apologize and sometimes inspect our ear pickings at the table. Seeing that side of us is a privilege we reserve only for our loved ones.

I don’t mean to be rude, but that’s ridiculous.