Having always thought of myself as a polite person, it came as a rude shock to me to learn that there are people who so far exceed me in politeness as to make me seem positively rude. Numb-wit that I am, I never really learned politeness even when I was face-to-face with examples of exquisite politeness all through my life.
The first time I recollect having seen one of the doyens of politeness was when I was hunting for used books and one of those guys promised me a whole collection of PG Wodehouse on the subsequent day. These were the days when original prints cost the earth and my salary would have left me with the option of buying one book and starving for half a month or doing without the book (and I must shamefacedly admit that the stomach won every time). So, needless to say, it was like being offered buried treasure.
The next day, with my hair in a braid, I landed up at the shop and the man says he has just sent someone to get the books and they would be there in about an hour's time. I muck around the shop desultorily rooting around the books for an hour. Again he says that the books will be there soon. I wander around the area for another half-an-hour and get back to my benefactor - who starts off with the same spiel all over again. The lure of PG Wodehouse was so strong that I swallow my bile and explore the lanes muttering imprecations for yet another half hour. On my return, our man at last confesses that the books were not going to make an appearance after all. Incensed I ask him why he did not say it before. Surprised by my vehemence, he says "But how can I hurt you by saying that I did not give enough importance to your request and forgot all about it?"
Can you believe it? That aspect of it never struck me at all. I was concentrating so much on the couple of hours that I wasted in hanging around the place like a beggar that I never realized how much worse I would have felt if he had told me that he had forgotten to get the books and sent me off home immediately.
I must confess that I thought of him as a lone paragon of politeness shining in solitary splendor in a world full of more mundanely polite people. It did not strike me that here was an ideal to be followed.
The next time it happened I had called on a friend to help me move houses. Some four hours after he was due and after innumerable phone calls to him eliciting replies about how he was on the way, I lugged my luggage myself. (Bachelor days - Movers were still not required though lone shifting was still not easy) I was fuming at the fact that he had not merely declined and allowed me to approach someone else for help. Shortsighted of me, as usual, for when I taxed him with it later he at once showed me the error of my thinking. "How could I have refused you and let you think that I did not care enough for you to help you out?" That viewpoint never struck me at all. If I had only thought of that, I would have been happy - even while struggling with three suitcases, folding cot, table and chairs - that, at least, my friend cared for me a lot. It is a quirk in me that fails to appreciate the extent of the politeness extended to me.
After innumerable experiences of such wonderful politeness - friends not refusing my dinner invitations and promising imminent arrival upon persistent phone calls till I sit down with dyspepsia to a lone cold meal and not realizing how much worse I would have felt if they had merely rung me up when they were due and told me they could not come; Plumbers (yes, they were bound to make an appearance in my posts even if they are not to be seen in reality) who do not take my reminder calls to avoid hurting me by saying they would not turn up after all; and sundry other experiences, I have suddenly realized that it is I who do not appreciate this rarefied form of politeness. Alas! I have been going through life being unknowingly rude to people - refusing invites when I am unable to make an appearance, refusing help when I am unable to extend help and all sorts of such unbelievably gauche behavior.
This realization comes rather late in life to me. I may well understand it from the brain but my instincts fail to adapt properly. I am, now, resigned to being considered a rather uncouth and rude person for the rest of my life.