Friday, April 11, 2008

cleaner than you found it

Was I the only person who was taught this phrase at home and in school?

These days when I'm riding the subway there is a very serene, feminine voice asking travelers to please refrain from discarding trash on the tracks. I don't know if the risks they mention--track fires, route delays--are real, but it does strike me that it needs to be said at all. Track trash contributes to the rat problem and looks unsightly. I've never had a problem finding a garbage can on a subway platform, I'm not even sure I've seen one that was too full to use, but people continue to put their garbage right in the tracks instead. It's very tacky, I think, to dump something into a functioning piece of equipment rather than finding a receptacle.

I've seen similar problems at delis, bagel shops and other quick eateries. While I suppose it's asking a little bit too much to assume that customers will bus their own tables in such an establishment, I do think it's perfectly acceptable to assume everyone should dump out their own napkins and used utensils and so on, as well as wiping up any spills. I once knew a young woman who would never throw out her plates and cups and such in these types of places, preferring to abandon them on the table. Perhaps finding a napkin is a bit time consuming, but really, how much worse is it for the person who ends up with your spilled syrup on her sleeve? I'm guessing that's the problem actually, very few people care about the next person anymore.

What's probably more insidious is that this kind of behavior spreads. Infuriated by the previous customers/inhabitants that fail to care for shared spaces, many people assume the same air of entitlement. I sort of understand this--I dislike washing other people's dishes, asking to use the employees' trash can in a shop, or cleaning the coffee I have spilled because the counterperson overfilled the cup--but this is how we become impolite monsters. Frustrated by the bad behavior of our rude fellows, we abandon all hope and become similarly brutish, somehow excusing ourselves: we are only doing as everyone else does.

It's pathetic, I really do think so.

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