The virtue of waiting one`s turn
I love the photocopy machine at my local AM/PM convenience store. I use it almost every day: usually for black and white copies (¥10 a sheet), but sometimes for the more expensive color copies (¥50 a sheet). I keep scrapbooks on various topics that interest me, and for years I have been copying newspaper and magazine articles that appear in the media on each topic - Religion, Archaeology, Paleontology, Evolution Theory, the First and Second World Wars - plus I am constantly on the lookout for material that can be used in the classroom as teaching resources. It’s amazing the stuff that is “out there” floating around for free if only a person notices it and can imagine how to use it. I know I’m mad - stark raving mad - to do this. But it’s a hobby and it gives me pleasure.
On Friday, March 17th - St. Patrick’s Day - I was using the machine around 1:30in the afternoon. Although I was on March Break from my work I was still using some time to make enlarged color copies of interesting photographs from travel brochures to prepare for laminating as small posters to use at school. It’s a good strategy for a school on a budget.
Anyone can use the machine. Of course there are times when I want to use it but have to wait my turn because it’s in use: local high school students copying pages from textbooks or notebooks, music scores or lyrics; senior citizens taking an inordinate amount of time to use it because the machine is so high tech they don’t know what they’re doing and end up farting around and wasting a lot of time - lift the lid, take their glasses off (or put them on, or change to another pair of eyeglasses), squint at the written instructions, look underneath the machine, search for the On/Off button and finally ask for help from the store clerk; the occasional local businessman copying important-looking papers, etc. Sometimes I wait a long time. Sometimes I give up, go home and return later. But one thing I will not do is relinquish my use of the machine when, after having waited my turn, I finally have it. It’s civil behavior to wait one’s turn, after all, and also civil behavior not to interrupt other customers exercising their right to it when it is their turn.
And this brings me to Friday 17th. I had the machine. A man entered the store and I could tell from his close proximity that he wanted the machine. I avoided making eye contact with him for the usual reasons: making eye contact amounts to staring, and my mother taught me that staring was rude; making eye contact means I am forced to regard him humanely, while not looking at him enabled me to despise him as a mere abstraction, etc. He took up his position centimeters from my left shoulder and proceeded to huff and puff in theatrical stage whispers meant for me ears. I didn’t care. I had the machine fair and square. He walked around the store and returned to the same position, still huffing, hawing, puffing and sighing. What a jerk! He went for another walk and returned. I was just near the end of my copying when he spoke to me in English. It was an act of treacherous violence, being spoken to!! Long ago my mother taught me not to talk to strangers. Strangers are dangerous.
“Excuse me, sir. Are there still many?”
I studiously ignored him. He probably thought I was being rude not to respond to him. Maybe so. But if I had said anything at all it would have been ruder still, enough to make his hair curl and fall out. So my silence, for all of its rude appearance, was the more polite course. I was doing him a favor by ignoring him out of Christian brotherly love of his humanity. I said above that avoiding eye contact allowed me leeway to disregard his humanity. But it could also be said that avoiding eye contact was exactly the recipe for safeguarding it by avoiding a visual confirmation that he was truly a jerk.
It just so happened that when he spoke to me I was on my last copy anyway, so it might have seemed that I stopped my work because of his request.
Who was this guy? A teacher from the junior high school across the street? A taxi driver who just had to copy something right away? A local businessman?
It has happened to me in the past, at the same store, when I am in the midst of a copy run and graciously relinquish the machine to another customer who asks for it - both of us assuming that their copying was less than mine - only to be kept waiting longer than my copying took in toto. The gall of some people! So if I had sufficient Japanese proficiency I would have liked to deliver a lecture on civil etiquette - namely, the virtue of waiting one’s turn.