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Mind Your P’s and Q’s, Harvard

“Manners count,” we’re all told. I’m pretty sure that half of the time I spent in kindergarten was occupied by lessons in basic etiquette—whether of the “don’t cut in line” or the “food does not belong in your neighbor’s hair” variety. Now, 15 years later, I get the impression that some of us have outgrown these basic rules of decorum—we’re much too busy and sophisticated to even think about manners, much less mind them.

You’re probably thinking: “Great. Another preachy op-ed by some (insert choice expletive) Crimson editor.” You’d be right—I’m not even going to try to be un-preachy in the least. Excoriate me all you want but please reflect on what I write.

I sometimes feel as if I live in a pigsty. Maybe I’m asking too much of Harvard students, but I suspect that anyone who can flawlessly shade hundreds of Scantron bubbles on the SAT is at least capable of keeping a communal bathroom tidy. Cleanliness matters for two reasons: I don’t want to dance navigate a minefield of wadded-up paper towels every time I brush my teeth, and ultimately, we’re not the ones who must crawl around on the floor picking them up.

Maybe the endemic messiness of a dorm like Thayer, my cellblock of choice, is really a self-fulfilling prophecy. “We’re freshman” or “we’re college students” in general don’t constitute sufficient excuses for leaving a puddle of vomit in the hall or a half-empty bottle of electric blue booze (read: rebranded mouthwash) on the stairs. Frankly, I don’t really care how drunk you are—either pick up after yourself like a human being, or sleep it off in the yard.

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I recall one surreal Sunday morning bathroom conversation quite vividly:

“Hey, how’s it going?” I asked.

“Dude, I got so sick in that toilet last night,” my bathroom companion replied, gesturing to the toilet I was currently using.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with that information?” (This probably wasn’t the most polite response, but it’s the only one I could muster. I certainly have room to improve as well).

On a related note, we could all go out of our way to be a bit friendlier and more courteous to those charged with cleaning up the messes we make. Let’s take the time to acknowledge the basic humanity of the people who scrub our stomach contents off the bathroom floor. Ideally, there would be no vomiting in the first place—but until that happens (I’m not holding my breath), the least we can do is say “thank you” with a smile. Maybe our indifference is a product of the discomfort that disparities in status inevitably provoke, but staring blankly ahead as if no one’s there doesn’t change anything.

Sometimes even I, a student, feel slighted. In a recent, entirely non-scientific study, I held the door for 18 different Harvardians over the course of a few days. Of these, about half could do little more than mumble their appreciation, and three—that’s one in six—failed to say “thank you” altogether. A couple of people simply walked past me without so much as acknowledging my presence, almost as if the door had been magically opened by an invisible doorman to let them and their egos pass.

I’ll admit that I hail from the South—a place where door holding often elicits a “thank you ma’am/sir”—but I’m hardly asking for much. Etiquette may seem like an empty chore, but as Samir Durrani reminded us in his recent article about handicap icons and ableism, little symbols can have great potency.

I sometimes wonder what it’s like to be one of Harvard Square’s homeless denizens—watching every Friday and Saturday night as packs of privileged students cavort about Cambridge, discarding Solo cups in the bushes and halting traffic as they totter into the street. We’re students who seemingly have it all—with the exception of a healthy dose of appreciation for the fact that we have it so good.

Ian R. Van Wye ’17 is a Crimson editorial writer living in Thayer Hall.

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