Ernest Owens | Minding your manners


The Ernest Opinion | Quakers should strive to be a little more courteous


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Ernest Owens
The Ernest Opinion

Photo by Ernest Owens


The worst of Penn comes out at McDonald’s around 2 a.m. on a Saturday night.

Standing in a cramped line, students push around and exchange insults while they wait for half-cooked French fries and burnt McNuggets.

Erica Bigham, the store manager at the location on 40th and Walnut streets, oversees this drunken debauchery five days a week. “They yell, they throw up … it’s crazy over here,” she said.

While Saturday nights showcase our rude sides, instances like this also take place while we’re sober. You can’t pull a Jamie Foxx and blame it on the alcohol.

It happens every morning when you leave for class. “I sit at this post and some of the kids just glare and keep it moving… no ‘good morning,’ ‘good afternoon,’ or anything… where are some of their manners?” said an AlliedBarton security guard, who wished to remain anonymous because her supervisor instructed her to avoid reporters.

While saying “thank you” or “good morning” might seem insignificant, our lack of politeness speaks volumes about our characters.

Most of us don’t mean to be rude. I realized this last week as I rushed to get dinner in between meetings. While ordering a sandwich from the express station at Hill, my impatience took hold of me. “I’m just asking for a sandwich. Am I reaching for the stars here?” I barked, borrowing a quote from Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.” I didn’t realize how rude I was until my friend who was beside me called me out. I felt embarrassed and apologized to the cashier immediately.

Why did I forget my manners? Penn’s fast-paced nature is partially to blame. It’s created a stressful environment where students prioritize problem sets, essays and internship applications over common courtesy. Our determination to get things done in a high-achieving environment leads us to be impatient. We often demonstrate a lack of respect for other people without intending to do so.

The girl who was on her way to a study session probably would have said “good afternoon” to the AlliedBarton employee if her mind wasn’t so focused on her to-do list. Similarly, the guy in line at McDonald’s would have been more polite if he had not been so determined to get that late-night bite. And I probably would have thought twice about speaking so distastefully to the cashier at Hill if I hadn’t been so focused on rushing to my next meeting.

That’s not to say that Penn students are always rude. Mary Brown or “Ms. Mary,” a registrar at 1920 Commons, has seen the more positive side of Quakers during her 10-year tenure. “The students here love me,” she said, explaining, “it’s all about how you treat them.”

“Some of the staff in dining halls give the students attitude and I can see how hard it is for them to feel comfortable … college is stressful and that is why I treat them with kindness, so that they will do the same,” she added.

Yes, college is stressful. The constant demands and expectations can take a toll on how we treat one another, but that doesn’t excuse us from being respectful. There are always going to be midterms, job interviews and practices to attend, but if we don’t know how to treat those in our everyday lives, we’ll be celebrating our successes alone.

You might not consider the security guard you walk by every day or the lady who serves you at McDonald’s on weekends as part of your circle of friends. But how you treat these people can reveal a lot about your character — especially to your friends.

I only realized this when my friend reprimanded me for being rude to the cashier at Hill. We should think twice about what we say (and what we don’t). Next time you walk into a high rise, don’t forget to open that door, greet and grin without baring it.

Ernest Owens is a College junior from Chicago, Ill. His email address is owense@sas.upenn.edu. “The Ernest Opinion” appears every Friday. Toss him a tweet @MrErnestOwens.

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