Lately I have been taking pictures of strangers in public places (check it out
). Some people call them candids or streetshots. Some other people call them voyeuristic and creepy. There's no law against it or anything and no one has come up to me to say hey knock it off except for when I do it in certain commercial establishments with rules against this sort of thing. Shopping malls, Pottery Barn Kids, Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods. I look the person in the eye when they tell me I can't take pictures and say, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you had that policy." Note that the person telling me not to take pictures is not a person whose picture am I trying to take. And these policies aren't to protect customers from being surreptitiously recorded. The commercial spaces themselves do that with video cameras hanging from the ceiling. These policies apparently are supposed to protect businesses from spying by competitors. That kind of cracks me up. Also, since there are now all kinds of cameras that don't look like cameras in people's blueberries and phones and spyrings, there's all kinds of picture-taking going on that the bosses can't do much about. My sense is that eventually these policies will be so unenforceable as to be withdrawn, but who knows.
There are some other things I do that I know technically aren't nice or right. When someone in a car behind me seems to be in a hurry I like to slow down to piss them off. I would never do this in the passing lane of the interstate or even on a main road, but on quiet residential streets where the limit is 25 or 30 I do it all the time. It gives me so much pleasure, and people trying to go 40 on these streets should slow down anyway.
Also, in bookstores, at the magazine rack, when an issue of a magazine I want to browse through is wrapped in plastic, I go into a quiet corner and tear off the wrapping so that I can check out what I want to see without paying for the magazine. I know that this means they're not likely to sell the issue, but so what? It's like a store giving free samples. Every store should give you samples of things you might want to buy if it's feasible to do so, and the fact that bookstores are organized so that you can read the books, with comfy chairs or a cafe where you do just that, makes these establishments the very epitome of the free samples environment. The plastic-wrapped magazine violates the spirit of the bookstore so I don't mind tearing it off.
And then there is table etiquette. It's often seen as boorish to eat with your hands, but the hands are such excellent utensils. Take sushi. The term "nigiri" itself means hand (referring to how the clumps of rice are formed, I believe) and this tells me that sushi are finger food. I like chopsticks just fine, especially for eating noodles. But they are nowhere near as effective when it comes to eating sushi (or dumplings for that matter). And when taking from a communal dish many Emily Gilmore types would look askance at someone extending their naked fingers, but if they are clean why not? The cooks used their hands in preparing the food. Have you ever seen a sushi chef waving a pair of tongs around?
Similarly, on Top Chef once I saw a cook get kicked off for dipping his finger into a pot to taste something. Tom Colicchio was all huffy about it, like he's the only one standing between civilization and an onslaught of unsanitary barbarians. But I take it that finger-tasting is not unusual behavior in many professional kitchens. I do it all the time myself. What gives? If the food in the pot is at a high simmer or a boil, any bacteria on the finger (or spoon) will be killed.
Finally, for the sake of balance and fairness, here are some things that do bother me:
-the phrase "x is the new y," as in this article
on $40 restaurant entrees: "Forty is the new 30." Please everyone stop. Also, why the hell does the Times write out "forty" but not "30"?
-the term "sucks." There is no less interesting thing to say about something than that it sucks. (sucks
-people who don't know how to use apostrophes. I'm grading papers this weekend, can you tell?
-TV lovers' enthusiasm for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. (for instance
-the proposed amendment to my state's constitution that would ban gay marriage and civil unions. (more