I am obsessed with people who leave their cars idling in order to “run in” for a pack of smokes, or “run in” for a pick-up order, or because they want to relax inside their car for a half hour while the engine burns $3.00 per gallon in gas and wrecks the environment. But if I say something to the driver I’ll get shot. Could you give me a creative solution of how to approach these people?
– Global Warming Mama
Criticizing a stranger is very tricky. Way trickier, say, than harassing your closest friend or beloved family member. That’s a snap. Our society provides a few norms for confronting strangers, although most involve kick-combinations taught in schools with names like The Peaceful Dragon. Perhaps it would be more helpful to explore confrontational methods employed by other countries.
The Japanese place a great deal of value on avoiding direct criticism. There is a wide chasm between their hone, or true feelings – and their tatemae, which is their agreeable façade. Therefore, Japanese criticism often takes the form of innocuous sounding suggestions. In this way, you could approach the driver of the vehicle with a bow and say, “Would it be helpful to you if I turned off your engine and prepared you a nice California Roll?” Another possibility would be to mimic the Japanese roundabout method, which is to warn someone that others, certainly not you, will be critical of their behavior. For example, you could approach the driver with a bow and say, “Have you seen the Cherry Blossoms in D.C.? They are very lovely this time of year, although many District residents do not like it when automobiles are left idling.”
Or you could look to the Italians, where symbolism plays a big part of criticism. Especially when that symbol is a clear gesture – a flick of the right hand out from under the chin – accompanied by a phrase such as Vaffanculo! Which roughly translated means, “Take it up the ass.” Just ask Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who perfected this combination as he exited High Mass a few weeks ago where he purportedly spied the driver of an idling car running into the Minimart for a Big Gulp.
The French don’t so much criticize as negotiate with long-term objectives. They are suspicious of early friendliness, but value logical, analytical arguments articulated with humor. With this in mind, you could approach the driver of the car with a frown and say, “Knock Knock. (Who’s there?) Come. (Come who?) It has come to my attention that a car left idling for more than nine minutes will emit double the smog-forming nitrous oxide, poisonous carbon monoxide, chunky particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds of a car that is turned off and subsequently restarted.”
Then there are the Swiss. Despite the fact that they often avoid international conflict and boast non-confrontational sports such as curling – a game that basically capitalizes on the ability to sweep – the Swiss resolve critical issues head-on through consensus. The Swiss don’t so much believe in blatantly criticizing the asswipe climbing into his Hummer, as they do in punching the problem where it lives through legislation. They believe that National Authority is in the hands of the collective citizenry, which is supported and protected by their Federal Constitution. Silly Swiss.
bossy betty saysApril 20, 2006 at 9:47 am
So why is it that it is OK to tell someone they should quit smoking? What is the difference between that and telling someone, even a stranger, to not leave their car idling, or to stop driving that god forsaken Hummer, or while we’re at it, why can’t we tell an obese person to just stop eating so much????
the M saysApril 20, 2006 at 2:01 pm
Smoking’s once-glamorous position in society has crippled; in today’s world, NOTHING about smoking is admirable anymore. Objects like food and cars still carry more weight. And it is also a lot easier to shout “Stop, it’s killing you!” than “Stop, it’s slowly degrading our outermost Ozone layer.”
Chris saysApril 21, 2006 at 1:04 pm
You are way too funny!!! This post is hysterical.
I work in a Northern Italian restaurant….. the owner (from Italy) and his brother (who also works there) are going to die laughing tonight when I do the chin flick followed by an exuberant “Vaffanculo” to the first person who gives me a hard time…… probably the owner’s nephew. I can’t wait.