On Courtesy, Shyness and Restraint

If you asked anyone I knew to describe me, they would probably use words like Quiet, Reserved and Serious. I have come to realize that reserve and restraint are among my highest values, even when they don’t serve me well. As a child I was shy. I now define shyness as having a narrow comfort zone: shy people like to know what to expect, and they benefit from structure and rules – as well as gentle practice to grow out of them. I was also taught humility and modesty – one was never to brag. Because I was smart (I cringe to even say that!), my classmates at school delighted in every mistake I made, and crowed when I failed at anything. Of course I would be picked first for the spelling bee team and last for every sport! All that notwithstanding, I was and am happy. Like all introverts, I recharge by having time alone and pursuing solitary pastimes.

As you might guess, I identify strongly with literary characters like Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) and Renee Michel (The Elegance of the Hedgehog) – both of whom are restrained from living fully by their excessive restraint!

Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood

Last year I read a book called Watching the English: the Hidden Rules of English Behaviour. The author, Kate Fox, told about the supposed national characteristics of the English, as exemplified by the stiff upper lip / Keep Calm and Carry On mentality. I had a Eureka moment of discovering I was raised in a traditional English fashion by non-British parents in Canada! No wonder I get on so well with my UK spouse. (As an aside, I always have fits of giggles when he says the traffic this morning was a “nightmare” but a cancelled flight and an overnight airport stay were just “a spot of bother”!)

Probably my worst characteristic is that I don’t reveal any information about myself to people in casual conversation – I assume if they were interested in anything about me, they would ask. My best characteristic is that I can be an excellent listener and really draw people out with questions. Although I am amazed sometimes when I meet a person, chat with them, and ask them questions for an hour, and then I realize they have not asked me one thing!

Sometimes people are astounded by how different I am from them. I told a co-worker once that I consider every word I say. She exclaimed, “Every word? All the time? Not me – I just blurt everything out!” I assured her that any regrets I have in life will always be things unsaid and undone – rather than words and deeds that actually occurred.

You will not get a word out of me!

I have to admit that I do like to observe social niceties and “stand on decorum,” as it were. I agree with every manners expert who tells us that manners are a way of smoothing social interactions and helping others feel at ease. On the other hand, I don’t like keeping score: as in “let’s exchange gifts of equal value annually forever.” Manners should not cross the line and become masochism, whereby others’ wishes are always more important than one’s own.

It probably took me more time than the average to become confident, assertive, and at-ease in a variety of situations. But hey, what’s an extra decade in the grand scheme of things!

and the moral of the story is that blogging is liberating 🙂


  1. Mel

    Well written and very insightful (although I probably knew most of those things about you). Blogging does indeed seem liberating. Perhaps I’ll take it up … later … in the fall …

  2. I identify with a lot of what you say in this post!

  3. Jan

    I have been quietly enjoying your blog, often nodding in agreement and smiling over how much I relate. I cheered when you bought a Versa, for I love mine.
    But this post? OMG – it feels like we could have been twins, separated at birth
    (okay – maybe a little extreme, but even so….)

    and now that I’m actually posting a response, let me add that I’m really enjoying your posts and perspectives. Thanks for this window on your life! I’ve missed you.

    • Thanks, Jan, my fellow Versa owner – who knew! It makes me happy that you’ve been reading here. I’ve always felt that we had a connection, I just didn’t know it might be through groceries, too 🙂 I hope we can catch up with each other.

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