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I told my friend that he’s extremely rude. Was I wrong to say something?

The question

Over the past few years I have reduced the frequency that I see a friend of 30-plus years as I've been enjoying being with him less and less. Without fail, when we are out, he is downright rude to people. On our last outing, he was extremely rude to a receptionist at an art show, and after that to our restaurant server who, in my opinion, was doing an excellent job. He made both of these women uncomfortable. I felt bad for them, and embarrassed to be with him.

After the second incident, I told my friend that I felt uncomfortable with the way he treated these two people. I asked him not to deal with people like that in my presence in the future. He flew off the handle at me. After two minutes of uncomfortable silence I suggested we "move on" from the discussion and order dinner. The rest of the evening proceeded as if nothing had happened. We've had no contact in the days since, and I'm feeling this might have been the Last Supper (and I am okay with that). Was I wrong to say something? Could I have handled the situation better?

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The answer

Well, you're touching on a pet peeve of mine.

I think it says a lot about you, and not in a good way, when you treat the people who are attempting to aid and assist ("serve") you – bringing you your food, and whisking away the dirty dishes when you're done – in high-handed, haughty, hoity-toity fashion.

Like, remember (I know it happened in the 1980s but these sorts of things have a way of sticking in one's memory) when Sondra Gotlieb, then the wife of Canada's ambassador to the U.S., slapped her social secretary in the face, in front of a dozen witnesses?

Par for the course, apparently. According to a Chicago Tribune article of the time: "Her wrath has been famous. At one small luncheon in 1983, she rose from the table to shriek at servants for serving plain instead of sculpted sherbet."

(Couple of things I didn't understand in this article: First, did people still have "servants" in 1983? Did they call them "servants"? I guess if it's in a newspaper they must have. Second: what the heck is "sculpted sherbet," and how did it come to pass that a woman from Winnipeg could care so much about it she would treat the people around her in such an abominable fashion?)

Humility, people. Humility and gratitude. Me, I treat everyone I have any kind of transaction with not only with respect but as though I were their servant.

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Especially my wife. Twenty years in, I'm still so grateful a woman like that would even look at me, let alone marry me, I'm like her personal butler, fetching her the paper, making her snacks, bringing her coffee in bed. Sometimes she'll offer to fetch the coffee, to which I'll affect a puzzled look and say: "Wha-ha-hat? The mere mortal is supposed to serve the goddess, not the other way around!"

I'm getting off topic. In short, I think you were damn right to speak up. The only thing I would've done different: not back down so easily when you provoked the anger of your rage-a-holic rudenik of a friend.

In fact, I'd follow up. Get together with him, pour him a drink and say: "Listen, I was serious about it the other day. You can't continue to treat people like this."

Easier said than done, I know. Look at it this way: You'll be doing him a favour. This guy is going to start losing friends, and wind up shaking his fist at neighbourhood kids on his lawn in a ratty bathrobe.

If he chews you out again, say: "Swell, but this is the reason I hardly want to see you any more."

If he capitulates, when you do go out, keep pointing out to him when he crosses the line.

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It'll be good for him – spiritually. The evangelicals say when you reach the gates of heaven, if you're going to get in you will hear the following six words: "Well done, good and faithful servant."

The six words you do not want to hear: "Sorry, bub, gotta activate the trap door."

What have you got to lose? You say you're about ready to walk away anyway. But I think after 30-plus years of friendship, you at least owe it to him to know why you are unfriending him.

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