The Art of the Insult

Years ago, I booked a flight on Delta Airlines that took me through Atlanta, the closest I’ve ever gotten to visiting the South. I’ve read enough to have an understanding of the basic tenets of Southern manners, but I was still impressed when I was the brunt of the famous Southern insult.

I’d been on a few European airlines on trips, Paris, Madrid, and Dublin and had appreciated the little amenities provided on these longer flights. And so, when I boarded my Delta flight, I was delighted to find that they had adopted the practice of providing little pillows. Making my way to my coach accommodations at the back of the plane, I spotted an unclaimed pillow on an empty seat and, in an impulsive moment, snatched it up, oblivious to the startled looks of the passengers in the surrounding seats.

The belle who set me straight, bless her heart.

I was just nicely settled into my seat when a beautifully coiffed woman, wearing a diamond ring that was visible from space, approached me with a stiff smile. “Did y’all pick up a pilla back thayer?” she asked, which was clearly a rhetorical question, as the purloined pillow was sitting in plain view on my lap. Immediately realizing my mistake, I apologized explaining that I had thought that Delta provided pillows for the comfort of their guests. Smiling disingenuously, she cooed, “Y’all don’t travel very much, do you.”

Now, if I hadn’t been so mortified, and if I had been raised in polite Southern society, I would have responded, “Well, not in coach anyway.” But instead, I sat red-faced and horrified that everyone from my seat forward viewed me as a thief. That incident, when recalled more than twenty years later, still makes me blush.

While I’m sure I’ve made other more serious gaffs in my life, this one remains the most embarrassing. I come from a long and proud line of scofflaws. In my family it’s considered honorable to skirt the onerous scrutiny of the building inspector; I seldom make a complete stop at empty intersections; I THINK about turning left on a red arrow when there is no oncoming traffic in sight; there are even those in my immediate family, who shall remain unnamed, who have admitted to petty theft, but I am NOT one of them. So, to have to sit on a plane for hours, with a dozen or more people who saw me as a thief, well, you can imagine my discomfort!


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