Perspective

"We Want the World, and We Want It Now!"

The Jerk virtually defines the American character of the 21st century.  Ask any foreigner, and he will tell you amazing tales of badly dressed, obnoxious Americans who treat restaurant owners as their personal servants, snap their fingers, screaming Garçon! Garçon! for service, and complain about everything they eat.  Too many American travelers have seen too many Burger King commercials.  If you really want to have everything your way, stay home.

Though they are one of America’s distinctive incarnations, Jerks have been observed throughout history.  Meet one from 17th-century France, described by one of the most acute observers of human folly, Jean de La Bruyère:

Gnathon lives for no one but himself, and the rest of the world are to him as if they did not exist.  He is not satisfied with occupying the best seat at table, but he must take the seats of two other guests, and forgets that the dinner was not provided for him alone, but for the company as well; he lays hold of every dish, and looks on each course as his own; he never sticks to one single dish until he has tried them all, and would like to enjoy them all at one and the same time. . . . [H]e makes every place his home, and will have as much elbow-room in church and in a theatre as if he were in his own room.  When he rides in a coach, it...

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