Monday, August 31, 2009

What's etiquette about, anyway?

This blog doesn't exist solely so I can carp about the evil doers around me. It 's actually an educational tool.

I know that when I ask someone to silence their cell phone, or please wait for his/her turn in line, I get a an icy "how dare you tell me what to do!" glare.

Here's the thing: It's not that I want you to behave. (Partly. But that's really not it.)

Etiquette is about demonstrating respect for others around us -- whether we know them or not. And when we show respect for others, we're showing respect for ourselves.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mad props to the polite

The two best things I saw this week:

  • Drivers allowing others into traffic, and
  • The ones who were let in giving a "thank you" sign to the other driver.
In case you're wondering, the universal sign for "thank you" when driving is a raised hand, perhaps a tiny wave, all five digits up. When someone does you a kindness in traffic, raise your hand and say "thanks."

And if you see another driver struggling to get in, make a difficult turn, etc., just stop for a moment and let her or him in.

You'll be rewarded by the traffic gods.

Thank you, polite people! You make traffic not-so-horrid.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

It's also called a "cockroach"

As a follow-up to the ear mullet, a colleague of mine, with whom I'll be presenting Tuesday night, tells me that in his office, cell phone earpieces are called "cockroaches."

As in, "Take that cockroach out of your ear, the meeting's about to start."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lose the ear mullet

In the '90s, it was the cell-phone belt clip.

Today, it's the Bluetooth earpiece.

Both scream, "Look at me! I'm important! I can reach my personal communication device within a second!"

What they really say: "Look at me! I'm a douchebag!"

You don't need to walk around with your ear mullet (what Wired calls those cell-phone earpieces) attached all the time. Moreover, when you're in a meeting, take the damn thing off.

It's a distraction. (Not to you, sure, because you don't have to look at the stupid thing.) It borders on (and teeters into) disrespectful -- especially if that little blue light goes blinky-blinky-blinky.

A colleague of mine has business meetings all the time with individuals who refuse to remove their ear clips. "No, I'm waiting for a call," they tell her.

Really? And when the call arrives you can't either: a) let it go to voicemail, whereby you will return the call, or: b) spend the 2 seconds it takes to answer your phone (sans earpiece) and step out of the room?


This "I've got an earpiece" mentality smacks of such manufactured self-importance, it's ridiculous.

Unless you're Brad Pitt or severely disabled, take your earpiece off when you're in the company of others.

Mad props to the late Senator Kennedy

I'm going to step out of the norm for just a quick post. I don't like to have any political tones here, but I've got to say "thanks for your service" and a fond farewell to the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

As I watched the news coverage, what struck me was that Senator Kennedy reached out to many, but did so quite frequently through letters.*

Watch CBS Videos Online

*for those of you under 30: "letters" are longer, more thoughtful emails, but on paper, written with ink. Instead of pressing "send," one puts the paper-with-ink into a paper envelope and snail-mails it to the recipient.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

To clarify about tacky thank-yous

Reader marybt posted a great comment yesterday asking about my disdain for photo thank-yous:

"I had some made by Shutterfly that have my kid's picture on the front and say thank you. But then we actually write a note on the inside. How is that tacky?

I'd hate to unknowingly make some faux pas.

BTW, my daughter will be 2 next month. I already have her color on the thank you notes so that she gets into the habit."

So, first, let's give some major kudos to marybt for: a) teaching her child to write thank yous, and b) including a personal note.

What marybt is doing (photo+note) is acceptable and nice. She's saying thank you and including a photo.

To clarify: Photo cards are not inherently evil; it's when they are sent solo in place of a thank you, sans handwritten note, that they are evil.

My classless (but not immediate, thank god) relatives have sent something like this, instead of writing a thank-you.

I'm with marybt -- photos are nice. In fact, I'd love a picture of the kids, your wedding, whatever -- as long as you make a minuscule effort and write "thank you, I love the $100 check you gave me."

Shoving a photo into a card and mailing it off is not effort.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

To gift, or not to gift?

Just as a follow-up to yesterday: the thank-you to the innkeeper is on its way!

Okay, so I have a slew of parties coming up, and it dawned on me that there are many areas of etiquette that are fuzzy, because no matter how much us good-manners lovers bitch about it, the general public is just going to do as it pleases anyway. (Actually, I think that's unfortunately true about all etiquette guidelines. But anyway...)

The one party "rule" that is always messy is whether to say "no presents" on the invite.

Old-school etiquette says that any mention of presents on the invite (email, evite, or hand-written) is tacky. You don't mention presents either way. I agree with half of this: you don't mention that you want presents, nor do you ever mention where you (or the guest of honor) are registered. Registry info goes on a separate card.

I'm actually okay with "no presents" on the invite...but the much of the general public isn't. Mainly because they won't (or don't want to) listen.

If you say "no presents," invariably, there will be the one or two guests who insist on bringing a gift, thereby making the others (who followed your instructions) feel uncomfortable. When these naysayers show up, gift in hand, thank them quietly, then spirit the gift off to an undisclosed location, away from partyland.

The other good graces faux pas comes in the form of those who put "no presents, please" on their invites, and then secretly hope their guests will bring presents. These people usually end up getting pissed off that everyone followed their instructions.

The easiest, most fool-proof strategy all around? Don't mention presents at all. If some show up, put 'em away. If they don't, well, then, you had your friends over and had a good time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another nice thing and thank-yous

My friend K. went on a trip last week, and left a t-shirt behind. He didn't even notice it was missing until it turned up in the mail, shipped to him by the owner of the inn where he stayed.

Of course, the inn owners are getting a nice, hand-written thank you in the mail.

Although these days you'll hear that you're "technically" not required to send a thank you (because gifts should be given in the spirit -- yeah, bullshit), good manners dictate that when someone goes out of their way for you, or buys you a gift, you take about 2 minutes out of your life, and send a thank you note. Hand-written. Not pre-printed photocards -- those stupid things are tacky and, no, they don't get you off the hook.

I was filing receipts this weekend and came across proof of multiple baby gifts I'd bought for random procreators--you know, casual friends and acquaintances. Not one had sent me a thank-you or even called to say thanks. So unless you're a friend or relative of mine and you're pregnant, no more gifts from the Bitch.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mad props to the polite

This week was pretty mellow, meaning that people all around were behaving pretty nicely, which is as it should be. Let's hope this nice trend continues. (Of course, if everyone is nice and polite, what the eff will I write about?)

Some good things I saw this week:

  • People saying "Excuse me," to strangers on a crowded sidewalk when they needed to pass.
  • One mother and child moving out of the way at a shoe store so a stranger could see the display.
  • A yoga teacher staying after class (20 minutes) to help a student.
These are all just little nice things, but they make our world nicer. Thank you, kind folks!

Friday, August 21, 2009

I don't need to see the email addressess of your 1,000 friends

There's this field in email called "bcc." Learn how to use it properly and not annoy the hell out of your friends.

"BCC" stands for "blind carbon copy" and it's a hangover from the old typewriter days. (Click here if you don't know what a typewriter is.)*

What it means: The person(s) listed in the "to" or "cc" field don't see the names/emails of anyone in the "bcc" field. In corporate america, this is great for sending secret/confidential information.

Out here in the real world, "bcc" is great when you have more than a few folks to email, i.e., more than four.

When sending out mass emails for your Tupperware party, improv show, Super Bowl party, bachelor/bachelorette party, book club, job lead, request for job leads -- you catch my drift -- send one copy to yourself, and list your myriad contacts in the "bcc" field.


Well, as is a good practice, put yourself in your reader's shoes. No one likes to get an email, open it, and then have to scroll for 2 pages past all the "to:" emails. Plus, the reader is also thinking, "Great, now all these people I don't know can contact me. I thought that's what facebook was for."

Now, once your friends pick up on this tip and start sending you clean emails, you have a responsibility as the recipient in the "bcc" field.

Do not hit "reply to all" if you're a "bcc." (You can tell you're a "bcc" if you look up at your name. It will say: "bcc: [Your Name/email].")

Why? Because the initial recipients aren't supposed to know you received this email. Secondly, mass "reply to all"s are annoying as fuck.

I once sent an email to a client of mine, recommending the services of my friend "Alex." I put "Alex" in the "bcc" field so he would know I was referring business to him. "Alex" then did a stupid thing and hit "reply to all" and addressed my client, asking for a sales meeting. Oh, I was pissed.

* I am genuinely surprised that a) typewriters are still manufactured, b) they are
expensive, and c) one model is actually on backorder and not due in until Halloween of this year. Yikes!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I imagine "Mad Men" had some good and bad manners

According to Nathan Bransford, apparently your blog doesn't even exist unless you mention "Mad Men."

Arguably a wonderful show. But losing cable last year has forced me to cease viewing, save for the scarce free-viewings available on the internet.

So I'll blog about what I know/recall about this show.

Women are treated like meat. Not good, not cool. Don Draper's a little better than dirtbag Pete Campbell, ah, except for how he disregards his wife. Scratch that last one.

I know, I know, it's "of the times," "it's how things were back then," "it's a cutthroat industry," blah, blah, blah.

But it doesn't mean I want to squeeze myself into a dress, don my foot-killing spike heels and parade around the office so men can make cruel comments behind my back.

What's an important aspect of etiquette? "Respect." That's right, class.

Watch "Mad Men" for entertainment value; not as a modern-day how-to.

Take just one, please

Last week I was at one of those suites-only hotels that provides free dinner, complete with milk and cookies in the evening.

In general, I love those places, except when the food is so awful I wouldn't leave it out for the rats. Happily, this was not one of those places. The food was, well, good.

Every night, the cookies would disappear about 5 minutes into dinnertime. One evening, I popped into the lobby to snag a cookie...and they were all gone.

Pasta? Plenty. Green salad? Oh, I could have all the salad I wanted. Cheap wine? Abundant. But the cookie jar? Empty.

And then I saw why. One woman sat solo at a table, eating her dinner, plate piled high with pasta and salad. And next to her was a second plate....with four chocolate-chip cookies on it.

Listen, rude-asses, the hotel puts that stuff out for everybody. And you may not have noticed, but they also do not replenish the good stuff -- like cookies.

Realize that you're not the only person staying at the hotel. Take just one, please.

This rule applies whenever you're grabbing freebies -- leave some for the others.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to get off an airplane

Kind of like how we're not taught how to blow our noses in public, I really don't recall anyone ever teaching us how to exit an airplane (or a bus or elevator for that matter.)

Let's apply a little common sense here, shall we? You know how when you get ON an airplane, not everyone can get on at the same time? That's why there's a BOARDING procedure.

Let's use an "Exit Procedure" shall we?

Once the plane lands, leave your seat belt on, stay seated, and wait until the seat belt sign is turned off. Only then may you unbuckle, stand up, and then rustle about for your belongings so you may get off the plane asfastasyoucan.

Here's the proper, most efficient way to exit the plane: one row at a time, front to back. Wait your turn, impatient assholes. If you're seated in the middle or aisle, that means the aisle person goes first, middle-seat person goes second, then the window-seat person goes third.

I really shouldn't have to tell anybody any of this, but unfortunately, witnessed by last week's travels, I do. Upon my arrival in San Jose, Grandma Jones, seated in the middle seat, quite literally crawled over me as I wrangled with my stowed laptop case overhead. All so she could get one step ahead of me, when I wasn't even out of my seat yet.

"Could you wait two seconds?" I muttered to her. Apparently not, even though her sprint-over-the 30-something gave her a 2 second advantage, she then had to wait in the gate for her handicapped husband.

As she waited, she called to every exiting passenger, "Herb! Herb!"

Really, you have to wait for your husband, and you have to jump over one passenger? I call this the height of rudeness!

What else I find amazing is the "I gotta get out first!" passengers who run up the aisle when the airplane doors aren't even open yet, block everyone else's way so they can't even gather their belongings, and just stand there, impatiently. They then push past everyone, only to get down to baggage claim where....their bags aren't even there for another 20 minutes.

Let's apply a little common sense and courtesy, people. If you have to go get bags, you're just as well off waiting on the plane, and waiting your turn.

The one exception to "wait your turn" are the folks who are desperately trying to make a connecting flight -- especially the last one of the evening -- and are delayed as it is. In those cases, I find that the crew is usually kind enough to make an announcement to ask the non-connectors to please let the frantically-hurried passengers bolt down the aisle first...and then please stand up, collect your belongings and exit in an orderly fashion.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mad props to the polite

Forgive my day-lateness; etiquette buffs need a vacation, too!

Okay, here we go, good stuff I saw in the last week:

  • A woman on the airplane actually picking up her trash around her seat.
  • A young man holding a restaurant door open for two elderly, not-so-healthy folks. The elder gentleman walked with a cane; his female companion, lugging her oxygen tank, joked with the door-holder: "I need a prod for him" and made poking gestures.
  • A large family (6 of them? 10 of them?) bringing beer, sodas, chips, and watermelon to the hotel pool -- and cleaning up after themselves and throwing everything away.*
  • Matriarch of same family above offering snacks to everyone (ie, nearby strangers) at the pool.
  • Same family: all the adults teaching the children good manners in public, including: not running, saying "please," "excuse me," and "thank you."
Thank you, polite people! You make the world -- and traveling -- much nicer.

*I find this one so wonderful because, for whatever reason, the darling people who live in my neighborhood think it's okay to leave their trash curbside and hope that someone -- like my cash-strapped city -- will clean it up for them. The street looks nothing like the guest suite at the Hilton, at least to my eyes.

Monday, August 10, 2009


A recent Miss Manners column caught my eye, and made me realize most of us are not taught what to do when we need to sneeze in public.

Miss Manners says to carry a handkerchief (cloth) all the time, and sneeze into it.

I'm of the disposable age, so I'll say keep a Kleenex tucked inside your purse or pocket.

When with others, especially at the dinner table (or any meal, for that matter), do not do the following when you sneeze:

  • Just let it out and let germs and moisture fly every which way.
  • Pull your shirt away from you, tuck chin to chest, and sneeze into your clothing.
  • Sneeze into your hand, finish with an, "Ahhhh...." and then wipe your hand on your pants.
A sneeze into a kerchief or Kleenex is acceptable, as long as you are quick, quiet, and discreet. Need a moment to blow? Excuse yourself and head to the bathroom to clear your sinuses.

And then wash your germ-covered hands before returning to the table.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mad props to the polite

Is there a good-manners vibe rippling through the universe, or at least through the Midwest?I am most grateful!

For the second time inside a month, I went to a movie (8 p.m. on a Saturday, "Julie and Julia," every single seat taken) and -- gasp -- cell phone silence!

I was about 5 rows from the front of the screen, so I can't say with certainty that the movie was completely free of ignoramuses who texted or pressed a button on their phones, thus emitting 1,000 lumens to annoy their neighbors.

But it was a (mostly) quiet audience, and I enjoyed the movie without someone else's running commentary or verbal predictions.

And, apparently, I had an etiquette lover sitting to my right. My friend/date-for-the-evening was sitting to my left. At the start of the movie, my friend leaned over and made some comment to me, full-voice.

Guy to my right announces, full-voice: "If we could not talk during the movie, that would be great."

It was all I could do to not say to him, "HEY! That's my job!"

My friend was quiet and respectful for the duration of the movie.

Thanks, polite and quiet people. You make movies enjoyable, and the world a better place.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Nothing on the internet is private

Oh, no, it's not.

Email never dies. Your potential employer can and will find your beer bong photos on Facebook or Myspace.

And real people have feelings.

One of the benefits/downsides (depending on your perspective) of Facebook is that every genius on it can share every single thought he/she has -- everything from "I'm hungry" to "Wondering why my neighbor feels it's okay to clomp around in high heels at 1 a.m. and wake me up????" *

Private thoughts are okay. In fact, they're good. Most of your FB friends do not care that you regret that cheeseburger with fudge that you ate last night. Also, your FB friends don't want to hear about your colonoscopy. And while they might not care about your dietary habits, they do have feelings.

So think twice before you post. If you're hosting a wedding (or some other massive social event) to which not everyone is invited, you might not want to post every detail every ten minutes.

And if you're about to bad-mouth someone? Skip it. Chances are one of their friends will see it. Even if you post on someone's wall (vs. posting a public comment), all of their friends can see the wall post.

Nothing on the internet is private. And there are people out there in the real world -- people with feelings -- reading this crap.

* Tip from Wired Magazine: Hunger and fatigue are never good facebook posts.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dinner conversation

I suppose when one experiences good graces (lovely house guests) one must also encounter something in the universe to balance it out, right?

Enter the unpalatable dinner conversation.

In the last 72 hours, I've attended two dinner parties. Okay, they were both barbecues, but still -- let us not forget that when we are with a group of people who have food before them, then perhaps we should mind our manners and stick to non-offensive, easy-to-digest topics for the table.

In the last three days, I've heard the following discussed (or blathered about, depending on the speaker's drunkenness) over dinner:

  • Urination, defecation, vomiting, or faking retardation as a rape-avoidance technique.
  • The appearance (black) and size (large) of one's scrotum after a vasectomy.
  • Another guest's breasts -- and whether they would make an appearance at the table.
All three were tasteless; the first two were excellent appetite suppressants.

At a social gathering, unless you're hanging exclusively with your sorority sisters or frat brothers and you're all wasted, please remember the phrase polite company and make sure that you act, well, polite.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Those pesky handicapped people

I'm happy to say I had wonderful house guests. It was a great week.

Taking care of other people, though, makes you notice aspects about the real world that you may have overlooked before.

Like that most people, in public, are incredibly ignorant when they cross paths with an injured or handicapped person.

Here's the right thing to do: give a little courtesy to the disabled party. Perhaps hold a door open for him or her. No need to push past the handicapped person -- wait your turn.

During my visit with my guest-on-crutches, I saw people push past her in stores, and when she was struggling to get out of a car, an asshole female driver -- whom I had asked to please wait -- drove past my injured guest, nearly hitting her.

Guess what, morons? An additional two-to-thirty second wait is not going to kill you, and --gasp--you probably will still be on time wherever you're going.

The next time you see an injured, feeble, or handicapped person who's in your path, stop and think for a minute: What if this was my mother? My father? Brother? Sister? Wouldn't you want everyone else to be a little patient and courteous?

Yeah, me, too.

Related: Public transportation and giving up seats.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mad props to the polite

Good stuff I saw in the last week:

  • House guests who took their host out to dinner.
  • At said dinner, one set of parents with a stroller saw two parents burdened with a sleeping child and no stroller. "Would you like to borrow this?" stroller-parents said. They let the sleeping baby's parents borrow the stroller so they could eat dinner sans sleeping baby.
Thank you, nice parents!
You make the world a nicer place.