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Tag Archives: Etiquette

The World Wide Living Room

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All modern etiquette can be boiled down to; the world is not your living room. There is a very thin (practically invisible) membrane between our public and private lives these days. For some situations this transparency is positive. Many topics that were once off limits for discussion in polite and even impolite society are now fair game. It’s challenging to view this as anything but on the whole a good thing. People are much more aware of the symptoms and treatment options for breast, colon and ovarian cancer in no small part because of our comfort level sharing intimacies. For every pee stick photo we’re subjected to, we know that more women (and perhaps men) have a better understanding of fertility and reproduction. It’s difficult to find fault with our newfound comfort level of what was once shrouded in secrecy.

However there’s sharing and then there’s sharing. No doubt we’ve all been subjected to one-side of a phone conversation that contained the most personal and gruesome details. Never again do I wish to share a commute with a woman describing; “the itching and burning but no bumps.” Nor do I want to enjoy my salad while a baby gets his diaper changed at the next table. (And yes, it happened in close enough proximity that I know for a fact it was a boy.) I’d like to ride on public transport without the fear of someone’s frappamachocino landing in my lap. I’d really like to never again sit through any performance at which the audience is; texting, updating their status, talking, eating, drinking, playing with plastic bags, or performing personal hygiene. And while we’re on the subject; hair is not a toy. It is not to be played with in public, especially over my dinner plate.

Truman Capote told us volumes about Miss Golightly when he described her as “idly, publicly combing her hair” at a table at “21”. It was a clue because it simply wasn’t (and shouldn’t be) done. It’s unsanitary, and in a world in which people clip hand santizer to themselves, you would think that went without saying. But if the world is your living room and there no longer is such a thing as public space then why not polish one’s nails on an airplane? Why not walk down a crowded city sidewalk while typing and assume the rest of the world will clear a path? Why wouldn’t you spend an hour in a Holocaust exhibit with a wailing baby strapped to your front? How could any of these behaviors affect anyone else? After all you’re in your living room.

But see the thing about the planet is that it’s finite. We’ve known this for some time and have maneuvered our social ways to fit that schema. We’ve always had a sense of personal space and of the personal. There was a time when proper people did not dine in public. The act of eating was seen as far too intimate to be done in front of strangers. Private dining rooms and draped banquets were created to ease the discomfort. It’s quite a leap to changing a dirty diaper on a restaurant table, no? This transition did not happen in a vacuum. As we’ve become more liberated in what we share, our lives have become more regimented. Most of us follow rules and procedures our ancestors couldn’t even dream/nightmare. Where they might summon a doctor to their home when feeling ill, we must perform an acrobatic act to rival the Karamazov Brothers to navigate healthcare and insurance. We spend more time pressing “0” in a vain attempt to speak to a human; a human not reading from a script. We fill out forms, choose passwords and codes, and follow follow follow the rules. We reboot, recharge and wait for installation to watch a television that used to just plug into the wall. Is it any wonder that we simply resist any more rules and constraints?

When we’ve had enough (and that occurs almost daily) we just want to break free. However it’s possible to feel free without being hostile. And make no mistake; ignoring the existence of others is a hostile act. Acting as if other people are not entitled to the same resources is a hostile act. Invading people’s physical, auditory, olfactory or visual space is a hostile act. Learning to share is the very first lesson we are taught. Sharing means acknowledging that others exist and we don’t in fact wear an invisibility cloak. The key is to differentiate our impulses from our conscious behavior. Is it easier for us to change a dirty diaper whenever and wherever we’d like? Yes in fact it is, but do we really want to be someone who (literally) poops on the world? Is that what we want to put out into the universe? Is that what we want our children to emulate?

Is daily life sometimes a wicked pain in the bum? Absolutely, but each time you leave your living room and step into the light step into the day, there’s potential for positive interaction. It would be silly to ignore that opportunity.

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Posted by on April 1, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

There was a time when business establishments felt perfectly within their rights to set behavioral standards for their clientele.  These standards ranged from the sublime (jacket required) to the ridiculous (unescorted ladies forbidden.)  The hospitality was not the only public congregating business known to set behavioral standards.  Back in olden times, movie theater ushers policed the audience.  They wielded flashlights and a keen eye for misbehavior.  Paying patrons would be asked to leave if their behavior was deemed unacceptable.

Can you imagine that today?!  Well, why don’t we?

Why are we paying large amounts of money to dine out amidst loud cellphone chatting and wild child patrons?  Restaurant owners and maitre d’hotels are allowing it, because we have done nothing to erode their profits.  There are those of us diners who have asked to remove a screaming infant from a small restaurant (after 9:00 PM) to only then fear for our bodily safety.  We have exaggeratedly stared (a la Harpo Marx) at loud cellphone talkers only to be ignored.  (Of course we should have seen that coming, what with their obvious obliviousness.)  I have seen “no cellphone” signs on the doors of one or two shops.  But the request is made so that the shopkeeper need not be disturbed.  The customer (of any establishment) is left to fend for themselves.  There is absolutely no imperative for business owners to manage the ambiance, if we keep paying for abuse.

Far more grievous is the boorish behavior during performances.  Talking during the overture, rustling plastic bags, slurping from sippy cups, repeating dialogue, playing with cellphones, taking photos, and basically behaving as if one is in his or her living room watching television.  There is no acknowledgment of there being real live people performing, let alone other real live people in the audience.  The fact that theater managers and ushers seem to be hiding in the lobby while this behavior occurs is inexcusable.  Some of us have pointed out (illegal) photo taking to ushers only to be given the “oh you poor crazy woman” look.

I propose the radical step of printing on every ticket, ticket website, and Playbill the following message: “Any cellphones or cameras that are left on while inside the theater will be confiscated.”  Ushers, waiters, managers and the like must form the first line of defense.  Formalizing human behavior standards is sad, but it’s not new.  What do you think would happen if an audience member lit up a cigarette during a classical music concert?  We no longer tolerate this behavior, it is time to enforce what we once called common courtesy.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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Divine* Style

Writings about etiquette can be entertaining.  Whether you use them for actual guidance or not, it is interesting to get a glimpse into other people’s perspective. There is a lovely mystique, as we don’t often witness the writer practicing what they preach.  My fantasy of Letitia Baldrige is that of a woman who has never faltered and never once regretted what she has or has not said.  Writings about personal style do not support that kind of fantasy however.  The market is such that one would be hard pressed to name a “style expert” who isn’t a brand onto themselves.  Therein lies the rub, eh?  The platform of expertise is a bit unstable when we can see you.  I find it difficult to take style advice from someone who considers white a color or wears denim work shirts as if they were Chanel jackets.  And for the record, monochromatic table settings or home decor is not a style it is an absence of creativity.

Is it any wonder then, that when I come across someone who dedicates himself to living artfully, I am besotted?  A writer who extols the virtue of written holiday greetings and shuns the gift card?  I’m yours.  A man who lives life out loud and strictly by his convictions?  Color me a fan.  So of course, I spent last night at the John Waters’ Christmas show.

Good taste or bad, Mr. Waters does it with intent.  Always immaculate and exuding a quiet sophisticated style, Mr. Waters takes center stage and talks in the manner he writes (or is it the other way around?)  He waxes poetic about his favorite holiday and fantasizes about the perfect Christmas presents (books and more books) and films.  I can’t possibly keep up with the cinematic references made by someone who got his start in 1960s underground.  But I can certainly admire the encyclopedia knowledge of outsider art.  What is far more captivating to me is the goodness and generosity of spirit which exude from a man steeped in style.  With little fanfare, for years he has been volunteering in prisons and recently a first-grade classroom. (And the parents gasp.)  He is legend for his friendship and support.

While it isn’t that much of a wonderment that an artist lives artfully, Mr. Waters is willing and able to share his skill with others.  Fan of his films or not, it is difficult to not embrace his authenticity.  In Mr. Waters’ world, style should be synonymous with self expression and etiquette is synonymous with decency.  I want to live in that world.

*Divine (1945-1988) star of Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble…

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Style

 

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@ Work :( TTYL

Have we all heard just about enough about the dangers, both physical and evolutionary, of texting?  Do we need another article haranguing against smart-phones on dinner tables?  Isn’t it crystal clear to us all that “living in the moment” is now only a behavior for which we pay thousands of dollars to experience in a spa? Technology has changed our orientation to the world around us.  But I don’t particularly care about all that right now.

What I do care about is personal phone calls at work.  (Quaint, isn’t it?  That sentence conjures up visions of Judy Holliday at the switchboard.)  For reasons which allude me, the technology of a “phone call” has obscured the intent of the call.  The fact that people needn’t speak to communicate, or use a telephone belonging to an employer, seems to have blurred the lines for many.  Show of hands, how many times has the clerk at your checkout register been tapping his/her acrylics onto a phone?  Have you ever entered a boutique and not heard the shopkeeper on a personal call?  The last time you frequented a restaurant with a host/hostess, were they looking down and squinting, behind their station in the dark?  There are work situations in which personal communication is not only permissible, it is probably encouraged.  I was recently on a film shoot at which the principals (waiting upwards to 15 minutes between takes) typed away, happily passing the time.  But those particular employees were not actually working while making their personal calls.  Their attention was not expected to be anywhere but on themselves.

Now here’s where the rant builds up steam.  I have lost count of how many of New York’s finest I have seen texting or making personal phone calls while working.  I suppose the traffic officer would argue; “Hey, I can give tickets and text at the same time.”  Perhaps, but you’re in uniform and; a) it is unseemly to be engaged in personal activity, and b) you are an officer, and if you’re not seeing something and saying something, why should I?  I have also seen “beat” officers, standing and texting on a corner, officers in squad cars (thankfully, the passengers not the drivers) texting as well.  Now unless that is how the police department now communicates with its officers (and for all I know, it is) I find this truly distressing.

I am not suggesting that we all don’t have personal emergencies that need attention.  But what I’ve witnessed is far more lackadaisical than an emergency would ever suggest.  Somehow, because we have the technology, we’ve decided that rules of the workplace and common decorum need no longer apply.  I’m no techie wonk, but I’m willing to posit, that we’re only going to get more little sexy toys with which to play.  Perhaps we should engage, now, in the real face to face conversations about what is appropriate and what is not.  Maybe I’m just an old fashioned gal, but I enjoy being looked in the eye, be it by a police officer or dinner companion (or one and the same, if it’s Tom Selleck in Blue Blood.)

 

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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Take A Good Look My Dear, The Old South Has Disappeared

Great Jehoshaphat, southern gentility is reported to be on the decline!  Perhaps you’re thinking that in these uncertain times, this news is hardly worth mention.  But if you believe, as I firmly do, that social graces are what separates us from the animals, you are nervous.

Gentility on a micro level makes our days less, something to endure and more, something to celebrate.  Having a door held open, versus slammed in one’s face, makes if not the entire day, at least a moment, less stress inducing and more gratitude inducing.  When a person moves out of the doorway (of an elevator, bus, train) they are communicating (for a split second) “I am cognizant of not living in solitary.”  It is our nature to want to be acknowledged, if even just physically.  No one wants to be ignored (as we learned from Fatal Attraction.)  At the root of boorish behavior is self absorption.  “The world exists to tend to my needs.”  It is not difficult to spot the trajectory of such a perspective.  If we scratch the surface of a political scandal or corporate malfeasance, wouldn’t we find this mindset?  I think we’d all agree that the root of any ponzi scheme is a desire to have the world attend to the orchestrator’s needs.  Most of us are not global economic leaders, but like recycling, don’t we want to do our small part?  Giving a pregnant woman your seat is the pebble in the lake of decency.

I am not entirely naive about the origins of southern gentility or how it can be quite manipulative.  It’s just that I’m okay with that.  Our culture is experiencing a political correctness frenzy.  We feel compelled to put preposterous positive spin on everything, no matter how misleading.  So why not employ that same smiley face/have a nice day rhetoric in being kind to strangers, or for that matter, friends?  I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that the old south is not familiar with the term “frenemies.”  Do you remember Melanie Wilkes referring to Scarlett as “spirited” bless her heart?  Scarlett had said unkind things about dear Melanie and was rabidly after Ms. Wilkes’ fiance.  What in the world would today’s Melanie post on Facebook?  I shudder to even consider.

Helping a tourist, complimenting a stranger’s scarf, holding an elevator door, making funny faces at a crying baby, demand a level of awareness.  It is hard to text, drive, drink from a sippy cup AND let someone merge into your lane.  It is equally difficult to talk on the phone, drink from a sippy cup, push a double-wide stroller, and notice the person in front of you has dropped a glove.  So if removing our plastic bubble as we go through our day is not realistic, how about doing so just when engaged in intentional social interaction?  Why don’t we start with remembering that social interactions, large and small, are not about the individual, they are about the group.  Throwing oneself a celebration (nuptial, birthday, etc.) means one is a host.  A good host makes his/her guests feel comfortable and welcomed.  A good (and even not so good) host does not invoice his or her guests and always expresses gratitude for their presence.  Like accessorizing, civility is what separates us from the animals.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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