Tag Archives: etiquette

To The Mean Lady in the Bathroom

dark_light_clouds.jpgI noticed you before in the gallery. You were being loud and sounded angry even though it was a Maira Kalman exhibit. She’s not loud or angry. She’s all about being good-natured and wry and taking things in stride. And being amused. You didn’t seem amused.

I don’t know what’s up with you today. Maybe it’s every day. You are in a wheelchair so maybe it’s that. That would be difficult. I don’t know what I’d do if I were in a wheelchair. I hope I’d be one of those inspirational people who take up extreme skiing or sailboarding and get profiled in People or on Good Morning America. I think it would take me a really long time to get there though. I mean the being great about it, not the sailboarding. The sailboarding might take me forever. (I’ve never had very good balance.)

Whatever it is that’s bothering you though, it’s not nice for the rest of us if you take it out on a stranger who didn’t know you were waiting for the mom-with-kids/handicapped bathroom stall in the really nicely designed ladies room at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Honestly, I didn’t know you were waiting when I took my time sorting A. out. Do you think I would’ve kept you waiting on purpose? I hope not. That would be a tough way to go through your day, thinking people who don’t even know you are purposely being rotten.

Not to sound like a mom, but you really didn’t need to take that tone with me. If you’d just politely said you were waiting or made your presence known – a slight cough, an amusing note under the door – I’d have been just as obliging, I promise, but you wouldn’t have put that little bit of unpleasantness into the world by making me and little A. feel bad. I know you can’t feel good about it either. No one does when they’re mean, however justified they feel they are. It backs up on you. I know. I’ve been there.

Please, next time give me a little more credit for being a person who doesn’t knowingly inconvenience strangers. And remember: other people don’t think about us as much as we’d all like to think that they do. Which means that when they drive by you in their cars, even if they seem like they’re looking right at you, they probably didn’t register your amazing ensemble, the one with the alluring hat and the matching socks that you wore specially. (Don’t worry: the people who love you did and that’s what matters.)

But it also means they didn’t mean to cut you off in traffic. They were probably thinking about something else entirely. Like how their boss yelled at them this afternoon or that maybe they married the wrong person. Or maybe they’re rushing to save a kitten, one of the really adorable ones.

Of course, there’s a very slight possibility that you’re right, that that person really did mean to intentionally rain on your day. I’m sorry if that happens to you regularly. That has to be difficult to bear. But take a moment, just today, to consider whether that’s really true, even if you really, really believe it is deep down inside. Think hard. Is the world really not on your side on purpose? Between ourselves, I doubt it. You know why? Because I wasn’t, even though you thought I was.

We – everyone, all of us – are exceptionally bad guessers. It’s the scared part of us that thinks we’re great at guessing and tells us our worst guess is the correct one. The fact is, most of the time, we just don’t have any idea what’s going on with other people, so we may as well decide to believe the nice thing, right? Because in the end, it will make everyone’s day, including yours and mine and tiny A.’s, a little brighter. And we can all use a little sun.

Have a nice afternoon.

Thanks to numupdraft for the photo.

White House Crashers


I just have to weigh in on this thing with the reality TV show candidates crashing the White House state dinner last week. Why? Because

  1. I do not like reality TV, especially watching grown women act like spoiled four-year-olds.
  2. I am one of those self-righteous etiquette watchdogs who make exasperated noises at people on cellphones in Starbucks.

My instinctive response? “Jail ’em, the tacky bastards!! Bring out the cone of shame!!”

I’m glad to see that a couple of Senators agree with me: levy charges to discourage idiocy in all its forms. But I’m pretty sure Obama will come down on the side of a scolding only because he’s a stay focused on what’s important kind of guy.

Whatever. I say it’s time to bring out the manners hammer, boys!! This is your chance!

And while you’ve got everybody in the room and all worked up, if you could issue some kind of prohibition against bankers and older men wearing cellphone headsets when they’re not actually on the phone and couples arguing loudly in restaurants and girls who just came from the gym chatting loudly on their cellphones about their boring, boring social lives while waiting for their skim, two-Splenda, light whip, double shot lattes, you’d make my day. No other holiday present needed.

Suggestion Box: Weddings


We attended two Euro-American weddings this summer, among the several we’ve been to in the last few years, and based on all that experience, there’s one word of advice I’d like to offer prospective brides: elope.

Why? Because it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. And by “an eye” I mean “their temper.”

Someone’s feelings always get hurt at a wedding. Maybe it’s pollen from the flower arrangements or that new shoes smell, but I’ve never been to a wedding where someone wasn’t mad at the bride or the groom or both. I’m not talking about your alcoholic second cousin or Aunt Maude getting apoplectic because you wouldn’t let her bring her Shitzu. I’m talking first degree of separation mad, friendship-ending, see-you-in-therapy mad.

Since, as we know, you can’t please all the people all the time, if you’re hosting an event, you have, as I see it, two options: one, don’t have the event, or two, have it but keep chloroform at the ready.

No – sorry – that’s not right. Option two is to recklessly go ahead with the event while reconciling yourself to the inevitability of causing pain to at least one of your nearest and dearest and almost certainly becoming a cautionary tale for said near/dearest.

Nearly everyone unwittingly chooses option two. For that unfortunate majority, here are a few guidelines to follow.

  1. There are two categories of people at a wedding: the guests and the wedding party. Period. Subdividing will only get you into hot water.

    Everyone knows who your best friend is: she or he is the one standing behind you at the altar. Plenty of other people in the wedding party probably thought they were your best friend. There’s no need to rub it in by calling people names, like “maid of honor” or “bitch on wheels.”

    You’re not doing anyone any favors by creating special compensatory categories for the outliers either, like distinguishing readers from attendants or old/strange friends from current besties by giving the former a tux and some token task (like walking Grandma to her seat or finishing half-drunk beverages) but having him sit with the other guests. You’re courting confusion and bruised egos. They’re in or they’re out.

    If they’re in, they wear the same uniforms, attend the same pre- and post-wedding events and, if you’re lucky, cover your ass with annoying relatives and guests as a gesture of gratitude for your munificence.

    If they’re out, better to brave their wrath before the event. Take your pain up front like a man-bride.

  2. Related: have a big wedding or don’t. Middle-sized weddings will be a fountain of grief as you cull endlessly through your list of friends and family picking a cousin here, a roommate there, negotiating endlessly with your beloved about each one. Decide on a party of thirty or a party of a hundred and thirty and be done with it. Take ’em all or take none of ’em.

    If you opt for thirty, remember that misery loves company: the reject pile is so large that they can commiserate with each other re: your total lack of taste and sensitivity.

    If you try for 60-70, you’re toast. Unless you’re from a small family, a very faraway country or are a hermit, chances are you’ll be alienating partial sets (first cousins, college friends, the guys you used to drink with, etc.) and you’ll be braving the primary wrath of those excluded and the secondary wrath of their included pals.

  3. Beware the second-string invitation.

    We all know you have a seconds list because we do too and please know that I – and everyone else with half a brain – can make a good guess about whether we’re on it or not. We’re not going to discuss it though, right? Don’t be a #$(*#& idiot and ring me up two weeks before the event to see if I want to fill in for a late-cancelling pal because you’re on the hook for an unfilled room at the Ramada. ‘Cause then I really will get mad – not because you didn’t invite me in the first place but because now I think you’re tactless and have confirmation that you think I’m stupid.

    Since we’re discussing summonses, quick note to self: if you’re hosting your dreamy day abroad, invitations should be posted no less than six months ahead of the event. And just to be extra clear: by “six months” I don’t mean “four weeks.”

  4. Abide by the rules. The rules are either a.) rigid etiquette, so you can look classic and blame someone else for your debatable decisions, or b.) the Golden Rule/Jesus, so you can relax after throwing money at the problem of some guests feeling left out.

    If you’re having a rehearsal dinner, a post-wedding brunch or sitting around on cars drinking forties, consult Miss Manners about who gets invited (only wedding party and parents to corollary events) or bring everyone along for the ride. And make your choice clear in your wedding materials: you don’t want people finding out there’s a brunch the next morning to which they were not invited right before they’re supposed to make a toast.

  5. While we’re on the subject, a word on toasts: funny is a winner unless you’re the father of the bride, in which case weeping is charming.

    If you’re a bridesmaid, crying or telling sentimental stories makes people uncomfortable. Save that for the lovely card you give your buddy before the event. Then she can keep it in her wedding scrapbook and mist up on her on time, and you can prevent a room full of people from finding the remains of their braised artichoke more rewarding than paying attention to you.

    I know that sounds harsh and I’m sure you have lovely, warm feelings about the bride or groom, but remember that a wedding, while also being a meaningful ritual, is entertainment for most of the people there. However special the fairy tale commitment of two people to each other for the rest of their days is, you’re still talking about 130 people in a room for several hours and that spells “entertainment” the same way five hours in the car with a seven year old does. Videos, shiny objects and obvious jokes are all welcome.

    If your nuptials mix nationalities, keep in mind that rambling American toasts make Europeans cringe. The, “I love you man!” / “Isn’t she the best friend ever?” vibe is not a winner in foreign lands (or, I’d argue, anywhere, but that might be just me). Coach your wedding party – and pick a time for toasts – accordingly.

  6. If you’re ever planning on settling a feud, however minor, do it before your big day.

    Seriously: man up. When was the last time anything resolved itself because you avoided looking it in the eye? Inviting a friend on the rocks to your wedding is not, in itself, a correction, a clarification, an apology or anything else. It’s just setting a date for the next time the two of you will be in a room together. What is true for brake pads is true for friendships: regular attention and careful intervention on a quiet Wednesday are preferable to a collision on an already overbooked Saturday afternoon.

    On the other hand, if you’re not planning on repairing things in the near future (or ever), your wedding day will provide the perfect opportunity to drive your point home. Seating plan “errors”, “lost” invitations, and your Uncle Earl’s hearing aid can all support your “effort.”

  7. Finally, a few specifics on seating.

    Don’t seat American crazy people next to tasteful European women. The Americans will leer and drink and the sleek women’s mouths will turn down at the corners ever so slightly as they talk brightly to the person on the other side of them. It’s better to put like with like as you do when creating a children’s table. Mixing and matching personality types is like storing your cashmere in the dishwasher: it seemed like a good idea when you ran out of closet space but it’s not going to end well.

Our wedding will, naturally, be perfect and free from any conflict.

Of course that’s a complete lie but it seems to be the supportive delusion that all brides must maintain in order to stay on this side of sanity while planning a wedding. At least their first one. I hear second weddings are much more relaxed. I’d like to get on that train, but I’d also like to stay married to R after our (first) wedding. I suppose we could get married and divorced at City Hall in the next month or two. Or maybe I’ll just make up a first husband. His name is Dwayne. He works in papaya futures out of his home office in Dubuque. Done.