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The definition of good manners, it’s been said, is making sure everyone feels comfortable. But, in an age of nano-niches, where it’s entirely possible to spend most of your leisure time — if not work — interacting only with people who abide by the same rules you think worthwhile (which may include having no rules,) how is that supposed to work?
The nature of social life, on-line and especially face to face, means dealing with a wide range of people, some of whose codes you may not know or may not care much about. As the French say, tant pis. Too bad. Just because you think leaving a used tampon on the bathroom floor or coughing into my face is cool, you’re wrong!
The recent death of etiquette expert Elizabeth Post marks for some the end of an era.
The publication of a new book by Derek Blasberg may mark the next. “Classy” is billed as a guide for the modern lady. The guy’s 27, so he still hasn’t been around the block too many times yet.
His advice includes items never to carry in your handbag: Food you spat out (!) Drugs or other illegal substances (where else, in your bra? Your bloodstream?) Stolen merchandise (excuse me?)
This is…not obvious?
Here are 10 rules that work for me:
When addressing anyone over the age of, say, 12, do not — as a receptionist at physical therapy recently did with me — say “What’s up?” Or “Wassup?” If you’re working behind a counter (I recently did 2+ years in retail), “Hello. How may I help you?” is a much better choice. I am not your peep. I am your customer. I have other choices, and your boss(es) would be wise to remember this.
When leaving or entering a building or room, do not let the door slam behind you into the next person. No one is in that much of a hurry.
Cellphones and PDAs are not a heart defibrillator — those are actually surgically implanted. You can live without one for the time it takes to conduct a job interview, meet for a date (even a blind date or a first date [lest it become your last date], attend a wedding/bar/bat mitzvah/funeral/memorial service.
If someone is walking slowly, (not because they are selfishly staring into their PDA), and this is annoying you, do not push or shove them out of your way. They may be ill, tired or recovering from injury. Allow them the space and time they need. If this is simply too much, live in your limo.
When using public transit, move quickly to the back to make room for everyone else. There are multiple doors and the operative word is public.
When you receive an invitation to a private social event, no matter how tedious you deem it, give the courtesy of a reply, promptly. Do not cancel at the last minute unless you or a loved one is very ill. Don’t just show up with anyone you haven’t mentioned is coming along; your host/ess may well have devoted serious time, money, thought and energy to this moment. Ignoring these efforts is like throwing a gift in someone’s face.
Thank-you notes, written in ink on a lovely card or personal stationery, are not the mark of a dinosaur but someone with…yes…class. So few people even bother to thank anyone, in any medium, you’ll stand out for miles by being so thoughtful.
Send flowers. Or bring them. Do it often. Unless your recipient is allergic, they are an affordable grace note.
When seated at a dinner table with others who are new to you, converse with them. Ask questions, nicely. Do not blather on about yourself endlessly, because, really, how interesting could they possibly be? Very, if you graciously inquire about their hobbies or pets or latest travel or favorite music. Do not use the tedious crowbar of: “So what do you do?” within the first three sentences; what if they’re unemployed? (See: make everyone comfortable.)
As they say in journalism — when in doubt, leave it out. If you think (as you must, always, before you speak) a joke or comment might offend, skip it. What’s the upside?