Posts Tagged ‘etiquette’

Other people’s needs

In children, life, parenting, urban life on September 13, 2016 at 11:56 am

By Caitlin Kelly


Silence! Solitude!


Rant alert!

Unless you live (as some of you do!) in a rural and isolated area, we’re literally bumping into one another all day every — in stores and elevators, on the subway and bus and streetcar, at the movies and opera and theater, at work and in the park, in our houses of worship, at airports and bus stations and the grocery store.

To stay sane, to function as a civilized human being, means being aware of how our behavior affects others all around us.

I’m getting burned out by a growing (?!) epidemic of selfishness, rudeness, destructiveness and endangerment — I see people driving and texting every day.

A few recent examples, some personal, some not:

The three young men who thought it amusing to destroy an ancient rock formation in Oregon, their behavior caught on video.

— The family of six, with screaming baby and out-of-control seven-year-old boy who ignored two staff requests to be quieter and more considerate and much annoyed shushing from fellow diners and death stares from the rest of us.

— The cafe patrons in my gentrifying suburban New York town, (where some riverside apartments now sell for $1 million), who blithely leave the front door open, not even stopping to consider the heat and noise that inflicts on those already sitting inside.

— The bro’s at the gym, apparently illiterate, (signs on the wall forbidding it), who heave and grunt with effort then let their weights smash into the floor with a terrifying crash.

— The ((*^$@@@ at our Japanese music concert, whose music was so quiet and subtle I could hear the man next to me digesting, whose cellphone on vibrate kept humming. It was so bad the host had to remind everyone at intermission that “silent mode” isn’t.

Our restaurant meal ended up a disaster; the food was expensive, the atmosphere chaotic and we’d dressed nicely, anticipating a relaxing night out. It wasn’t! We arrived at 7:30 and the noisy party didn’t even leave, (one patron even applauded when they did), until 9:00 p.m.

I wrote a polite two-page letter, with four suggestions how to avoid such a mess next time, to the restaurant manager.

I didn’t just dump a nasty Yelp review; I wanted to give them the chance to respond.

He did, quickly and well. We spoke, civilly, for about 20 minutes. He apologized, assured me that it wouldn’t happen again and gave us a $75 credit for our next visit.


But this selfish behavior is rampant…and it’s ruining too many of our daily interactions.


It’s a tough call.

No one, (and you all know me to be feisty!), is anxious to confront people who are already making clear they’re rude and obnoxious, in the vain hope they suddenly won’t be, let alone think of apologizing.

They’re so oblivious to the needs of others, even as they share public space with us all.

And sometimes our friends or partners hate it when we do speak up.

Do you ever confront someone behaving badly?

How did it turn out?

Here’s a recent New York Times story about how bad it can get; the writer is describing her own encounter with a nasty little boy in a terrific, classic Manhattan restaurant, Knickerbocker, one of my favorites:

Then I put on my invisible Urban Avenger costume, muster my courage for a confrontation with a thunderbolt-throwing, flesh-eating, but otherwise pleasant New York City mother, and as Herb beats it out the door because he knows what’s coming, walk over to the table and ask the adults which one of them is the mother.

“You don’t seem to be aware of this, but for the last 20 minutes your kids have been annoying the entire restaurant,” I tell her. “This isn’t a playground. If they can’t behave like adults, they shouldn’t be in here.”

Now, here is where it gets weird. This New York mother doesn’t scream at me or insult me. She doesn’t apologize. She just makes a request.

“Could you tell that to [the spawn we will call] William?” she says. Then, turning to the largest kid, “William, this lady has something to say to you?”

What? Now I have to be the enforcer? How did this happen? Urban Avenger’s job is to tell people how to bring up their children, not to do it herself. William, meanwhile, is standing there looking at me…

“William,” I say, as sternly as I can, “you’ve been bothering everybody in here. This is not a playground, it’s not a place for you to run around and yell.”

William doesn’t bat an eye.

Pay attention!

In behavior, culture, domestic life, life on July 28, 2016 at 10:20 am

By Caitlin Kelly


They’re asleep, encased in glass and plastic — don’t be like them in the real world!

Whether your children or grand-children or sweetie or spouse. They want, need and deserve your undivided focus.

Whether to the current Presidential campaign, (if you live in the U.S. and are able to vote, certainly.)

Whether to the people around you on the road as you drive — no texting!

Whether as you walk around your city or town, playing Pokemon Go or reading something on your phone, forcing everyone else to dodge you.

Whether you leave your grocery cart sprawled in the middle of a parking lot because…be considerate.

Whether you yammer away in a public, shared space on your cellphone reallyloudly, Face-timing or speaking to someone.

Whether — as someone did yesterday in our small, congenial town several times — you open a cafe door into a cool, air-conditioned space — carelessly leaving the door wide open to the 90-degree-plus air outside, as you enter and exit.

Utterly oblivious to the needs of those around you.

We share the world with others.

Please pay attention to them as well.


How to be the guest they want to invite again…

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, travel on May 23, 2014 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s the season of invitations — to a summer share, a beach house, a cottage. Maybe you’re finally meeting the parents.

While it’s lovely to be invited into someone’s home, it’s also a potential minefield of hurt feelings and unexpressed emotion. We’ve stayed with friends many times, most of whom live in fairly tight quarters, so being considerate and tidy really make a difference.

“You’re so low maintenance!” said one grateful hostess. We try!

A few ways to leave a good-to-great impression on your hosts:


When they ask about your dietary preferences, remember  — it’s not a full-service restaurant

Some people have genuine allergies that are life-threatening and others simply have a realllllly long list of their very strong preferences. If you absolutely must have a specific food or drink, bring it with you. It’s rude to impose your individual will on a larger group of people gathered for a good time; when we stayed with friends who served steak for dinner, but invited a vegetarian friend, he happily joined us and ate only vegetables.

Be a good sport. It’s their home!

One of our hosts insisted we wear slippers (or bare feet) to keep the floors clean. No biggie, as they had a huge basket of nice clean slippers by the door. Everyone has their quirks and habits.

Sex? Keep it fully private and really quiet

No, I’m not a prude. Ask any host about the worst guests they ever had, and the screamers and moaners will likely top the list. It’s great you’re so deeply in love (or lust), but sharing space with people you might not know very well is neither the time nor place to enjoy a noisy sexual marathon.

If you’re bringing your children and/or pets, have a full and frank discussion before arriving about what your hosts need and expect from them, and you

Just because you adore them and find their 300-decibel shrieking/barking normal/charming doesn’t mean it is. People who have chosen to “get away” are hoping to flee their everyday stresses, not add new and fresh hells to their time off.

Buy groceries, pay for them or split food/drink costs with your host

Ditto for taking them out for a few very good meals. Even if one dinner costs you $150, that’s less than a decent hotel room in many spots at high season.

Bring a gift

Never arrive empty-handed. A great bottle of wine, some beautiful soap, a lovely coffee table book on a topic you know your hosts will enjoy. On our most recent visit we offered a set of gorgeous Laguiole steak knives; the ones we brought were different colors than these ones, but very welcomed. The one before that we gave our hosts a small handmade pottery serving dish.


Detach from, or put away, your electronics

While many of us now spend ours day on social media, time away with friends or relatives means enjoying (or trying to!) actual face to face conversation, in the house, walking through the woods or wandering the beach. Everyone needs and deserves quiet private time, but focus on the people who’ve invited you, not only your technology and distant amusements. And no phones at the table!

Write a thank-you note, on paper, and send it within a week

Sure, you can email and people probably expect nothing more. But choose a pretty card or use your personal stationery and highlight the things you most enjoyed.

No one writes thank-you notes anymore?

Polite people who want to be invited back do.

Help out wherever you can

Wash dishes or cook a meal or walk the dog or baby-sit for a few hours. Maybe you can help mow the lawn or weed the garden. They’ll probably say no, but might well appreciate the offer. It’s a home, not a hotel.

Avoid all public grooming

I once stayed with a younger friend who sat on the sofa watching television with his wife  — while both of them flossed their teeth. To me, a more private person, it was just gross. You may walk around your own home clipping, cleaning or polishing your nails or brushing your teeth in transit, but in someone else’s space please keep all of it within the confines of a bathroom with a closed door. No one wants to see or hear the evidence of your later stunning public appearance.

Bring your own beauty, health and grooming supplies

If the place you’re visiting is miles from the nearest store, and you must have some essential item, be sure to buy it and bring it with you. No one wants to ruin their host’s plans with last-minute dashes for basics. Yes, they might have it, but —  (tampons, diapers, nursing pads, Neosporin, etc.) — they might not.

Tidy up!

No matter how welcome and relaxed you feel, pick up after yourself — coffee cups, dishes, newspapers, towels, sand-filled sneakers, wet bathing suits…

Bring a small flashlight

Perfect for midnight runs to the kitchen or toilet or while navigating unfamiliar stairs or paths. Our trusty headlamp has proven so handy so many times!

Avoid arguments — with your spouse/partner and your host(s)

Seems obvious. Some couples bicker as easily and normally as they breathe which can make less contentious people uncomfortable. Nor is a shared dinner table the best place to argue your views on gun control or other sensitive matters. Relaxation is the order of business, not sharing your deeply felt and hotly argued views on economic policy.

Do you enjoy being a guest?

What other tips would you offer a guest — or host?

Call Me! No, Text Me! No, IM Me…How (If At All) Do We Communicate?

In behavior, business on July 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm
Young passenger pigeon.

Now this is a reliable medium! Image via Wikipedia

I just read a great new book, out in September, by a friend, Daylle Deanna Schwartz, called “Effortless Entrepreneur” that distills the wisdom of two college friends, Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, who founded College Hunks Hauling Junk.

What struck me most was their management advice — that when you hire and manage people under 25, maybe younger, you have to gently coax them (!) into actually talking face to face to real people, i.e. clients and customers, which also involves (!) looking them in the eye, shaking their hand, listening and showing that you have heard them.

What a concept!

These two business owners learned the hard way they have to consciously and carefully train their young employees how to interact well and courteously face to face and by telephone using their voice with others, who are likely somewhat older and expect what they consider civility.

Sounds really basic to me but apparently not so much because so many young people (love that phrase!) now only communicate through texting. Not speaking by phone (LOL) or even face to face (ROFL.)

Sht Me. Srsly. (Fill in that first word as you see fit.)

Whatever tribal customs work well in high school or college, it must come as a terrible shock when not everyone communicates in the same fashion.

Some of us geezers actually enjoy face to face conversation instead of living attached to a piece of technology. So, entering the workforce, which often shows all the flexibility and willingness to accommodate your very own personal needs as, say, an I-beam, will also mean picking up some new, even uncomfortable social skills as well.

I got stood up last week by someone younger than 25. They did not telephone me, eschewing both cell and land-line. Nor did they email. They said they sent a message on Facebook, (I do not own a Blackberry), but there is none there to be seen. I drove an hour each way to meet this person, ate alone, then drove home, really annoyed.

No phone call? No email? I only found out this person wasn’t dead by emailing (after I made several calls and FB messages.)

The problem with Facebook? If you decide to blow someone off and are chatting away on FB shortly before and after, we know you aren’t bleeding arterially or lying anesthetized on an OR table. In geezerworld, those are the only two reasons I wouldn’t show up, or expect someone else to, possibly without letting the other person know you’re severely ill or injured.

When I asked some people older than 25, they said they’d experienced similar behaviors.

Have you done this? Or experienced this — a total mismatch of communication styles? How (if at all did you resolve it?)

Maybe this works really well for the younger set, but if or when they try to work with or be-friend others even a decade or so older than they, they need to remember that we don’t all communicate using the same tools anymore.

I’m thinking passenger pigeons myself…

Getting Invited Back For That Country Weekend: Tips

In behavior on May 15, 2010 at 7:27 am
Morris 16' canoe

Image via Wikipedia

This is all so true. If you know anyone with a cottage — Canadians’ version of a country house — listen up!

From The Globe and Mail:

Back in my early 20s, I won the Canadian girlfriend lottery. That is, at the time, I was involved with a woman whose family owned a cottage on what is – or so they said – “the second clearest lake in Ontario.” It was at this rugged setting that I, a cottage newbie, got to know her parents and siblings.

If you’ve managed to land a girlfriend-with-cottage yourself, first of all I want to say, congratulations. Your summers will be infused with cool air, refreshing swims and an endless landscape of trees. Also, you’ll be forced – I mean, have the opportunity – to bond with your girlfriend’s family in an unnaturally intimate setting where they are seasoned natives and you are a visitor with no escape.

In my case, by the end of the first summer I had learned the ways of the North and was able to earn the family’s respect and approval. But there were mistakes made. So that you may learn from those who have trod this prickly path before, here are some things to avoid from myself and a couple other former cottage initiates.

His listof errors includes sucking up too much and misplaced machismo. I’d add, wondering aloud why there is no…anything citified…you miss. Wi-fi,say. Or television. Fresh croissants. Or walls not made of crumbling particle-board.

The Canadian tradition of the cottage, (not to be confused with the social competitiveness of scenes like the Hamptons), means happily and uncomplainingly settling into someone’s family’s long-held traditions, from food to dress. I’ve stayed at friends’ cottages, and loved it, but it does have its own brand of etiquette. Try to have sex, really quietly, in a house with very thin walls, some of which may not even reach the ceiling. (Thus the “bunkie”, a mini-cottage on the same property.)

You’ll need to know, or graciously learn, things like gunwhale-bobbing (pronounced gunnel), which means standing atop the end of a canoe, one foot on each side, and pumping your knees up and down to make it go — of course — quickly forward in a straight line. Or how to water-ski. How to not turn blue or let your teeth chatter audibly when the lake water is icy, but your hosts find it “refreshing.”

Cupping your hands to make an excellent loon’s call? Not bad. But can you drive a motorboat or land a canoe at the dock not with a thud but a graceful J-stroke?

There’s a whole magazine, and a really good one, to prime you, should you ever be lucky enough to get invited to someone’s cottage.

It’s called Cottage Life.

Etiquette, Schmetiquette — Do Manners Still Matter? (Yes!)

In behavior on April 28, 2010 at 4:10 pm
High-change in Bond Street,—ou—la Politesse du...

Image via Wikipedia

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?

Perhaps not.

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?

Clean Up, Vancouver! 141-Page Pre-Olympics Protocol Guide Pisses Everyone Off

In behavior, sports on February 3, 2010 at 11:19 pm
2010 Winter Olympics logo

Image via Wikipedia

It’s the latest challenge facing Vancouver in its pre-Olympic run-up. First, no snow, being trucked in from wherever they can get it, to the snowboarding venue. Now a 141-page protocol guide has pissed off locals, who found its tone and content deeply condescending — CBC’s website shut down its comments page after 161 people sounded off:

Staff at Vancouver City Hall are being told to make sure their socks match their pants, avoid gossiping about their personal lives and to remember to smile, but not too much, as part of their protocol training for handling Olympic dignitaries.

About 600 city staff have been reassigned to Olympic duties during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and the protocol guide was recently issued as part of their training on how to conduct themselves while dealing with the world’s elite politicians, royalty and business leaders.

The 141-page booklet was posted online by the popular civic issues blog and offers tips on a wide range of protocol issues, including seating arrangements, proper conversation topics and personal grooming.

City employees are urged to keep hair tidy, yet stylish, cautioned not to wear socks that are too short for fear of showing off bare leg, and advised to carry extra clothes because dress shirts stain easily. They are also advised that tight clothes make slim people look gaunt and a large person look heavier.

One blogger had fun with it:

Of course, it’s the kind of thing that’s distributed all the time at international events, intended for those who have to deal with the deputy emperor of Limpopo or the viscount of Lilliput and the like. I append the city link here for those of you who feel you may be called upon to interact with people of this caliber.

But while I think it’s much fuss about nothing, here’s a game for all of us: How about if we make up rules for real and likely interactions between Vancouverites and visitors? Like: When passing a joint to an international visitor who is not familiar with the open use of illegal drugs in Vancouver, the proper etiquette is to ask if the visitor would prefer to smoke in a more private place than the BC Place opening ceremonies.

Writes Ian Brown in The Globe and Mail:

The tone is hectoring and demands complete submission: Faced with a helpless visitor, “there is nothing too demeaning, too demanding or just plain beneath you.”

The binder offers instructions on how to listen (“Lean forward slightly and look directly at the person who is speaking”), how to smile (“‘gently’ and with sincerity”), and how to point politely (section 7.3, Using Proper Hand Signals: “Use an open hand”).

“Try not to be too chatty,” the guide suggests, lest one be confronted with (section 5.8) Embarrassing Situations. “Try to move the individual out of hearing range of others, and quietly let them know ‘Your trousers zipper is open.’”

No wonder an online Vancouverite dryly responded, “So … I guess farting is out of the question.”