Thursday, August 9, 2012
One thing you may know about me, if we are friends, is that I collect old timey etiquette books due to the fact that they are hilarious. One thing you may not know about me, is that half the time, the only way I get through the day by fantasizing about and plotting the etiquette book I plan to write myself one day, using examples of all the irritating people I encounter. Because, although I think it's funny as shit to imagine someone trying to eat an ear of corn the way that Amy Vanderbilt suggests one eat an ear of corn (it involves forks, knives, only seasoning one bite at a time and would take you at least 2 hours to complete), I think good manners are the most important thing in the world, and I don't think there is a better thing someone can be than gracious. I also don't think you have to be a fancy debutante lady to have them (and frequently, they don't). Manners are not about crossing your leg at the ankle, or using the right fork, or not wearing white after Labor Day. Manners are about other people, whom we forget, sometimes, are important. While you forge your identity as an individual who will not be told what to do by The Man by chewing with your mouth open, someone else has to look at that. And it's probably not pleasant. Manners are the way we show people they are important. So let's talk about some etiquette, shall we?
You Are An Inconvenience To Strangers
Every time you leave your house, you are probably going to annoy somebody and you may not even know it. Without other people, one would always have a seat on the bus, would not have to wait in line, would not have to wait to cross the street, etc. You are probably always in someone's way, and someone is probably always in your way, and that, perhaps, is why we are all in a bad mood most of the time. Here are some things we can all do to mollify this situation.
- Pedestrians, stay to the right. For the love of god, just stay to the right. When you stroll thoughtlessly down the middle of a sidewalk, you force people to either try to squeeze past you or wait until you, the king and queen of the Ukranian Village have passed. Being that you are not royalty, this is not appropriate behavior for you. More importantly, if you choose to just chill out on an escalator and savor the experience of not having to move your legs, rather than walk up it, please do not take up an entire step and rest your hands on both sides of the rails. People have to get to work. It is quite simple for you to just stay to the right and allow others to pass.
- It is for this reason that I find double wide strollers to be one the most tacky things on earth. If you feel you must have twins, or children especially in close in age to one another, I suggest that you get one of the inline double strollers. This way, you do not take up the whole of the sidewalk or supermarket aisle, and you also do not force people who work in shops to have to help you squeeze that monstrosity through the door.
- Hold the door open for the person walking in behind you. It won't kill you. If you are a man, it does not mean that you are a sexist, it means that you are polite. Regardless of what you believe you know about the women's movement, our problem was not so much with doors being opened for us as it was with not getting paid the same as you or being able to have governance over our own bodies, and with actually being oppressed.
- Be kind to people who are working when you are out having a good time. The best way to get good service is not to fiercely demand it as though the person helping you will try to put one over on you otherwise, but to be kind, friendly and patient to the person providing it to you. It's very nouveau-riche to think that you look extra classy and rich by being rude to people. Trust me, you do not. You look classy when you are being gracious.
Things Not To Say, Ever
- Never, ever, ever ask a woman if she is pregnant, or expecting, or anything until that baby is halfway out the vadge. Because you don't know. Because she could just be bloated that day. Or she could have a stomach tumor. You don't know! Err on the safe side, don't say shit. I feel like this should be common sense, but alas
- Don't ever say "You look tired". Do you know when I look tired? When I don't feel like wearing eye makeup. I'm not tired, I am just sans eyeliner. No one looks GOOD when they are tired, so it's not a compliment. Which means, don't say it.
- If you are a man, do not ever, ever, ever, under any circumstance, tell a woman you do not know to smile. Because seriously, fuck you.
People Will Love You For The Way You Make Them Feel About Themselves
This is the wisest thing my mother has ever said, and possibly the best thing anyone, ever has said, about graciousness and charm. My whole life I have been impressed with how much people truly love her, and it's not just because she's hilarious and witty, it's because she makes everyone she talks to feel like the most important and interesting person who has ever lived. She has a way of bringing out the best in people and it's wonderful to watch- you might think someone is dull as hell, but then they'll talk to her and seem wonderfully fascinating. So, this is something I always try to keep in mind, even though I don't know that I'll ever be as good at as she is.
- Always say hello and goodbye to people you know. I don't know, I think it's really always very nice when someone is happy to see you, and I feel very importantly about saying goodbye because you just never know, you know? Unless I'm at a 4am bar and cannot stand, I always try to say goodbye to everyone I know.
- Introduce people thoughtfully whenever possible. When I introduce people to one another, I try to mention something interesting about each of them, or something they have in common. I think it makes things less awkward, because that way they immediately have something to talk about.
- Fucking say thank you. Say Thank You to the bus driver, to the cabbie, to the person who holds the door open for you, to the waitress, to the bartender, to someone who pays you a compliment. Always, always, always.
- Always try to include someone who seems to feel left out. You get to know the best people this way. As someone who tends to sometimes feel awkward in social situations, this is something I always appreciate and remember.
- When you are having a conversation with someone else, listen to what they have to say rather than sit and think of what you would like to say next. This is something I used to have trouble with myself because I was once very enthusiastic about talking and about firmly letting people know who I was and what I was about. I have found that, in fact, no one cares to know exactly who I am and what I am about, nor anyone else.
Bigotry is Fucking Tacky, Ok?
There are a lot of things wrong with being a bigot. However, at the end of the day, it is just freaking gauche and undignified. You will never look at someone spewing streams of hate on national television and remark to yourself "Goodness! What class! What grace! What dignity! What charm!". It always looks petty and spiteful. Bigotry is rude for almost all the reasons anything I've written above is rude. It is good manners to include people, it is bad manners to not be inclusive. It is good manners to be fair.
- It is not good manners to act as though you are more important or better than others. This goes for all things.
- If you believe that you are better than someone due to your skin color or sexual orientation or whathaveyou, this is something better kept to yourself. It is something you should know well enough by now to be embarrassed by.
- There is no reason your religion ought to be entering the public sphere. That is a personal and private thing, please keep it so. If you are an especially holy person, I'm sure you can convey that to others without getting in their face about it.
- One of my favorite things in Streetcar Named Desire is where Blanche explains that she's done a lot of bad things in her life but that she would never, ever hurt someone deliberately. It's something that has always stuck with me. People make mistakes and fuck up all the time- and despite our best intentions none of us can say we've never hurt anyone, period. Hurting someone deliberately not only harms the person you're hurting in the first place, but it also takes away from you. I think that not ever hurting someone deliberately is the best thing anyone can have to be proud of.
Stop Insisting Upon Yourself
One of my biggest pet peeves is the "This is just who I AM" thing. It's very common among people my age who were raised to believe that who they are, personally, is the most important and wonderful thing in the world. Everyone can stand to change a few things about themselves- it's called growing and evolving. If someone tells me I did something to hurt their feelings or make them feel uncomfortable, that is something I am going to give some serious thought to. It seems ridiculous to me that people defend being an ass by saying it is "just who they are."
- I think that we need to stop telling people to "just be themselves". If your self is an especially terrible person, or if your self insists upon chewing with it's mouth open, perhaps you ought to consider being someone else for a while until you manage to improve.
- Adjust the way you speak depending on whom you are talking to. You're not being a traitor to your own identity by maybe not talking about how much you like getting spanked during a conversation with your grandmother. This should be a given, but one never knows.
Well! This is already insanely long, and I don't know that I've covered even half of the things I ought to. Should you have any questions regarding etiquette, let me know and I will try to answer them in a future post! Feel free to share your own thoughts on manners and things as well!