Tag Archives: etiquette

It’s courtesy, stupid.

Humans communicate far more boldly from behind a wall than they do face to face.

Think about it. Many are quick to brandish a middle finger when cut off in traffic. Even a certain Southern Gentleman I know does it.

What is it about being safely encased in steel and glass that gives people the freedom to flash an obscene gesture or bark an expletive at a complete stranger—even if that person has done something unintentional, such as changing lanes prematurely?

Would we flip a digit at a fellow passenger who butts in line for boarding? Would we invoke the name of one’s dear mother for colliding with our cart at the supermarket? Of course not.

We’re uninhibited with our language on the telephone when we find a customer service rep incompetent or unsympathetic. Would our words be so harsh if we were looking the person in the eye? We know the answer.

If you and I travel in the same social media sphere, then you may recently have witnessed my (very polite) outburst over the way people speak about one another online. While I’ve since made peace with a number of my offenders, this provides occasion to reinforce a simple courtesy: Never say (or mime) anything from behind a wall that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

Tuesday night, when the presidetial election results were announced, my Facebook feed erupted with hateful comments. I’m not talking about comments expressing sadness about the outcome or disappointment in the process. Those are understandable when something you’ve hoped for—even worked for—does not turn out your way.

I’m talking about comments describing those who voted differently. Not aimed at circumstances; aimed at people.

The predominant adjective was stupid, with a few “idiots” sprinkled in. “How can people be so stupid?” “Well, that just proves you can’t fix stupid.” “50 percent of the country just showed us that stupid is as stupid does.” “The idiots who re-elected our current president…”

Hey, that’s me you’re talking about. And, in quoting you here, I’ve done you the courtesy of correcting your grammatical and punctuation errors. Just so you don’t look … well, you know.

In all fairness, some of the bullies and their cheerleaders have simmered down. Some have even apologized. I’m grateful for that and for the opportunity to remember that we all need to put the “face” back in Facebook.

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Filed under Politics, Rants and Raves, Technology and Social Media

Reddit somewhere

A poll of social media aficionados:

Are you on Reddit?
How about Delicious?
Technorati?
Digg?
Well surely you’re on Fark.

No? Neither am I.

I did StumbleUpon for a while; even wrote a blog post about it. Word Nymph enjoys a steady stream of referrals from StumbleUpon and, recently, quite a few from Reddit.

I confess, I didn’t know much about Reddit until recently and still, I don’t fully grasp its value. (Speaking of value, reportedly, Condé Nast Publications upped Reddit’s worth to the hundreds of millions of dollars after acquiring it from the two 22-year-old University of Virginia graduates who founded it.)

Reddit got my attention when the so-called social news aggregator directed hundreds of referrals to a blog post I wrote three months ago. My post addressed the etiquette around graduation announcements and thank you notes.

As best I can tell, as Reddit’s paying members—called redditors—post searches, they’re directed to sites where they can find information. Unlike search engines Google and Yahoo, individual searches are posted publicly. Maybe I’m telling you something you already know, especially if you answered Yes to more than one question on my little poll.

Anyway, I haven’t joined Reddit, so I haven’t seen it from the inside. However, I can view the main page where the questions are asked and searches entered. Based on most of the comments and questions I’ve seen, many of which contain the apparently-now-socially-acceptable F-word and worse, a search for how to write a proper thank you note seems out of place.

My hands are  full with Twitter and Facebook so, unless a client shows that my grasp of those others would bring value to their pursuits, I’ll pass.

These sites will give you all the information you’ll never need, including  certain characteristics of Justin Bieber’s wee-wee (my synonym).

But, as best I can tell, only Reddit will point you to the best advice on how to write a proper f—ing thank you note.

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Folks is folks

My folks—excuse me, my parents—have a few pet word peeves they’ve passed on to me. I’ve written of several already. Another class of them: the way we address each other collectively.

My father hates it when people in service roles, such as waiters or store clerks, call customers “you guys.” For example, “I’m Jason and I’ll be your server. How are you guys doing tonight?”

Similarly, my mother hates it when people refer to other people as “folks.”

Naturally, I’ve become attuned to this and, when I address groups at work, prefer “ladies and gentlemen.” My ears perk up and bristle when I hear “you guys” or “folks.”

Last Friday night, I was on a plane experiencing a delayed departure. After taking an snooze and finding the plane was still on the ground, I began my favorite game of sizing up my fellow passengers and imagining their stories. Seated across the aisle from me were two young gentlemen wearing shorts and flip-flops (an air travel pet peeve of mine), and speaking a language I couldn’t discern. I surmised it was a European language of some sort.

Just then the pilot came on the loudspeaker for his second delay announcement. And for the second time, he began his announcement with “Folks, …”

The gentlemen beside me responded to this in an amused and animated fashion. In their indeterminate language, the only word I could understand was “folks,” which they uttered several times as they seemingly pondered the meaning—or, more probably, the context—of this word.

It sounded to me something like:

 Wat het proefgemiddelde door doet; mensen? Ik heb dit woord “folks” gehoord alvorens maar niet kan begrijpen waarom hij het gebruikt om de passagiers op dit vliegtuig te richten. Ik dacht ” folks” was een word dat wordt gebruikt om ouders te beschrijven. Wij zijn niet de kinderen van deze loods. Ik ben benieuwd waarom hij hij die ons richt deze manier is. “Folks?”

At that moment I decided to not look down on these young men for wearing beach togs on an airplane and instead admired them for questioning the flight captain’s language in addressing his paying passengers with such familiar informality.

 To my mind, a flight captain’s calling us “folks” is the same as our saying to the pilot upon deplaning, “Later, dude.”

Ladies and gentlemen, are you with me?

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Announcement, announcement!

Memorial Day is behind us. White shoes are out of storage, and the celebratory time flanked by this holiday and the next one is upon us. Judging from the fast-rising stack of mail before us, it must be graduation season.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share a few observations.

Observation #1:  Perhaps my son is right when he says that I am the strictest parent on the planet because, based on every graduation announcement that has come into our house over the last 10 years, my son is the only high school graduate to have addressed his own announcements. My husband and I insisted on it. While we chose not to send announcements when he graduated from college, I am always struck by how many parents address their children’s college graduation announcements, 100 percent, as best I can tell.

Observation #2:  Some people choose to ignore the graduation announcements they receive altogether, though about half send announcements when their children reach graduation age. Personally, receiving these requires a great deal of maturity and restraint on my part. But I send a gift nonetheless. Restraint is equally needed when one receives an announcement for a child one has met only once, or not at all.

Observation #3:  The generosity of those who do send best regards is overwhelming.

Observation #4:  Most graduates send thoughtful thank you notes. Others either send none at all or simply sign a form letter written and typed by their parents.

Observation #5:  A well written thank you note is worth keeping. We can almost predict a graduate’s potential success based on his or her thank you note.

When I receive a thank you note of any kind, I read it once or twice, enjoy it and then throw it away. We received one last year—for a high school graduation gift we sent—that was too good to discard. I kept it in a stack of papers I go through from time to time, just so I can re-read it. It provides heart-warming proof that young people can write thoughtfully and well. Because I like to share good writing on this blog, I’ll share it here:

“Thank you for your card and money for my graduation.  It’s a big step in my life, and I’m glad you took the time to write me a note of congratulation. I’m going to try my hardest to be the best computer engineer at Virginia Tech I can, and am thankful to know my family is close behind me, hopeful for my success. Thank you!”

Parents, I respectfully suggest that you share this with your kids. And for Pete’s sake, consider having them address their own graduation announcements. At a minimum, take a cut of the proceeds for your efforts.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Holidays, Rants and Raves

The food chain

As you may have noticed, I pay a lot of attention to etiquette. Some might say a little too much.

Lately, I’ve found myself in uncharted etiquette territory. I wonder if you have too.

Much has been written about online etiquette, but I have found very little with regard to chain e-mails.

Thankfully, the days of chain letters coming in the U.S. mail have passed. I remember one in which I had to mail new dish towels to people while abashedly asking my friends to buy and mail dish towels to others. I also remember wondering why this odd practice seemed unique to women.

In the past year and a half or so, I have received e-mails entitled “Recipe Exchange” from more than a dozen friends. I assume these come to me because I like to cook, am known to share unsolicited recipes and especially love getting new recipes from friends. Or maybe because my friends know I am pathologically compliant.

The first time I received a request to send a recipe to Person #1 and ask two friends to send recipes to Person #2, I obliged enthusiastically. The second time, I sent it to two more friends. The third time, I found two more friends I hadn’t picked on. Then it got ridiculous. Lately I am getting them about once a week.

Some might suggest I ignore these or delete them. I can’t. Occasions are rare when I ignore an e-mail on purpose. For lack of established etiquette on the matter, I have taken to responding to the sender with a note that I’ve tapped all of my friends—some more than once—and that I am unable to keep the chain going. And then I send my recipe for pesto torte to Persons #1 and #2, just so there aren’t any hard feelings.

I haven’t consulted my copy of How to Say It, my new manual for saying the right thing in virtually every situation, because I have lent it out. I do wonder if there’s prescribed language for declining on a chain letter.

I hope my friends reading this will not think ill of me or stop exchanging recipes with me over the course of normal conversation or mutual enjoyment of a good dish.

There are a few websites out there about how to stop friends from sending chain e-mail. The advice there pertains mostly to the kind of correspondence that promises eternal life or portends eternal damnation contingent on forwarding, within eight seconds, a PowerPoint poem about butterflies. This isn’t what I’m after. I’m just looking for a nice way to say, thanks for thinking of me but I just can’t participate. Or did I just find it?

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To the letter

I don’t know about you, but I sense an uncomfortable tension between traditional etiquette and contemporary reality. Nowhere is it more palpable to me than on a Christmas card envelope.

Every year I find different ways of reconciling my respect for proper etiquette with the realities of modern relationships. Last night, the tension kept me awake, as I revisited hundreds of envelopes in my head.

One of the virtues of etiquette is that it gives us clear rules and bright lines between what is proper and what isn’t. I do try to adhere to these, as it saves me from making erroneous judgment calls.

However, the rules were written at a time when households were composed of traditional relationships, typically, a mister and a missus and some children.

One rule I follow strictly is placing a prefix before a name. I’d never address a letter to “John and Mary Smith.” Never. Etiquette calls for “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith” and I follow that.

I’d also never address a birthday card to “Mary Smith.” But here’s where it gets a little dicey. In the old days, the proper way to address a letter to Mary would have been “Mrs. John Smith.” Nowadays, I’d be inclined to write “Ms. Mary Smith,” especially if Mary were on the younger side. But never “Mrs. Mary Smith,” though that has become accepted.

Our Christmas card list is made up of all sorts of exceptions to the rule. This is worth celebrating, because it shows the rich diversity of our friends, their professional accomplishments and living situations.

But therein lies the tension. What if the husband is a mister but his wife is a doctor? Or the wife uses her maiden name? Does one address a couple as “Mr. and Dr.?” No, because etiquette requires use of the husband’s name, so it doesn’t match up:  “Mr. and Dr. John Smith” is incorrect because John isn’t the doctor; Mary is. If the two went by the same last name, then it would be “Mr. John Smith and Dr. Mary Smith.” If Mary uses her maiden name, then it would be “Mr. John Smith and Dr. Mary Jones.” One line or two?

What about a same-sex couple? One wouldn’t say “Mr. and Mr. Baxter” if they don’t share a last name. Even so, whose first name would be used?  What I do is put one person’s name on the first line, usually the one I know better:  Mr. William Brown and Mr. Robert Green. Or both names on the first line if they fit. 

What if one member of the couple has a military title but the two have different last names? Or what if they share a last name but the woman is the military officer? Mr. and Captain? Who, the man or the woman? What if one is a judge?

When addressing a family, I typically address the envelope to “The Nelson Family” (even when the family is one parent and one child) and inside say “Dear Richard, Martha, Bobby, Billy and Betty, comma. Notice I said “Dear.” That’s how letters and cards are addressed. Not “Richard, Martha, Bobby, Billy and Betty.” Let’s not let “Dear” fade away. Please.

In addressing my cards, I encountered instances in which I did not know all the children’s names. Lacking clear guidance, I simply said, “Dear Richard, Martha and family.” Tacky, I know, but that’s all I knew to do.

As an empty-nester, I pondered whether or not to sign my son’s name to our card. I probably shouldn’t have, but I did. What if the addressees’ children have left the nest? Are their names included any longer?

These issues weighed heavily on my mind at three o’clock this morning. The cards are going in the mail today, so there’s not much I can do this year. Next year maybe I’ll keep the rules handy with the master list.

I don’t hear anyone else worrying about these issues. Am I alone in my tension? I suspect the people who wear white shoes and pants between Labor day and Memorial Day will say that times have changed and we should just do whatever is easier. And truly, dropping prefixes and titles is easier. But I can’t do it. I am conditioned for convention, predisposed toward politesse. And sleepy.

Thoughts?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Holidays

Validation at last

I cracked open the new issue of Vanity Fair, which was fresh from the mailbox. I got as far as page 96, the October 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll, and found a teensy ray of sunshine. Which, by the way, I needed after reading Graydon Carter’s unusually grim editor’s letter.

If you’re a regular VF reader, then you know it shows how Americans weigh in on the poll’s 10 or so issues each month.

This time, 847 people answered questions on topics ranging from the war in Afghanistan to the likelihood that Sarah Palin would make an effective president; whether tanning salon services should be taxed and the extent to which Mel Gibson’s bad behavior would influence moviegoers’ seeing his latest movie.

Only 37 percent of those responding to the poll said they knew who Emily Post was and what she was known for. As sad as I am about the downward spiraling of etiquette awareness, I am not going to dwell on that here.

Why? Because I am so darned encouraged by the answers to another poll question.

The third question of the poll asked participants, “Of the following, which one do you think is the most overused word in the English language today?” The choices were “like,” “awesome,” “tweet,” “organic” and “hope.”

The top choice was [drumroll] “like.” Finally, it’s not just I being critical and whiny. Others’ ears are aching too.

As if I were not pleased enough to see acknowledgement that this nothingness word has run amok, here’s the cherry on top. Among those who said “like” is the most overused word in the English language, more than twice as many respondents were ages 18 to 44 as were 45 or older. Way to go, young people. Awesome. There is hope. Organic hope. Like, I’m so going to tweet it from the rooftops.

I’ll be optimistic that all of us who believe “like” is overused will stand up and take immediate steps to curb it. Let’s begin with not using “I’m like” in lieu of “I said,” shall we? Then maybe we can aim for good stats from the under 18 crowd.

Now please don’t go and burst my bubble by telling me that 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up.

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