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Modern Etiquette?

January 12, 2011


Woman at restaurant

Okay, am I being a rigid old lady about this stuff? Or should I still put my napkin in my lap, use my salad fork for the salad and pass to the left at the dinner table?

Okay, I’m a pretty laid back person in a lot of ways. I like cuss words for example, and I’m starting to notice that I call everyone dude without thinking. I am also not prone to say please unless I’m asking for something I consider to be an inconvenience or a real favor.


On the other hand I think I’m pretty polite and considerate. For example, even though I don’t say please all that much I throw out the thanks yous like crazy. I’m also pretty complimentary. The new gal at my office even remarked the other day that I might give her a big head if I keep telling her how much she rocks. And I do call her dude from time to time, but I also call her doll and kiddo too. (Which I realize some people might find demeaning, but I mean it as a term of endearment and she has said she likes it — I asked.)

So what I’m saying is I try to be polite and considerate to others even though I miss a few things here and there. I also try to be very mindful of social conventions and etiquette. I send thank you notes and gifts pretty often in the course of my social and professional life. Not just e-mails, actual notes.

In this day and age (and in this part of the country) I know not a lot of rules really apply any more, and in a way that is a freeing idea. But lately I’m being confronted with behaviors from other people that I find very rude and finding myself in situations that haven’t had a social convention or etiquette developed around them. (When the latter situation comes up I usually try to politely ask everyone involved how they would like me to handle the issue and apologize beforehand for possibly stepping out of bounds.)

Today I got an e-mail from an expectant mother (who I have never even met — I work in the same building as her husband) telling me where she is registered for baby items. Now, I know she just doesn’t know the etiquette or that the etiquette is now outmoded, but ten years ago that would have been considered rude because it is the equivalent of asking for gifts. Someone else is supposed to organize and throw your baby shower and you are just supposed to graciously receive them on the day of the shower. Same story with wedding gifts. I know the existence of registries is part of what muddles this, but seriously people…think.

The issue I have recently run into is that I am tracking down people to interview for a book I’m writing. Now these people are almost all old friends and at the very least acquaintances. To top it off I am asking them to talk to me about a very painful topic and I need to arrange at least an hour for the conversations. Well, back in my journalism days when I was calling strangers for a few quotes it was no big deal and I did anything I could to track them down. I didn’t feel like I needed to explain where I got their names or their numbers. I didn’t feel like I had to be delicate about setting up the conversations or times to talk.

But with this…I don’t even know if I should e-mail, text or call them to initiate the process. With each new person on my contact list I find myself wondering things like, “Would Liesl think I’m rude if I call her right now? Or should I just text her?” Or, “Would Ms. Saunders be offended if I call her since she never gave me her phone number? Or should I just e-mail her?”

And then there is my biggest pet peeve about people my age: making dates. (Confession, I’m actually bad at this too from time to time with my closest friends and when we haven’t set a time and place beforehand — sorry Kendra.) And I don’t mean just romantic dates. I mean even friend dates. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to someone on Tuesday about going out on Friday and they say, “Yeah that sounds good. I’ll call you.”

Why call me? I’m on the phone with you right now. Can’t we just make a plan? But I say okay anyway and then when I haven’t heard from the person by 6 p.m. on Friday night I call him or her and he/she doesn’t answer the phone or tells me he/she has made other plans and I’m effectively stood up.

Or because the person didn’t call me like he/she said they would and didn’t answer the phone when I called I make other plans. And then at nine or ten p.m. the person calls and asks about meeting up. Too late. I’m already doing what I’m going to be doing for the night. You should have answered the phone at 6 p.m. It makes me feel like the person was trying to find something better to do all night and then by 9 he or she hadn’t found anything so he/she called in the back-up plan: Me.

Or how about the date trap. This is where someone asks, “What are you doing tonight.” And if you aren’t careful and you say nothing they think that means that you are now obligated to spend the evening with them. I’m sorry I don’t think you understand. When I answer “nothing” to this question I mean that is what I plan on doing tonight: Nothing. I’m busy.

And I’m always thinking, “If you wanted to hang out with me tonight you should have asked me two days ago. But I have been planning all week on doing nothing tonight and when you ask me at 3 p.m. what I am doing after work I always have plans. It might be the dishes, it might be laundry, it might be sitting on the couch watching Dancing With the Stars. But whatever it is I have been planning on doing it all day and it is rude of you to think your plans are more important than mine just because I’m not going out.”

People a generation older than us knew how to make plans. Are we all so inundated with instantly gratifying items that we think others can and should instantly gratify us too?

I’m actually having an issue with this right now with a guy. (And I’ve had this issue before and vented about it on the blog but it persists!) I’ll be posting about it tomorrow.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Tanya permalink
    January 12, 2011 2:11 pm

    I think cell phones are a big part of the problem. There’s no need to make firm plans because we will just work it out … later. Call me! Ug, I hate it.


  2. Just Saying permalink
    January 12, 2011 2:15 pm

    I agree 100% with this.
    If anyone makes plans with me, and they don’t follow up or show up. I just don’t bother with them after a 3rd strike.

    I hate when people say, “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you” and then later tell you about the date they went on. Nothing better than feeling like chop liver.

    But I do agree being stood up by someone who asked YOU to hangout is very rude.

    I have two g/f’s who are nortorious for being late. It’s come to the point I’ll mislead them about the time to meet. I’ll say, “meet me at XX for 6pm”. When I really mean 7pm cos there is nothing much more annoying than someone who can not manage their time.

    The other friend is even worse.
    “Hey so and so is picking us up at noon, be ready”.
    She will crawl out of bed and start getting ready AT noon. Everytime. I find this extremely insulting. These people have spent time and gas to pick us up, the least you could do is be ready on time. This happened AGAIN on Boxing day. (day after xmas in canada is a holiday) Annoyed, we left her at home. The friend picking us up drove an hour into town to get us and an hour back to their place. We were not waiting two more hours for her to decided to get her ass in gear.

    There is a huge need for etiuette classes to be reintroduced into society on so many levels.
    For both men and women.


    • January 12, 2011 3:04 pm

      Oh definitely for men and women. I didn’t mean to imply that one sex was a worse culprit than the other.


  3. January 12, 2011 3:52 pm

    Well it is due to the coursening of society. I could not agree more. The late people, I just leave when they are 10 minutes late or order dinner without them. People will say yea I will call you is code for if I don’t have any other plans made I might call you at the last minute. I tie them down and ask is it a date or not right then and there.

    Now as to social conventions, I have a huge problem with women using curse words. It is like they are trying to be equal to rude men in being just as course. I don’t curse in front of women and I really dislike women cursing in front of me. I have a much better vocabulary than that. Since you were a journalist, obviously you do as well. Besides you never know who you might be offending in earshot. How about starting with yourself and cutting out the foul language unless you are in your own place with your own friends?

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder


    • January 12, 2011 5:04 pm

      Do you have a problem with men using curse words too? I assure you that I do not think about attempting to be equal with men when I use the f-word. Furthermore why would anyone attempt to be equal to any rude person regardless of his or her gender? That seems like a silly and judgmental assumption to make and it’s also sexist to apply it to a single gender.

      As for me and my cuss words, I don’t use them in every sentence and I don’t use them at work for the most part or in church or around children (for example). In general I don’t curse unless I am in a comfortable situation with adults who I am comfortable with. (My sister and my best friend hear me cuss more than anyone.) I also think it has nothing to do with my vocabulary. My vocabulary is actually large enough that I have to limit the words I use so that I don’t wind up offending people by coming off as condescending and/or pretentious.


      • January 13, 2011 4:58 pm

        Why as a matter of fact, I find it offensive when men curse as well. It is so unnecessary. My question about your vocabulary was rhetorical, as a fellow writer, I too have to dumb down my conversaions and not use all the verbage in my arsenal.

        John Wilder


  4. January 12, 2011 6:07 pm

    Great post.

    I suspect (old fogey alert) that much of this is tech-enabled — it’s all about memememememememe!

    Oh, you? Um, what?

    When everything in your life (i.e. those sexy tech toys) can be turned on and off at will, and programmed to give us everything we want rightaway!, why would we expect less of other people? Aren’t they also there to magically and uncomplainingly fulfill our every whim?

    As my new book about retail makes clear, we live in a deeply narcissistic culture.


    • January 13, 2011 8:28 am

      I think the immediacy of technology is definitely part of the problem. Once upon a time it was totally acceptable to take a day to return a phone call and a week to return a letter. But now if you don’t answer the moment a person calls they’re upset. And if you wait a week to return an e-mail — not cool. Like I said, I feel like we need new social conventions to go a long with the new technology to stave off this narcissism and create a mode of behavior that sets realistic and empathetic expectations of one another. But really, how would we implement these conventions?


  5. dave c permalink
    January 12, 2011 11:43 pm

    Man, with the plans… soooooooooo true. Pisses me off to no end.

    “We’ll call”

    …and then it never happens. Or worse, say you actually do call, and they don’t answer or they text back, ‘Ya, got busy’.

    It’s not so bad, because a few people who’ve gotten permanently busy, we just don’t even try to see anymore…so it’s not all that big of a deal. A few though, we’re trying to pinch-off like a bad turd. Naturally it’s smearing and won’t wipe-off, even after we’ve drawn blood on the toilet paper.


    • January 13, 2011 8:25 am

      I knew you would feel my pain. I read your post about Game night and your friends with kids. So, now that you’ll be one of the couples with a kid do you think you’ll be able to get some of the other couples on your turf?


  6. dave c permalink
    January 12, 2011 11:46 pm

    With curse words, what I like about them, is I think where we’re at is a society that’s tired of bullshitting eachother and ourselves about how we feel about things.


    • January 13, 2011 8:24 am

      I think I agree with you. It is much more socially acceptable for me to say “A little shitty.” When someone asks me how I am this morning. Whereas in the past it was expected that I would say, “Fine, thank you.” But whats the point of communication that doesn’t communicate anything? Or at the very least doesn’t communicate the truth of the situation?


  7. January 13, 2011 5:16 am

    Dude, I say “Dude” all the time. Well, not all the time, the word usually escape my lips when I drink.


    • January 13, 2011 8:22 am

      Angie, you crack me up! The cuss words come out of me more when I drink. The dudes happen even when I’m sober. I and I use it as an expletive. Like, “Dude, that sucks.” I do think that might make me seem like I have a lower IQ or a smaller vocabulary. I might have to work on that. Where on earth did I adopt such speaking patterns?


  8. January 13, 2011 10:06 am

    There can be many things these days which aid for why behavior and words in general are used in-appropriately-small scale or big. I see this with the younger generation which spans my kids ages of 14 -21. People have “dumbed” themselves down. People tend to be more offended by constructive criticism that can actually help as well. Simply use good manners, be punctual, and be accountable. Oh, and don’t get offended if someone “offers” you a compliment. Men of all ages can be “old-fashioned” to.


    • January 13, 2011 10:11 am

      What do you mean “offers” a compliment?


      • January 13, 2011 10:26 am

        Offering a compliment for a job well done or a thank you is just as important as for calling someone to say you are running a little late or apologizing for using an offending word.


        • January 13, 2011 11:28 am

          Oh…I just wasn’t sure why anyone would be offended by that and I thought emphasis of the word offer implied something I wasn’t picking up.


  9. Krista permalink
    January 13, 2011 4:42 pm

    Loved this post! I can only say I completely agree on all of the different scenarios.


  10. January 17, 2011 9:57 pm

    Loved this post! I agree completely about doing “nothing” on a particular night. You should ask me to hang out, we should make firm plans, if we are to hang out. Otherwise, I’m going to make plans. And those plans might legimately be going to bed at 9:30. Sorry, I’m a old woman sometimes. Deal with it!


    • January 19, 2011 8:50 pm

      I’m an old woman too. In fact I’m to young to be this old…but tonight I put my jammies on at 7 p.m. and laid in bed reading for a couple of hours. Old.



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