Tag Archives: Manners

Excuse Me, Mr. President: An Etiquette Special Edition

See if you can spot the numerous faux pas committed by both me and the patrons I encountered.  The following is a true story.

Last Friday evening Mike and I were having dinner at Sostanza Trattoria in Madison Park with our friend Meredith.  As we ordered wine, the restaurant was just filling up for the night.

I happened to glance over to the table next to us and see a nice-looking couple seated next to the fireplace.  I stared for a second at the gentleman before realizing he looked familiar.

“Doesn’t that look just like Phil Eaton?” I asked Meredith.  We both attended Seattle Pacific University (me for only a year) of which he was president.

“Eh, kind of, I suppose,” she replied, not finding this the least bit interesting.  I considered how to redeem the topic.

“Remember how he used to invite students to his home once a year, to make us feel connected to him or whatever, but we were all just annoyed because he lived in this fabulous house while we’re all killing ourselves to pay $25,000 a year in tuition?” I ventured.

Then we were off and running.

“Yes!” she said.  “It was criminal what they paid him, and remember how he would drive to the school in his A6 and it made all of us cringe?  University presidents are so overpaid.  They’re just glorified speech-makers,” she concluded.

“Oh Eaton can’t hold a candle to UW’s president,” I added.  “He’s ranked among the highest paid in the US.  It’s absurd.  I read he makes $900,000 a year.”

Having fully vented our grievances on university presidents, we moved on to happier topics.  Soon we were laughing, enjoying our meal and our bottle of local Washington red.

“Excuse me, you all really need to be quiet,” a stout woman in her fifties was suddenly standing over us, speaking to us like we were in second grade. “This is a public restaurant and people are trying to eat in peace and you’re laughing so the whole place can hear you.  You need to speak quietly to each other so only those at your own table can hear you.”

We were all so stunned by her pretentious speech that we simply stared at her, mouths agape.

She returned to her seat without another word, and none of us could recover the conversation for the next two minutes because of the offense.  Gradually, because we couldn’t help it, we giggled about the absurdity of someone speaking to us like children, especially in the context of any place outside of a library.

A few minutes later we heard a woman sitting across from the Phil-Eaton-look-alike laughing happily.  Mike couldn’t help himself so he leaned over and said, “Hey, keep it down; this is a public place.”  We just about died, this was so funny, but we weren’t sure if she would agree.

“Oh you’re such a party pooper!” she laughed back at him.  Fearing that she would think he was serious, I leaned over to her with one hand covering my mouth and explained, “We just got scolded in those exact words by that woman over there.”

Suddenly, she was totally intrigued.  “Really?” she said with enthusiasm.  “Oh you must be joking.  It’s Friday night!  This is a restaurant!  We can be as loud as we want!” she said, swinging her glass of red wine around to face us.  “Who is that woman?  I mean, honestly!”

The relief!  The balm to our souls!  Despite being the same age as the crotchety “party pooper” who rained on our parade, this woman was fabulous.  I especially liked her purple-framed glasses.

After another hearty exchange, she returned her focus to her table.  Meredith and I immediately agreed to name her Viv.  There was no other name for a Madison Park socialite who loved red wine and young people with equal fervor.  However, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that her husband was familiar, so I turned to Mike and Meredith and resumed my earlier verse of, “He looks so familiar!  I can’t shake that he’s someone I know or someone famous or something.”  They both rolled their eyes.

“If you really want me to, I can just try to find him on my iPhone,” Meredith offered in a last-ditch effort to shut me up.  “We’ll just start Googling Seattle celebrities.”

“OH MY GOSH!!  OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH!!”  Suddenly I knew exactly who it was.

“IT’S MARK EMMERT.  It’s the freaking UW PRESIDENT,” I explained.  “I am a COMPLETE IDIOT.”

“WHAT?!” Mike exclaimed.  “How could you not recognize him when you went to that school?  Do you realize we were just talking so loudly about his salary that we got ‘shushed!?'”  We all looked at each other in the face-draining panic that accompanies such realizations.  We had just criticized the husband of our darling Viv, the one we wanted to be our friend and take us around to cocktail parties.  Had they heard?  Could they have?

I reasoned with them.  “Why would she have spoken to us if she heard us chastising her for being wealthy?” I asked.  “Come on, Viv loves us!”

By this time Meredith had pulled up an image of them on her iPhone.  Granted, the image was at least five years old, but we held up the phone, looked over at them:  confirmed.

“She’s not Viv,” Meredith read from Wikipedia.  “She’s DeLaine.”  Of course — even more of a president’s wife’s name than the one we gave her.

“Oh and you were almost right,” she continued reading from her phone.  “He’s not just one of the top-paid presidents.  It’s even better: he’s ranked second.  SECOND.  Bested only by Ohio State’s president.  Emmert makes $906,500 per year.”

Of course he does; our Viv/DeLaine deserves it.

3 Comments

Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

Etiquette for Awkward Situations — Vol 3: On a Plane

Today I board a flight to LA toting both my carry-on luggage and hopefully, my best behavior.  I always brace for the impact of encountering airline passengers; when people are treated like cattle, they can hardly be blamed for reacting like baboons.  Here, rules of engagement for the most ruthless form of travel.

Pre-flight
Awkward Situation: Despite the airline calling for people to board by seat rows, 150 people are clustered around the gate, jockeying to get to the front.  You seem only to have two options:  shove your body through the masses like a teenager at a Jonas Brothers concert, or literally be the last person to board (forfeiting your access to overhead bin real estate).

Solution: Follow traditional traffic rules.  My brother-in-law, Phil, (who will be traveling with us tonight) works at Swerve, a driving instruction company.  He says most people on the road should already know the common-courtesy rule of “Each one lets one.”  The same applies here.  As you move like so much human sand through the hour glass, let one person go in front of you and then someone else lets you in.  We hope.

Takeoff
Awkward Situation:
You are finally seated and prepared for takeoff, when the person next to you reveals the undeniable fact that they are a Chatty Cathy.  Your eyes glaze over at the prospect of speaking for two hours with a total stranger whom you will never see again in your life.

Solution: Engage in minimal small talk until takeoff, wherein you pull a book from your bag and show it to the Cathy, saying kindly, “Have you heard of this author?  She’s supposed to be fantastic.  I’ll let you know how it is!”  And then promptly open it.

Beverage Cart
Awkward Situation: It’s your first official day of “Christmas break” and you and your friends are eager for a little yule-tide cheer — in the form of a beer.  Or wine.  Or cocktail.

Solution: Plane rides are not the time to party-hardy.  When you’re stuck in a stationary position and can’t even converse with more than the two people next to you, you’re not in a place to have too good of a time.  Just have one drink and pay with cash.  Order quietly so you’re not obnoxious.  Don’t ask twenty questions to see what brands they carry — check ahead of time by looking in the airline guide in the pocket in front of you.  Then raise a glass and cheers to a safe flight.

Switching Seats
Awkward Situation: The person next to you asks if you would please switch seats with their spouse so they can sit together — but said spouse is 15 rows behind you and in a middle seat.

Solution: If you can swing it for a short flight, consider it your good deed of the week and say you’d be happy to help.  If you are already sitting with your own spouse, kindly explain that you understand their situation but you would like to stay with your traveling companion.  Also, even if you aren’t traveling with someone, you’re under no obligation to move seats.

Bathroom Break
Awkward Situation: You’re practically bursting at the seams after four diet Sprites and two hours of resisting the urge to visit the dreaded airline bath-closet (how could we call that a room with a straight face?).  But there are three people already clustered around the stewardess area waiting their turn.

Solution: It depends on your seat.  If you’re middle or window, get up as soon as possible to expand the amount of time between disruptions of your seat mates.  If you’re aisle, wait until there is only one person or no line at all before hopping up.  Also, keep in mind that the people in the unfortunate seating of the last few rows of the airplane shouldn’t have to stare at your backside that hovers directly in their faces as you wait for the bath-closet.

Warm thanks to those of you who sent in great etiquette conundrums.  For those of you who have yet to inquire, feel free to ask about your awkward situation at wordsbecomeone@gmail.com.

4 Comments

Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

Etiquette for Awkward Situations — Vol 2

At a BBQ

Awkward Situation: You attend a summer BBQ in which the host declined your offer to contribute food or drink.  You normally would bring something anyway, but didn’t want to presume that she would be lacking something.  When you arrive, everyone else has brought a dish or bottle of wine.

Solution: You are now the official helper.  Be at your host’s side when she’s serving food, offering to help with anything in the kitchen.  Be the first to initiate cleanup and offer to pick up any refills at the store.  It might be a little much, but you should even offer to start on dishes.  If she refuses your help, send a bottle of wine with your thank you note, and be sure to invite her for dinner to return the hospitality.

At the Bar

Awkward Situation: You, or a friend of yours, is treating your group to a couple rounds of beer.  You notice that no one in the group is offering to get the next round, and frankly this is getting expensive.

Solution: The simple solution is to cease the offer.  The absence of drinks will always prompt someone to get the next one.  If you’re truly on a budget but would like the evening to continue, simply say in a congenial manner, “Alright, who’s eager to impress by getting the next round?”

At a Wedding

Awkward Situation: You are attending an outdoor wedding and everything is going swimmingly…especially the sweat in your underarms/back/enter-awkward-place-here.

Solution: Against all odds, get up and move.  While it would seem that sitting at your dinner table would be coolest, standing upright and allowing a breeze to do it’s work is much more effective (especially for the ladies…hello skirt!).  Gentlemen, you are completely free to remove that jacket, but the tie stays.  If you need instant cool, grab a beer.

At the Spa

Awkward Situation: You are getting a pedicure and the woman working on your nails just asked you a polite question, but you cannot understand her accent so you have no idea what she just said. You feel horrible and racist and completely useless.

Solution: See if you can catch the eye of a person sitting near you, or another pedicurist.  Emphasize that you are completely mortified that you aren’t sure what was said, and simply repeat back a question that sounds reasonable for the situation.  Most times someone will chime in with what was actually said, and you’ll be saved.  Huge smiles and a tip go a long way, too.

At Dinner

Awkward Situation: You are having dinner with a new friend who recalls exactly what you do at work with great clarity, but you cannot even remember where he works, much less what he does.

Solution: Generalities are best.  Ask open ended questions like, “How busy has work been for you?” or “What are your hours like these days?” that will lead them to talk about their job, wherein you can piece it together.

If you have an awkward situation that needs addressing, please email me at wordsbecomeone@gmail.com.  No guarantees on solutions, but two heads are better than one.

2 Comments

Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)