Saturday, April 14, 2012

A-Z: Miss Manners and My Personal Manners Ninja

Because I did not receive a Standard Upbringing, I have always felt lacking in the genteel manners As Seen On TV. (Or perhaps, as not Seen On TV.) Besides which, I don't wish to give the impression in my fiction that all of my characters have been raised by wolves. So I depend upon the kindness of strangers to steer me safely through the Etiquette Jungle.

One of my favorite guides is Miss Manners (aka Judith Martin) whose deliciously witty advice columns are one of:
My 26 Favorite Ways to Piss Away Time Do Valuable Research on the Interwebs.
Her own site, alas, only directs one to additional sites, such as The Washington Post, or the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. It's worth a little skipping around, for gems such as this:

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm a female disabled veteran of the Gulf War era. I walk with a cane (and sometimes use a wheelchair) due to injuries I sustained in 1995 while serving in the Army.
Most people are pretty kind about my disabilities, but I am getting rather frustrated with complete strangers asking me about it. I've never heard anyone ask disabled elders why they are walking with a cane; why do they think it is any less rude to ask a younger person?
I work as a veterans advocate for my local government and cannot keep telling people my story, as it is considered inappropriate to talk about your own case with clients. Nor can I be rude and tell them it is none of their business, as I am expected to be polite and helpful to my clients at all times.
I've tried being funny and making jokes about it, and I've tried telling them it's a service-connected disability that I'd rather not talk about. Neither way seems to completely satisfy their curiosity.
What is a polite way to tell them to mind their own business without having to get into the details?
GENTLE READER: The professional version is easy. You say firmly, "We are here to discuss your case," and immediately address a question to the client. There is no reason to have any personal conversation beyond the simplest pleasantries.
What's harder is when someone you meet socially is clumsy enough to ask. Then Miss Manners suggests you say, "Thank you for your concern, but I'm fine. Are you all right?"
(Excerpted from Veteran has no need to explain her disability .)

Miss Manners has a series of books on etiquette that offer not only tips about everything from which fork to use (work from the outside in, almost always) and thank you letters, but also modern dilemmas such as whether a wedding is supposed to be a fundraiser, either for the couple or the charity of their choice (no!), how to cope with nudists, Kids Gone Wild, and dissing.

I am also lucky enough to have found my own Personal Manners Ninja in the exquisitely polite, if firm, Sidney Patrick of the popular blog My Mother In Law is Still Sitting Between Us... She demonstrated, below, how one can point out to a stranger a shortcoming in his behavior, without being in the slightest bit rude.

International Caller
So a few months ago I'm sitting at the counter at Tallyrand [a local restaurant], with my favorite server, Benjie.
On the far left end of the counter is a young fellah.
He is talking somewhat loudly on his cell phone. Benjie and I exchange disbelieving googly-eyed looks and eye rolls at each other. Other patrons comment as well.
The young fellah says, "I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you, but I'm on an international call. They're very expensive and difficult to get."
So I'll give him that, but he still could have taken it outside.
He returned a few weeks later and repeated the same bit. Meh. Earlier this week, you guessed it, he was back. Same seat. Same phone.
I straight up asked him:
Me: Pardon me, are you on an international call again?
YF: Why, yes.
Me: I've never made one of those before, are they expensive?
[he explains the entire rate structure. I simply wanted a "yes" or "no"]
Me: For that to be so expensive, you sure do have lengthy conversations.
And loud ones in a public place.
YF: Yes, it's an important call.
Me: Y'know, you could take that call outside; that's what most of us here do.
YF:  Y'know, I don't think I care.
[me walking away to rejoin my group]
Later, he got off of his important call and browsed quietly on the phone for the remainder of his visit. I commented to him that I hoped I hadn't harshed his day, but I had felt the need to express myself.
He assured me he was fine. I then gave him my business card and wished him a very good day and we shook hands.
Benjie told me I had done a diplomatic job. 
Yesterday, Benjie says to me, "That guy. He's in the parking lot on his phone."
Me: Really?
B: Yes. And when he realized I was there, he asked me, "That girl. What's her name?"  I said, "I do not ask the names of customers so I cannot tell you, Sir."
[*snort*][and I had given the young fellah my business card with my name on it]
Time passed. I'm sure YF was on another important international call. Then he came in and sat at the counter, again at the far left.
We looked down the counter for one another, and I forget who did it first, but we both waved at each other.
And he never got on his phone.
As he was leaving, he came to my end of the counter, shook my hand and told me to have a good day. It was very friendly.
I told him I was very proud of his new phone habits.  I hope he doesn't slash my tires...
And the finale... so far, so good for our IC.
Sid's also taken on salon screamers. Spunky little redhead, she is.

My Mother In Law is Still Sitting Between Us... also covers hoarding issues, with pictures and video, something that holds a train-wrecky kind of fascination.  (That is, if you've never lived with a hoarder or had a hoard to clean up. Being in the middle of a train wreck is never quite as much fun as observing one from a safe distance.)

Despite my ready access to these marvelous sources, I admit that sometimes I fall short of emulating a modicum of civility. (What is a modicum, anyway? Doesn't sound very interesting.)

My A-Z theme is My 26 Favorite Ways to Piss Away Time Do Valuable Research on the Interwebs.

Truly, sometimes an idea from a "pointless" fun site or post or photograph does result in pages and pages of writing. Or at least a blog post or two.

Are you a Miss Manners or MIL Between Us fan?
Where do you go for advice on etiquette and manners?
Got other fun sites beginning with the letter "M"?
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