I’m not what you would call an etiquette guru. I never met Emily Post, didn’t read her rule book, and wouldn’t be opposed to wearing chartreuse sneakers to a formal affair. I don’t care to which side of the plate my napkin sits. I’m simply thrilled if it’s relatively spot-free and well within reach. The order of the silverware is superfluous. And as to caring that someone had the audacity to wear white after a certain date of the year? Really, is there nothing more pressing in this world? To me, it all smacks of far too much time on the hands.
“I’m so terribly bored,” says the queen with an exasperated sigh. “Perhaps a beheading would brighten my day.”
“Oh, I’m sure we can come up with something better than that,” says the man with the nearest head. “Suppose you sign an edict declaring in which order everyone should set their silverware.”
“Hmmm,” hmmms the queen. “Can I tell them where to put those little salady thingy forks?”
“You most certainly can,” smiles the man still in possession of his head.
And so it goes.
Let’s be honest, we live in an informal time. In fact, we have a whole day of the week dedicated to just that – casual Friday. Would it be improper etiquette to wear a suit on casual Friday?
Over all, I’m happy with the trend. Neck ties are strangely akin to hangman’s nooses. And an excess of formality brings with it a certain level of disingenuousness, a social aloofness birthed in the trivialness of triviality. I think, work-related attire aside, people shouldn’t be held to the fashion foibles of strangers.
That said, a lack of formality in fashion or dining protocol is a benign offence. No one is injured if I wear my favorite jeans to church or Payless flip-flops to dinner at Chateau Blah-Blah-Blah. But when we allow the same attitude to extend to our relations with fellow human beings, we can find ourselves smelling of month-old sushi.
Our anything-goes-look-at-me-I’m-free society has been used by some as an excuse to be outright rude. A simple “thank you” or “pardon me” often seems as foreign as if spoken by a strange little alien boy named Beaver Cleaver. Cashiers stand chatting with co-workers while checking orders, never once acknowledging the customer. Of course, the customer is most likely jabbering away on a cell phone, oblivious to the fact that another living breathing human being is standing before him or her providing a needed service. As to the formality of titles, I don’t mind if someone doesn’t refer to me as Mr. Reese. I’d rather be called Thom. But a, “Get outta the way you lumbering hunk a #@%*$!!!” rarely brightens my day.
Speaking of expletives:
Yep, you have the right to use them. The restrictions of yesteryear have become rather elastic with regards to the topic. But I believe there’s still a place for sensitivity. Blurting out a string of four-letter treats to a complete stranger in a public place is still considered offensive by some. Especially when children are present. Does anyone really need a T-shirt with the “F bomb” emblazoned on it for all to see? And if so, does it need to be worn to the grocery store – really? Just as it would be inappropriate to show The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to a toddler, it’s also less-than-genius to spew a litany of expletives before that same impressionable child. At the very least, this decision should be left to the child’s parents, not to complete strangers.
I was at a convenience store recently and a young man approached the counter. A mother with a small child was in line behind him as he said, “Gimmie those #$@!% Marlboros ya #@%#* *&%#@!”
Yeah, the guy had class.
As adults, we have freedoms. But there is a level of responsibility and common sense that tags along for the ride. And if truth be told, there are over 500,000 words in the English language. Does anyone really need to use the same word repeatedly in every sentence?
“What the @%$# do these @%$# think they’re @%$# doin’?” Yes, it takes amazing mental agility to utter such a sentence.
But for those who feel the imperative to express every frustration with every utterance, I propose a compromise. When in public, when in the presence of children, how about finding some alternate expressions? Be creative. Replace the “F bomb” with a sports term. “Get the line-of-scrimmage outta my face you stupid pop-fly-to-deep-center-field.”
Or maybe we could substitute song titles for our favorite expletives.
“What the Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy-Dumm-Diddy-Do do you think you’re doing?”
“Get the Boogie-Woogie-Bugle-Boy-of-Company-B away from me, you Achy-Breaky-Heart.”
“You know what, buddy? You’re full a The-Best-of-My-Love!”
Okay, silly, yes. But, it makes my point. I’m not trying to take away any freedoms here. That’s not my place. I’m just asking for a little social sensitivity in an it’s-all-about-me society. Be aware of others around you. Be courteous, not just in choice of language, but in attitude as well. Say “thank you” to a cashier. Acknowledge the person next to you on the bus. Through it all, be yourself. Be imaginative. Show off your own special flare. I think the era’s primary cultural dictate could be to express oneself to the extent that it doesn’t infringe on another’s rights or happiness.
Thom Reese is a Las Vegas based writer whose weekly radio show, 21st Century Audio Theatre, previously aired on the 50,000 watt KDWN. Fourteen of Thom’s audio dramas will be released by Speaking Volumes Quality Audio Books throughout 2010. Thom studied comedy writing at The Second City and works in market research for CBS Broadcasting.
Copyright 2010 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.
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