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SWEET, SUGAR, CANDYMAN

A health conscious concern:

I have several friends with children who just feed them junk food.  These are people that eat good food themselves, but they give their kids processed junk that is loaded with high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.  Can I say something to them??

LISTEN:

No.

That was easy, wasn’t it?

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PLAGIARISM

A awkward encounter:

I have a small, relatively obscure blog that I keep primarily as a writing exercise.  Today I read a very famous website that had content on it that was shockingly similar to mine…the structure was the same, some of the phrases were vanishingly similar.  What should I do?

LISTEN:

I doubt very seriously that some famous blog has lifted your content.  Not knowing what it is, I’m going to pretend it was, say, an etiquette blog, like mine.  I would probably go through the archives and see if there was anything else similar to what I’ve written.  Etiquette isn’t exactly novel, and people being what they are, tend to have similar problems..that, and come on – people read the web like a crack addict smokes a rock, instantly absorbing the drug of it but forgetting where it came from as soon as it goes up in smoke.

But say you do.  Say you read another article that seemed a little too similar…well, I would go to my website’s analytics and search history and check the IP addresses for the visits to the similar article.  If you happen to get a consistent match, then you may want to go ahead and ask that website to either a) Give you credit, b) apologize, and give you credit, or c) pull the article in question, apologize, and give you credit.

That’s the magical thing about plagiarism and computers.  It’s awfully hard to cover your tracks once they’re laid down and you’ve been discovered.  People take screenshots now, instantly, of offending and embarrassing content and post it for all the world to see.

But like I said, it’s probably a silly coincidence.

And an aside note to all the plagiarists out there who are reading an etiquette blog about the perfect gift to give someone to apologize for stealing from them – it’s Champagne (the real stuff), an apology, and credit where credit is due.

Also, you need to quit.

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OOH LA LA

A picky eater asks:

I don’t like French food, but most of my friends do.  Every dinner out we end up going to one of three or four French places they all really like.  I go along and have a salad, but then I end up spending a lot more than I wanted when we split the bill and they’ve all had appetizers and everything.  How can I tell them I don’t like French food and would rather go somewhere else?

LISTEN:

It’s a particularly complicated piece of etiquette you’re asking me.  Try this:

“Hey guys – you know, I don’t really like French food.  Can we go somewhere else?”

…did that work?

Oh, good.  I’m sure you had a list of five or so restaurants in your back pocket you were able to supply when they all turned their singular œil in your discontented direction.

Don’t complain about a problem unless you have a solution.

And now you do.

 

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AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Temptation asks:

I met this guy through friends and we kind of hit it off.  He just asked me if I wanted to see the porn he was in!  He’s also been texting me and asking me to hang out…I have a boyfriend – so does he – so nothing like a date, but I don’t know if it would be cool with my boyfriend.

LISTEN:

Oh, dude, come ON.  No, really, it’s a come on.  And you know damn good and well it wouldn’t be OK with your boyfriend.  Unless y’all have a modern thing, which it does not sound like you do.

But once again, I’m failing to see the etiquette question in this mess.

You know, 100 years ago when I started this column, the first Hollywood film had just been made – but they’d been making dirty movies for two decades.  I remember a letter I got back then:

“A young woman of my acquaintance has suggested I may enjoy watching her perform in a pornographic film.  Afterwards, we are to drink intoxicating beverages in an ale house or public tavern.  I should like to go, but I wonder what I should tell my wife?”

The answer today is the same as the answer then.  Nothing, because you’re not going to go.  Or everything, because then you have nothing to hide.

Another option is a double date.

Sounds enchanting.

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NOTED

A dressed-down dilemma:

How can you stop someone from repeating something they’ve said?  I don’t mean an old relative repeating themselves, I’m talking about co-workers or supervisors or officious bureaucrats who make a point one way, then make it another, then make it another way and so on.  I had a five minute conversation with a medical assistant last week that left me feeling like she thought I was a complete idiot.  I heard you the first time!

LISTEN:

…and the second!  And the third!  And the fourth!

An old Army buddy of mine told me in his unit, or squad – or whatever their little grouping is called – platoon? – in that thing, they had a way of shutting down repetitive reiterators.  When the instruction or information is conveyed the First time, they made whatever noises of comprehension one usually makes, “Yes sir,” or “Yes ma’am,” or just “Got it.”

The Second time around, the would reply “Noted.”

The Third outbreak of elaboration would elicit “FUCKING NOTED.”

That usually did the trick.

Now of course you don’t get to do that with anyone but your closest friends and Army buddies, but it’s a fun story.

Your responses are, in descending order, “Got it” or its equivalent, then “Yes, of course, thank you”, then “Oh, I understand completely, thank you very much”, and finally, “Oh my word, yes, of course, I absolutely understand, and thank you so very much, it couldn’t be clearer, and I do mean it when I say thank you so much for helping me understand what is required and making it quite clear so I don’t make any mistakes.  Thank you, again.”

It is of paramount importance that this is all rendered in a kind, appreciative voice – one that borders on apologetic – as if you are so terribly, terribly sorry that you have inadvertently forced these people to repeat themselves so obviously.  This will obviously throw them off.  They’ll stop, and stumble over their own memory…Did I really just say the same essential thing three times to this otherwise rational and intelligent-looking person?  

When it sinks in what they’ve actually done, and what you’ve actually said, they’ll become aware of how irritating it is to be lectured at by strangers.  And if you play your cards right, it’ll happen to them in the middle of the night and they’ll lose sleep trying to thinking of snappy comebacks.  They’ll fail, of course, because you were unfailingly polite.

But you made your point.

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MYOB

A delicate flower wiltingly asks:

I have recently found out that a new friend of mine is Mormon.  He never mentioned it before, and I don’t know how I feel about it.  Not just the strangeness of the religion, but the intolerant social policies the church espouses.  What should I say?  Now I feel uncomfortable bringing it up.  

LISTEN:

Then don’t.

Listen to yourself: “What should I say?”  Jesus Christ (latter days or otherwise) – why don’t you just keep your mouth shut??

Every single person in this world – EVERY SINGLE ONE, WITHOUT EXCEPTION – belongs, more or less, to some social structure (family, work, race, religion, ethnicity, etc.) who counts among its members someone who is going to say cringingly embarrassing things.  Sometimes it’s just grandma at a restaurant wondering why none of “the coloreds” work there anymore, or sometimes it’s your kid pointing at a crucifix (seen for the first time) and screaming in terror “WHAT’S THAT!?!?”

(sh)It happens.

And don’t be so mealy-mouthed.  You obviously lack the courage of your convictions – you can’t even write about how you feel anonymously.  “I don’t know how I feel…” Are you kidding?  How come I know how you feel and you don’t?

You’re angry with the church for taking a stand on social issues you disagree with.  You’re extending that stand to all members of the church.  You therefore assume (perhaps wrongly) that your new friend agrees with the dogma of his church.  See?  What’s the mystery?

To me it seems that you labor under the mistaken notion that everyone simply must agree with you about everything, and if they don’t agree with you then they must be wrong.  Or something must be wrong with them.  Throw in a little old-tyme religion, and you can have those bastards roasting on a spit in the hereafter by lunchtime.

I suggest you focus on the things about your new friend that you like, that when his religion comes up as a topic of conversation you stick to bland, informational style questions (Oh, you go to temple on Sundays too?  How neat!  Where is it??) and leave your opinion in your head until he asks for it.

And even then, if just for the first time in your life, try to think clearly and realize your opinion isn’t the received Truth – it’s just your opinion.  Differences in these sorts of things must be discussed calmly, rationally, and and without accusations of intolerance and bigotry – from either side.  Who knows, you may learn something…

…that frothing at the mouth screaming is hardly a pleasant way to get to know someone’s points of view…

…or what kind of impact a rational, pleasant conversation can have on someone’s deeply held conviction.

Bon chance.

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IT’S MUCH TOO LATE

Pressed for time asks:

How late is “too late” to send out Thank You cards?  It’s March, and I just found a stack of them I forgot to put in the mail after Christmas.

LISTEN:

Oh, I don’t know – when did you stop feeling gratitude?

Add a note of apology to the note and send it along.  It’s never too late, if you’re not lying.

And don’t send “cards,” especially not with the word “Thank you” printed on it.  Get a piece of bloody paper and WRITE the words “Thank you” followed by “for” and then whatever it is for which you are thankful.

In this case, add a the couple of months of forbearance.

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DIP IT IN THE HONEY

I used to live next door to an old lady who would give me jars full of jam and come over to my house to instruct me on what chores I needed to do for her that weekend.  Usually something like – untangling her wind-chimes, or getting a heavy blender out of her cabinet.  Nothing massively time consuming, but she needed some help, and she had a way of putting things.

We’d chat a bit, and would purse her lips just so if I ever said a cross word about anybody, or complained about something.  I’m kind of a negative person – I thrive on criticism, so I assume other people do, too.

“You can attract more flies with sugar than with salt,” she would say.  She also said you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.  Silk purse / sow’s ear – that kind of thing.

She was just full of good things to say.

And she wasn’t trying to – you know – sugar coat things, so to speak… in the context of our conversations, she wasn’t being a wizened old Southern woman doling out little drops of time honored wisdom, or mucky truisms.  She was essentially telling me to stop being an ass.

I wish it had helped more when I was younger, and I don’t know that it’s helped all that much now that I’m (emotionally im)mature, but it gives me pause.

For example, on facebook the past couple of days, people have been changing their little facepictures into variations of the equality symbol, but in versions of pink and red, in order to signify their solidarity with the marriage equality movement.

Certain naysayers have naturally curled up and hissed that it wasn’t doing any good – that it was silly to post stupid pictures, that we’re preaching to the choir, etc.  I get their point – I do.  It’s just that … well, I don’t quite think they’re getting the point.

***

Well, I have a friend who seemed to know exactly what to say, so with his kind permission, I’ll let him take over for a bit.

Quote:

I have seen much here on the faceplace about the red equal signs. I am humbled by the pervasiveness of the image and heartened by its presence on profiles where I might not have immediately expected to see it. One thing, however, has baffled me, though it probably should be no surprise. There are a number of folks (all good folks who I respect thus far) who have questioned the use of the symbol through this medium. ‘The Supreme Court doesn’t care what is on facebook’ is the gist of most of these complaints. I do not disagree with this gist; I just do not understand the point of bringing it up. It is true that changing your picture here on the faceplace is not a substitute for grassroots organizing or fundraising, but nobody I know is claiming that it is. It is a gesture of goodwill and support and that is nothing to scoff at.

I learned that in 2005 when I testified against the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in front of a Texas Senate committee. This was a particularly difficult day for me for several reasons. As a former staffer for a Texas Legislator many of the faces staring back at me as I approached the witness table were Senators and staffers that had been my colleagues and friends. The committee chair even employed a relative of mine and I was not yet out to my family. As I sat down my heart was in my throat and my eyes continuously darted around the Senate chamber for signs of the relative that could out me to my family. I was fucking terrified. I started to speak but my voice cracked and shook before I had even finished saying my name. The woman sitting next to me placed her hand on my knee under the table. She was (and remains) a complete stranger to me. I took a shaky breath and she gave my knee a reassuring squeeze. She was with me, she supported me, she was on my side. My fear subsided, my heart returned to my chest, my voice stopped shaking. I stopped looking around the room in fear. I looked directly at the chairman (who I knew personally) for the first time. Nothing about my testimony was groundbreaking but I was able to speak clearly about the impact of the amendment on my life. I was able to stand up for myself and stand with my community.

I guess my point here is that a very simple gesture can be profoundly powerful. Her gesture did not change the mind of a single Senator on that committee, but it made me a little braver that day and ever day since… and so has every single red equal sign I have seen on facebook.

We can disagree on the best way to fight for equality but we all agree that we need straight allies. If you aren’t sure who they are or where to find them… you can start by looking for the red equal sign. When you see it, ask for help.

End Quote.

***

How does this all hearken back to the old lady?

She would probably say “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to look at it, but you don’t need to go spoil everyone else’s fun.”  But – you know – she’d say something like “Pinch a pigs ear and you’re gonna make it scream” or what have you.  But the look in her eye, the mischievous smirk – she’d be saying if you have to take a shit all over someone else’s self-esteem, it won’t matter if you dipped your ass in honey.

So think about that the next time you have the opportunity to put someone down.  So you’re not a joiner – great!  So why don’t you just keep your mouth shut?

You’re gonna catch a fly.

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N’EAR EASTER

Sad bunny says:

Every Easter I have brunch with my family, and at some point people try to shove deviled eggs in my face.  I hate eggs.  I.  Hate.  Eggs.  And every time it’s the same thing, people pushing me to try a new recipe or whatever.  “No, thank you” doesn’t work – they almost pitch a fit and someone always gets their feelings hurt – usually my sister-in-law who makes the damned things – and starts crying.  How can I head this off?

LISTEN:

NUMBER 1.  You don’t have Easter Brunch with your family.  Or anyone.  You have Easter Supper.  Know how I know that?  Because no one at a brunch would try to attack you with an ovarial cast-off, hard-boiled or otherwise.  They might push Champagne in your face, but that’s a reason to say “Yes, please,” so that’s sorted out.

NUMBER 2. How exciting that you have such a highly strung family with such inventiveness vis-à-vis d’œufs.  And how wonderful they celebrate Christ’s resurrection with something called deviled eggs.  Actually – that gives me an idea.

You could always pretend to have had a spiritual revelation that has left you with the firm conviction that utilizing ancient pre-Christian symbols of sex and fertility like bunnies and eggs deeply threaten your hopes of salvation.  You can be the one to burst into tears this year – just grab your plate and lock yourself in the guest room until supper is over.

But really, you have much bigger problems that etiquette just can’t solve.  At least – not unless the offending parties write to me.  You either have to undergo a fundamentalist conversion or stick to “No, thank you,” and realize that the tears shed have nothing to do with your or your rejection of their disgusting pagan appetizers.

That poor woman.

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