Friday, January 29, 2010

The Etiquette of Forms of Address

Proper etiquette and protocol is no more important than when dealing with how we address our elected officials. Proper forms of address ought to take precedence above all else in almost all situations. There are very clear guidelines delineating these forms of address which have been in place for decades. They follow closely the rules that have been used by European royal families, the military, the court system and the clergy for centuries. They are clearly written down in a number of readily available books and there is a consistency which is ironclad. Whenever any one of us is going to meet an important official, if we are lucky, we are given clear directions on what to say, what to do, how to address the person, and a list of things to avoid doing or saying. The purpose for this is to ensure that due respect is appropriately adhered to and the event or meeting is pleasant and fruitful.

It has always baffled me why the media, especially, but not exclusively, the television media, seem to be immune to these guidelines. It's very noticeable and annoying to anyone who knows the difference. It is also unprofessional, disrespectful, and irresponsible. These gaffs are pet peeves of many etiquette professionals. The media has enormous influence over the public at large. We learn about what is going on in the world as a result of the timely reporting which is the sole purview of newscasters. It is no secret that not everything reported by them is the gospel truth; however, when it comes to having the common decency of respect, there is no good reason for being mislead. If I were to give them the benefit of the doubt, I could argue that no one ever taught them what is correct. I am not want to be that generous in this case. I view it as blatant disrespect. Feigning ignorance just doesn't fly. There are many gentle media folks who get it right, but I am surprised by the number of prime time hosts who don't. I even heard an esteemed commentator on CNN News refer to the U.S. president as Chief Obama just the other day. What was he thinking?!

The latest and most up to date source for the important information of how to address everyone with any rank at all is Robert Hickey's book, Honor and Respect, published by the Protocol School of Washington (to which I was a contributor). It should be on the shelf of anyone who will potentially use or uses this kind of information on a regular basis. It will no doubt become a classic reference book on the subject.

There are a few rules of thumb which can demystify this subject which follow the common sense fundamentals of all etiquette. For anyone in an elected office for which there is only one occupant at a time, such as prime minister, president or mayor of a city, they are properly referred to verbally as Prime Minister Harper, President Obama or Mayor Craig, and not Mr. Harper, Obama or Craig. Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. President, or Your Honour would also be appropriate. Some titles are retained for life. These tend to be professional or appointed positions. Others are not and the titles are dropped once the office is vacated.

It would be far easier if the forms of address used in the United States and Canada were the same, or even similar. This is the case sometimes, but just when you think you have it right, a difference appears. The structure of the governments - federal, provincial/state and local; their military; and their judicial systems are surprisingly complicated and quite different. This is true of many other countries as well. Commonwealth countries do tend to share a great deal in common however, which does make life simpler when dealing with them. When any question of how to address someone is in question, err on the side of caution and check a reliable source. Government offices can be helpful. The Chief Protocol Officer is likely to have the most up to date information at hand. Don't be shy either. these offices are all too happy to help. It is important to all concerned that these details are correctly handled.

It is interesting to me how these forms of address vary from country to country. What is interesting to me is that these details can be a critical ingredient in a successful business deal or even in a governmental exchange with other individuals or nations. That is precisely why reference books exist and have for a long time. Taking the time and making the effort to be sure that how you address someone verbally or in writing, formally or socially, shows that you in fact do have respect for the other person and their office. In turn, this reflects the respect you have for yourself.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

No Cell Phones or Texting while driving!

Cell Phones and Texting are Hazardous to Safe Driving

Between an influx of questions to my inbox about cell phone etiquette and texting, and the latest plea from Oprah Winfrey to stop using these devices while driving, I decided to address this important issue from the point of view of doing the right thing. As I have repeatedly expressed in previous columns, etiquette is based on common sense. In the case of texting while driving, this is a total lack of common sense. Anything that distracts a driver of a motor vehicle from his full attention to the road is dangerous, and potentially deadly. It is dangerous to him, to the passengers in his car and to any other passengers in other vehicles sharing the same road. I think we can all agree that safety should be the highest priority when we are behind the wheel of a car.

It has been proven that the brain's activities are focused differently when multi tasking. Talking on the phone qualifies as a task and is not related to driving. Some will be quick to argue that there is no difference between speaking on a hand held phone than talking to a fellow passenger. This is incorrect and ridiculous. The person with whom you are speaking on a cell phone is probably unaware that you are driving; is certainly unaware of the road or traffic conditions; and is totally incapable of being another set of eyes for you while navigating the roadways. The person sitting in the car can stop talking or call attention to something missed by the driver i.e. a potential hazard, etc.

When I was gathering content for this column I asked a friend about his feelings on this subject. He said that he agreed with the basic premise but that he had a business and he had to talk on the phone or he would lose business. He also went on to inform me that it is against the law in many places to pull off to the side of the road except in the case of an emergency, and that I had better check my facts before passing out advice. What he failed to mention is that it is illegal in many places to use a hand held cell phone while driving. I smiled and nodded thankfully and conceded that he had raised some good points. Then I began to think about this whole picture because it was flawed in my mind. The scary part of his arguments is that they are what many cell phone users feel they entitled to do.

This is where I employed common sense and the wisdom and pleas of Ms. Winfrey. Ware really dealing here with a matter of priorities. Life itself does take precedence over all else. Very few people have business which is so urgent that a phone call cannot be returned or handled later in the day. If you are responding to a medical emergency,

natural disaster, or catastrophe and must get in touch with the necessary

parties, these are legitimate reasons to have to use a cell phone.Surely one's life or the life of other people would never, ever be considered less important. I think this points out one of the biggest problems of cell phones and PDAs today. People suddenly are so important that their phones must be answered immediately. This is actually a snap shot of self importance. People have a distorted sense of reality. As a result of this egotistical view of the world, we show incredible disrespect for those around us. Last week I discussed the rudeness of private conversations in public places. Now you can add cars to the list of places not to have conversations on the phone. This extensive use of cell phones is indicative of how out of control society is in terms of its humanity.

Texting takes distraction to a whole other level. It is not dissimilar from fidgiting and looking for hidden controls or anything else which takes your eye off the road. I experienced this first hand while driving and looking for a heater control while driving on an icy road. It took literally a split second and the Land Cruiser was off the road and upside down in a ditch. We were lucky that no one in the car was hurt or killed. I will tell you that experiencing such a traumatic accident first hand changes a person's point of view in a hurry and permanently.

One friend of mine says that if someone wants to drive by themselves and fidget with the radio, or chat on the phone that is one thing; but if she's going to be in the car, it's not going to happen. That's one view point, but does not take into account other travelers or the precious life of the driver.

It's clear that these thoughtless and reckless driving distractions and behaviors will be outlawed soon. However, it does not take a law to engage common sense. Think about how precious life is and how many things we have for which to be grateful. Think about how our actions can affect others. If we take the time to think about these simple truths, respecting one another on the roadways is pretty easy. Sadly there are many people who dial up the phone or begin texting as soon as they get in the car, much the way some people light up a cigarette, chew gum, apply mascara and drink coffee while driving. Unfortunately, the phone is even more dangerous than cigarettes. Maybe one day soon common sense will be more common and we will do the right thing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Etiquette of eating Lobster with your hands

On Eating Lobster and Other Finger Food

Lobster is as local as any seafood for New Brunswick that you can get. I have been told of the glory days of Katy’s Cove in St. Andrews where lobster salad was served as a delectable lunch. Private cocktail parties for the local swells would boast lovely chunks of lobster tail in overflowing silver bowls with curried mayonnaise for dipping. Elegantly laid dinner tables with fine linens, silver flatware and crystal champagne flutes would herald a special feast of these feisty bottom-feeding crustaceans. On the other hand, there were the local hard working people and fishermen. To these folks, lobster was considered “poverty food”. A woman told me that, when she was a child, her lunch box would usually have a lobster sandwich in it. She would try to trade it to someone who had a peanut butter sandwich. Lobster was so plentiful that if you had nothing else to eat, you could go right down to the beach and pick some up. My, how times have changed!

When I was a young boy, I was lucky enough to have had lobster from time to time, especially in the summer months. As a family, my mother, father, sister and I would sit around a low Chinese rectangular table on generous cushions. We would each have a lobster, shell crackers, picks, seafood forks and a large wooden “graveyard” bowl for discarding the used shells. At an early age I learned how to pick a lobster, sucking the meat out of the small legs, getting the delectable knuckle meat out of the spiny claws, and of course saving the tail until the end – the real treat! Served with melted lemon butter, the whole affair was quite messy requiring extra paper napkins, but it was one of the most fun dinners I remember as a young boy. It was right up there with beef fondue, which was also a great treat. However, we got to eat the lobster for the most part with our hands, which made it all the more delicious, so I thought. Then one evening, I saw the dining room table beautifully set for ten people complete with silver candelabra, champagne flutes, etc. I asked my mother what they were having for dinner and she told me ‘lobster’. Wow, I thought, how is this going to work? Well, as luck would have it, one of the dinner guests was a very distinguished highly decorated Air Force General. He had survived a fiery crash and was left with very limited use of his hands. He asked me if I would come to the table with him to pick his lobster for him. I was so honored and thrilled, at the age of 12, to oblige. I even got a $5 tip from him, which in those days would buy me several toy cars. Anyway, during the process of picking his lobster for him, I watched the rest of the guests attack their lobsters, gobbling down the delectable morsels using seafood forks and a dinner fork and knife when it came to the prize tail. There were finger bowls brought out with dessert, which were really needed before dessert (and used, I might add). In the end, the graveyards were filled and whisked off to the kitchen.

In stark contrast, when I arrived in St. Andrews, one of the first dinners I had was a real lobster feast. There were a number of people I had never met before and as I watched them eat their lobsters, I could not believe when one of them reached into the graveyard and pulled the body of the lobster I had recently discarded as finished. Well, this body was opened up and an amazing amount of tender morsels were picked out. And don’t forget the red roe and green ‘tamale’. By the time they were finished, all of the bodies had been picked clean, save the lungs of the creature. I was amazed, and still am to this day, at how people up here really go to town on lobster – and it is eaten with their hands, which as I said before, makes it all the more delicious. And copious amount of paper towels – no finger bowls.

Which brings me to today’s etiquette question. What foods can you eat with your hands in a more formal dining situation? As a general rule, if you are out and there is no cutlery put out, such as a picnic of fried chicken or crabs, burgers, fries and hot dogs, then everything is fair game to be eaten with your hands. In some countries, forks and knives are never used. However, in most cases you will have cutlery. So what’s ok to eat with your fingers? Asparagus is one for sure. Although the most fastidious people will use a fork and knife, I love using my fingers. I had a friend who used to grow 1000 acres of asparagus for Jolly Green Giant. During the short season, we would go down to his farm and have a platter of asparagus one foot high in the middle of the dining room table. We had bowls of delicious lemony hollandaise sauce and we all delighted in dipping the freshly steamed spears into the sauce and then dropping them into our mouths. Other foods, in short, which are perfectly ok to eat with your fingers are Artichokes (impossible to eat otherwise), crisp bacon, shrimp cocktail, French fries (if served with a steak, use a fork), olives, pastries (breakfast), and raw veggies with dip. Otherwise, use cutlery as provided and you will not be in fear of making a faux pas.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Artichokes, Asparagus, and French Fries

Artichokes, Asparagus and French Fries

The mind is a curious place; well my mind is to me anyway. I awoke one bright clear morning and thought, ‘artichokes’! I must write about these mysterious culinary delights which are challenging, to say the least, to many people. This instigated a discussion in my head about another finger food column. This is a time of year when we do tend to eat more with our hands than usual, at least here in the Western world. I make that distinction because I just watched an episode where Chef Michael Smith was in Jordan, where a good bit of food is eaten with one’s hands, as it is in other parts of the world as well. Why not explore a few of the foods that

can certainly be enjoyed using our fingers rather than the knife and fork?

Artichokes, whose use as a food originated most likely in Northern Africa, is a cousin of the Thistle, a trait easy to surmise once you discover the ‘choke’. This vegetable must be eaten by hand. The leaves are peeled gently from the main bulb gently but firmly and then the flesh is scraped off with your teeth. This is one food that requires either one on one training or a detailed ‘how to’ video to be able to eat it successfully. I maintain that it is well worth the trouble though. It has a wonderful sweet earthy flavor which is great with Hollandaise sauce or melted lemon butter when served hot; it also tastes delicious with mayonnaise laced with curry or garlic or a fragrant vinaigrette when served cold. The heart, which is identical in taste to the leaves is the real meat of the flower bud and the ultimate reward after the attenuated time required to reach it. Some less than patient diners dive right into the heart bypassing the delectable petals altogether. This is akin to only eating the tail of a lobster. Each to his own. No matter what your decision, artichokes are very versatile and are a great addition to many meals as either a main vegetable or served as a starter.

Asparagus, a wonderful vegetable from the Lily family, comes to us from Eurasia and is grown all over the world. This is another food which according to proper etiquette is correctly eaten by hand, whether it is served hot or cold. The same accompaniments used for artichokes work very nicely with asparagus too. The spears are best when steamed or grilled. They can be boiled, but then so can anything. Much of the flavor and nutrients are lost in that process. Although not often served at formal dinners, eating this vegetable with your hands is proper at any occasion anywhere in the world.

French fried potatoes are an all time finger food favorite. These tuberous vegetables have their origins in Peru. What we eat today descends from a subspecies from Chile. The Sweet Potato and the Yam are also immensely popular additions to this finger food family. While the Sweet Potato originated in equatorial South America, it is distantly related to the potato. However, the Yam comes to us from Africa and is no relation to either plant at all, even though similar looking and tasting. Cut into long rectangular spears, these nutritious vegetables are usually denatured by deep fat frying, rendering them less wholesome but addictively delicious. No matter how they are cooked or served, they are customarily eaten with a fork and knife; however, I think they somehow seem to taste better when eaten by hand.

The rule of thumb for eating certain foods with your hands is usually

dictated by a lack of cutlery with which to eat a particular item. No knife, fork or

spoon is a good indication that using your fingers is positively appropriate. No one is expected to eat a sandwich or a Burrito with utensils, nor olives, nor nuts nor most picnic foods. After all, fried chicken and barbecued ribs simply taste better when eaten by hand. I’m not exactly sure how the various lists were assembled as to what is eaten by hand and what with a fork. Suffice it to say, that when in doubt, begin with a fork and knife and then follow your host’s lead. At picnics, my vote is forks for salads only. At formal dinners, don’t taunt your guests with questionable foods - do I or don’t I eat this with a fork?

This brings me back to artichokes. Of course, here’s a food you start eating with your hands and finish up using a fork and knife. It may in fact be unique in that regard. Don’t let them scare you off though. Find a pal who enjoys them and ask them for a lesson. They’re fun, delicious and nutritious. And, oh yes, they’re a food that deserves some respect. Making the mistake of eating the choke itself will teach you that lesson in a big hurry. In my book, finger food often as possible!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Happy New Year 2010

And a Healthy 2010 to All

One of the most often used best of wishes for any New Year is that of good health to all of our friends. As with so many perfunctory remarks, they often carry sincere yet somewhat shallow meaning. Perhaps that's because we don't really make much of an effort to take care of our own health.

Let's take some time in the coming days, months and years to give our bodies and our emotional, mental and spiritual health maintenance the respect and attention only we can give it ourselves.

Our longevity, health and well being has undoubtedly improved immeasurably in no small part as a result of huge strides in the study of medicine. Antibiotics, anaethesia, vaccinations and a host of other incredible discoveries and treatments has afforded mankind a greatly improved survival rate. Remember however that there are many people who have no access to medical care. There are also millions who choose non medical therapeutic options such as homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, acupuncture, herbal remedies and a whole host of others which provide great relief to the suffering and ailing. It is important to respect the choices each of makes in dealing with our health.

Become the quarterback for your own health care team. No one really cares or knows more about you than you yourself. But be sensible, too.

There are numerous sources for information on health available on the internet. Such web sites as and might give you a clearer understanding of your current state of health as well as identifiable steps you can take to improve things. But beware. Your health and its care need to be a combination of learning facts about what ails you and presenting these facts to a reliable practitioner.

Perhaps certain adjustments and changes to daily routines such as increased exercise and a diet that is more appropriate to your needs, or a recently discovered dietary problem i.e. an allergy to certain foods, might make you feel better. There are also benefits to be gained from introducing new or different regimes into your life such as yoga or meditation. These self help acts do may improve your own state of well being, and as a result of them, you may be a more productive and happier member of your community and society at large. Benefits from lifestyle changes such as improved sleep and more energy can be directly attributed to taking better care of yourself.

Go easy on yourself. If you decide to start a new workout regimen, you may want to seek the advice of a trainer so you avoid hurting yourself inadvertently. Unbridled enthusiasm has a way of getting the better of us sometimes.

In the office we are exposed to all kinds of different germs in the winter time because air ventilation is usually reduced. Also, people's children bring home a variety of new germs to which we have not yet been exposed. These can test our immune systems. Consider using a hand sanitizer regularly, especially after touching surfaces such as escalator handles, door knobs and telephone receivers. Carry a handkerchief with you or a some kleenex tissues and be sure to use them whenever you feel a sneeze or cough coming on. This does help reduce the spread of germs. Even then, however, a squirt of hand sanitizer is smart and shows consideration for yourself and those around you.

Some of us find our roles as parents and care givers to be all consuming. These worthy responsibilities can be performed longer and more gracefully if we take care of ourselves first. We all know the instructions that come over the speaker in the airplane which says to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. This same principle applies to our day to day caretaking responsibilities too. Remind yourself of this everyday. Consider taking a few minutes each morning as you arise or each evening before you go to sleep to quiet your mind; to give thanks for your many blessings; and to organize your priorities.

Above all else, practice the fundamental principles of all etiquette. Use your common sense, be respectful of yourself and others and be compassionate at all times. No one has all the answers. To some questions, the answers we want aren't there. Being as informed about your health as possible, just as with any other part of your life, gives you the advantage of being able to make the most informed decisions possible. I sincerely hope 2010 brings you much happiness and good health.