Friday, December 30, 2011

Easing into The New Year

We are all about to welcome in a New Year. Many of us will culminate our holiday celebrations with a big bash filled with champagne and resolutions. To most of us there is nothing new to these traditions. Some of us have chosen to downplay the festivities, even foregoing ringing in the New Year entirely. But fewer of us escape the temptation or challenge of making resolutions for the coming year. We frequently feel resolutions will improve our lives usually through deprivation or perhaps some sort of painful new fitness program. It has been a while since I have stayed up to ring in the New Year, but I have always given in to the temptation to set an unattainable goal for the coming year. I am undecided as to why this temptation befalls us and we so easily submit, but for some reason we get some pleasure from this fantasy world, if only for a short while.

Making resolutions can be a wonderful exercise however. It allows us a few minutes to examine our lives and reevaluate our priorities and raise the bar by which we measure our levels of success and happiness. As complicated as this may all sound, I truly believe that many of these seemingly impossible-to-attain goals are well within our reach. And the desired outcome of greater success or happiness can happen.

One of the main reasons we fail to stick to our newly hatched plan is that it’s the middle of winter. This is a time of rest and rejuvenation, not a time for launching new self-improvement schemes. Saving these plans until the spring will likely result in a much higher success rate, plus it satisfies our innate need to procrastinate. Spring will be here soon enough.

I espouse the idea of easing into the New Year. In so doing, we still have an opportunity to examine our lives as far as our priorities are concerned; we can review those times during the past year where we have made a difference in someone else’s life; we can think back with gratitude to the times when our best friends have been available to us in times of need and in times of joy. As important planning for the future is, there is nothing to replace being fully aware of the life we are presently living. Winter is the season when we have the time for this sort of reflection.

A few dos and don’ts for welcoming in the New Year

1. Make is list of all of as many of your short, medium and long-term goals as you can remember. Keep this list handy and revise it as changes occur.

2. Don’t affix arbitrary time lines to these goals. This only produces unnecessary stress. This does not mean accountability is not at play; it is just on an untethered schedule.

3. Make a list of your 2011 accomplishments. Take plenty of time to make this list as complete as possible.

4. Update your address books and contact lists. Make note of those people who have done you a good turn and of those whom you have helped. This list will never be complete because we will never know all the people we have helped if only with a smile.

5. Decide on an organization you will commit time to as a volunteer. Contact them and make a commitment. If you have never done this before, expect some discomfort, but realize that your effort will bring immediate gratification to you and to those people the organization helps. If you have a history of volunteerism in your life, keep it up!

6. Schedule some ‘me’ time. This might include yoga, meditation, time reading a book, time crafting a quilt or creating a painting. Rejuvenation and restoration happens more easily if we can detach from the outside world and enjoy some time alone.

7. Write down one, two, or more potential resolutions. Put this list away for safe keeping until spring arrives. The idea of keeping a resolution through the winter is unrealistic for most of us, so have some compassion for yourself and put this exercise off for a few months. You may be surprised how much easier this plan will be to implement after spring arrives.

Happy New Year everyone. I am looking forward to an exciting 2012. I hope you have good health and happiness. My continued wish is for greater civility and compassion in our families, our communities, and the world in which we live.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Etiquette of Pet Peeves

Let's face it. We all have pet peeves- something that someone else does that irritates the heck out of you. As I have stated on many occasions, one of my biggest is baseball hats worn inside. I was never a fan of baseball hats to begin with, but worn inside they send me round the bend. A man should always remove his hat when indoors. To not do so is a sign of disrespect. The problem is that some people do not understand how to show respect in many cases. Tipping one's hat as one passes someone on the street, especially a woman, does not occur to most men today. It is such an easy way to make a small connection with someone and to make them feel recognized. A smile accompanying a tip of the hat can make someone's day!

One reader has suggested that her greatest pet peeve is someone licking a knife at the table. I must admit, that one hadn't occurred to me, but I can see why it would revolt a fellow diner. Aside from being potentially dangerous, no one wants to watch this act. If they did, a sword swallower at the circus would do the trick. Licking a knife could put someone off because of the imagined danger. At no time is it appropriate to make someone else feel uncomfortable, whether at the dining table or not.

Another reader has suggested that spitting, tossing cigarette butts, or discarding chewing gum on the sidewalk or street annoys him the most. This is another area where a total disregard for respecting public spaces seems de rigueur these days. In some places there are actual signs admonishing such behavior; and in some places this can carry a fine. It is not much of a step away from littering or leaving one's garbage by the side of the road. As stewards of the communities in which we live or visit, we should think about leaving places as clean or cleaner for the next person as it was for us.

One of my pet driving peeves is the arrogant person who is either in a bad mood or simply in a rush who gleefully cuts in and out of on going traffic just to get a vehicle or two ahead particularly at slow moving, crowded rush hours and completely ignores the concept of alternate merge. They somehow feel entitled to keep sticking themselves in front of other vehicles, as though it was going to get them to their destination any faster. This is a form of bullying. It is dangerous, rude, and shows a lack of respect for fellow drivers. It's right up there with horn honking - that monosyllabic form of communication which was originally designed to alert one to danger, not as a non-verbal chastisement. Or the driver who sticks into a street so far that it makes it almost impossible for on coming traffic to continue up the road. Courtesy while driving makes for safer conditions on highways and streets and keeps people in a more alert frame of mind.

A friend this morning mentioned how men should wear jackets if they are going to wear neckties and shirts, especially in church. We discussed the idea that often the interiors of many buildings and halls heat up when filled with people. Although that is true enough, this is not an excuse to take off jackets unless under the most extreme circumstances. I find that many men today are simply not accustomed to wearing a jacket and this extra layer of clothing is viewed as optional. This is an inaccurate assumption. And should you be part of a funeral, such as a pallbearer, your jacket stays on no matter what!

What is it about pet peeves that push our various buttons? Could it be that these are habits that we were taught as children to be taboo? Could it be that we assume that the people who do these things are doing them to be deliberately disrespectful? And are we truly grossed out by behavior that is disgusting, selfish and done without any awareness of others? It is a combination of these factors. And it's interesting how what is one person's pet peeve is another's normal behavior.

Having pet peeves is a way of seeing faults in others. Perhaps we can feel better about ourselves and hopefully avoid doing things that are truly annoying to someone else. Being human beings, we all have frailties and where we often times fall short is in not accepting this as a truth. Being aware of how we influence those around us can be a big step towards this acceptance. Leading by example, which we do both consciously and unconsciously, allows us to teach our children, students and others what we accept as appropriate behavior. Taken as a whole, this amalgamation of behaviors is a true reflection of the society in which we live. It's never too late to do our part to make our communities as healthy and as vibrant as possible by showing respect, civility, and compassion whenever possible. And, it's always possible.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Flexibility is the Key to Good Wedding Etiquette

As a veteran of the hospitality industry, one of the hats which I enjoy wearing the most is that of wedding coordinator. During a recent weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of assisting at two weddings. One was a small casual affair with under 40 guests, with a minimal size bridal party and was held outdoors at the Treadwell Inn overlooking beautiful Saint Andrews harbor. The reception was also held on the premises and the whole event wrapped up in two hours. Everyone had fun, the weather cooperated and the relaxed atmosphere made for a stress free upbeat celebration.

The other wedding was a more structured formal affair performed at the Catholic church. There was a large wedding party including a flock of three ring bearers and five flower girls. There was also a bell ringer, ushers, groomsmen, a best man, and a maid of honor. Suffice it to say that there were a lot of moving parts to this wedding and making sure everyone was in place at the appropriate time and in the right order was a slight challenge. There is never any guarantee when eight small children are leading the procession will go off without a hitch, but they were all so excited to be dressed up and at a wedding that they performed like seasoned professionals.

These two very different weddings shared the common denominator of the need to be flexible to ensure a successful event. I have always been a big proponent of making contingency plans for any event whether it be a wedding or a dinner party. Planning helps avoid unpleasant surprises. It also gives a reassuring air to the whole event. If everyone involved knows where they need to be, when to be there, and how to get there, most unexpected elements are removed.

Weather is a consideration for outdoor weddings. Be sure to have a back up plan. If you have one, the sun will shine; if not, it will pour with rain. Other important considerations arise in direct proportion to the number of logistical details are involved in the event. For example, don't forget the rings or the boutonnieres. These small yet essential articles need to be on a list along with every other thing you can think of.

At the rehearsal, it is really important to remember such things as the length of the train on the bridal gown and how many times it will need to be adjusted. Be sure that pews are reserved for anyone in the family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles and anyone else whom you wish to have special seating.

Weddings are celebrations and incredible shows mostly because of the importance of the event in the couple's lives. They are also legal affairs and therefore there are certain vows which must be exchanged and papers signed. Outside of these firm parameters, there is a lot of leeway as to the rest of the ceremony and the reception. This day belongs to the bride and groom. They should make most of the decisions regarding the details. This is not the purview of the mothers of the bride or groom, nor is unsolicited input from overbearing sisters appropriate. This is not to say that help will not be requested or that some boundaries will need to be respected. This is where the experience of a good wedding planner can come in very handy and be well worth the investment.

There will almost always be last minutes emergencies. Rarely are these impossible to handle but an emergency kit with safety pins, hemming tape, spot remover and tissues will come in handy. The most important ingredient is a calm, cool and collected attitude. This helps to make any event a success. Be prepared to handle unexpected wrinkles and do so with compassion and grace. Let's not forget that we are all human beings and surprises are bound to occur. We aren't perfect, and we hopefully have enough common sense to get us through mishaps. This is a good time to be ready to employ it.

Weddings come in all shapes and sizes. There is no right or wrong way to design them, nor is one style more correct than another. There are guidelines which support an entire industry of weddings. Wedding planners follow more traditional customs and know how to create the dream wedding of in bride's mind.

Respecting the institution of marriage is the cornerstone of any successful ceremony and reception. If a wedding is planned with the same values which make a happy marriage, you're going to be off on the right foot. These values include compassion, respect, and kindness.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Etiquette of Being Right

Lively debates are exciting, provocative and educational interactions which challenge our intellects and enrich our lives. They also test our character and reveal our true inner spirit to those around us. Why just this past week I was engaged in such a debate. I had finally grown weary of the US debt crisis and the media debacle in Britain which dominated and clogged the news channels round the clock. Surprised and mesmerized as so many people seemed to be with these crises, there are others who both saw these events coming and mentally filed them under "this too shall pass".

Thankfully, my trusted British colleague William Hanson coincidentally wrote a blog about the use of the word 'pudding' in England vs. the word 'dessert' used in the US (and most of the rest of the world for that matter). This respite from world events and woes was somehow just the frivolous relief that I needed. I decided to respond to his rather hard line opinion that 'pudding', not 'dessert' is the correct name of the course by politely throwing down the gauntlet. This resulted in an online debate which circled the globe. As with any proper debate, it is the strategy employed that will buoy one side or the other, both sides knowing full well that there is no absolute correct answer at the end of the day. What did impress me was the way in which we went about this intellectual sparring match - politely, humorously and resolutely.

Let's face it, who won this debate is not as interesting (and no, I did not lose) as the dynamics at play. It got me to thinking about how we go about being right in our daily lives and how we get into debates, which we for some reason often times call arguments. Unlike the column I recently wrote about agreeing to disagree and what is involved there, here I want to take a look at actually winning an argument or debate without making the other person feel deflated or completely wrong. Sometimes we do win debates and doing so in a civil way is an important skill, the significance of which seems to have all but evaporated. Going around with a puffed out chest is the sure sign of a bully, not a fair player.

First of all, accept victory gracefully. There is no reason to gloat. Gloating is little more than an attempt to elevate your self worth at the expense of someone else's. Although we do this unawares, we can nonetheless be quite hurtful. Secondly, smirking and making side remarks under one's breathe are rude and disrespectful as well. Grace is all about quiet inner satisfaction and not about broadcasting your triumph boisterously for all to hear. Remember that whatever small victory you may claim, it is more than likely yours alone. Few others will particularly take note as it does not affect them anyway.

One final note about being right. It's all an illusion most of time. Rarely is anything absolute. I recall the song "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye (the father) tries to balance the pros and cons of his daughter's desire to marry in a non-traditional way. This conversation with himself goes back and forth a number of times and in the end no absolute conclusion is reached. Therefore, the debate resulted in a draw. I also recall studying the history of modern man and remember that for many hundreds of years the world was believed to be flat and the earth was the center of the Universe. We humans don't know anywhere near as much as we give ourselves credit for. We are always making new discoveries to disprove theories which have stood the test of time and reason for centuries. This will never change. So just when we think we have the answer and are sitting smugly smiling inwardly that we have scored a victory of sorts, graciousness appears more quickly and we are reminded that being right is a temporary state and we may well be face to face with the flip side of the coin before we know it.

Enjoy the sweet taste of being right no matter how big or small the contest. Tempering this with a heavy pinch of humility shows respect for your opponent and will actually make you feel the simple joy that kindness provides.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Etiquette of the Ideal Traveller

There is nothing that I enjoy more than traveling. I love exploring new places, revisiting favorite haunts and enjoying the company of old friends wherever they may be. Having owned and operated an inn and restaurant for eight years I have also seen the hospitality business from the viewpoint of the proprietor as well as that of a guest.

As I have mentioned before, one of the keys to a successful vacation or even a short visit is to have a plan. There is an increase in the number of travelers who like to "wing it" on the road, and I am all in favor of that. For some people it adds to the suspense and adventure. For others it allows a flexibility which a series of reservation would preclude. A plan, however loose, does help avoid disappointment and nasty surprises. Knowing vaguely where you want to end up for the evening gives you somewhat of a goal to shoot for. Although it is advisable to call ahead at least a day or two for accommodation reservations, walking in unannounced can often lead to a reduced price. If you do have a room booked, one thing to remember, especially when staying at small inns or bed and breakfast establishments, is that often there is no one on duty round the clock. If you are going to be late, call ahead and let someone know. If you must actually cancel at the last minute, expect to pay for your booking anyway. Remember that if a popular in is full and turning away potential guests, a no show is real money out of the innkeeper's pocket.

Well run establishments will often ask you what time you will to arrive or explain that someone will be avvailable to check you in until a certain hour. This enables innkeepers to have appropriate staff on hand and to settle you in to your room. They will also likely ask if you are traveling with pets or small children. Be up front with them. Surprising hosts with extra people in your party is unfair, disrespectful, and likely to lead to disappointment. The old adage 'the guest is always right' does not apply here. Do not assume that there are smoking facilities, that pets (even the most perfectly behaved one which do not shed or bark), or that there are cots or pull out sofas. Even though guests are paying customers, they are not entitled to having unreasonable requests catered to. If you have special needs or requests, by all means discuss them with the manager or host in advance. Most are willing to accommodate guest requirements if at all possible. That is after all what the hospitality business is all about.

One of the benefits of staying in smaller establishments is the fact that the innkeepers are likely to be familiar with local attractions and have eaten at the local restaurants. This makes it possible for them to make considered recommendations to fit your tastes and pocketbook. Larger hotels can tend to rely on temporary staff, especially in resort towns, and may therefore be less familiar with the local attractions. Local businesses will often place brochures and other collateral information about their establishments with the local accommodations. Availing yourself of this information can really assist you when it comes to getting the most out of your visit.

When deciding where to stay in a certain town or region, if you have clear ideas of what you want to see or be near, inquire ahead of time. For example, if you may require a pharmacy or even access to a medical facility, see to it that you will not be in for a surprise. If you are traveling with small children or pets, make sure that whatever services you might anticipate such as a bay sitter or a grooming shop are available. Likewise, if you want to be in a pet free, adults only place, ask about this when you are making your plans. Careful planning can make a real difference.

Good service is also to some degree a function of gratitude. If you are staying somewhere and you like your host, your room, your meal or the service in general, be sure to comment about your experience. Thank you is always appropriate. Innkeepers and their staff really appreciate it when guests show their gratitude. I advise leaving a cash tip in your bedroom for the housekeeper, whomever that person may be. Anywhere from $2 to $5 per night is appropriate. If an accident occurs in your room such as a broken lamp or a stained carpet, let the host know before you leave so that the problem can be addressed quickly. If you approach travel as a two-way street where both the innkeeper and the traveller are in this activity together, your time away from home will be more enjoyable.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Etiquette of the Promise

A handshake is as good as a promise. Well, at least it used to be. I remember when I was a young boy my grandfather explained to me how business deals in the good old days were often concluded with merely a hand shake, which was as good as a signature. It seems that over time the integrity of this informal agreement has sadly all but disappeared. It can be very disheartening for someone who has honorable intentions to be painted with the same broad brush as the unscrupulous. And in our changed world people are skeptical. erring on the side of caution. The verbal promise sealed with a handshake is no longer the acceptable way.

The importance of impressing upon young children why keeping promises is the right thing to do cannot be overstated. I was recently listening to the tale of a small child who had spent all of his allowance on the single purchase of a much-coveted toy and then wanted more allowance for something else. This form of impatience is not unusual to find in small children and is merely their way of expanding boundaries by trying to push limits. However, an allowance by its very definition is designed to be doled out at predictable intervals in predictable amounts of money. This sort of deal must be upheld by both parties and it this interaction which teaches children respect for one another and for one system by which our society operates and remains healthy. You the parent have made the promise of an allowance and the child promises to accept and use the allowance for whatever he chooses. With any luck, we will have learned how this exchange works by the time we reach adolescence. If we haven't we are likely to face some pretty difficult life lessons just when we least expect them.

Most of us were taught as young children that a promise is a promise and that breaking one is a really bad thing to do. Yet most of us have broken at least one promise along the way somewhere, often times because circumstances in our lives have changed in one way or another and we can no longer hold up our end of the deal.

On a cautionary note, I understand that we can be prone to making promises based more on emotion than on good, common sense when we are in a heightened state of emergency than when we are calm, cool and collected. In desperation we will agree to almost anything. In some cases, we can be bullied into agreeing to do something which
we really do not want to do. This is an inappropriate form of making a promise and should be avoided at all costs. The results can be disastrous if taken to the extreme and this ploy needs to be recognized and diffused immediately.

Inevitably we run into a situation where a promise has been broken. In some financial situations, there are legally binding contracts which can be exercised at the discretion of the lender. In other more casual arrangements there is only a verbal agreement. One option for dealing with this unpleasantness is to put the responsibility of clearing the debt in the hands of the borrower. This way, they are making a deal on their own terms and in a way the deal is with themselves as much as it is with the lender. And because a promise has so much power, it it often used as the final bargaining chip when all else has failed. Clearly this can lead to a broken promise, and it can also lead to a broken friendship. People put a lot of stock in one's ability to keep one's word.

There are people whom we come across in person or hear about from others who have a well established reputation for keeping their word. These people we look up to as mentors. There was a time when politicians, media personalities, and sports heroes filled this bill. Sadly, this has all changed. We can no longer believe much of anything a politician says; we can believe little of what we hear or read in main stream media; and sports heros tarnish their reputations with alarming skill and regularity. However, we all know a few people who speak kindly of others, who steer clear of exaggeration, and who have the ability to see both sides of a discussion and weigh the pros and cons thoughtfully. These people help us maintain morality and integrity in our lives.

In Miguel Ruiz's remarkable book, "The Four Agreements", one of the keys is to be true to your word. This cardinal principle is a foundation building block for any relationship, whether it be of a personal nature or a societal one. Think hard before making a promise. It's a big deal!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Traveling with New Acquaintances

Traveling while on vacation is one of my favorite things to do. In preparation for a long summer tourist season, I was lucky enough to take advantage of a kind invitation to visit a favorite vacation spot with some old pals whom I had not seen in years. When I was told that there would be some new guests along on the trip, I was characteristically thrilled. I love meeting new people and making new friends. We were to spend 10 days together, which is more than enough time to decide how the days would best be structured so everyone would be kept amused or as an option have a low key day if so desired. My host and hostess had appropriately arranged all of the meals ahead of time, as well as which days and nights we would be dining out. As I have mentioned before, it is always a good move on the part of the host to "avoid the avoidable", therefore making these plans was smart and reduced the number of decisions to make throughout the stay.

As a guest, I felt that I should at the very least make an effort to make those people whom I had not met as comfortable around me as possible. That does not mean I had any responsibility for their overall level of comfort, but I wanted a convivial atmosphere around me. Luckily for me the three ladies were great additions to our party and any effort required by me was minimal. It was a pleasure to share time with these new acquaintances.

I gave a tour of the property to one guest while the hosts managed with settling in the others. She had never been to this particular place and was captivated by the natural beauty, the sound of the crashing waves and the songs of the island's birds. Noticing land crabs and tortoise were a new experience and having a pal to share that with made a difference to her. Another guest was unaccustomed to the local flavors and by offering to explain the different foods to it her helped us to forge a friendship. The third woman and I had quite a lot in common including longstanding friendships with both host and hostess and we bonded by sharing some safe stories about our mutual friendships, which of course we expanded upon as we gained trust with one another's sense of humor.

Not surprisingly however, little tensions began to arise. As a professional on the subjects of respect and good manners, spotting these small incendiaries before they flared out of control and diffusing negative energy where possible comes somewhat naturally. However, it requires the agreement and participation of all involved to ease any tensions. It is not uncommon for people to argue about politics and religion or any variety of other subjects, but my feeling is that vacations are off limits for unseemly or aggressive discussions. To my way of thinking, making an effort to put other people's feelings ahead of our own goes a long way to ensuring smooth sailing for our time together. This is a basic cardinal rule of etiquette and one which not only makes sense, but requires common sense, a commodity of increasing scarcity in today's frenetic world.

As a guest who is new to the group, your enjoyment and level of happiness can be more elevated if you make an effort not to ruffle any feathers by bringing up provocative subjects and by refraining from making negative comments about the accommodations or food - unless there is a problem such as a malfunctioning toilet or if you have a real food allergy. When placed in such a position myself, I make an effort to find out as much about the other people as possible before I discuss anything which might be sensitive or controversial. By doing this, I can begin to see where we share common interests and views. To some people trying new foods and seeing new sights is considered a real adventure. To others, such experiences can cause uneasiness. Throw a full moon into the mix and you never know what could happen. I find therefore that treading softly is the better part of valor.

I do also try to follow the lead of my host. If he or she indicates that I may be skating on thin ice or that I have unwittingly touched upon a sensitive subject, I take note and retreat to safer ground. Likewise, however, if I notice that a guest is reacting to a comment as a personal criticism which someone has stated in an insensitive manner, I draw the perpetrator aside privately and quietly share with them my observation, of which they may be completely unaware. If I discover they were aware and simply being rude I suggest backing off, for the sake of the group as a whole. Group dynamics are every bit as important to consider when we are traveling as when we are conducting business. It's really as simple as that. The best advice meeting new people and vacationing as a group is to travel lightly and leave the excess baggage at home. Enjoy the time away in a different environment. Bon Voyage!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gum Chewing Etiquette

Every once in a while a reader sends me a note which I feel compelled to share with others. The following is such a note and deals with one of my pet peeves - gum chewing in public, specifically discarding of what I will affectionately refer to as "The used wad".

Dear E.G.,

You may have heard this from others by now, but I must have my say. Why is there a problem with discarding gum? Swallow it! I have been swallowing gum for 60 years. I have chewed real gum, plastic gum (current version),bubble gum, and spruce gum and it has never "stuck up my insides" as we were told. Unless you plan to continue chewing it later, you can swallow gum without fear of it "sticking up your insides". That doesn't happen. Don't believe me? Leave it in your mouth as you eat and note how quickly it disintegrates. If you plan to chew it later, the bedpost is the only place I would accept parking it. Thumbs down to using the handle of your cup, behind your ear, and the seat belt. Thanks for your opinion. P.H.

Dear P. H.

I definitely share your views as far as the discarding of gum in a public place. It is complete and utter laziness and disrespect of others that some gum chewers insist on sticking their used wad in the obvious secret places with great regularity. Most of us are likely guilty of sticking it under a table or chair or I suppose tossing it on the ground. This does not make it any less disgusting. I am not a big fan of chewing gum in public to begin with and whether you choose to swallow it as this reader suggests or simply place it in its wrapper (good reason to save that wrapper too) or other scrap of paper and pitching in a litter bin, the choice is yours. Putting it on your own bedpost is an option I hadn't thought of, but why not!? Thanks for bringing up this sticking point. E.G.

Having said how I feel on the subject, I am well aware of the many benefits of chewing gum. One is its aid as a digestif. Another is assisting people in clearing their ear drums when ascending or descending in an airplane. A third is to help relieve nervous tension. All three of these practical applications can be very private. One does not need to be walking down the street smacking gum and blowing bubbles. It's unacceptable behavior at any age. I have plenty of friends who use gum to help refresh their breath after a meal. I think that's great and can be accomplished in a minute or two quietly and privately.

If gum gets stuck in your hair, or the hair of your child's playmate during a sleepover, a pair of scissors is a quick fix and a remedy which will not soon be forgotten. I am told that lighter fluid or nail polish remover works wonders as well, especially when you are the lucky one to walk right on top of a nice fresh chunk which blended cleverly into the sidewalk where you happened to be walking. If anyone else has any thoughts on this subject, now is a good time to jump right in!

As to swallowing gum, I have never heard any horror stories, therefore I will go along with that approach as well. It reminds me of the story I was always told as a child about swallowing cherry pits. I was told a cherry tree would start to grow out my stomach if I swallow a pit. Imagine how long it took for me try that one on for size? Alas, no cherry tree. I am not a proponent of swallowing any foreign object, of which cherry pits would be one, but I do think that if you are in a jam, we can gulp down a bit of gum without any harm.

The act of chewing gum should remain a private activity. I know of no one who finds it a good look to either see or hear. If you find pleasure in blowing bubbles, find a pal and go off and have your bubble blowing contests in private. Yes, they are fun. We have all gone through that stage. Just watch out that the bubble doesn't burst all over your face and get into your hair. Your whole view of the joys of gum chewing could change in a heartbeat! When finished with gum, wrap it up and throw it away responsibly. You will even feel better than you can imagine with this simple act of sanitary respect.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Etiquette of Friendship

One of life's greatest pleasures for me is traveling. I am really in my element when I see new places and meet new people. I have recently returned from a wonderful trip to England as many of you know. And now, as I type this, I am on Air Canada winging my way south to the magical island of Mustique for a ten day vacation. I admit, I am one very lucky guy. Given the fact that twelve years has passed since my last overseas trip however, I am not feeling even a twinge of guilt. And as it turns out, not so surprisingly, that one of the common denominators which ties these two delightful getaways together is friendship.

On my trip to England I was hosted by one of my most trusted colleagues and closest friends, Britain's youngest etiquette expert, William Hanson. Although we had developed a friendship over the years through correspondence, the opportunity to actually meet face to face can only be chalked up to serendipity. Friends are like that though. We meet some people with whom we form lifetime friendships quite by chance. In fact, most close relationships more than likely form that way.

On my current trip, in contrast, I am be being hosted by a friend of 40 years, but someone whom I haven't seen in over a dozen years. But somehow over the years though, we have remained as close as many brothers and sisters might have done. We have kept up with most, although not all of the major events in one another's lives; and we have acknowledged most birthdays and Christmases, important family milestones, such as births, marriages and deaths. But more importantly we have held each other in our hearts. We have thought of each other often, occasionally picking up the phone or firing off an email just to stay in touch and to say I love you.

Our lives all take paths which veer off in directions which we could never have imagined. Our interests change. Our significant relationships change. We raise families, deal with health issues, both our own and those of loved ones. Yet somehow through the tangled web we weave and call our life, we somehow magically maintain a few very special friendships. We all know who these people are. We know how much they mean to us. Sometimes we might even know how much we mean to them. But without them we both know our lives would simply not be the same.

Personally, I am blessed with a number of great friends. Those whom I am fortunate enough to see only once every few years, if I'm lucky, hold a different place in my mind than those with whom I spend most of my time. There is something different about seeing people everyday. We get used to them and sometimes we might even take our friendships for granted. This shocking thought came to mind recently and I began wondering what is going on here? Do I really not appreciate my everyday friends as much as I might were I not so fortunate to see them all the time? There is the old expression "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Is this what is really happening to me?

The answer for me and for many of you will more than likely be a resounding yes. This sudden awareness sort of woke me up to the whole notion of friendship and how grateful I am to have my friends.

As I began thinking about who my friends really are, where they are, and what they are doing with their busy lives, I realized that that list is really, really important to me. I am not revealing some hidden secret here. We all know exactly what I'm talking about. But like the sudden reminder I just received quite unexpectedly, I hope you are reminded of this in the same way.

Get out that old address book. With any luck, you've jotted down most people in it in pencil, so you can keep current with their addresses and telephone numbers, cell phones, and so forth. As you go through the dog-eared pages, you too will be flooded with a whole host of memories. I hope most of them are great ones. Some will be sad. People inevitably move out of our lives for a variety of reasons. Some even die. But for those who bring a smile to your face and a warm feeling into your heart, experience the real sense of gratitude for having these people in your lives. This is your happiness well. Drink from it often. Never let them go. Reconnect with them, even if it's a quick note or a phone call. And for heaven's sake, tell them you love them and that you are thinking about them. Happiness is a two way street. I hope my friends know who they are. But just in case, I'm going to make sure they do. I encourage you to do the same.