Monday, January 31, 2011

The Etiquette of Roadside Assistance

A couple of weeks ago I was driving along I-95 north through Maine on my way back to Saint Andrews. I was cheerily zipping along during mid morning maintaining my cruising speed of just a hair over the speed limit, passing slower cars and trucks and an old red van. Well, the old red van passed me a short time later with a sign in the window which read "FLAT TIRE". Oblivious to the fact that this was actually happening to me, I pointed to myself, and the passenger holding the sign nodded affirmatively. It was then that I could feel some unsteadiness to the front end of the 2-ton 1995 Oldsmobile Cruiser station wagon. Little had a realized that the old red van contained two of my guardian angels!

Luckily for me, there was an exit in 1 mile. It happened to be for the town of Waterville and within a few yards of the ramp there was an Irving gas station. I knew I would be okay. (For those of you who don't know me personally, I am a liability with a crowbar and tire jack!) Had I been slightly more astute, I would have noticed a GM dealer across the street. But I didn't. When I had parked at the gas station I realized just how lucky I was. The tire was almost shredded, but the wheel was thankfully unaffected.

"Well, we don't change tires here", was the first somewhat unsettling news I received from an otherwise charming attendant. She very kindly assisted me in contacting AAA. I then realized that there was nothing I could do about this interruption of my travel plans and contented myself with watching the frozen customers come and go and wait for the tow truck to arrive, sipping on the 99 cent Monday coffee special.

The day just happened to also be my birthday, my 60th in fact. You can imagine my surprise when a chorus of "Happy Birthday to You" erupted from behind the counter! Wouldn't you know that it was the birthday of an assistant manager there. I couldn't resist saying something, and as a result two total strangers celebrated their birthdays together with a beautiful homemade cake!

Thank heavens that when the tow truck driver arrived he was of a mind to put on the silly donut spare tire rather than tow the car. Apparently one doesn't tow a car with a flat tire - who knew? Those of you who know me personally will not be surprised to hear how I always marvel at the ease with which a tire is changed, except by me. This man moved like a machine, no wasted steps, no wasted time. I was delighted. And with a lovely piece of cake and a donut for a tire I journeyed across the street to the GM dealer. Since they no longer manufacture Oldsmobiles, that name missing from the sign gave me one quick moment of angst; but I thought, "we're only talking tires here".

The dealership took less than an hour to replace my tire - a white wall no less. This afforded me time to catch up on emails and broadcast to my friends about my flat tire experience and how well it was going. Ninety-three dollars later I was on the road back to Saint Andrews.

As someone who spends as much time as possible looking on the bright side of things, I began replaying the movie in my mind of the past 2 1/2 hours discovering the positive affects of what just happened.

First of all, in the midst of a situation that I had no control over, I decided to cut myself some slack. I had no time constraints so why fret about it? I chose to sit back and just see what would happen. I was happily surprised. Things turned out better than I could have imagined let alone orchestrated. Secondly, I made a point of smiling at everyone even when I was feeling a bit stranded and needy. This made me feel better about the whole situation and allowed me to have faith in those who were rescuing me. Finally, I actually allowed myself to enjoy this seeming inconvenience by sharing in a birthday celebration, marveling at the skills of the tow truck driver, and being ever grateful that this whole incident occurred where it did, when it did, and with whom I had the good fortune to share it.

It reminded me of how much simpler life's most challenging moments can be if we just allow them to unfold. Last week I suggested that civility needs to begin at home. Today I am suggesting that good etiquette and kindness begins with you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day

There are several tales that explain the history and origins of Valentine’s Day, a tradition second only to Christmas for sending heartfelt greetings.

Valentine's Day evokes goodness toward our fellow human beings with thoughts surrounded by the reds and pinks of flowers, cards and small tokens of our feelings. It is so very nice to have this time to tell another or several others if we are fortunate enough how much we love them. According to legend the Roman Emperor Claudius may have indirectly responsible for promoting love and marriage and eventually the celebration of Valentines' Day.

The following letter better explains the story of Valentine's Day:

“Let me introduce myself. My name is Valentine. I lived in Rome during the third century. At that time, Rome was ruled by an emperor named Claudius. Claudius decided to have a huge army. Men were expected to volunteer and join the army. Many men just did not want to fight in wars. They did not want to leave their wives and families. Not many men volunteered. This made Claudius furious. He had a crazy idea. He believed that if men were not married, they would concentrate on fighting wars and not think about their loved ones. Claudius decreed that soldiers were not to marry and have families. Young people thought his new law was cruel. I thought it was preposterous! I refused to support the law!

“Did I mention that I was a priest? One of my favorite activities was to marry couples. Even after Emperor Claudius passed his law, I kept on performing marriage ceremonies - secretly, of course. It was really quite exciting. Imagine a small candlelit room with only the bride and groom and myself. We would whisper the words of the ceremony, listening all the while for the steps of soldiers.

“One night, we did hear footsteps. It was frightening! Thank goodness the couple I was marrying escaped in time. I was caught. (Not quite as light on my feet as I used to be, I guess.) I was thrown in jail and told I was to be put to death. “I tried to stay cheerful. And do you know what? Wonderful things happened. Many young people came to the jail to visit me. They threw flowers and notes up to my window. They wanted me to know that they, too, believed in love “One of these young people was the daughter of the prison guard. Her father allowed her to visit me in the cell. Sometimes we would sit and talk for hours. She helped me to keep my spirits up. She agreed that I did the right thing by ignoring the Emperor and going ahead with the secret marriages. On the day I was to die, I left my friend a little note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. I signed it, "Love from your Valentine." “I believe that note started the custom of exchanging love messages on Valentine's Day. It was written on the day I died, February 14, 269. Now, every year on this day, people remember. But most importantly, they think about love and friendship. And when they think of Emperor Claudius, they remember how he tried to stand in the way of love, and they laugh -- because they know that love can't be beaten!”

And yet a third references birds’ mating times:

During the Middle Ages, people in England and France held a popular belief that birds started to look for a mate from February 14.

I love the traditions of Valentine’s Day cards, which are often sent to people in secret with no signature, leaving the person wondering and sometimes hoping who had sent the greeting. Boxes of chocolate are popular ways to express one’s sweet affections for one’s true love. Roses are another way which people have continued to use to demonstrate their devotion. Some people actually go to great lengths to put together rather more thoughtful gifts such as meaningful photo albums. This is also a very popular date to propose marriage. Going out to dinner or a dress up ball are traditions carried out in many places as well.

No matter which tale you want to believe, the thoughts around this special day involve loving others even more than we love ourselves. I enjoy days like this which are thankfully sprinkled throughout the year to remind us, like punctuation marks, that it is other people for whom we really live. If only we could all carry these feeling the whole year round!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Got a wedding in 2011?

As an expert in nearly all social situations, The Etiquette Guy has also been known to double as "The Wedding Guy" while acting as a wedding planner. If you have an upcoming wedding this year in New Brunswick (or elsewhere) it is most certainly worth hiring Jay to ensure your special day runs smoothly & elegantly. From large to small, formal to informal; Jay's expertise covers weddings "soup to nuts".

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Make it a day to remember!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tripping on an Exaggerated Ego

I would like to discuss the etiquette problems that arise when people show disrespect for one another for the purposes of increasing their control and self importance. Good manners and civility fly right out the door when certain egos become involved in insisting on their definition of what is correct for another person. This happens often with married couples and even with close friends. I received the following letter from an old friend of mine which illustrates this point.

Hi Jay,

Maybe you can do a column about people who are always correcting others, especially in public. I have one friend, when if I pronounce something wrong, she jumps in, without a second’s hesitation and corrects me. Or if one little fact is wrong, or if something isn't heard right she chimes right in. I am starting to really dislike her, and get nervous being around people like this. She has always had a hard time holding a job, and this is probably why. Correcting everyone at work is annoying, no doubt. I have another close friend who also does this. When Sarah Palin mispronounced someone’s name in the VP debate, Biden was most gracious and let it slide. What’s wrong with people today?

Gratefully, your friend.

Dear Friend,

I think we can all relate to this one without stretching the imagination too far. This annoying habit and its corollaries revolves around the issues of control. These follow nicely on the heals of last week’s column where I dealt with the troubles that can arise within the arenas of blame and guilt. Good manners and respect for one another show up everywhere. From an etiquette perspective, the really basic rule which is broken any time someone corrects another in public is this: Under no circumstances do you want to diminish the character of another human being in front of other people. This does not mean that a healthy debate is wrong; it means that this cannot be intended as a slight to one person as a means to elevate yourself. This is based on common sense, a quality sadly lacking far too often in today’s ‘civilized’ society. My advice to you is to nail her on it the next time she does it. It will undoubtedly catch her by surprise and she may learn a valuable lesson. She may have had no clue what she actually doing. Just be sure to tell her in private!

Good luck, Jay

Do any of you know people who make the practice of correcting others their preferred way of communication? For me, aside from recognizing how hurtful this can be for those to whom such communication is directed, it alerts me to a general disregard for other people’s opinions. This can be accompanied by impatience, frustration and inflexibility. In the business world, such relationships would wither rather quickly. In social situations, it can prove tiresome. However, there is no denying the spark of true enthusiasm exhibited. Being excited about life and all it holds is a virtue. But this must not take on the persona of always needing to be right at the expense of others.

When I look at my own life, and think of the times I’ve said something I regretted later, it makes me wonder two things. First of all, is this the way I would have expressed myself if I was on a first date, trying to impress someone? Secondly, is this the way I would want to express myself if I were speaking to someone with one week left to live? These are sobering thoughts to which we can all relate. The question arises, why is it that we choose the former way of communicating to the latter? And yes, it is a conscious choice that we all can make every moment of every day.

It is to this part inside of each of us that I direct these musings. If we are to live civilly and genuinely and have respect for ourselves and others, then we must slow down and think about what we are saying and doing. Although unbridled enthusiasm is what created the free world as we know it, there is a need for temperance. And through right speech we avoid being hurtful. Each of us knows that once the words are out of our mouths, the pain that a nasty or uncalled for remark can inflict is extraordinarily difficult to heal.

Before I blurt out “No”, or some equally deflating remark the next time someone speaks, I hope I will begin to learn to wait for a couple of seconds. I hope that I can learn to wait until the other person is finished completing and explaining their idea before I make up my mind whether or not I agree with what is being said. Who knows, I may just learn something. It’s impossible to comprehend what another is saying when my ego is so busy mounting its defense (most often against nothing at all). And my wish for today and for tomorrow is that we all try doing this. Practice civility, it’s contagious!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Equip Your Staff With Etiquette in 2011

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Civility Begins at Home

In the wake of the horrific shootings in Tucson January 9, the US media, as only they can do, have really wound me up by turning this tragic event into somewhat of a Medusa. They have dutifully dissected almost every angle imaginable, as is their manner of reporting. I have listened to arguments and opinions by journalists, politicians and entertainers from all sides. They are bandying around what appears to be a new concept to them - civility. However, in my opinion, they have missed the most important point of their discussion on civility in politics. I'm not sure if they just think civility sounds like a good thing to be talking about; if they actually think they are an authority on the subject; or if they are diving into deep and murky waters where monsters live.

In a nut shell however, civility must begin at home. Only from there it can spread to every aspect of our lives. Without civility at home, there is no chance that we will carry it through the day into all of the arenas of our busy lives. Treating all people with respect and compassion is what civility is all about. Our use of civil behavior is also a crystal clear mirror into our own selves, our souls. We are often times not even civil with ourselves. Protecting our borders, our cultures, and our values to the exclusion of all others is poisoning the very fabric of the society in which we live. This dynamic is not solely an American phenomenon, but appears throughout much of the world.

I listened to one broadcaster on NPR explain that one of our 'esteemed' elected officials declared that there is no place in politics for civility. To my way of thinking, politics is the one place where civility is most needed. The politics I grew up with afforded a platform where healthy debates could take place. Where have all the statesmen gone? The days of choosing between two or more people of integrity in an election have disappeared. Why is it that people with differing opinions cannot have a debate without treating each other as enemies? Is it not possible to disagree about a matter without being disagreeable? We still refer to our elected officials as our political leaders. They are afforded all kinds of privilege. Yet they display such vulgar behavior with their colleagues that one must wonder whether they are even capable of conducting the nation's business. These are the people whom we still hold in high esteem. I wonder why. What's more puzzling is that because we hold these so called leaders in high regard, we deem their behavior as acceptable. Not only is this flawed on many levels, it validates and encourages incivility, and we unwittingly pass these values onto our children, tomorrow's stewards of our fragile planet.

There is a real, almost palpable, need for control over our lives, or at least some part thereof. What we have traditionally held important and worth protecting are our belief systems - political and religious. We cling to these more tightly than ever today. In part I believe it is because we live in such a fast paced world that there is little we can hold onto long enough to achieve that sense of control which we so desperately need. And of our political views, why must we protect them so vigorously? What is it about these beliefs which requires that we raise our voices to decibels unknown just to make our point heard and hopefully agreed with? Could it be that we don't really have the strength of conviction we need to actually believe in our hearts what we think we believe in our heads?

Politicians from both sides of the aisle are equally guilty of the dissolution of civility. In addition, their inappropriate use of language is disparaging. It puts a whole new meaning on 'politically incorrect'. I am unclear as to their true intentions, as they likely are as well, but the messages they proffer carry strong subliminal reminders implying that anyone who disagrees with them is the enemy.

I am not naive enough to realize that political posturing is all a part of the process of free government. But what has happened to reason? Do the politicians truly believe that their constituents don't have the capacity to make informed decisions after hearing responsible arguments from all sides? Perhaps, as with many things in life, they are simply mirroring their own inabilities and feelings of inadequacy. The time has come for all of our elected officials, not just a few of them, to start acting like leaders. With some practice, who knows, they may even become leaders.

Incivility is bullying, plain and simple. Leading by example will show our youth how to behave with respect for others, but only if we make the choice to do just that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A New Years Resolution

The celebrations welcoming the New Year and in fact the new decade in are behind us at last. All of the superstitious acts of tossing change in the streets on the night of New Years Eve, of eating black-eyed peas on New Years Day, of jumping backwards whilst chanting "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit"; all of that is done. Now we can settle down and focus on all of those resolutions we declared in all earnestness just as the ball or the sardine dropped at the stroke of midnight.

For the most part, these resolutions dissolve over a short period of time rarely if ever to be revisited until perhaps next year when we've forgotten about them. One of the reasons for this is their sheer impracticality. Although shooting for the stars is not to be dismissed as foolhardy in some instances, when it comes to making any changes to one's daily routine, it's best to aim low. Keep the pressure as light as possible. Set any goal at an easily attainable level. You have a much better chance of exceeding your expectations if you do. One way to reduce the stress is to break the goal down into manageable, realistic parts. An even more successful way to keep your resolution is to be sure that it came from your heart and not just your head. In other words, don't pick a goal just because you think it sounds like a good idea; choose the objective because it really matters to you, right down to your core. This can take some time to discover. It usually requires some quiet "me" time without distractions. When you finally decide on your resolution, you are in a much stronger position to achieve it and it will make you feel great!

Setting goals for the coming year or coming decade for that matter can be a lot of fun and an easy way to stay accountable to yourself. Dividing projects into short, medium and long ranges helps to set up a way for you to tackle things one at a time. This actually gives you a greater degree of control over your life, which is something we all usually want more of. Meeting short term goals is the easiest. Establishing a habit of meeting these goals is a sure fire way of increasing self esteem. And that gives you greater confidence in both business and social circles.

Helping children to understand what New Years resolutions are all about and how to approach these goals in an appropriate way is a great gift to them. Some decisions kids may be considering may be unhealthy or unsafe for them. Helping them to make informed decisions is a wonderful parenting skill. Kids learn most by example and what better way to teach them about goal setting than by setting and achieving some yourself?

One of the most difficult problems with New Years resolutions is the time of year in which they are made. Winter, especially near the holidays, is not only stressful, but it is also a time of rest. I find that whilst making resolutions at the beginning of the year is a fine idea, executing them is usually best put off until spring, a time of year where rebirth and rejuvenation are part of the natural order of things.

This gives us plenty of time to ponder our goals for the coming year. Some we will choose to begin right away. Those are the ones about which we have the most passion about. Those are the ones which come from our heart. Determining the timing to put into practice any resolution is a key element to succeeding at our goals. Whatever our intentions are let's resolve them with patience and careful thought. Furthermore, if you decide to do something, then do not do it, do not chastise yourself - have compassion.

One thought to remember is that how we do what we do is an expression of who we are. This is how people perceive us. It can take the blink of an eye for us to make an impression. By taking the time to think about how we feel in our hearts before blurting out what pops into our heads, we stand a good chance of being kinder and happier people. This is my idea of a wonderful New Year's resolution, and a pretty easy one too.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

Travelling South during the Winter Months

Winter travel is always more challenging than travel during the warmer months. There are several challenges which many of us face while traveling now and I would like to make a few observations gleaned from our recent trip to New Orleans.

Booking tickets can be a challenge. Although the online booking agencies try their hardest to make it as easy as possible, when travelling together with friends make sure to book all tickets at the same time and for the same price. Otherwise, your seat selections can be compromised. Normally this can be rectified at the gate, but in the case of full flights, there is no guarantee of this. Curb side check in agents cannot assist you in rebooking seat assignments. It is by far the fastest way to check in however and in our case only cost us $2 per bag extra. Once through security, proceed right to the gate and ask an agent to help you. They are very pleasant and happy to assist. Remember that the exit rows can be requested and usually proved a bit more leg room, although sometimes the seat backs do not recline. I find that a pleasant non-demanding tone and a warm friendly smile go a long way in getting what you want as they make the airline employees feel valued.

Packing for a trip to a warm climate has its challenges at this time of year because even some of the warmest climates can have cold snaps. This usually entails packing more than you really need so that you don’t get ‘caught in the cold’. Carry on luggage presents its own set of protocol which many people feel they can ignore. You would think that a lot of people had never flown anywhere before and do not understand that there really is a limit to the overhead space allotted to each passenger. Try to be courteous to those around you and use your own space, not the space of three people. When moving through the aisles, which get narrower which each aircraft redesign, be mindful of people you are passing especially if you need to turn sideways. You may have forgotten you have two feet of back pack ready to unwittingly whack someone in the head. Even if you are travelling somewhere with guaranteed warm weather, such as the Caribbean, you will need to have a heavy winter jacket and sweater with you boarding the plane. Remember just how much space those take up and plan accordingly. You can cram a certain amount under the seat in front of you but on long flights that can really restrict you ability to flex your legs.

Clearing security is a post 9/11 necessary evil. I don’t the universal law that covers this, but if you leave yourself plenty of time for this, there will likely be a short line or no line at all. If you are short on time, the line will long and you may well miss your flight. Be sure to know the rules before you arrive at the airport. This will save you time and a lot of aggravation. Having a short temper with a security guard will do you no favors. They have relaxed the ridiculous 3 ounces of shampoo and other liquids rule, but you still cannot have your favorite cork screw or Swiss Army knife. You still need to remove your shoes – so wear a type which slips off and on easily. Although you don’t need to turn your laptop on, you still must remove it from its carrying case. Your pockets must be emptied and your jacket must be removed. All of these steps time, and when done quickly and efficiently will help insure that you have a stress free experience and that those around you will as will. Practicing this shows that you have respect for other passengers.

Eating on planes today almost certainly requires bringing on your own food. Be courteous and resist smelly fried foods. Some people have queasy stomachs when flying and you are doing them no favors. No one in fact appreciates their space being invaded. It is not any different than wearing overpowering cologne. Many people have allergies to scents and to food. Think about how other people may feel about your disrespectful behavior.

Finally, be sure to check for flight delays and cancellations as close to when you are leaving your house as possible. This holiday season saw more than its fair share of travel interruptions which can result in unwanted overnight stays in the airport terminal where food can run short and patience can run out. Keeping your calm will be a great benefit to yourself and to those around you. Remember that you’re all in the same situation.

Travelling during the winter months has its challenges. As at all times, your pleasure will be greatly enhanced by being respectful of all travelers.