Monday, February 28, 2011

A Mixed Bag of Etiquette

There seem to be an endless number of questions which come across my desk asking quite a wide range of etiquette questions every week. This week there were questions inquiring about the wearing of hats, eating with long gloves on, and the use of annoying words.

I have a real thing about wearing hats. I love wearing hats. Although I don’t actually wear baseball caps, I do remember when this modern day fad was born. I was so surprised when this fashion statement swept over golf courses and tennis courts and has remained firmly planted unlike so many other passing fancies like ‘tennis whites’ or ‘knickers’. In the summer time some hats can be quite sporting, others protect you from the sun’s harmful rays and others keep your hair from blinding you as you sail or ride. In the winter, hats are great protectors against the cold and wind. There are rules of etiquette about wearing hats. These are some of the most ignored of all etiquette rules, but at some point in time we are all generally glad we learned them.

For women, traditionally hats were worn indoors only at luncheons or in a church. Today, women do not wear hats indoors at lunch, but do continue to wear them in church. Men remove their hats when entering any building – any building, that is, except a sports stadium. Hats are otherwise relegated to the great outdoors. People, particularly the male of the species who do not remove their hats indoors are ill mannered and are only expressing disrespect for themselves and others. I’ve never really understood the whole ‘hat thing’ as indoor apparel. It’s sloppy and falls in line with ‘grunge wear’, those baggy low slung jeans whose popularity will hopefully be short lived.

The question of wearing long gloves while dining sent me through a mass of etiquette books and telephone calls to friends whose memories might stretch back far enough to recall what one does and doesn’t do. After some very funny exchanges, the final word is that long gloves are not to be worn while eating. They would have been removed in the old days and stashed away with your specs and fan in your handbag. Today they can be stashed or simply laid across your lap beneath your napkin. If the truth be told, it is a rare party indeed where long gloves are worn.

I find the subject of annoying words to be an important one, perhaps even more important than long gloves and hats. Speech coaches are constantly battling the ums, ohs, uhs, throat clearings and the like which can be distracting. These are habits which people who have a life of speaking in public need to overcome. Some do so and some unfortunately carry these with them throughout their whole careers.

Then there is a family of words such as ‘like’, ya know, like um, well and so’ and any number of expletives which make up fully half of some people’s spoken vocabularies. These words are what I call ‘nervous’ words. They just come out; they are used for space fillers while other words, words which actually convey thoughts, are found; or they are used as words of emphasis. They are generally harmless, yet distracting, and are gainfully employed without malice.

And then there is the kind of word which I want to focus on briefly here - the incredibly rude word ‘whatever’. This word is used as a total dismissal of anything and everything the other party is saying. It is in fact a cop out. It is a way of saying, “I can’t be bothered responding intelligently, so I’ll just end this conversation now.” It translates, among other things into ‘fine’, ‘it doesn’t matter’, ‘who cares anyway’, ‘don’t waste my time’ and any number of other intentionally hurtful remarks. This is where the rub comes for me – intent. It is the expressed intention of the speaker to belittle the other person, be it your friend, your mother or sadly even yourself. It is the kind of word which evokes anger in other people and justifiably so. No one likes to be, as they say today, dissed, an apt shortened verb meaning dismissed. How one receives such a word can often have far more power than the actual intention with which it was spoken. For this reason, it is a word and a form of communication which can be easily changed. Parents, teachers, colleagues, siblings and friends need to call people on this one. Not doing so perpetuates
what will never be a complimentary remark. Can you imagine saying that to your boss? You’d be looking for another job in no time flat. My friends, it’s not okay to say it to anyone! Showing respect for others will not let you down. By avoiding hurtful words and expressions, you reinforce the respect I hope you have for yourselves and others.