Sunday, July 31, 2011

Private Parking Sign for Jay Remer (And You Too)

On Twitter I follow a gent named Jay Remer. Earlier this week Jay tweeted that someone parked in his private spot -- and if memory serves, the offender even took a nap in the driver's seat. Today Jay asked if anyone had ideas for a "private parking" sign. This is my suggestion. Jay, and anyone else who struggles with this problem, should feel free to use this sign.

Signs that yell NO PARKING or NO TRESPASSING seem confrontational, and might even egg on an offender who has something to prove. But our sign gets the point across without pounding its chest. Humor succeeds where yelling fails.

Talking About the Weather

Not to be rude, but I'm tired of talking about the weather. Yes, it's awful. But this scorching Chicago heat is like that perpetual feeling of failure that shrouds your every movement and constantly runs in the background like a humming air conditioner: talking about it only makes it worse.

If you feel the same, feel free to print out this handy sign to hang outside your cubicle or present to well-meaning strangers. Heck, it'd even make a swell t-shirt, in my humble opinion.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Illegal Dumping All the Rage in Bucktown

Here's the vista from my bedroom window:

The three-sided brick enclosure houses the dumpster for our building. To the far left of the photo you'll notice a row of blue trash cans, as well as a green dumpster just inside the alley. These receptacles belong to our neighbors. Now look between that green dumpster and the adjacent blue can.

See that box-spring and mattress? Well, that's not where they were this morning when I looked outside the bedroom window. No indeed.

Be forewarned, gentle reader, what follows is a tale of illegal-dumping horror that will make you shake in your social-contract-abiding boots!

OK, so I look out the window this morning and see a pick-up truck idling in the alley, its bed laden with furniture. A man in his fifties with a fine beard and belly stood outside the vehicle. And against the left side of the brick enclosure, someone had propped a mattress.

You see, illegal dumping is all the rage on my block, with the enclosure serving as preferred hotspot. For some reason, neighbors just can't get enough of using storage space they don't pay for. Unopened beer bottles, tree trimmings, construction materials, intact cardboard boxes (the offenders don't even have the shame to remove the shipping addresses) -- you name it, it makes it way into the enclosure.

I'm not the biggest fan of this trend, to say the least. To say the most, it makes me want to chop off the perpetuators' hands and hang them from the ledge of the enclosure as warning to all.

Things get particularly bad whenever neighbors move in or out. So this morning, when I saw said furniture-laden truck and propped mattress, I deduced that such shenanigans were once more afoot.

With the preternatural agility of an accounts-receivable clerk, I slowly turned my head to the left so to look at the neighbors' rear stairwell, like so:

Sure enough, two young men soon emerged carrying the box-spring. Unlocking the bedroom door and carefully noting the uptick of adrenaline in my system, I waited for the men to make their way down to the alley, where they propped the box-spring next to the mattress. At this point I stepped out onto the terrace and addressed them.


"Good morning," one of them said, looking up.

"That does not go there."


I pointed to the box-spring and mattress. "Are you throwing that away?"

"Yeah." (Please note my use of italics here indicates an attitudinal shift -- and not in the direction of "a warm benevolence toward all god's creation.")

"That's our dumping area. Your dumping area is over there."

"No problem at all," the man said, laying on the magnanimity nice and thick. "It's just that there's way more room over here."

Throughout the day I've puzzled over that statement: "It's just that there's way more room over here." Did he think that he was doing the community a service by dumping his trash on someone else's property simply because that property contained more room than his own? I'm open to this possibility, but I can't get my head around it. Can someone can explain it to me? Please?

I've heard a lot about first-world problems lately. Yes, I have a house to live in. Yes, I have a dumpster in which to store my trash. Yes, the fact that I have trash indicates that I have food and non-essential items, from which I generate waste. No, this isn't on par with a fly-swarmed infant starving to death. But if manners are the petty sacrifices that we make in order to live with others, incivility consists of our refusal to make such petty sacrifices, like not dumping trash on a neighbor's property.

My question -- besides what on earth the spaciousness of the enclosure has to do with anything -- is this: Does the illegal dumping of the bedding owe to the young men's malevolence or unawareness? Are these guys sleepwalking through their lives unaware that they're bumping into others, or are they just jerks? As you can see in the photos, the bedding fits just fine on their property, so why the decision to dump it on ours?

Does incivility as a whole owe more to unawareness or intentional dickheadedness? Is one more easily addressed than the other?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Get Out of Jury Duty: My Close Brush With Civic Responsibility

You know, all that time I lived on the margins of society as a moral degenerate, nobody ever asked me to serve on a jury. But you shape up, get a job and start paying taxes for a few years, and this is what happens.

As soon as I received the summons, I began plotting ways to escape the selection process and thereby get out of jury duty. Here's what I came up with:

Of course, this isn't the attitude one should have. A Google search for "jury duty etiquette" returns a top result from a site called the Etiquetteer. Turns out the man who calls himself the Etiquetteer (Robert B. Dimmick) wrote a column in which he expressed his vexation with people like me, who attempt to squirm free from what he terms "our duties as citizens." In response to that column, a "webmistresses" wrote the 'Quetteer to say this:
Jury duty is one of those topics that compels me to write. It always, always distresses me when people joke about trying to skip jury duty. I have been called for jury duty more than anyone I know, and have yet actually to be a juror ... 
But I want to be a juror. I would be a good juror, and pay attention. I think our legal system - flawed though it may be - is an important part of what America the nation is ... And if anyone around me ever speaks of trying to get off, I lecture them with every ounce of indignation I feel ... I want to be a juror. And I will, some day, I am sure.
I'm not sold on the idea of civics and civility being one and the same, or that they even necessarily overlap in to an appreciable extent. I'm more interested in how people treat each other in passing on the street; the machinations of political and judicial systems do not interest me. And actively participating in such a system appeals to me only slightly more than the prospect of having someone sit astride my chest, pinning me to the floor, and smashing my teeth to bits with a claw hammer. (This is my fourth big life fear; I forgot to mention it in my post on human reproduction.)

But as far as serving on a jury, if not me, then who? Guys like this?

Oh, right -- but how did I actually get out of jury duty? Well, last night I called the number listed on the summons, at which point a recorded voice freed me from my obligation, as the first letter of my last name does not fall within the B-D range. Apart from that, I guess you just have to show up, tell the truth and hope for the best, whatever that might be.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The "Rules for a Modern Gentleman" App: Dolce & Gabbana, Gang Rape and Etiquette

Lots of companies are offering etiquette apps these days. Back in January my post on the Condé Nast Traveler's app included this Chicago-minded cartoon:

Similar apps have popped up since then, though none more awesome that the Etiquette Checker, which measures both halitosis and blood-alcohol content.

Now comes the Rules for a Modern Gentleman App, courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana. Compiled by GQ UK editor Dylan Jones, the app breaks down contemporary masculine gentility into three sections: etiquette, style, and grooming -- with advice for each.

According to the ReallyRee blog
The Rules for a Modern Gentleman App is inspired by the Dolce and Gabbana - The One Fragrance. "A scent for the man who is courteous, considered, and with an instinctive feel for chivalry."
Courteous, considerate and chivalrous. You mean like these guys?

Or these?

Granted, the nude gentleman in the bottom photo doesn't appear distressed, so maybe this little scene unfolded with his enthusiastic consent in a bathhouse, where I'm sure everyone practiced their best SOPV etiquette. But gang rape as depicted (or suggested) by the first ad leaves a lot to be desired in terms of chivalry. Although, I do wonder whether the topic of gang rape is covered by the app itself? For instance, do men who follow the Dolce & Gabbana lifestyle follow an etiquette for how quickly one should pay back his friend for fronting the evening's supply of Rohypnol?

Regardless of Dolce & Gabbana's track record regarding non-consensual group sex, we don't need any more formalized rules about behavior. And if we did, we wouldn't need them handed down to us from fashion houses. There's a reason why so many self-proclaimed "etiquette experts" work as image consultants: the notion of proper behavior remains tied up with luxury lifestyles (as a proxy for aristocracy), which are all about image. 

Perhaps I should hang a shingle proclaiming myself the world's first substance consultant. I won't tell you how to set a table because such rules are, with rare exception, arbitrary and pointless, but I will teach you how to listen to the other dinner guests. Etiquette is so 2010. Paying attention is where it's at, and those who get ahead of the trend will inherit the kingdom of heaven. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bad Parenting: Loaded Diaper Litter

This is a photo of a loaded diaper. More specifically, this is a photo of a loaded diaper littered on a restroom floor. More specificallyer, this is a photo of a loaded diaper littered on a restroom floor in the Regal Cinemas Lincolnshire 20 and Imax, located at 300 Parkway Drive in scenic Lincolnshire, Illinois.

The Regal is the theater I started going to for early-morning weekend movies (like yesterday's 10:10am showing of Captain America), after I swore off movies in Chicago because, I thought, people who go to movies in the city are heathens.

Turns out, people are people.

It's worth noting that there are no trash cans in this restroom. Nope, there's not a single, solitary waste receptacle to be found. For that kind of thing you'd have to walk upwards of 30 feet! Can you imagine?

This is a shot of the restroom from the doorway. The loaded diaper was left directly on the other side of the baby-changing area. 

I took this photo from the restroom doorway facing out into the concessions area of the theater. You'll notice a trash can in the middle of the frame, near the attractive redhead.

Maybe my estimate of 30 feet is off. I don't know, I have terrible depth perception and have never been good at math. But for crying out loud, regardless of whether dad was headed to watch a movie or the parking lot, there was a trash can on the way. Instead, he left the chore of disposing of his child's excrement to someone else, someone who had absolutely nothing to do with knocking up the mother.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Women Fight on NYC Subway Over Seat or Stroller or Something

Say what you want, but moms has a real nice flow. Notice the lilting cadence around the :31 mark: "Real rude bitch / Real fuckin' rude bitch." And unlike so many of these flash mommy rappers, this is one negligent parent who isn't afraid to back up the talk with a beatdown, even while her stroller rolls out the door, baby and all.

For whatever reason, CBS New York ran the headline, "Stunned Straphangers Look On As Women Brawl Over Seat On L Train In Brooklyn." But nowhere does the article mention the fight starting over a seating dispute.

Granted, the woman in white probably didn't care for having an unfolded stroller situated directly in front of her feet by an oblivious parent. The mother reacts as though responding to criticism from the other woman. So it makes sense that the woman in white took exception to the intrusion of personal space and said something. Of course that could be completely wrong, but this looks like another example of what happens when people feel taken hostage by incivility and strike out. It's like the NYC subway spaghetti incident, just with less pasta and more freerolling infants.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mexican Drug Cartel Etiquette


A Mexican drug cartel has published an etiquette guide. -- as in the Houston Chronicle  -- published the AP story today. The writers point out that high etiquette standards among cartels is nothing new. One could even argue that outlaws depend on etiquette more than anyone else. Without laws or prevailing decency standards to guide conduct, social-deviant groups develop their own rules of engagement, the violation of which can be severe. In his book A Short History of Rudeness, Mark Caldwell adds that social outcasts are keenly sensitive to slights, which reinforces the need for strict adherence to etiquette.

But the Knights Templar of Michoacan apparently have loftier ambitions for their etiquette guide. Experts suggest that by portraying themselves as chivalrous defenders of the people, they intend to win popular support, much like Colombian cartels did in the 1990s.

Once readers heard about the 22-page booklet, they decided to contribute their own ideas for drug-cartel etiquette, including this gem:
When commandeering a child as a drug mule, the following guidelines should be followed:
1) Ask the family’s permission before taking the child, being sure to say “please."
2) If the family resists, threaten to kill another, non-viable family member such as a grandparent or aunt.
For the AP story, click here. For reader suggestions, click here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

No Children

I have three main fears in life. One is that I'll end up in prison. I wouldn't mind the solitude, but the repeated anal raping would really bum me out. The second fear is that (1) a great white shark lives under my bedroom floor, (2) that the floor turns into water as soon as I flick off the light switch at night, and (3) that my bed functions as a life raft and is the only thing keeping me from me getting turned into chum.

(This second fear owes to me growing up not allowed to watch any movies with a rating stronger than G, and then having Jaws unleashed on me at a friend's sleepover to celebrate his eighth birthday.)

My last and final fear is of having children. I hosted more than one Period Party in college, and the aversion remains to this day. Now, as I've mentioned before, this site's most avid supporters are either moms or expecting. One of these ladies is also a Facebook friend, and when I see her posts about going to Movies in the Park or just running around town with her daughter, I'm always impressed with the respect that she shows her kid, and how the two of them seem to really enjoy one another's company. She makes parenting look easy. Of course I only see the Facebook stuff, but still.

If I had a kid and posted on Facebook about our exploits, it would most likely go something like this:
Jerome lost his first baby tooth today. Monica wants to do the tooth fairy thing but I'm afraid that leading him to believe in a supernatural being will make him more susceptible to religious myths -- and thus easy prey for the soul-crushing guilt and self-hatred that religions engender -- while simultaneously paving the way for him to resent me later in life when he learns that the tooth fairy isn't real. Also, I'm worried that giving him money for a tooth will train him to associate money with reward, while also prompting the development of a commodity fetishization with regard to his own body, perhaps planting in his fertile young psyche the bitter seeds that will later blossom into the twisted tree of male prostitution.
Of course I would never really be able to share that on Facebook; it far exceeds the 420-character limit.

One day towards the end of his life, my dad asked me whether I planned to ever have kids. I said something to the extent of, "I could never live with myself knowing I was responsible for someone else going through this." To which he said, "That's the wisest thing I've ever heard you say."

This would go down as one of our more upbeat conversations.

"The wisest thing I've ever heard you say." And that coming from a man with 10 kids (having sired nine of his own, with a stepchild thrown in), of which I was the baby.

I knew even then that bringing another soul into this world comes with awesome responsibility, including a two-decade minimum obligation for financial support and close nurturing. I would be responsible for how the child learns to deal with life. I would set the example for learning methods and coping strategies. Jerome would learn to respond to the sound of a closed dumpster lid by sprinting to the window and finger-scissoring two slats of the Venetian blinds to glare out to see if it was the neighbors again -- those resource-thieving, bastard neighbors. Jerome would learn how to nurse revenge fantasies throughout 90 minutes of backbending yoga, and to scarf down food without ever tasting. And one night, riding home from a Little League game, Jerome would sit in the passenger seat and look out the cracked window. With the quiet panic of sweet summer-night air opening up within him his first dread pangs of self-realization, little Jerome would stare at whizzing street signs blurred past recognition, and silently wonder what the plan was, and why I refused to tell him.

I would be the blind leading the blind.

And so, self-satisfied parent, when you ask, "When are you and Monica going to start having," we're not. Whenever I get asked this idiotic question, I always want to ask the parent in return, "Why did you, exactly, make the conscious decision to have children?" I never do, because I'm too polite. But it seems to me, whether I'm getting bullied off a sidewalk with a stroller in Bucktown or watching babies with their babies in Avondale, that maybe the world and its seven-billion-and-counting population could use a little more honest self-appraisals from prospective parents. Failing that, we can only hope that we end up with more moms like my pals Jennifer and Amber. (But if the next Movie in the Park is Jaws, maybe just skip that one.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Etiquette of Faking Your Own Death

On Friday the Washington Post published a great article by Paul Farhi on "death" etiquette for Civil War reenactors. The author does well managing an embarrassment of riches in terms of quotes like this one:
“No one wants to drive hours on end to go to an event and then march out onto the field, fire several rounds and then take a hit and lay on the field for the rest of the battle,” said Michael Cheaves, who reenacts with the 1st Tennessee Cavalry in Jefferson City. “It kind of defeats the purpose.”
Unfortunately, this kind of attitude often results in reenactors refusing to fall when directly fired at. But that's no worse than the folks who, anxious to turn in the best death ever, drop too soon. And don't even get the die-hards started about the fallen soldiers who break out smartphones to record footage of the ongoing battle.

In his book Choosing Civility, P.M. Forni includes this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "There is always a best way of doing everything, if it be to boil an egg. Manners are the happy way of doing things ..." True for Ralph then, and still true for the 10,000 reenactors who gathered in Virginia this weekend to see who could best mimic the bloating stage of corpse decomposition.

Really interesting stuff ; do check out the article.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Laundry Room Etiquette Signs

If she hadn't needed to wash clothes, Rosemary Woodhouse would have never gone down to the basement of her apartment building. In that case, she wouldn't have befriended her neighbor Terry Gionoffrio. Terry would have then died tragically without Rosemary and her husband making the acquaintance of Roman and Minnie Castevet, which would have rendered highly unlikely all the rest of it -- namely, Rosemary eating sedative-laced chocolate mousse and conceiving the devil's spawn after having non-consensual, unholy communion with Lucifer himself. 

Such is the power of a laundry room.

"Whatever," I hear you mutter, "that's just what happened in Rosemary's Baby, and movies aren't real life. Laundry rooms just aren't that important." 

Oh, really? You want to talk about "real life" now? OK, hotshot, how about Penthouse Forum letters? Is that real enough for you? Hardworking, everyday Americans writing about experiences they never thought were possible until they actually happened. Read any five of these studies in objective, naturalistic prose and I guarantee you that at least one transpired in a laundry room. Most likely late on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday night. A few hours after the female narrator was stood up on a blind date and -- after slipping into a pair of cut-offs and that old gray tank top -- decided to at least do something productive. So with laundry basket tucked under arm, she ventured down to the basement where (much to her surprise) she saw a strapping young man sitting between two rows of washing machines, wearing nothing but a pair of tighty whities, presumably because he was making the most of his laundry money. As she stepped back behind the doorway to secretly survey the smooth, taut muscles that stood out in stark relief on his athletic frame, she could hear a rickety old washing machine thumping hard against the concrete floor -- over and over -- while a solitary dryer buzzed like a bee poised above a dew-laden flower stretched wide to receive the raw sting of nature.

Point being: laundry rooms bring people together. And whenever people come together, we need rules of engagement, gentle reminders of the parameters of our interactions based on location, group objectives, etc.

On Tuesday, Suzanne Nourse from the Protocol School of Ottawa posted about just such gentle reminders. Suzanne listed a number of examples: "No shoes, no service," "Children at play," etc, Almost every entry on her list most usually conveys its message via a physical sign, like this one, which happens to be Suzanne's favorite gentle reminder:

As any seppo motoring through the Outback can tell you, signs can be quite helpful. But if you get too many signs in any one place, the messages become an incoherent jumble that fails to convey information. Depending on the number of messages, the situation can arrive at visual pollution. 

Here's the scene in the laundry room where Incivilian reader Tristan adds suds to his duds:

As Tristan explains:
The laundry room in my apartment complex is a hotbed of mostly homemade etiquette guides … Although the signs are helpful in establishing ground rules, I think that because our complex is small (less than 12 tenants), we all know each other and tend to be more considerate as a result ... I think the lesson is that familiarity breeds consideration with respect to laundry rooms. I've had trouble in large complexes that lack a sense of community, but rarely in smaller ones where everyone has a stake in the overall happiness of the group.
Our man finishes by saying:
Signs like these tend to add to the clutter of information in our environment, rather than increasing our commitment to civil behavior. Instead of a multitude of little, handwritten signs, it might be more direct and comprehensive to put up one large sign that says BE AWARE OF OTHERS.
This fits into my etiquette / manners distinction. By paying attention to what they're doing, Tristan's neighbors could discover for themselves the exact duration of wash cycles -- and everyone should already know not to leave clothes unattended. All that stuff can be grasped simply by paying attention, and thus fits within the realm of manners. But there's no way for someone new to Tristan's building to know the consequences of forcing open dryer doors, or how much soap is too much. So that kind of information is indeed helpful. Unfortunately, the way it's presented doesn't exactly suck people in.

Regardless, Tristan nailed it with that last bit. We need fewer rules (etiquette) and more awareness (manners). His idea for the sign is a great one. My humble attempt prefaced this post.

Do you all have similar notes in the common areas of your buildings? Are they helpful? Whenever you watch Rosemary's Baby, do you, like me, always think how "All Them Witches" would make a great band name?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Public Breastfeeding Etiquette (NSFW-ish)

A Carnegie Mellon faculty member and public-breastfeeding advocate (or "lactivist") hopes to get $10,000 via Kickstarter to launch the Milk Truck, which CNET describes as "an on-call mobile breastfeeding vehicle."

The vehicle doesn't sell milk, thereby missing a trend. Instead, it offers a comfortable, shaded area for mothers to nurse. But this is no place to hide. On the contrary, the vehicle attracts attention to its breastfeeding clientele. If a shopkeeper asks a nursing mother to cover up or leave, she can contact the Milk Truck, which will park outside the establishment and thereby take a stand for public breastfeeding. Here's an image from the Kickstarter page:

Before I get into this, let me just say that I understand that public breastfeeding is wonderful and anyone who opposes it is a philistine. Some of my best friends are breastfeeding mothers. Well, two of this site's most loyal readers are moms, anyway. OK, so one is a mother and the other is expecting.

Clearly, I'm a breastfeeding expert. For what very little it's worth, I do not think that public breastfeeding should be outlawed or even discouraged. Hungry infants need food pronto. Understood.

But could we please stop with the argument that public breastfeeding is good because the act of nursing and breasts themselves are "natural"? Throughout all the debate that's risen in the sour, weird wake of the Milk Truck story, I've seen the "natural" defense more than any other. And it's completely disingenuous.

Yes, breasts are 100% natural. No doubt about it. Here are a few other things that are completely natural:

All these things are every bit as natural as breasts, but I don't want to see any of them on my doorstep when I head outside first thing in the morning. (Truth be told, I don't want to see a cranky Wilford Brimley in any setting.) In American society, breasts are explicitly sexual. Maybe that's wrong. Maybe that shouldn't be the case. But it is. In our culture we also reserve the sexual for private environments, with the exception of public venues where everyone agrees that sexual components will be visible, if not on display.

If anyone should know that breasts are sexual, it's the people who have them attached to their bodies. So it comes across as really underhanded to hear our breast-having friends lecturing their breastless counterparts to "get over it," that is to say, undo centuries of cultural programming as if hitting a switch. "Get over it" seems especially flip considering that the breast-having folks are part of the same culture as the breastless, and thus understand how deeply the identification of breasts as sexual components goes.

I don't know if it's possible to see a mother breastfeeding and disconnect "sexual" from "natural" (as if the two things are, or ever should be, mutually exclusive) based simply on the context of feeding a child. Which isn't to say that breastfeeding is hot, although I'm sure no shortage of fetish sites would argue otherwise. It isn't hot. At all. It's matter out of place, which makes it highly confusing and therefore "unsafe." But it's not just any matter; it's sexual matter, which comes ... (2009 buzzword alert) … freighted with extreme power. So the idea that people should -- or even can -- override their hardwiring via an abstract idea ("Breastfeeding is natural") isn't realistic. Again, this isn't to say that people who object to public breastfeeding are correct, just that there is a legitimate reason for their aversion.

Below we have a photo of Sheyla Hershey. Sheyla, like untold thousands of American women, has had breast-enhancement surgery. But Sheyla didn't settle for just one such surgery. She's had lots of them, and risked her life in the process. Why? Not because she wants to look sexier. That's absurd. No one ever gets breast enhancement to look sexier. After all, we know that breasts might be a lot of things, but sexual is not one of them. No, breasts are natural -- a fact that Sheyla recognizes. She wants larger breasts only because she wants to look more natural. As you can see, she's succeeded. She looks very, very natural.

Photo (NSFW, believe it or not)

When mothers bristle at the idea of being forced to breastfeed in public restrooms or even designated nursing rooms, I get it. But when their stridency reaches the point of refusing to cover the child with a blanket, we've arrived at extremism. It's no longer a matter of satisfying a child's hunger as quickly as possible; it's a stand about personal rights. A blanket might make an infant too hot, so maybe it's not always a viable option. On a public bus there's no other room to walk to. Fine, do your thing. But to outright refuse discretion as an option seems like a protest against the unseen hand of patriarchal oppression, and I wonder whether that's necessary. Does public breastfeeding carry the weight of a legitimate civil rights issue? 

On one hand we have women who need to feed their children, and on the other hand we have people who get skeeved out by seeing children suckled in public. Is there any way for both parties to cut each other a little slack? Does this need to be an all-or-nothing proposition for either side? 

Are you a mother who breastfeeds in public? Do you feel that you have to right to feed your child anywhere at any time regardless of the situation? For instance: in a movie theater during the feature? At a wedding reception at your table? Why? And remember, "because it's natural" doesn't count. 

If you feel that your needs (feeding an infant) outweigh the needs of everyone else (to not be intentionally subjected to matter out of order), then just say so. Opinions get heated on this topic, but instead of yelling back and forth ("It's natural!" / "No, by god, it ain't!", why not have an honest conversation? 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Etiquette Hypocrisy

This week, conversations about declining civility cropped up around three separate reports from Australia, Europe and the U.S. Our Aussie friends pondered the results of the Telstra State of the Nation Research report, which suggested that phone etiquette Down Under is headed south. Meanwhile, a study on the same subject by Intel shows that Britons are hypocrites when it comes to their views of phone etiquette. The Telegraph's Matt Warman wrote:
In the study of ‘mobile manners’ Intel interviewed 12,000 people across the globe, and 67 per cent of European respondents said that people talking too loudly on their phones in public spaces was the thing that annoyed them most ...
Use of mobile phones in public, however, was something the survey results indicated most people continued to do inconsiderately, even if they were not aware of it at the time.
So the folks complaining about public cell-phone yakking are the same folks who are doing the public cell-phone yakking. Which brings us to the Juggle's Wednesday post on a Webder Shandwick poll about American civility. Michelle Gerdes wrote:
By comparison,  some 43% of respondents have experienced incivility in the workplace. Some  60% of Americans admit to being uncivil themselves. (Personally, I think the remaining 35% of respondents weren’t being honest.)
Michelle is probably right on that last point. As I noted in a previous post, Mark Caldwell addresses etiquette hypocrisy in his book A Short History of Rudeness. Discussing a 1996 survey that reported 89 percent of respondents considered American culture to be "basically uncivil," Caldwell asks:
Were the millions who flocked to Beavis and Butt-head Do America in the early weeks of its 1996 release all members of the remaining 11 percent? In a society ostensibly worried about the threat of barbarism, why are Howard Stern and Dennis Rodman cultural heroes ... ?
Motes and beams, self-healing physicians, etc. It's easy to spot rude behavior in others. But in ourselves? Not so much. Something to keep in mind the next time we take a survey -- or start a blog -- on the topic.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wood Street

In the Complete Asshole's Guide to Etiquette, I describe how my current interest in manners stemmed from  a stretch of years spent as "a malignant tumor festering on the otherwise sweet round rump of society." Today I got a little sentimental thinking about those days while walking down Wood Street toward Milwaukee.

This is for Æ, who writes real poetry over at

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

SOPV Etiquette (That's "SOPV" as in "sex-on-premises venue." And yes, there's etiquette for that.)

I've mentioned before that our friends from Down Under generate a great deal of etiquette-related content for this site. Back in March, for instance, we talked about an article written by a Sydney-based performer about drag-club etiquette. (Basically, be polite and -- for god's sake -- do not touch the wig.)

Well, the Aussies are back at it. This time Adam Hynes, writing for the Star Online, advises us how to behave when cruising for gay fun at a sex-on-premises venue (SOPV). According to the infallible Wikipedia, SOPVs include "gay bathhouses, and 'backroom' and 'club' style venues that have no spa or sauna." Judging by the rest of the Wiki article, steam-free SOPVs are basically bars that accommodate hot man-on-man action, and which may or may not host a regular "fisting night."

Adam lays it all out for us:
The three simple rules are no means no, politeness is always welcomed, and invitations are required.
Working his way deeper into the latter point, he explains:
Invitations are required. Conversation at a SOPV is the last thing on most people’s minds and you will never hear discussions about health care reform or refugee policies.
Therefore, when it comes to hooking up, most of the conversation is subtle or non-verbal, such as eye contact and lightly brushing the hand against someone. If the person responds positively, that signals they’re interested and you have received the required invitation to play. 
OK, but what if I want to play doctor on fisting night? Then can we talk about health-care reform, if only for the sake of verisimilitude?

Truly, etiquette matters everywhere -- and I dare say that a visit to an SOPV could help a person better appreciate the significance of his actions, and thus make for a more well-mannered life overall. When one inadvertent look can result in attention -- serious, hulking, slathered-up-and-ready-to-rock attention -- the chances of a person infringing on the space of others due to unawareness drop to nil.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dog-Owner Etiquette: DNA profiling to bust those who refuse to scoop

As you might guess from the banner on this site, I'm not the world's biggest fan of dog owners who refuse to pick up after their pets. You can say the same for Deborah Violette, who manages an apartment complex in New Hampshire. Deborah hopes to put a collar on the disgusting, unsafe practice with a little help from forensic science.

The New York Times ran a story on Friday about Deborah. Quoth the Times: 
Everyone who owns a dog in her complex ... must submit a sample of its DNA, taken by rubbing a cotton swab around inside the animal’s mouth.
The swab is sent to BioPet Vet Lab, a Knoxville, Tenn., company that enters it into a worldwide database. If Ms. Violette finds an unscooped pile, she can take a sample, mail it to Knoxville and use a DNA match to identify the offending owner.
I'm usually leery of any type of Big Brother governance, but this is one instance where a totalitarian bent serves the people.

No one ever forced anybody to go out and get a dog. Well, I'm sure some one at some time has forced somebody to go out and get a dog, and Catherine the Great probably had something to do with it, but you get my point. Look, I get it. Picking up dog shit isn't glamorous. I certainly don't want to do it, either.

That's why I don't own a dog.

I chose a negligent dog owner for the banner of this site because people refusing to scoop dog poop represents the nadir of common decency. I estimate that 95 percent of uncivil behavior is due to unawareness. It's entirely possible that the Amtrak marathon talker had no idea she was bothering anyone. But not so with dog owners who leave piles of shit on public property. Everyone knows it's verboten. That's why the prevalence of sidewalk dog shit surges in winter, when owners can just cover it up with a little snow.

Out of all uncivil behavior, leaving behind dog shit stands in stark relief as a middle finger raised to civilization. It is the sociopath's ultimate petty revenge against humanity.

The Incivilian salutes you, Deborah Violette, for taking a stand.

(Via New York Times)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Urinal Etiquette via Chicago Tribune Sports Section

This morning I opened the Sunday Trib sports section to see this cartoon. Clearly the bathroom Nazi artist has never known the joys of a gang shower in high school, or sat next to a fellow Marine while taking a dump. Clearly.

Maybe we conscientious menfolk could better ignore breaches of urinal etiquette if we had a urinal video game to play? Do you suppose these games help increase the accuracy of our more slovenly brethern?

Friday, July 1, 2011

In-Law Etiquette and the Death of British Culture

My fellow Americans, as we celebrate our independence this weekend, let us not forget that once-great country from which we gained our freedom -- for England now lies in ruin! The Union Jack, tattered by the winds of change, once flew across an empire on which the sun never set, but that now lurches toward an ignominious dusk, the once-spry fox wheezing its last breath between the slobber-dripping jaws of the hound of fate.

Or so you'd think reading the Daily Mail. England's finest news source has been prophesying the fall of British culture for ages, and most often by using as evidence a supposed decline in civility.

The latest proof that Brittania's sky is falling: A prospective English mother-in-law ripped into her son's fiancée via email about the fiancée's supposed lack of manners. The bride-to-be, stinging from the chastisement, forwarded the polemic and it became viral sensation, much like Nick Carter after dating Paris Hilton.

Here's a couple of snippets from the in-law's email:

  • "You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public." 
Seems reasonable, right? But what about this:
  • "You should have hand-written a card to me. You have never written to thank me when you have stayed."

And yes, she did say that the fianceé's poor manners made the family dog, Bomber, "profoundly upset, depressed and anxious."

Here's a link to the original article, which appeared on Wednesday. When first published, the article portrayed the mother-in-law as a guardian of manners, but the piece has since been "updated, or "comprehensively rewritten." At least some of the revisions came after the publication of the second article yesterday, in which the prospective bride's father struck back, referring to her accuser as "Miss Fancy Pants." Zing!

All of this plays out against the backbeat of "Has England lost its moral compass?" A few other times we've heard the tabloid sing the same tune:

  • In another article from yesterday, the tabloid asked, "Unwashed hair, chewing gum, tattoos ... Is this Wimbledon or Glastonbury?" 
  • Two weeks ago the publication declared the "death of civility."
  • In March, we heard that "British politeness is a thing of the past."
  • And if you enter "England manners Daily Mail" into Google, your top result is an article from 1998, in which the tabloid decried the manners of English cricketers.

Basically, when it comes to predicting the collapse of British culture, the Daily Mail has a poorer prognostication record than Harold Camping.

Even the BBC bought the overarching Daily Mail narrative, asking its readers, "Mother-in-law from hell or defender of the nation's manners?" Interestingly, the link to that story now 404's but here's a screengrab from my Google Reader:

What do you think, both in terms of the mum-in-law's email and the suppose death of British civility?

Even if British culture does disappear into that great night, we'll still get new episodes of "Sherlock," right?