New Year's Eve, Vol. 1, Issue 29

This column was originally published December 30, 2002. The Old Year is about to pass from us, and Etiquetteer, chilling champagne and starching a shirtfront, feels compelled to share a few thoughts and instructions for New Year’s Eve, the most universal and accessible holiday of all.

Poor dear depressed Oscar Levant once said “Scratch the fake tinsel of Hollywood and you’ll find the real tinsel underneath.” Sadly, Etiquetteer knows many people who feel just that way about New Year’s Eve. A much-maligned occasion, many people dismiss it as a manufactured holiday meaning nothing and falsely glamorous. In a world that reveres Britney Spears, Abercrombie & Fitch, and game shows like “Russian Roulette,” Etiquetteer will take his glamour where he can find it, thank you very much!

Besides, New Year’s Eve is the one holiday that everyone on earth can celebrate together. All races, colors, creeds, and orientations use the same calendar to function in daily life, so why not bring us all together for a global occasion?! Etiquetteer thinks New Year’s Eve has the capacity to create world peace.

New York City has given the world the two most enduring versions of how New Year’s Eve is celebrated. While Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians syncopate in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for elegantly dressed and coiffed high society types swirling through a blaze of streamers, confetti, party hats and tiaras, the excitable masses squeeze themselves into Times Square, shrieking and waving at television cameras until the ball drops. Rowdiness is not unknown in either location -- Etiquetteer knows of one lady, now quite elderly, who lost her shoes one New Year’s Eve in Times Square, so compressed by the crowd was she -- and for many that enhances their enjoyment. Etiquetteer can only go figure.

But Etiquetteer will not hold you to the standard of Gotham, however glamorous it may be, to celebrate this Occasion. Make your own glamour in your own Perfectly Proper way! Whether you are gathered around the dinner table, concert stage, hot tub, pulpit, coffee maker, hookah, or piano, spend this holiday with people you care for deeply. More than all the tenacious gift-giving of Christmas, tonight is a night to remind the people you love how special they’ve been to you in the past year. Which, if you pay attention, is what the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” are all about. That’s why it’s sung at midnight.

And you had best stay up until midnight to sing it! Etiquetteer doesn’t care if you go to bed at exactly 12:00:30, but the point of New Year’s Eve is participating at the exact second the Old Year passes. Ringing in the New Year at 7:00 PM just because it's midnight somewhere in the world doesn't cut it; if it's not midnight where you are, it just isn't midnight.

And please, dress appropriately. If you're cavorting with the rabble in Times Square, combat gear will protect your person from the weather and God knows what else. Otherwise, believe it or not, black tie is not required - check with your hostess first.

That said, Etiquetteer dearly wants you to break out a tiara for the evening whatever you’re wearing (even if it’s nothing at all in the hot tub). “I do not pretend to understand,” says Uncle Paxton in Clemence Dane’s delightful novel The Flower Girls, “why tiaras should make so much difference to my enjoyment of the evening, but they did. Certain objects are romantic on their own account. A tiara is one of them.” Whether you rush to the vault for the diamonds or the drugstore for the foil-coated cardboard, tonight is the night for this un-American but oh-so-much-fun accessory.

And now, should auld acquaintance be forgot, Etiquetteer fondly and sincerely wishes you a New Year of Peace, Prosperity, and Perfect Propriety.

The Etiquette of Prohibition, Vol. 13, Issue 57

Etiquetteer delivered these remarks at the 2013 Repeal Day Celebration at the Gibson House Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Among other things, the madness of Prohibition created a Culture of Alcohol Concealment, leading people to find ingenious ways to secrete liquor in their homes or on their persons. Images survive of hollow canes, fake books, and even shot vials concealed in high-heeled shoes so that people could travel with their tipple unrevealed. In the 21st century, already awash with alcohol, similar devices are used to get around outrageous liquor prices at sports and concert venues. These include hollow flip flops, a necktie flask, and even a “wine rack,” which is a sports bra with tubing.

Prohibition left a permanent mark on American manners, illustrated uncompromisingly in a little etiquette book called No Nice Girl Swears by Alice-Leone Moats, first published in 1933, the final year of Prohibition. The last chapter, headed "Our Plastered Friends," begins "When our mothers came out, learning to handle a drunk was not an essential part of a debutante's education. Now every girl has to be capable not only of shifting for herself, but, more often than not, of looking out for her escort as well." Can you imagine?! This is not the way Best Society is supposed to conduct itself. But Miss Moats goes on to detail the ten different types of drunks and how to make the best of their bad situations (often using one's mad money to abandon them and take a taxi home. Miss Moats paints a worst-case scenario from the beginning. "If you're going out very often, you might as well be prepared to think quickly and be ready to exercise your ingenuity at any time. You may be called upon to do anything form catching the bottles that your escort, in his exuberance, may chance to throw, to burrowing in the sawdust for him." (You must remember that often the floors of gin joints and other dives were sprinkled with sawdust.)

And going out was what people did. Prohibition saw entertaining at home decline (though of course it still went on) in favor of the jazzy rise of café society. Willa Cather famously described the phenomenon in 1924, saying "Nobody stays at home any more." And that meant men and women drinking together in public, whereas before Prohibition, saloons were for men only. At home, one was less likely to be entertained at a traditional seated dinner of several courses as at that brand-new gathering, the cocktail party. Ladies and gentlemen just standing around drinking liquor without a meal, or perhaps any food at all, being offered -- revolutionary!

Miss Moats makes it sound easy: "Cocktail parties have become the line of least resistance in entertaining. They are convenient for the person who must get 50 or 60 people off the list of obligations and prefers to do it at one fell swoop, saving money at the same time. It certainly isn't much trouble; all you need is a case of synthetic gin and a tin of anchovy paste. The greater the number of the guests, the smaller and more airless the room, the stronger the gin, the more successful the party. But if you give one, you must be prepared to have your friends on your hands until two in the morning, as they will invariably forget their dinner engagements and stay on until the last shakerful is emptied."

One of the places they went in Boston was the famous Cocoanut Grove on Piedmont Street, which opened in October, 1927. But in spite of some shady connections, the Grove was on the up and up. They didn't serve hard liquor, but would provide setups, trays of siphons and glasses, so you could discreetly add your own booze from your flask under the table. It was often better to bring your own to some places. In The Greeks Had a Word For Them, a gentleman at a speak asks "Well, what do you have that won't kill us, blind us, or burn holes in our clothes?" The brutal Dinah Brand in Dashiell Hammett's equally brutal Red Harvest said that someone's liquor tasted like it was drained off a corpse. Other places would get around the law by serving booze in teacups.

Tolerance for drunken behavior became more accepted, too. Again, we hear from Miss Moats: "There was once a time when a man who got drunk in a lady's drawing room was never invited to that house again. If he showed the same lack of control in another home, he ran the risk of having every door closed to him. Now a hostess who insists that all her guests remain sober would find that she was giving parties to a chosen few, and very dull ones at that. She takes it for granted that the majority of her guests will be wavering before the evening is over." A Paul Cadmus painting of 1939, “Seeing the New Year In,” shows just such an occasion, with drunken, careless intellectuals coming apart at the seams. It’s a mean and tawdry descent.

One of the most astonishing ways that Prohibition changed America was the sudden appearance and acceptance of young women drinking in public. And it was this that led Pauline Morton Sabin, an aristocratic heiress to the Morton Salt fortune, to begin to campaign for Repeal. She said "Girls of a generation ago would not have ventured into a saloon. Girls did not drink; it was not considered 'nice.' But today girls and boys drink, at parties and everywhere, then stop casually at a speakeasy on the way home." And indeed, a Topeka police chief observed "The girls simply won't go out with the boys who haven't got flasks to offer." But a girl still had to hang on to her reputation, as Miss Moats makes clear in No Nice Girl Swears. "A great many people have come to believe in the single moral standard, but few have been converted to a single drinking standard. A drunken woman is still looked upon with disgust and she is certainly more objectionable than a drunken man. Liquor generally hits her in one of three ways: she gets boisterous and wants to play games, or she gets maudlin, or, more often, she grows desperately amorous. Whatever the effect, she is dangerous."

To which Etiquetteer can only conclude, "Hotcha!"

Food in the Workplace, Vol. 13, Issue 27

Dear Etiquetteer: At work, most Fridays, the company provides bagels for breakfast. Many times, I've already eaten breakfast. Is it appropriate to take a bagel home and eat it on Saturday? Would it make a difference if I waited until 10ish, when most of the bagels are gone?

Dear Bageled:

It's ironic that your query should arrive on this particular Friday, as Etiquetteer's own workplace is nearly impassable with free food - from farewell breakfasts, from a caterer's bountiful tasting, from Heaven knows what else.

Etiquetteer believes that priority should be given to those who intend to consume provided food immediately, and so endorses your waiting until just after the breakfast rush to select a bagel to enjoy later. You show exceptional and courteous restraint. Etiquetteer, in over 25 years in the work force, has seen some appalling behavior around free food in the workplace. Circling like vultures for the kill doesn't even begin to describe it . . .

On days of Exceptional Bounty, the best time to head to the office kitchen would be 4:30 PM to package any desired leftovers for the journey home. While only very few might snarl, you'll be blessed with gratitude from your poor colleague whose responsibility it is to clean the kitchen the next day.

Marcus Smart vs. Jeff Orr, Vol. 13, Issue 17

Unfortunately more and more people believe that etiquette only matters someplace that's defined as "formal," for instance a funeral, a library ("Sssssshhhhh!"), and especially at weddings. (Etiquetteer believes that weddings probably generate more questions about how to behave than anything else.) But Good Behavior is needed in every part of the day, from the bedroom to the boardroom, from the elevator to the escalator, from the cafeteria line to the telephone line, from the concert hall to the colosseum. Wherever you are, whether you think of it as "formal" or not, Good Behavior matters. So Etiquetteer was dismayed to read about Marcus Smart, the Oklahoma State University basketball player, who shoved a fan, now identified as Jeff Orr, after a bungled play. The OSU Cowboys are on a five-game losing streak, so undoubtedly the pressure was on Mr. Smart, the star player for his team, to deliver something good. Mr. Orr, a well-known fan of the Red Raiders of Texas Tech, is also well known for taunting players of the Raiders' opponents.

It appears that Mr. Orr said something to Mr. Smart - apparently not an expression of concern for his well-being - that enraged Mr. Smart enough to make physical contact. Fox News reported "CBS personality Doug Gottlieb said via Twitter that a Texas Tech friend of his had a text conversation with Orr, who texted that 'Yeah, i kinda let my mouth say something I shouldn't have. I feel bad.'" Mr. Orr did not repeat what he said to Mr. Smart, which of course leads everyone to think that it was a racial slur.

Etiquetteer can only wonder if Mr. Orr feels badly enough to issue a public apology to Mr. Smart. Whether a Filthy Name was used or not, Mr. Orr has discredited the behavior of all Texas Tech fans, which Etiquetteer feels sure he does not want to do. Plenty of Perfectly Proper people are enthusiastic football fans without demonizing the opposing team. Ask yourselves, sports fans, what means more to you: the victory of your team, or the defeat of the opposing team?

While sympathizing with Mr. Smart, Etiquetteer can in no way condone physical violence. Figures in the Public Eye, simply because they are in the Public Eye, must restrain themselves from responding to outrageous provocation. Because when you respond, your opponents win because they have made you lose control. It's a true art, containing one's natural reactions - even Etiquetteer has yet to master it - but as Rose Sayre famously said in The African Queen, "Nature, Mr. Allnut is what we are put on this earth to rise above."

Etiquetteer hopes that both these men will offer public apologies for their behavior, but that we'll also be spared the ostentation of a "beer summit" such as President Obama hosted for Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley after that Unfortunate Incident.

Suburban Drag Racing, Vol. 13, Issue 7

Dear Etiquetteer: Justin Bieber has gotten himself into trouble drag racing in Florida. I feel sure he could have managed this better if you provided a few pointers on how to behave correctly in these circumstances. Just how DOES one drag race correctly in suburbia?

Dear Provocateur:

First of all before you get started, permission from the homeowner's association (HOA) is absolutely essential if you're in one of those gated communities. If no HOA is involved, be sure to get a racing permit from City Hall or the local Department of Motor Vehicles. Omitting these important steps could get one into a lot of trouble, as Mr. Bieber has discovered.

Next, some concern should be given to one's wardrobe. Perfectly Proper racing apparel absolutely includes a helmet with goggles, brown leather jacket, leather driving gloves, and white silk scarf. Etiquetteer very much recommends not wearing anything that could be mistaken for a prison jumpsuit. Orange may be the new black, but not for Best Society.

Even with a permit and everything, local laws about driving under the influence will still apply; when you go back and look at that permit, Etiquetteer'll bet there's no checkbox for "waiver of Driving While Impaired laws." So Neely O'Hara-style consumption for drag racing just is NOT Perfectly Proper.

Drag racing attracts attention, so it's important not to be surprised if local law enforcement suddenly appears to take an interest - especially if one hasn't already gotten permission (see above). Once THEY appear, only your Best Behavior will do. The police expect complete obedience, if not respect, but they will certainly not be inclined to assist you if you use Bad Language and fail to cooperate.

Last but not least, foreign nationals should be absolutely sure that their paperwork is in perfect order. One never knows when deportation might become an issue.*

The discerning among you will have understood by this time that Etiquetteer takes a dim view of this particular situation.

* If Mr. Bieber is, in fact, deported over this Unfortunate Incident, Etiquetteer can envision phalanxes of Beliebers descending on the White House in protest. Since most of them aren't yet of voting age, it will likely make no difference.

Random Issues and Commentary, Vol. 12, Issue 5

Dear Etiquetteer: When someone sees a bit of food on your face, or a smudge or something else that shouldn't be there, should they tell you about it? Even if it's small?

Dear Smudged:

The question isn't the size of the apparent Impediment to Perfection, but the ability to do something about it. For instance, Etiquetteer has on more than one occasion come home from a party with a dark green bit of spanikopita on his teeth, which would have been easy to remove had someone quietly said, "Etiquetteer, you have a bit of spinach in your teeth." On the other hand, Etiquetteer, like many men, occasionally cuts himself shaving. When the answer to "You have something on your chin" is "It's a scab; I cut myself shaving," you've overstepped.

Etiquetteer should hasten to add that it's impertinent of a gentleman to inform a lady who is a stranger to him of anything out of place about her. These days such "helpfulness" is too easily misconstrued as harrassment.

Unfortunately, the threat of being expelled from Best Society no longer deters people from behaving badly in public. Several instances have appeared in the news today:

  • Students at Tufts University were reprimanded for excessive drunkenness and public urination at the Tufts Winter Bash at a Boston hotel. Do you know why Emily Post, Lillian Eichler, Amy Vanderbilt, and other 20th-century etiquette writers never had to specify that ladies and gentlemen never urinated in plain view? BECAUSE PEOPLE KNEW BETTER. Etiquetteer blames Woodstock. If it were up to Etiquetteer, these students would be expelled. In the meantime, Etiquetteer hopes that Tufts will choose a less violent name for their winter dance than "bash."
  • Some good clean fraternity fun veered into Imperfect Propriety when a University of Michigan fraternity was suspended indefinitely for using a semi-nude photo in a party invitation. The photo features a row of ten Pi Kappa Alpha brothers wearing only a very thin American flag. While Etiquetteer chooses not to doubt the intentions of these young men - although one of them does appear to be enjoying himself a bit too much - Etiquetteer does have to disapprove. You see, the photo was used in a party invitation to a sorority, and this Image of Implied Nudity can easily be construed as Forcing One's Attention on a Lady, which as we know is Simply Not Done. A photograph of the brothers fully dressed would not have been offensive. Etiquetteer hopes this Error in Judgment will be rectified soon.
  • The Black Mental Health Alliance has launched an ad campaign emphasizing the legal penalties of sagging. For those who might be unaware, sagging is the practice of wearing one's pants below the waist, often to such a degree that they are completely below the buttocks - exposing undergarments, and often more. Etiquetteer agrees with rapper Tamara Bubble, quoted as saying "Sagging should stop now. Girls don’t like it and people don’t take you seriously in general. You can’t get job with it. If you go to court with it, you’re probably going to lose your case. In all aspects of life, it’s not healthy." But even Etiquetteer questions the penalties mentioned: a $300 fine and up to three years in jail. Etiquetteer can only imagine the hue and cry there would be if such a campaign was put into place for those who wear pajamas in public* - a practice that is carried out by too many people of all races.
  • Then there's the report of Judy H. Viger, the 33-year-old mother who hired strippers for her son's sixteenth birthday party. CAUTION: The linked article includes what most people would call a "Not Safe For Work image" and what Etiquetteer calls Most Indelicate. From the article: "The dancers stripped to thong underwear and bras and gave lap dances to some of the teenagers." The article also mentions that this party was held at a bowling alley, and it isn't clear that it was in a private lane. Ms. Viger has been arrested, and Etiquetteer would like to see her sentenced to public service working with victims of sexual abuse.

And that should be Quite Enough from Etiquetteer tonight! Now go forward and sin no more.

*Of course Etiquetteer exempts those going to or from a pajama brunch, but it is advisable not to run errands along the way.

Seven Actions for Perfect Propriety in Public Life in the New Year, Vol. 12, Issue 2

Here we are, embarked on a New Year, and Etiquetteer is working hard to maintain a Feeling of Hope for increasing Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer has identified seven areas -- some simple, some quixotic -- where action should be taken. At once. 1. Homeowner associations (HOAs) need to write exceptions into their governing documents allowing homeowners to display the American flag on or from their properties without being fined or censured. Every year an HOA makes the news when it sues or fines a homeowner who displays an American flag on his or her property against the HOA rules about decorations and displays. These stories are even more poignant when the flag is tattered or in otherwise less-than-perfect condition, usually because of its association with a family member who died in service to this nation. If you live in an HOA, take the initiative now to modify your bylaws to permit display of the American flag on one's property.

2. Anyone who has charge of an escalator, whether it's in a shopping mall, transportation hub, government or office building, or any other public place, needs to be sure that every rider knows that standing is on the right, and passing is on the left. This can be achieved with signage or a painted line down the center.

3. Retailers need to stop colonizing private life and pandering to our baser instincts by scheduling outrageous sales events on holidays - and we need to stop letting them do it by buying into this manufactured "excitement." Etiquetteer was outraged that some retailers actually scheduled some sales to begin on Thanksgiving Day Itself, and appalled viewing some of the video footage of the Black Friday mélee. Etiquetteer has extreme difficulty reconciling this with the True Spirit of Christmas. If it was up to Etiquetteer -- which, of course, it ought to be -- Black Friday sales would not be allowed to begin until 10:00 AM on Friday. Even if the retailers don't, Etiquetteer wants you to make the commitment to refrain from shopping on holidays.

4. Unfortunately, Western civilization has reached such a low level of sloth, selfishness, or contempt that more and more people don't care about being properly dressed in public. Indeed, many don't even know what proper dress is. With great reluctance, Etiquetteer must endorse the use of instructional signage, such as "No Visible Undergarments" and "No Sleepwear" so that standards can be reinforced.

5. Theatres and concert halls need to enforce more vigorously the rule not to use recording devices of any kind (cameras, recorders, smartphones, etc.) during concerts. Anyone who has ever had their view of a performance blocked by rows of upraised arms with iPhones will appreciate this. Etiquetteer believes that violators should be evicted, which means that ushers will need to be more vigilant and prowl the aisles during performances more often. (It is interesting to muse on how differently Woodstock might have affected Western culture if everyone there had had a smartphone or videocamera. Etiquetteer is mighty relieved they didn't.)

6. The battle between drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians must stop. To quote Stu Ackerman, "There is only 'we.' 'Them' is a hallucination born of fear." Everyone has the same goal: to get wherever they're going as quickly as possible. Etiquetteer would like them to get there as safely as possible, too. And this means being aware of one's own situation and of other travelers around one. For pedestrians, it means looking left, right, and left again before walking across the street -- and only at intersections. For drivers, it means knowing where one is going before getting in the car and relying on an often-faulty GPS. For cyclists, it means awareness that both pedestrians and drivers, through no fault of their own, will have to cross the bike lane. For all it means putting away one's electronic devices so that one can travel with full concentration and without distraction! Etiquetteer's heart has leapt into his mouth more than once seeing a pedestrian blithely walk into an intersection while staring intently at a smartphone screen, or a driver making a sharp left turn with one hand on the wheel and cellphone held to the ear. In summary, no one group of travelers is evil, as many would like to think. Rather, there are impatient and inattentive travelers in each group. Etiquetteer urges you to represent the best aspects of your particular Mode of Travel.

7. If parents are not going to enforce Perfect Propriety in their children when dining out, restaurants are going to start having to do it for them by either asking them to leave, being sure they know not to come back until the children can behave, or banning children altogether. While hastily acknowledging the very many good and attentive parents who understand and train their children well, Etiquetteer must note that the legions of oblivious and ineffective parents make dining out difficult for everyone.* The stories from waiters and waitresses (one need only search the Web) can curl one's hair.

And that, as they say, is that. Etiquetteer welcomes your Perfectly Proper queries resulting from these recommendations at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

*It's worth noting, too, that every time Etiquetteer sees a news story about Chuck E. Cheese, it's because grownups started a brawl there.

St. Patrick's Day, Vol 11, Issue 7

Today is St. Patrick's Day, when everyone can claim to be Irish. Perfect Propriety takes a bigger hit on St. Patrick's Day than any other day in the American calendar, what with so many people using its parades and whatnot as a cover for Excess Alcohol Consumption. Etiquetteer has a few observations to make:

  • Mixed greens are suitable for a salad, but not your St. Patrick's Day "Wearin' of the Green." Please don't wear clashing shades of green. Kelly, olive, chartreuse, and day-glo look vile together. Remember, only blue-greens with blue-greens, and yellow-greens with yellow-greens.
  • In the last 30 years St. Patrick's Day has become a forum for homophobia in some communities. So let us not forget that it was the late Oscar Wilde who made the green carnation boutonniere a symbol for men of "the Wilde sort." "That sort" can now wear their carnations with a difference.
  • As the child of a Southern community with no Irish heritage, Etiquetteer grew up with only two St. Patrick's Day traditions: 1) wear green, and 2) pinch people who are not wearing green. And yet the tradition of pinching is unknown in certain Irish-American communities. If you're determined to go around pinching the greenless on St. Patrick's Day, remember that it's all in fun! Don't inflict pain, and don't let that be your purpose.
  • It's been suggested that the Irish should be exempt from pinching. Etiquetteer suggests that Irish who forget to wear green on St. Patrick's Day should be pinched twice.
  • If you're not wearing green, do not claim that you have on green undergarments. This is only an invitation for Rude Questions to prove your honesty, and quite possibly an Indecent Assault. (Of course, if that's what you really want, Etiquetteer has to wonder why you're even reading an etiquette column in the first place.)
  • Etiquetteer was taught early on, once moving North, that the only thing one must not do on St. Patrick's Day is wear orange. In some communities such attire is an invitation to violence. Etiquetteer hopes all the Syracuse University alumni will be safe today.
Finally, Public Drunkenness is overrated, and it is certainly not Perfectly Proper. Please drink with Perfect Propriety this St. Patrick's Day by obeying all local laws and law enforcement.
Etiquetteer will be delighted to take your questions about all Problems of Manners at queries <at> etiquetteer dot com.

The Brawl at Symphony Hall, Vol. 6, Issue 19

No doubt many readers are eager for Etiquetteer to comment on the "brawl at Symphony Hall" that occurred on Wednesday, May 9, 2007. Needless to say Etiquetteer is Absolulely Appalled at what happened and would ban the two men in question from Symphony Hall for life.

In summary, Michael Hallam and his female companion were talking throughout the first two numbers of the Boston Pops. Matthew Ellinger and his female companion, sitting behind them, were understandably annoyed, and Mr. Ellinger shushed them more than once. With Hallam still talking, Ellinger reported him to an usher. He then "tapped" or "struck" Hallam (depending on who tells the story) with his program. Hallam then threw the first punch. As they say on fark.com, "Hilarity ensued."

This Hallam Person bears the principal responsibility for dragging Boston through the mud like this. When someone in a theatre asks you to be quiet, that is exactly what you should do! You don’t have to be embarrassed that you’ve inconvenienced someone else, but Etiquetteer thinks it helps if you are. Hallam then branded himself Unfit for Polite Society by threatening to throw Ellinger over the balcony and then, of course, punching him in the face.

Mr. Ellinger’s error, unfortunately, was making physical contact with Hallam. Up until then he had done everything appropriate by shushing Hallam and then notifying an usher. But one never ever touches someone one is confronting. Physical contact is easily misinterpreted; just look at how one side of this argument uses the word "tapped" and the other "struck."

Etiquetteer has long felt that the White Middle Class is Giving Up when it comes to Perfect Propriety, and this sad incident seems like another Nail in the Coffin. What struck Etiquetteer first, however, in looking at the photos, was how badly everyone was dressed. Not one man sitting in or near the brawlers was wearing a jacket and tie. And Etiquetteer doesn’t care at all that they were sitting in the second balcony. This is a concert hall, not a bear garden, and Proper Dress should be worn. A crisply-pressed shirt is not enough. And of course now the Unspoken Rules must be spoken: no denim, no athletic or athletic-looking clothes or shoes, and No Visible Underwear. And it’s not just the Young and Untutored showing up like this. Etiquetteer has seen on many occasions Those Old Enough to Know Better appear at Symphony Hall improperly dressed. Ladies in sneakers with scoop-neck cotton tops, old gentlemen wearing plaid flannel shirts with jeans, anybody in a down jacket with a hood – this is Letting Down the Side.

Did conductor Keith Lockhart behave with Perfect Propriety by halting the concert until the brawlers were removed? There are two schools of thought here, each with its merits, but Etiquetteer is inclined to say that he did. The Stiff Upper Lip folks would say "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" Continuing with the concert would, perhaps, have called less attention to the Bad Manners in the Balcony. Under the circumstances – loud screaming having called all attention to the balcony – to keep playing would have seemed to Etiquetteer like Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Mr. Lockhart showed respect to his musicians, the audience, and to the music itself, by halting the performance.

As Etiquetteer said, the brawlers should be banned from Symphony Hall for life. Both of them should be sentenced to community service as theatre ushers. Now if only there was a way to ban that Little Old Lady Who Rattles Bangle Bracelets and Cough Drops . . .

 

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