Barkers and Panhandlers, Vol. 4, Issue 29

Dear Etiquetteer: I’m spending a lot of my time this summer in [Insert Name of Prominent New England Resort Town Here], and I find myself getting more and more annoyed with the barkers outside restaurants and theatres yelling about how we all have to come right in for dinner, drinks, whatever. These days it seems that they are asking more specific questions and trying to engage me on a person-to-person level. Like, I’ll be walking by and they’ll ask "Are you headed to dinner?" or something like that. My first reaction is to be irritated, ‘cause my plans usually don’t include what they want me to do. Then I feel guilty that I’m ignoring them or being rude to them by not responding. I end up angry at the barkers for putting me in this position in the first place! Am I doing the right thing by not responding and should I just get over myself, or should I really take the time to answer their questions? This is really stressing out my vacation plans! Dear Barked: Aside from the obvious solution (use [Insert Name of Alternate Street Here]), Etiquetteer wants you to know that the only thing you’re doing wrong is stressing out about this. Barkers are hired to engage your attention and attract you into their establishments, be they restaurants, theatres, or dance halls. Unfortunately, doing their job means getting you to pay attention to them. No, Etiquetteer dislikes this as much as you do. Indeed, Etiquetteer will never forget walking through the French Quarter of New Orleans several years ago and being hailed by a shoeshine man. Courteously passing by in silence, Etiquetteer was deeply embarrassed to hear the man call out "You look real neat ‘til you get to your feet!" Imagine if you will Etiquetteer continuing to pass by, this time in raging silence. To inquiries you do not want, you need only respond "No thank you" and nothing more. Unless they are exceptionally thin-skinned (not a good job qualification under the circumstances) the barkers will not go home to cry the bitter tears of the rejected. If you are in close proximity on a crowded street, you may add "We already have plans" to make yourself feel less uncomfortable. Etiquetteer also hears complaints about pamphleteers, those earnest folks asking you to sign a petition, contribute money to a cause, take a free newspaper or any sort of promotional postcard, etc. Indeed, Etiquetteer knows one sick-and-tired individual who has gotten to the point when, asked by pamphleteers if he has a moment for the environment, will answer back "No! In fact, I’m going to start littering right here in front of you!" You ought to know by now that Etiquetteer can’t endorse a response like that. Total silence, "No thank you," or even that old chestnut "I gave at the office" will serve you well. If any pamphleteer or solicitor should be so ill-bred as to continue to hail you after you’ve responded, Etiquetteer can only encourage you to say "No thank you" again and move on as quickly as possible.

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