Reader Response: Hell Is Other People, Vol. 6, Issue 34

Last week's column on the bad behavior of others elicited quite a few responses:

Dear Etiquetteer:

You are going to get a slew of suggestions concerning cell phones. I'm generally quite tolerant, but there are indeed a few things that irritate me in other people's behavior. To wit:

  • Talking at great length on a cell phone at a dinner table. If you are dining with someone, he or she should be the focus of your attention. A caller can always be asked to call again later.
  • Loud, foul language in public. I can swear like a sailor (actually was one once), but I believe that it should be done with friends or family and adjusted for their amount of tolerance. Swearing loudly is never proper, however.
  • Graffiti: It isn't art, it's vandalism. Case closed. The person who invented the spray paint can should be damned for all eternity.

Dear Incensed:

Etiquetteer can certainly agree with you about cell phone usage at the dinner table, but just can’t condemn the inventor of spray paint to that Suburb South of Heaven. Spray paint has many useful applications.

Profanity is never Perfectly Proper*, but of course groups of Equally Profane People may permit each other to swear colorfully when together. Etiquetteer’s point of view, however, is rapidly losing ground as profanity permeates more and more of the mainstream media and daily speech. One has only to look at the ostentatious profanity of the Weekly Dig and the way alternate spellings of dirty words (such as "biatch" or "shiat") have become commonplace. Liam Kyle Sullivan’s popular character Kelly, the Belle of YouTube, has indoctrinated millions of people into hollering "Betch!" So Etiquetteer must ask the question: is a dirty word still dirty when you change its spelling and/or prounuciation but not its meaning?

Dear Etiquetteer:

While I, along with a jazillion others, have overheard some pretty amazing cell phone conversations, one stands out. I was in line at a liquor store and the woman in front of me was having a REALLY HEATED CONVERSATION -- no, make that a flat out TIRADE -- on her cell phone while the cashier was too-patiently ringing up her purchases. Not only did the entire store got to hear about her wretched breakup with her girlfriend, we also learned why in quite graphic and expletive detail. Let's just say it had to do with sex. This woman was so distraught that I don't think she even knew she was in the store purchasing something. The cashier tried to get her attention when it came time to pay but it took a number of tries before the distraught customer threw her credit card at the cashier. When this customer finally left, all of us in the store were aghast, exhausted, and relieved to see this woman go. Really, we were all momentarily speechless!

Dear Etiquetteer:

A few years ago, I was at a neighborhood block party, where I actually got to chat with many people I had previously just waved at when travelling down our street. Introducing myself to one older gentleman, I told him which house I lived in, and that my husband and I bought it from a relative. He immediately asked, "So, d'you have kids?"

I replied, "No, we do have a bunny rabbit, though, and I have nieces and nephews." To which he barked, obviously thinking he was 'being funny,' "No kids? What's wrong with you?"

Now, he is of an older generation; one would have expected better manners. I decided, though, instead of replying with a "snappy comeback," and feeling resentful, I would just tell the unvarnished truth. I explained briefly what was "responsible" for our lack of children: childhood cancer.

He was completely mortified, and apologized several times, and I know he felt bad. But why do people feel entitled to comment on a person's deeply personal issues, like child-bearing? Even in jest? For someone else, it could have been a deeply upsetting moment.

Dear Forthright:

What a deeply courageous thing to do. The best response to such intrusive questions is usually a change of subject or icy silence. Etiquetteer hopes that your puncturing of this old man’

s rude, artificial bonhomie taught him not to behave that way again.

* If you listen very carefully, you can hear That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much crying "Ouch!" as Etiquetteer jabs him with his rapier.

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