Etiquetteer Goes to New York, Vol. 15, Issue 38

Etiquetteer makes a foray to New York City every so often to check out conditions of Perfect Propriety. Because of its sheer size and the robust diversity of its population, Manhattan might be considered an ongoing etiquette experiment. Three observations:

WALKING: It almost doesn't matter where you are in Manhattan, you are sure to be in someone's way, and someone is sure to think that you are in their way. In fact, the sheer volume of people on city sidewalks has become so compressed that locals are risking their lives to walk in the streets in order to get anywhere. Etiquetteer thinks it's more than helpful to know where you're going and how to get there before you leave your hotel room; surprisingly few don't. Remain aware of where you are in relation to other people while you're out on the Sidewalks of New York.

STAYING WITH FRIENDS: Etiquetteer was so very blessed to have a Hospitable Friend in New York who offered accommodations. The Hospitable Friend arranged many comforts for Etiquetteer, from chocolate scones, computer and wireless access (how marvelous, and how essential in this century!), wooden hangers, retail and other recommendations, freedom for Etiquetteer to pursue the city at leisure, and (in a city of one million sounds) privacy. Etiquetteer could not have been more fortunate.

"Such hospitality deserves my thanks!" as Hercule Poirot says in Murder on the Orient Express, but many houseguests are not sure what to do or how far to go. Hosting one's host to a meal is (or should be) an inviolate custom, and "a good time was had by all" at a mighty fine Restaurant Celebrating Regional Cuisine Other Than That of Manhattan. The question of the traditional "hostess gift" was a little more challenging, and where Etiquetteer relied on conversational clues. Hospitable Friend, not knowing Etiquetteer was looking for hints, spoke about having a Christmas tree for the first time in a new home. Etiquetteer's light bulb went off, and two lovely ornaments were received happily. Flowers, of course, are traditional -- and easy to find all over New York -- but don't last as long as friendships.

ATTENDING THE THEATRE: Forget what you heard about New York audiences being more stylish and sophisticated. Middle-class America no longer cares to keep up appearances here, either. The age of evening clothes in the theatre has irrevocably ended, but Etiquetteer would think that gentlemen would at least present themselves in a suit and tie, and ladies in something equally dressy. And indeed, the number of people attending the theatre with huge luggage, especially backpacks, continues to mystify Etiquetteer. (Of course, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much sat through a performance of Sweeney Todd some years ago with a huge backpack jammed under his seat and a gigantic valise in his lap since he had to catch a train immediately after the matinée.) All of us ought to examine the amount of stuff we tote about with us daily, and make reductions. For ladies especially, a handbag of moderate size is much more elegant than a backpack, or even one of those fashionable but unwieldy satchels called a "purse."

At least New Yorkers are fiercely punctual, management taking an appropriately dim view of late arrivals. Latecomers know in advance that if they arrive after the curtain has risen, they can't be seated. Bostonian audiences are notoriously tardy, and Etiquetteer, who is notoriously not, is getting mighty tired of hearing the usual excuses about traffic, parking, and subway delays. Etiquetteer will always side with those who came on time, and whose enjoyment of the performance is marred by late arrivals.