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.

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.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at>


Free Speech vs. Perfect Propriety, Vol. 6, Issue 7


Vol. 6, Issue 7, February 19, 2007


"Cousin Marie says politicians aren’t gentlemen," may be Etiquetteer’s favorite quotation from all Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Then there’s Henry Fonda in Jezebel, who said, "I believe it was Voltaire who said ‘I disagree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’" These two quotations come to the heart of a living civics lesson that took place in Massachusetts this month, bringing together a state senator, a high school, Facebook, American Idol, and differing political ideologies. The result has been less about the ideologies and more about Free Speech vs. Perfect Propriety. Both have taken a beating.

In brief, Massachusetts State Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, was scheduled to make an appearance at a high school in his district to discuss his conservative positions. A student with more liberal positions than Senator Brown created a page on, the popular social networking website, in the days or weeks before the senator’s appearance. Students posted profane comments on the page, some very personal, about both the senator and his daughter, a former American Idol contestant. Photos of the senator with devil horns and pitchfork added were posted as well.

Senator Brown became aware of these comments before his appearance at the high school. He brought a copy with him and proceeded to read, word for four-letter word, many of the profane comments written about him and his daughter to the eighty sophomores present. Teachers were horrified that a state senator was swearing in front of an entire high school. One student was quoted as saying, "He was doing it loudly and pretty angrily." There has been some hand wringing about childishness and just how a state senator ought to act. Senator Brown’s response: "If the kids are old enough to write it, they’re old enough to hear it."

Etiquetteer sides with Senator Brown. This may surprise you.

Free speech is one of the most precious cornerstones of our Great Nation. We should all be able to say what we want without fear of government surveillance, whether it’s "I love the war," "I hate the war," or even "You’re wearing that?" But Etiquetteer also believes that, if you’re going to exercise this right, you might at least have something to say. Profanity is easy, unoriginal, and distracting. What kind of a person are you if that's the best you can do with free speech? And it certainly has not escaped Etiquetteer’s notice that no one is talking about the issues anymore, only the profanity.

It’s not surprising to see adolescents behave like, well, adolescents. Etiquetteer does not condemn the kids who made the profane postings. But it is important for adolescents (and all of us) to know that actions have consequences. Comments made in the public square, whether on the Internet, the newspaper, or anywhere, may be heard by anyone. When you say something, you’re responsible for what you said. You shouldn’t be surprised if someone calls you on it, especially if it’s personal. Senator Brown did that in a very dramatic and public way. Etiquetteer hopes that it impressed on these students these lessons:

  • Personal attacks don’t further a discussion of issues.
  • Post something on the Web and anyone can read it, even people you don’t want to read it.
  • Profanity still has the ability to shock. That makes it the lowest common denominator when trying to get attention. Use more class and think of another way to make your point.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at>


Father’s Day, Vol. 5, Issue 22

Infant Etiquetteer with Dear Father, January, 1964

Not too long ago, Etiquetteer was sitting near a young white man on a city bus. He was wearing a black T-shirt with a black design on it of a huge stereo speaker containing the words "****ing champs." One might not think that profane apparel would spark memories of one’s father, but then one wouldn’t be bargaining on Etiquetteer.

The late Governor Earl Long of Louisiana was not a man known for his erudition or refinement . . . and that’s an understatement. But he did say something memorable about the state of the arts in Louisiana: ‘If you ain’t got culture, you ain’t got s**t." When Etiquetteer was a callow youth flirting with rebellion, he had a T-shirt with this "witty" quotation on it. Etiquetteer happily wore it down to breakfast one morning, expecting to wear it for a day of toil in the family business. But Etiquetteer’s dear father was having none of it . . . oh no! Etiquetteer was given the option of either changing clothes, and at once, or of wearing the T-shirt inside-out all day. And this is how Etiquetteer learned about how a gentleman presents himself in public, a very valuable lesson.

Of course Dear Father taught all the lessons one expects from a father trying to raise a gentleman: how to shine shoes, the value of a handkerchief ("one to show and one to blow"), proper evening clothes ("a bow tie or no tie"), respect for one’s elders, and courtesy to the ladies, especially when in a bad mood. A cranky Young Etiquetteer once asked his mother what was for dinner and got a jovial "Roast boy!" in response. Etiquetteer’s less-than-appreciative comeback was overheard and corrected by Dear Father in no uncertain terms.

Undoubtedly Dear Father felt that the world could be as beautiful as we choose to make it ourselves. We can only do this if we keep from putting ugliness into it. Etiquetteer did not always share Dear Father’s idealism. "We must concentrate on lovely, pure, and virtuous things," Dear Father wrote in a letter about 25 years ago. Etiquetteer, then a cynical teen, hooted with derision getting that letter. "Oh, this is not what the real world is!" Etiquetteer remembers saying. Now, with the passing of years, the decline of public discourse and the white middle class’s embrace of ghetto culture, Etiquetteer knows just how right Dear Father was to keep his focus on that ideal. Etiquetteer hereby offers a humble apology for not getting it right until now.

Nowadays we are used to seeing zealots wield Christianity as a bludgeon to direct the behavior of others rather than themselves. Etiquetteer’s Dear Father never fell into that trap, thankfully, and provided the best lesson any father, any parent, could: teaching by example. Once when a supermarket cashier gave us change without actually taking our money, Dear Father led the way back to the supermarket as soon as he realized what happened. How many people would be bothered to be so honest now? And this is only one instance of many Etiquetteer could relate.

In conclusion, Etiquetteer could offer no better summary than "Every day he did his best whatever the task." There could be no better example of Perfect Propriety than that.