Urinal Etiquette, Vol. 13, Issue 57

Dear Etiquetteer: The men's room in my office was designed with too few urinals, which means sometimes having to use a stall instead. I'd rather use a urinal than a stall, but standing around in the men's room waiting for a vacancy feels awkward, and I also worry about making "active users" uncomfortable when they realize that someone is waiting for them to finish? What do you recommend?

Dear Waiting:

Etiquetteer has never found a public restroom a place to linger, and indeed, Those Who Linger are often looked on with suspicion. And one doesn't want to be looked on with suspicion in the workplace. If you simply cannot bring yourself to use a stall, it's probably best to leave and return in a couple minutes.

If you do decide to use a stall, please close the door. It doesn't matter if you're using the stall standing up, stall doors were made to be closed.

Moving Beyond Constant Criticism, Vol. 13, Issue 25

Dear Etiquetteer: How do you deal with a co-worker who constantly berates and criticizes everyone? She is the epitome of "lipstick on a pig" so there would be room to retaliate but none of us feel it is the right thing to do. We want it to stop but we have no idea how to deal with it.

Dear Berated:

Sometimes Euphemism is insufficient to solve a problem. In such cases, a direct statement needs to be made, as gently but directly as possible, to state that there's a problem, and that a solution needs to be found. Here is just such a situation.

Etiquetteer once had to work with a Perpetual Complainer, a lady whose high standards could only be achieved by herself, and who always verbalized her dissatisfaction in the most uncomfortably specific ways. Finally having had enough, Etiquetteer said to her one day "Madam, tell me something good! You may say whatever you wish about this topic, but you must start with at least one good thing about it." And that exercise for her, while it didn't color her overall opinion, tempered her general unhappiness. It also proved to others that she was capable of seeing at least a little good in the matter at hand.

Etiquetteer encourages you to guide Madam Lypsticka into beginning her criticisms with some sort of kind observation, and to do so with candor. "Madam Lypsticka," you might say, "everyone knows that you prefer to express negative opinions, and we don't want to take that away from you. But we do think your opinions might carry more weight if you could balance your criticism with a couple good points about [Insert Name of Person or Topic Here]."

Converting Perpetual Complainers takes time, and Etiquetteer wishes you and your colleagues well as you begin this endeavor.

Random Questions, Vol. 5, Issue 4

Dear Etiquetteer:Isn't "flipping someone off" a very strong gesture? Let's take it one step further: flipping off a total stranger who has done nothing to you. I'm a big guy and it makes me want to beat the crap out of the gesturer.A recent entry in one of my favorite blogs relates how the writer gleefully flips off Hummers. Just because the writer has misconceptions about that automobile and probably knows nothing about the environmental activities of the Hummer driver, what gives the writer the right to flip off an innocent stranger? The writer is under the misconception that his gesturing is protected under the "First Amendment" (he really should study the Constitution before writing about it). I truly believe the blog writer is a nice person, but needs to learn that polite manners are for useeverywhere.Dear Flipped:Etiquetteer is fascinated by bird life, but not this kind! Perfectly Proper ladies and gentlemen know what this "splendid gesture" means, but it is not a part of their body language vocabulary. When Etiquetteer wags an Admonitory Digit, you may be sure it isn't the middle finger.But what you're really interested to learn is how you can guide this digitally profane blogger into the paths of Perfect Propriety, yes? Etiquetteer will observe that true cretins frequently try to use the law or the Holy Bible to justify bad behavior. They may indeed have the right to offend in any way they wish; they ALSO have the right to suffer the consequences. So if this blogger is mowed down in a fit of road rage by a raving-mad Hummer driver, so be it.The roadways of the world are tense enough as it is. Please encourage your friend to promote Highway Harmony, Road Safety, and Perfect Propriety by refraining from shooting the finger. He really ought to channel his anger more constructively in other ways, perhaps by joining the Sierra Club or something.

Dear Etiquetteer:When is it OK to call a colleague honey, sweetie, sweetheart or sweetpea? I thought I could use it if I am intimate with someone, no? I am so confused!Ooh, honey:You just might have come to the wrong person with this question. Etiquetteer will admit to being very free -- perhaps too free -- with terms of endearment in the workplace -- shucks, just about everyplace! Etiquetteer once nicknamed a particular boss "BooBoo" to the delight of all, including the boss in question.But let's face it -- that's not really Perfectly Proper. Oh no.In the Politically Correct New Millennium, it's unwise to use terms Lecherous Old Men used to use for Beautiful Young Women when referring to anyone, especially of the opposite gender. Some overly sensitive person could sue you and you'd end up in front of Judge Judy. And this is especially true in the workplace.That said, a nickname can cement a close working relationship with a colleague. Long story short, save the terms of endearment for close colleagues.

Dear Etiquetteer:It's almost the end of January, and I'm sorry to say that I still have a box of Christmas presents at home that I have to give to people. Most of them are for friends, but one or two are for family members. Obviously I don't want to save these for next Christmas, but I also don't want to make people feel like an afterthought. We just couldn't find time to get together in December. Is it bad to give them their Christmas presents now?Dear Gifting:Yes Virginia, there is a problem here. What you're telling Etiquetteer is that you're too busy at Christmas for Christmas. You could take a tip from a group of friends Etiquetteer knows and have your Christmas celebration after Christmasand New Year's festivities. This group usually gets together for a meal around Twelfth Night (also known as Epiphany, when the Three Kings finally showed up with their gifts) and exchange gifts then. No reason you couldn't host such a gathering with modest refreshments and good cheer, and you could hand people their gifts as they leave.But trust Etiquetteer, if you're still hanging on to those gifts by Valentine's Day, you need to evaluate why you're still buying these folks presents in the first place. They may need to graduate to your card list.Dear Etiquetteer:I think some people in my office talk way too much in group meetings. I don't know if it's because they like hearing themselves, or whether they actually believe they are the only ones amongst us who work hard; either way they are loud, annoying meeting hijackers. The thing is, what they usually say in meetings is often not new because most have been either communicated via e-mail, reported at other meetings, or you've overheard it through the thin office walls. To those of us who work just as hard as these loud domineering colleagues, but are respectful of other people's time and space, we have passed the Advil and Tylenol way too many times to count. Is there a school these people can be sent to to learn that with a little bit of consideration they can actually save us a lot of time by keeping their mouths shut! Any advice you can give will be most appreciated.Dear Fuming:Etiquetteer is very familiar with this type of gasbag, and they can be fun toneedle in large meetings. Start questioning their basic assumptions and seethem lose their control. Try it . . . it's fun!Seriously, though, the person to whom you should speak is the person running themeeting. Large group meetings need to be particularly focused so that everyone'stime is most efficiently used. If you're able to approach this person (andEtiquetteer thinks you should before you lose your cool), work with them tocreate a more specific and tightly focused agenda that will dramatically reducethe bloviation of your colleague.Etiquetteer, who these days has more trouble disguising his impatience intime-wasting meetings, has also taken to announcing a "time check." "I'm very sorry to interrupt you Ermentrude, but it's now 1:37 PM and we have 13 more agenda items before our meeting ends at 2:00 PM." This can be a risky strategy in an organization with a complicated hierarchy, but it's better than blowing up at someone . . . or going out for a drink with gossipy colleagues after work and spilling all your frustrations so they can tell everyone how much you hate Ermentrude the next day.

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Family E-mail, Vol. 5, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:Over the past two years, my family has finally caught up with the 20th century and embraced e-mail as an easy way to negotiate functions, such as party planning and babysitting. I set up a list, in fact, for posting such information. It worked very well until six months ago, when I realized I wasn't receiving messages that everyone else said they had seen.I was forwarded two or three, all from my sister-in-law, who sent details about her children's birthday parties and Christmas to everyone (including her husband) except me. I found it particularly strange when she sent out an e-mail asking everyone if they had a list of gift-exchange partners that I had sent out last year, instead of asking me directly or including me on the mass e-mail.The final straw came when I was forwarded a lengthy e-mail exchange between both my sisters-in-law (who cc:d everyone in my family except my mother and me) discussing where to hold my mother’s birthday dinner. The two of them had come to the conclusion that their own houses were too small for the affair, and they were going to hold the dinner in a rented hall.My brother (who forwarded the e-mail to me) said, "I don't know why you weren't included in this." I thanked him for sending me the message, and sent an e-mail to the entire family list letting them know that renting a hall was not only the last thing Mother would want, and if their places were too small to hold a family get-together, her own house has always been perfectly roomy, and I would make her favorite dinner for everyone to celebrate.My question is: Should I leave it at that? Would sending this message to the whole family, letting the culprits know that I am privy to this hidden information whisking around the Web be enough to alert them to the fact that I want and need to be included in family business? My sister-in-law and I have a history of getting along and not getting along, but we don't speak very often alone. Should I take a more direct approach and have a face-to-face conversation with her, letting her know that I, too, am part of the family, and I consider being left out to be hurtful and rude? Is there another, more polite path I can take?Dear e-Pariah:Etiquetteer doesn’t really understand why people try to pull this stuff. It’s so easy to trace!From your letter, it certainly sounds as though all the suspect e-mail has its roots with your sister-in-law. And if this has really been going on for six documented months, we can no longer assume that it’s just a mistake. Etiquetteer sees your sister-in-law actively excluding you from family affairs.While Etiquetteer loathes direct confrontation, this situation has reached the stage where you must speak with her face to face. Tell your sister-in-law, calmly and patiently, that you’ve noticed her excluding you from e-mail communication with the rest of the family for an extended period, that you think she’s leaving you out deliberately, and ask her to stop. You could also ask her why she’s leaving you out, but be careful: she could tell you, and you may not want to hear.Moving forward, for as long as your sister-in-law is part of your family, you will need to head her off at the pass. You yourself now need to start future discussions of your mother’s birthday and other family business in which you expect to take part. When you send e-mail, Etiquetteer recommends including a footer along the lines of "Please reply to the list at [Insert List E-mail Here] so that no one is left out of this discussion."Now Etiquetteer is going to talk about your mother’s birthday and the position of daughters-in-law in a family. The old Biblical stereotype of the daughter-in-law who moves in with her husband’s family essentially to serve as kitchen help to her mother-in-law no longer applies, thank goodness, but the residue of it clings when big family events arise. Daughters-in-law (and daughters, too) frequently get left "holding the bag," as it were, having to do a whole lot of cooking and cleaning and much less enjoying than anyone else at the party. Perhaps this is the root of your sisters-in-law’s planning, bypassing someone who’s, ahem, rather forceful? Etiquetteer has no way of knowing this, but offers it for your consideration.

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Reader Response, Vol. 3, Issue 8

On Pregnancy: Great advice. When my wife was pregnant, and feeling ugly and fat, she once asked me: "Did I always look this fat?" I am still, 30 years later, wondering how I could respond to that without getting in trouble. Either "yes" or "no" was wrong. "You look mah-vah-lous" probably would have worked, if I had thought of it. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer recently spoke with a lady whose pregnancy was just beginning to show. When she expressed concern that she just looked fat and not pregnant, Etiquetteer told her "You look just the way you ought to look." In response to "Lil Mama," I can only say that her griping is insufferable. Having recently given birth myself, I know what it was like to hear all kinds of comments, including those expressing surprise that I was even pregnant. Frankly, I had bigger things to worry about -- would this, my fourth pregnancy, really go to term? Would this baby, unlike the others, be healthy? -- and was grateful for any kind comment or kindly-intended comment that came my way. The worries that Lil Mama detailed, such as, "Did I eat the wrong thing?" or, "Shouldn't my baby be kicking by now?" are universal worries, no matter if the pregnancy is the first or tenth. Having a baby is purely miraculous, even though it happens thousands of times every day. Even for women who suffer terribly to even survive the process of pregnancy and birth. Lil Mama should simply be thankful that she was able to get pregnant, carry full term, and will give birth to a baby confirmed to be in good health. Etiquetteer responds: Your letter provides proof that many ladies react to their own pregnancies with emotion, in greater or lesser degree. Etiquetteer thanks you for recognizing the good intent behind comments that came your way. 

On Private Situations: So bizarre to read about that person who is undergoing the "embarrassing surgery" as I am sure I know what it is. Well, okay, I guess it's also that I do call people to offer support (it's my other business) when they undergo surgery for colon cancer, etc., that renders them with an -ostomy of some kind. I know, it's a bit of a focused hobby, but I love it! Anyway, I recognize that sound in that person's letters, and heck, even if I'm wrong, you gave the right advice. It truly is none of their co-workers’ business, and only those you choose to tell should be the ones to know. They're obviously having a surgery that will leave them feeling more conspicuous than it really is, but to them, "whoa!" I like what you said. There are also websites to suggest for people with just about any ailment, illness, or surgery when they write with that sound of "feeling alone in the world", which of course, they never are.Just a suggestion that you tell people to search for such supporting websites under the illness or procedure they are going to have. It can save a "depressed" person's life, in many, many ways, to post a question to a message board and receive dozens of supportive, non-biased, open, responses.

On Debutante Balls: My sainted mother would muse..."Whatever happened to the days when it was not necessary to post the dress code on an invitation? People just knew what to wear." Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer could not agree more, but now hostesses run the danger of ignorant free spirits showing up in track suits instead of black tie. What’s even worse are those folks who know better but decide that they "don’t want to take the trouble" and show up in less than their best. And what’s even worse than that – the lowest of the low – are those who show up in proper dress and gradually strip off during the evening. Etiquetteer remembers being thrilled with horror to see a photo of Julian Schnabel in the once great SPY magazine at some enormous charity hoo-hah, jacket on one chair, cummerbund and tie on another, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, deep in conversation with another guest. Thank goodness he didn’t take off his shoes and put them up on the table . . .

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

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