Friday, November 24, 2017

Etiquette, New York Times Version

Despite appearances, some advice columnists offer good, solid, sensible advice. In the interest of positive thinking, and before I write a post about one of the columnists from New York Magazine, I will offer a few words about Philip Galanes who writes the etiquette column at the New York Times.

Galanes is consistently thoughtful… which is the most you have a right to expect from a columnist. In yesterday’s column he answered four letters. Take a look, and think to yourself whether you agree with his answers.

First letter:

I recently switched jobs and have been training to use a complicated new computer system. The young woman helping me is terrific: kind, innovative and bright. While training, I learned that she was a teen mom and lifted herself from difficult circumstances. She is interviewing very soon for a better position in the company. But I’ve noticed that her grammar is occasionally poor, and I fear it may hold her back. Could I say something to her? She’s never asked for my advice, but we’ve talked about our desire for advancement.

First response, abbreviated:

Assuming “interviewing very soon” means … well, very soon, I picture an interaction like so: “Denise, you’re terrific, but your grammar stinks. Now, get into that interview room and knock ’em dead!” You have just enough time to destabilize her, but not enough to teach her subject-verb agreement. Let’s try a different tack.

Write to the human-resources department, or whomever your co-worker is interviewing with, and praise her to the heavens. If she’s the Stephen Sondheim of computer trainers, let the gods of advancement know. Be specific about her ingenuity and underscore her drive to grow. (But leave out the “teen mom” business; she probably told you that in friendly confidence.)

Sounds good to me… right on the money. By the way, some people do fail to get jobs because of their bad grammar. One imagines the schools do not teach grammar any more… so we know who to blame. If they did their first lesson should be to explain that if you use the common locution “I seen” you sound illiterate.

Second letter:

I am a gay guy who rarely uses hookup apps. So I was pretty shocked when my sister’s boyfriend turned up at my place via Scruff. Our faces are sort of hidden in our profiles. He begged me not to tell my sister. I want to be straight with her, but I’d hate to “out” someone. What do you think?

Second response:

One word for you, Jay: sister! Of course you’re going to tell her. Sharing the same womb trumps the shaded complexity of outing. And you are not going to date this guy, either …

Of course means of course. Points to Galanes. If you imagined for an instant that he should keep the secret, you get three demerits.

Third letter:

I am an avid gardener and keep our small yard in top shape. I find it soothing after my busy weeks as a high school teacher and dad to two young girls. Our neighbor knocked on our door and asked me not to use the leaf blower on Sundays. He said it is his only day to rest and doesn’t want to hear my “noise pollution.” I was taken aback but told him I would think about it. Outrageous, right?

Third response:

Before we get to your loathsome leaf blower, let me pay you a sincere compliment: If more people responded as you did (“Let me think about it”) when they felt aggravated by the demands of others, civility would increase exponentially. Just take a beat and respond later when you’re cooler headed. Well done, Robert!

Again, a good piece of advice. Think before you abandon impulse control. Spontaneity is overrated. I know nothing about the noise levels of leaf blowers, but I heartily endorse the Galanes view: namely, that we will enhance societal civility if we pause before saying something stupid. At a time when everyone thinks that there is some special virtue in saying No, the truth remains that the civil response is: Let me think about it.

Fourth letter:

My 30-year-old son is vegan. My wife (his stepmother) tries to accommodate him at family meals. But he often complains to me privately that her vegan dishes are bland. And my wife makes not-so-subtle swipes at the table about the extra work. This week, my son emailed me to ask if it would offend my wife if he brought some dishes to Thanksgiving. He added that her vegan offerings were limited last year. My wife saw the email and flipped her tofu. How should I handle this?

Fourth response:

Something tells me — O.K., it’s the nasty two-way sniping — that food is not the culprit here. Tell your son, privately, that he should be a more gracious guest. More important, tell him that your wife reads your emails. (He has an expectation of privacy when writing to you directly.) Next, inform your wife that passive-aggressive zingers about slaving in the kitchen do not flatter any host. Then arrange for your son to bring a few vegan options to supplement your wife’s undoubtedly delicious meal. 

Precisely. We will ignore the fact that a thirty-year old male should not be respected for being a whiny vegan. And obviously, if the young whiner wants to eat his own special “tempeh tacos” as Galanes calls them, he can do as he pleases. Of course, his failure to partake of the feast on the same terms as everyone else makes him look like an outsider. In some cases it makes him look like he is sitting in judgment over everyone else's carnivorous impulses. Be that as it may, he has no right to complain about the food on offer.

Anyway, as I see it, that’s four-for-four for Galanes. Kudos for a job well done.


trigger warning said...

Computer chick: Give advice only when asked. If someone actually cares what you think, they will ask. Mind your own business.

Gay guy: Given the reality that one has a higher probability of contracting an STD from a bisexual or gay male than from a straight male, your duty is not to your identity group but to your sister.

Garden freak: My guess is that none of your neighbors want to listen to your leaf blower on Sunday. Buy an electric blower or negotiate a better time for that task.

Vegan weirdo: Your food phobias are your problem. Quit virtue signaling and bring your own swill.

Galanes seems a practical guy, unadorned with the latest psychobabble "theory".

Of course, Carl Jung would say... :-D

sestamibi said...

Agree with all except #2. "Let me think about that" only kicks the can down the road, and #2 will soon have to decide whether or not to comply with his neighbor's request. @trigger warning: you have no idea whether #2's neighbors agree with the complainant.

#2 should make his decision based on his availability to do what his yard requires. Other considerations are how long and how often (seems to me leaf blowers are of limited use during a couple of days in the fall, and how much noise actually is generated. I wouldn't know since I always raked mine. Lot more time consuming, but good exercise). If he has no other time during the week, then Sunday it is, and neighbor will have to live with it. I suspect that neighbor would be complaining regardless of #2's leaf blowing schedule.

trigger warning said...

"@trigger warning: you have no idea whether #2's neighbors agree with the complainant."

Of course you are right. But I do know that many towns and cities have already banned the use of gasoline leaf blowers precisely because of tne objectionable noise (they are loud enough that the wise operator will wear ear protection). Many others have noise ordinances that apply to leaf blowers, etc., so thats always a more aggressive, possibly entertaining, option for the lover of quietude. I confess to owning 2 Echo backpack blowers (I have several large trees on a large lot).

But my takeaway from your comment is to remember to count my blessing that I live in a neighborhood with nice, respectful neighbors who will make an effort to get along in harmony without taking every request as an affront to their liberty.

Sam L. said...

Leaf blowers are quite noisy. Ask the neighbor when he attends church, so you can be sure he won't be able to complain about the noise.