Service of Manners 2012

March 1st, 2012

Categories: Assistant, Generational Differences, Manner of Speech, Manners, Thanks

We’ve addressed manners before. I’d like your opinions about the following:

Arriving at a [morning] meeting with your own coffee

People do this all the time. Usually coffee is served, but especially if it isn’t, I would feel uncomfortable being the only one slurping. While it seems acceptable, do you do it?

“Let me find out if Mr./Ms. X is in”

This is what you say if you want to make the caller feel second class. Everyone knows the person is in and is evaluating whether to speak with you. There are smoother ways to say this.

Please keep your shoes off the examination table

According to both a radiology technician and doctor in an office with brand new examination tables, there are patients who pick a fight over the request to “please remove your shoes.” In addition, the doctor has seen folks with their shoes on the upholstered furniture in her waiting room.

People also do this on a train, thoughtless of others who will sit where their muddy shoes have been. Is this acceptable behavior these days?

How many times should you follow up on a business outreach?

I try calling, emailing and writing and emailing again–with more info–and as deadlines dictate, I take silence as “no.”  It sure would be nice if recipients took a sec to write “no thanks” but I know that’s too much to ask. How many times do you follow up?

Peeking at emails on smartphone or iPad during a meeting

Mea culpa and I know it is rude. If the meeting drags, it’s so tempting to sneak a quick look.

Thank you notes

A friend in her mid-80s who sends gifts galore shrugged and noted that “nobody writes thank you notes anymore” so “get over it,” she said when I mentioned how many long distance gift recipients send zero smoke signals–no tweet, email, postcard or phone call. I was reevaluating whether or not to send anything to the silent ones in future.

Note: I get thank yous from children, young adults and adults and I write them too. Are we the rude ones?

Grooming in public

I feel queasy when someone clips their nails or flosses in a bus, subway or train. Monday on the train a woman across the aisle used some kind of atomizer to spray the air around her. The scent and whatever else was in the can wafted over to me. Is public transportation the new washroom?

12 Responses to “Service of Manners 2012”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    To paraphrase the remarks of a manners authority, whose name I forget, good manners are basically consideration for others, and have little to do with proper placement of fork or spoon at a dinner table. It boils down to concern for sensitivities and common sense.

    One need not be a rocket scientist to know that fighting in public ill reflects upon the participants and that permitting ones cell to ring during a performance is not only ill mannered but downright stupid. Thank you notes are not necessary if acknowledgement is made in person, but mandatory otherwise, 80 year old “friends” pronouncement notwithstanding. It’s all very simple: Just use your head!

  2. Dmanzaluni Said:

    On the contrary, checking email can be mandatory as the only tactful way of expressing your boredom at the direction the meeting is going and how you would like to get back on topic or to more pertinent matters

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Use your head is the rule that should dictate action: Would you want to sit on a muddy train seat or put your head on an examining table that someone else had dirtied with their shoes, be performing and have the scene disrupted by a ringing telephone? All answers: NO.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Aha! When people formerly looked at their watches as a signal that “your time is up,” or “you lost me” or “I must get going,” now they check email! Perfect.

  5. EAM Said:


    I think if you bring coffee/tea to a morning meeting, you aren’t necessarily showing a disregard for other co-workers, you’re just taking care of your own need.

    Re: business outreach, I generally would say 2-3 times should be the max. amount of follow ups and you know I’m tenacious. Sometimes our desire for an answer outweighs our better judgment.

    I think if you have a meeting among your peers, it’s OK to sneak a peek on your tablet, iPhone but if it’s a client meeting or someone who’s doing a presentation, it’s important to give that person your undivided attention. Likewise, over a date or a dinner with a spouse and especially at the theater! I think that thank-yous are underrated, people love to get acknowledgement.

  6. Martha Takayama Said:

    Can there ever be an excess of good manners? Especially in these unruly times with ever more offensive and tasteless political campaigns, no holds barred reality television shows, incredibly fanciful “memoirs” of indiscretions so ancient that they cannot be challenged, and cult like glorification of rudeness and vulgarity?

    I think there this an ever widening need for basic manners. They tend to make all situations more agreeable, and in the extreme serve as a counter-balance to potential anarchy. Consideration of your fellow man or woman never causes anguish or irreparable harm, as it would seem bullying and mistreatment obviously do.

    In our contradictory culture with constant talk of political correctness we seem to excuse all kinds of self-indulgence. A little reserve, and discretion, as well as respect for others all of which reflect “good manners” would inherently limit potential for inappropriate behavior or harassment.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I realize that I wasn’t clear when I described the “bring coffee to a meeting” point. I don’t mean a meeting with office colleagues in an office or the conference room where you work; I mean in someone else’s office, in a different company than yours.

    I agree with your two to three business outreach range. I’ve found, however, that people have thanked for my persistence in some cases. I am also quite surprised when a year later I hear from someone who wants to cover a client, for example, when I hadn’t heard a peep from them at the time I first knocked on their virtual door.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a brilliant comment: “In our contradictory culture, with constant talk of political correctness, we seem to excuse all kinds of self-indulgence.” We could draft a post on this topic alone….the same people who swoon at a turn-of-phrase are often the ones who will let a door slam in the face of an elderly person with a cane so they can beat him/her to the elevator or a retail counter. Others will bang the table to remonstrate about a politically incorrect thought that affects them while tossing around nasty barbs in areas about which they feel no sensitivity.

  9. Hank Goldman Said:

    I read your post and am in total agreement that manners are very
    different “nowadays”!

    I believe the smartphones and Blackberries started the trend toward
    thinking; “I am the only one that matters”.

    Everything you mentioned has egotism in common.

    Feet on train seats are my pet peeve, and when asked, most “normal”
    people don’t realize they are doing it and just say “sorry” and take
    their feet off the seat. (Of course the damage is already done).
    There are those who feel entitled, so I carry small cardboard “feet”
    for them to use as foot-doilies. They “get the point” and feel
    embarrassed into allowing someone to sit where they once dominated!

    Anyway, Jeanne, you and I are in the minority… it may be an
    age-related thing.

    When elevators were first put into service the etiquette books had to
    tell riders to “face front”, no one knew how to behave.
    That seems to have been tossed aside as well!
    Young adults will face you in an elevator and talk to their friends
    on their cell-phone at the same time!

    Ahhh, Youth!!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I would LOVE to see your foot doilies. I wonder if you have a super business idea here? You could sell them to shoe repair, shoeshine, shoe stores and other relevant businesses and they’d print their addresses on them.

    However I think the foot-on-furniture and train seat crowd is equal parts adults and youth, at least on the train I take upstate.

    The elevator face front etiquette I THINK is founded on safety. Buildings don’t advise tenants about such issues as it’s assumed everyone knows. Speaking of building safety, it may be due to budget cutbacks or a cheap building owner, but the office building in which I rent space no longer conducts fire drills. When they occured we’d all groan and some employees/tenants always remained behind. In other buildings we had fire drills twice a year at least.

  11. Jeremiah Said:

    In Texas, if you don’t use a vise-like grip when you shake a hand, you are considered a wimp. In Arab countries, using a firm grip will probably offend the gripee, unless he knows about western habits. Manners are largely affectations of one’s culture and class.

    Far too many of us are far too easily offended when someone does something rude out of sheer ignorance of our customs and mores. With the best of intentions, people often innocently make others uncomfortable or appear to be rude. What counts, is what they are feeling, not what they are doing.

    Speaking of bringing coffee to a meeting, I worked in a bank where no alcohol was ever served with meals. Our chairman was having lunch with the chairman of an Argentine bank whom he actually liked personally. The Argentine especially enjoyed having a large martini before lunch, and knowing that he wouldn’t get one at this particular lunch, he had two at a bar across the street before arriving. Simultaneously, because he liked the man (as well as martinis), our chairman decided to break all the rules, which he could, and serve martinis this day. His guest, knowing he was being specially honored, couldn’t turn the drinks down, and had a devil of a time appearing bankerly sober during the meal. Both men had a great laugh when the story came out.

    A Bahraini diplomat once told me that when he was a young man, he had met President Roosevelt at Hyde Park during World War II. He was there as the Ruler of Bahrain’s interpreter for an informal meeting between the chiefs of state. After the meeting, asked for his impression of the President, the Ruler said he that he had been offended because the President had not risen to greet him nor to say good by to him. Nobody had thought to tell him that his host was paralyzed from the waist down.

    Some wonder how I can be so tolerant of people, young and old, who do not write “thank you” notes. As a young dyslectic, I can remember how I dreaded it when people would give me gifts for which I would have to write such a note. The misery was far greater than the pleasure of the gift. Manners should be far more than just a bunch of rules.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    First off, children today have so many acceptable ways of thanking–a phone call, an email. And I’ve heard that computers have saved many a dyslectic as the computer keys are easier to control than a hand that must write. There are even thank you cards that help say it all–Trader Joe’s has nice ones for 99 cents.

    I think Lucrezia’s “Use your head” comment will make a person mannerly overall. They won’t know not to write on a Japanese person’s business card, not to show the bottom of their shoe to an Arab when crossing their legs or not to finsih every last drop of a glass of liquor in Poland if they don’t want a refill–they would need to be told–but a person’s attitude, powers of observation, and ability to ask go a long way.

    And there’s the golden rule–Do you want to sit on a dirty seat? Find someone else’s nail clippings on your lap? Be forced to hear someone’s loud phone conversation? Perhaps the title of this post should have been “Thoughtfulness 2012.”

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