(Photo credit: Helen Jane Hearn/TueNight)
At brunch last Sunday, in one of the quaintest, grass-fed-filled Brooklyn establishments, my husband and I asked for a refill of our coffee mugs. Smiling, the server speedily took away the mugs and replaced them with two “to-go” paper cups of coffee.
We hadn’t asked for the check — heck, we weren’t even finished with our omelets. But without so much as asking us if we wanted them, she slid the paper cups in front of us. A not-so-subtle cue to hurry up and scram. This wasn’t the first time this had happened; pushing diners along is part of a growing trend to ditch civility and opt for turnover. The Washington Post wrote about this back in June, citing the trend of clearing before everyone was finished noting “restaurants have abandoned, or simply overlooked, a classic tenet of service etiquette.”
Allow me to channel Andy Rooney for just a minute. (You don’t know who Andy Rooney is? SIGH. What are you doing on this site?? Harrumph.)
What the hell is happening to good manners?
And I don’t just mean using the salad fork correctly. In fact, I’m all for elbows on the table when warranted (poor, long-suffering Mable) and eating with your hands as appropriate.
The problem is that we serve ourselves first, we don’t say please and thank you, we text incessantly at dinner and restaurants are revising the rules. I know I’m not alone in my irritation. Much ado has been made in the last few years about our failing manners, citing technology, economics and the fast pace of our global society as the primary culprits.
As a kid, manners were drilled into us every night at the dinner table. “You won’t be able to live in society without good manners!” said one or the other parent, while pounding on the table to get us to stop squalling and put our napkins in our laps.
Sure, some of our disappearing manners are silly or exclusionary to begin with — writer Tamar Adler noted the impossibility of eating soup correctly — but some are a matter of functioning as an efficient society.
Specifically, I mean my three personal poor etiquette peeves:
- Knife and fork at 4 o’clock. This one may seem small and fancy pants, but if we all did it, I’m telling you, our collective lives would improve. To signal you’re finished, you place your knife and fork parallel at 4 o’clock or 11 o’clock with the fork tines facing up. The waiter knows they can clear your plate — neither one of you has to say a word to each other. Easy. Yet, no one does it anymore. Here’s a nice dining etiquette visual.
- The person coming out or getting off has the right of way. This one makes my blood boil. If I could count the increasing number of times someone has pushed on to the subway while I am trying to leave or walked into a coffee shop as I’m attempting to leave… it just doesn’t work. It’s physics. It’s displacement of matter. It slows all of us down, including you, Rude-y.
- Thank you. If someone holds the door for you, say “Thank you.” A simple acknowledgement that goes a long way to ensuring a civil society and a happy day. Just do it.
You probably have your own manner missteps. One TueNighter bemoans the loss of eye contact from a salesperson. “That’s part of the price of the shirt I’m buying in your store. Look me in the damn eye!” An older acquaintance hates when anyone says, “No problem” instead of you’re welcome, like your request could have been a problem. “It’s totally self-centered.”
Some of this is just the changing times and words, but the sentiment is still there. As Emily Post’s great-granddaughter Cindy Post Senning told NPR in a 2012 article, “It is respectful to make requests rather than demands, to show gratitude and appreciation, to greet others, to give our complete attention, to acknowledge appreciation shown, to acknowledge and show respect for age, standing, importance.”
Maybe I’m just peeved because I have been duped — I can in fact exist in society without good manners.
I just would prefer not to.
This week we’re mulling modern manners:
- Annette Earling says be nice to Siri
- Rosemary Darigo is okay with un-friending you
- Penny Wrenn imagines a customer service vigilante
- Melissa Rayworth wants her kids to stop interrupting
- Helen Jane avoids the local gossip
Please and thank you,