Posts Tagged ‘etiquette’

NTKOG #66: The kind of girl whose personal obligations are significantly more pressing than your own, and so who feels quite at home putting her needs before yours.

I am: a bit less than the average amount of busy and important, on balance.

I am not,: for instance, employed. Or, at present, wearing real pants.

Some Context: I read about a study a few years ago, looking at line-cutting as a social phenomenon, and set in a copy store. There were two phases in the study. First, the experimenter would go to a machine with a line and simple ask to cut in front of the people ahead of him. In the second phase, the experimenter would ask to cut ahead of the people in front of him and then say, by explanation: “I need to copy these papers.” Well, I mean, no shit — everyone at Kinko’s needs to copy papers — but, amazingly, although very few people in the first group let him cut, the second group overwhelmingly allowed Mr. “I Need to Copy” on ahead.

Um, did I need to try this or what?! Usually, though, I have kind of a thing about cutting people in line. But I girded up my loins for three encounters:

The Scene:

Encounter the first: Thursday morning, 10:30am, at the local Stop&Shop. There are only two lines open, so I enter the one where a woman is unloading about three kids’ worth of frozen chicken tenders and pre-cut apple slices. I am carrying a box of cereal, a carton of soy milk, and an Archie comic. Clearly vital purchases, right?

I clear my throat (my heart freezing with fear and self-loathing, natch) and ask her: “Excuse me, can I go in front of you? I need to buy these things?”

Weirdly, she not only says yes, but adds, “I’m sorry!” as though it should have occurred to her to let me go ahead of her in the first place! Because clearly someone who is at home in a Green Day hoodie mid-morning on a Tuesday has some PRETTY URGENT BUSINESS TO GET TO. Like that conference call. With Riverdale.

Encounter the Second: It occurred to me that the last woman may have been so accommodating because she was buying so much more than I was, so I pitted myself against a shopper who was buying less than me. Trader Joe’s in Brookline, a Sunday night, I pop in the store and pick up frozen pizza, chocolate Mochi and a carton of milk. Ahead of me in line, a man is purchasing a bottle of Malbec and parmesan crisps (uh, sir — call me). We wait for a few people to ring up, then shortly before the gentleman puts his belongings on the “next-in-line” ledge, I ask: “Can I go in front of you? I need to buy these things?”

This guy, to his credit, looked skeptically at me (wearing highly respectable black trackpants) and my purchases, but maybe the carton of milk won him over, because he sighed audibly, but jerked his elbow to usher me ahead of him in line. The upshot? My rudeness saved me seconds — maybe even a minute — over the course of my busy and important day.

Encounter the Third: Totally weirded out by the success of this ploy, I decided to pit my final experiment against someone closer to my own insolent age. Indian corner store, across the street from my apartment. I am buying a can of organic soup, while a tall, swaggering guy close to my own age picks up a bag of tortilla chips and a Cherry Coke Zero.

“Excuse me,” I ask, “can I go ahead of you? I need to buy this.

“Yeah, I need to buy this too,” he says, positively spearing me with a look of derision. He turns back to the store owner and asks for a pack of Camel Lights, then mutters under his breath, “Crazy bitch.”

The Verdict: Guys! Never in my life have I been quite so glad to be called a crazy bitch! It’s a sign that at least one person in this whole mixed-up world isn’t TOTALLY BONKERS. It really did seem that most people would have been — although not happy — perfectly willing to let me cut in front of them in line, just for having the stones to ask.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that this is because it’s so rare for people to talk to or make requests of strangers that they assume in order for you to actually cross that magical line of interpersonal conduct, your need must be dire. Even when, in cases like mine, it visibly was not.

TOTALLY INSANE! And a really cool thing to experiment with in human psychology, but totally, totally not that kind of girl. There’s no sense in acting more important than you are, in my mind — especially when it leads to potentially inconveniencing others. I felt pretty bad both times I cut in line and wouldn’t do it again. Although it is a great reminder that if you want something from someone, it never hurts to ask!


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NTKOG #51: The kind of affectionate, magnetically vivacious woman who doles out hugs like candy at a parade and punctuates every conversation with casual contact.

I am: an armchair person, not a couch person. As in, I will not even sit two people to a three-person couch with someone I have known for years. And if my leg accidentally grazes yours, rest assured I will apologize until you become semantically satiated with the word “sorry”.

I am not: super comfortable with personal contact. Can you tell?

The Scene: In an effort to grow slightly less neurotic about never touching anyone ever ever ever, I’ve been attempting to — um, touch strangers in what I consider to be inappropriate ways? Okay. That doesn’t sound quite as noble when you say it aloud. Nonetheless, a trio of interactions:

The Acquaintance Hug: A few mornings ago, one of my co-workers entered the office in a fairly deflated mood. She’s usually warm and vibrant, very sweet girl, but whatever combination of events — some confluence of relationship and finances and all the thousand slights the world sometimes likes to heap on you before breakfast — had chipped her veneer.

“Dude,” I said, standing up. “You need a hug?”

I was only a little horrified when she actually folded herself into my awkwardly proffered embrace. Then I stood there, not moving, waiting for her to leave. Apparently she didn’t think it was weird, and I was glad to be emotionally available, I guess, but dude: not. a. hugger.

The Coquette Tap: I see women all the time who, when talking to a man, will flirtatiously tap on his arm to get his attention or signal that he ought to pay attention to the totally brilliant thing she just said. This, to me, is weird. I mean, shouldn’t your voice and face be all the verbal italics you need in conversation? Is the point of the tap just a reminder? Hey! Bodies! We have them! We maybe could use them to hook up as a result of this conversation?

No single story here, but I’ve made a conscious effort to use this technique when talking to random guys I meet — especially on the T, where we’re stuck sitting in close proximity anyway. I tend to reach out for the casual upper-arm tap to underscore the fact that I’m joking when I say mean-funny things, just to lighten my tone. Because, yeah, I’m one of those smart girls who’s kind of a jerk to guys. Regret to inform! Basic results of this: the guys don’t seem to notice it one way or the other, but I always feel profoundly awkward afterwards.

The Fist Bump: Last night, as I was wandering around Cambridge trying to find the School of Government for a professor’s office hours, I got hopelessly lost and decided to ask the next grad student-aged passerby for directions. A guy passed me and I tapped his shoulder. When he spun around, I saw he was cute. Cutecute. I mean, so attractive that he was almost ugly — like a young Robert De Niro with designer stubble and the kind of Mediterranean beachy blue eyes you just want to bathe in.

TKOG: Uh, excuse me, do you know where the Kennedy School of Government is?
Seriously Movie Star-ish Leading Man: I’m sorry, I have completely no idea where that is.
TKOG: We. We have so much in common right now.
SMSLM: Yeah, I’m really feeling that bond.
TKOG: Pound it?

I offered him my fist and he switched his cigarette to the other hand and, y’know, knuckle-bumped, then — weirdly, amazingly — used his cigarette hand to pull me into a, like, slightly bro-ish but non-A-frame hug. I was afraid for a moment that his cigarette would burn my hair. But, guys, I kind of didn’t care. I mean, this guy was too cute to even be talking to me, let alone hugging me on a street corner.

After a second, he pulled away and wished me good luck finding the School of Gov. Which I basically floated to on a cloud of deep personal well-being.

The Verdict: Um, movie-star Harvard guys? You can hug me all you want. Everyone else? Look, I’m sorry, and don’t take it personally, but I’m just going to go ahead and sit on my side of the couch and you can sit … on another couch … in another house … and maybe we can just email each other. Unless you’re on my “people I couldn’t live without” list, there’s just no reason we ever need to touch!

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NTKOG #46: The kind of overbearing know-it-all who takes it upon herself to get all Dear Abby on any passerby.

I am: an avid, slavering observer in the grand theatre of life, that much is true. But a participant? Not so much.

I am not: even all that great at giving life advice to myself — let alone a hapless stranger.

The Scene: Friday night, walking from my sister’s place to my own. It is 11pm and I am the only sober person under the age of 28 in Brighton. Which is to say. I am the only sober person in Brighton.

I’m walking fast, music blaring through the ubiq earbuds, when I pass a pizza shack, in front of which two bros (really, verging even on brahs) are leaning, both looking cold, one staring intensely at his iPhone. Suddenly, as I am only a few feet away, the non-phone bro jams his hamfist in the other’s face and shouts:


So. Obviously this is a thing I must pursue. I turn around and de-bud, and non-phone guy immdiately apologizes, then jokes, “Yeah, I was yelling that at you!” Which confuses me further.

TKOG: But wait, what did you say? Did you just tell him not to fucking text her?
Non-Phone Brah: Oh, no, I said: “You fucking better.”
TKOG: Ohhh, I thought you were coaching him through a bad break-up and I was like, yeah, seriously, don’t text her, dude.
NPB: No, I just wanted my jacket back. He better get it back.
TKOG: So there’s like not even a girl involved? I’m disappointed.
NPB: There actually kind of is. I lent him my jacket last night then he hooked up with this chick and she borrowed it and I want my fucking jacket back.
TKOG: You’re a good friend. Okay, so how are you getting the jacket back?
Phone Guy: I’m texting her to go pick it up.
TKOG: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dude, don’t fucking text her.
PG: Why not?
TKOG: I mean, it sounds like you’re not like seeing each other. You guys friends? Friends of friends?
PG: She works with my cousin. We’ve hooked up like twice.
TKOG: Okay, and are you planning on hooking up with her again?
PG: Eh.
TKOG: Dude. Dude. You cannot just text her at 11 on a Friday night. She’s got plans with her friends and she’s going to end up getting all cute so you can come over and pick up your friggin’ jacket, because she’ll think you want to hook up, but actually you’re just hanging out with this guy all night.
PG: Seriously?
TKOG: Oh, most seriously. Don’t do it tonight. That’s an asshole move. Text her tomorrow morning and pick it up during the day. Like, seriously.
NPB: But what about my fucking jacket?
TKOG: Uh, yeah, your friend should be paying for rounds until you’re drunk enough that you’re not cold.
PG: That’s kind of funny. That might be good advice.

Then the ill-advised jacket lender asked where I was headed, to which I could only think, um, away from these fratty boys and their debauched weekend of jacket swapping. Obvi.

The Verdict: So, regardless of whether the guys followed my advice — or even whether said advice was actually sound? — this was a pretty funny and enjoyable exchange. I mean, obviously context is key. Couple arguing heatedly outside of Planned Parenthood? Yeah, I’ll skip that drama. Pleasant and fairly sober undergrads shouting at their cell phones? Dude, pretty okay way to pass a few minutes.

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NTKOG #38: The kind of girl who ignores perfectly good available tables in order to meet a new dining acquaintance while dining out on the town.

I am: fiercely possessive of my personal space while eating. One of the great pleasures in life is settling in to a tasty meal with a fantastic novel in front of you.

I am not: all too keen on watching anyone eat, anyway. It’s disgusting, all of that chewing and swallowing and digesting.

The Scene: The Italian hole-in-the-wall across the street from my apartment, which, though questionable in terms of culinary pleasure, has a quite enticing $5 lunch special. Perhaps because most of the city doesn’t have Columbus day off (empty laundromats! hooray!), the place is deserted except for a mid-30s guy in a shocking-yellow windbreaker waiting for his slices to come out of the oven.

I order my own slice and soda and stand by the counter, looking over the short story manuscript I am editing before the bastards in workshop can tear it apart, until my order is called. Then I pick up my plate, gesture to the seat in front of the man, and ask if I can join him. To my surprise, he does not even glance at the half-dozen empty tables around us before agreeing.

I go through the manuscript with my red pen for a while, then look up and he catches my attention:

Windbreaker: What are you working on?
TKOG: It’s a short story I wrote. I’m making some edits before I get started on a serious second draft.
W: Oh, cool. What’s it about?
: Uh, it’s kind of about — a girl who — has gone through something kind of terrible and, well, sort of burns down a house.
W: Is she a druggie?
TKOG: No. She’s just going through some stuff.
W: Was she drinking? I’ll bet she was drinking?
TKOG: Vodka was involved, yeah. Ha, isn’t it always?
W: I can tell you about vodka. I know about vodka.

The writing on the chest of the windbreaker advertises a roofing company, and there are thick splotches of what I can only guess to be tar on the man’s dust-beiged jeans. There is a gaping, symmetrical vertex pushing out the top and bottom rows of his teeth, like maybe he sucked his thumb a few too many years as a child, or a few keystone teeth are missing from the arch of his jaw. I cannot tell which and am not inclined to attempt some surreptitious tooth-counting, as his mouth is full of chunks of unchewed sausage.

W: This one night I got into a car crash by where I live and I had ten vodka White Russians inside me. Fractured ribs, broken nose. I get in this accident by where I’ve lived all my life and the cop knows me, the ambulence guy knows me. The ambulence guy kept trying to make me go with them but I said I was fine, then the cop told me, ‘Look, you either go with them or you’re coming with me.’
TKOG: So you went with them, I’m guessing?
W: I had to.

The while time he is talking, he is chewing the same over-large mouthful. He works the pizza dough and chunks of meat into a thick paste that pushes out the crevices of his teeth when he moves his tongue. I push my half-eaten slice in front of me.

Pro Tip: Do not try to pick up literary/intellectual girls with your tales of drunk-driving bravado. Just do not.

Pro Tip: Do not try to pick up literary/intellectual girls with your tales of drunk-driving bravado. Just do not.

In an attempt to be polite, I stay with him, staring fixedly down at my papers but making cheerful responses, until he has massacred his last bite. Then I pick up my plate and smile up at him, telling him I have to get going.

W: Hey, maybe you can add a roofer to the story.
TKOG: Maybe the next one.
W: A drunken roofer!

The Verdict: People are terrible.

What’s up, men of Boston? Why are you — in this bastion of intellectual vitality — seriously grossing me the frig out this week? Aren’t there any long-fingered, quivering-anxious Hamlets running around, waiting to meet a girl with more IQ points than teeth? And also, just for fun, maybe you could have the correct number of teeth?!

I think that, properly executed, this technique could be useful, so I’m not ruling it out. Obviously I just need to be a bit pickier when choosing my future victims. Ugh.

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NTKOG Follow-up: The kind of tireless social crusader who, undaunted by her UTTER failure to get loud-music earbud wearers to turn down their friggin’ music, reloads her arsenal with new techniques.

I am: a couple of weeks away from making headlines. “Four high schoolers bludgeoned in brutal seriously-are-your-earbuds-even-plugged-in?! train beating.” Contact me for the exclusive interview.

I am not: exaggerating.

The Methodology: I was prepared, after my last failure, to give up on trying to make the T a soothing environment, but your comments spurred me on, my cherished advocates for social change. We don’t have to listen to other people’s music! We should be allowed to read in peace on the damn train! I AM TAKING BACK THE SOUNDWAVES! So I brainstormed a few variations on the straight-forward ask. My results:

Variation 0 — Charades: Some of you made reference to some sort of miraculous international “turn down your volume” gesture. What is it, guys? I’m seriously drawing a blank. I’ve tried making eye contact with people and pantomiming turning a volume knob counter-clockwise. Nothing. Putting my hands over my ears and shaking my head. Nothing. Pointing to my ears then downward. Apparently I’m the worst at charades! HELP!

Variation 1 — Mock ’til They Stop: The offender was a cute fake blonde carrying an iPod in a screaming pink Roxy cover and wearing little martini glass earrings — cosmos or appletinis, one can only assume. Over the course of the stops, her music blared on in a rapid spiral of shame-pop. Sean Paul “Get Busy” descended to Lady Gaga, which degraded further to “Fergielicious.” Once her earbud-cum-speakers started thunking out “Play That Funky Music White Boy,” look, guys, I was honor-bound to save the car from plumbing any further depths of her musical taste. I waited for a lull in the bass, then pounced:

TKOG: I love that song! It’s great! And you’re so brave!
Funky Music-Loving White Girl: What do you mean?
TKOG: Well, I mean, I think that song’s great, but everyone makes fun of me. I could never have the courage to play it in the T for everyone to hear!
FMLWG: [flips me off and turns the other way, accompanied by the opening strains of “Living La Vida Loca”]

Variation 2 — Monkey See, Monkey Do: I got on the train and sat next to a pretty long-haired hippie chick. Someone near us was playing music too loudly, though I couldn’t see who, and it made me self-conscious. So I took out my earbuds and (sincerely) asked the girl: “Is my music too loud? Can you hear it? I’m sorry to be weird and ask, but I’m always afraid it’s too loud.” She assured me it was fine and smiled back.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her picking up earbuds from among her ringlets and plug them in her ears. Then she cranked up the volume to maximum, until her music was throbbing in my head, and I finally turned off my own, graciously defeated.

Variation 3 — Killing Them With Kindness: No particular anecdote for this one, but I’ve used it three times so far. It’s more a technique, than anything. Basic conversation:

TKOG: Excuse me, sorry to bother you, but what’s that song you’re listening to?
Music Offender: What?
TKOG: That song that you’re listening to on your iPod. It’s pretty cool.
MO: You can hear that?!
TKOG: Yeah, but don’t worry. I just wanted to know who sings it.
MO: [gives the name of a band that I obviously don’t care about and will never listen to, but in the process either realizes their error and turns their music down, or at the very least, gives me a bemused but not venomous smile]

So far, it’s been my best bet. I’ve gotten two music turn-downs — better than any of the other techniques I’ve tried.

The Verdict: Turns out it is actually possible to persuade people to turn down their music! But it takes much time and effort, and about half the time actually resulted in people turning their volume up. (Which would have happened more, I’m just guessing, were some people not already at peak volume.) Between that and Justice not-so-sweetly suggesting that I belong on the National Registry For National Over-Interactors Who Don’t Deserve Public Transportation, it might be time to give up this quest.

However, looking at my results, I am choosing to believe that the vast majority of too-loud-listeners are not inveterate, hateful nun-punchers, but rather people who are not totally aware of their actions. And if they react with hostility or even do not react to polite, kind entreaties, it is only because they are defensive out of embarrassment!

I know, I know, I’m a gullible fool and they’re all hanging out together right now, listening to a mishmash of death metal and saccharine rap-pop, strangling a sweet little nonagenarian in her own holiday sweater. But I’m trying to have faith.

Anyone have any more fail-proof variations?

(Also, dudes, my apologies for the mega proliferation of T-related stories lately. I swear I’m not becoming the kind of girl who rides the train back and forth all dang day, praying to strike the awkward lode. But tonight I’m going to stalk Lorrie Moore so tomorrow I promise: no trains. Unless I follow her onto one.)

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NTKOG #31: The kind of girl who, walking around her normal life, becomes so overwhelmed with the amount of saliva in her mouth that she hocks it up and deposits it directly on the sidewalk. THE SIDEWALK! Where some of us are trying to walk in flipflops, thanks, dude.

I am: a bit prim & prudish, it transpires, in the matters of Other People’s Fluids, accidental contact with.

I am not: even sure why people feel the need to let fly with this saliva situation. Am I just too dehydrated to see the appeal?!

The Scene: Wandering around Harvard Square in an Alice-in-Wonderland-ish blue dress and black kitten heels — an outfit in which I felt particularly feminine and un-lugie-hocking. I had packed up my book two bus stops in advance on the ride over and concentrated my full energy into cultivating a nice, thick mouthful of drool, and was now desperately stalking around in search of someone in front of whom I could spit that motha out.

Do not, incidentally, ever try this — walking around with a brimming mouthful of very warm saliva. I know it sounds terribly glamorous. But please just do not.

An old professor-looking dude and his wife prominaded haughtily past, she holding his arm, as though they were practicing to be extras in the sequel to Titanic. I made eye contact with them, glanced away for a moment, and casually ribboned my mouthful of spit into a nearby planter.

The woman moued with disgust, but neither said anything.

Next, I spit directly on the sidewalk, while walking toward a young, intellectual girl. She didn’t say anything for the last several steps of my approach, but in the split second we were side by side, muttered, “Gross!” Yeah, I wanted to tell her, it totally totally was.

Finally, I saved up a decent mouthful o’ hock and spat heartily while standing at a stop light near a young guy wearing basketball shorts and a jauntily skewed baseball cap. I glanced at him afterwards, but he stared impassively forward. After about thirty seconds of non-contact, the light turned green. As he began to stride forward, he glanced at me again, then spat with the kind of fluency of which I can only dream … right onto the top of my left foot. Poor aim? Revenge? Or have I been officially hazed and accepted into the secret society of street spitters?

The Verdict: Ew, gross, do not want. Many people didn’t notice this disgusting tic; the ones who did were obviously but not very vocally disgusted. This does not surprise me. The real question I hoped to answer with this trial, though, was the much darker one: Why the balls do people spit on the street?!

I attempted it wondering if I would feel some relief or joy or overwhelmingly positive reaction — afraid, perhaps, that trying out the forbidden act would open the floodgates, as it were — or else why would people do it? But I felt like nothing more than a slightly worse human being than the one who left my apartment this morning.

I’m a pretty averagely-hydrated dude, with a pretty average phleghm content, and yet not once have I ever been alarmed or flooded by the amount of fluid in my mouth. I mean, sure, I produce saliva, but I tend to swallow it, y’know, as the problem arises. WTF, SPITTERS?! Are you just procrastinating on swallowing? Are you all so obsessed with CSI that you run around leaving your DNA everywhere? Are you attempting a misguided protest against flipflop afficionados?

I hate everyone who has ever done this, ever.

Also, do be sure to come back tomorrow, because yesterday, moments after my spitting adventure, I experienced the friggin’ mother of all NTKOGs! A day I’ve been gearing toward my whole life, and yet still could not believe when it was finally happening to me. It’s an NTKOG miracle.


This post submitted for the approval of the Midnight Soci–uh, I mean, the lovely LiLu, whose TMI Thursday post today is just as fluid-centric as mine, but doesn’t make me quite so misanthropic.

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