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The Pajama Game

Posted by Peter Post September 25, 2012 07:00 AM

I asked the people around the lunch table at Emily Post today, “What’s your pet peeve?” Interestingly, it was one of our interns whose answer surprised me.

“The clothes people wear to class,” she said without hesitation.

I picked my jaw back up off the floor and asked, “What kind of clothes?”

“Baggy grey sweatshirts and sweatpants and pajamas” she replied.

Interesting. Now that I think about it, pajamas have moved out of the bedroom and into everyday life as basic clothing. The way the TSA scans you and has you remove layers of clothing, my wife often comments that it would be easier if she simply wore her flannel pajamas. Board a plane and inevitably you’ll see someone dressed in what can only be termed pajamas. Seems more people act like my wife thinks than I ever would have guessed.

“Well,” I queried the intern, “what kind of clothes would be acceptable?”

“You should look presentable, like you would for work.” She was clearly thinking of a business casual workplace like The Emily Post Institute, not a business formal place. As the conversation progressed, the gold standard became clear: Your clothes should reflect positively on you.

And that’s not a bad way to think about your clothes and your image every time you step out. Like it or not, your clothes clearly impact the image people have of you.

I’ll never forget the Saturday I wore a wrinkled linen shirt. I couldn’t be bothered ironing, and it was Saturday after all. As I was out and about, I ran into a fellow who is on the board of a company I did business with. He didn’t waste a second before he wondered how I could be dressed in such a wrinkled shirt. Regardless of my opinion of that shirt or of him for saying something about it, his image of me as an etiquette expert took a small hit.

You may not really care what you look like when you’re boarding an airplane on a personal trip, so maybe the pajama-type outfit works even if you are in public. But, when the opinion of the people around you matters to you, then the image you convey by the clothes you choose will make a difference.

That was the point the intern was making about what people wear to class. How you see yourself certainly matters. But the perception of the professor or teacher matters, the perception of a fellow classmate matters. And, perhaps most important of all, those opinions could matter not just today but maybe even in your future, too.

Customer Service Exemplified: CSWD

Posted by Peter Post September 18, 2012 07:00 AM


I deposited a check today from the Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD). That action closed a chapter for me that, at its heart, threatened to ruin my gardening for the summer.

My vegetable garden is one of the highlights of summer and fall–from first planting to tending the young plants and weeding, tying up the tomatoes, harvesting the first lettuce, picking beans, thinning beets and carrots, and picking tiny two-inch pickling cucumbers to turn into cornichons.

Only this year I was in for a rude surprise. I planted beans, thin small delicious haricot verts. But, not much happened. A few plants came up and then withered away but most never broke ground. So, I replanted and tried again. Tried a third time. I also noticed the peas doing the same thing. And the cucumbers I use to make those fabulous cornichons grew to about one inch and then stopped.

On June 27 the cause of these anomalies was reported on WCAX news–compost from CSWD was contaminated with pesticides. On July 7, The Burlington Free Press reported that tests confirmed herbicides had been found in the compost samples from the CSWD and warned that certain vegetables would likely be affected including beans, peas, and tomatoes: They wouldn’t grow at all, or they might germinate but not produce vegetables, or the yield could be severely diminished.

Quickly, the CSWD had information on their website and asked people who might be affected to contact them, preferably with photos showing the symptoms. By August they were doing site visits to the affected gardens. The young woman who showed up at my place could not have been nicer. She took pictures and made notes on her iPad. It turned out that only two of my four raised beds had been affected—the ones with the peas, beans and cukes—and fortunately my tomatoes weren’t in either of those beds. But they were showing signs of late blight, and she took photos and notes of that as well.

Next I heard from the CSWD asking when specifically I bought the affected compost. Miracle of miracles I found the receipt, scanned it and sent it in. Soon after, I received a letter with a description of my situation and their offer to reimburse me for the cost of the compost plus an additional $100 for seeds and lost produce.

Now, $130 doesn’t cover my cost, certainly not when you factor in my time. But that mattered not a whit. Right from the start CSWD took responsibility, kept me informed, followed through on each promise made, took responsibility for the problem, and showed genuine concern. Their customer service was exemplary.

Sure, they had a problem – a huge one. But they also showed compassion for the difficulties they caused, and they were honorable in their dealing with me. That is great customer service. Thank you, CSWD.

Why can't people park between the lines?

Posted by Peter Post September 11, 2012 07:00 AM

Parking.jpgMy wife and I pulled into a parking space yesterday and noticed that something was not quite right. The vehicle in front of us wasn't lined up with us. So I pulled back a little to see if perhaps I had not parked within the lines of my space. It turns out I wasn't the culprit; the truck in front of me was. He had managed to park with the left line of his space pretty near the middle of his truck. As I looked a little closer, I realized that half the truck was encroaching on a handicapped space.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a once in a blue moon type of thing. I see cars taking two spaces in a crowded parking lot on a regular basis. And I find myself wondering, “Why does that person think he/she deserve two spaces. Why can’t he/she park within the lines of one space like everyone else?” Worse yet, it seems I see more of these cars when the lot is crowded and finding a space is difficult.

Excuses abound. For instance, “The guy next to me was over the line so I am, too.” At least that’s what I suspect the truck driver would say, and if you look closely he would be right. Still, two wrongs don’t make a right. And that doesn’t absolve him of the fact that by parking the way he did, he still blocked a handicapped space from being used. Anyway, I often see a parked car taking up two spaces, and the cars on either side are appropriately within their spaces. So much for that excuse.

Are spaces too narrow in parking garages as owners try to eek out every last dollar? Probably. The parking garage in downtown Burlington, Vermont where I shop clearly has spaces that are narrow, but many people in cars of many sizes manage to park within the lines. And the car that is taking two spaces is just as often a smaller car. So much for that excuse.

The solution? There really is none. Some issues we encounter as we deal with each other are simply better ignored. So I drive on to find a space elsewhere, I hope. And wish that we all would be a little more aware of how our actions affect other people, even strangers.

“I’d shake your hand, but…”

Posted by Peter Post September 4, 2012 07:45 AM

A friend of mine had an accident recently while riding her bike. End result was broken bones, which necessitated casts on both of her hands. Fortunately, her thumb and forefinger on her right hand and her thumb forefinger and middle finger on her left hand are free so she can grip things, sort of.

I explain all this because she described how she has had some interesting and unique experiences greeting people as a result of her hands being in the casts. In spite of her situation, she finds that people still try to shake hands with her. They extend their hand to greet her, and she awkwardly raises her hand to show the cast. Instead of backing off people have reached out and taken hold of her forefinger or awkwardly but gently grasped her whole hand, cast and all.

Other people have chosen not to shake at all, out of concern for her condition: “I’d shake your hand, but…” Funny enough, it is those people’s choice that has been most difficult for her. When the handshake doesn’t happen, even awkwardly, the ensuing interaction with the person, be it personal or business in nature, gets off on the wrong foot. She’s found that the physical connection—the touching of skin to skin and the grasping of hand with hand— we have with another as we shake hands is very important in establishing a connection with that person. When that connection happens the start of the interaction seems complete. When that connection doesn’t happen, she feels the resulting meeting or get-together is missing something, that it leaves a hole. So even with her casts, she prefers to attempt a handshake than not to have that connection at all.

I often get asked about whether it is necessary to shake hands when greeting people. Yes, it’s important not to leave someone standing there with his hand outstretched in empty space. But perhaps in the final analysis, it is my friend’s realization of how important that physical connection is in greeting someone that is the real reason the handshake is still an integral and important part of any greeting today.

About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. The column is distributed by The New York Times More »

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