I had the pleasurable experience last week of speaking before the Junior League of Larchmont, New York. Close to 100 women were in the audience as I talked about etiquette in America today. The polite positive reception I enjoyed was turned upside down when I asked the group whether they ever experience any problems getting people to respond to invitations -- the R.S.V.P. issue.
It was like sending a jolt of electricity through the room. Hands went up. The background chatter suddenly became very noticeable. Women twisted and turned in their seats. Clearly, I had hit a hot-button issue.
"What is it with people who won't respond to an invitation?" one woman implored. "Why won't they make the effort?"
Lazy or forgetful? Yes, those are certainly reasons. The invitation is put down, and the invitee either doesn't bother to do anything about it, or it gets buried in the mail pile.
Not sure if they can make it? That's another reason, although I pointed out to the group that even if you're not sure, you should have the decency to call and let your host know you received the invitation and will get back by such-and-such a date with your answer. That takes the mystery out of the situation for the host.
Looking for a better invitation? Always a possibility, but clearly, that's not an appropriate way to think about invitations.
One woman in the audience is a caterer, and she pointed out how difficult it is to plan an event or a party when you don’t know how many are coming. A "guest-imate" means you may suddenly be stuck with a catering bill for more meals than are actually served. It certainly isn't reasonable for the caterer to take the hit for people who don't respond to your invitation.
After a heated discussion, the ladies were in accord with my advice: The only remedy is to pick up the phone and call the recalcitrant non-responders and ask if they received the invitation and are they going to attend.
I can't help but wonder why you'd want to send another invitation to a person who can't even take the time to R.S.V.P.
I remember the first day I got my new smartphone. I was in my car, and my phone beeped at me. I was in the vicinity of a wireless network in one of the houses fronting Route 7 in Burlington, Vermont, and my phone was asking me if I wanted to join "F*@# You" wireless network. Whoa! That surprised me.
After my momentary wonder at the necessity someone felt to swear at people who might see and/or try to log onto his network, I discarded the event and hadn't thought about it much until I read an article In BBC NEWS Magazine: The rise of passive-aggressive Wi-Fi network names.
It seems some people are now using their Wi-Fi network names to send a message to neighbors. Think of it as the anonymous Post-It Note stuck to someone's door complaining about the barking dog, the loud television, or the noisy sex. "We can hear you having sex" is apparently a popular Wi-Fi network name in Britain and Ireland. Others mentioned in the article include one person frustrated with people using his Wi-Fi network: "Covet not thy neighbour's wi-fi." (A simple password would probably work better.) Or the person whose print newspaper kept disappearing created the name: "Stop stealing my paper!"
The problem with an anonymous note is that, well, it's anonymous. By using your Wi-Fi network name to deliver a message, you are reducing the chances for any meaningful change. As satisfying as you may think it is to deliver the message, the reality is it's unlikely it will ever actually bring a resolution to the problem…if it even reaches the right eyes.
Bottom line: If you have an issue you want to address with a neighbor, ask to see her, talk to her calmly and non-confrontationally, explain your concern, ask her for her thoughts, and try to come to a reasonable resolution to the situation. If the problem actually is wi-fi mooching, the answer is simple: Put a password on it.
On the flip side, there isn't much you can do about someone else's rude Wi-Fi name. You could have the above-mentioned chat if you know who owns it, but chances are you don’t. If you have kids who might see it on a daily basis, talk to them about why these names are inappropriate.
Oh, and finally, maybe it's not your neighbors having loud sex; maybe it's their TV.
When we go out in public, we expect to be treated civilly and fairly by those with whom we interact. We enter into an unspoken contract: we form lines, we wait our turn, we give those in need a hand, we respect accommodations that give equal access. For example, when I'm waiting to place my order at the deli, I like to think the person taking orders will take mine before the person's who arrived after me. Likewise, I appreciate it if the person who arrives after me makes sure I get to place my order before theirs.
But when people butt in line, try to take advantage of the situation to get ahead more quickly, or try to game the situation to their advantage at the expense of others, that's unacceptable.
Consider the following:
I was waiting to board an airplane recently. The waiting area was packed with people in wheelchairs. In fact, I counted 15 wheelchairs. Fifteen people with their attendants waiting to roll down the jetway. The announcement came calling all those who needed assistance to board the plane first. When I boarded the plane all 15 were comfortably settled in their seats near the front with their bags stowed in the overhead bins. "Nice," I thought. "That's a considerate way to do things."
When the plane landed and pulled up to the jetway for deplaning, the flight attendant came on the intercom: "Welcome to New York City. If you need assistance, please remain seated until the other passengers have deplaned so we can better assist you."
As I walked down the aisle to exit, I couldn't help but notice that only one of the 15 people who had needed assistance boarding the plane was waiting for assistance to deplane. That meant the other 14 had more than enough mobility to walk off the plane, up the jetway, and into the terminal. They had been faking it, gaming the system so they could board before the rest of us. And they may well have faked it so they could cut the line at the security clearance as well.
People claim there are too many rules today, and perhaps that's true. But in many cases the rules are made in response to rude behavior to prevent people from taking advantage of each other. If the airlines figure out that people are abusing the wheelchair service to get on a plane first, airlines might end up requiring some proof of need before making a wheelchair available. There's a rule I wouldn't want to see, but it sure is galling to watch those people game the system to their advantage over the rest of the passengers.
Of course, these people are compounding their egregious behavior. By faking the need for a wheelchair, they are doing a disservice to the people who legitimately do need one.
It's the same old story. We've heard it over and over again. Person utters a reprehensible comment. Person tries to deny it: "They misquoted me" or "They took me out of context" or "It was inelegantly stated." And then the white-washing starts as supporters try to explain it away. And the American public doesn't buy it.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, own your mistakes right away. Apologize. Sincerely. You'll limit the damage and move back to that all-important task of building relationships. This is true for you and me just as much as it is true in the most recent case for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
On October 5, USA Today reported that Romney had finally issued a mea culpa for his infamous declaration negatively characterizing the 47% of the American public who would never vote for him. Specifically, he said: "Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong."
Congratulations Mitt. That acceptance of responsibility for what you said will go a long way toward putting the issue behind you. Too bad for you and all the surrogates who actually tried to put a positive spin on your comment that you didn't step up to the plate the day your speech to that donor group hit the news. You could have/would have saved yourself and them a lot of trouble.
Campaigning for president is difficult and done over a long period of time. Inevitably, poor choices of words or bumbling explanations or outright wrong comments will be made. When that happens, the candidate can do him or herself an immense favor. Acknowledge what was said, accept responsibility for it and apologize. The story will disappear from the headlines quickly, and damage will be limited. Deny it, try to explain it away, or blame others for it and the story will gain traction and hurt far more than it ever should have.
Don’t be late. I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If I only had one piece of etiquette advice I could give you, that would be it. Or, said more positively: Be on time.
A perfect example of the value of this advice occurred this weekend at the Ryder Cup matches. As the clock ticked closer and closer to Rory McIlroy’s 11:25AM tee-time, there was no McIloy to be found. With ten minutes remaining, McIlroy finally arrived courtesy of a state trooper who kindly gave him a quick ride from his hotel to Medinah Country Club in Medinah, IL. Good thing he got the siren-wailing, lights-flashing ride, because the roads were packed with spectators trying to get to the venue. A couple of energy bars, a few putts, and he arrived on the tee at 11:22 with a mere three minutes to spare.
Professional golfers have to be on time. If McIlroy had been no more than five minutes late, he would have lost the hole. More than five minutes and he would have been disqualified.
Would it have really mattered if he had missed his tee-time and been disqualified? It sure would have. Incredibly, after leading the tournament 10-6 after day two, the Americans lost this year’s competition by one point: 14½ to 13½. All things being equal, without that trooper’s intervention, the Americans could have been hoisting the cup instead of the Europeans.
In that case, being late would have been a real bummer for McIlroy, and he knows it. “It’s my own fault, but if I let down these 11 other boys and vice captains and captains this week I would never forgive myself,” McIlroy said.
I realize it’s not often that you’ll have a Ryder Cup tournament hanging in the balance on whether you’re late or not, but make it a habit to be on time every time and avoid the negative consequences of being late—appearing disorganized and disrespectful and having to say, “I’m sorry.” They may not always say so, but people will appreciate and respect you for being on time.