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One of the Best Presents: No Cell Phones at the Holiday Table

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

Technology really is amazing. Just the other day I met a young man. who recently moved to the United States from Baghdad. He’s alone here, all his family remains in Baghdad. We talked about the experience of leaving one’s home to begin living in a new country. I asked if he ever uses Skype or iChat or Google Talk to talk with his family.

“I Skype my mother every morning,” he told me. The pleasure at this small touch he has with home and family was palpable. I couldn’t help thinking how amazing technology is, how it let’s people stay in touch with family and friends in a way that simply never was possible before.

I recently spent a week in Dubai. Yet, every evening I was able to iChat with my wife. What a pleasure it was not only to be able to hear her voice but to be able to see her as well, even if she was in yesterday when I was in today.

Now, today, Christmas day, think how many people are going to be able to touch each other as they video call throughout the day. It wasn’t that long ago that even a phone call overseas was an expensive and almost exotic thing. Not today. Fire up the computer, log onto your preferred video-call program, and you’re connected: You hear and you see, and it’s free. Simply awesome!

The problem with technology is when we abuse it, when it controls us rather than us controlling it. This holiday day as countless people sit down to special meals with family and friends, do everyone at the table a favor: Turn off your phone. Focus on the people you are with. No calls, no IMing, no texting, no surfing, no social media just for an hour or two. It’s one of the best presents you can give to the people you are with: Your undivided attention.

Happy Holidays!

“We Have An Obligation To Try.” President Obama

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

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." Fred Rogers.

When Fred Rogers spoke of helpers, he was speaking of all of us. Being that helper today, now, in this time of tragedy, is one way we can all comfort the people of Newtown, Connecticut and the families that have suffered so much. Many of us aren’t in a position to help directly, but as a society, refocusing on helping each other in any way we can matters.

During his speech on Sunday in Newtown, President Obama addressed the issue of how we can all be helpers. We can help comfort the people of Newtown by the prayers and shared sense of grief that people across the nation and the world feel. “And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown — you are not alone.

While being the helper Mr. Rogers and President Obama spoke of is one step we all can take, what of the longer-term future?

President Obama addressed that as well, saying we as a nation are challenged to try to take steps to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future: “If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.

That challenge is to engage in conversation about what have been difficult issues for us to address in the past, to be willing to listen to all points of view and to find common ground that will help reduce the risk of future Newtowns. That conversation cannot be productive if it is grounded in anger. It can only be productive if it is grounded in the principles that also underlie etiquette–being considerate, respectful, and honest. As President Obama said, surely we have an obligation to try.

A Tipping Lesson Learned The Hard Way

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

Every now and then people ask if I ever make an etiquette mistake.

Well, I do, and I made one just yesterday. Actually, I made three.

I’m in Dubai.

I came here to teach business etiquette, partnering with the Human Relations Institute. While I’ve met with the clients and spent time acclimating to the nine-hour time change, that’s not what this blog is about.

It’s about tipping. Before I left the United States, I did some basic web research about Dubai. But I noticed as I surfed that I wasn’t reading anything about tipping. So I boarded my plane and arrived without a clear idea of to whom or what exactly I should tip. That was mistake number one.

Before venturing out on the first day, I stopped at the reception desk at my hotel and asked what was appropriate to tip the cab driver. The response was a quizzical look and then an unconvincing, “Well it could be a little or nothing.” And so I got into the cab with the still unresolved issue of what to tip. That was mistake number two.

When the cab arrived at our destination, the meter indicated 28.5 dirhams, so I chose to follow the advice from the reception desk and simply let him keep the change from the three ten-dirham notes I gave him. And off he drove. And that was mistake number three.

Later that day I did some more web browsing at my hotel, and found a website titled Expat Echo Dubai, and it had what seemed to be the best and most complete information on Dubai tipping.

That’s where I discovered that tipping in the range of 10-15% is the norm. I appreciated the additional piece of advice, which recommended not just figuring the exact tip but then rounding up to next nearest 5 dirhams. I quickly calculated that my cabbie’s tip should have been about four dirhams. Add that to the 28.5 dirhams for the fare would make 32.5 dirhams. Round up to the nearest five and I should have given him a total of 35 dirhams for the ride, not just the 30 dirhams I gave him.

So, mistake one was not coming prepared. Do your homework before you arrive about customs, expectations and etiquette for the country you are visiting.

Mistake number two was to venture out with poor information. I could have made more of an effort to seek the definitive answer I found later to my question.

Finally, mistake number three was not figuring a full 10-15% tip and then not rounding up. Basing my choice on weak information of “just a little” from a receptionist was the wrong decision.

Traveling abroad is fun and exciting. But it also carries responsibility to be prepared and to know customs and cultural norms before you arrive.

Yes, I make mistakes, and I did this time. And to that cabbie wherever he is, I apologize.

Thank you, Brady Quinn.

Posted by Peter Post December 4, 2012 07:00 AM

On Saturday, December 1, Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed his girlfriend and then committed suicide.

On Sunday, December 2, the Kansas City Chiefs won their game against the Carolina Panthers in what Panthers coach Ron Rivera called “an inspired game.” After the game Brady Quinn, the Kansas City quarterback, spoke to the press about the game and this horrible tragedy. Specifically, he was asked to talk about the emotion he felt after the game.

Here’s how he answered that question:

“It was tough. I think it was an eerie feeling after a win because you don’t think that you can win in this situation. The one thing people can hopefully try to take away, I guess, is the relationships they have with people. I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently. When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth? We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”

Quinn’s comments are a powerful reminder of the importance of focusing on the people in our lives. That’s not to say that social networking and using devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers to be connected don’t have a place in our lives. They do, and they help us stay connected. But they can’t, shouldn’t and don’t replace the in-person interactions that are so valuable to the relationships in our lives. That’s what Quinn reminded us about.

We should take the time to turn off and put down those devices and focus on the people in our lives sincerely. When he asks: “When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it?” he challenges each of us to examine the sincerity with which we engage people. His horror and shock at what has happened with a teammate and friend has caused him to ask us all to reassess what is important in our own relationships.

Thank you, Brady Quinn.

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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