When I was about ten, I somehow – and I choose not to think too hard about this, as I’m not fond of the gifting implications – came into ownership of Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, by Judith Martin. It was an imposing monolith of a book, roughly the size and weight of a cinder block, and supremely useful as a stepstool, doorstop, spider squasher, and stage for Barbie and the Rockers. Had I been older and wiser, I would have recognized its most outstanding potential as a bludgeon, or barricade building material in case of a flood or French Revolution; I’ve no doubt that one day, when I’m trying to hold my own in an urban warfare situation, I’ll be bested by someone rude enough to have been gifted – and smart enough to have saved – two copies of Miss Manners, one for each windmilling, traumatic brain injury-inducing arm.
I don’t recall ever once opening the book, even though I was already an avid reader at that age… I think at first I was intimidated by its approximately eleventy bajillion pages; later, it was the dried arachnid guts Jackson Pollocked all over the dust jacket that kept me away. And since the record will show that mere ownership of a book doesn’t convey knowledge (see: my failure to master Spanish, knitting, self-help strategies and Garfield’s best jokes), it so happens that etiquette is one of those things I never really learned.
Now, don’t go all frantic with worry over my kids being raised by an etiquette-less heathen. I may be socially inept, but God provides and Isabel and Aidan’s lives are enriched by a small army of gay men who teach them the social niceties that I so clearly am not. I look the part of the silent observer at these lessons, but in reality I’m taking it all in, part of my ongoing quest to understand what to say (not, “Do you ever wonder when the consensus became that the past tense of shit is still just shit, and not shat?”), where to put my hands (anywhere except tucked under your butt, apparently, unless you’re five and in trouble), and what silverware to use in any given social situation (fuck if I know, just keep screwing up the previous two and people won’t invite you to formal dinners).
Several weeks ago I decided to spend some time actively observing social norms, so as to improve my understanding of modern-day etiquette. I made mental notes of common patterns of behavior, things that are repeated frequently enough that they are clearly part of today’s unspoken social agreement. Some of them were surprising and I thought, I can’t possibly be the only person who did not know this. Sharing this information would be a valuable public service!
Cue blog post.
And so I now offer…
Tried-and-True Rules of Etiquette, 21st Century Edition
- When speaking, be certain to blurt out every thought that crosses your mind. Social filters are so 20th century.
- If you overhear someone speaking ill of another who in no way resembles or is related to you, assume it is about you anyway. DO NOT CONFRONT THE SPEAKER. Warn others against the speaker whenever the opportunity arises.
- Disputes are best settled on Facebook. Remember to hash it out on your wall, not through private messages, to ensure a genuine trial by a jury of peers.
- The correct way to indicate your displeasure is, “Sure, that sounds just fucking great, thanks for that.”
- Facts are for schmucks. The road to success is paved with stories. Tell people who send you Snopes.com links to fuck off, they’re impeding your very important discussion.
- There is nothing happening to someone else that cannot be made more interesting by making it all about you.
- Always answer phone calls, no matter where you are or who you are with. No theatrical performance is more important than getting an update on your friend’s bunion. And be certain to speak clearly and loudly. No, louder. LOUDER. There you go.
- If it’s not on YouTube, it didn’t happen.
- Texting is preferable to speaking in all circumstances, regardless of your proximity to the person you want to talk to.
- Bullying is completely unacceptable. Exceptions: Facebook, Twitter, kids’ sporting events, professional sporting events, family parties. In all other situations, passive-aggressive emotional abuse is the preferred mode of interacting with others.