Judith Martin.


It’s amazing what people get away with nowadays. Sometimes, I’m glad that my grandma became a recluse before she died, because she would have been appalled by ‘young people’ (ie, anyone under 90) and their behaviour. I’m not even talking about drunken idiocy or addictions to Words with Friends (oh, shush, you), but courtesies that seem to have been forgotten.

Example: I never go to a party without a) asking if the host/hostess needs anything, nor b) bringing anything, even if it’s just a bottle of wine or box of chocolates. There are (very, very) rare cases that I don’t bring anything, but then apologise profusely once I arrive if that’s the case. Lately, I’ve gone to a couple of events where the people throwing the party were all ‘What? You brought a thing?’ – and yeah, in one case, I was the only one to bring a bottle of wine (the person I went with brought some beer to share) to a housewarming party (it was for people I didn’t know well, so I didn’t what housewares they needed). No one else brought anything. Is that the new normal? Or was a raised in a strange, sweary etiquette bubble?

I am not always (fucking) polite and frequently clam up or hide a bit at social occasions when I don’t know all the norms. And that’s fine. If you don’t know something, ask. Also, staying low-key in a nerve-wracking situation is often okay.  But y’know what? Wearing worn out khakis, a faded plaid shirt, and sneakers to a semi-formal wedding isn’t.

Jeans and trucker hats at weddings, at funerals, and, hell, in court – it ain’t right. These are all special occasions, even if they are not necessarily happy events. Make a fucking effort to look nice. If you don’t know what to wear, ask. Ask a human, not Yahoo! Answers. Seriously.

(Hell, I have mixed feelings about strapless wedding dresses if they take place in a house of worship. Yeah, I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.)

My latest case of ‘When the hell did that become appropriate?’ happened while I was at the bank waiting for change last week. Now, most of the tellers at this bank are students or recent graduates and I’d say 90% are laconic, if I actually believed their tendency toward minimal talking was a sign of intelligence.

They are also, by and large, untrained in treating customers, or have forgotten how to talk to non-bros, or are just fucking idiots. I don’t think old ladies enjoy being yelled at to be told it’s their turn. I had one teller say ‘Yeah, the customer ahead of you is gonna be slow. Go over there (pointing to the non-business line).’ No apology, no please, no nothing.

The same teller once blamed my change order not being ready on accidentally deleting the voicemail I left about it – even though she knows who I am and where I work, she didn’t bother to call me back. ‘You could have phoned to let me know?’ ‘I didn’t have your number.’

Again, no apology, and, apparently, no phone book or access to our files.

(I don’t like that teller, obviously.)

Anyway, last Friday, at the Bank of the Barn-raised, one of the tellers (probably spends his days concerned about his spotter not catching him when his hair gel makes him slide right off the bench when he’s working on his pecs rather than, say, his job) referred to every male customer who came to his counter as ‘buddy’. Old, young, didn’t matter. ‘How’s it goin’, buddy?’

I mean, what the hell is that? I know that a lot of people think being called ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ is jarring, but ‘buddy’? If that becomes the new normal, I…well, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Maybe I will start wearing pearls just so that I can clutch them when I get called ‘ho-bag’ by a receptionist at my optometrist’s. Maybe I’m showing my ancientness (again), but I’d rather be called ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Miss’. I’m starting to wonder if I should insist on it.

This is completely ironic given that I work at a cinema not known for its friendliness (it’s hard to be chirpy all the time, okay?!), but even Grouchy Manager calls men ‘Sir’ and women ‘Madame’ (like in French, not like in a brothel (unless it’s a French one)). I miss good, solid customer service. I miss career employees, like the Eaton’s Ladies with their glasses on chains. Y’know, the ones who knew the store inside and out, and who measured me for shoes every few months for, like, eight years (I lie – most of my shoes came from (Simpson-)Sears, the one at Carlingwood with the giant Winnie the Pooh on the wall, but the Eaton’s Ladies always seemed more glamourous). I miss bank tellers who were great at their job, but stayed in their position because they were great at their job, instead of being shifted from branch to branch every few months (man, I hope that cranky teller’s transferred soon).

However! I am lucky on that last point, as my own bank still employs two tellers who have been there since I was a kid (well, teenager, really). They are zippyfast and superpro. I love that. And I hate that that’s not normal.

But, like everything else nowadays, jobs are so disposable that people just don’t give a shit sometimes. But they should. Every work experience builds to something. As I mentioned the other day, Paul’s dad had some wisdom on this: ‘Do your job better than anyone expects you to’. I don’t think young people do that much (with exceptions – most of my staff are crazy talented, yet not too precious to do the grunt work required of them). Is it because they expect too much too soon from their careers and resent chump work? Or are they actually, as old(e) people like me generalise, just really fucking lazy?

Anyway, please make me feel better (or worse) by telling me about good and terrible customer service or breaches of etiquette you’ve encountered lately. I love a good horror story about that kind of thing, because who doesn’t like to feel appalled and smug at the same time?

10 thoughts on “Judith Martin.

  1. Liz

    My husband is an offender. I blame it on the wolves who raised him. (He may have been better off being raised by wolves — they at least train them in basic wolf manners. I have resorted to kicking him under the table when he chews with his mouth open, but only when we’re dining with someone he shouldn’t be eating like that in front of. I’ve given up on the basic courtesy of not having to listen to/see him eat like a cow myself.)
    I can still see my mother, sitting across from me at dinner one evening when I was about 10, imitating my eating (mouth open, loud chomping). It was so gross I had to start fixing my manners. She’d also fork us in the elbow when we ate with our elbows on the table. I wonder if that’s considered child abuse now?
    Before we started dating, my husband didn’t even own a pair of khakis, just jeans (and his “dress” jeans were cargo jeans!!). I had to take him shopping (to Wal-mart!) the night before a job interview so he could buy a halfway decent pair of pants to wear to the interview. It’s my fault we ended up at Wal-mart, I should have asked earlier in the day if he wanted me to iron his interview shirt (he had one nice button-down). He asked me to iron the jeans as well. After I finished yelling at him, the only place still open was Wal-mart.
    I’m sometimes amazed we ended up married, between the way I “mother” at him about his bad manners and that I’m willing to put up with them.
    I can’t really decide if Miss Manners would approve of my corrections or not — I think she said only mothers are permitted to correct bad manners, but clearly leaving it up to his mother to correct didn’t do anything for the first 34 years of his life — I will not live through the next 34 years of his life with his terrible table manners.
    On the other hand, he’s great at some of the basic gentlemanly courtesies like doors and car doors. I think his grandmother had something to do with that. He does still like to walk on the inside, however, when we walk on the sidewalk. Or at least he likes to stay on my right, which means he’s on the inside about 60% of the time.

    • megan

      It could be worse, I guess, in that he might have thought cargo jeans shorts (aka jorts) were appropriate for a job interview. 🙂

      I am so not perfect. My elbows occasionally make it on the table (horrors!), hell, sometimes (often) I have my cell phone on the table at dinner. But if I get the stinkeye, I check my behaviour a bit.

      The sidewalk thing can be tricky. My best friend (a guy) is a smoker, so he walks on whichever side keeps me upwind from his stinky habit. I think that’s infinitely more gentlemanly than walking nearer the road only to have me suffocating.

      • Liz

        I agree with you about your smoker friend. I’m very much in favor of what I call situational manners. If a man is behind me or in front of me carrying packages into a building, I hold the door. I don’t think twice about giving up my seat on public transportation for an older man or woman, or a pregnant woman. Although a couple weeks ago I got a funny look when all 8.5 months pregnant of me stood to offer an older woman my seat. On the other hand, it did shame a couple of perfectly healthy-looking teens into offering her their seats instead. Which was not what I intended, I was getting off in 2 stops, and certain manners have been drilled into me to the point that it’s just a reflex.
        And I’m nowhere near perfect either. I was just clearly born in the wrong era…

    • megan

      That’s very true. In the case of the bank, the manager I see most is an oily weasel with one of those trimmed-along-the-jawline beards that people think creates the illusion of a stronger chin/profile, but actually just looks daft. He’s probably not the best role model or boss.

      • Katy

        No, and who knows what kind of messages he’s getting from the next level up. Can you guys switch banks? I realize that’s a hassle.

  2. Years ago, brunch at the Manx. Our friend dropped her spoon on the floor, and so asked the waitress (nicely) for a new one. To which the waitress replied, “Really?” in an annoyed, Valley-Girl tone of voice. She did not get a tip.

    We had a terrible experience at The Barley Mow last year when my cousin and wife were in town. Waiter was a total idiot, plain and simple. Again, no tip. I *think* he got fired, cos I haven’t seen him there since. Sister-in-law happened to be there at the same time, and she said the same waiter effed up her order too.

    Generally, I don’t expect you to treat me like your best friend when I do business at your store/restaurant/bank, but I think my giving you money at least warrants basic politeness. There’s no fucking need to be rude, which goes BOTH ways. I always want to smack patrons who treat staff, at any place, like dirt. Like the guy at the Petro Canada who gave the clerk shit cos the car wash didn’t get all the dirt off the underside of the spoiler thing on the back of his — get this — Jetta. Do you not have better things to do?

    All that to say, I agree completely. Someday, we will get drunk and rant endlessly about the disappearance of basic manners and customer service.

    • Yes, which I’m sure most of us don’t do often enough. I know I really should make a point of making it clear how much I appreciate good CS.

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