Caviar and Cigarettes, Well-Versed in Etiquette

I bought an etiquette book last weekend because I’m kind of punk rock.

No, really.

T.S. Eliot once said, “It’s not wise to violate the rules until you know how to observe them.”

He also said, “After I die, don’t namedrop me in blog posts. It’s pretentious.”

I wholeheartedly subscribe to that school of thought. If I’m going to be a rebel, with or without a cause, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have a handle on society’s expectations of my behavior. That way I’ll know exactly where a revolutionary attitude will be maximally effective and I won’t waste my iconoclastic rage on stupid things, like insisting I be allowed to wear combat boots to my grandma’s dinner parties.

…That’s what I’m telling people, anyway.

I actually bought the book because I hoped it would change my life. I don’t think I’m a particularly rude person. I may be less than tactful sometimes, but overall I’m fairly polite. I just think I could reduce the amount of awkward in my life by 6,000% if a book told me what to do in every single gray area.


Initially that’s what I thought ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was. I was mistaken.

If a side-effect of being less awkward is that I become so polite people suspect me of either being a space alien whose pre-Earth research consisted entirely of watching posh British television dramas, or of being Canadian, so be it.

How to Behave is a little more modern than Emily Post’s offerings. (She gets a lot of flack for that. Poor Emily has been dead for 52 years. Frankly, I’m just impressed she’s still writing.) For each of the given situations (“Dealing with the incessant airplane seat-jiggler”, for example), there’s a chipper, assertive method of handling it (“Say, friend. You’re jiggling my seat every time you pass. I sure don’t like it.”) and a passive-aggressive method (silently stalk them back to their row and bump their seat in return while humming or quietly singing to feign nonchalance. That’ll teach ’em.).

In the case of the incorrigible jiggler (which is, incidentally, also the title of my favorite Nancy Drew book), you’re supposed to demonstrate the effect of seat-jiggling when you confront them by wobbling your head around. In fact, the art of mime seems to be an important component of modern manners. I will now mime a list of situations in which I can use that technique, thanks to my new book:






Here, I perform the classic "Invisible Box". Yes. I'm a pretty good mime.

Here, I perform the classic “Invisible Box”. I’m a pretty good mime. It’s not really a big deal.

Anyway, How to Behave is a perfectly lovely etiquette guide, but I’m trying to pull out of a hellish, 22-year-long War on Awkward, and I quickly realized this book is not the exit strategy I’d hoped it would be. I need an etiquette book for really specific uncomfortable situations.

Manners for the Maladroit

– What do you do when someone gets on the treadmill next to yours at the gym and starts eyeballing the calories you’ve burned? Rude, right? How do you politely make sure their shoelace gets caught in the belt?

– Is there a good way to eat a corn dog? Do you tackle it straight on? Do you kind of tilt your head like you want to make out with it? Was I supposed to be eating it sideways like corn on the cob this whole time?! Also, someone tell me what to do in one of those situations where you’re eating really hot pizza and you bite some cheese and it pulls all the toppings off with it. You can try to choke down the giant bite of burning pizza toppings and pray no one notices your distress, but someone always does. There has to be a better way!

– What’s the proper technique for gently explaining to people how much you dislike Christmas? For some reason people get really crazy about that. I feel like I’d lose fewer friends every holiday season if I used a little more tact. I wrote a poem about it once, thinking whimsy would help. It did not. I would also like to know the appropriate way to tell people how much I hate Paul McCartney, because covering my ears and screaming when his solo stuff comes on the radio is apparently not it.

– How do you get someone you have the hots for to start texting you more often, besides mind control? How do you get someone you kind of hate to text you less often, besides murder?

– How do you respond when someone shares a link or a video with you on Facebook, and it’s obviously really important to then but its appeal is lost on you? Do you just reply with an emoticon? Because that’s what I’ve been doing.

Does this mean anything? It seems like it should mean something.

Does this mean anything? It seems like it should mean something.

– Who can you ask for help when you can’t open your water bottle at work and you want to ask someone with bigger forearms than you, but you also don’t want to come off as anything less than an empowered feminist who doesn’t need a man to keep her hydrated?

– What do you do when you know you’ve put your foot in your mouth the second the words come out? This seems like a good option:

These are the kinds of questions I’d like answered in my ideal etiquette book. If someone could get started on that, I’d be greatly obliged. I’d do it myself, but I have very little interest in writing an autobiography.


  1. dutifullybroken

    Try murdering McCartney and covering your ears and screaming when you get a bad text. That always helps me. Off to eat a corn dog in an inappropriate manner. Smooches.

  2. Idigina

    Treadmill: Lay your towel across your calorie burning screen thingie and this is important; do it as he is watching and re-arrange the towel so as to leave no question as to what you are doing.

    Food: I would actually like to know that too, I try to avoid eating in public at all costs.

    Christmas: You think hating christmas is tough, I hate birthdays (all of em) and fake some kind of mental disorder to get away with ditching my friends’ birthdays. Alternatively, plan a vacation during christmas, or better, tell people you have a vacation during christmas and then just hide in your room for the weekend.

    Texting more: I presume he’s a guy, if he is, he probably likes boobs. Seriously, getting our attention is super easy.

    Texting less: Do not respond. Ever!

    Facebook link: Try to find out why it’s so special to them, maybe they thought it was special to you.

    Foot in mouth: Bite. Hard.

  3. nosugarjustspice

    I hate christmas as well. To me it’s this torture device designed to make everyone feel bad about themselves. The obligation of it drives me crazy. What I do to express this to my friends is extremely classy and full of etiquette and grace. Whenever Christmas is mentioned I pout, say ‘bah humbug’, and rant about how Christmas is commercial, obligatory, and hasn’t been fun since I was 12. Hearing this twice usually gets my friends to stop mentioning it. LOL so not the most tactful way of dealing but completely effective.

    To get the guy I like to start texting more I stop texting him, and get very vague in my responses. You’d be surprised how well that works, but the guy I like is kind of a mess so I’m sure it doesn’t work with everyone. Alternatively, as the comment above states, boobs most definitely work.

    As for the foot in the mouth….well I do that quite a lot. I’ve learned that most of the time I just need to take a breath and explain what I meant or apologise for being tactless and move on….My foot quite often lives in my mouth.

    Very funny post….I always enjoy reading your stuff.

  4. gabrielgarbowota

    If someone is looking at your calorie count, and you are bothered by that, perhaps the underlying issue is you are embarassed about the numbers you’re racking up. The solution may be to become more confident. “I am meeting my own goals, and that’s fine. Who cares what he thinks?” Or, stop disappointing yourself and work out harder.

    Or stop going to the gym. Problem solved.

  5. rodalena

    Thank gawd…I’m not the only person concerned about this corndog conundrum. It’s a huge issue. It is an incredibly sad commentary that politicians are all wigging out over the dang debt ceiling when no one in this country can figure out how to properly eat a corndog. The American Experiment is obviously failing.

    Oh, and by the way, your emoticon is lovely. Picasso-esque, even. Which means you can interpret its meaning any way you want, and even change it daily! Bazinga!

  6. Browsing the Atlas

    The water bottle problem is easy. Get a glass and go to the tap.

    Less easy is my manners dilemma: Telling my daughter’s friend’s parents that they don’t need to stay for my daughter’s birthday party. It’s for kids! They’re 12! They’ll be fine for 3 hours until the party’s over. Go home!

  7. haileyjw

    I think to publish a modern version of etiquette (which took me way too long to spell by the way) would be a great idea, as we are in dire need of such beast. We need to set the ground rules for eating awkward food, the amount of alcohol a white person is required to consume before attempting to dance, and how to square up nasty entanglements with a horribly incorrect, yet slightly superior co-worker without losing one’s job. I bestow the responsibility of this heavy and critical task upon you, my dear friend, and will enthusiastically stand behind all embarrassing experiments required in the research process

    Hailey J. W.

  8. runoffwriter

    As one who’s been on the other end of the pregnancy faux pas, I can say I’d rather one handle it the way I usually handle awkward situations (recovering egomaniac- not doing so well with that): just say you f***ed up and move on. Much better than:

    Overdressed for picnic chick: “So, how are you FEELING?”

    Me: “Um, fine?” *squints eyes and thrusts head forward in accusatory fashion*

    Overdressed: “Oh, I…uh, I just meant, you know…with how busy you are…”

    WHAT? Like we both didn’t know exactly what had just gone down. Just admit it when you say something idiotic, and then it’s out of the way and life can move forward. Everyone’s done it. Anyone who’s egomaniacal enough to hold it against you ain’t worth your concern.

    Great post, by the way…glad I found my way here…

  9. saradraws

    You know why we`re so polite in Canada? Because for 6 months out of the year we don`t leave our houses. It`s so much easier to be graceful after a good hibernation. Also, never leaving one`s house means avoiding most of life`s little foibles, so that`s my answer to all your questions.

  10. hollybernabe

    Good questions, all. I know there is one trick to the pizza eating, but it takes all the fun out of it. You can use a fork. I’d rather have pizza glop all over my face than use a fork, though. The sauce on my shirt and splotches on my neck and chin are badges of honor, in my mind.

    If in public, I suggest eating the corndog chastely. Small bites. Unless you’re with your lover and you want to get him hot and bothered and you don’t care about an audience. Then see how much of that thing you can get in your mouth.

    The water bottle thing is simple. Carry a grippy thingy in your purse. Then you don’t have to ask, lol.

    Um…as for the others, well… You got me. I think those things might be impossible.

  11. Pingback: I Fought the Law and the Law Won | Listful Thinking

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