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‘Etiquette Week’ Inspires Crank To Turn the Other Cheek

By Sue Hutchinson, San Jose Mercury News – 05/21/2005 – 12:00am

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that this is National Etiquette Week. Sue Fox didn’t know it either, and not only is she the president of The Etiquette Survival Group in Los Gatos, she is also the author of ”Etiquette for Dummies.”

Fox was rather dismayed to be out of the loop, especially since she just returned from a national protocol conference in Washington, D.C., attended by etiquette queens Peggy Post and Letitia Baldrige.

”I have to say that not once did anyone at this conference mention National Etiquette Week,” she told me. ”I’m not sure what that says about where we are on the whole subject.”

Who knows who comes up with some of these cockamamie ”holidays” and observances, but considering all the e-mails I’ve received in recent years about the rise of rudeness, I thought it might not be a bad idea to find my own way to honor National Etiquette Week. Like so many of us who deplore rudeness in others, it’s taken me a while to realize that I’ve become part of the problem.

Beyond road rage

Somehow I’ve allowed my flare-ups of road rage to extend to grocery-store rage and even strolling-down-the-sidewalk rage. Just the other day I was surprised to hear myself growl, ”Piglet!” when a kid walking in front of me spit onto the curb.

Fox will be the first to tell you that allowing oneself to become openly hostile to acts of rudeness is the first step to being on the road of chronic incivility. ”As difficult as it may be, you really shouldn’t respond to rudeness with rudeness,” she said. ”What you need to be aiming for is tact and kindness.”

Lord, that can be a lot to ask.

The way Fox sees it, a lot of the problem in Silicon Valley has to do with cluelessness rather than conscious selfishness. She said the frantic work ethic here leads many people to operate in a sort of bubble that means they are less sensitive to those around them.

”You see things like people cutting in line or grabbing a cart first because they’re just thinking about getting home or whatever they have to do with their limited time after working long hours,” she said. ”Of course, it’s not as bad now as it was during those dot-com boom days.”

Yes, that was a truly dark era in the annals of Valley etiquette, and perhaps that’s when I developed my own sense of entitlement about being rude to those whom I considered to be vulgarians. Unfortunately, righteous indignation about rudeness can be addictive even if it leaves you with a headache afterward. Rant not!

Therefore, though I was sorely tempted to make this column a rant about the improper use of cell phones in public and not holding the elevator when you see someone else rushing for it and the plague of cutting off other cars in traffic and chattering in movie theaters and bringing screaming toddlers to fine-dining restaurants and driving down a quiet street at night with your
car stereo booming, I will refrain. It’s not easy, but I will.

Instead, in honor of National Etiquette Week, I will endeavor to take Sue Fox’s advice to respond to rudeness with a conciliatory gesture or, at least, neutrality. I will not scowl, I will not avoid eye contact, I will not shake my fist outside the driver’s window of my car and I will not growl, ”Piglet!”

At least, I can try it for this week. Maybe I’ll feel more at peace.

San Jose Mercury News (CA)

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