Video Etiquette 101

Video conferences have become such a big part of the work day during this coronavirus pandemic period.  For me, at least, video calls emerged abruptly, and went from a once-in-a-while thing to a routine, several times a day occurrence.  And now, nobody seems to use regular phone calls anymore.

video-conferencing-01-as-rt-200327_hpmain_16x9t_608But the thing about video calls is that they don’t seem to have a standard, accepted etiquette yet.  Their sudden burst onto the daily work scene means we’re still thrashing around and trying to figure out how to behave.  As a result, you wonder how you are supposed to deal with certain issues that are presented by videoconferences.  With people having heightened sensitivity during this whole weird period we are in, you don’t want to unwittingly be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, or otherwise give offense.   And muddling through doesn’t seem like a really wise, viable option.

For example, when you get a video call, do you always answer with your video enabled?  Is it considered rude or a kind of affront not to do so?  What if the person who calls turns out not to have their video enabled?  Should you immediately conform to the video-enabling practices of the caller, or is the act of disabling, with no apparent technical reason for doing so, itself considered impolite?  And if you don’t have the video enabled, is the well-mannered course to explain why — or is that just wasting people’s time?

The fact that these video conferences are occurring from people’s homes adds another layer of potential faux pas to the mix.  Is it acceptable to ask where the person you are talking to is, or comment on the background, or is that considered really intrusive?  If kids, spouses, or pets appear in the picture, are you supposed to comment, or act like you haven’t seen them?  If someone is totally backlit and you can’t see their face, do you say something or hold your tongue?  Is it considered appropriate to ask somebody to move to a different location or adjust their screen so that their face is more visible, or is that unforgivably untoward?

Where is the modern-day Emily Post, ready to instruct us on the dos and don’ts of the new situations that are being created by technological advancements?  It sure would be helpful to have somebody give us some instruction on this stuff.

 

 

Mouthers Versus Talkers

On this morning’s walk, I passed a couple walking in the opposite direction on Third Street. We made eye contact and I greeted them with a cheerful “Good morning!” In response, the female member of the couple mouthed “hello,” without actually making an audible sound, and then they walked by.

Frankly, this encounter irritated me.

I’ve noticed a lot more of rampant mouthing behavior lately, and I don’t know why. Obviously, mouthing a greeting is acceptable if, for example, you see a friend sitting down the church pew at a funeral service, or in some other quiet, somber place where an audible statement would be inappropriate.  Or if you don’t want your six-year-old to know that you and your spouse are considering heading off to Chuck E. Cheese’s.  But now mouthing has moved out of the church and funeral parlor to everyday encounters on public streets, where an oral communication is perfectly fine — indeed, expected, polite behavior.

What’s caused the mouthing boom? Do people just think they’re being sophisticated, or is it because they can’t condescend to give a verbal greeting to a member of the unwashed masses? Either way, I think it’s rude, and it kind of ticks me off.

Recline Decline

British Airways has announced that it is eliminating “reclining” seats on some of its economy flights this year.  According to the airline, getting rid of those seats will allow it to offer more low-far options to travelers — presumably because the company will be packing more seats into the economy section.

130212_afw_reclinerairline-crop-promovar-mediumlargeThe new British Airways seats will be set at a “gentle recline” configuration — i.e., two or three inches from the straight-backed dining room chair-type setting — but otherwise immobile.

Speaking as a frequent economy class airline passenger, I am all in favor of BA’s decision, and I hope other airlines quickly follow suit.  I never recline my seat, and I despise people who, as soon as the takeoff chime sounds, recline their seats to the maximum extent and crash into the knees of the passengers in the row behind.  In my view, people who do that are incredibly rude, and obviously are focused totally on themselves.  And really — do the few inches of reclining really make all that much difference, when you consider that you are horribly inconveniencing and cramping the unfortunate people who happen to be seated behind you?

In my view, the immediate/maximum recliners are almost, but not quite, as ill-mannered as the parents of unruly children who shrug when their kids won’t stop kicking the back of the seat in front of them.  If a seat design change eliminates their opportunity to ruin my flight, and allows for more affordable fares at the same time, it’s a great development.

It would be nice if people voluntarily behaved in a civilized fashion, but when they won’t, I’ll happily settle for technological modifications that prevent the rude behavior in the first place.

News Flash: People Who Talk On Cell Phones While Walking Aren’t Cool

Lately I’ve seen more pedestrians walking and talking on their cell phones at the same time.  It bothers me.

It’s not the lack of politeness, necessarily.  Although it is impolite — imposing your side of your inevitably loud cell phone conversation on every hapless person who unfortunately happens to be within earshot — anyone who lives in the modern world has long since learned to endure thoughtless louts who can’t conform to basic social norms in more ways than we can count.

popupNo, what really bothers me is that people talking on their cell phones while walking always act like they think they’re the coolest thing ever.  They’re inevitably walking, the elbow of the arm holding the phone jutting out just so, with the smuggest imaginable look on their faces.  It’s as if they think that getting or making a phone call in a public place is somehow an affirmation that they stand alone at the center of the universe.  “Look at me!,” their demeanor screams, “I’m an incredibly important person!  And I’ve got friends, colleagues, and clients who want to talk to me even when I’m crossing the street in a busy downtown area!”

This must be a carryover from the early days of cell phones, when handhelds were rare and people were curious to see people talking on bulky wireless devices.  But those days ended during the Reagan Administration.  Now cell phones are like opinions and certain body parts — everybody has one.  The difference between the walking talkers and the rest of the world is that the walking talkers don’t have the decency to remove themselves from the public right-of-way, by sitting on a bench or standing off to the side while they complete their call.  Everyone else has the good sense and manners to not inflict their conversations on random passersby.  Unlike the walking talkers, everybody else has the instinct to not act like a churlish buffoon.

So here’s a news flash to the walking cell phoners — you’re not cool, you’re boorish.  Please recognize that, and if you can’t stop talking on your cell phone in public, at least have the decency to wipe that smug look off your face.

The Unforgivable Male Flip-Flopper

Tonight I was in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a guy was there wearing flip-flops.  As we walked down the hall he flapped loudly along, drawing our attention down to floor level, and we all got to admire his feet.

IMG_3305Call me a crank, but I think a guy wearing flip flops in a hospital at night is unforgivably impolite.  I don’t mind people of both sexes wearing flip flops at a pool, or on the beach, or at an informal backyard barbecue on a hot summer night.  I give kids a pass, too.  But there is a time and a place for everything, and a grown man wearing flip flops in a public building when the temperature is about 56 degrees outside is just not right.  When you add in the fact that it’s a hospital it seems even more inappropriate.

I know we’ve gotten increasingly informal in our society and become accepting of things that once would have been unthinkable.  I’m old enough to remember when people actually got dressed up for airplane flights; now when you board a plane you often feel like you’ve intruded upon an over-sized sweatpants modeling convention.  We’ve become a society of appalling slobs.

I recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, a guy wearing flip-flops in a hospital at night isn’t the worst offense a person can commit — but I also believe in the “broken windows” theory that holds that little things, if left uncorrected, can lead to social disorder.  A guy wearing flip-flops is a harbinger of chaos.  This is where we need to draw the line.

Dogs In Hotel Rooms

Yesterday afteroon we checked into a hotel in North Adams, Massachusetts, where we’ll be getting our culture fix at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCa).  Last night, when we returned after a really fine dinner and let ourselves into our building, we heard a dog begin to bark furiously in one of the other rooms.

The20140808-064448-24288192.jpg dog’s frantic barking continued as we walked up the stairs to our room, entered it, and closed the door.  I could still hear the barking as I sat down to read in our room, and to make matters worse another dog joined in.  Given the long history between humans and canines, we’re conditioned to hear dog barks — and once you notice them they are impossible to ignore. You can only hope they stop.

These days more hotels are allowing people to keep dogs in rooms.  I am fine with that, so long as the hotels makes sure that the rooms are fully cleaned of dog hair after the visit.

But not all of the responsibility for a successful dog-hotel visit lies with the hotel.  To the contrary, most of the responsibility should lie with the guest.  If you know your dog is a barker, you simply cannot leave it alone in a hotel room to bark itself into exhaustion at the random movements of other guests while you are out with friends.  It’s not fair to the other guests like us, but it’s also not fair to your pet.

If people want to travel with dogs, basic consideration requires that they know their dogs’ barking tendencies and do what is necessary to keep them quiet in a shared setting.  If that means staying with them to keep them calm in strange surroundings and missing a night out, so be it.  A person who leaves a dog prone to barking in a hotel room, to the loud misfortune of both the dog and other guests, is providing telling information about the kind of person they are — and it’s not positive.

 

Being On Time

Recently I had an appointment at a designated time. I was there early. The designated time came and went. About ten minutes late, things finally got underway.

I tried not to let this bug me, but deep down it did.

Growing up, I was taught that it is rude to be late. If you say you will be somewhere at a particular time, you should be there. My grandparents were famous for never being late. They drilled their punctuality habits into UJ and me — and old habits die hard.

I recognize that a few minutes isn’t a big deal, but I’ll always believe that not being on time shows disrespect. The tardy person clearly doesn’t value the on-time person’s time. I think it also shows other things. If you can’t organize your schedule to make your appointments, what else are you failing to manage or account for properly?

Some examples of self-centered tardiness are worse than others. The most egregious example I experienced occurred when a guy I was meeting was 25 minutes late, then showed up with his gym bag and breezily said he’d been working out. Seriously? I readily concluded that the guy was a selfish jerk, and I’ve never changed my mind.

If you want to make a good impression on me, please be on time! If you want to start out with two strikes against you, be late. And if you want to be on my shit list forever, bring along your gym bag, too.

A Poll On Politeness

Tonight Kish and I went to dinner with friends. We had a nice meal with great company, but the evening also involved an off-putting instance of what I considered to be incredibly rude behavior.

The scenario was as follows. We had reservations for 7 p.m. — the heart of the Midwestern dinner period. When we got to the restaurant, the hostess said the people at our designated table were done with their meal and would be leaving soon. A few minutes later, we were escorted back to the table by a waitress, but the people were still there. The waitress apologized. Rather than head back to the hostess station, we stepped over to the nearby bar area, in plain sight of the table, and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.

I know the people at the table saw us, because one of their party glanced over at us from time to time. It was obvious we were waiting for them to leave. But they continued chatting gaily over their empty table, and even got a refill of their water glasses as we stood by the bar. Eventually the restaurant found a new table for us, and when we were seated the people were still there, occupying a table and apparently unconcerned that they were inconveniencing others.

It’s a small matter, perhaps — but I never would have lingered at a table under those circumstances, knowing that other people were waiting. Am I wrong in considering the people at the table to be grossly inconsiderate jerks?

When Can You Politely Hang Up On A Telephone Solicitor?

I was raised to follow certain immutable rules of telephone etiquette.  When you answered the phone, you identified yourself.  If the caller wanted to speak to someone else, you used phrases like “May I ask who’s calling?” and covered the mouthpiece when you called for your sister to come to the phone.  And you never, ever, just hung up on anyone, because that was the height of rudeness.

Do different rules of polite behavior apply to telephone solicitation calls?

When Kish and I got rid of our land-line phone years ago — one of the best decisions we ever made, incidentally — we ended the scourge of solicitation calls at home, but I still get them at work.  And, I still apply the same rules of telephone etiquette to those irritating sales calls.  I just can’t help it, because the old training is too engrained.  I’ve gotten better, because I can at least bring myself to hang up on the recorded calls about google advertising.  But when a live person calls, I struggle to find a courteous way to tell them I’m not interested and end the conversation.  I also feel sorry for telephone solicitors because it’s got to be one of the worst jobs ever, so I try to at least listen to the appeal and then politely decline.

Last week I answered the phone and there was a pause before the other person got on the line.  I got a sinking feeling, because that happens on calls from boiler rooms where solicitors are calling several numbers at once and will get on the line only when someone answers.  Sure enough, it was a woman who was trying to get us to go to New York to listen to a time-share presentation and who called me “Robert” in every sentence.  I don’t like being called Robert, so that put my teeth to grinding.  Even worse, all of my attempts to speed up the pitch — “I’m sorry, but I’m very busy.  What is it you want?” — were ignored, and the woman kept asking annoying, personal questions like “where do you like to go when you travel?”  When she finally got to the point and I said no, thanks, she responded:  “What’s holding you back, Robert?”

Arrgh!  My blood pressure rose, and I said “Sorry, not interested” and ended the call.  I felt guilty for hanging up — but I also was mad at myself for not hanging up when the caller first ignored my appeal for her to get to the point.  So I ask again:  does etiquette permit you to hang up on a telephone solicitor?  If so, when?

Smartphone Etiquette

I’m guessing that the advent of the smartphone has created the most etiquette questions since the invention of the soup spoon and salad fork.

If you are in a social gathering, when is it appropriate to accept a call?  If you are in a multi-person business meeting, is it proper to check your email or send a quick text?  I’m not sure what the rules are anymore, and if there are rules they seem to be routinely ignored. Recently I was out at lunch and saw four women at the next table over, all silently texting to other people as they sat together over coffee.  They looked happy enough, but . . . really?

IMG_4780It’s a social issue caused by technological innovation.  During the land-line days of yore, people didn’t have to worry about a phone in their pocket ringing during lunch.  When written communications were limited to letters, you couldn’t just touch an icon on an ever-present electronic device to catch up on your friends’ latest ruminations.

Etiquette is all about establishing rules so that people are comfortable, and not offended, in everyday settings — so I think of how I feel, for example, when I am in a store waiting to check out and the clerk takes a phone call rather than completing my transaction.  I’m there, I’m ready to buy, and I get treated like second-hand news in favor of an unknown phone call?  It’s not a happy feeling that’s likely to make me want to go back to that place.  My baseline rule, therefore, is to try to give undivided attention to the people I’m with, no matter how many beeps and bloops my phone might make while we’re together.  I figure there is plenty of time to check on emails, texts, and updates when the gathering ends.  And if I’m expecting an important call that I can’t miss, I try to explain that possibility up front, so the people I’m with don’t think they are playing second fiddle to any random caller.

Cell phones are handy, but they can be a recipe for rudeness if we’re not careful.

Presumed Familiarity, Feigned Interest

One other point about the wedding we attended on Friday:  weddings are an interesting opportunity to observe basic human social interactions.

Consider wedding reception tables, for example.  If you’re a member of the family you might be seated with other family members, or if you’re an old college chum you might be noshing with dormitory buddies.  If you’re just a random friend, however, you’re likely to be assigned to a table where most of the seats are filled by complete strangers.  That’s what we got on Friday.

It’s interesting how quickly you reach conclusions about people under those circumstances.  The woman seated to my right — whom I’d never met before — swept in, introduced herself as an old friend of the family, and then promptly launched into a long, inane story about her son, whom none of us knew, and his living arrangements in New York City which included some kind of terrible bathroom.  The story was apparently pointless, aside from the fact that it gave this woman something to talk about.  After five minutes or so, when she paused for a breath and then started to move into a story about her son’s roommate from Texas — an unknown person even farther removed from our realities — someone stepped in to end the woman’s tedious monopolization of conversation at the table.

As the interminable apartment bathroom story was underway, the other people at the table feigned polite interest in the meandering tale but exchanged some meaningful glances.  I’d guess that most of us immediately concluded that the woman was hopelessly self-absorbed and unwilling to engage in the normal social niceties — which require that you at least ask strangers some questions about their lives before you bore the pants off of them with a tale as long as Beowulf.

After that gruesome introduction, I shifted my attention to the left and tried to avoid any head turns to the right, lest the woman pull out her cell phone and begin to inflict a show of photos of her family, friends, and pets and tedious anecdotes about the latest family vacation.

When Can You Just Let Electronic Conversations End?

I wasn’t great with the traditional etiquette of the Emily Post and Miss Manners variety, but I’m hopelessly mystified by the challenge of the proper rules of etiquette for our digital age.

Consider electronic writing — emails and texts — for example.  In the old days, when you wrote a letter to a friend, you expected that someday you would get a letter in response.  Do the same rules apply to email and texts?  With email and texting being virtually instantaneous, is there an expected response time after which you need to apologize and offer a reason for not responding sooner?  In my view, often the speed of a response isn’t as important as getting an answer that is thoughtful — and thoughtfulness usually takes time.  But if I’m infuriating someone because I haven’t responded within two hours, I’d sure like to know that.

When can you just let an electronic conversation end, and when do you have to respond with yet another message?  If I send an email and get a response that is completely satisfactory, is it rude to not respond with a “Thanks!”?  It seems silly to constantly be sending “Thanks!” emails, but I’ll do it if that is the expected etiquette these days.  For that matter, if you go with the “Thanks!” response, must you include the exclamation point?  And is it dismissive or demeaning if you go with “thx” rather than the full, written out “Thanks!”?

I pose such questions because I really want to know if I am inadvertently being a thoughtless jerk in my handling of these nettlesome electronic conversations.  If I’m going to be a thoughtless jerk, I’d rather do so intentionally.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

IMG_0575I like having Kasey around the house.  She keeps things interesting, and she keeps the old boring guy on his toes.  But, there’s something about her that is very embarrassing.  It’s almost too embarrassing to even talk about.

Kasey joined the pack only a while ago.  I’m not sure what kind of upbringing she had.  I don’t think she learned much about refinement or how to behave in polite canine society.  She’s probably a country dog, and she just isn’t very sophisticated.

When I first saw Kasey do it, I was shocked.  I hoped that she wouldn’t do it again, but then she did, again and again.  Then I hoped that no one would notice.  But the other day Young Master was taking us for a walk, and he saw Kasey do it.  He was disgusted, and I don’t blame him.

You see, Kasey eats . . . dog poop.

Can you imagine!  How embarrassing!  Every self-respecting dog knows you roll in poop, not eat it!  I guess I’m going to have to teach her some manners.

Facebook Giveth, And Facebook Taketh Away (II)

Facebook often seems like a double-edged sword, and a sharp one at that.

There are some people you wish you hadn’t lost touch with, but — due to laziness or disorganization or the demands of your current life — you did.  Friday night Kish and I got together with an old friend we hadn’t seen him in years and had a wonderful time.  (Thanks, Action!)  It would not have happened without Facebook; that’s where we reconnected and communicated about getting together.

But there are negatives, too.  Sometimes Facebook causes you to learn more about people than you really want to know.  Perhaps their posted political, religious, or social views deeply offend you, and then you have to decide whether the situation merits “de-friending” the person.  People really seem to struggle with that decision — and when you think about it, it’s really a new kind of social decision.

In the past you might never have learned that your co-worker or second cousin harbored beliefs that you find upsetting.  Your interactions may never have gotten beyond superficial talk about sports or TV shows.  Ignorance was bliss!  But now, thanks to their airing of views on Facebook, you know.

To be sure, in days of yore people obviously made decisions not to pursue certain friendships.  That process typically involved just avoiding the offending person and letting time and distance work their magic.  With Facebook, that approach no longer works, because exposure to those offensive views is unaffected by physical distance.

The “de-friending” process also has a formality and finality to it that old-fashioned avoidance did not.  If you were the unlucky object of an avoidance campaign, you could always rationalize that you lost touch with someone purely by happenstance and not because they can’t bear the sight of you.  With “de-friending,” however, you know for certain.  Once you were a “friend,” now you’re not — and if the list of the de-friender’s remaining friends is long, getting cut from the roster has a special sting.

People who announce de-friending decisions seem to treat the decisions as momentous ones.  I don’t blame them.  In the old days, you typically had to make public breaks only with unsuccessful boyfriends and girlfriends, and you had to cope with the hurt feelings only from those people.  Now, the “de-friended” person may be a co-worker or family member, and you’ve got to deal with the fallout from your decision in a totally different context.

Manners and etiquette developed to help people deal in an appropriate way with standardized social situations.  I won’t be surprised if the Facebook generation’s version of Emily Post comes up with the proper etiquette for handling a “de-friending” incident.

There’s a lot of social change rolled up into that one website.