Rude v. Tacky: Musings On Weird Al’s New Song

weird_al_tacky.png.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeFirst off, I am the type of person who finds myself singing Weird Al lyrics instead of the real ones whenever popular songs come on. I welcome anyone who shares this affliction, as I’m sure you were just as excited when his new parody “Tacky” (of Pharrell’s “Happy”) came out this week. It’s a fantastic song, and quite a few of the lyrics actually deal with modern etiquette faux pases.

The word “tacky” is apparently a Southern colloquialism. According to “American Notes and Queries,” Feb. 15 1890,

“It was coined by a wealthier or more refined and educated class for general application to those who were not sheltered by the branches of a family tree, who were ‘tainted.’ Those who were wealthy and yet had no great-grandfathers were ‘tackies.’ The word was used both in contempt and in derision. It is now nearly obsolete in both senses. There are no aristocrats in the South now, and therefore no ‘tackies.’ No man who has the instincts of a gentleman is spoken of as a ‘tacky,’ whether he can remember the name of his grandfather’s uncle or not. But it has its uses. It is employed in describing persons of low ideas and vulgar manners, whether rich or poor. It may mean an absence of style. In dress, anything that is tawdry is ‘tacky.’ A ribbon on the shopkeeper’s counter, a curtain in the bolt, a shawl or bonnet, a bolt of cloth fresh from the loom may be ‘tacky,’ because it is cheap and yet pretentious.”

I did not know all this, but when I was a kid, I always thought tacky was somehow related to the concept of “tact,” which is really the sensitivity in which one deals with things outside of themselves. I thought a “tacky” person was one with no tact, no concept of how their actions were being perceived or reacted to by others. In short, I thought it had to do with rudeness.

Obviously, these two are different concepts, but sometimes I do think they’re still related. So, which things in “Tacky” are actually rude and which are just a matter of taste? We figured you may want to know, which is why we will now go LINE BY LINE THROUGH THE NEW WEIRD AL SONG and parse out the social implications.  You’re welcome.

 

It might seem crazy, wearing stripes and plaid – Crazy, yes, but power clashing is never considered a matter of etiquette.
I Instagram every meal I’ve had –  Definitely rude. If you want to take a meal photo now and then, fine, but you should err on the side of sparing your guests a display of your artistic meal positioning skills. Plus, your food is getting cold.
All my used liquor bottles are on display – Not rude, but definitely makes your house look like my ex-boyfriend’s sophomore year dorm room, which is not a good look for anyone.
We can go to see a show but I’ll make you pay – It’s unclear how Weird intends this line. Does this mean you’ll spend the whole show tweeting? Talking? Were you invited to a show under the impression that it was a treat, but last minute were told you had to pay for your own ticket? I mean, all of these things are bad, but in varying degrees.

[Chorus]
(Because I’m Tacky)
Wear my belt with suspenders and sandals with my socks – Not rude, especially if you’re a dad.
(Because I’m Tacky)
Got some new glitter uggs and lovely pink sequined crocs -Again, fashion is not rude, unless you’re wearing this getup to a funeral.
(Because I’m Tacky)
Never let you forget some favor I did for you – Definitely rude. A favor is a favor, and should not be held over the recipients head for the rest of their lives.
(Because I’m Tacky)
If you’re okay with that, then, you might just be tacky, too 

[Verse 2]
I meet some chick, ask her this and that – Derogatory terms for women are always rude, WEIRD AL.
Like are you pregnant girl, or just really Fat? (What?) – Inquiring into the reproductive state of any person is always rude, as we have discussed.
Well, now I’m dropping names almost constantly – Not necessarily rude, but I do think this falls under tactlessness.
That’s what Kanye West keeps telling me, here’s why

[Chorus]
(Because I’m Tacky)
Wear my Ed Hardy shirt with fluorescent orange pants – Fashion, not rude
(Because I’m Tacky)
Got my new resume it’s printed in Comic Sans – Only rude if you’re one of those font people
(Because I’m Tacky)
Think it’s fun threatening waiters with a bad Yelp review – Incredibly rude! Most of the time, bad restaurant service is the cause of a number of factors, not just the waiter’s negligence. And threatening employees is basically the best way to get thrown out of a restaurant, not get good service.
(Because I’m Tacky)
If you think that’s just fine, then, you’re probably tacky, too

[Bridge] – Nothing in the bridge deals with tackiness or rudeness.

[Chorus]
(Because I’m Tacky)
43 Bumper Stickers and a “YOLO” license plate – I don’t know what Weird Al is talking about, this person sounds pretty cool.
(Because I’m Tacky)
Bring along my coupon book whenever I’m on a date – Frugality is certainly not rude, and if your date tries to shame you they can go ahead and pay full price themselves. That being said, learn which things are worth springing for.
(Because I’m Tacky)
Practice my twerking moves in line at the DMV – Totally rude. You are to stay still and quiet while waiting on line. Anything else gets death stares.
(Because I’m Tacky)
Took the whole bowl of restaurant mints. Hey, it said they’re free – On one hand, they’re free, go ahead. On the other, it’s only polite to make sure everyone has the opportunity for fresh breath.
(Because I’m Tacky)
I get drunk at the bank
And take off my shirt, at least – I’m pretty sure most banks have a “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” policy, to say nothing of public intoxication, so this may no be rude so much as it is illegal.
(Because I’m Tacky)
I would live-tweet a funeral, take selfies with the deceased PEOPLE DO THIS. DON’T DO THIS.
(Because I’m Tacky)
If I’m bitten by a zombie, I’m probably not telling you – Well duh, you’re a zombie now, you can’t talk.
(Because I’m Tacky)
If you don’t think that’s bad, guess what, then you’re tacky, too

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Important People of Etiquette: Beau Brummel

So back in the day, in the 1700s, (rich) people were all about piling on ALL the fancy clothes. By wearing pounds of expensive stuff like lace, silk, brocade, gold, silver, wigs, hats, high heels (for dudes!), and so forth, you showed you were rich. But then in the 1790’s, along comes this guy named Beau Brummel, who changes men’s fashion radically and whose influence is still felt in those black tie wedding invitations you receive.

Beau was a middle class chap, so he actually couldn’t wear the fancy breeches and coats so popular back then as it would have been above his station. However, his family was fairly well off and he was able to attend Eton and then Oxford before joining a prestigious army regiment led by the Prince of Wales (future George IV). There he became good friends with the Prince and was able to join high society. Instead of the frilly frocks that other gentlemen wore, Beau focused on very simple and elegant clothing. He preferred very tight, light pants tucked into tall black boots, tail coats, and very very white neck cloths or cravat. For nighttime, it was similar but with all black clothing and white linen- the standard for mens evening dress even continuing today. Part of Beau’s schtick was extreme cleanliness. He would take more than two hours to bathe and shave, and then would be particularly fussy about tying his cravat. His fussiness inspired the rhyme about a dandy:

My neckcloth, of course, forms my principal care

For by that we criterions of elegance swear;

And it costs me, each morning, some hours of flurry

To make it appear to be tied in a hurry.

Obviously he was all about the unstudied coolness that takes tons of time and energy to pull off. He even claimed to never eat vegetables and polish his boots with champagne. He was so focused on himself and his image that he had no romantic relationships and even cut ties with his family.

Unfortunately for Beau, all of this elegance couldn’t stand up to even his large fortune. His debts piled up and he had to escape to France. Where more debts piled up and he spent the last years of his life running around trying to avoid them, eventually going slightly mad and dying in prison.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have Ladies Menus (Except That Time I Did)

A few years ago, my now-husband and I were on vacation in Greece, and, as we try to do whenever we go somewhere new, used one night to dine at a really good, fancy restaurant. We had been staying with a friend’s family the rest of that week so we hadn’t been spending much money, and decided to really splurge and go to a Michelin-starred joint on the outskirts of Athens. It was a beautiful place, with a semi-enclosed courtyard and a CHEESE CART (note: write about the etiquette of cheese carts), and we immediately felt very high-class upon entering. We were led to our table, where someone pulled out my chair for me and placed my napkin in my lap, and we were handed menus. Curiously, I noticed my menu did not have prices listed. “Hey, do you have prices? Is this just how they do things?” I asked my date. Turns out, he did have the prices. Welcome to the concept of the Ladies Menu.

The Ladies Menu, one without prices, stems from the idea that someone being treated to dinner should not know what their host is paying for them. You wouldn’t tell guests at a house party how much you paid for all the ingredients in that cake you made, right? Of course not, because they’re your guests and you don’t want to make them uncomfortable about having a lot of money (or a little) being spent on them. Unfortunately, the idea was also that OBVIOUSLY the man would be treating a woman on a date (and obviously a man and a woman out together was a date, and obviously two men or two women would never date, etc.).

The concept works with limited success. Women were often taught to predict which dishes would be mid-range options, to avoid upsetting their dates by ordering too richly. Also, occasionally the “host” would forbid the guest from ordering certain things that were too expensive, defeating the point. And nowadays, given that most restaurants post at least sample menus online, can’t you just figure out the average prices beforehand? Or am I the only one that will spend all afternoon before a dinner trying to figure out what I want to eat?

Complications also arise when a man and a woman want to dine in any way besides the man treating. Tracy MacLeod writes:

…I recall the irritation of a friend of mine, a high-powered BBC current affairs presenter, whose attempt to treat her husband to a special birthday dinner at La Tante Claire was foiled at every turn. Even though she’d made the booking, the staff treated her as the little lady guest. She got the menu with no prices. He got the wine to taste. She requested the bill. He was given it to pay. As they were leaving, the manager asked if she’d enjoyed her meal. It was lovely, she said, but as she was paying for her husband, it would have been nice if they’d treated her as the host. The manager’s face broke into an incredulous smile, and he turned to my friend’s husband. “Lucky fella!” he breathed.

This isn’t the only way restaurants differentiate between men and women, though it’s certainly the most obvious. The New York Times says, “At most upscale restaurants…software lets servers note both the position at a table to which a dish is going and whether the diner is female, so the food’s couriers can plot to present dishes in a gender-conscious sequence,” whatever that is. And MacLeod continues, “it rankles when front of house staff refuse to accept a woman as the main point of contact in a mixed group. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ordered wine which has then been brought to a male companion to taste. Same with the bill. And quite regularly, waiters have assumed, if I’m dining with a man, that the fish must be for me, and the steak and ale pudding for him.”

Restaurants giving priceless menus to ladies is dying out, though some restaurateurs do note the need for priceless menus. For instance, if one person is hosting a group at a restaurant, they may not want their guests to see the prices, and that is totally legitimate! But let’s be thankful that most women get to know what they’re paying for their own dinner.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Write Letters Anymore, Right Millenials?

Clippy-letterI hesitate to write this, because I am wary of coming firmly on the side of No More Letters. What a shame, right? For a long time in my life I very much romanticized writing letters. I had a wax seal with my initials on it, for gods sake, and for one year in high school decided I’d write all my best friends heartfelt letters for their birthdays instead of getting themselves gifts (I’m so sorry, friends). Even recently I’ve found it comforting to write letters to faraway friends instead of texting or emailing, and I covet my personalized stationery.

However, the last time I picked up a pen and tried to write an extended thought on a piece of paper I think my hand cramped up. I have the handwriting of a 7-year-old on a hay ride, and between trying to make sure anything I write down is actually legible, or being like “Yes Word paperclip I am trying to write a letter, YOU’RE SUCH A GENIUS,” or making sure that after all is said and done the damn paper actually gets to where it’s going (quite a few of our wedding invitations mysteriously never made it to their destinations), the art of letter writing is losing its allure, and I think I might be done. I don’t want to give a definitive answer, but some days I really appreciate Gmail.

But, obviously, writing letters has been a huge part of how people communicated. The Polite Letter Writer, 1860, states, “Had letters been known at the beginning of the world, epistolary writing would have been as old as love and friendship, for as soon as they began to flourish, the verbal messenger was dropped, the language of the heart was committed to characters that faithfully preserved it, secrecy was maintained, and social intercourse rendered more free and pleasant.” Nice, right?

The Polite Letter Writer has a whole guide for many types of letters, but there are some basic rules. First, make sure you spell everything correctly, a rule that gives me heart palpitations because I rely heavily on those squiggly red lines to let me know what I do wrong. Also, “vulgarism in language” suggests you’d be bad company, and “Proverbial expressions and trite sayings are the flowers of the rhetoric of a low-bred man.” So, you know, say what you mean. She then goes on for about ten pages about how to craft your natural writing style, which I’m sure is a lovely skill to have, but it’s all about studying the works of eminent poets but not actually imitating them, and I’d rather just send a Futurama .gif. (Hahah some Baby Boomer just read that and had a heart attack. Sorry guys, sorry for keeping it real.)

Most of the letter writing guides I’ve found follow the same format, and it’s EXHAUSTING. I mean, just look at the Table of Contents for Martine’s Perfect Letter Writer:

letter contents

You don’t even get to ‘How to begin a Letter” until 20 pages in, and that tip is literally start writing two-inches down from the top of the paper. It’s madness. Here are some other outdated tips for writing all day long.

  • If you’re writing a letter to someone you don’t know well, end with “Your obedient Servant.” As you get friendlier you can move up to “Yours faithfully” and even to “Yours very sincerely.”
  • “Honored sir” is terribly antiquated.
  • “Never sent a note to  person who is your superior.”
  • “Postscripts are generally indicative of thoughtlessness, and should be avoided.”
  • “Never write ‘I saw 5 birds’.”

Of course, there’s no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater (was that too much the rhetoric of a low-bred man?). These books still have good advice, and I’d like to leave you with something that applies whether you’re communicating via written letter or Gchat:

And finally remember that whatever you write is written evidence either of your good sense or your folly, your industry or carelessness, your self control or impatience. What you have once put into the letter box may cost you lasting regret, or be equally important to your whole future welfare. And, for such grave reasons, think before you write and think while you are writing.

So You Want To Have a Themed Wedding

Super special thanks to Matt Lubchansky for taking my little pencil drawing and making it all fancy.

Super special thanks to Matt Lubchansky for taking my little pencil drawing and making it all fancy.

So you’re getting married and want to have a wedding that totally represents everything about you as a couple and that’s great! Although, this might be a good time to bring up the point that sometimes your flowers can just be flowers and don’t have to be THE flowers that SYMBOLIZE your love (just a thought!). Anyway, I was reading this great post on OffBeat Bride about themed weddings and being inclusive to all your guests and my own opinion of it is that you don’t really have to explain your theme to your guests at all. Yes, sure YOU are very excited about your elaborate Dr. Who centerpieces, but unless your guests are into it, those centerpieces are just centerpieces to them, and that’s okay. I am a big wedding fan and love little details. Recently, I attended Jaya’s wedding, and despite hearing about all the details for MONTHS in advance and being ready to check everything out- in the moment, I was so BUSY having an amazing time that I completely forgot to look at any details at all. It all looked beautiful and that was enough. That being said, there are a few things to keep in mind when having a theme heavy wedding.

Ceremony:

By all means, work your theme or references into your vows and readings. Just leave enough of the usual bits that people know that they are for sure witnessing a wedding ceremony. Perhaps do not conduct the ceremony in Klingon, at least without a translator.

Costumes:

You cannot require your guests to wear full-on costumes to your wedding.  Now don’t pout, Jaya and I LOVE costume parties and throw a costume birthday party every year where we highly suggest costumes (and inspires some interesting costumes from costume hating people- such as the same increasingly ratty wig being used three times to represent different costumes). However, anyone who doesn’t want to attend a regular costume party can just say no. A wedding has a much stronger expectation of attendance and your guests are supposed to be your friends and loved ones, not costumed extras in your pageant.

By all means, share the theme and welcome your guests to dress accordingly if they wish. I went to a 20s themed wedding and a good portion of the guests went with 20s inspired outfits- I wore a ruffled dress that kinda sorta looked flapperish. But don’t turn your family and friends away if they don’t have the energy to make a Victorian Zombie costume!

Also, please cut out the dress code instructions for Cowboy Chic or Steampunk Cocktail or Ocean Colors. No one knows what you mean (probably not even you) and you are just inviting 1,000 emails from stressed Aunts asking what you mean. Your dress code choices are informal or formal (black tie/cocktail attire are acceptable too). That’s it. The only people whose attire you can dictate is your own (you being the couple), and your wedding party. Besides, as in the aforementioned flapper wedding, many people will catch onto a theme and dress a little accordingly on their own.

Reception:

Go nuts with your decorations, just don’t get annoyed if people don’t particularly notice or care. Some commenters on Offbeat Bride suggest a glossary of all your references (the best place would be on your wedding website). This is fine, but again, don’t be put out if people don’t get really into it. Don’t force people to care either- trivia games and scavenger hunts will not be fun for people who aren’t already interested or aren’t familiar with your theme.

That said, know your crowd! Maybe your family and friends really will be into finding all your references and competing with the other tables in trivia. The same for other reception activities–karaoke or board games will go over well with some crowds and not with others (same with dancing, for that matter). But be honest with yourself; if you are inviting 10 of your gamer friends and 90 conservative extended family members, a giant, all-inclusive light saber fight is probably not going to happen.

Speeches too, shouldn’t be only full of in-jokes between the speaker and the happy couple. There’s only so much control you have over the speeches given to you, but it’s something to keep in mind. Actually the best Maid of Honor speech I’ve heard was thematically about Harry Potter, but it really told a story about the couple and was very sweet.

Just remember, always, that your guests are there to celebrate with you. As long as you give them food (appropriate to the time of the reception), drinks (or some kind, doesn’t have to be alcohol), a place to sit (if necessary), and make sure you greet every single guest, then you have fulfilled your hosting duties and everything else is up to you. Just remember to send your (themed, natch!) thank you notes.