Some Thanksgiving Tips

Last week, Victoria and I were interviewed for Metro New York about what to do if you’re a college student spending Thanksgiving with a friend’s family. However, a lot of the advice can be applied in many situations, like spending the holidays with your in-laws or your extended family. Here are a few more tips on how to get through it all without going crazy!

  • Offer to help out as much as you can, but make sure you can really do it: Jumping into the kitchen so Aunt Martha doesn’t have to make everything is fantastic, but don’t do it unless you actually know how to make green bean casserole. The only thing more stressful than having to cook five dishes is having to cook four while answering a million questions about the fifth. If that’s the case, see if there are other ways you can help, like running errands, watching the kids, or setting the table.
  • Don’t be a dick about dietary restrictions:  Some people refuse to believe gluten allergies exist. Others think anyone who isn’t a vegan is a murderer. Most of us can and should meet in the middle. My thought is that the host gets a heavy say in what’s served at their house, within reason. For instance, if you’re a guest in a Kosher household, don’t bring your bacon-wrapped scallop appetizer. However, if you’re the host but the only vegetarian, maybe request that most of the dishes remain vegetarian, but let someone bring a turkey. Also, speak up if you have a serious allergy, like if you’re so allergic to peanuts that the presence of them anywhere on the table will make you break out in hives. And if you have a lot of restrictions, bring a dish or two that you know you can eat.
  • Be flexible with traditions: I was slightly horrified the first time I went to a Thanksgiving dinner and everything was served on paper plates, because I’m a horrible snob and you should never invite me anywhere. But then I remembered that shrimp curry is often served alongside turkey at my family’s house. The holiday is about sharing traditions, not judging them.
  • Pick your battles: We got into this a little in Metro about balancing changing the subject gracefully with calling out someone’s racist uncle. Sometimes it’s not worth the effort to call someone out, and sometimes you can’t just let it slide. Everyone has their own personal thresholds.
  • Have an exit strategy: Most of us have probably felt stressed out at at least one Thanksgiving (or other holiday). It can be a perfect storm of stress, family tensions and loud little kids. Have a plan if you’re prone to getting overwhelmed by these things, like taking a walk or running an errand. Last year I got so overwhelmed at one holiday I excused myself to the bathroom and instead lay down in the guest room for ten minutes. No one will miss you for that period of time.
  • Don’t forget to use your good table manners: The basics- put your napkin on your lap, chew with your mouth closed, elbows off the table, and say please and thank you.

Short Question on Financial Etiquette

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

If I send a check and it gets lost in the mail, who should pay the bank fee to have it stopped? Me or the recipient?

Sincerely,

Fee’d Off

Official Etiquette:

Miss Manners and Emily Post haven’t really covered this, but in other check etiquette it is generally best to cash checks ASAP when you get them so people are surprised by the draw on their account three months later (though of course, everyone should be balancing their checking accounts- HA!)

Our Take:

Jaya: Whoaaaa. I have no idea. I mean I think you? Actually the post office should.

Victoria: Lol okay, so I answered thus when it was originally posed on Twitter: if you are close to the person, just write a new check and ask them to tear up the lost one if it ever arrives. But if not, since you are ultimately the person who will have the check amount come out of your account when it is cashed then its on you to pay the fee to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Jaya: What doesn’t happen?

Victoria: Okay, so say you write a check and it gets lost in the mail. You write the person a new check and they cash it, then the lost check shows up and they cash that too.

Jaya: Then they’re a scumbag?

Victoria: Well yeah, but it can be an honest mistake but you are still out double the money (which you then have to try to get refunded). So its your responsibility to cancel the check so that it can’t be cashed.

Jaya: Well yeah of course. Wait is the other option people consider is asking your friend to call your bank to cancel the fee? I don’t get what the issue is.

Victoria: No, I think the issue is that the person writing the check wants to write a second check and deduct the fee the bank charges for canceling the first check. Thus making the check receiver “pay” the fee. By getting less money. Which yeah…no. They have no way of knowing that you even genuinely sent the first check! You could be lying!

Jaya: Why do people insist on making things a thousand times more complicated? I guess this seems like such a non-issue to me. I can’t imagine a situation in which I wouldn’t call my bank to cancel the check, pay whatever fee, and then send a new check. How is that not the standard course of action for everyone?

Victoria: Yeah exactly. I mean, check canceling fees CAN be high, like sometimes something like $50. So I often hedge my bets and don’t bother canceling them.

Jaya: Wait so you just ask your friend to rip up the check, right?

Victoria: Yeah, I mean, my rent check has gotten lost in the mail before and I just never canceled it. I guess, if it did finally show up and they cashed it, they would just apply it to my next months rent. Which for me is fine, but for other people might be a problem if that would overdraft their account. So you just have to weigh that kind of thing against whether it is worth it to pay the fee for the peace of mind knowing that it can’t be cashed.

Jaya: This seems less like etiquette and more like finance. Or really like, etiquette: don’t cash double checks and scam your friends?

Victoria: Haha yeah true. And business-wise, there is no way you are ever going to get, say the cable company, to pay your canceled check fee, they will laugh at you. I think it was a worthwhile etiquette question to ask though- a young person might just not know what is the social norm here!

How to Read Social Cues

This is not the way to behave.

So by now I hope everyone has had a chance to see this excellent street harassment video which shows how many catcalls and looks a woman gets walking around New York City for 10 hours. While there has been much *ahem* debate over whether these were catcalls or just guys “being polite” (um no this is not polite), an interesting thing that cropped up (in my mind) was the complaint by many men that “what, we aren’t ever allowed to talk to a women in public?!?!?!?!” Congratulations, but no, of course you can talk to women (and men and whoever) in public, but only as long as you get social cues that they are also interested in talking to YOU!

The thing about people is that your desire to talk to me does not trump my desire to NOT talk to you (or anyone else). And okay, I get it, maybe that girl who is running to catch the train is clearly your soulmate, but honestly, that is just too bad and you really need to let it go. So here is a nice handy, fun primer on how to read social cues to tell if someone is interested in talking to you (also most people do this intuitively, by what? age 15? It’s not that hard).

Signs Someone is Not Interested in Talking to You:

  • They are reading (caveat, if they keep looking up over their book and making eye contact with you and only you and smiling, etc).
  • Walking fast- clearly on their way somewhere in a hurry.
  • It’s the morning commute (personally I think morning subways should be absolute quiet zones, but I certainly do not want to chat)
  • Sunglasses on, earbuds in.
  • They are actively avoiding making eye contact with you.
  • If you do speak to them and they give one word answers or mmhmms.
  • They shake their head at you (okay this is more for sidewalk canvassers than people wanting to make small talk, but hey, it applies)
  • They are crying (being able to cry in public without anyone questioning it is a New Yorker’s right)

Signs Someone is Interested in Talking to You:

  • They keep trying to make eye contact with you.
  • They smile at you a lot.
  • You say something benign and friendly (see below) and they are pretty chatty in their answers.

Things You Can Say to A Stranger in Public:

  • The train hasn’t come for 15 minutes= “The G train, amirite?”
  • “Excuse me, you dropped this.”
  • “Does this train stop at Canal street?” (I actually had a great chat on a subway with a guy once where the conductor was saying the wrong station name and we were trying to reassure each other that we were in fact on the right train.)
  • Compliments…cautiously- if they really are wearing a stunning dress or whatever, then that’s probably okay? As long as they aren’t exhibiting any of the “seriously, do NOT talk to me signs.”
  • “Hi” “Hello” “Good Morning” BUT and this is seriously important, if you are the friendly type of person who likes to say hi to people, make sure you say it to a WIDE range of people and not JUST people you are attacted to, that makes it more predatory than friendly. Suffice to say, “heeeeeey baby” is not the same thing as a chipper “hi.” And again, don’t do it if it’s pretty clear they aren’t interested in human interaction at the moment.

Things You Cannot Say to A Stranger in Public:

  • Honestly, it’s too long to list.

It’s also really important, especially if you are a man talking to a woman to not use words or talk in a tone that you wouldn’t use to speak to a man.

And please, just be realistic. If you are a kind of average slumpy joe, and you really, really want to talk to that amazing supermodel looking girl who is a good 10 years younger than you, do you REALLY think she is going to be that interested in talking to you? I mean, sure, maybe, but statistically it’s just not that likely

Thank Goodness Bicycle Etiquette Is Not This Sexist Anymore

Why we don't have bicycling cowboys I'll never know. [Etiquette and bicycling, for 1896]

Why we don’t have bicycling cowboys I’ll never know. [Etiquette and bicycling, for 1896]

“Every advanced step toward a more perfect civilization requires some modification of the laws of society. Social intercourse varies under different conditions, but when an entirely new order of affairs presents itself a new code of etiquette is necessary. The question is naturally asked: Who is the authority for the establishment of social laws, and in the absence of precedent why is not one way just as good as another.”

This quote is attributed to something called Bearings, “the recognized authority on cycling matters,” as quoted in Etiquette and Bicycling, for 1896. It is the best summation about etiquette I think I’ve ever seen. Please apply this as you want, but today this is applied to the emergence of bicycling culture. In 1896, it was a total gamechanger, allowing people to travel through surrounding areas instead of staying in their towns, and emancipating women from “slavish conventionality in both dress and conduct.” Well, maybe not. Women were still “ladies,” and despite the ability to cycle about town, there were still a lot of rules to adhere to.

An unmarried cycling woman had to be chaperoned by a married woman, and married women had to be accompanied by their groom or another woman. Occasionally, married women trained had a “servant trained in the art” in order to adhere to this convention. And though women were reminded that “modesty is becoming at all times,” bloomers were acceptable.

Things were much different for experienced “wheelmen,” though the book admits that one of the draws of cycling was it was something men and women could do it together. It was therefore customary that men hold the handles as a woman mounts her bike, from the left with her right foot on the pedal. The book argues, “Let the new woman prate as much as she please about her independence of man, but she is the first nevertheless to rise up in indignation if any of the same old time chivalry is omitted.” Therefore, the author concludes, the man will do everything in his power to make the woman comfortable. This would be hilarious if I hadn’t met men who still think this way.

Men were still supposed to be hyper-aware of their female biking companions once riding, and women were pretty much expected to be complete idiots about the whole endeavor (“it is difficult for a man and almost impossible for a woman to ride without an instructor”). A man shouldn’t dare go ahead of a woman on a narrow road, or he may “get a long way ahead of his companion without knowing she was in distress.” He should ride on the left side of a woman so he could give his right arm in assistance, and the author makes a special point to say that all women deserve assistance, “handsome or otherwise.”

Okay, this is getting exhausting. How about some general ideas for bicycle etiquette? Social Etiquette, Or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society by Maud C. Cooke says that bikes are welcome in houses of worship, so “don’t absent yourself from church to go wheeling.” Also “don’t leave your bicycle in the lower hallway of your flat house,” which is absolutely applicable today. Pass on the right, and don’t speed down hills with curves at the bottom. However, she does advise “sweaters worn like a Chinaman’s blouse are almost indecent.” Whatever that means.