Etiquette In Hospital Rooms

hqdefaultBeing in the hospital is no fun, but often, the experience is made worse by the behavior of others in the hospital. It’s bad enough recovering from surgery or waiting for test results without having to hear someone in the hallway barking on their cell phones. I’ve had a few family members go through overnight and extended hospital stays over the past year, and asked them about what they wish was different about the experience (you know, besides being in the hospital in the first place).

  • Don’t touch things: If you’re visiting someone who is in a hospital bed, likely they’re surrounded by a ton of things that are beeping and plugged in and possibly connected to the patient. Don’t touch them. They do important things.
  • Don’t linger unless the patient has asked you to: If you’re close family it’s easier to justify hanging out in the hospital room to keep the patient company, but socializing takes a lot of effort, especially when you’re sick. Come in, check on what they need, chat for a bit, but don’t stay all day unless you talk about it.
  • Do not bring your entire family to hang out: Nowadays, at least in America, staying in the hospital usually means you have a roommate, so a lot of standard roommate etiquette applies. However, lots of people seem to forget how to have a roommate. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from friends who have stayed in hospitals is their roommate’s entire family will be there all the time, making noise, taking up space, and in general forgetting that there’s another patient in the room. Even if you’re fine with your entire family being around, your roommate probably isn’t, so be considerate.
  • Be quiet: The main thing about hospitals is that they tend to be places for rest and healing. So respect that by making sure you’re not speaking on your cell phone too loudly in hallways, watching TV during regular bedtime hours, or carrying loud conversations a foot away from your roommate’s bed.
  • Don’t argue with doctors: Ok, this is a hard one, because there is certainly an issue with doctors not listening to patients, or misdiagnosing them, or thinking that Black patients don’t feel pain. Also many American hospitals are extremely taxed/understaffed and as such getting and maintaining a doctor’s attention can be hard. That said, there are a lot of patients in hospitals, and doctors have a lot of training in how to prioritize their needs. It’s a stressful place for everyone, and getting angry generally won’t help anybody. If you have an issue, by all means bring it up, but try to judge whether it’s informed by your actual treatment or just your unhappiness at being in a hospital in the first place.
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The Etiquette Of Kingsman: The Secret Service

Yes I know Kingsman: Secret Service came out over a year ago but I’ve been thinking about it on and off for pretty much that whole time. There’s a lot about the film that’s extremely jarring, but if you haven’t seen it, here’s a rundown. A boy named Eggsy father gets killed. Eggsy grows up in a lower-class neighborhood, until growing up and finding his father was part of an elite secret service organization that has traditionally employed members of the upper classes. Eggsy is invited to try out for the secret service and fails, but Eggsy also discovers a secret plot to take over the world by the upper classes, and takes it into his own hands to basically become James Bond and save the day.

Throughout the movie, Colin Firth is Eggsy’s mentor in the service, and explains certain rules to him. The code is “oxfords not brogues,” referencing the service’s sartorial preference for neat but plain dress over flashier outfits. He also repeats the refrain “manners maketh man,” and after we watched it, this is the phrase that drove my husband mad. Because by the end, Eggsy has ditched his street clothing and adopted Firth’s suits and oxfords. On the surface, it appears that “manners” just means “emulating the rich.”

I wrestled with this until I read one of the most astounding pieces of cultural criticism I’ve ever seen, which happens to be written in the voice of the Incredible Hulk. Ignore the all-caps and look at this:

CONSIDER THE KINGSMEN AS AN AGENCY. THEY ARE NOT ONLY THE THROWBACK ICONS TO THE STYLINGS OF THE ’60S, BUT ALSO (WHAT THEY CONSIDER TO BE) THE BETTER, MORE GENTLEMANLY VALUES OF THAT ERA AS WELL. MEANING THEY DO NOT JUST VALUE THEMSELVES AS THE PARAGONS OF JUSTICE, BUT THE STALWART EXAMPLES OF MANNERED DECENCY AND HONOR. AS COLIN FIRTH SO REGULARLY ESPOUSES, “MANNERS MAKETH MAN.” BUT, OF COURSE, SO MUCH OF THE KINGSMEN’S TROUBLE COMES FROM THE WAY THEY EASILY COME TO CONFUSE THE SURFACE APPEARANCES OF WHAT IS CONSIDERED “GENTLEMANLY” WITH THE ACTUAL INTENT OF POLITENESS AND CARING. IT CONFUSES THE SIGNPOSTS OF BEING CULTURED – THAT WOULD BE POSH ACCENTS AND WEALTH, ESTEEM AND POWER – WITH THE SIGNPOSTS OF ONE’S BASIC GOODNESS.

The film deals a lot with that dichotomy between surface “gentlemanly” habits and actual good behavior. Because ultimately, the movie is about rich people throwing poor people under the bus, because they believe their manners make them inherently better. And that is because “manners” is often confused with “good manners.” Manners are just a set of customs and habits prevalent among a group of people. Manners in and of themselves are valueless, but they are made good or bad by their goals. Is the intent to make others feel included and welcome? Or is the intent to exclude those who do not have the same manners as you?

Throughout the film, Firth is the only of the Kingsmen who understands this different, and shows actually good manners. He understands that it is not his money, his house or his fine suits that make him a mannered man, but his treatment of others. That the only thing different between him and someone of a lower class is the suit he can afford.

In the Victorian era, as the middle class rose and more people had disposable incomes, the upper classes began to panic. Having “class” became less about money than about what one did with it. “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it,” wrote historian Deborah Valenze. Thus, the distinction between “new money” and everyone else, exhibited in Charles Dickens’ sick burn of his characters the Veneerings’ new furniture in Our Mutual Friend: “The surface smelt a little too much of the workshop and was a trifle sticky.” Their furniture was new and literally tacky.

There was also the assumption that if one didn’t have money, it was because of some moral failure. “A series of laws passed between the 1840s and the 1880s, attaching penal sanctions to unpaid loans, arose from a consensus that debt was subversive of ‘national morality,'” writes Timothy Alborn, encouraging the idea that if you didn’t have money, it is because you are irresponsible or criminal. Unfortunately, this viewpoint hasn’t exactly gone away. One need only to look at the rise of the prosperity gospel, which espouses that if one is rich it is because one is favored by God, or the assumptions that all poor people just don’t work hard enough, to see it still exists.

But back to good manners. I think what keeps endearing me to the movie is that it shows the divide between appearance and action. Manners, the collection of actions society has agreed are polite, are the surface. They are supposed to represent good intent. But if the intent isn’t actually there, the manners become hollow. A kind person who doesn’t know manners will always be favorable to an unkind person who knows how to put on a show.

Yes, at the end of the film, Eggsy is dressed in a suit, glasses, and a cane. Part of that, I have to assume, is because the Kingsmen’s suits are fucking bulletproof and that cane has a knife in it, but part of it may also be he just likes wearing it. But he’s in his neighborhood bar, and confronts the man who has been domestically abusing his mother, just as he did when he wasn’t wearing a suit, because appearance or not, Eggsy knows domestic abuse is wrong. He knows that protecting the vulnerable will always be more important than maintaining appearances. Those are the type of manners that make someone, no matter what you wear.

In Defense Of Not Saying Who You’re Voting For

If you’re like me, you were already exhausted with this election in 2015. I voted in the New York primary today and I still can’t believe there is basically the entire election to go. But one of the things that’s making it harder and harder is watching all my friends announce on Facebook who they will be voting for. It’s just strange, and it makes me long for the days when making such a proclamation was incredibly rude.

I remember once asking a neighbor who he was voting for, because I was seven and I had recently learned what voting was. I was quickly reprimanded, either by my neighbor or my mom, because asking and sharing who you’re voting for was just not done. For a long time I didn’t get why. I thought it was similar to the “don’t talk about politics, money or religion” at the dinner table rule–what the hell else are you going to talk about?

But as I watch these proclamations devolve into arguments, or read blog posts about “Why I’m Voting For So and So” that provide no positive reasons to vote for their chosen candidate, only reasons to vote against the opponent, I realize why that rule made sense. Publicly stating who you’re voting for creates pressure. You may not intend that. You may just say you’re stating a preference. But it encourages a response, which is either yes, the person you’re speaking to agrees with you, or no, they don’t. And if they do, the conversation can easily turn into whether or not they’re as passionate as you, and if not why not? And if they don’t, well, now you’re disagreeing when that conversation didn’t have to happen.

There are exceptions here. If you work for a particular candidate or party, by all means promote them. Or maybe you just feel so passionately about one candidate that you’re devoting the entire election season (so like, four years at this point) to their platform. And, if somebody is actually misinformed about a candidate (they think Ted Cruz is pro-choice, or Hillary Clinton didn’t vote for the war in Iraq), you can absolutely, politely correct them. But otherwise, you’re likely not going to change minds.

This last bit is what I think is the most important, especially among friends. I am 100% into talking about politics among friends. If you know me, you know I am pro-choice, I care about the environment, I care deeply about institutionalized racism and sexism and classism, I want more gun control, and I want to welcome refugees to America. So, if you trust me as an intelligent person, you should trust that I have thought through these issues, researched the candidates, and chosen to vote for the one I believe best represents those issues. If not, you’re either undermining my intelligence, or just think that your assessment of these issues is better than mine. Which, unless you’re a professional political analyst, is probably not.

If you can’t tell I have a lot of personal feelings about this! Maybe I’m just generally the type who supports issues, not candidates. But I’ve seen too many friends, friends who are smart and thoughtful and agree about 95% of issues, get into legitimate fights because they feel the need to proclaim who they’re voting for without prompt. And I’ve had too many people ask me who I’m voting for who won’t take “I don’t feel like saying” for an answer.

So, best practices. Don’t ask people who they’re voting for. Don’t tell someone who to vote for. And maybe think twice about announcing who you’re voting for unless the conversation really calls for it. Or just stop telling me, personally.

Oh My God Don’t Complain To The Hosts Of A Party You’re Currently At

maxresdefaultAs we’ve established, planning a party is hard. No, it’s not hard to say BYOB and order a few pizzas, but when it comes to any parties larger than that–dinner parties, holiday parties, weddings–there are a lot of moving pieces. There are guest lists and menus and seating arrangements and invitations and possibly staff, all weighed against the ultimate stress of any party: money. So every party, generally, is a balance of all those things. It’s an experience that makes the most people possible happy without the hosts going broke.

This means that, sometimes, there are minor disappointments, though I hesitate to call them that because no reasonable person would be disappointed. If there’s only beer and wine instead of a full liquor bar? Fine! One dessert instead of a dessert buffet? Whatever! Plastic cups instead of glass ones? What is your life that this is even registering as a problem?!

Which brings me to an incredibly unreasonable person I encountered at a recent wedding. The wedding was beautiful, and featured heavy passed appetizers and a buffet with many, many options. There were plentiful tables, couches and bar tops, though apparently the deal was that, while there were enough surfaces for everyone to eat at, some people were to be left standing. Again, just fine! You take 20 minutes to eat on a bar top and sit on a bench later and everyone has a grand time. Well, that wasn’t the case for one guest, who I overheard on line for the amazing mac & cheese. She would not stop talking about how there weren’t enough chairs. As if that weren’t bad enough, the father of the groom came over and joked about cutting the line for food (as he is the father of the groom). She said no, because they were mad at him that there weren’t enough chairs. He looked incredibly apologetic and sort of slinked away.

You can probably tell I was horrified. It’s fine to privately notice, and maybe even complain to a close friend, that you wish things were one way and they are in fact another. We do this every day. But let’s just make it clear that a situation like this is no one’s fault. Nothing was done wrong. Things were just one way and this woman didn’t like that. Recognizing that herself is one thing, but complaining to the host is entirely another. Just…just don’t do this? Okay? Good.

Some Phrases To Avoid When Making An Apology (And What To Say Instead)

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We’ve already covered the importance of an apology. That’s not exactly a controversial stance. We all recognize apologizing is a good skill! However, in my opinion, a bad apology is almost as bad as none at all, and boy are there a lot of people giving bad apologies. I’ve noticed a few phrases that are commonly used in apologies, but that don’t really do much to convey you’re actually sorry. Here are some to avoid:

  • “I didn’t do something to upset you, did I?” This and variations of this phrasing presumes the asker did nothing wrong, and puts the askee in an accusatory position. Either they have to say “no, it’s fine” (and anyone who is bad at confrontation knows how easy it is to say it’s fine when it’s not) or do the hard job of spelling out exactly why they are upset. It would be great if everyone was better at that, but most of us don’t like being so explicit because we don’t want to hurt feelings. So if you did something wrong and notice you upset someone, own up to it. Say “I’m sorry I upset you” or “What I said was disrespectful and I apologize,” or something equally explicit. And if you genuinely don’t know what you did, admit you don’t know and ask why.
  • “I’m sorry you’re offended/if it came off that way.” Phrasing like this is what you see every time a celebrity offers a half-hearted apologetic press release after telling a racist joke, and it’s easy to see right through it. It conveys you’re not actually sorry about what you said or did, just that someone else reacted badly to it. Misinterpretations happen, but not nearly as often as this phrase is utilized. Instead, apologize for the actual action, like “I’m sorry I said [X], I understand now how offensive it is.”
  • “I didn’t mean it like that.” This is a tricky one. Sometimes an explanation as to why you did the thing you’re apologizing for is necessary, and it’ll turn out to have all been a misunderstanding. But often explaining why you did or said something that upset someone just makes it seem like you’re trying to avoid blame. It doesn’t matter whether you meant to be mean or whether you thought you were being funny if what you said hurt someone. Instead, elaborate on that initial phrase by saying something like “I didn’t mean it, but I know that’s no excuse, and I’m genuinely sorry I upset you.”
  • Apologizing when you’re not sorry. Maybe you’re not actually sorry for what you did, and are only apologizing to try to smooth things over. The point of an apology is that you mean it, so just saying “sorry” when you’re not isn’t worth it to anyone. Instead, try to see if there’s a way to smooth things over in a way that doesn’t involve an apology. Did you get into a fight about politics? Say “I know we may not agree on this issue, but I want you to know I still care for you and respect you, and I’ll try not to bring it up again.” Is someone trying to make you apologize for something you don’t feel sorry for? Say “I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong, but I want to understand why you’re upset.”
  • “Am I forgiven now?” Apologies are not transactional. You do not give one for immediate absolution, you give one for the benefit of the aggrieved party. Asking whether or not you’re forgiven forces the hand of the person you’re asking, because let’s face it, saying “no, you’re not forgiven yet” sounds mean. Instead, well, don’t say anything. If you’ve apologized you’ve done what you can, and it’s up to the person you hurt to decide if and when you’re on good terms again.