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ABCs of Polite Society

     Remember your days back in public school? Learning useless things like "What is the Capital of Syria" and "What is the atomic weight of Lithium"? How much of that stuff do you remember now? If you're like me, not much. Apart from basic fractions, and enough of the English language to avoid getting deported, public school didn't do a whole heck of a lot other than to teach us how to avoid getting seriously maimed in Dodge Ball.

     Instead of all that useless garbage, it would have been nice if they had taught us some things we could have used in real life. For instance, how to balance a check book. Or how to grocery shop for good values. Or believable lies we could give to police officers when they pull us over for speeding.

     I don't want to sound ungrateful. It may seem like I think public school did nothing for me. Far from it. For instance, if I'm ever killed in a land slide, I may, in the last few seconds before my death, be able to identify the rocks hurtling towards me as sedimentary as opposed to igneous. Then again, I doubt it.

     The languages they taught me were useful too. For example, like many of my peers, I took French for 5 years. If I ever find myself stranded in France (or, God forbid, Quebec), my training in the French language will come in very handy. Of course, the only phrase I can remember is "Je suis une petite rouge crayon". I believe this translates roughly to "I am a small red pencil".

     One thing I think they should have taught us in public school is etiquette. Which fork to use, proper forms of address, when to bow, when to shake hands - all skills which could help us in polite society. At least, they could help us more than knowing the average yearly rainfall of an equatorial rain forest could.

     I have put together the ABC's of Polite Society - an alphabetical listing of do's and don'ts that can be followed in today's world. Perhaps one day, our public school system will finally smarten up, and start teaching these rules. I, for one, highly doubt it.

Accept compliments gracefully: When complimented, smile, and thank the person delivering the compliment. Examples of things NOT to say:

  • "[Snort] - Yeah, right."
  • "Ooooh, a compliment from a loser is just SOOOOO lovely."
  • Blow your nose when alone: If you feel the need to blow your nose, it is not acceptable to do so in public. Retire to the privacy of a bathroom or darkened corner. Always have a hanky or Kleenex on hand. If you feel the need to blow, never, EVER use someone else's sleeve, coat tail, or hat.

    Clean your fingernails: Dirty fingernails are considered rude and unsightly. Bits of dirt, hair, mucus, etc., protruding from one's fingers can often upset and nauseate those around you. Clean your fingernails at least once a month.

    Don't pick your nose: I mean, really. I shouldn't even have to put this one in here. Obviously, for some of you, I do. How many times have you pulled up to a red light, and watched the man in the car next to you dig for gold in his nostrils? Think about this, people. You wouldn't root around in your butt in a restaurant, would you?

    Eat everything on your plate: One solid rule of etiquette that should always be obeyed. It is considered rude in polite society to return your plate to your host with half your veal and a pile of potatoes au gratin left uneaten. This sends an obvious message to your host, i.e. "Your cooking stinks". This rule can be particularly trying if your host's cooking actually does stink, or if he is serving some exotic meal (e.g. Bat's testicles in a white wine sauce).

    Farting is wrong: This is another one of those "I shouldn't have to say this but I do" rules. Farting in public is never, ever acceptable. Many of the more infantile out there may even think it is funny. Wrong. Expelling gas through a sphincter is not funny. Let's face it, it's not exactly a rare or difficult to learn skill. Even a chimpanzee or a truck driver can master it.

    Gentle handshake: When meeting someone, you should shake their hands with a firm but gentle grip. Some people feel the need to squeeze someone's hand like they were trying to get juice out of it. This is rude. A handshake is a greeting, not a chance to show how strong your grip is. And, let's face it, there's only one common activity that gives a man a strong right hand (one which we cannot discuss in polite society). Is that really the message you want to be sending?

    Hold the door: It is considered polite to hold the door for a lady, despite the current Politically Correct attitudes. It is impolite to enter a door before a lady, or to slam a door in a lady's face. When holding a door, comments such as "After you" are appropriate. Comments such as "After you, bitch" are not.

    Ignore a faux pas: Sometime, even the most polite of us will slip. If someone does mess up, it is considered polite to ignore their social gaff. Of course, there is nothing wrong with making fun of that person behind their back later.

    Jokes - keep them clean: When telling jokes in polite society, they must be clean! Off color jokes about lesbians, bodily functions, and twelve inch pianists are not acceptable. Nothing can bring a pleasant evening to a screeching halt faster than some drunken lout telling a joke involving the private parts of an elephant.

    Keep yourself clean: Personal hygiene is very important. You should shower at least once per day. You may scoff. If so, you are a dirty, smelly person. Ask yourself this: How often to people standing near me suddenly turn pale and vomit? If the answer is more than once a week, then you really should increase the frequency of your bathing. And remember - deodorant is NOT optional!

    Lend a hand: When you see someone in need, it is only polite to come to their aid. For instance, if you see someone with a flat tire, it is polite to stop and help, or at least offer to drive them to a garage. It is considered impolite to slow down, roll down your car window, and yell "Hah, hah, sucker!" as you drive past.

    Mixed company do's and don'ts: There is a separate set of rules regarding situations in which members of the opposite sex are present. For instance, when alone with "the boys" it is acceptable (although barely) to talk about past sexual conquests. However, if there are women present, it is unacceptable to speak lewdly of a past sexual liaison. Particularly if the woman in question happens to be among the current crowd. For instance, loudly proclaiming "I rode Mary here like a prize stallion last night" is just plain rude.

    Never chew with your mouth open: When dining, it is considered polite to chew with one's mouth closed. I have to emphasize this: CLOSED!! This is true regardless of whether you are dining at the Golden Truffle, or your local McDonalds. Once the food has entered your mouth, no one ever wants to see it again. Some of you may not believe me (particularly the ones who think its humorous to flash a mouthful of partially chewed food to your neighbors), but it is true.
         Also, talking with your mouth full is bad, bad, bad. Chances are, what you have to say is not so important as to justify spraying your neighbor with partially chewed pieces of saliva soaked chicken McNuggets.

    Operate with a "happy" attitude: As you move through life, try to remember to be happy, and smile often. It's polite, and people will like you better. If you aren't happy, then fake it! Practice smiling in the mirror. A happy person is a polite person.
         Try to ignore sad, depressing topics like homeless people, war, and religion. If you see a homeless person while walking, just pretend he is an eccentric millionaire, out on a lark. It makes it much easier to ignore his feeble pleas for the few coins in your pocket.

    Plan for the unexpected: A true gentleman or lady is always ready for any emergency. Someone just spill wine on the divan? A true lady will have some napkins and a bottle of upholstery cleaner stashed away in her purse. Someone about to drop a cigarette ash on the oriental carpet? A true gentleman will have an ashtray hidden in his pocket, available to come to the rescue.
         One word of caution. Your host may find it odd to see you produce an ashtray from your pocket, particularly if that ash tray resembles those he owns himself. Always carry a receipt!

    Questions for the host: If the conversation lags, it is considered polite to ask the host some questions, designed to get things moving again. For instance, you may ask about your host's latest trip to Africa, or how her collection of prize winning orchids are doing. This gives the host an opportunity to talk about herself without appearing self-centered.
         Certain questions must be avoided. Avoid mention of any concealed body parts, embarrassing odors, or court appearances. Questions such as "Where is that awful smell coming from?" or "I'm sorry, but did you do that to your hair on purpose?" should also be shunned.

    Religion: As you probably know, religion is a topic which should be avoided in polite society. Avoided like a plague bearing peasant. While religion is a lovely thing, and has done many wonderful things throughout the ages, people do tend to get a bit worked up about it.
         If you doubt this, just show up at a Croatian club house, and loudly declare "I like Serbians". As you convalesce in your hospital bed, you will have plenty of time to reflect on the seriousness of religion.

    Sex: The rules of polite sex is a topic which is often ignored. Like any social gathering, a sexual liaison has it's own particular rules of etiquette which must be obeyed. For instance, if the condom breaks, it is polite to say "Sorry, my dear", rather than saying "I suppose now would be a bad time to mention my herpes".
         In the case of premature ejaculation, it is polite for the male to apologize, rather than say "Oh well, at least I had my fun". If the male loses his erection, again an apology is in order. Responses such as "This wouldn't have happened if you weren't such an ugly bitch" or "Oh well, I guess now you'll just have to blow me" are also quite rude.

    Train your responses: For the most part, developing a polite manner is simply a question of training. You must learn to replace your usual responses with polite ones. Here, we see several examples of situations, typical responses, and the polite response. Practice them in front of a mirror.

    Situation Polite Response Typical Response
    Someone spills something on the rug. Think nothing of it.
    Oh, dear.
    What a klutz!
    Hey asshole, that rug cost $250!!
    A "Freudian" slip. Ignore it.
    Change the subject.
    Ha, ha, weirdo!
    Meeting a long lost friend. Simply delightful to see you, old boy. Bill, you ugly old bastard, how's it hanging?
    Someone who talks too much. Try to engage someone else in conversation. Shut the fuck up, you boring asshole.

    Use table manners: When dining, it is vital to use acceptable table manners. Knowing which spoon to use for soup is just as important as knowing not to drink directly from the soup bowl. Also, despite popular opinion, nobody really likes a food fight. It can be quite difficult to get vichyssoise out of a fur coat.

    Visit your friends: It is considered polite to drop by and visit a friend while in the neighborhood. Of course, this assumes that it is day time, and not 4:00 a.m. Showing up at someone's door in the middle of the night is quite rude.
         While visiting, comment politely on your friend's decor, and choice of color scheme. Comments such as "I love this couch" or "Those colors really bring out the room" are quite lovely. Comments such as "I like your couch - where was the garage sale?" or "Who decorated here, Helen Keller?" are quite rude.

    When sick, stay away from others: If you are sick, it is only polite not to bother your friends, family, and coworkers. Stay home until you are better. Nothing hurts a party more than someone sneezing in the dip, or throwing up on the hostess's Siamese cat.

    Xeroxed body parts are NOT funny: This rule should be self explanatory. However, many of you still think it is humorous to photocopy your posterior (or even more vulgar body parts) and show them to your friend. Let's face it: no one wants to see your derriere in the first place. What makes you think they'd want to see a picture of it pressed up against a plate glass window?
         Sadly, the invention of the fax machine has allowed these degenerates to spread their photocopied rears all over the country.

    Yawning in public: Yawning in public is something that should be avoided at all costs. A simple yawn can send a complex message, indicating boredom, ennui, even a lack of intellectual stimulation. If you absolutely must yawn, for the love of mercy, please remember to cover your mouth. Nothing takes the fun out of an evening than an exhibit of the back of someone's mouth. Being able to count cavities is not a good thing at a dinner party.

    Zippers must remain up: When using the lavatory, always remember to do up your fly! Returning to the table with your shirt tail protruding from an open fly (or worse still, and unmentionable body part) is quite rude. One of the major problems surrounding this issue is one of polite response. There simply exists no polite way to tell someone their zipper is open. Humorous comments such as "XYZ" or "The barn door is open, and the horse is about to escape" may be fine for 8 year olds, but are hardly appropriate in polite company.
         I can recall one evening back in 1992, when a comrade of mine returned from the lavatory with his fly undone, and his…..little friend…peeking out from within the darkened folds of his Armani suit pants. No one at the table knew how to tell him, and he did not seem to notice (although, secretly, I have my doubts about that. I mean, how on Earth can you expose your happy soldier to the world and not know it?). My friend ended up keeping his fly open all the way through the meal, and through the opera afterwards. Believe me, it is very difficult to enjoy Verdi's works when a one-eyed serpent is staring up at you from someone's lap.
         It wasn't until we were taking drinks in the bar afterwards, when a young scamp of some ten years of age walked by, when my friend finally noticed his situation. The young lad, in his rude but undeniably cute way, said "Hey, buddy, your cock is hanging out". Needless to say, my friend nearly died of embarrassment.
         I do not wish to embarrass my friend further, so I shall refer to him only as CK. Although his real name is Charles Kirkpatrick.


    © 1998 by Garry J. Sled