Tuesday, May 22, 2012

O tempora! O mores!

When I was younger, I was obsessed with etiquette books. We had Amy Vanderbilt at home, but I also studied Emily Post and even Miss Manners and kept them out of the school and public library, respectively. Now, my go-to is the 1940s version of Vogue's Book of Etiquette and Good Manners, most recently used to tell a colleague how exactly to address a letter to the governor and his wife. Why was that such a predilection of my preteen self? Not out of a search for some yardstick to measure other's behavior and find it lacking, but because I was anxious about not causing any unintended offense to other people. That's a preoccupation that seems to have fallen by the wayside in modern life.

Sunday, we had our school baccalaureate. I have almost gotten used to people wearing jeans and other casualwear in church, but I was astonished that some twenty-something girls I considered quite well-brought-up were looking at, and typing on, their phones during the entire service.

But nothing has bothered me as much as the audience at last night's band concert. I got there early to get a good seat in the third row, but a man in front of me began capturing video (and exclusively of his son, I noticed, no other members of the percussion ensemble) by holding up his iPad directly in my line of sight. In the second row of the auditorium. And his wife was doing the same with her phone. Instead of enjoying their son's performance, they were obsessed with recording it. (My closely-related current number-one pet peeve is people in museum photographing art instead of looking at it. Buy a postcard, it will be better than your snaps. But that's a post for another day.)

Before the concert began, another family sat just behind me. The older man -- I'm assuming a grandfather -- was speaking very loudly and with quite salty language. When their student entered the stage, he started whistling, then complaining loudly that the child did not acknowledge his whistles. Things only deteriorated at the intermission. He started talking again and did not stop when the concert resumed. Given that he was raising his voice in competition with the musicians, I was barely able to make out the songs. Since the video-obsessed family had left (another pet peeve -- stay until the end! even if your child performs first!), I decided to move to their abandoned row. For one minute, I was gripped with anxiety about the potential rudeness of moving in the middle of the concert, and of letting those people behind me know they had driven me to it, but I went for it. And the man stopped talking. And two of my favorite former students came up to me after the concert ended. They had seen me stand up, they said, in the middle of that song. So score one for my own rudeness.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite etiquette book in the Library of Congress collections is from 1857, and it's called The lady's guide to perfect gentility, in manners, dress, and conversation ... also a useful instructor in letter writing, toilet preparations, fancy needlework, millinery, dressmaking, care of wardrobe, the hair, teeth, hands, lips, complexion, etc. (by Emily Thornwell). If you copy and paste the title, long as it is, into the homepage universal search space, you'll find it. If you click on View Page, be sure to scroll to the section called MODELS AND PLANS FOR VARIOUS LETTERS AND NOTES PERTAINING TO DOMESTIC MATTERS, FRIENDSHIP,LOVE, MARRIAGE, ENTERTAINMENTS, ETC. The letters are a hoot! Unfortunately, there's no model for dealing with iPad rudeness or drunken sports crowd behavior during a concert.