Etiquette Hell = Where the ill-mannered deserve to go


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Foot in mouth disease

2000 Archive

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Some years ago I worked for a very prestigious yacht club, in the office. We often had guests from other yacht clubs under reciprocal agreements. Guests received little guest cards and a pleasant welcome.

A couple came in from another club and asked for their card. They had an unusual last name and I had to ask them to spell it for me so I could enter the information. They provided it and I wrote it down.

As I was handing the woman her card with my best prestigious yacht club smile, she leans in, puts her hand on mine, and says "How nice, honey, you know how to read."


I wonder how many completely unlettered office workers she’s met?  

As an aside, I had just completed my MA and started my certification in secondary ed. But that would have been insulting no matter what.


When I was a kid, I had a mole on the side of my nose, right where the skin around the nostril meets the cheek.  It was about the size of a pencil eraser and naturally, as a nerdy little kid anyway, I got picked on for it quite a lot.  It was eventually removed, but another, smaller mole grew next to where the original mole had been removed. I'm not telling you this because I think you're interested in my skin deformities, but it directly relates to one of the weirdest things that's happened to me...well...this week, anyway. 

As I was walking into work this morning, one of my coworkers saw me and says, out of the blue, "I'm thinking about getting my nose pierced." I replied, "...okay..." This woman looks to be in her late 30s, thin, blonde, obvious smoker complete with smoker voice and smoker skin, and is very friendly toward me even though I don't even know her name.  I'm always polite to her, but still, she isn't someone I pal around with.  As for me, I'm in my late 20s but look a bit younger, and tend to dress skater/goth/punk...but please don't hold that against me... She walks over to me and then touches the mole on the side of my nose and says, "Yeah, I'd get one like yours...oh, oops, well, still that's where I'd have it done.  Do you think that would look silly?" Somehow she managed to not see, or not understand, the look on my face.  It was somewhere between shock, horror, and amusement.  I answered, "Uh, if that's what you want to do, go for it..." There are times when I wish I could invent a portable force field to enforce my personal space bubble.


A little background for you: My mother began dating my stepfather when I was three years old, they married when I was five. He was a wonderful father to me and my older brothers , and to our younger adopted brother as well.  

Shortly after they married my step-father had his first heart attack. Over the course of the fourteen years that ensued he would have 6 more heart attacks, he was literally cheating death at this point. He had an unknown number of procedures over the years to try to help, all to no avail , eventually he was put on a transplant list. He waited for two years to receive a heart, and by the time he did he had been hospitalized for 3 months. 

Over the course of those many years my parents were honest about the situation, and every time he had a heart attack, or went in for a new procedure, we went to visit my stepfather to be by his side, he had been wonderful to us, and he really was a great man, and we wanted to be with him. After his transplant and subsequent recovery, he was a new man. He finally had energy to play with his grandchildren, and he never wasted a moment of the time that he knew he had been lucky to receive. We were all thankful. 

Unfortunately, approximately two years after receiving his transplant, he became very ill. He was immediately put in the hospital and my brothers and I drove to be with him and my mother. Because of his delicate situation, his body had trouble fighting illnesses, and he began to deteriorate quite quickly. He was soon put on a ventilator to help him breathe. The doctors were honest with us and told us that his chances of survival were slim, and that if he did recover he would more than likely need constant nursing care. My mother made the decision to remove his ventilator, because my stepfather had always been a vibrant man who would not want life this way.

At this point a young doctor came to us (by this time it was my mother, myself, my brothers, and my stepfathers siblings and their spouses and his parents) and stated that he would like to talk to the family in private. All of us stood to go with the doctor when he suddenly turned and said "Who are you?" While pointing to my brothers and myself, I explained that we were his stepchildren. He then said "This is for the family only."

I am still to this day mortified that he would say something so insensitive at such a traumatic time, I was so shocked (as were my brothers) by his statement that I never even replied I just stood there dumbfounded. My father (and yes, he was my father) was dying not twenty feet from me and some snotnosed doctor who did not know him or any of us was telling me that I was not his family. I still cry when I think about it.    


I deliver donuts to the surrounding counties where I live. I was stopping at a truck stop one night and saw the manager and one of her employees at the counter when the manager said, "Here comes the fat man!" Realizing that for my weight, I should probably be 7ft 3 instead of 5ft 7, she quickly tried to recover. "The man who wants us fat!" I laughed it off. I knew what she had meant.



When I was a young teenager, living in my LITTLE rural home town I'll call "Tinytown" in state "A", a certain young woman from state "X", whom I'll call "Jane Doe" won a certain well-known televised pageant. As usual for winners, she began a year of travel and interviews. Everyone in Tinytown was excited, because, unbelievably, Jane Doe was already engaged to a young man from Tinytown. She'd met him in state "X", where they both attended the same college. His permanent residence was still Tinytown at that time, his family lived in Tinytown, and even more unbelievably, the wedding would be in "Smallcity", 15 minutes from Tinytown, instead of being in the bride's hometown in state X, when her year's duty was up. They couldn't have it in Tinytown itself, as no venue was large enough, but the pre-wedding festivities would all center in Tinytown. The local news stations around Tinytown were eating it up.

Now, the real name of Tinytown is an ironic and rather funny name. It wasn't supposed to be that way when named in the 1800's, but that's how it turned out. The residents are used to hearing "What?" or a chuckle when they say where they are from, and an explanation of how the town got its name usually has to follow. It's tiny, rural, as I mentioned, and has its share of eccentric rednecks, but also has its share of professionals and college educated people, and plenty of just ordinary citizens who read, travel, and have all their teeth.

Everyone in Tinytown tuned in the night Jane Doe appeared on the Tonight Show. The word was out that she would finally reveal to the public during her interview that she was engaged and would be getting married soon. The show came on. Johnny Carson was charming and funny. Jane was sweet and pretty. During the questioning, she indeed revealed that she had a fiancé. She told his name (we'll say "John Smith"), said that she met him at college in "Bigcity" in State X, where she was from. Carson asked her where John Smith was from. A tiny pause. "Oh, he's from Bigcity in X, too."

Whoosh! That was the collective gasp from everyone in Tinytown in State A..

Looking back, I can feel sorry for her and understand how "Jane" hesitated to admit publicly to the funny little dot on the map from whence her boyfriend sprang. But, boy oh boy, is there another woman who, shortly to face a huge press-covered wedding in her fiancé's home town full of strangers to her, has managed to insult nearly every one of them first, before she ever met them?


My husband and I were in the market for a new car as the one we had was way too small for our growing family.  I was about 8 months pregnant at the time with our first child and a 2-seater car was just not practical.  When we got on the lot, we were immediately approached by a salesman.  We told him our situation and he asked me if I was pregnant.  Considering that we had just explained we needed a new car for our new family, I thought this was a stupid question, but told him yes and tried to be polite.  His next question caught me totally off guard.  He looked at me and said “on purpose?”  When I didn’t respond (I had no clue what to even say to this guy), the salesman turned to my husband and asks him, “Is it yours?”  My husband, never at a loss for words says “Yes, it’s mine, but we’re not sure who the mother is yet.” 



A coworker, with whom I've been personally acquainted for 7 years, related to me the other day a fabled tale of woe illustrating her belief that children are born ill as a direct punishment for their parents' bad acts. This is appalling enough. The kicker? This lady is well aware that I was born with a heart defect and have endured numerous corrective operations.


Oh I have to tell this, even though it was ME that committed the faux-pas!  Maybe it would qualify for foot in mouth disease, I don't know... but I'll let you judge.   Last summer I had a good friend, Annie, who was moving out of her apartment.  I had offered to help her, and she had told me that she would probably need my extra hands on the next day, a Saturday.  She also told me that her friend was going to get a truck to move the furniture.  OK, I said, call me tomorrow and I'll head over there when you need me to.   Saturday comes and I'm sitting at a coffeehouse having a cup of coffee.  towards early afternoon the skies outside get stormy and it's obviously about to thunderstorm.  

Around this time, my cellphone rings.  There is no caller ID on the phone.  I answer it and Annie is on the other end.  She asks how I am and we have our small talk; then she gets down to the moving business.  "You all set to go?"  she asks.  "I was able to get the truck."   "Well, yeah, if you still want to do it today," I say, because the weather is ominous.   "Oh, yes, it needs to be done today, as soon as possible.  But I don't know, Joey (the name of a mutual friend of ours) said it looks like it might rain up there.  Does it look like rain to you?"   Up there?  I am wondering why Annie cannot look out the window and see the gathering storm for herself?  

Around this point in the conversation a horrible realization dawns on me:  It is not Annie on the other end of the phone at all.  In fact, as the conversation continues (with this mystery person going on about moving details that sound less and less familiar, and me offering standard, shocked, one-word responses) it hits me that this is in fact the voice of a rather elderly lady, one who has gotten the wrong phone number, obviously.   "We miss you, honey," she says.   

OK.  I've now held a seven-minute conversation with a complete stranger who probably thinks I am her daughter up at college.  What should I have done?  Called it to a halt, apologized laughingly, explained the situation!  I was waiting to hear from a friend who was moving, too... I had a friend named Joey, too... BUT NO!  What do I do?   I tell this poor old woman that I have a call on the other line, and to hang on a minute, and then I hang up the phone on her and quickly switch it off!   I still cringe to think about it!   I can only hope that, if she did get a hold of the person she wanted, there was no huge misunderstanding about the phantom conversation ("But mom, I DIDN'T just talk to you!")  Although I suppose that would be better than the alternative... which would be her dialing my number again and hearing the voicemail message of a complete stranger!   Stoke the fires, Miss Jeanne!  I still feel awful!


We held a baby shower for my cousins, who were sisters, were both pregnant at the same time (the babies were born 1 week apart).  As Cousin L & Cousin J finished opening presents, Cousin L stands up and proclaims "Just for those of you who are counting, I wasn't pregnant before I was married.". Now this is tacky enough on its own, but the capper is that Cousin J wasn't married at the time (a huge no-no in the small town they are from).



I'm not sure who was at fault here -- it was a miscommunication all around, but at least it ended happily.

This happened while I was in college. My roommate, a sweet girl, was from another country with a very different culture, and I often found myself acting as a cultural translator.

Our dorm decided to host a "Screw-Your-Roommate" dance, and she expressed some reservations, it seems she didn't understand exactly what was happening. I explained that the term referred to setting your roommate up with a blind date. She looked relieved, but still somewhat confused, and said "Ohhkayy." I put her confusion down to the language barrier (why not just call it a "Blind Date" dance, rather than something she viewed as bordering on obscene?)

Well, a few days later, she told me she'd set me up with a blind date, and would I mind setting her up with a friend of hers? I said sure, made the arrangements, and thought no more about it.

That night, my date showed up. He was very nice, fairly handsome, and brought his white cane. That's right -- he was blind. A BLIND blind date! It turned out she'd never heard the term before, and thought it was some quaint American custom, sort of a "Be Kind to the Handicapped" thing. And since she didn't say anything, I thought she understood what I meant.

Actually, the evening went very well, we both had fun and got along great. She and her date also seemed to enjoy themselves. It was only one date, but it afforded me with a wonderful story!


Several years ago I was working as part of a team in a small library. Our boss was a lovely lady, who was extremely close to her elderly mother - they lived very close to each other, and she would regularly telephone her mother during the day.

My co-worker, on the other hand, was a complete doozy - if I even started to tell you about him, it would take all day...

Anyway, we returned to work after the Christmas holiday, and my boss telephoned us to tell us the terrible news that her mother had died on Christmas Day. She was still very upset, and would not be coming into work for a couple of weeks.

Forward 2 weeks - I am talking to her in the office - she still looks terribly miserable and unhappy.

In breezes the dimbo (late as usual), and we talk about what happened, and about all the attendant stuff and nonsense that invariably follows on from a death in the family.

Remember - we have now been talking about it for a couple of hours, when the dimwit chimes in with (I swear this is true) "Apart from that, did you have a nice Christmas?"

I think the only sound after that was the smack of my jaw hitting my desk...


Just over a year after we were married, my husband was called up for the National Guard, to go to Iraq.  We were quite devastated, obviously, but the whole thing was made even more difficult by the fact that he had just six weeks to go before his commitment to the Guard would have been finished. He was a dental student and his education would be jeopardized by his leaving. Additionally, we had just moved into our first home just 2 weeks beforehand.  

So needless to say, the day after we got the phone call, we were quite emotional at the prospect of being apart. We went to church that morning, and just before the service was over, the speaker announced our news. He did it in a very nice way, just to let other members of the congregation know what was happening to us, so they could be a support.  Naturally, many of our friends came over to us when the service was over, to ask questions and to give us a hug. I was BARELY hanging on at this point, and was biting the insides of my cheeks to keep from bawling my head off, but I could understand why they would want to get information, and so I answered the same questions over and over, “When does he leave?” “What can I do to help?”  “What about dental school?”   

Our friends were all great, except for one acquaintance, who I’ll call “Susie”.  She asked me the basic questions, then asked, “What does your husband do for the National Guard?” I told her he is in an Engineering Unit, and works as a mechanic.  Her reply?  “Oh, well, that’s not so bad, then! It’s not like he’ll be on the front line!”  I’m normally the kind of person with a quick answer, but I was so shocked, I just turned away, my mouth open like a goldfish.  

There is a happy ending, though—my husband is now back, after being gone for a year, and we don’t hang out with “Susie” anymore.  But once in a while, when someone makes a big deal about my husband having gone, he just says, “Oh, well it’s not like I was on the front line or anything!” and we have a good laugh about it.


... you have to put up with people saying the STUPIDEST things to you!   I've been on dialysis for almost eight years, and in that time I've heard some snotty comments-- things like, "God must be punishing you" and "I wish somebody would make ME sit in a recliner for four hours!"   

But the rudest thing was when I was sitting on a bench in a mall.  I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and the dialysis graft in my arm was showing.  A little girl was looking at my arm, and her mother scooted next to her and said, "Stay away from her, she's a drug addict, look at all those needle marks on her arm!"  Before I could say anything, the woman had grabbed the girl and was pulling her through the mall.  As I watched them, I felt sorry for the little girl-- I'd have been happy to explain why I had those marks on my arm, but her idiot of a mother didn't give me a chance.   


Page Last Updated May 15, 2007