Etiquette Hell = Where the ill-mannered deserve to go


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Years ago I worked for a check cashing company, the kind where you cash your check & they charge a fee. You could also pay your bills, buy a money order, that sort of thing. A very well-marked, well-lit store, with jumbo advertisements of our services plastered on the windows and interior walls of our store.

Not the best of jobs dealing with the best of people, especially in the area to which I had been assigned.

One day, a man hurled open the door, ran into the store, jumped in front of two other customers, threw his keys under the wicket and shouted, "Hurry UP! I need my KEYS"! I just looked at him, threw them back under and said "Well, sir, here they are! Have a nice day!"

He looked at me furiously and demanded "aren't you a key cutting store?" Sigh.

*That's my story. It was a much needed comic moment in a very dreary job. Hope it can make somebody else laugh too. Needless to say, that job only lasted about 5 months!


My second story concerns myself, and the problems that can come from working in a 'loose' environment. I am 16, and was hired as a counter person at a cafe in a town one over from mine. This cafe was owned by the same person, "Mike" who owned the comic shop next door. The comic shop was usually used, with out any concern, and in fact with his encouragement, as a hang out spot for a group of people I was acquainted with, though I never participated in their daily trip to the shop, which should have indicated to me what working for Mike would be like.

I started working at the cafe on a Sunday, and discovered I would be trained by some one ("Larissa") who had only been working there 2 days and frequently picked at her eyebrow ring. I got left alone minding the register and mixing rather complicated coffee drinks while Larissa took frequent cigarette breaks. Regulars at the cafe ended up giving me more training then she did. At one point, she even invited me to join her on a smoke break (I am 16, remember, and I certainly don’t smoke). I was commended at the end of the day by the cafe manager for catching on so quickly, and told to check in during the week to see when I was scheduled next weekend. I called on Thursday, and Larissa had no answer for me, saying the schedule hadn't been posted for the weekend yet. I gave it a day and called first thing Saturday morning, when Larissa said I wasn't working that day, but to call Mike about Sunday, and gave me the number of the comic shop. Mike wasn't in, and returned neither of my calls. I did basically the same thing the next weekend. In the end, I seemed to have been fired but not informed of it, and at that point, I was too frustrated to even bother to ask for my pay for the one day I did work there.


Mom worked at a dry cleaners at the time. One day, a man brought in a purple dress to be cleaned, with a great deal of beadwork. Now, such beads sometimes melt when they're dry-cleaned, and mom warned him of that fact. The beads would leave a stain if they melted, so they would just wash the dress again until all the beads were gone. She asked him if that was okay, and he said sure, fine, go right ahead.

So they washed it, and yes, many beads melted. So they washed it until the beads were gone. He didn't seem to mind when he came to pick it up and took it home. Later that day, though, his wife came in, screaming about how they had ruined the dress. Apparently, it was a grad dress! Mom repeated what had happened to the lady, and that she had told her husband about all of this. The lady said something along the lines of, "I SEE." And left, probably to give her husband hell. My guess would be this isn't the first time something like that had happened. How can men be so oblivious? I know my dad has his moments, although none as bad as that. Love the website, keep up the good work!


A good friend of mine, we'll call him "S", recently accepted a Food and Beverage directors job at a local hotel in our city. He has worked for many years in the restaurant business, and is well-deserving of such a high level job. This hotel is undergoing quite a few changes and has recently added a new restaurant to their resort. Upon seeing "S" at a gathering one evening, I congratulated him on the restaurant and asked when it would be opening for business. He told me that they would be having "who's who" introductory dinner, for local business owners (of which I am one of), and city officials, etc. He then told me that he had only been given so many invitations, and that I did not make the "cut", but he would certainly call me if one of his other invites cancelled. It certainly goes without saying, that I will not be attending the dinner.


Before Christmas of 2002, I was browsing through my favorite local department store. Having been unemployed for over a year and hearing over the store's public address system of the rewarding seasonal "associate" positions now available, I decided on the spot to put in an application for employment. I filled out my application, took the basic math test and was told to stick around for an hour because a new batch of applicants were being "interviewed" at 1:00 PM.

At the "group interview," a dozen or so of us were given an overview of store policy on employee behavior and accountability and interrogated as to our attitudes and opinions on retail sales and customer service in general. We were all scheduled for "training" the following week.

At "training," we were given a video crash course on safety and security in the retail sales workplace. The informational training films were encouraging and empowering; we would be trained to be the best we could be, so that we would reflect positively on the store's image and reputation. OK, we would only be making $6.25 an hour, but we could hold our heads up high and be proud of our affiliation with such a progressive yet "family-oriented" establishment.

Training beyond the VHS video stage was horrendous. We were given sloppy, patched-together photocopied materials that supposedly explained the operation of the computerized cash registers, including dozens of possible transaction types that could be performed. The information on these sheets looked like Chinese takeout that had been riding around in the trunk of a Volkswagen Beetle for three days. Our classroom instructor explained that she was limited to two four-hour blocks of time she could spend with us, since "corporate" had decided we could get by with only two days of sales clerk training instead of the normal three days.

On the second day of "training," we were ordered to fight our way toward 12 dummy registers for 13 trainees for the "hands on" session. The instructor frantically "trained" at the top of her lungs: "OK! WE ALL UNDERSTAND HOW WE DO A REFUND OF A YELLOW-TAGGED ITEM WITH THE PINK HIGHLIGHTER MARK THROUGH THE PRICE AND SKU BEGINNING WITH THE LETTERS ABSSDKV AND NUMBERS 0073466288--LOOK AT ITEM 15 ON YOUR INSTRUCTIONS! NOW, SUPPOSE WE HAVE A RETURN OF AN ITEM WITH AN SKU BEGINNING WITH THE LETTERS AND NUMBERS 'ZZZZZZZZMMMN0370346'--look at the sample paper taped up on the wall in front of you! DO YOU SEE THE BUYER CODE ON THE EXAMPLE? Are we all together? OK! GO!" [30 second pause while the dummy registers whirr and ping] Do all of your registers say 'TOTAL $5.15?' OK! TAKE THE PENNIES OUT OF YOUR REGISTER! NOW! ONTO OPENING AND CLOSING!"

Most of the class muddled through the repeated commando dummy register attacks somewhat better than I had. Some of the ladies and gentlemen in the class had previous retail experience, some of them had helpful people at the dummy registers adjacent to them. I had neither.

I managed to actually function on a real, working store register for a week. In their infinite wisdom, my supervisors decided to make me a "floater" and position me on a few of the busiest registers in the store. I almost died of fright the first day. The customers were pre-Christmas nasty and demanding. The department managers in whichever department I "floated" to each hour on the hour were peevish and confrontational. The personnel office staff were sticklers for the many details we had been given in five-second vocal bursts throughout our "training" period. The Store Manager took particular delight in terrorizing new seasonal employees.

At the end of seven days, I realized that I could not expect to ever do anything right because seasonal temporary employees were not allowed to do anything right. Doing a fair day's work for a fair day's pay was neither expected nor rewarded; we were the seasonal whipping-boys for the personnel people, the department managers, the customers and the Store Manager.

As I was sadly preparing to go into work on my eighth day, a family member called (as if from Heaven) to offer me a temporary job. I called the department store five minutes after the family member's call and told the personnel manager I wouldn't be coming in ever again. She asked, in an incredulous tone of voice, if I were leaving her without giving notice (something I would never have considered doing before this time). I said "yes," hung up the phone and laughed for three hours straight.


A few months ago, a friend of mine who's in the same business (Design & Marketing) emailed me about a job opening at a company he had just recently started working at. It wasn't exactly what I was doing, but it seems interesting enough, there was (supposedly) room in the company to move up, and though I was officially starting as a contractor (which pays REALLY well, and even if I wasn't hired full-time, the work would still look good in my portfolio), there was a good chance I would be hired full-time at this company, which (and after working there, I have no idea why) had a good reputation locally as a place that produced good creative. So, I accepted the contract, and proceeded to start there the next week.

For the first two weeks, things went great: I was working directly with the partners and directors, was allowed quite a bit of creative freedom, and the work I produced for the client was, in my opinion, some of the best video work I've done to date (not to mention thousands of times better than any video work the company had previously produced for any of their clients, ego notwithstanding). After the contract ended, I was asked if I would be interested in staying on full-time which, despite the absolutely insulting salary I was offered (half of what someone with my skill level and experience should be offered), I accepted the position, with the understanding that, after a 90-day trial period, I would be given a substantial raise - over then thousand dollars, which, while still tens of thousands less than I should have been making, would still be nice, and would be a great supplement to my own business, which I had no intention of shutting down (and thank goodness I never did, due to what happened later).

Things began to go down hill almost immediately. I don't know whether or not it was due to my age (I'm fairly young for the kind of work I was doing, especially at the level I was doing it at) or the fact that I was a new employee, but other than my manager (who was, at the time, my friend), I was shown absolutely no respect, and my opinions - which were conceived using a pretty substantial amount of experience, much more than those employees who were ignoring them - were completely ignored. I was basically expected to do what I was told, when I was told, despite promises beforehand that I would be allowed to have as much input as I cared to provide. There was more than one occasion where the "Interactive Designer" - who literally, and quite obviously, stole his designs from other sites created by more talented Designers - told me he was making what he referred to as a "judgment call," meaning that he wouldn't speak any more about a particular design decision - even if the decision he made was wrong, or the problem easily fixable. In one case, the text on a button was centered, which could be easily fixed by adding one more row of pixels to the button - but he just couldn't be bothered to do his job, so I just ignored his comment and fixed it myself.

To add even more insult, the Creative Director - who on more than one occasion admitted that he couldn't design anything to save his life, which is, "why he hired people who could" - also ignored my input, basically forcing me to create work which I considered vastly sub-par to the work that I'm capable of, and that the clients - paying thousands of, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars for the work - deserved. In once case, a site was created which was very large, file-size wise. My manager and I were forced to spend more time than was necessary (which was, really, no time) explaining that, for the benefit of the users, there should be some indication that the site was loading so the users didn't think their browser froze - to which the CD said, "well, it loads fast for us (we were on a T1), why should it load any slower for them? Others sites don't use loading bars (the site he picked out as an example did, in fact, use one - but it loaded so fast on our connection you couldn't see it), so why should we? I don't think we need one, don't put it in." This coming from a guy who said that he hired people who knew what they were doing, more than himself, to make these kinds of decisions.

To make a long story short, this kind of insulting behavior from my fellow employees and the business partners continued for a few months. Another "problem" that occurred was they didn't think I was "dedicated" enough, because I didn't work late enough - the work day was officially 9am to 6pm, but in reality, you were expected to get there early, and leave late. I usually worked from at least 9am to 6:30-7pm, and because I lived so close to work, would come in quite regularly on the weekends, at least one day per weekend. I was also in the middle of having root canal, which required my absence one day a week (usually only a few hours on the day) to go to the dentist for the last few weeks of my employment, which was complained about. Also complained about was my "lack of respect" that I gave to other employees - the same employees who didn't listen to a word I had to say!

Needless to say, I don't work there any more - I was actually let go because of: "lack of respect" (which, really, wasn't true - I at least listened to other employees, something that was never done for me), "lack of dedication" (because I didn't work late enough, and didn't spend every waking moment of my weekends at the office, my weekly absences (due to the root canal) and - this is the best reason - the night before I was fired - I told one of my manager's close friends (also an acquaintance of mine) while out having a few drinks that I may call out the next day to work on my book (I'm in the middle of writing a book that's been accepted already by a publisher, something which I had begun prior to my employment, which had a deadline coming up for half of the manuscript, and which I had been unable to work on for months because I was spending so much time at this company's office working, and when I wasn't working there, I was too exhausted to work on it). I did in fact call out the next day (the day I was let go), but this was due to a migraine headache that would have stopped me from getting anything done (I work on the computer, and as most people know, staring at text on a monitor only makes a headache/migraine worse), but I would have gone in once the migraine subsided. I received a call around 1:30 asking me to come in for a "company meeting" which, despite the migraine, I was prepared to do. I went in shortly before the meeting time to see if there was anything I should have prepared for the meeting so that everyone would not have to wait on me, and it was at this time I was pulled into a room by the CEO, one of the partners and my manager and told I was being terminated. How did they know I had been thinking of calling out to work on my book? The friend of my manager told him, and he proceeded to tell the partners! Of course, I no longer speak to this manager, whom I had considered a friend.

After this all happened, and a few people I know who also know my manager/ex-friend found out about it, they all told me they expected it to happen, because they company (and I didn't know this before I took the job, if I had I never would have taken it) was known for treating their employees this way, and that people who have an opinion of their own and don't like to be talked down to, disrespected or have their opinions completely ignored by those less knowledgeable are regularly fired from the company! Also, because I was working there and couldn't do much of my own business work, I had to cancel a lot of my freelance work, which meant that I would, for a few months at least, have a hard time paying the bills, so I filed for unemployment, which, due to the circumstances, I received - and the company is fighting trying to stop me from getting it! Unbelievable, since I didn't work there long enough for it to impact them at all! Sheesh.


Working in manufacturing, I found myself being sent out to do repairs, servicing and instructing users of our equipment in the fine arts of how it worked. I won't say exactly what the equipment was, but it is used in the print industry, and the model in question was not terribly expensive. Let's say it was about the price of a second hand car in moderately good condition. Not exactly megabucks.

We received a call from a distributor whose interstate branch had a client with troubles. The client was unable to use a feature of our machine. They had read the manual, they had looked the machine over, and they couldn't work it out. It wasn't rocket science, it was a single, large, and obvious lever that had to be moved, but they just couldn't work it out. Being quite eager to help out our clients, we decided a service call was in order. I was flown down to their city the night before, stayed in a hotel overnight, and was up bright and early to meet with the distributor, Bob' , after a quick hotel breakfast.

First, Bob took me to his office, where I sat for about 40 minutes while he made a few phone calls and talked to people. No offers of coffee or a drink. Well, perhaps it was an oversight - I let it slide.

Finally we left to visit the client. Upon arriving I diagnosed the problem immediately. `I don't know how to tell you this' I said to the clients `but you've got the earlier model - the one without the (feature)'. To their immense credit they were very understanding. To get some value of out my time, I showed them how to use the equipment properly, and Bob and I soon headed off to visit other clients.

We visited two other clients that day. Both of them had no real complaints, just a few questions that anybody with the technical skill to use a can opener should have been able to diagnose.

Finally, at about 2pm, Bob was taking me back to town. He asked if I was okay with taking the bus to the airport, as it was a long way out, and the bus went directly there. No problems with that, I had come from the airport by bus, and it was quite pleasant.

In town, he pulled over. `Would you like to get some lunch?' He asked. `Yes, please' I said. It had been a busy day, and I was quite ravenous. `Well, I'll drop you here. There are some cafes and other food joints along here that are pretty good, you can get something there, and the bus station is just back that way. It's hard to do a U-turn on this street so, I'll just let you out here.'

Somewhat stunned, I got out, said goodbye, and was left in a city I had never been in before. I thought I had best work out how to get to the airport before anything else, so I walked to the bus station. It wasn't `just down there', it was a 20 minute walk, in business shoes and carrying a heavy briefcase. I actually like walking, but not in those circumstances.

Finally I made it to the bus terminal, which was a tour bus terminal. The gentleman I spoke to at the desk told me that no buses they had went to the airport, and seemed surprised that anyone thought they would. Very kindly, and for no money, he arranged for a bus that made pickups from hotels to stop at the nearby hotel (just around the corner). I thanked him profusely, ate lunch in the bus terminal cafe, then waited outside the hotel until the bus arrived. Getting home was uneventful, but I fumed over the lack of etiquette for weeks.

To top if off, I had an angry phone call from our distributor, asking why we had supplied a machine without the required feature. I told them they had specifically ordered one without. They claimed not to know that a model without the feature was available, and refused any responsibility. I pointed out that they had been ordering both models by name for over a year. They still wanted us to pay for their mistake, even after I had flown down there on short notice. Aaaaagh!    Business0611-03

At my previous job, I was an assistant director at a tutoring service. There were two other people who worked in the office, Barb the director, and Kurt the owner. We had a couple offices around the city and about 50 part time tutors. Barb and I were also the primary tutors for our subject areas. This is a secondary job for a lot of our tutors, only a few hours a week, and there is a high turnover. We normally required all tutors to hold college degrees, but there was such a shortage of tutors for higher level math and sciences that we sometimes hired college students. All of our tutors had to pass tests to be qualified for certain subjects.

We were advertising positions for new tutors, and Barb set up an interview for me. It was a college student who could do high school level math and had some tutoring experience. She was very soft spoken. I gave her the first test, which covered SATs and general high school math. She failed the test. Her experience turned out to be only helping her brother with Algebra. I gave her the 8th grade test, which went up to that subject. The girl might not be able to work with many students, but it would alleviate our workload, and she was insistent that she could tutor something. She took so long that my next appointment arrived; I told her to leave the test in my office. She failed the Algebra test as well.

The next day, she called while I was with a student. Kurt told her the results and when she insisted on talking to me, that my appointment would be over at 3. She called back at 3 on the nose, and was very rude to Kurt when he told her I still wasn't finished. I called her back. She accused the man she spoke to of lying to her. I explained that the "liar" was my (and her potential) boss. She insisted that I graded the test wrong. She thought I was hiding something and that I didn't want to hire her for some reason. She was unqualified, unprofessional, and immature. The girl then asked to talk to Barb, the only staff member who she didn't think had lied to her. I told her Barb was at another office, and the girl hung up on me. Kurt and I just laughed it off.

A few weeks later, I got a call from the same soft voice asking to talk to Barb.   Business0615-03

I hope that this story illustrates how important it is for people in the business world to always go through the motions of a proper introduction. During my final year of college, I was flown out to several companies for on site job interviews, as is typical for students in my field. My second such trip took me to a medium sized electro optics company in New Jersey. The company was very organized with the logistics of the trip and provided me with my itinerary in advance. A livery service took me from the airport to my hotel the night before the interview and the same livery service was on my itinerary to take me to the company facility in the morning.

In the morning, I went down to the hotel lobby to check out but first ran into the dining room adjacent to the lobby, where breakfast was being served, to grab a glass of orange juice. On my way out of the dining room, an employee stopped me and said, "Oh, there's a charge for the juice..." I was surprised and a little embarrassed, as I had assumed a continental breakfast was included with the room. I quickly apologized and paid for the juice, no matter. I was planning to eat a breakfast bar either while waiting for the livery service or in the cab on the way over to the company, as I was short on time.

I went back to the lobby to check out and a man was waiting near the counter. I don't remember his exact words, but it was something along the lines of confirming my name and asking me if I was ready to go. He was obviously from the livery service. I told him I was just about ready, I just had to check out. Still flustered from my orange juice incident I also muttered something along the lines of, "Sorry, I just ran in to get some orange juice--it's an act of congress to get a glass of juice around here." I checked out and we left.

We got into the car to go over to the company where my interview was. It was a sporty coupe, which I thought was a bit odd for a livery service. After I hopped in, the driver asked me if I wanted to stop for breakfast. I thought that was also a bit odd--was he implying we could drive through somewhere? I didn't really have time for a full breakfast, I had to get to my interview. I assured him that I was fine, thanks, as I had my breakfast bar, which I then started eating. I asked him how far away the company was. He said, "About 10 minutes," and then started giving me a history of the company! At this point I glanced into the back seat and saw a lanyard key holder with the company name on it.. Oh, so this man wasn't from the livery service, he was a driver of some sort for the company?

Of course, when we arrived at the plant, we went to this guy's office and he started interviewing me. Then it was finally clear to me (at long last) that he was the hiring manager, my potential boss! Looking at my itinerary sheet I recalled his name, since he was the first interviewer on there, and I had seen his name on an email HR had sent me prior to my trip. But NO introduction at the hotel, NO handshake, NOTHING! And I had of course assumed he was with the livery service, since that's who my itinerary said would be picking me up from the airport! So, let's see, I had whined about the hotel a bit, eaten in his car...thankfully nothing worse than that, but still, I was appalled! I didn't end up getting an offer, but I wouldn't have taken it if I had. Who wants to work for someone with absolutely no sense of business etiquette, in New Jersey?

Page Last Updated May 18, 2007