Punctuality Rules!



Let’s be clear: Civility and Civilization do not depend on knowing when to shake someone’s hand, or which fork to use at dinner. Decisions about whether the short version of “electronic mail” should be spelled with or without a hyphen are not earth-shaking. You don’t have to look down your nose at those enthusiastic e-mails with a multitude of exclamation points. If you’ve had a long day, it’s not even mandatory that you give up your seat on the bus.

When you add all these things together, though, along with road rage, the “familiarity breeds contempt” aspect of e-mail and the internet, and the fact that nobody appears to get dressed up for anything other than the occasional wedding any more . . . then it starts to look like we’re getting too casual about everything.

j0423057.jpgThere was an episode of the sitcom “Just Shoot Me” in 1998 where the fashion expert, Nina Van Horn, comes to the office upset because she’d just seen the movie Titanic and was distraught. “All those beautiful clothes! People don’t make clothing like that anymore Everyone talks about the absentee father, but it’s casual wear that’s ruining society.” She may have exaggerated just a tad (grin), but maybe she wasn’t completely wrong.

We’ve come a long way from Jane Austen’s era when every daily detail was proscribed by etiquette. I wouldn’t want to go back to that strict set of rules any more than I’d want to go back to wearing a corset, but even as little as forty years ago, people wore hats every day, wore suits when they travelled, and got dressed for the theater. Being comfortable is a good thing, but the addiction to comfort is insidious. Why wear a skirt if jeans will do? Why wear a neck tie if you can get away with a polo shirt? Why hold the door when women’s lib so clearly made the point that women want to be treated equally to men? Why bother with spelling when it’s just an e-mail to a friend?

Except . . . what if it’s a formal business meeting? Or a funeral? There are every-day occasions where formality is still important. What if that woman you’re not holding the door for has her arms full of groceries–or a child? What about a woman holding the door for a man with his arms full?

None of these things are mandatory, but a certain amount of politeness is the oil that helps keep society running smoothly. Even if the sales clerk too busy chatting on the phone to ring up your order doesn’t seem to deserve any respect, don’t you owe it to yourself to be the best member of society you can be? Lead by example. It’s a matter of respect, after all . . . for yourself as much as for other people.

11 thoughts on “Respect

  1. ktel60

    Oh dear lord, Deb, I spent an hour today at the DMV, wearing a seersucker sportscoat and dark trousers and everyone there thought I was THE MAN. I was offered special treatment (Oh, please, cut in line in front of me!), the office manager came to see me personally – I simply could not understan why I was getting that sort of treatment, until I looked around and saw that I was literally the only person in a crowd of nearly 100 dressed like an adult.

    Tee shirts, shorts, sweats (read:pajamas), waistlines at the knee (men, not boys) and at the armpit (women – I can’t in honesty say ladies), and all of them claimed to be doing this errand whilst on lunch break from work, and all of them clamed that they were treated as second class citizens. And that they dressed that way because it was “more comfortable”, all the while grabbing errant bits of clothing and re-adjusting wayward garments being taken over by gravity. Oh yes, and it’s more affordable. Grey flannel slacks (Resale shop) – $2.50. Seersucker jacket (garage sale) – $1.75. Oxford button-down shirt (remaindered) – $3.00. Pressing all that myself – 5 minutes.

    These people suffer from an excess of self esteem and a decided lack of pride.

    Thanks for letting me shout with your voice.

    By the way, I’m singularly innumerate with regards to the birthdays of women; my mother taught me that men have ages, ladies have birthdays.

    So, again, congratulatons to the world for having you in it for another (not numbered) year.

  2. J

    Last summer, my husband and I went to a nice French restaurant on Nob Hill in San Francisco. As we did not have a sitter for our daughter, we brought her with us. She wanted to wear jeans. I explained to her that at some restaurants, jeans were not appropriate, and that people were obliged to show their respect by dressing up a bit. So she did. And of course, in this tiny restaurant of perhaps 9 tables, two of them had people dressed in jeans. Makes it hard to teach my lesson. Sigh.

    I don’t want a man to hold a door for me because I am a woman. I am capable of holding a door for myself. (Mostly irritating when the man is behind me, and expects me to wait for him like an idiot while he catches up and opens the door. If I open it myself, like a normal functioning adult, I get a frustrated sigh. If you think I’m kidding, I’m not. There are men like this out there.) I do think it is good manners to hold the door for the person behind you, if it’s reasonable to do so, whatever their gender, as it seems rude to me to shut the door in someone’s face. And if their arms are full, be they man or woman, of course I’m willing to wait a bit to keep that door open for them, and would think kindly of anyone willing to make the same sacrifice for me.

  3. Amy

    I’m new to this blog having just found it not long ago. I’ve been thinking about this very topic recently. I don’t want to go back to the days of Jane Austen either but I do wish we could get away from casual wear for any event or situation. I’m guilty of it myself. I wear jeans and a sweater or t-shirt every day to work unless there is some event that calls for me to dress up. If I do dress up without a reason people ask me if I have a job interview or a date. I attended a black-tie event on Monday and there were men there dressed in blue jeans and casual shirts. It seems that they could have made some effort. I would have felt very uncomfortable in that situation.

    I am no prude and certainly don’t follow every rule of etiquette but I’ve become so irratated at today’s society. People are rude at every turn it seems. So now, I just let the sack boy at the grocery call me ma’am because it shows, at least to me, that he has some manners and shouldn’t be corrected or admonished for doing what his parents told him to do. As for holding a door, I let a man hold a door for me for the same reason. I am pretty sure that they know I am capable of opening a door myself but I like to encourage thoughtfulness and I think that, in this day, that’s what the man feels like he is being.

    This is a long comment from someone so new. Sorry to just barge in and not say hello first.

  4. Perpetual Beginner

    I’m with J. Holding the door for the person behind you is good manners, male, female, whatever.

    I’ve always attributed not having much problem with disrespect to my dislike of jeans and t-shirt wear. I’ll wear jeans, but with a nicer top. The only time I wear a t-shirt is when working out or cleaning house.

  5. Perpetual Beginner

    Oh – and referencing back to your punctuality post, Deb? This last weekend I attended a karate seminar. I left at 3:30am to get to an 8:30 seminar four hours away. Got so tired I had to pull over briefly and arrived? Five minutes late. My entire life is five minutes late.

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  8. Peter Hatton

    I work in the mail room of a large legal firm and have to wear a suit to work. I was told right at the start to address everyone as eithe sir or ma’am/madam. My previous job was far less formal, but after a while you don’t even notice you’re saying it and to others you appear very polite.