Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Op-Ed: Pardon Moi?

By Amber Sutherland

Is it impolite to print my 500-page opus at the computer lab?

Certainly not. The difference between jerks and the socially savvy is that jerks view every bump in the road as a nuisance, whereas the savvy realize that sometimes these inconveniences are really opportunities in disguise. Holding someone captive at the printing station is a fine time to try out your new stand up routine, interpretative dance or pick-up line.

Oftentimes your prospective audience will be grateful to have a little diversion from the humdrum tasks of everyday life. You don’t even have to let them know what you’re up to; feel free to launch right into your “what’s the deal with airplane food?” shtick or new “come hither” look.

If you aren’t a performer or on the prowl for your next hot date, practice your cocktail conversation. Consider talking points like, “What do you think of the latest celebrity gossip?” or “How about this crazy weather we’ve been having?” Remember to avoid discussing finance, politics, religion or anything else that would inspire interesting or meaningful conversation. You don’t have to limit these tactics just to the printer. Chat up the barista in the coffee shop when there’s a long line behind you. When a waiter asks if you have any questions about the menu, come up with at least five. And never let an elevator ride pass you by without making a new friend.

Do I have to be nice to people I don’t like?

You have to be nice to everyone. Fortunately, there are degrees of niceness you can employ. You should treat your intimates as though they were precious butterflies doomed to extinction by midnight, those on the periphery of your inner circle with charitable kindness and anyone safely behind the velvet rope of your acquaintance cordially, but with remove.

Of course, ethical questions arise when you are indiscriminately nice: Does this behavior diminish my authenticity? What if people think these losers are actually my friends? Do I really have to be nice to everyone? Even my boyfriend’s idiot friends? Worry not. Your former authenticity was most likely a delusion. If anyone questions your association with known undesirables you can make opaque remarks in their absence: “He’s really a decent guy once you get past the facial hair/alcoholism/registered sex offender thing.” And don’t think of your boyfriend's friends as idiots, but rather potential back-ups, ripe for molding.

So smile politely like Holly Golightly when those losers mention your cleavage or try to tell you about their latest manuscript. Raise an eyebrow pointedly when they suggest that you might have ended up with them instead if, “you know, this guy wasn’t in the picture.” Be a phony, but above all, a real phony.

This edition of great moments in etiquette goes to the guy who gave Lang professor Jocelyn Lieu her coat during a recent fire drill. Well played, pal.

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