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November 29, 1999 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Jeans at the opera. Jeans at the Yale Club. Springer and Stern. Barkley and Sprewell. Maxim and The Man Show. There's Something About South Park. Road rage. Air rage. Hair rage. Penetration of the vernacular by the Commander in Chief's... Commander in Chief. "F*ck" in The New Yorker.*

What is this world coming to?

Happily, we're not wanting for counterattacks against such Rabelais-rousers. We've got: charm boot camps. Mayor Giuliani's civility campaigns.** Swell. Swing. A recently-proposed Kentucky state law that would require students to address school staff as "Sir" and "Ma'am."***

Indeed: we may be impolite, but at least we're punctual.

As Mark Caldwell writes in A Short History of Rudeness: Manners, Morals, and Misbehavior in Modern America, "Americans have undergone periodic anxiety attacks over their manners since the dawn of the republic. There was, for instance, a flurry of concern during the first few decades of the nineteenth century, and another at the dawn of the twentieth. Indeed, the cyclical character of this worry -- its tendency to recur amidst the stocktaking natural as one era fades and another prospectively looms -- suggests that whatever its merits our current preoccupation with civility may be part of a general syndrome of premillennial jitters."

Right. We're not just talking about a polite and decorous way to find a New Year's date -- and get serious enough for it to be "meaningful" -- in a matter of mere weeks. It's starting to look like we're going to hell, if not in a fiery apocalypse, then at least in a handbasket.

And as the beginning/end draws seriously nigh, BG has yet to actually pick up the phone and make plans for the night of the 31st (you think I'm kidding?) in the meantime, however, I am delighted to pick up the "Yo, be polite!" placard and briefly discuss


"But why you, BG?" you ask, politely. "With all due respect, you're a relationships superhero."

Excellent point; thank you. But there's the thing. By "manners" I don't mean complicated fork systems -- though I do hope that you used your fingers to eat only your drumsticks this past Thursday -- or all that stilted stuff they do in "Titanic." I mean: bottom-line respect, graciousness, civility, for other people and your bad selves. So why me? Because -- as Caldwell also writes -- "Without manners, serious human relations are impossible."

Reminds me -- as did a letter I recently received -- of my oft-quoted favorite passage from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Daughter complains to Mom that she "doesn't know how to love," much as Anna-K laments to BG, "I sometimes think that maybe I can't fall in love." (Oh, and another recent letter, from Emotionally Shortchanged: "Why can't I feel real love?")

Mom's response: "Good God, child!...Do you think any of us knows how to love?...Do you think anybody would ever do anything if they waited until they knew how to love?...Forget love. Try good manners."

Okay, don't panic about the "forget love" part. But -- as I've said before -- quit tripping yourself up over things like, "I just donžt know how to do this dating thing! Aw, forget it." Or: "What would be the suave, irresistible, perfectly-executed way to make my move?" Instead, ask yourself: what would be the polite/considerate/kind move to make?" (Should things go awry, don't ask yourself: "What bad behavior will love ?or lack thereof ?excuse right now?"Ask yourself: "What good manners will make this mess easier for everyone right now?") Consider that if you can't act as if you respect someone on their terms, then I dare say you do not (in which case I suggest you politely excuse yourself). Do your best, knowing that the rules are not fixed: what's "right" in your world (e.g. the guy pays) may not fly in, say, Holland (e.g. with Dutch Girl) (Scott?). Start with basic listening, doing what you say you are going to do.

When it comes to love, that is what will hold doors open for you.

Think BG is starting to sound like ... a Kentucky legislator? Kindly think again. In a world chilled and dulled by haste and hate, trust me, manners are hot. Now will someone please invite me to a party?

* but not at breakupgirl.net!


*** However, they are still permitted to call each other "dorkweed" and "ho-bag."



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