Friday, August 28, 2009

A Great Example of Class in a Careless World

Like many bloggers, I often use this forum as an opportunity to rant and becuase my focus is etiquette in modern society, or the lack thereog, sadly, there is no shortage of fodder for my soapbox.

But today, I have the privilege of sharing a good news story - an old-fashioned gesture of class and gratitude that is just too rare these days.

We had a delivery in our office yesterday. We get many deliveries in the course of a day but this one was extra special with a cherry on top. It was a box containing 12 cupcakes from Sugar Baking - six with chocolate frosting and six with vanilla frosting. Might I add, the best chocolate frosting ever!

Our surprise benefactor? The stylish Ian Capstick, owner of Media Style, seasoned communicator and passionate advocate of social media.

Opening the box elicited squeals of delight from my colleagues as we racked our brains to remember what we could have done to deserve such a welcome and delicious treat on a Thursday afternoon. When nothing sprung to mind, I got in touch with Mr. Capstick himself, who said simply that he liked reading our blogs, appreciated retweets from our staff and enjoyed meeting with my business partner, Martin Waxman, a couple of months ago.

In my etiquette training, people often ask if it's really necessary for them to send thank you cards for large gestures - business referrals, weekends at the cottage, job interviews. I sometimes need to convince them that it's not only worth it, but an obligation. And, here is an example of someone who sent sweet treats, simply to say, "Hey, I like what you're doing".

A surprising, and very encouraging show of class in a world where too often, we forget to say thank you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Loose Lips Sink Ships...or Trains

Dear Incessant Cell Phone User:

I would recognize your voice anywhere. After all, I had to listen to it for five hours straight on the train yesterday. You probably didn’t notice me at all. I tend to keep a low profile on train trips and use them as a time to relax and unwind. But I noticed you. How could I not? You kept me and several other passengers entertained with your non-stop cell phone conversations. I guess you didn’t hear the announcement suggesting passengers keep cell phones on vibrate for the comfort of other guests. I guess it didn’t occur to you that perhaps your captive audience would have preferred to pass the time without the soundtrack of your business dealings.

I know what you do for a living. I know all about your company. I know what clients you represent, what their annual revenues are, which ones are gearing up for an IPO and who is currently working a name change through the legal system. I know who you called to pitch new business and I heard your tips for dealing with the SEC. I know your full name, how to spell it, your phone number and your e-mail address. We all heard when you spelled it out for that guy you were talking to about funding.

Miss Manners likes to say “polite people don’t hear things they’re not supposed to hear” and she’s right. I’m not a nosy person and, had I not been traveling alone, chances are I wouldn’t have paid so much attention to your conversations. But you were right behind me, I was by myself, my iPOD battery was dead and I had only a book to keep me company. You were speaking so loudly that I couldn’t help but overhear.

I must say, I admire your tenacity. You worked hard on that train trip. You used up every single minute working that phone. You obviously work very hard for your clients and they are lucky to have you as their representative.

But, in case you’ve forgotten, let me just take a moment to remind you of the basics of cell phone etiquette.
- One should try to refrain from using a cell phone in a place where others cannot escape from you ( a speeding train qualifies)
- One should try to refrain from using a cell phone within 10 feet of another person
- One should try to refrain from disclosing sensitive information on a crowded train

Best of luck with your future endeavours.

p.s. Hope things work out with the boat.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Obituary for the RSVP

An Obituary for the RSVP

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of RSVP, one of the finest examples of traditional European finery to cross the Atlantic. RSVP took his last breath on Saturday, quietly at home, surrounded by his close friends, the thank you card and the little wave when you let someone in front of you on the highway. Sadly many of RSVP's most cherished friends are also in poor health, having themselves succumbed to decades of atrophy and disrespect.

Although his final days were but a remnant of his earlier glory, RSVP enjoyed almost two centuries of respect and commanded a place of honour at gatherings across North America, whether they be gala affairs or backyard BBQs. In fact, there was a time when simply including RSVP at your event elevated it to a higher level of sophistication.

RSVP's storied life began in his native France where he was known as Repondez, s'il vous plait. In that country, RSVP enjoyed the same level of affection bestowed upon other well-known cultural icons including Edith Piaff and the Eiffel Tower. RSVP was well into middle age when he was lured across the pond to play a starring role at the parties of Americans who were experiencing newfound wealth and status due to the industrial revolution. Initially skeptical of this new land, as the years passed, RSVP grew to like and even embrace North Americans with the same fervour he had once reserved for his beloved France. Thad Manners, a biographer of RSVP, affectionately refers to this period in time as his "hayday" noting that in those days, RSVP was so highly regarded, those who showed up at an event without him were often turned away.

RSVP's health started to deteriorate about 50 years ago and, despite the best care from the world's most renowned etiquette physicians, attempts to restore his youthful vigour, were in vain. Always a class act, RSVP eventually accepted that nothing could be done and chose to live out his remaining days in relative obscurity. He made a rare public appearance a year ago, when he was coaxed out of retirement to receive a lifetime achievement award at a White House ceremony in his honour but, upon arriving, he was devastated to find that many of the guests no longer respected him and some didn't even know who he was. Like so many of these awards, it was bestowed too late in life to have any impact on his reputation.

Humiliated and beaten down, RSVP retreated to his summer home in Provence where it is said, he found a level of contentment and was able to forgive everyone who had treated him so shabbily in his later years.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The place where time stands still

Few things in life put the brakes on our hyper-digital, fast-moving society than standing in line at the bank. The whole in-person bank experience harkens back to a kinder, gentler and infinitely SLOWER time in history.

Yesterday, my business partner Martin and I walked to our bank to make a simple deposit. I won't reveal the identity of the bank, but, suffice to say, it's a large national one. Our intention was to do our business at the ATM, normally a routine 60-second transaction. Alas, it was out of order so we stepped inside (and back in time) to deposit a cheque the old-fashioned way and deal with a human being.

It's been a while since I've been inside a bank. I had forgotten how deserted they can be in the mid-morning. This particular site is actually quite aesthetically-pleasing. It has high ceilings, lots of white space and and the serenity of a library. Ceiling fans whirred above us and the staff (most of whom were sitting and chatting with each other) seemed to speak in hushed tones. and move in slow motion. There was no one in line and four tellers available so we were immediately served by a lovely, yet reserved gentleman. That's the good news. The bad news is, for some reason, what takes 60 seconds at the ATM took 10 minutes at the teller and consists of odious filling out of forms, answering of questions and signing of documents. I had also forgotten how difficult it is to sign a form using that pen that is physically attached to the counter with a 10-inch non-pliable wire.

My companion decided that, since we were already at the teller, it would be a good time to request a U.S. bank draft, something that was on his "to do" list. Bad idea! That took another 10 minutes with more forms to complete in triplicate. The capper came when the teller went to print the draft only to find out that not one, but two printers were malfunctioning. After minutes of pulling out and jiggling all of the wires and cables from the back of the machinery to no avail, a manager was summoned, the problem was fixed and the document was printed. I know it was a manager because unlike the tellers, his name badge had both a first and last name while the other employees, like Madonna, went only by their first names.

Throughout all of this, I was struck by complete lack of any sense of urgency exhibited by the people who work there. Even at the zenith of the printer debacle, no one appeared to be particularly phased. The funny thing was, I wasn't even upset. Granted, I didn't have anywhere important to go after that, but somehow, the slowed atmosphere calmed me in a way no yoga class ever has.

Finally, feeling good about a job well done, our teller asked if there was anything else he could help with. There was neither a hint of irony, nor any trace of the need to apologize for keeping us waiting so long. Most service-oriented businesses, upon delaying their clients waiting, will mumble at least a cursory, even fake apology. But not here, just a smile and an placid gaze which left me feeling that some insitutions are untouchable.

The next time I'm feeling overwhelmed with the fast pace of life today, I'll go stand in line at a bank. That will jolt me out of my nostalgic reverie.