November 5, 2003: Reading Room

Turn off those cell phones!
Lesley Carlin ’95 tells people how to behave

By Kathryn Beaumont ’96

PHOTO: In her second book Lesley Carlin ’95 advises readers on gift-giving, polite driving, and other topics.

After being increasingly tormented by out-of-control cell phones, oblivious drivers, and an epidemic of thank-you note neglect, Lesley Carlin ’95 and her childhood friend Honore McDonough Ervin decided something needed to be done. The final straw was when someone knocked over their drinks at a bar, and instead of apologizing or offering to buy them another round, he offered them his half-empty bottle of Corona. Since then the two have made it their mission to educate people on etiquette through their Web site,, and in two books, Things You Need to Be Told (2001), and its follow-up, More Things You Need to Be Told, published this year by Berkley. Here, Carlin talks about her role as an etiquette expert with Kathryn Beaumont ’96.

Why a second book?

We wanted this book to address more issues. Gift-giving, in particular, is such a huge concern for people. What occasions require gifts? Do I need to write a thank-you note? And then you have the crazy brides who have insane registries. I’ve heard from a lot of people on who are still in school, or working low-salary jobs, and encounter a registry where there’s nothing they can afford except something like one lonely demitasse spoon. If you’re going to register, you need to cover a broad range of prices so it doesn’t look like only expensive gifts will be appreciated. I’d also throw things like “honeymoon registries” and “mortgage registries” into the insane category — that’s the same thing as asking for cash, which is very rude.

You also talk about driving etiquette— what’s your pet peeve?

People forget that cars are being driven by people and that you still need to be considerate of them, even though you’re not actually interacting with them. If you were walking down the sidewalk beside a stranger and something was in her way, you would probably let her move over onto your side of the sidewalk without thinking twice. But transfer that scenario onto the highway at rush hour and the same thing doesn’t happen if some poor soul needs to merge.

Do people seem nervous around you?

When people find out I write etiquette books, it is such a conversation killer at a party. You see them wondering if they’re drinking the right drink. But then they usually open up and ask questions and tell me about rudeness they’ve witnessed.

Is it O.K. to ask someone on a train to stop speaking on his cell phone?

I wouldn’t do that immediately. My first reaction would be a good icy glare. If somebody is really bothering you, I think it’s fine to say politely — not to scream at them or anything — “Excuse me, would you mind lowering your voice, or going to the other end of the car where you’re not sitting right next to me discussing your medical problems?” I hear most often about cell phones. So turn off your damn cell phone. They’re used too much.


Safe Harbor: Exploring Maine’s Sheltered Bays, Coves, and Anchorages — by William Hubbell ’56 (Down East Books). Hubbell spent 15 months exploring Maine’s islands, inlets, coves, bays, and harbors, and talking to residents, fishing with lobstermen, and cruising with yachtsmen. A coffee-table book full of Hubbell’s beautiful color photographs, Safe Harbor is the result. Hubbell is a photographer from Cumberland Foreside, Maine.

The Kindness of Strangers — edited by Don George ’75 (Lonely Planet). A collection of 26 essays by travel writers about strangers who helped them when they were on the road. The contributors include well-known writers — such as Pico Iyer, who describes a scrawny pedicab peddler in Mandalay, Myanmar, who gave Iyer a piece of jade to remember him by — as well as previously unpublished authors. Varied in tone and locale, the stories explore unexpected human connections. George is global travel editor for Lonely Planet Publications.

Mr. Timothy — Louis Bayard ’85 (HarperCollins). Bayard’s third novel, a historical thriller, tells the story of post-Christmas Carol Tiny Tim. Now an orphaned young adult, estranged from “Uncle” Ebenezer, Tim Cratchit is living in a brothel in exchange for teaching the madam to read. While struggling to find his place in 1860s London, Tim finds trouble when he dredges the Thames for dead bodies and the treasures in their pockets. Bayard also wrote Fool’s Errand (1999) and Endangered Species (2001).

By K.F.G.


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