a PAW web exclusive column
rude, and who's not?
Etiquette Girl Lesley Carlin '95 on the occasion of her new book
of manners, Things You Need to Be Told
(And it would be highly rude to omit mention of her coauthor, Honore
Why does the world need
another etiquette book?
Because, sadly, people
in general are terribly, terribly rude. The big etiquette books
are useful for figuring out how to word your wedding invitations
when you're in the military, your future husband is a doctor, your
parents are divorced and your father's had a sex-change operation
and remarried a man, but they don't tell you when you should turn
off your cellular telephone. Or what your e-mail address should
be. The Etiquette Grrls do.
What should your e-mail
It's easier to say what
it should NOT be. Steer clear of anything cutesy (e.g., "KittyKat2001MEOW@hotmail.com"),
impossibly long and/ or annoying to type (e.g., "PhreakY0ne81339c83nx82@hotmail.com"),
or, especially if you're going to be using it for professional e-mails,
anything less than sedate, like "ChugAndVomit@hotmail.com."
First initial + last name is good. Unless you're trying to be totally
anonymous. Then one might turn to History and Literature for appropriate
pseudonyms: "MaudGonne@hotmail.com," etc.
Do you think there's
an interest in etiquette these days?
despite society's rampant rudeness or perhaps because of
it I think there is. We operate a website, www.etiquettegrrls.com,
where we answer etiquette questions every week, and I'm amazed at
the amount of e-mail we get. So many people say they really want
to learn basic etiquette because they've grown up without knowing
it. We have a lot of readers in their first jobs who are facing
situations where they really don't know how to act. And there are
lots of people who have an idea of the right thing to do, but aren't
sure, and want confirmation. They'll know they should bring a hostess
gift, but not what would make a good hostess gift...that sort of
You concentrated in
creative writing...any plans to move beyond etiquette?
I'd love to. As an undergraduate
I wrote poetry (you know, the Profitable Genre), but I've since
started working more in fiction. The Etiquette Grrls project has
been very successful; my coauthor, whom I've known since middle
school, and I are having a blast with it. We've signed on for another
book, so that has to take precedence over any sort of novel...while
I still have a day job, that is, at least.
So, how rude or how
polite are Princetonians?
In general, I think
the students here were quite polite I remember seeing a lot
of traditional manners there. Boys would open doors. Of course,
this was in great contrast to some inexplicable, bizarre behavior
like the headbutting of perfectly innocent lampposts just because
they were there. I sincerely hope that stupid trend is passé
now. But it was when I went to grad school and taught undergraduates
that I realized how polite Princeton students really were in class.
On my first day of teaching, one student asked me why I wasn't wearing
shorts. Excuse me? I'm the teacher; you don't get to make editorial
comments on my clothing, even if it is 90 degrees out! But I digress.
What do you think of
name-dropping, of people or of Princeton itself?
I find particularly
irritating the euphemistic references to Princeton that obviously
mean, "I went to Princeton but I want you to think I'm modest,
therefore I'm just going to refer vaguely to 'my college years in
New Jersey' so you'll have to ASK me where I went to school and
I can then mention Princeton in a calculatedly offhand manner."
PLEASE. You have a degree from this school; if it comes up in conversation,
don't skirt the issue. At the same time, you do not have to make
sure you get a Princeton reference into every single sentence you
speak. And for the love of God, don't add your class year and school
to things that have nothing whatsoever to do with Princeton, e.g.,
your wedding invitations. This is snooty and ridiculous. With people,
well, don't name-drop unless you really do know someone. Otherwise
you're just asking to be caught. And as with mentioning where you
went to school, don't do it all the time. There are better ways
to impress people, like being genuinely smart.
You worked at PAW for
a year or so. Any egregious rudeness there?
You mean apart from
the "DAMN IT MY CLASSMATE / HUSBAND / BROTHER / GREAT-UNCLE
DESERVES A 2,000-WORD MEMORIAL, and why can't you print it in the
next issue, and why can't we have a photo of him on his yacht, and
while you're at it, why haven't you covered the water polo team
lately?" angry telephone messages? And the one lovely reader
who took it upon himself to circle the (very occasional) wee typo
with a red pencil and mail it back to us? Those were actually rather
amusing, in retrospect. On the whole, working at PAW was a blast.
Wes Tooke '98 and I used to take turns answering the main number,
and we would compare Angry Reader Phone Calls. The day after an
issue arrived in the mail was always the worst. But most of the
class secretaries were great people; the staff was wonderful. And
What's the rudest thing
you've ever heard of?
Oh, I hear of so many
egregiously rude things! It's funny, etiquette books are usually
in the same bookstore section as the wedding-planning books, but
I've heard about a lot of rude brides and grooms. One bride asked
guests at her shower to pre-address envelopes for their thank-you
cards. Someone else included information on how to direct-deposit
money into the couple's checking account in the wedding invitations.
The mind boggles. How can anyone possibly think this is okay?
What's your biggest
pet peeve, etiquette wise?
Everything to do with
cellular telephones. In emergencies, they're great, of course, but
they do not need to play "Bolero" or "The Yellow
Rose of Texas"; they do not need to be color-coordinated with
your outfit; and they do not need to be used at every opportunity.
I heard one ring this very morning at a funeral! And it's rather
tiresome to listen to an endless, one-sided conversation about topics
which are inevitably mundane (e.g., "Should I highlight my
hair?") or too personal to discuss in public (e.g., "My
ingrown toenails look particularly vile today!"). Just because
you can make a personal phone call on the train does not mean you
should nobody else wants to hear it.
What are the top three
questions people ask you?
1) Can I wear white
shoes after Labor Day?
2) I'm entitled to bring
a date to a wedding, right?
3) Why is it not okay
to put my elbows on the table?
What are the answers?
1) No. Unless you're
a nurse or a bride.
2) No. Unless your invitation
says "and escort" or "and guest," you must attend
3) Because the EGs said
Things You Need to Be
Told (Berkley Books, October 2001)
Learn more about The
Etiquette girls at their website,