Meanwhile, At The Restaurant: No, It’s To-Go

The other night, George and I were out at a local restaurant. A family of four came in; Mom, Dad, two little boys who, if I had to guess, were like 4 and 6. It was kind of late-ish for kids to be out eating (it had to be at least 8:00) so the boys were hungry and cranky. Dad was an impatient manly-man, so when the lone waiter working the entire front of the restaurant and seating new diners during this busy night didn’t attend to them in the first minute of them standing there, Dad took matters into his own hands. And sat his family down at the table next to us. Yay.

So they order, and the kids’ food comes out, and then Dad’s food comes out, but Mom’s is delayed because the kitchen was backed up. Ah, well, such is life, right? So the couple will talk and take care of the kids while they wait for Mom’s food, right? And if Dad were so hungry he had to eschew manners and eat immediately, then maybe he’d offer Mom a little bit from his plate so she could nibble too while waiting, right?  Yeah.  Only no.  Instead, Dad proceeded to pull out his goddamned phone and Facebook (or whatever) while he ate. Ignoring his entire family. Ignoring the wife who wasn’t eating yet. Leaving her to contend with two tired, squirrelly kids on her own. While he was sitting right there next to them all. And when her meal came…well, words fail. It looked a little something like this.

The only thing I've exaggerated here is the size of his brow.

The only thing I’ve exaggerated here is the size of his brow.

(Remember, WordPress screwed f*ed us with their photo editing changes, so there is no “open in new window” option.)


And for the record, when the one little boy knocked his water glass over and spilled most of it into his mother, guess who got up to help her clean up, get fresh napkins for the table, and alerted the waiter there was a spill?  Most people would think, oh, it was the other adult at the table, because that’s what responsible, thinking, caring adults in a relationship do for one another, right?

BZZT. Wrong. It was me. I helped her. I helped get her table cleaned. ME.

Sigh. I don’t even know what else to say about this except: If you’re this guy and you’re reading this, then understand that I only have the best of intentions when I tell you, you are a douchebag. Only because I hope you recognize it to be true, and want to change your douchebaggy ways. Your kids deserve a father who’s present and engaged, not some…douchebag, really, it’s the word that fits…who trawls his phone during dinner, exhibits no sign of joy or interest in his own family, who shows such…you know, it’s not even disrespect, it’s total douchey disregard, for his wife. I don’t know if getting your wife’s food to go shows you’re the control freak type of douchebag, or if you’re the sort of douchebag who is douchebaggy thanks to a wretched cavern in your soul filled with cluelessness but dude, when a stranger at the next table and the waiter have more concern for your wife’s well being than you do?

You’re doing it wrong.

Soapbox Sunday: You Do Know You’re Speaking Out Loud, Right?

I just need to vent a little spleen about a weird scene that happened when we were out to dinner last night.  George and I went to a local restaurant, and it’s a fairly small one, so bear in mind that all diners are in a roughly 25×20 foot space.  As happens in restaurants, after splitting a bottle of wine and supplementing that with a few glasses of water…ummm…nature called.  It’s not uncommon, I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been there.  So.  George got up to make use of the men’s room.  He was gone no more than five seconds when he earned the ire of a popped-collar douche at a neighboring table, who stood up at about the same time George did, but was busy being all aggro-bro at his table and so did not move in any direction–towards the men’s room, towards the exit, whatever–because he had to get in a couple of manly fist-bumps.

Popped collars. Don’t let this happen to you. Image from

Suffice to say he did NOT call firsties and make his way to the men’s room (who knew it was a footrace?) and, once he realized George the Usurper had gone in before him, started to complain about his audacity to use the men’s room.  And he started to do so, quite loudly.

“Oh, man.  I can’t believe it.  Someone else is in the men’s room.  Hahahaha…that means I get to use the ladies’ room, right?  Isn’t that right?  I get to use the ladies’ room, since I can’t believe some other guy went into the men’s room before I got there.”

Hahaha.  OMG CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE THAT THE REST OF THE WORLD DIDN’T FALL TO ONE SIDE AND LET YOU IN YOUR INFINITE GLORY PASS BY?  Clearly, by standing, he telegraphed his intentions to the universe.  WTF, George?  How could you?

Seriously, though.  These are the things I want to know:

1) Are you an infant?  Do you lack the capacity to control your bladder and need immediate access to lavatories at all times?  Have you consulted your doctor about this?  Because it should be well under your control by the time you enter school, or learn how to drive, or go out drinking with bros in public.

2) Did you eat lead paint chips as a child?

3) Do you realize that the whole world does not, in fact, revolve around you?

4) Do you realize that the term “Manifest Destiny” does not, in fact, in any way relate to your access to a public rest room?

5) You do realize it’s possible to have an internal dialogue without vocalizing the thoughts in your head, right?

6) You do realize that sometimes–oftentimes–it’s preferable for you to NOT make your internal dialogue known, right?

7) Should you choose to vocalize your inner thoughts, you do realize you are under no obligation to make sure everyone in the bar, restaurant, clothing store, or whatever establishment you are patronizing at that moment knows what thoughts have lumbered through your brain, right?

8) You’re not funny enough for comedy. Leave it to the professionals, who are way more insightful, bitter, and relevant than you.

Sad. True. All of it.

Sad. True. All of it.

9) One last thing: do you realize that every time you opened your mouth, the entire restaurant (including your friends) hoped you choked on a bag of dicks?  Next time, bro, STFU.

That is all.

Zamboni Lady Commiserates with an Advice Seeker

DISCLAIMER: The Zamboni Lady is not a doctor, nor does she play one on TV.  She is, simply, a busybody who wants to know everyone else’s business.  The advice, while well-meant, is not meant to substitute for legal advice or protection, indicate a definitive way to live one’s life, or in any way imply that you should take her advice any more seriously than you would the advice of the bestie of your bestie, given out over a long and tear-soaked evening of nachos and margaritas.


Bad advice.  It’s everywhere.

Though the following isn’t bad advice so much as it is advice not to make waves and cause a potentially embarrassing family problem, which all things considered isn’t all that terrible (who needs a rift?), but then again…the family in question seems like they need a verbal kick in the ass.

I really felt like the lady who wrote this letter was looking for someone to commiserate with her.  And I?  Am just that gal.  🙂


Here is the letter as it appeared in an advice column:

Dear Advice People: My husband is a high-ranking officer in the military. He has worked hard to achieve his current position and is highly respected.

The problem is, his family treats him like a child. In a few months, there will be a formal ceremony to mark his change of command. My in-laws will be in attendance, and they are certain to embarrass him. They insist on calling him by his unusual childhood nickname (he cringes every time). They talk down to him and give him gifts meant for children, such as books for teen boys (last Christmas), a small child’s backpack (last birthday) and now a child’s piggy bank, which they intend to present to him in front of his unit at the ceremony. These gifts are not intended as jokes. My husband is always gracious on the outside but horrified on the inside.

Is there some way to remind his family that he is indeed an adult and has certainly earned the right to be treated like one? — Proud Military Spouse


And Zamboni Lady says:


I’ve italicized the advice this woman was given, with my responses in regular, rant-friendly font.

Dear Spouse: It is difficult to change ingrained behavior without the cooperation of all the people involved.

No kidding, it’s difficult!  Especially when the people involved are infantilizing control freaks.  Part of the process of being a relative (aunt, parent, older cousin, sibling, similarly aged cousin, childhood friend, whatever) is accepting that your relationship is going to change with taste and propriety as you both get older.  Stevie McPoopypants might gain control of his bladder and probably won’t always love dinosaurs.  Unless Tooter goes into the world of fashion design she’ll probably lose interest in Barbies.  ShellyBelly won’t want to be ShellyBelly any longer, dig?  Look…I have a niece with an embarrassing childhood nickname.  Should we slip and call her that hated name (which I think is adorable but hey, it’s her call)…even when there’s wine involved, and it’s late at night, the doors are locked and the windows shuttered…we still have to face her wrath.  And that’s OK, because her decision to not want to be called an embarrassing childhood nickname in no way reflects on me.  Unless I’m the asshole who keeps calling her a name she can’t stand.

Your husband apparently has determined that the best way to handle his parents is to leave things as they are. That is his choice.

His parents have apparently decided the best way to handle their son is to pretend he’s never grown up.  Books for teen boys?  Child-sized backpacks?  I get your anger, sister.  There’s some serious neural misfirings there.  Assuming they’re not mean, terrible people whose only joy in life is derived from humiliating their son, I have to ask: do they realize he’s an adult?  Do they know he doesn’t have the same taste in things he had twenty years ago?  Is his room still decorated in the Lone Ranger wallpaper of his youth?  Did nobody read The Dead Zone?  Don’t you people know what happened to the infantilized Frank Dodd?

While we appreciate your desire to be supportive and protective, you might also be adding to his stress because your reaction is one of anger and embarrassment.

Yeah, advice people, you’re right.  It’s not the toy piggy bank they want to give him in front of a room full of the soldiers he commands that stresses him out.  It’s the wife who wants to see his parents give him the respect they would any other adult that causes him anguish.  Yup.  You troublemaker.

Ask your husband whether he wants you to talk to his parents.

OMG, advice people!  You’re infantilizing him all over again!  This is like saying your mom should call the mean kid’s mom to talk about that unfortunate incident on the playground.  (Nuh-uh, Mom!  Don’t call!)  Honestly?  My guess is “talking” to his parents will be equally as effective as talking to the cat about learning how to drive.  I don’t think it will result in anything good.  Here’s how I picture it:

Wife: Hi, inlaws?  Yes, this is your DIL. I’m fine, thanks.  Listen, you know how you always get “Bob” gifts more suited for a nine-year-old?  And he hasn’t actually been nine in a really long time?

Inlaws: What are you talking about?

Wife: Well, you know how you get him age-inappropriate books and toys and things, right?

Inlaws: No, dear.  He’s always liked those things.

Wife: Well, actually, that’s where you’re mistaken.

Inlaws: I’m afraid I don’t understand, dear.

Wife: Some of those things are a little young for him, see?  And it’s embarrassing.  And you call him “Snoodgiepants” in public.  That’s embarrassing.

Inlaws: Do you PRESUME to tell me how to behave with my own son?

(this is where the trouble starts, because what do you say?  “Yes” = WW3 territory, and “No” = defeating the entire point of opening this dialogue)

Annnnd so on, until you’re so frustrated you hang up on them and drink gin straight from the cat’s bowl, while they call your husband behind your back to tell you what a busybody you are.  If they’re the arrested-development, controlling weirdos they seem to be, then take care that you don’t get painted as the interloper trying to ruin their happy family.  The last thing you need is for them to try and tear at your marriage, too.

If he says no, we urge you to separate their behavior from your husband’s reputation.  His patient tolerance of their inappropriateness says many positive things about the strength of his character.

I’ll give them this.  Everyone has flaky relatives they have to deal with.  Unfortunately for him, his happen to be his parents, but he seems to have grown up well despite them.  The problem is, the person who really needs to say something to his parents, is him.  It is ultimately his decision as to how he conducts his relationship with his parents.  No matter how much you may hate it (and I hear you) and no matter how much they piss you off (and I’m with you), it’s his call.  Let him be the adult in this situation, and decide how his parents are to be dealt with, without your stepping in.

Advice grade: C-.  Ultimately reasonable advice (let him conduct his own relationship with his parents), but doled out in a really dumb way

Meanwhile, At the Restaurant: How to Get the Bartender’s Attention

Having spent an unreasonable amount of time in food service, in several different states in the US, I generally think that I’ve seen most of what can be seen (though I do realize that claiming I’ve seen it all does a grave disservice to “it all”.  But really, people.  I don’t need to know).  Despite the quasi-iconic public concept of the surly bartender who hides in the corner and has to be coaxed out like they’re a mouse and you’ve got a pocket full of cheese, most bartenders do want to offer their customers timely and friendly service in a welcoming atmosphere.  In a tips-based economy, it’s the smartest way to make money.  And in my time in restaurants and bars, I’ve encountered a vast and often confusing array of ways customers deem acceptable to get a bartender’s attention.  In the interest of public service and to help out my bar brethren across this great land, I give you the do’s and don’ts of:

Ta da!

Ta da!


The Tapper


The Tapper thinks the most effective way to get his drink refilled is to tap his empty glass repeatedly on the bar as though he’s tapping out distress signals in Morse code.  Unless you’re warning me about icebergs dead ahead, this is an inappropriate way to communicate.  I can let you tap all day.  Plus, if you’re that anxious that you need to bang your glass on the bar until you get another drink, then you don’t need another drink, and I would recommend trying some yoga, or perhaps taking up meditation.

The Barker


The Barker thinks that raising his voice above the din of a bar is a surefire way to entice a bartender over.  The Barker doesn’t seem to realize that he is the human equivalent of WRITING IN ALL CAPS and as quickly as I will delete the email written in that manner, so will I dismiss the person who behaves in this manner.  He may express himself in a way that seems callous (Hey, you!) or try to sound charming and/or endearing (Hey, honey, sugarplum, dollface!).  But no matter how you phrase it, he’s still the obnoxious drunk yelling at you from across the bar.  Avoid whenever possible.

The Whistler


Very closely related to The Barker, The Whistler shares the sentiment that making loud noises to attract the bartender is effective.  The problem is, The Whistler chooses the same manner in which he calls his dog in for dinner.  The Whistler doesn’t always necessarily whistle, per se, but he will clear his throat repeatedly or make “Pssst!” sounds.  One memorable time, the owner of the bar I worked in was on duty when a customer tried to attract his attention by making that repeated “psst psst psst” sound you make while trying to convince a cat to come near you.  The owner turned around and, without missing a beat said, “You’d better have some Friskies in your pocket if you’re calling to me that way.”  At least that once, the errant customer grew momentarily embarrassed enough to stammer out an apology before asking for a refill.

The Grabber


If I’m ever back behind the bar, do not–and I mean DO NOT–ever reach all the way across the bar and touch me.  I will wreck you.

And so we come to the end of my general guidelines for DON’T bar behavior.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.  Do note that the “DON’T” behaviors are generally demeaning and/or hostile and/or aggressive.  Use that as your measuring stick for what not to do, and you should be off to a good start.


The Cash Presenter


Most bartenders, you see, are fairly bright, and understand that being attentive to the people standing or sitting at the bar impacts their tips.  If someone stands at the bar with money in their hands, bartenders will generally investigate such an event because people don’t randomly walk around holding money.  In a bar, it’s a specific signal that means, “I want something and I’m ready to pay.”  Yes, it’s true.  Money talks.

The Discreet Signaler


You can gesture to your bartender, so long as you’re chill about it.  If your bartender looks like he’s in the middle of a conversation and isn’t likely to end it any time soon, you can gesture.  If you want to get drinks ASAP for yourself and that fine individual you’re successfully chatting up, you can gesture.  Or if you realize you need to leave, you can do the universal “I’m pretending to sign my name” gesture.  Gesturing does, for the most part, imply necessity so don’t go overboard pointing and waving at will!  Then you become the barfly who cried wolf, and your gesturing just becomes a silent extension of The Tapper and nobody needs to cross into hybrid signals because then everyone is unhappy.

The Empty Glass Bearer


The Empty Glass Bearer is the mellowest of all patrons and has an inherent understanding that a bartender intends to do his job to the best of his abilities.  A bartender who’s even half-paying attention knows that an empty glass requires some sort of attention.  Empty Glass Bearers tend to be easy customers for bartenders to deal with–they’re not overly demanding, they don’t need babysitting, and their lack of aggressive behavior towards the bartender generally means the bartender will like them.  Bars are a great place to have a high-fivin’, belly-bumpin’ good time, but not necessarily with the bartender, who has five or fifteen or sixty other people to manage simultaneously.  Have faith that the bartender will get to you.  While people may think the squeaky wheel gets the grease, when you’re in a bar it’s the quiet glass bearer who gets the best consistent service.

It’s true.

I’d love to hear about other bartender-approach behaviors that I might have forgotten or have blocked from my memory.  Feel free to comment!

Modern Etiquette: No Problem (Restaurant Edition)

I’m going to tell you a little story.  One day, not all that long ago, a girlfriend and I went out for lunch at a local eat-and-drinkery.  I don’t want to name names; I’ll call it…the Shmown Shmavern.  Jo (name changed to protect…nobody, really, I just feel like being all mysterioso) and I met when we started working together at a restaurant; she and I are both long-standing veterans of the food service wars.  We know our way around a table that needs some waiting, or two.  I’ve done it all–bartending, waiting, management, bussing.  Chances are good that between the both of us, we’ve seen nearly everything there is to see in the restaurant biz, and in this particular instance I swear on all that is holy that I am NOT exaggerating.

We sat down at a lovely window seat at the Shmavern and…well, OK, there was a little bit of awkwardness, because our first waitress (who passed us off ASAP) is the current girlfriend of my friend’s ex-boyfriend.  Even though Jo is very happily married and has some adorable kiddos and hasn’t been involved with this ex for years, Waitress One decided the best way to handle Jo’s presence was to embrace her insecurities, call in a pinch-hitter and avoid our table at all costs.

Yay, professionalism.  Though I suppose it’s better than Waitress One running the risk of not being able to control herself.

When the second waitress came over, she dropped off our drinks and took our food orders.  The menu at the Shmavern isn’t terribly complicated, and we are entirely capable of delivering a food order with little-to-no hassle.  The conversation went something like this:



No problem?  Really?

Herein lies my issue: we weren’t creating a problem.

In a restaurant, there are a million ways for customers to cause problems (or not), both big and small.  Here are some examples:

“Excuse me, this table is noisy and we have some fairly important business to discuss.  Can we sit over at that other table that’s tucked into a corner, instead?”

No problem.  Ding ding ding!  Proper use!  The customer had a problem, and the server addressed said problem in kind, resolved it and brushed it off as though it was trivial, because after all it’s a job structured around customer service.  Everyone’s happy.

“Hey, I was wondering…I’m allergic to shrimp, would I be able to get this salad with grilled chicken?”

No problem.  Once again, the server displays an enviable mastery of the English language.  On the grand scheme of things this is a minor problem, really, but nevertheless it requires a little extra legwork on the behalf of the server and can be legitimately considered a “problem”.  Especially since not managing it correctly could lead to a customer going into anaphylactic shock.  Which, I’m sure you will all agree, is a problem.

There is the more tricky, compound request between diner and waitperson:

“Hi.  Can I get the mandarin chicken salad?”

“You bet.”

“Oh, but…would I be able to get the dressing on the side?”

No problem.  See how that works?  Had the server replied “No problem” to the first question, then one would have to ask, what could have been the problem, anyway?  Were they recently out of chicken?  Was the dressing not made yet?  Did the chef have an innate fear of mandarin slices and wouldn’t make it, but thankfully today there was a mandarin specialist in the back room to help him through the tough part?  Instead, she stayed focused on each question as they presented themselves.  May I have this?  Yes.  Can you deviate from the norm at my request?  No problem.

“Miss, you don’t really mind if my children run around unsupervised and climb up the backs of your booths, do you?  Mommy needs some downtime with a pomegranate martini.”

Actually…that’s kind of a problem.

“Hi….ummmm…I hate to bother you, and I’m not sure how to say this because it’s so weird, but I think someone is having sex in the ladies’ room.”*


PROBLEM!  Big, huge, not-gonna-end-well-for-anyone, someone-needs-to-work-on-their-decision-making-skills type of problem.

*Note: That really happened.

“Hi, I’d like to order my food, straight off the menu, with no special requests.  I know exactly what I would like, how I would like it, and I’m ready to answer any question you might have, decisively and cheerfully, in anticipation of a pleasant dining experience.”

No problem.  BZZZT!  Wrong!  Thank you for playing.  Please try again.

Oh, I’m sorry.  Was I interrupting something?  I didn’t mean to intrude on your busy texting and flirting-with-the-co-workers schedule, but as I have walked into a restaurant for lunch and it is customary that a representative employed by said restaurant should take my order and bring me food in exchange for money and a service tip, I’d really like to get this transaction underway.  *sigh*  There was nothing special to accommodate when we spoke with our waitress.  There were no unusual requests, no climbing children, no allergies, no restroom sexytime.  We stated, in a straightforward manner, what we wanted.  (See the difference between the request and the statement?)  There was just…the expectation that she would do her job as defined by management, in a satisfactory manner.

I can already hear some of you saying, “Oh, come on.  That’s just a figure of speech, and she was just being nice.”  I say to you, WRONG!  Here is why: because words?  Have meanings.  “No problem” indicates that by our presence, we’ve created an issue that the server needs to resolve.  Nice way to beat a path to your clientele’s heart. The smartasses in the room will in all likelihood point out that I did have a problem; I was hungry and wanted lunch.  You say “problem”.  Restaurants call that “business”.

In this sort of instance, the traditional response is quite usually the best one.  In response to the table thanking you for taking their (very easy, straightforward, uncomplicated) order, you the waitstaff should say…are you ready for this?…

You’re welcome.”

See?  Not that difficult.  Same amount of syllables as “No problem” so long as you preserve the contraction.  And it passes no judgment on the efficacy or moral weight of the table-waiting transaction.  I could go on about how I think this is symptomatic of the rise of the entitlement culture (which I do) or about how management needs to be more fastidious in their coaching (breaking bad habits and all; management, you need to get in there) but here’s the thing: that’s all lumped under the umbrella of “what I would fix if I were queen of the universe”.  And as much as anyone, I get that working in a restaurant is a transitional job for a lot of people.  I get that you’re tired of waiting on people, you’re tired, you’re hung over, you have a paper to write, your feet hurt, you’re fighting with your boyfriend, you’re worried because your kid is sick, you’re biding your time until you graduate from college, your last table was bitchy through no fault of your own (customers who do this, you know who you are and shame on you), your rent is due, there’s a great party going on that you’re missing, or you’d simply rather be laying under a palm tree on a white sand beach.  I get it.  And it’s hard, when one of these or a million other things are crowding inside your head and pulling your attention away from the task at hand.  But people, please.  Manners matter.  Think about what you’re saying to someone.  Think about how you would like to be treated, out to lunch with a girlfriend on a Sunday afternoon.  Would you like to feel like you’ve participated successfully in a business transaction that’s been positive for everyone involved?  Or would you like to feel that you’re, at best, not being viewed as a problem?

Freaking Through

Or would it be “freakin’ thru”?  I’m not sure, and I’m not hip enough to make that call.  Spell it however you’d like, just make sure you learn the ways of the almighty freakthrough.

Freaking through is an extraordinarily simple technique one may use to create a path through a crowd of people.  Simple?  Indeed.  And nearly magical, though it should be used judiciously and only in the proper settings.

I was introduced to the beauty that is “Freaking through” at the Jon Stewart “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” in 2010.  We got there later than we’d wanted to and found ourselves way, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back at the end of the park.


So Jason, one of our erstwhile group, said, “We should freak through.”  It’s what Todd, another friend, would do if he were here, Jason said.  Todd came up with the idea for it at some event and quickly discovered he could always get to where he wants to go with a good freak through.  Hmmmm…so…guaranteed to get closer, stupidly entertaining/endearing name, and a bit of an homage for a good friend at the end of the day?  Yes, yes,  and yes.

Arthur Murray would be so proud of my diagram.

The concept is simple enough.  When stuck in a crowd that you want to move your way through–you want another beer, you have to answer the call of nature, you want to get closer to a stage and “excuse me” isn’t working–shout out that you’re “freaking through” and then?  Flail your butt and elbows back and forth, as though one might be doing the freak, only with an uncomfortable amount of people around you.  Behold!  You’ll feel like Moses parting the Red Sea as the crowd parts before you, allowing access in ways you’d never before imagined possible.  And why is that?

Because the freak is a filthy, naughty dance.  It takes the unsuspecting unawares.

Thanks to skillful application of the freakthrough, we were able to cut through the crowd at the Rally like buttah, for at least another half-mile or so.

Not all images are to scale.  Actually, I’d daresay most if not all are woefully not to scale, but nevertheless you’ll get the idea.  Here we are at the Jon Stewart rally.

Off we went towards the front of the stage.

It’s best if you reserve your freaking through for more casual events, like at the rally, or in a crowded bar…

No more “Pardon me, ‘scuse me”. Now it’s just, “Freaking through!” Like they do in golf, only…freakier.

…or a Fear Factory concert.

Freaking through, Burt.

One ought to maintain some kind of decorum, of course.  Freakthroughs are not to be used during the following:

At wedding ceremonies (though at a reception, go for it)

Even whispering to the bride that she looks lovely won’t cover this faux pas.
Unadulterated photo from

On line to see Lenin’s tomb

Don’t mess with the Comrade.
Photo adapted from

Or on your way through security at the airport

Haha funny thought, but no. Not if you ever want to get to your intended destination.
Photo adapted from

Though mad, MAD props go out to the stealthy freaker who had major game at an airport X-ray machine.

You freak right on through and enjoy your flight, miss.
Photo not amended at all, from

That’s about all there is to it.  It’s simple, it’s easy, and if you really don’t get what you’re supposed to do, here’s a little animation that should clear it all up for you.

You can freak through at whatever rate of speed you deem necessary.  I kept this slow so you, the viewer, wouldn’t worry about missing a thing in your freak through tutorial.

And that?  Is IT.  I hope you all dig the pageantry that is freaking through, and try it at your next highschool reunion or summer megaconcert tour.  You won’t regret it!

All cartoonish buffoonery, goofy photoshoppery and rudimentary animation done by me, and all uncredited photos were taken by me.  Don’t hate me for my mad skills.

Zamboni Lady: What Happens at the Table…

DISCLAIMER: The Zamboni Lady is not a doctor, nor does she play one on TV.  She is, simply, a busybody who wants to know everyone else’s business.  The advice, while well-meant, is not meant to substitute for legal advice or protection, indicate a definitive way to live one’s life, or in any way imply that you should take her advice any more seriously than you would the advice of the bestie of your bestie, given out over a long and tear-soaked evening of nachos and margaritas.


Dear Zamboni Lady,

Soon I’m going to be graduating from college and going out into the “real world”.  I didn’t grow up in a “fancy” family, and dinner to me means a plate, a knife, a fork, a cup, and a paper napkin.  A friend recently told me I need to learn things like how to eat at a formal table setting if I wanted to make a good impression, when I’m in those situations.  Of course I do, but…does that sort of stuff really matter?


Dine N. Dash

Dear Dashy,

You’re not the first person who’s asked this question.  You surely won’t be the last person who’s asked this question.  It does seem almost antiquated and perhaps a little effete to those who are not to the manner born, when they have their first encounter a full, formal place setting.  Who needs all these forks, anyway?  Can’t you just hold it off to the side for course two and be done with it?  And who eats in “courses”, anyway?

Thanks to for the pic of a table that hurts so bad.

It’s a little daunting, isn’t it?  And I get it because I didn’t grow up in a fancy home that functioned this way, either.  Food was (is) served family-style, in the middle of the table, out of giant bowls, and everything got plunked with no ceremony onto one plate.  Two, if you had a salad bowl off to the side.  We all ate that way, we all lived to tell the tale.  Unfortunately, whether you like it or not, you’re going to encounter this.  At weddings, at business functions, a swanky place setting will cross your path.  It is absolutely in your best interests to learn how to navigate one.

Zamboni Lady used to work with students who were getting set to graduate college; we would have a special lunch together so I and some other staff members could help them get a grasp on this sort of etiquette.  Where to put one’s napkin.  Where the elbows belonged.  They were mainly working-class students who’d never encountered a table that even vaguely resembled a formal setting, and ooooh, how they fought me.  I heard more than my fair share of “Oh my God, are you kidding?”s and “This is stupid!”s.  Yeah, keep complaining…because careful!  You don’t want to learn something.  One young woman turned to me and said, “Shouldn’t they care about me, and not about which stupid fork I use?”

And therein lies the rub.  Yes, yes, they should care about you more than your fork, they should be enchanted by the wisdom issuing forth from your educated lips.  All this ceremonial dining is, ultimately, a social construct meant to stratify the “haves” over the “have-nots”, and should have no bearing in a theoretically classless society, like the US.   But here’s the thing: it does matter.  Just like they won’t take you seriously at a job interview in a bank if you walk in wearing flip-flops, they also won’t value what you’re saying as much if your table manners are atrocious.  You’ll draw more attention to your bad manners than you will to your meritorious words.  So here’s some advice:

1) Napkins down!  And by down, I mean, in your lap, not tucked up in your collar like it’s a bib.  You do know who uses bibs, right?  Babies, and extremely old or sick people who can’t chew anymore.  What image would you like to project?  That of someone who’s socially competent, or that of someone who can’t take care of him- or herself?  And dab, don’t wipe.  It’s a napkin, not a washcloth.  Rules for napkin use while eating wings at Hooters does not apply in polite company.  (Please, when eating wings at Hooters, use as many napkins as you want.  Wipe away!)

2) Dishware is used from top to bottom and the piece of silverware you choose is the outermost piece.  You know what soup is, right?  And that you eat it with a spoon?  When soup is served…use the most readily available spoon.  When you’re staring down a salad at the beginning of a meal, take a moment to reason out a few things.  First, do you eat it with a spoon or a fork?  If the correct answer is “fork” (which it is), then use the one farthest outside your plate on the left.

A map around the formal setting.

3) If you really can’t figure out WTF is going on, use it to your advantage.  Be the model of restraint.  Don’t act like you haven’t eaten for a week and need to dive in to your food in order to hoover it.  Delicately wait five, maybe ten seconds to see what everyone else at the table chooses.  Then whatever they do?  Do that.

4) Elbows.  OFF.  The table.  Whatever event you’re at, the food will be plentiful and you won’t have to protect your portion with your body.  True story: years ago, I was at a dinner honoring a certain former First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, who shall remain nameless.  I sat right across the table from him and thought he was a very nice man, I even gave him a watermelon Jolly Rancher before his speech because his throat was dry (best candy ever, and he enjoyed it very much indeed).  For the life of me I can’t remember what we talked about.  He hunkered over his plate, threw a protective arm around the top and shoveled his food in until every scrap was gone; it was perversely fascinating.  I had the distinct impression that if I’d tried to go near his plate, he would have stabbed me in the hand with his fork without missing a beat.

(As a corollary, try to put your fork down between bites.  You look more in control of yourself and it’s not as though your dinner will get spirited away if you’re not ever-vigilant with a raised fork.  It will still be on your plate when you pick your fork back up again, I promise.)

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, Zamboni Lady!  First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, that’s a pretty sweet title, and you say he had crappy table manners!  What gives?”

Fact: this was in 1999, and Russia was only eight years into its capitalist reform after casting off 74 years of Soviet repression.  The shortages the public endured in this time were well-known; toilet paper, fresh water, meat.  So the idea that this man might have a little bit of deprivation-related PTSD ought not to surprise you, but it also shouldn’t and doesn’t give you a free pass to straddle your food.

There’s so much about the concept of modern etiquette that has room for discussion.  Admittedly, I haven’t covered anywhere near everything that has to do with a formal service today.  For example, that tiny fork to the right is for shrimp, maybe oysters, which could be confusing in the “which fork do I use first?” question.  But if that’s at your place setting then your host would certainly intend for you to use that li’l guy first, pre-soup, pre-appetizer.  If that’s not used and gone first, then your host made the mistake, not you.  I’m not even going to delve into what happens when lobster forks or escargot forks appear–and quite frankly, if you’re somewhere that’s serving escargot for general consumption, you probably already know how to go about eating it and my advice here is moot.

On the positive side, none of this is unlearnable, even if it’s entirely unfamiliar.  One of the best ways to do this is to cultivate the habit of simply shutting up.  Stop protesting loudly that you don’t know how to do something, and just pay attention to how it’s done.  You’ll catch on.

Dear Zamboni Lady,

Please settle a bet: my friend and I have fifty dollars riding on this.  Is it true that to convey class and “good breeding”, you should stick your pinky out when you drink a beverage?  I say yes, she says that’s a mistake.


Pinkies-up forever

Dear Pinkies-up,

How’s it feel to lose fifty bucks?


This has been a popular misperception since somewhere around the 11th century.  It’s time for it to stop.  Hold your drink like a normal person, not like someone who is woefully uninformed yet smug about it.

Dear Zamboni Lady,

My son refuses to take his hat off at the dinner table.  I try and tell him that gentlemen always take their hats off when they sit down for supper, but he just shrugs and ignores me.  Sometimes he’ll spin his hat around so it’s facing backwards, as a “compromise”.  When he asks me about my hat I tell him that ladies don’t have to follow the same rules as men, and I can leave mine on.  Help?


Hattie McDon’tWearIt

Dear Hattie,

You’re cute.  No one wears hats any more.  Back in the day, when men and women wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without a hat on, you’re absolutely right.  Ladies could keep their hats on but men removed them indoors, in the presence of ladies, and especially when they sat down to eat.  But universal hat-wearing dropped off after WWII and with it went an understanding of the rules of head gear.  Here are some.

1) Is your son wearing a baseball cap?  Like any other cap, it ought not to be worn indoors, but this style of hat in particular should be reserved for outdoor recreation.  Don’t give him a chance to disrespectfully turn his cap backwards; when he tries that, tell him he’s not eating until it’s off his head.  Your house, your rules.

2) You said he asks you about why you can wear your hat.  Are YOU wearing a baseball cap?  I can’t imagine you’re wearing some fussy little fascinator about the house

Fascinating, indeed.

but if you are then by all means, leave it on.  Ladies can always wear their dressy chapeaux indoors.  Though quite honestly, I’d like to know when you were planning to brunch with the Queen in this saucy little number.  However!  If you’re wearing a baseball cap, too, you don’t get a pass to wear it at the table because you’re female, hat hair or not and I don’t care if it’s your “nice” baseball cap.  Sorry to tell you this, but your son’s got some moral high ground on this if you claim gender privilege.  Baseball caps indoors?  Never.

Antiquated Etiquette: Presidential Edition

 George Washington wrote an etiquette book (sort of).

Yes, this George Washington:

To quote Ted "Theodore" Logan: Welcome to the Hall of Presidents.

Indeed it seems that among his many accomplishments (freeing the colonies from the yoke of oppression, fathering a new country, chopping down cherry trees and bragging about it*), America’s first president was also a bit of a fastidious prude.  Despite his heroics and his reputation for having a vicious temper, he’s been described as an “exceedingly bland heroic leader,” and that his “…virtue was admirable, but not overly interesting.”

He began the building blocks of his virtue at a very young age; when he was a teenager, he copied 110 rules from a Jesuit tract called Youths Behavior, or Decency in Conversation amongst Men into a personal notebook.  (OK, in the interest of full disclosure, the Jesuits originally published it in French and then–allegedly–a twelve-year-old boy named Francis Hawkins translated that into English and said translation is what GW got his teenage mitts on and essentially copied verbatim, but was this digression totally necessary?  History freaks, I did it for you.)  This book stayed with him throughout his entire life and informed much of his behavior in society.  Excepting, of course, for his anger management problems.

Anyway.  Without further ado, here is a sampling of George Washington’s translated, formerly French Jesuit rules for proper behavior among all walks of life, as taken from the book Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts that Guided Our First President in War and Peace.

#2: When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body not usually discovered.

Errrm…who’s he hanging out with?  Though I am delighted to know that he disapproved of picking one’s nose or touching the hoo-ha in public.

#4: In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise or drum with your fingers or feet.

Aaaaa-MEN!  So one time the BF and I stayed in this lovely bed & breakfast in Gettysburg and discovered, at breakfast, that one of the other guests was an obnoxious humming monster.  Have you ever tried to enjoy a pecan scone with an unrepentant humming type person nearby?  It’s impossible.  Her husband was so used to it he just read his paper in silence but the rest of us wondered if we could sneak her onto a battlefield at dusk.  If I don’t want to deal with professional mariachi bands or wandering minstrels at my table, what on earth makes this lady think I’d want to hear her tuneless humming?  I still get the sensation of nails down a chalkboard when I think of her; if only I’d known then what a presidential boor she was.

#7: Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half drest.

And there’s no clause here excusing put-off clothing if tequila is a factor, so just don’t do it, mmkay?

#12:  Shake not your head, feet, or legs, roll not the eyes, lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth, and bedew no man’s face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak.

There goes the entirety of Jack Black’s acting career.

Rolled, lifted. wry-ed. Philistine.

#45: Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in publick or in private, presently, or at some other time, in what terms to do it; & in reproving shew no sign of choler, but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

In other words, every hothead chef or kitchen manager who’s ever chewed an employee’s butt up one side and down the other in the heat of the moment…knock it off.

Seems like this was one of those points Gee-Dub had to work on himself.

#47: Mock not nor jest at any thing of importance, break no jests that are sharp, biting, and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

Seriously.  Don’t be the boob who laughs at your own jokes.  And…if the premise isn’t funny, the joke isn’t funny.

(Yes, I know there are comedians who would passionately argue that point.  But this?  Is my blog.)

#50: Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.

In other words, don’t believe everything you hear.

I particularly like this one because it forces me to think about how different life was in the 18th century.  There were no news channels or interwebs or cars, so “flying reports” means “gossip that I’m hearing probably weeks, and possibly months, after the fact.  Which will then take weeks/months to dispute, so there had to be a malleability of thought inherent in this.  Now, if we hear a rumor on the ‘net it becomes stone-cold FACT pretty quickly.  Think “Mr. Rogers was a Marine sniper.”  Or that whole “birther” thing.

#84: When your superiors talk to anybody hearken not, neither speak nor laugh.

So, this is where that sort of joyless virtue mentioned previously starts to express itself.  Because oh, no.  You don’t want to speak or laugh.

#90: Being set at meat scratch not, neither spit, cough, or blow your nose except there’s a necessity for it.

His state dinners must have been a riot, between the spitters and the people you have to remind not to touch themselves publicly.  Though really, this IS good advice.

#97: Put not another bit into your mouth till the former be swallowed.  Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls.

Take human bites!  

#100: Clean not your teeth with the table cloth, napkin, fork or knife, but if others do it, let it be done with a pick tooth [toothpick].

Because I hate, loathe, and despise when my guests clean their teeth with my tablecloth.

And finally…

#110: Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

True dat, though I don’t know if this qualifies as “etiquette” so much as it is “that thing which makes us human and prevents us from walking around with atrophied hearts and dead, sunken eyes.”  Though one would imagine that walking around with a soulless void in one’s breast would be frowned on in polite society, so perhaps it IS etiquette, after all.  Well played, Gee-Dub.  Well played.

The introduction and explanation of Washington’s “rules” make the book I mentioned fun, but if you want to see all of his “rules”, you can find them all here.

I don’t have much more to say about the book other than this: when I realize there were books like this, it changes (for me) the image I have of life in the 18th century.  We promote and kind of buy into this ideal that “back then”, people instinctively knew how to behave and George Washington, gentleman farmer, and his ilk, lived via a code of conduct that beamed into their heads from the Heavens and incorporated into every fiber of their being.  Not the case.  People had to be reminded not to wipe their teeth with the tablecloth and that they ought to keep their clothes on in company.  Good advice, but not some I would normally have associated with their traditional values and concerns.  Until now.  Maybe we’re not so bad with our modern sensibilities, after all.  And maybe, with a little push in the other direction or without the early gift of a set of rules, GW would have taken a much different route.


(Many thanks to my friend Deb for this picture; I don’t know where she found it, or if she composed it, but I’m totally happy to make use of it.)

*Note: George Washington, in all likelihood, didn’t actually cut down his father’s prized cherry tree.  This is a story that was added to the fifth edition of his biography, and is often considered to be the first American urban legend.

Antiquated Etiquette: The Unexpected Guest

I love…loveLOVE etiquette books.  I suppose it’s some mutation in my soul that occurred thanks to my time at Wellesley, since it’s the alma mater of Miss Manners herself, Judith Martin.  (An aside to my Wellesley sisters: on the “Notable Alumnae” link I just posted, there is one “Notable” from 2003, one “Notable” from 1991, and everyone else graduated well before that.  We’ve got to shake the dust off, ladies, and yes, by “we” I mean me, too.)  But she is still a present-day voice, and I particularly love older etiquette books.  The older, the better.  They provide an interesting window to the mores of their time, and are often charmingly, haltingly written by a bona-fide lady who manages to maintain demure tones, even in her writing voice.  They exist in this imaginary social zone, one wherein the person who needs an etiquette book could conceivably move into the social class the author writes about, even if the reader is not to the manner born.

If you’re born to it, you don’t need some fancy book, see?  You’ll ooze etiquette like a bee’s butt oozes honey.  Ease of etiquette indicates the euphemistically repulsive term “breeding“, which is just one string of pearls away from eugenics in its implications about animal husbandry in relation to social acceptability.  The only people who need etiquette books are the nouveau riche, who may have earned a lot of money war-profiteering or rum-running and can buy their way into the right parties and events but certainly don’t know how to behave in capital-S Society.  Or social climbin’ gals, who want to trick rich men into marrying them because they think these ladies are of their class, once they master all the genteel standards a book can provide.  Ha!  Have you ever SEEN some elaborate table settings?  Good luck with that.  (And while I hate to admit it, it looks like the Kennedy fortune did not come from the aforementioned running of the rum and this is simply a wildly successful urban legend; Joe Kennedy‘s father was a savvy businessman in his own right so Papa Joe had money to start with, though that’s not to say he didn’t dabble in liquid investments–sorry, gangster romantics, and I digress.)

And so, while I was in the Street of Shops I came across an old etiquette book in the flea market section in the basement.  The New Book of Etiquette© 1925 by Lillian Eichler (whose story is pretty interesting) and no, I didn’t pay $69.99 for it.  Two bucks–score!  Here’s an example of some of the advice she offers:

“The friend or acquaintance who has an at-home day should be given the courtesy of having that at-home day honoured.  If you know, for instance, that Mrs. Blank receives on Tuesdays, do not be so discourteous as to call on Fridays, unless you just wish to leave your card and pay a “duty” call.”  — p. 138

Indeed, I would never want to call if Mrs. Blank isn’t ready to receive.

“A woman does not share on her cards the title of her husband.  For instance, the wife of our President has her cards engraved, “Mrs. Calvin Coolidge.”  The wife of a secretary, judge, general, or admiral does not use any other title on her personal card than “Mrs.”” — pp. 124-125.

How gauche to even consider otherwise.  Ladies, “Mrs.” is all the title you’ll ever need.

“The first and invariable rule is that the woman always bows first when meeting man acquaintances.” — p. 96.

What the huh?

And so with that in mind, we turn to one of my favorite pages in the book.  Oddly, this page isn’t surrounded by anything that elaborates on the caption, so I can only assume it’s up to the reader to parse out the meaning on his or her own.  Okay, fine, I’ll do it.

“The unexpected guest constitutes a real problem…”

A real problem?  Why?  Will the hostess run the risk of breaking a limb because of the unexpected guest?  Will she starve?  Is this unexpected guest secretly the Pied Piper, and the hostess’s home will soon be overrun with mice?  Is it because the hostess can no longer walk around naked?  Will the guest steal all of her silver?  WHAT IS THE REAL PROBLEM?

“…to the hostess who has no maid…”

Oh.  So having a guest requires extra cleaning.  Unless you’re hosting Pigpen, I don’t see how that’s a legitimate issue.


“…and only the simplest kind of guest room.”

Because I, for one, refuse to stay somewhere unless there’s a chandelier from which my boyfriend can swing.

Finally, some civilization.

If the room has a place to sleep, four walls, a ceiling that lacks holes and a bathroom nearby, what more does the unexpected guest need?

Apparently, they need maid service.

This is the world that I find so fascinating.  How dreadful!  That a lady may have to meet the needs of her guest all on her own, without the assistance of a maid or, apparently, a husband, who as a host is not presented as having any sort of problem with an unexpected guest when he lacks a maid.  Because he’s got a built-in maid in his wife.  (The gender politics make my head spin.)  That she may have to house a guest in a simple room that doesn’t have a single automated toenail clipper or Magic Fingers® or a mature dog she could strap a serving tray to and send in cocktails.  This was 1925; penicillin hadn’t even been discovered yet, the income disparity that triggered the Great Depression was building, and a hostess’s real problem was that someone she theoretically likes stops in for a visit?  And that she had to put them into a guest room that may or may not have fancy soap?  Get over yourself, Ina Garten.  The world has much bigger fish to fry.

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