Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Since There's No One Around to Read This Anyway...

...Let's all admit something awesome about ourselves. Or embarassing. Whichever. It's a holiday week and no one is around, so...why not? It's cleansing, and fun! (Just like soap on a rope.)

I'll go first:

1. I own a copy of Dr. Laura's Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, read it several times a year, and find it inspirational.

2. I think the biggest challenge of relationships in your twenties is not really knowing who you are or what you want.

3. I think the biggest challenge of relationships in my thirties is that I know full well who I am and what I want, and have therefore become too set in my ways. (For example, I have become almost completely unable to be sociable in the mornings, and will instead zone out in front of the newspaper. Sadly, I've found that few people can deal with being ignored for hours on end.)

4. I'm grateful to the new readers who came here via the New York Times article...but I'm also grateful that my blog traffic has gone back to semi-normal. I find readership spikes a little overwhelming.

5. I get annoyed when friends suggest I be an event planner for a living, because I don't want to turn my beloved hobby into something money-oriented and stressful.

Your turn! In the comments, entertain us by admitting something awesome.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Etiquette Question: Can I Make the Temp Pay for My Lunch?

Hi Shannon!

Just today I encountered a sticky etiquette issue here at work, and decided to wing it your way. I'd love for you to post on your site, but I'm sure you're being bombarded with real-life etiquette situations such as today's post... poor Billie!

So imagine it's lunchtime at the office, and I've got four powersuits sitting around deciding what they want for lunch. They decide, and then call me over to cater their lunches - they give me money, I run out to so-and-so's restaurant for a salad, and then I return with food and change (with nary a tip for the food delivery service!).

My question is: sometimes the guys will be flitting between meetings and will just call over their shoulder "Hey, could you grabme lunch at so-and-so's?" I say sure... but they are already headed into their office or another meeting, leaving me with a lunch order and no money.

What is the office etiquette on this? Do I just barge into the meeting and demand payment? I have already shouldered about 4 meals for individual partners - and on my scant salary it does add up - and I am the first receptionist to do this lunch-time delivery service, none of the temps before me have lasted long enough to have the privilege of retrieving their lunches. Help me, etiquette master!

Sincerely, Broke in Boston

Dear Living on Beans in Beantown,

I hope to one day achieve the sort of stardom that gets me a personal lunch delivery service. I mean, really, wow. Who stiffs a temp? I've been in your shoes on many occasions, and I totally feel your pain here.

Here's something you may not have considered: these might be company-expensed meals, and that's why the partners haven't always given you cash upfront. It's also possible that they're just absent-minded and need to be told that food doesn't grow on trees. (Well, some of it does, but I've personally never seen a chicken salad bush.) Most likely, they're just self-involved dinks, but approaching them from a sympathetic perspective makes it easier to remain courteous.

From there, you have two paths, depending on whether your strongest relationship is with your agency, or with your jobsite. It's like a Choose Your Own Etiquette Adventure!

Adventure One is if you've been at this job site for a long time (6 months or more) and are considered 'one of the gang' among your colleagues (basically, if you're a temp in name only):

Speak to a more senior member of the administrative staff, such as the office manager, or, if there isn't one, the accountant. "Suzy, as you may know, I occasionally pick up lunch for Partners X, Y, and Z. Sometimes they give me cash upfront, other times they're unable to do so because they're about to head into a meeting. I was wondering if these meals should be expensed to the company, and, if so, is there a petty cash fund or company card that I could use? I have wound up laying out personal money on occasions x, y and z, and I don't want that to happen again."

This alerts the operations folks that you have been laying out personal money, and puts the weight on them to sort out the problem.

If the partners are indeed supposed to be paying for lunch out of their own pockets, things get stickier. Unfortunately, barging into a meeting to demand your $2 is poor business etiquette. Instead, when you drop off the lunch, hand over the receipt and say, "Hi Bob! Here's your chef salad, the bill came out to $7.50." Then stand there with an expectant smile until he forks over the cash. Or, hey, be proactive: ask for lunch orders in the morning, and ask for payment or credit card numbers on the spot.

Adventure Two is if you haven't been there very long, and, honestly, it's the much safer route:

You can take this up with your handler at the temp agency. Check your temp agency contract. Many agencies require that you work through them to resolve workplace issues. They can intervene on your behalf with the employer, or, failing that, look to find you a new assignment.

And, lastly, a PSA: No temp should ever be laying out any personal money for anything. It is very inappropriate to place that sort of expectation upon a temp. A temp's position at the company is very tenuous, and placing unreasonable expectations upon them takes advantage of that fact. They're also dead-ass broke...a temp receptionist in D.C. makes about $11 an hour. I don't know what Boston is getting paid, but I doubt it's a lifetime supply of Kruggerands and cocaine. Stiffing a temp is like taking your baby brother out for a Sno-Cone...and then making him pay for the both of you. Funny, in a perverse sort of way, but totally not cool.

PS - If you're on the clock, and billing them for the time that you spend picking up lunch, no 'tip' to you is necessary. However, it would be polite for them to tell you to go ahead and pick up something for yourself while you're over there. But I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Special thanks to my favorite handler, Brett, for tactical support. Got a dilemma? Send it to scannerjockey@gmail.com!

In the comments, tell me what you want for lunch.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Turkey Dinner with a Side of Awkward

Dear Shannon,

I am having Thanksgiving dinner at my boyfriend's (we'll call him Steve) house this year. He and I have been dating for over two years. About six months ago, his ex (Lila Fowler) with whom I am not friends, sent me an email alleging that she had slept with him sometime around our first anniversary. As she is not particularly credible, that blew over relatively quickly.

As it happens, I have met his parents before and got along with them fairly well. I have not met his sister (Jessica) before - with whom he does not get along and who is still good friends with Lila (which leads me to think Jessica believes that her brother did, in fact, cheat).

So... what do I do here? Other than bring a hip flask of Patron for myself and a nice bottle of white for everyone else, I mean. I'd just like to be prepared for any eventuality, including snide remarks from the sisterly peanut gallery.


Billie Winkler

Dear Billie,

I think if someone invented the Truly Perfect Comeback that worked on every snide remark, advice columnists around the world would instantly go out of business.

Also, never mock the trusty hip flask. It has seen many a guest through many a disastrous event (proof: Foggy Dew brought one to my wedding). Finally, there is no way to be prepared for “any eventuality” – life just doesn’t work that way. All you can really do is carry yourself with dignity and hope for the best. This situation is about 60 percent under Jessica's control. Here’s the breakdown of where the rest of the control lies:

20 percent: Your boyfriend. Does he normally back you up when there’s a dispute with his family? This is important for two reasons: 1. if you’re considering marriage, this is HUGE, and, 2. if his family sees him as someone who sticks up for you, and won’t be a pushover, then his sister will feel less tempted to make snide remarks because she knows he won't put up with it.

15 percent: You. You’re going to have to hold your head high, be friendly and interested in what she has to say, and give this woman a chance. If you’re shy by nature, this is going to be a challenge. But it’s totally necessary: if you show up for dinner all defensive and ready for a fight, you’ve already lost. You’ve gift-wrapped an excuse for her to go nuclear on her brother’s bitch queen stuck-up girlfriend.

5 percent: Random chance. Maybe something will happen before dinner that puts Jessica in a good mood, making things easier, or bad news could turn her into the haranguing devil sister from hell. Or maybe she'll catch the swine flu and miss dinner. Who knows?

In the end, all you can do is show up as your best self, and hold your head high. She may make a snide remark, in which case you have two choices: the etiquette-approved subject change, or, for the truly daring, playing dumb. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you please explain what you meant by that?” can make even the most toxic person fumble. But in the end, this is about how well you and your boyfriend team up to deal with outside drama...so a spat with the sister may be a good thing after all, as it can help you figure out whether your guy is a keeper.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

PS – I do hope, whether the cheating allegations turn out to be true or not, that you got yourself thoroughly checked for STDs. Never take chances with your health.
Have a sticky etiquette question? Send it to scannerjockey@gmail.com!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ask the Etiquette Vigilante: Dinner Party Evite-iquette

Dear Scanner Jockey/Etiquette Vigilante:

I usually use Evites to organize guest lists for various functions--dinner parties, cocktail parties, chili-cookoffs, Guy Fawkes rallies. I use the program not just to get the message out to my guests, but to keep track of who's coming so I can plan accordingly. However, my guests often check the invitation regularly but don't actually respond to tell me whether they're a yes, no or maybe. And of course many who do actually respond will say "yes" but not show up, or say "no" and then show up at the last minute.

For large gatherings (like a keg party or an angry torch mob) this isn't a problem, since a few more or few fewer people won’t make a difference, but this can really screw up a dinner party. And of course this happens whether or not I stress in the invitation that it is important for me to know how many will be showing up. How do I get the message across to these unreliable guests without badgering them?

Confused Latvian in Fort Fairfield

Dear Latvian,

The breach of etiquette in your first sentence has me quite flustered. Guy Fawkes rally invitations are traditionally delivered via fireworks display or a row of severed heads on pikes.

The most chaotic place in the world is the intersection between Technology Street and Human Nature Boulevard (Bogota’s airport is a close second). Evites are great for all of the reasons that you mention, but they have their limitations.

1. Guests can blithely ignore them, answer maybe, say yes and mean no, or say no and mean yes. It’s like watching a congressional hearing on C-SPAN, only less exciting.

2. They’re troublesome for hosts. There is no way to disable guests’ ability to invite others, thereby creating the impression that it’s OK to invite a bunch of randoms, bring a date to a funeral, or bring a squawking devil baby to an adults-only event.

Again, this is fine for informal gatherings where you can easily roll with guest list fluctuations. But any invitation involving a limited number of slots (road trips, dinner parties) should never be issued via Evite. Instead, you’ll have to visit 1876 (the invention of the telephone) and somewhere around 105 B.C. (the invention of wood pulp-based paper).

Call your intended guests two or three weeks in advance and invite them to join you for dinner. Use the paper to keep a tally of who is coming.

Sure, calling a bunch of people in a row is annoying, especially if you’re not a phone person. But the benefits far outweigh the annoyance of being an unpaid telemarketer:

1. One-on-one interaction negates the Evite Bystander Effect, that curious phenomenon where guests check the Evite daily but never get around to responding. (Yes, the host can see how recently you checked their Evite. And, yes, it’s really annoying when you do that – it comes across like you’re waiting to see if the cool kids are coming before you can clear your busy calendar and commit yourself to attending.)

2. It also allows you to (graciously) explain on the spot whether significant others, friends and/or children are welcome, reducing the potential for later misunderstandings and drama.

As for your unreliable guests, my first temptation is to tell you to find a better class of friends. However, good hosts cultivate a spiritual generosity that allows them to roll with the ‘maybes.’ Sometimes people can’t know in advance: they have to arrange childcare, they might have to work that weekend, they might be out of town. In that case, politely explain that you need to know one way or the other so you can plan and shop appropriately, and ask if you can check back in a week. If you put the onus on yourself to check back, vs. expecting Flakey McBailerston to sort himself out, find your phone number, and remember how to operate a newfangled tellyphone, things will go much more smoothly.

And a final note: two weeks is the absolute most notice you should insist upon for an event. Maybe three weeks, if it’s your wedding (even then, the caterers generally ask for just 72 hours’ notice for a final headcount). Believe me, I know it's agonizing to not be sure who is coming to your party. However, insisting upon a final guest list too far in advance comes across as controlling and diminishes enthusiasm for your event.

Thanks for writing in, Latvian!

In the comments, weigh in on Latvian’s dilemma, debate the merits of Evite, or tell me why I’m just so wrong that it makes your brain boil and contract away from your skull. Or send your dilemmas to scannerjockey@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ask the Etiquette Vigilante

Since I'm now a semi-famous schoolmarm, I thought I'd turn that useful-but-unsexy reputation into a public service. I'm adding a semi-regular feature called, "Ask the Etiquette Vigilante."

Want to know how to cope when your married friends start bickering at the dinner table (I mean, aside from not ever getting married yourself?). Unsure how to politely turn down a second date with Mr. I Pick My Teeth at the Table? Wondering if you can bring your newish boyfriend to the Wedding Event of the Century, names listed on inner envelope be damned?

Look no further. Well, look over here: scannerjockey@gmail.com. Send your dilemmas and awkward moments, I'll post answers.

Disclaimers: All letters are mine mine mine, to publish, or not. I may not be able to publish every letter, because sometimes I like to gaze at shiny objects or run off to find Shermer, Illinois. All letters will be open to reader comments...though as real people with real feelings are involved, I will monitor comments to make sure everyone plays nice and shares toys. Names may be changed to protect the innocent...and the guilty. The People's Court may be shamelessly quoted. Readers may shamelessly read to the end of the disclaimer to see if I say anything embarassing, so, fine...when I was a kid, I thought Oil of Olay was Oil of Old Lady. Also, I accidentally put my underwear on inside out this morning. Happy now?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shannon Getting Ranty about Rachel Getting Married

Spoilers and Spoilsport Alert: If you haven’t seen this movie, and you don’t want me to ruin it for you, click away! Or if you liked this movie, you REALLY want to click away. Look, kittens!

Rachel Getting Married is about recovering addict Kym (Anne Hathaway) wreaking havoc upon her sister’s wedding weekend. However, after meeting her family, you can sort of see why Kym would hurl herself into a Percocet abyss and never come out. Personally, after two hours of the cinematic equivalent of a bearhug from Mr. Van Driessen, I wanted to climb inside a bottle of Makers’ and take some airplane bottles of Absolut along for the ride.

These people are dreadful. This is the most tedious wedding ever captured on film. It drags for hours. It drags for days. It kills your spirit. It eats babies and sells crack to orphans. It takes Rush Limbaugh as gospel, compares Obama to Hitler, and buys every copy of Going Rogue. It buys non-free trade coffee and exploits child workers. It is a force of evil upon this Earth.

I should have known. I should have turned it off five minutes into the interminable rehearsal dinner sequence, in which there are performances, and performance art, and then toasts. And more toasts…EVERY SINGLE PERSON takes the microphone, and I am there to watch it. Worst of all, nobody appears to be eating anything.
I’m getting ugly flashbacks to a wedding I attended years ago, where, thanks to a whole bunch of slideshows and toasts and being the last table called up to the buffet, dinner wasn’t until 10:00. And they ran out of potatoes, too. No wedding event should lack for potatoes. I bet the Rachel Getting Married people oppose potatoes, as potatoes are a force for good upon the world.

The wedding itself is self-consciously and self-servingly multi-culti, like a live-action We Are the World mashed up with a Pier 1 Imports. It’s got upper-class Connecticut whites co-opting Indian wedding traditions for no apparent reason other than saris are kind of pretty.

Oh, Lord, the groom is delivering his vows. In a capella Neil Young song format. I am cringing. The wedding guests are weeping. They are happy about this development. That tells you everything you need to know about these people. They think there’s no better wedding vow than a song that rhymes “diner” with “finer.” I hate everyone. I truly do. I want to die.

Plus the luncheon and the tent and the dancing and the…good heavens, this wedding is eternal. I am sick of celebrating the happiness of you insipid artsy-fartsy twerps and your narcissistic friends, all of whom have to get up on stage and be acknowledged time and again. Cut the cake and let us all go home. I wanna go home!

Oh heavens, they’ve cut the cake, but there’s hours and hours more to go.

This is like Synedoche, New York, but worse. And I thought nothing could be worse than Synedoche, New York, which attempted to elevate "Life sucks, then you die," into high art.
I hate everyone.

In the comments, tell me if you’d want to be a guest at the Rachel Getting Married wedding. Or tell me that movie was totally heartwarming and authentic, and I just don’t get it because Jonathan Demme is an auteur and resides outside the grasp of my tiny little mind.

Monday, November 16, 2009

You're Nobody 'Til You're in the New York Times

Alternate title: Good Lord, Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me I Look Like Mary Poppins?

Yes, that's me. In the Times, like somebody respectable and newsworthy. And it's all thanks to my self-styled status as an etiquette vigilante.

My Sunday was pretty thrilling, what with the well-wishers, the shiny photo (taken by Andrew Councill, who was extraordinarily lovely), and the holycowI'mintheNewYorkTIMES!!!!! that managed to leak through the haze of the world's most brutal red wine hangover.

Except that I'm captioned as "It's polite to prowl." Eeeeessssshhhhh. And there's the whole cringeworthy thing where the reporter left out the repeated assertions I made that adults should not scold other adults, that lecturing others simply compounds the rudeness, and that I don't go around telling people how to act. I simply politely and calmly ask people to stop doing whatever it is that's so annoying, because most people mean well but are just oblivious to the world around them. I don't call people at home to enact petty revenge, like another person profiled in the article. (Reading that made me cringe like you would NOT believe.)

That said, what shall we do with my newfound fame as a schoolmarmy busybody scold? Market myself as an etiquette maven? Correct the posture of strangers with a ruler? Wear a "As Seen in the New York Times" t-shirt everywhere I go? Try to get into VIP rooms by showing a clip of the article and saying, "Yeah, I'm kind of a big deal"?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

No Koalas Attended My Birth

Back in 1976, disco was king, malaise was queen, and I was off being born in Mona Vale Hospital in New South Wales, Australia. Technically, due to the International Date Line, I've been 33 for a day now, but, let's just call my birthday November 5th. It keeps things simple.

When I tell people I was born in Australia, they imagine my birth was attended by a tableau of koalas, wallabies and kangaroos, and accompanied by a soaring didgeridoo soundtrack, like a sort of antipodean Nativity play.

Sadly, the truth isn't quite so exciting. I was born in a normal hospital, among doctors and nurses, with zero marsupials in attendance. However, there's still a good story in there:

My sister's first memory is of our dad holding her up to the window of the neonatal ward, pointing out all of the babies to her, and saying, "So, which one do you want?" (Yes, all Stameys are extremely sick people.)

Skye pointed to a random baby. Probably a boy. Definitely not me.

So Dad pointed at me, and said, "What about that one?"

Skye's voice rolled into a high-pitched whine, "But she's too SMALL!!!!!!"

Luckily, despite my sister's objections, my parents still took me home. Otherwise I imagine this story would turn out quite differently.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Very Moving Recap

There is nothing quite like inviting six lovely friends to join you for pizza and beer, and perhaps a little bit of hauling furniture, here and there, you know, just a little bit. There is also nothing quite like the affable incompetence of my building's management office, which turned what should have been effortless into an exercise in annoyance.

I reserved the elevator a week in advance. However, at 10:00, I was told that no such reservation existed, and I would just have to wait because the elevator was already in use. So, we waited. Then we hung out. Then we waited. Then my CD tower disassembled itself at the slightest of touches, collapsing in a pile of suicidal plywood. Then we found a pile of broken glass behind the bed. Then we were told I could pick up the elevator key.

At 10:45, the move began. We were done by 12:00, because, well, seven people can do a same-building move in no time flat. But once the move was over, the annoyance began anew.

We started with the definitive odor of gas coming from the kitchen. We continued with three calls to the maintenance staff before any sort of response could be rallied. The clincher? When I had to say, "I would hate for my friends to explode after they were so nice about helping me move." That got a response...of sorts. Two hungover maintenance dudes popped by, turned on the pilot light, and I was done! And moved in! Victory!

Pizza was ordered, prosecco was popped open, my wedding gown was found sprawled among a pile of boxes. Our pizza party turned into an impromptu wedding as Brett donned the dress and twirled around prettily. The situation devolved when she went downstairs with me, in gown and veil, to pick up the pizzas. The pizza guy either thought Brett was having the most shotgun of shotgun weddings, or that we'd started trick-or-treating six hours early. The situation only got sillier when we took the opportunity for a bridal photo shoot/prank call to Brett's mom, and...well, it was a beautiful ceremony among the cheap beer and mishmash boxes. Never mind that Brett married a man who believes her name is "Brita."

Somewhere among all the joy, things started to go wrong. First, the power went out and I was reduced to unpacking the bathroom by candlelight. Then the hot water vanished, and after multiple calls, I was told they were "aware of the situation" and that there was "no timeframe for resolution." Then I noted that both faucets in the shower were "hot." It was like Paris Hilton's bathroom! Then I realized the dishwasher didn't have a cutlery basket, the soap dish wasn't actually any sort of dish, the oven would only open if you gave it a hard shove into the wall first, and that, really, sometimes with cheap rent you get what you pay for.

I eventually realized I wasn't angry, so much as embarrassed on their behalf.

Then I filled the nail holes of the old apartment with toothpaste.

Then I wound up with the flu.

Don't you wish you were me?