on manners

Bryan spent the better part of this past week in Park City, Utah, snowboarding and staying at the Sundance Resort. His entire company was flown there to celebrate their success of the past year and get energized for what lies ahead. The trip happened to include amazing accommodations, all expenses paid on lift tickets and equipment and all you can eat and drink and even some spa treatments were thrown in. And for all that, plus the sleeping in late, I was only jealous of one thing: the American bacon I knew he would be eating. My envy was visceral. On the tongue, to be specific. Plus, at a resort like that we’re not even talking run-of-the-mill bacon. We’re talking, thick, perfectly not overcooked, Applewood-smoked bacon. To my veg friends, I am sorry. Bacon is my kryptonite.

Because Bryan has nice manners, he made sure to let me know what I was missing.


I may have mentioned it before, but probably not enough as it is on my mind fairly often: Europeans are taught good manners. They are taught them so much more uniformly and consistently and non-negotiably than Americans that if you are dining with a large group of civilized ones, you can’t help but feel utterly self-conscious. I always do. But because I also have a This is What You Get ethos to life, I usually go ahead and eat with my hands, talk with my mouth full, use the wrong utensils and incorrectly at that and ask for things on the side anyway. But I do it self-consciously, is my point.

Since the buzz over Pamela Druckerman’s book, “Bringing Up Bébé”, about the partial superiority of French parenting, I have not been able to get the nagging thought out of my head that the author is on to something when it comes to eating and generally socializing around adults. Like any flag-waving American parent, I let my toddler snack all day and to get through tough impending-tantrum trauma, I am not above using media, spontaneous toy-buying or sugary foods as a crutch. I keep wondering if it’s too late to take an etiquette course so I know what I should be teaching my kids in the first place.

Yesterday Melissa and I took all the kids to a museum. The No. 10 bus took forever to come and I was feeling anxious that it was already too late in the day for an excursion. Somewhere way down Park Lane I realized we were stopped for too long. I looked up and the bus driver was being yelled at by a man on the curb/kerb. I am not even remotely exaggerating when I tell you this was the exchange:


Driver: What do you mean?


Driver: Which stop?


Driver: No, I remember that stop. I opened the doors for a couple people to get on and I didn’t see you. I must not have seen you. I never would have left you there at the stop.

Man: Well, you did. I wanted to get on the bus and had to run here.

Driver: I didn’t see you. I must not have seen you. I never would have left you there. I am sorry. I would never do that on purpose.

Man: Well, I, uh, okay, fine. It’s okay. I understand.

Driver: I am so sorry if you were left there. I really didn’t see you. I remember letting people on but I must have not seen you coming. Do you want to get on now?

Man: No, it’s okay. I understand. No problem. Thank you.

Driver. Okay, thank you.

I looked around at the 20 other passengers to see if anyone was as irate as me. No one was. They were just going about their business as all was normal. So I turned to Melissa and said: Sometimes I really miss New York. And she said: What do you mean? And I said: That never would have happened. All 25 passengers on the bus would have revolted and yelled WHO THE F*CK CARES. WE’RE IN A HURRY! And the driver would have slammed the doors in the guy’s face and the guy on the street would have kicked the bus as it pulled away and that would have been that. Sigh. Americans are so emotional, and sometimes it’s nice to know how much someone loves and hates every single thing in the world.

Bryan had some fancypants work-related even last night which involved wearing a rental tux and sitting at a seated and plated three-course dinner. He was sandwiched between a German and a Swiss, or something, and had to make small talk with them for hours. When the bread first arrived, Bryan put it on the first bread plate he had access to (I think someone’s arm was on the other side). It was not until hours later that the German woman on his right asked he wouldn’t mind very much giving her his empty bread plate on the other side of him. After doing a quick translation in his head, Bryan realized it was a polite euphemism for: You took my bread plate, you ill-mannered boor.

No seriously, we need a class or something.



Filed under culture clash, translation, travel

8 responses to “on manners

  1. meghan

    the bread plate and glassware is easily solved by looking at your hands. Make a circle with your thumb and index finger – you get a lower case b on your left hand and a lowercase d on your right hand. B on left = bread; d on right = drink.

    It looks weird to type out in a sentence but it is an easy fix in practice.

    • yael

      If you knew how long it took me to figure out what you meant by “make a circle”, and then how long I stared at my hands, you would understand the depth of assistance I need.

  2. sonjey

    I just tried to do the same thing….. Geez … too funny! We reminded Bryan at an early age about manners…. sorry!

  3. Elizabeth

    I love it. I once wrote a poor evaluation of a prospective coworker after a lunch interview because I was so horrified that he (a) dug into the bread basket without offering it around first, and (b) started eating before everyone was served. I think he also held the fork wrong and talked with his mouth full. I forgave those last two as lack of training, but I thought the first two just showed selfishness.

    • yael

      I am now horrified because I have done (a) at pretty much every restaurant meal I have ever eaten. I am not kidding. I always get so excited for the free carbs. You have kind of just changed my life right now!

  4. Daniel

    That brunch buffet at Sundance is ridiculous. However well Bryan described it to you, it did not do justice to the bacon they serve there.

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