Number, Please

That Mr. Manners, A.K.A. Jake Gaines, is at it again, answering modern etiquette conundrums that are on all our minds these days. Here, the topic of electronic protocol takes front and center.

Dear Mr. Manners,

We live in an age of technology, yet I still believe in cell phone manners. Am I the only one? Everywhere I look someone is creating noise pollution with their insidious conversation. Without being rude, how do I let me know they are being intrusive in stores, offices, events and beyond?

Cellularly Curious in San Antonio


Dear Curiosity Killed The Cat,

And, satisfaction brought him back. Yes, cell phone etiquette is a sticky one with everyone is loaded from head to toe with electronica. To me, the instant access to information is like being in a Star Trek episode and we love it. However, since everyone has the privilege, not the right, to respect others with their cell phone usage.

Recently, on while riding on the Jitney enroute to the Hamptons, of course, we encountered what you are referring to and learned that bad manners are not merely geographical. A woman of a certain age used an expletive not often used by her generation, nor in more polite circles, and it cut through the whole vehicle like a knife. The nice lady next to me commented, “What if there could be children on here?” And really, behavior should be conducted as those small pitchers, with big ears, are always listening. On the same trip, when in a department store that rhymes with Hurgmorph’s, a gent carried on at a voice too loud for even normal conversation.

So, what to do? Other than giving them the well deserved stink eye, let them know they are too loud by shushing them or ask them if they could please carry on their conversation outside where it won’t disturb anyone. Chances are it’s not the first time they have heard that. Take a stand, make a difference. Few do, so make yours count. Good manners is as good manners does, as we all know. 

Dear Mr. Manners,

As a father of three, I find that technology has taken over our lives, especially at the dinner table. The kids can’t stop texting and the number of texts they each have a month on our phone bill is alarming. How do we draw the line in the sand like they did at the Alamo?

Sam Houston-like in Westlake

Dear Sand Castle Builder,

There isn’t a parent on the planet that isn’t complaining of the same thing these days. Tiger moms and French parents, much in the news today heralding their old fashion parenting techniques, are showing new signs of momentum. Not tool long ago, just one raised eyebrow from Mr. Manners’ parent helped navigate tricky situations a child might want to endeavor – like not sharing a candy bar with a sibling, speaking out of turn while surrounded by adults or, perhaps, gasp, speak poorly of someone who has no alternative to the way they were born based on physical of mental impediments. Fast forward to today where I, uncle of five and Godfather of just as many more, feel that kids may need to reigned in a bit, as we say here in Texas. Where to start? Set expectations. Once children know their parameters, they will feel more secure and not likely venture from them with bad behavior. In our busy world with hectic schedules, dinner time seems like the best place for a family to gather after their day and share personally, not technologically.

I’ve found to engage kids, firmly not allowing any electronic gear at all within several feet of the dinner table must happen. If you lay down the gauntlet, it has to be adhered to, right? Then, make dinner interesting, beyond mom’s signature Mac n’ Cheese. Try the Best & Worst game where everyone goes around the table discussing the best part of their day and then, the worst part of their day. You’ll be amazing that once the fingers aren’t texting, the brain overcompensates with conversational skills. It will give you tremendous insight into your kids, and they into you, so that you can build experiences that will linger a lifetime. Dining out with children is a topic we’ll approach at a future time.

Dear Mr. Manners,

This past Sunday, while at a very glamorous brunch in Olmos Park, I was seated near a lovely young woman we just met that day. Fascinating and beautiful, she lost her luster when she took out her phone in the middle of the meal, texted.. and gasp, even placed a call.  How should we have handled it better – we didn’t say a thing this time.

– Frustrated With Technology At Brunch

Dear Brunch Bunch,

For crying out loud, this has happened to me, too, recently. What does one do, especially with a person like this who was a stranger minutes before and now you are breaking bread with her?  You have a stronger constitution than I do, apparently, to not have spoken up immediately at the time to wag a finger and throw in a how-dare-you simultaneously. Of course, as a guest, one must proceed with caution as not to offend your generous host. That is tantamount. Random guests come and go but invitations extended by hosts are coveted and respected. Good manners would dictate that you stay silent (like you did) and grin and bear it. I. on the other hand, would have asked her perplexing questions to intrigue her into a long conversation so that the phone would stay tucked into her Chanel bag. Questions like “Tell me something that no one else at this table may not know about you,” “You’re trapped on a deserted island with X, Y and Z movie stars. With whom would you mate to propel civilization?,” or “What six famous figures in history would you like to dine with and what would your question be for each of them?”  Perhaps that will peak her interest.  If not, and she returns to placing her calls on your time, simply, if you can, suggest to the host that the men switch places for dessert, like they do in Europe, and find another conversation partner. You’ll soon forget her rudeness and be on to more purposeful conversation topics. Bon appetit!