Monday, June 30, 2008

Blueberries Are Nicer Than Blackberrys

A friend just spent a few dreadful days with close family members who spent a few days giving undivided attention to their Blackberrys and very little to their host. First it was call waiting. You call someone just for a friendly chat, you're in the middle of a story and the next thing you don't rate. There's another call and it's more important than your call, it can't wait even though the service that enabled it is called Call Waiting.

Now we've gone high rude-tech. You're talking to someone and they're not looking at you but kind of keep a raised eyebrow to imply that they hear you. They don't see you because they're heads are down, as if they're nodding off as they fire off emails and check for more.

If one is waiting for some important life-altering message, they should leave the room politely, as if they have to make pressing call. If you're paying someone a visit, turning off the Blackberry is a good idea and maybe quickly check messages when you feign natura vocat (nature calling). When did we all become so important? The fact is is that we're not all so important. Many Blackberry users are not running companies or making record making deals. But somehow that device makes them feel that they're on the fast track to something - an Evite? Our social graces have already started to fade to Blackberry.

When a Blackberry user responds to an email there's a little line that lets you know that it was sent from their Blackberry. This is supposed to let you know that they are on the case about that Dalai Lama quiz they wanted to share with you. Or maybe they want to show how special you are and even though they're busy doing twenty things there was time for them to ignore someone else as they dropped their heads to respond to you.

If you find yourself in the situation of our friend, say something. Tell them that you were looking forward to spending time with them but it's really hard when they're constantly on their Blackberrys.

Plan activities so that they won't have time or the interest in reaching out to others. You can offer them something that will involve both hands - a cup of hot chocolate, a sandwich or maybe corn on the cob dripping with butter. You can serve Blueberries in a cup. Bluberries are better for everybody. They're good anti-oxidants that'll protect you from those free radicals flying all over the place. After several spoonfuls maybe the Blackberry user, now healthier and maybe glowing, will want to give you some quality face time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Turn Off Your Gaydar Day

Yvette and I proclaim today,  Turn Off Your Gaydar Day. Let's try for one day to not wonder who is gay and who is not. Let's consider all the other things there are to consider about our fellow man or woman. Speculating on a person's sexuality is tired and tacky and more of us do it than not. 

It's become a national parlor game and not just among straights. It can be mean spirited and hurtful.  Yvette thinks it's creepy. "When people spend their time talking about a person's sexuality, something so personal, to me they become the freaks they think gays are."

This kind of conversation does nothing to improve the quality of one's life. It shows people who you are - maybe we like gossip to a certain extent but who wants to be around a gossip?  Men are marrying men, women are marrying women openly and happily. So what's the big deal? Try and be more interesting today. Dig in and let your humanity out of the closet.

We think that the only time it is important to discuss someone's sexuality is if, for example, a girlfriend has a serious crush on a guy and you know for a fact that he is gay, then and only then do we believe you have something to say. But you better know what you're talking about. The conversation cuts both ways. Maybe you have a friend who is gay or lesbian and she or he is interested in someone they're convinced is the same. If you know better, you need to tell your friend.

Today, let's stay out of other people's business and bedrooms. Let's be different.


Monday, June 23, 2008

When Loss Leaves A Loss For Words

When Dorothy Parker lost her husband, Alan Campbell, a woman asked her if there was anything she could do. "Why don't you get me a new husband?" Parker responded. Obviously there was some back story here. But the point is, according to an article Yvette read written by a woman who'd recently lost her husband, a grieving person oftentimes doesn't have a clue as to what they need so soon. 

A heartfelt note is perfect. Food is love, show up with a cake, a chicken (broiled or fried) or send a fruit basket.  Sometimes a check is in order when you know for sure that the family is low on cash. Yvette and I have shown up with our cell phones, ready to make those calls no one wants to receive.  Do something kind, do something sensitive. If you don't know what to say, let Hallmark say it for you.  When we lost our cousin last year, I received my first sympathy card. I was touched because it showed recognition of mine and our family's loss. Yet, some family members didn't call our aunt because they didn't know what to say!

What to do doesn't seem to be the problem for most people. It's what to say that gets tricky and sometimes can seem insensitive. A friend or ours lost her one hundred year old mother. Well meaning callers seemed to write off the death.  "One hundred, she lived a full life, it was time." Or if  someone died after a long illness some will say,  "At least he won't be suffering anymore. Just think, he's not in pain." Maybe it's best to leave it up to the one who's grieving to put their loss into their own perspective. And please, enough with, "I bet he's up in heaven having a ball with friends." That may be but here on earth there's a family grieving.

Don't play reporter when there's been a fatal accident. Yvette remembers a person grilling someone who'd just lost their loved one in an accident. "They wanted to know everything." If there is anytime for us to mind our business it's during times of mourning.  We all want to know the facts but don't call up the wife, the husband or the parent.  If you want to satisfy your curiosity, and that's understandable, call someone who's not so close. 

Sometimes when people die suddenly we want to find a reason that is some way will explain their death and maybe make us feel a little better. When Tim Russert died everyone wanted to know if he knew his condition. They wanted to know if he had had an inkling or warning. If so, we could understand and accept his untimely death. That may leave us feeling better but what about his wife and son?

If you have bad news try not to leave it on an answer machine, nothing worse than bad news after the beep.  Emails can be equally as devastating but there's probably no better way to reach a lot of people quickly. Yvette and I suggest phone calls, organize a posse of callers and tell them to keep phoning until a human answers the phone. No need to call in the middle of the night or dawn. This isn't about hot news off the press.

There's no norm to grieving of offering condolences. There are a few dos and don't but at the end of the day, like a friend always says, "Do what you do." That's what Dorothy Parker did.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A PotLuck Dinner: Recipe for Disaster?

A potluck dinner sounds like a good idea.  It's simple enough, just ask everyone to bring a dish or maybe a bottle of wine. Potluck can turn into bad luck without some controls and limits. I have learned the hard way that just because you like someone doesn't mean you like what they have to bring to the table. And some contributions beg the question, "What is THAT?" 

When organizing a potluck dinner exercise the right of controlled chaos otherwise the table is going to look like a local food festival. Ask someone who you know for sure is a good cook to bring a main dish, a meat or a vegetable and I'm not talking about a String Bean Casserole, after an hour it looks like Casserole a la Mush.   Don't ask a friend of a friend to bring anything to eat because no one may be able to vouch for their skills or the way they run their kitchen or their chicken. Did they wash it well? Did they wash it at all? On second thought maybe you should cook the main dishes and let others bring important sides. Ask for one fruit salad, a cake or a pie and ice cream. 

Consider food allergies, let guests know what's on the table and if need be, point out what a particular dish is or isn't made with - no nuts, for example. Use your own bowls and serving platters, get rid of the foil pans , you don't want your guests eating out of vats.

If you don't like potluck dinners don't accept the invitation or say that you'll stop by for dessert or drink and offer to bring something. No need to point out your germ phobia or that you happen to know that one of the guests keeps a less than pristine kitchen.

I don't think Yvette or I have ever thrown a potluck dinner. Even though most of it is outsourced, it's still a lot of work and risks are great.  We like to cook and turn into control freaks in our kitchens. 

Food is love. It brings people together, it's an opportunity to show friends and family how much you care, how you want them to enjoy the best you have to offer.  There's nothing wrong with the concept of potluck but in this world of killer tomatoes and spinach, maybe it's time to fine tune it. Maybe it's time to not push your luck, at least not at dinnertime.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Leave A Message After My Soliloquy

In this day of precious and pricey cell phone minutes, it's time to revisit what to say on your answering machine or voicemail service.

First of all, what is the purpose of reciting for callers the number that they have just called? We don't know in the history of answering machines or voicemail if anyone has ever dialed a number, heard the number and said, "Oops, that doesn't sound like the number I wanted. Let me go back and check it." What's wrong with a pleasant "Hello"? What about stating your name?

As for saying that you're sorry you can't take the call - are you really that sorry with so much to be really sorry about? Don't be sorry, be brief. Blessings are thoughtful but they seem so personal and when you hear the same blessing again and again it kind of loses its blessedness.

Yvette has an answering machine. I have voicemail. Nothing is more annoying when someone calls and assumes that I can hear them. “Hello, hello, are you there?” What are they thinking? I’m standing their making faces?

And a word to parents who think it's really cute to let their children record a message - this is very annoying. And it is time consuming especially when the little one has a limited vocabulary and substitutes words with cooing. Why let two legged, phone calling vermin perverts know that small children are in the house? Buy your child a toy telephone and play telephone with him or her. This could be a great way to teach them telephone etiquette.

Let us know if you got our message.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What's Up With Diss Email?

Has email become a tool of choice for cowardly behavior? Do you open your email and realize that you were owed a phone call but all you got was a lousy email? The thing about certain emails is that they can out slap a slap in the face because you can't react. You can gasp but you can't yell. 
We're not talking about emails that are  downright nasty. Those are easy to delete, both the message and the messenger.  The emails we loathe are the ones that respond to phone calls. For example, you thought about an old friend, you picked up the phone, left a caring message and all you got back was an email. That's not fair and life can be fair when you know how to pick up a phone and respond accordingly. Answering a phone call with an email is a blatant display of rudeness and in some cases cowardliness. It also sends a very clear message, "I really don't want to talk to you."

There are those instances when it's understandable to retrieve a phone message and respond with an email. Maybe you're in Bora Bora and don't have your cell phone charger with you and the hotel charges gazillions of dollars a minute on their phones.

The world of emails is vast and wrought with issues. At the top of the 'worst' list are emails that threaten you with an untimely death if you don't threaten ten other good friends within minutes. There's nothing like getting one of these from someone you haven't heard from in months. 

There's an expediency to email that's very seductive.  Sending a handwritten note seems so yesterday for many. We miss stationery. I don't have to wake up and see a boozy thank you in my inbox written the night before when it seemed like a good idea. Be very careful about drunk emailing. Remember drunk dialing?  The thing about unfortunate emails is the unfortunate forward button. 

We can go on and on about email etiquette and in the future we will.  Have a nice day and feel free to email us your comments.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wedding Presents, To Give or To Get?

I've been invited to two weddings recently. Each young couple had their own ideas when it came to presents. Neither has a registry. Instead, one would like their invitees to make a donation to a charity. The other didn't register at all. I say to this couple to prepare for multiple toasters and blenders. Did they not register because they didn't want guests to think they were getting married just for the goodies? Or did they not register because that was too old school? Or did they prefer money but didn't want to be gauche and say that?

When couples marry, especially young couples, their friends and family want to celebrate their union, they want to help them start up their new lives together. Yvette and I think the right thing to do is to let them have that pleasure. There's nothing to be embarrassed about. There's enough stress surrounding a wedding. Why stress your guests by not letting them know what you need or would like? If you really don't want anything. Then why not just say on the invite, "No presents, please."? Or let your parents and close family members deliver the request.

As for asking guests to give to charity - Yvette and I have issues with that. First, it comes off as self serving. Let your guests decide to whom they want to give and when. You're getting married, be happy and revel in the festivities instead of thinking of the needy. If you wanted to give something, tally up what the cost of the wedding and donate that amount to your favorite charity, sort of a matching fund. No doubt, there is something say for thinking of those in need in these trying times. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in and there will always be ample opportunity to give. In all fairness to this couple, they are marrying in another country and I truly believe they are being considerate to guests who will be spending money on travel, hotel and meals - and they probably don't need much. They'll probably receive some presents anyway.

Marriage is about two people embarking on a life journey together. A wedding is about a party to celebrate that union. Your guests will get all gussied up and excited for you and just like you want to show off the beginning of your new life, they want to show off with something that will contribute to that union. it could come in an envelope or in a beautifully wrapped box. There's nothing wrong with a gift of love.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Let's Not Shake On It

We read somewhere that the comedian Eddie Murphy doesn't like shaking hands. We don't know if this is a fact but we don't blame him. Yvette said the other day she was on a train and engaged in some people watching. She noticed a young man reading a book, nothing special there but what he was doing with his right hand was kind of special. He was caressing the heal of his foot (he was wearing flip flops). He seemed fascinated with roughness of its skin that was very evident. Not only was it rough but it was dirty, too. She wondered if he extended that hand in a warm hand shake at one point during the remainder of his day. Probably.

Do you extend your hand when you know that you've coughed or sneezed into it? What do you do if someone extends their hand to you and you know that your handshake is going to be less than pristine?

We don't suggest that you say, "I can't shake your hand, I just sneezed into it and it's gross." We don't think the guy on the train with the crusty feet should say anything at all either. All you can do is shake the other person's hand and convince yourself that they like you wash their hands every chance they get. Think of the presidential candidates - imagine the business Purell is doing with them alone!

"You Americans think about things like that," a French friend said when we told her about the footman. "Don't worry he's not going to shake your hand, what do you care?"

Maybe she's right. Maybe we are getting crazy about germs. But when you think about people going into hospitals and getting sicker than they were when they came in because of germs, let's get crazy. Let's do something nice for ourselves and others. Let's wash our hands and shake in good faith.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Grapes With No Wrath: How to Eat Them in Company

It's okay if you like your grapes peeled. What you do with your own bunch of grapes is your own business. But what you do in the company of others with grapes on a tray of fruit or in a bowl, is something else. I learned the right way one evening at a friend's apartment in Milan.

We were sitting at her table in the kitchen with wine and some fruit. As we were talking, I was plucking one grape after another off the bunch on in a bowl. When she couldn't stand it anymore, she said, "Yvonne, let me do something here." She took a pair of food scissors from a drawer and furiously cut away the vines I'd left bare and looking like a deer had been at the table. Then she cut the remaining grapes in small clusters so that instead of my grabbing a grape, I picked up four or five grapes in one neat bunch at a time - a much more elegant and sanitary way to eat vitis.

When I serve grapes to guests, I do what I learned that evening in Milan. Not everyone I know was sitting at the table with me so if I'm close enough to the host, I'll ask where are the scissors and offer to help with the grapes. These days with germ phobia in full swing, I am usually thanked. If I'm not a close friend of the host, I say nothing and touch nothing - maybe a strawberry, if not, I'll take my grapes in a glass.