Wednesday, February 25, 2009


What is it about asking someone's age that doesn't sit right with many no matter how young or how old they are? Is it one of those questions high up on the rude-o-meter along with asking someone's salary? We think it is. Depending on who's asking the question, of course. Say, if our mother asked us our ages, we wouldn't be upset as much as we would be concerned.

"It's personal," Yvette says. "What benefit is there in knowing someone's age?" Now more than ever the age question is a touchy one. A good friend of ours (we don't know how old he is) said, "Asking someone's age is discriminatory, no matter what the relationship is, business or personal. You learn a person's age and then what?" He also pointed out that in today's job market there is no benefit in telling your age.

There are only two times in our lives when we don't mind telling our age - when we're very young or very old. At one hundred, many literally broadcast it. Willard Scott's Smucker's birthday segment begins to look very attractive to a centenarian.

Women start preparing their answers to the age question when they're young, around 11. Who wants to be 11 when thirteen is just around the corner? Young guys add on a few years too. If a girl asks how old you are and all you can say is 12, come back later. You're not boyfriend material yet. No girl is going to brag to her friends, "He's really cute and twelve!"

Once we get up in our years, our twenties, the game changes. When an older man asks a younger woman how old she is, he's hoping to hear a number lower than she looks. He's not interested in someone who looks good for her age, he wants someone whose age makes him look good. When an older woman asks a man his age, she's trying to figure out if he can afford her or vice versa. All the more reason to not ask anyone their age. It's a mess of boxes that we put people in and keep them there for as long as it serves us.

We should always come clean about age is when asked by a doctor, an emergency worker or an officer in a court of law. This is not the time to be coy.

When someone has passed away, one of the first questions posed to the bereaved is, 'How old was she/he?' If the person was a senior citizen people don't seem to mind saying ,"Oh, well he lived a long life." It's as if upon knowing the person's age they've decided that a person's death isn't all that bad, if the person is younger, their death is tragic and that's something to feel badly about. We have bristled when we've lost a family member and well intentioned people have asked how old were they. We bristle because we know that our loss will be minimized or maximized based on a number.

Beware of age questions on the sly and not so sly. 'How old is your daughter?' 'Oh, you love artists. Did you ever meet Picasso?' 'Remember Idlewild Airport?' 'Do you want children?'

'Age is only a number' may sound trite but it's true. And when someone thinks they have your number based on your age, rest assured, you now have theirs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ailing Emailing

"If you haven't received a windfall of money after sending out an email that promised such, don't bother sending it to me." A friend of ours has no compunction about letting friends know that he doesn't appreciate chain emails.

Chain emails intimating doom if you break the chain are annoying and rude. The only benefit is that they tell the receiver something about you. Maybe you aren't the person they thought you were if you believe in five days a person's life with fall apart because they didn't continue the silliness.

Disinformation seems to be very popular with the chain emailer set. Did you know that the Post Office is going to stop using images of blacks on stamps? During the presidential campaign all kinds of disinformation arrived daily - some downright evil. Thank goodness for This site comes in handy when you want to separate cyber-myth from fact. That Dalai Lama list of feel good advice for the good life? He had nothing to do with it. But its warm and fuzzy advice still is a nice read. Do we really think he had the time to pair pictures and words and create a powerful Powerpoint presentation for all the world to see?

We understand that there is no quicker way to report the death of a loved one than a mass emailing. But it can be very shocking way to hear of a loss depending on your relationship. A phone call is in order if you know that a person knew the departed. (Sometimes we're not in daily contact with friends, doesn't mean that we don't care or that we are estranged.) An email to the family expressing your sympathy is thoughtful, but we like notes and phone calls before emails.

If you work via email, be careful to be specific in the subject line. Recycling emails from your inbox can be tricky and you never know where it's going to be forwarded. Yvonne received an email from a friend that had been in his inbox for a while. Its contents included an earlier conversation he'd had with another friend who had been critical of Yvonne and made a comment that wasn't very nice. She never knew that this person felt this way about her and it was hurtful.

If you're going to gossip about someone in an email, make sure you're not sending it to the person you're gossiping about. If that person's name is on your mind and you're writing about them, it's easy to pick their name out of the address book and click. Best to not gossip at all, but if you must, because it can be tempting, pick up the phone or meet for lunch or something.

Speaking of the phone, be sure to follow up important emails with a phone call. Not everyone is email dependent.

Know that the spoken word is different from the emailed word. What sounds pleasant to the ear can be unpleasant when written because you can't hear the person's intention in their voice. Best to read and re-read an email aloud before you send it off.

We have all regretted pressing the Send button and wish we could take back that moment. If you wouldn't send the same message off to someone in a letter, don't do it in an email. Emails are forever and they travel well. And that's not always good.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Talkin' Trash

"Did you really throw that chicken bone on the ground?" A friend was tempted to pose this question to a man who had just polished off a fried chicken wing as he entered a train station on Manhattan's Upper West Side. She likes her neighborhood and she likes chicken but still doesn't understand how someone can throw a bone or anything on the ground. Who can?

On a recent trip to Washington D.C., we saw someone throw a small bag of garbage out their car's window like nothing. They did it as if there had been a sign instructing them to throw out their garbage for the next five miles.

We suspect if we followed these litterbugs home we would not be surprised at the mess we would see in their homes. Or maybe not. Maybe they're the type of people who when they litter in a public space, they believe they are creating or sustaining jobs! Yvette's neighbor was in the elevator when another neighbor threw her apple core on the floor. The neighbor told her to pick it up (hard to do that nicely) and she told him, "No. There are people paid to do that." She must've been having a bad apple day because when she saw her neighbor again, she apologized for her poor behavior.

Maybe litterbugs are created when parents of small children don't pick up after them in public. The cracker the child has been gnawing on becomes a big bore and he throws it down. The parent looks at him and smiles. The kid thinks he's just done something charming. Not too long ago, we saw a family, two adults and two young children, in a restaurant. At a certain point each child decided to share their food with the floor. At the end of the meal, the parents paid the bill, bundled up the children and left a huge mess for someone else to clean up. They had made no attempt to clean up and didn't look back. Not once did they point out to the children that they shouldn't throw food on the floor.

In restaurants, when something falls on the floor, you are not obliged to pick it up. If it's a utensil, you can gently move it with your foot out of the way so no one will slip on it. We're not talking about deliberate or excessive littering in this case.

There seems to be a fascination with throwing trash on train tracks. Candy wrappers seem to be popular. Maybe people think because they're tiny pieces of paper they don't matter as much and won't ever cause a fire on the tracks. Or maybe they're on a sugar high and aren't thinking clearly. Others brush up on their basketball game using trash bins on subway platforms as hoops. When they miss, they rarely pick up the 'ball'.

Nowhere is there more trash found everywhere except in trash receptacles than on the floors and counters in ladies' restrooms. Many women cover the toilet seat so that they can sit more comfortably and avoid the cooties. That's fine. But leaving the toilet paper to fly all over the place and not flush it down is vile. Paper towels don't seem to make it the bins either. And the worst collection of garbage in the ladies room? Near the door. No one wants to touch the doorknob. So the towel or tissue that's used to open the door and shield the hand from killer deadly germs ends up on the floor if no basket has been provided nearby. What a mess!

We don't suggest that you tell strangers to pick up after themselves. If their garbage bothers you so much and if it's manageable, like a piece of paper, you can pick it up with as little fanfare as possible. If you can get away with it, you can throw them a look - try not to scowl. They'll probably be embarrassed and either pick up the offending trash or totally ignore you. If they do, let it go and be thankful that you don't have a litterbug bone in your body.