Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Do you have any idea what it involves to be the maid of honor at a wedding? Me neither, but I'm going to be one in my sister's wedding in a few weeks, so I hustled down to the public library to check out what Emily Post has to say about it. Basically, I have to give my sister the equivalent of a bachelor's party, hold her bouquet while she puts the ring on her husband's finger, and generally make sure she doesn't have a heart attack.
I've always hated etiquette—who cares which spoon you should use, or what to wear when meeting the Pope—but in the case of the wedding, it's comforting to know there's a playbook for proper behavior. It made me curious about the rules for drivers, and there on page 499 of Emily Post's "Etiquette," under a chapter entitled, "Motoring," she tackles the thorny rules for drivers and their passengers.
Post, the queen of manners, ironically, seems quite rude. She spends the entire "Motoring" chapter profiling various "Rogues of the Driving World." She chastises the driver who passes recklessly, the annoying snail driver ("Timid Caspar Milquetoast"), the high-beam driver, the non-signaling driver and the drunk driver.
My favorite Rogue, the Discourteous Horn Blower, is examined as follows: "If more people realized that the horn, as the voice of the car, is in reality the voice of the driver, there would be less raucous thoughtlessness in its use. Ah, yes. And NEVER honk a horn to pick someone up—a well-mannered visitor will, of course, alight and ring the door bell." As old-fashioned as Post is, some of that old-time politeness would be a welcome change to the dog-eat-dog world of commuting. She has rules like if you are on a long trip, change drivers every hundred miles or every two hours; and in an emergency, she recommends that you pull off the road, raise the hood and tie a white handkerchief to your door handle. That's so cute!
While Emily Post constantly gripes, Charlotte Ford's "Etiquette: Charlotte Ford's Guide to Modern Manners" seems a little more realistic. She suggests that drivers with passengers should drive as if they are sipping champagne, and don't want them to spill a drop. On the issue of Backseat Drivers (BSDs), Ford writes: "Curiously, BSDs are usually sitting in the front seat. Sitting in the back divorces them from the action of the road and doesn't let them see well enough to play their game. If a BSD is your only passenger, you can't very well suggest that she sit in back."
But, if she tries anything, the lines, "You are interfering with my concentration," will stop her in her tracks. I've always wondered about the pecking order of front seat, or "shotgun," which Ford addresses. Basically, if you are all the same age, whoever gets to the front door first gets shotgun, but if it's two couples, the mate of the driver should sit in the front, unless there's some kind of agreement to have all guys in back, girls in front, or vice versa. However, if there's an elderly passenger, they should always get the front seat. In the situation of a couple and one friend, it's considered more polite to have the couple's guest sit in the seat of honor (i.e. shotgun).
Both of these women did feel a little dated and stodgy. A more modern etiquette writer, Charles Purdy, is the advice columnist known as Social Grace. He has just written a pocket guide called "Urban Etiquette." Purdy covers aspects of city life that Emily Post wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole—things like, should I tip my tattoo artist? Or does the white shoe rule (only worn in the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day) apply to drag queens?
In the driving section, Social Grace notes that drivers are people, too. Part of driving defensively is allowing others to make mistakes without getting too upset. While in-car muttering is often quite satisfying, working yourself into a tizzy over others' driving skills doesn't help anyone. The minute you stoop to rude hand gestures or shouted epithets, your dignity is compromised. He also recommends that in this era of "road rage," fueled by the anonymity of a car, a driver might do well to "own up to and apologize for your mistakes." Believe me, a little Buddha hand clasp, or mouthed "I'm sorry" goes along way.
Novella would like to start her own car etiquette advice column; e-mail her with your issues: [e-mail missing]