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Public Displays of Protocol – 2011

Oh what a year of etiquette hits and misses!  It’s been quite amusing, but as always, we can learn a lot from those in the limelight:

Photo by Angela George


Earlier this year Charlie Sheen usurped much of the media airwaves with his outlandish behavior.  There is so much to draw from when it comes to Sheen’s past, but his biggest blunders this year were arriving to work with a disheveled appearance, not being able to deliver lines, and insulting “Two and a Half Men” co-creator, Chuck Lorre.  Following that messy series of events, Sheen continued his offensive rants in multiple television appearances for several weeks.  In a nutshell, his behavior was unprofessional.  No matter what industry you work in, if you are getting paid to do a job (and in this case, getting paid big bucks), then you have an obligation to your employer to perform your duties and be somewhat cooperative.  Although he thought he was winning, Mr. Sheen was seriously LOSING!

As a public relations professional, I have to raise this next affront to proper etiquette.  The Robin Roberts ambush of Chris Brown on “Good Morning America” was ugly.  Industry standard dictates that whenever a guest is invited to appear on a talkshow, they are to be presented with a set of talking points or topics that will be addressed during the interview.  Roberts insisted that Brown was given the heads up that she would touch on issues related to his violent acts against his former girlfriend, Rihanna.  She might be telling the truth.  The problem is she decided to try to earn another journalistic notch on her belt by badgering Brown with questions on this topic quite some time after the incident occurred, after the media ran the story into the ground, after he apologized, after he attended anger management, after he expressed that he was invited to discuss his new album and move forward…  Shame on Roberts for trying to take advantage of the situation and then pretend she was innocent.  LOSING.


Apparently, the Bank of America corporation known as Countrywide thought it was alright to discriminate against Latinos and African Americans.  From 2004 to 2007, the bank charged higher interest rates to qualified borrowers who happened to be black or Latino and thought they would get away with it.  Well it caught up to them and this year they are dishing out a $335 million settlement to victims of their discriminatory practices.  There is no question that the big bad bank is LOSING.

Photo by BBSROCK


There is Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul, who walked out in the middle of a CNN interview last week because he was questioned about his racist newsletters from the 1980s and 1990s.  Understandably, it gets tiring being repeatedly asked the same questions about the same issues you’ve already publicly addressed.  However, you have to understand that when you are running for a high profile position and you have insulted an entire race, people will keep inquiring.  If you want their votes, you will keep answering or you need to find a smart way to refocus the conversation around topics you want to discuss.  By no means was it acceptable for Paul to storm out of that interview.  He might think he’s winning because of recent polls, but in protocol he’s LOSING.

Photo by White House (Pete Souza)

Finally, President Barack Obama has ended the Iraq War.  This is a relief to many families across America who had loved ones serving in the war, my family included.  Although President Obama is late, we are glad he finally fulfilled his campaign promise of bringing our troops home.  That’s always good for business.  With this gesture, he is WINNING!

So our etiquette/protocol lessons from 2011 are:

1.  Don’t act out at work.

2. Avoid ambushing your guests.

3. Racial and ethnic discrimination is wrong and costly.

4. Fulfill your promises.


Merry Travels

It’s that time of year again!  We check our calendars, realize we leave for our holiday trip in less than two days, panic, procrastinate, panic again, then shove a bunch of random stuff into a suitcase and high tail it to the airport with just enough time to squeeze through security pat down.  Rough start, but if we play it right the rest of the trip could go nice and smooth.  Try these suggestions to keep your travels peaceful and cheerful for yourself and your fellow travelers:

1. Be mindful of personal space.  Just as you don’t want the next person’s coat on your lap or carry-on bag leaning against your foot, remember to keep your personal belongings in your own space.  Consider not pushing your seat all the way back if it is disrupting the long-legged, knobby-kneed person sitting behind you.  Also, don’t do the sleepy head nod onto your neighbor’s shoulder.  Get one of those neck pillows and keep your bobbing head to yourself.

2. Don’t hover around and glare into first or business class with your classic envious pouty face.  Of course you would like to be there too, but you’re not.  So instead of trying to make those passengers feel the wrath of your eyes piercing into the back of their heads, focus on making your own space more enjoyable, or at least bearable.

3. Be more tolerant about the crying baby.  For goodness sake, we’re talking about a baby!  They cannot control their behavior and they’re not trying to piss you off.  Besides, if you think you’re uncomfortable in the stale aired, shrinking seat madness imagine how the baby must feel.  Instead of asking the flight crew to kick the family off, order a jack and coke.

4. Lastly, there is actually an order as you disembark your chosen mode of transportation.  The people in the seats in front of you should be given a chance to get out of their seats, get their luggage and get off the plane, train or bus without you trying to shove them back in their seats or hurdle over their luggage.

Alright now, that should keep you from getting into holiday tussles or getting voted off the airplane.  Safe travels and Happy Holidays!

Time for Change: Urban Generosity

I don’t dare claim this is standard urban commuter etiquette.  As a matter of fact, I think the authorities advise against it.  Still, it seems like one of those things we could easily tag on to the world of pleasantries this holiday season and beyond.

As a New Yorker, I’ve ridden the subway train a million times and most of those trips include the complementary beggar.  They come in an array of flavors, from the chicken-loving opera singer, to the mother with five babies, to the hip hop pole dancers.  Each one is uniquely talented in the fine art of acquiring tax-free donations.  Hey, can’t knock the hustle.  Might as well enable it.

I came to learn from the old school gentlemen riders that it’s smooth and, let us say, New York chic to carry some loose change in your pocket just for those car-to-car solicitors; the sidewalk cardboard boxers; the vagrant coffee cup change catchers.  Really, it’s like “a thing.”  You ask me for my hard earned money, I wince a little, then give in a little, and feel better about myself (a little).  Come on, what do we do with our change anyway?  Half of the time we lose it in a gumball machine …err couch.  Besides, with it being holiday season, some of us are more inclined to give in the jolly spirit.  At least we should be, with our baller syndrome throwing dollars at every retail store for two months straight, making it rain on Santa.  So why not share a little more?  Oh and if you’re visiting from out of town this season, it’s like a requirement that you drop some dough upon request; somewhat of a tourism fee for stopping mid-sidewalk to snap photos and crowding Fifth Avenue.

Yeah, I’m kind of joking.  Kind of.  The way I see it is, what you do with your money is always your choice, but there’s no harm in sharing good cents and spreading good cheer.

Gift-Giving Frenzy – Economy Size

The holiday shopping madness is on.  Crowded stores, crashing websites, and long lists of gifts, gifts, gifts!  Unfortunately, the financial effects of the recession are still lingering in our bank accounts.  You are looking for ways to cut back on the amount of spending you’d normally do during this time of year.  At the same time, there are a bunch of people you want to buy the best presents for and you don’t want to offend gift recipients or you simply don’t want to appear cheap.  Luckily, there are several proper, socially acceptable options for economically sound gift-giving.

1. Friends – Suggest a Secret Santa styled gift exchange to buddies within the same social circle.  I’ve done this with one of my groups of close-knit girlfriends for years and it turns out beautifully.  Each person will randomly select another friend’s name and buy that person a gift.  Put a cap on the maximum amount each person can spend.  That works out to be one reasonably priced item per person and everybody will receive a present from a friend who knows their taste.

2. The Boss – Request that everyone in the office pitch in for the boss or bosses’ gift(s), so that no one person gets stuck breaking the bank.  Even when you do a Secret Santa with a spending limit at the job, the person who pulls the boss’ name ends up feeling obligated to purchase something nicer and more expensive.  If everyone is pitching in, then you can all share credit for the hefty gift.

3. Co-workers – Skip the gift exchange and select a charity to donate to.  You could each buy a toy for children or donate coats to the homeless.  Choose something everyone feels comfortable with.  This way you are still doing something as a team, but the focus is not on how much anyone spent.  You might not even have to spend a dime.

4. Family – It is completely acceptable to admit you have fallen on hard times and need to save money.  In general, you may fear that others won’t understand or you might look bad if you reveal your financial pinch.  However, family is different.  Family understands, or at least they need to understand.  Be honest with them.  If you think they will still expect gifts, then buy each one a useful stocking stuffer priced items with a personal note in the card explaining it’s not much but you knew it was something they would enjoy.

Above all else, it is up to you to decide how much you can shell out.  Create a budget that works for you and stick to it.  As long as you are polite and thoughtful, the rest will take care of itself.  And if by chance you lose a so-called friend because you couldn’t give them a gift one year, then you didn’t lose much.  Happy Savings!

“Say Hello to My Little Friend” – Greet Your Guests at Every Event

Seasons Greetings!  Literally.  We are well into the holiday season and our schedules are filling up with various festivities, some of which you might be hosting.  The act of greeting is one area of event protocol that you do not want to overlook during this season, or any other.  So, why is it a big deal and how do we go about it?

Recently, I attended a jewelry boutique launch event executed so beautifully that everything done right stood out to me.  In particular, one main quality of the event was that each guest was warmly greeted, invited to take a photo with the hostess, and offered refreshments upon arrival.  There was an overall feeling that everyone was a valued customer even before they made a purchase.  This shared perception made the venture a great success.  This is an example we can draw from for our holiday parties and just about any event we throw.

To some people it sounds like an obvious feature of all events.  Of course we all welcome guests. Who would leave attendees wandering around, trying to figure out where exactly they belong or searching aimlessly for the restroom?  Then again, there are those who question why greetings are a necessity at all.  Why can’t folks find their own way around and introduce themselves to each other?  Just follow the crowd or the signs.  Yet, we can ALL think of times when we walked into a party, conference, wedding reception, launch, or gathering and had no idea in which direction to proceed.  Feeling lost, we wondered if we were actually in the right place.  If the event is purely social, friends may forgive their host(ess), but who wants their friends to feel out of place?  If the event is business related then this just might be the turn-off that causes the host(ess) to miss out on a sale or investment.

It is completely understandable that often when you are the one hosting the event, it is impossible to stand post at the entrance if you do not have a planner designated to oversee the happenings.  So there you are running around tending to a million issues and the needs of guests who previously arrived, wondering what’s going on at the door.  What’s the solution?  In this case, you can simply assign the task of greeting to someone else.  It can be a friend or acquaintance for social matters, or someone you hire or an unpaid intern for business matters.  Whomever you choose, it should be someone who you trust to be pleasant, sociable and helpful.  The goal is to make sure your guests feel like they are important to you (personally or professionally) and that you want them there.