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The Airing of Grievances

Posted by Robin Abrahams  December 23, 2007 12:41 PM

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Today is Festivus, which means it is time for the annual Airing of Grievances! Traditionally--in Frank Costanza's original vision--one Airs the Grievances one has toward one's family, informing them of the various ways they have disappointed one in the past year. But as my family can tell you, on that score, every day is Festivus for me. I tend to express my disappointment the moment I experience it, if not proactively in advance. So today I will, instead, abandon my trademark Miss Conduct optimism and compassion, channel my inner spleeny Costanza, and Air my Grievances with the larger community:

Grievance 1: People standing in stupid places. Look, I know that subway systems are difficult and counterintuitive. But please, tourists and newcomers, don't get off the subway and then stand right there in front of the door while you figure it out. Move to the side, okay? People have a trajectory of motion going on. This also applies to people who stand in the middle of the grocery aisle, with cart, consulting their lists and who have animated conversations in front of the bar at parties or in front of the sinks in the public bathroom. And many more. Bottom line: if you're going to just stand somewhere, consulting a map or your old college roommate whom you haven't seen since the early 90's or the still small voice within you, move to the side. Are you standing in the path of motion? Are you standing between people and their objects of desire? Then respect the trajectory of others and move.

Grievance 2: People honking when I'm stopped for a pedestrian on the crosswalk. I am not going to run over the old lady and scatter her groceries across the pavement for your convenience, annoying driver behind me. I am not even going to run over the entitled-looking, irritatingly chatty group of undergrads in their stupid Peruvian knit caps dawdling their chemically-impaired way across the street for you. So stop honking at me.

Grievance 3: Salesclerks who don't acknowledge my presence.
This one pains me to write. As I have often said before, I am pro-labor, and I have many times urged my readers to be kind to salesclerks, servers, and others who must deal with the public for low wages. I hope there is a special circle in Hell for people who tell overworked salesclerks to "Smile!," especially during the run-up to the holiday season.

But consideration has to go two ways. I don't care if salesclerks engage me in chatty banter or express genuine concern for my well-being, but I prefer they not process me as though I were a side of beef. Please, look me in the eye. Say hello. Stop talking to your co-workers for a minute. If I greet you or say thank you first, respond. I am not buying illegal drugs from you. It's not a breach of protocol to look at me long enough that you could identify me in a lineup.

Grievance 4: People who don't RSVP promptly, accurately, or at all.
Why is this so hard? You get the invitation. You check with your significant other, if applicable. And you respond. The entire thing shouldn't really take more than 48 hours from receipt of invitation to response. If there is some complication--a possible conflict, a need for childcare--then you let the inviter know that you've received their invitation and you hope you can come, but you have an issue that needs to be resolved first, and they can expect your final answer by whenever.Then you show up if you've RSVP'ed. You don't bring anyone who wasn't invited, or show up if you said you wouldn't, or fail to show up if you said you would, unless you call first.* It's not that difficult! It's Repondez S'il Vous Plait, not Rocket Science, Very Problematic.

The non-RSVP issue is stressful for big, planned events, but it can be just as irritating for smaller ones. Particularly this situation: you e-mail a friend to suggest getting together for dinner or a movie, and list some nights in the upcoming weeks that are free. Your friend doesn't get back to you for days. In the meantime, you get other offers for those nights, or start to realize that some of them will need to be used to catch up on work or chores. But your calendar is being held hostage by someone who will not commit. This is annoying, so call already.

And these have been my etiquette Grievances for 2007. I'm not going to invite you to send yours in this year, but I will next year, so start observing your friends and family with a gimlet eye today so you won't be left out in 2008.

I know I feel so much better now. Happy Festivus, everyone!

*If it's a big, shambolic party in which your absence may not be immediately missed, and you only realize you can't make it that evening, it's okay to e-mail or call the next day. Your host or hostess is probably doing other things pre- or during-party and doesn't need to be sidetracked by a phone call from someone they hadn't even noticed wasn't there.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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