On a lovely spring day, I was meeting a girlfriend for my favorite kind of lunch— chicken salad, martinis and a healthy dollop of gossip. Driving through a neighborhood replete with newly constructed high-end apartments, I slowed down as I approached an intersection. Two cars had reached the four way stop before me—one to my left and one directly in front of me on the same street.
I was about half a block away when both cars lurched into the intersection at the same time. Fortunately, they managed to stop before colliding with each other, then both awkwardly moved through the intersection, leaving me shaking my head and wondering when traffic rules around right of way became mere suggestions.
Truth be told, rules have been getting a bad deal for a long time now. It started with baby boomers. (Doesn’t everything begin and end with baby boomers?) As they—I mean, we—rejected some rules and redefined others, behavior in society changed in ways that resulted in a more casual, more informal, more familiar style of living.
For a second grade project in which we drew and colored pictures of our homes and family, my portrait of Mother includes the description, “This is my mother. Her name is Emma.” But the corresponding one for Daddy says, “This is my father. His name is Mr. McCartney.” Even at that tender age, I knew it was unthinkable to refer to the man of the family in any other way.
By the time baby boomers reached an age to be called by their last names as a show of respect, many would eschew this formality with something like, “Oh, don’t call me Mr. Jones—that makes me sound so old.” And almost inevitably, “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am” gradually lost their common usage. The concept of superiority based on age lost out to the new social egalitarianism.
By the 1980’s, what we wore in the white collar workplace started changing, too. Suits gave way to sport jackets, skirts gave way to pants, and Fridays became casual Fridays. There would be special blue jeans days, too. It’s probably a good thing that so many folks started working from home before we devolved into having “wear your pajamas to work days.
Women gave up hose, and men gave up shaving daily. Bare legged and scruff became acceptable. And while a friend of Mother’s caused a sensation in Tyler in the 1960’s by wearing a red dress to a funeral, I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to what sartorial choice one would have to make to create a scandal these days.
Waiters and waitresses became servers at about the time they started introducing themselves by their first names. “Hi, my name is Devin, and I’ll be your server tonight.” Which is code for, “Let’s all be friends, and then you’ll give me a bigger tip, right?”
Back before hugs and air kisses became standard greetings, gentlemen would wait for a lady to offer her hand before extending his own for a handshake. That probably started changing as more women entered the business world (not the workforce—women have ALWAYS been part of the workforce). Now, hugs are ubiquitous, shared with people we genuinely like, those we don’t like, and those we don’t even know. No wonder Joe Biden is a little confused.
Violating our revised mores—our unwritten rules—can come back to bite. Etiquette may change, but it likes to hang on to its nuances. After all, what’s the point of having a set of manners if one doesn’t get to feel a wee bit superior to those who unknowingly are guilty of certain infractions?
So here goes. Air kisses may be acceptable, but not nose and butterfly kisses. As for hands, they’re still good for shaking—if the lady goes first, that is. They may be used to pass the butter or anything else that is requested. Unsolicited back rubs are definitely out.
Oh, and the car on the left yields to the car on the right.