The Green Study’s Guide to Good Manners (or How Not to Get Eaten)

What? ! I was just suggesting you might need a weedwacker for those eyebrows.

What? ! I was just suggesting you might need a weedwacker for those eyebrows.

“My, grandma, what big teeth you have!” Seriously, Little Red Riding Hood, who taught you manners? She deserved to be eaten by the big bad wolf.

Of course, if manners determined who would or would not get eaten by carnivores, the overpopulation problem would become a thing of the past.

When, on this planet, did it become de rigeur to comment on people’s physical appearance in the course of daily life? I’ve been the object of as well as witness to this kind of discourse between humans. It usually earns the purveyor a death stare until they look away (I practice this with my cats, so I’m extraordinarily skilled).

Without knowing someone intimately, comments about appearance are decidedly rude. For self-conscious people, it is a torturous process to ruminate and work through someone’s thoughtless remark. I read enough feminist blogs to get why it’s not even complimentary to give someone positive kudos for how they look. It is generally an element we humans have little control over, especially when it comes to meeting cultural standards of attractiveness. One’s observations don’t always need to be verbalized.

We live in a world that now demands our input on everything. Call this number to vote for this singer, rate this movie, fill out a survey, review this book, down vote or like this. We’re being trained to view everything with a critical eye and that our opinions matter. It feels nice. Everybody wants to know what we think. Everybody wants a helpful comment or ten.

Well, everybody doesn’t. Don’t ask me if I lost weight. It’s creepy that you’ve been paying attention. Don’t tell me you’re jealous that I’m so skinny (this has never been said to me, but to friends). Don’t notice that I dyed my hair or that I’ve started plucking that one long black hair that used to grow out of my chin. Don’t ask when the baby’s due or if I’ve been working out. Don’t say “wow, you have really big feet” or “you have a lot of freckles” or “you need to put some meat on your bones” or “how did you get that scar?”

This kind of conversational banter is impolite and in some cases, offensive. Talk about the weather. Ask me what I’ve been reading. Tell me about your kids. Don’t be a troglodyte. These bodies are the vehicles that brung us, but they are not us and sometimes the things that you are bringing attention to are things about which we’re self-conscious and over which we have little control.

Social conduct has become a Lord of the Flies free-for-all in the name of independence and honesty. Oh don’t even go there. I don’t need your truthiness. It’s a bare minimum request to wish that humans act slightly less contemptible than what is knocking around in their heads. Here’s a few simple guidelines to remain borderline civilized:

  • Do not make comments on people’s physical appearance, unless solicited.
  • Do not assume you know anything about someone by how they’re dressed, their size, color, age, gender or by what they drive or where they live.
  • Don’t ask me how I’m voting, how much I make or if I am going to have any or more kids. I’ll volunteer that information if I want you to know it.
  • Stop revealing intimate details of your life in public on your cell phone. You’re talking louder than you think and we’re all totally grossed out by you.
  • Don’t use the phrase “those people” or qualify offensive statements. I’m not racist, but...
  • Don’t swear, harp on religion, politics or your latest diet in the company of relative strangers. Don’t launch into the men are or women are lazy screeds.
  • Don’t ask me if I take vitamins when I get sick. It’s an unregulated industry. If I sneeze in your face, you’re getting sick, vitamins or not.
  • Don’t sneeze in people’s faces.

Every day, I have to practice the following things, to varying degrees of success, in order not to devolve into a barbaric asshole:

  • Be mindful of the feelings and sensibilities of others.
  • Understand that everyone experiences and sees the world differently than you do.
  • Be kind to one’s self and to others.
  • Question knee jerk beliefs and thoughts.

Nobody gets eaten and the world gets mildly better.

This unsolicited opinion was inspired by Ross at Drinking Tips for Teens (“The Skinny on Skinny“) and Michelle at King of States! (“I’m a fat woman. Here’s what you should say when you see me at the gym.”). And by that human who was rude to me. She tasted like chicken.

25 Comments on “The Green Study’s Guide to Good Manners (or How Not to Get Eaten)

  1. I dunno. When my wife gets a hair-cut, she starts a count down counter which runs until I acknowledge I have noticed.

    Having said that – I agree about over-sharing. Adults require privacy, not pseudo-celebrity.

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      • Ping! Perfect resonance there. 🙂

        It seems to be true in all established relationships, even those in the office. Over time people telegraph the level of sharing that they desire and will tolerate.

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  2. Bang on! And in my experience even when someone ASKS you to tell them how they look it can still be risky no matter how you answer. Discretion is the better part of valour 🙂

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  3. I hate that the ‘press’ will comment on women’s appearance way more often than that of their male counterparts. And that’s just one more example of how we view women in this culture.

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    • I remember the first time I watched a debate between US presidential candidates. I think it was GWB’s first candidacy. I was disappointed by the lack of substance to the “debate” itself, but assumed the political commentators would have something of interest to say, along the lines of analyzing the candidates’ differences in stance, or noting where they had contradicted themselves, or whatever. (My father was a parliamentary reporter in South Africa for years, so that was my expectation.) But in fact the most intense discussion, following the debate, had to do with which candidate wore the better tie. There’s something wrong with that picture…

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  4. I really resent when “Have you lost weight?” is perceived as equivalent to “Here is a compliment for looking good in my eyes.” I like compliments just as much as anybody and it’s nice to be told that I “look good”, but keep it impersonal, for crying out loud! “That color looks great on you!” = welcome information; “That style makes you look slim” = not so much. And if you can’t figure out the difference, feel free to keep your opinions to yourself.

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    • I’ve experienced this and I just stare at them like they’re aliens. I just can’t think of any occasion when I want to hear from another human anything about my appearance and never dare to tread there myself.

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  5. My personal favorite: “You look tired.” when I am absolutely not tired. Why not say, “you look like hell!” :-/

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  6. Oh, I loved all of this, but especially “It’s creepy that you’ve been paying attention.” These folks need a hobby other than me. Perhaps, survey-taker.

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  7. Really well said. It is particularly staggering to me when the comments are about characteristics which cannot be modified, even were the target of the barb so inclined: “Gee, you’re short.” “Boy, your baby’s head sure is huge.”

    I was a naturally skinny-skinny kid, and strangers were always telling me “You need to put on weight.” “You’re too skinny.” I hates it, and it helped me feel more ugly.

    I am penicillin-allergic and was given lots of tetracycline for childhood illnesses. It permanently discolors bone from the inside out–including teeth. My teeth are stained, and it is the type bleaching cannot wholly address. Through the years, many times strangers have boldly, rudely come up to me and said “You really ought to get your teeth bleached.”

    People.

    But Michelle: One of my great joys is complimenting strangers, and you should see their faces light up. If I notice a beautiful item of clothing, piece of jewelry…whatever, I remark on it, and often add (if true) “…it looks so good on you.”

    So I’m breaking your rules. Sue me : )

    (BTW, have you lost weight?)

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    • I had the same tetracycline experience as a kid, so I have spent most of my life not smiling.
      I think compliments about items or actions (that was a great speech you gave) are usually welcome and your example seems thoughtful. I won’t sue you. And really, people can say whatever they want – it’s my reaction that they can’t count on.

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  8. You’ve given me some thoughts to chew on. Thanks for that. Peace, John

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