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Dr. MannersIn a world torn apart by incivility, polite behavior may be the sole separation between man and animal. As the only advice columnist with an advanced degree in etiquette, Dr. Manners stands at the ready to elucidate, clarify, and educate.

Got a question for Dr. Manners? Tweet us or hit us up on Facebook and we’ll answer our best submissions in the next issue.


Dear Dr. Manners: What is the polite way to correct someone when they get your name wrong? My corner coffee shop staff are constantly asking for my name and getting it completely wrong, and it’s not even a hard name or anything. It’s starting to get irritating.

Genteel Reader: Dr. Manners regrets to inform you that the coffee shop staff know very well what your name is. They are getting it wrong on purpose to promote their brand. Each incorrect spelling or mispronunciation drives you to post about it on social media, complain about it to your friends, or otherwise advertise on their behalf. While you may publicly complain, Dr. Manners is of the opinion that you may be unconsciously trying to see how long it takes for them to get it right, or else secretly delight in the variety of ways your name might be butchered.

Were you truly offended, Dr. Manners believes you would probably stop giving them your business.

However, in the interest of answering your question, Dr. Manners would remind you that giving one’s name is a relatively new practice. After marriage, women frequently were referred to by their husband’s names (Mrs. John Doe) and before marriage, women were not interesting enough to merit addressing. (The ideal husband did not generally get to know his wife until after the wedding ceremony.) Men, of course, referred to each other by their professional titles; in today’s age, with most men having neither aspirations nor achievements, “bro” is a suitable catch-all.

Unfortunately, the correct course of action would have been to notify the staff at the outset with a firm, but polite, correction. At this point, you have contributed to the awkwardness of the situation by “lettings things slide.” It would be rude of you to bring it up at this point, so if you cannot bring yourself to quit coffee or switch coffee shops, Dr. Manners suggests you simply smile and thank the staff for their service. It is not proper to unduly berate those who have the opportunity to spit in your food.

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Dear Dr. Manners: My co-worker “Jennifer” is constantly insulting me at work but in a way that seems friendly to everyone but me. This morning, I came in with a pumpkin spice coffee and she said, “Looks like someone got the basic b***h memo!” When I told her I didn’t appreciate being referred to that way, she acted surprised and said that being a “basic b***h” is an endearing term! She says that women are reclaiming the word and using it as a term of empowerment to defuse its power when used by men.

I’m not an anti-feminist or anything, but it seems like there’s no way that referring to each other with curse words can be positive. But she’s done it three times now, and I honestly think she won’t stop because she thinks it’s a good idea! How can I get her to stop calling me something that is extremely offensive? I’d really prefer not to involve HR.

Genteel Reader: Dr. Manners appreciates your sensibilities in censoring the word in question. You are correct that there are certain words that are irredeemable; regardless of how she feels about the issue, your shock and distaste are certainly appropriate. This word is one of them. After all, one cannot expect a “curse” word to be anything but.

However, Dr. Manners must remind you that the rules of etiquette do not immediately translate to the workplace. Etiquette, after all, is an agreement between members of polite society on the appropriate decorum for striving toward a noble ideal. There is little evidence that modern workplaces harbor anything approaching “decorum” or “nobility.” At best, you can only hope for a distasteful but necessarily transactional resolution.

Dr. Manners also notes you did not include your relative respective authority with this co-worker. If you are peers or the other woman is a supervisor, Dr. Manners regretfully must let you know that despite your misgivings, the HR team is best equipped to resolve this concern. If she is your subordinate, then her behavior suggests you have clearly erred in setting proper boundaries in your relationship. Involving HR would likely further cede your authority in this instance.

If that is the case, instead Dr. Manners suggests you spill your coffee on her any time she uses the phrase, preferably as you voice your request for her not to repeat it again. A lap full of scalding hot pumpkin spice should be enough for her to understand the nuance, and will help re-establish your role as the authority figure.

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Dear Dr. Manners: Grabbing coffee before the first date—do I pay or does she pay? And if I pay, does that mean she pays for dinner? Or at least we go dutch? I want to step up, but I’m not made of money.

Genteel Reader: The practice of “picking up the check” with dinner has changed over the years, but with the cost, calorie count, and variety of flavors of most drinks in today’s coffee houses, Dr. Manners sees no reason for the date to extend to dinner at all. Stay put with your drinks and enjoy each others’ company while leaving dinner for another date. The variety of clientele will provide ample opportunity for how you each judge others—an important compatibility to uncover early on in any relationship.

With respect to payment: If you asked your partner to the outing, you should be prepared to pay for the drinks. This is good courtesy and will also give the opportunity for your partner to offer to “get them next time,” a potential indicator if there may be a next time. With the bill settled up front, there are fewer awkward considerations about how the accounting will be handled at the end of the evening, permitting a more enjoyable rendezvous. And finally, learning a future mate’s coffee order can provide invaluable insight. As a rule of thumb, if it takes her more than five syllables to complete her order, you can write her off with no hard feelings.

Scott Snowman

Scott Snowman is an ISTJ with an MA, and is usually MIA or AFK IRL. Interrobang him and win a prize.

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