"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 10 May 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Missed Manners



At once an admission that the new

loose rules of business have

made books on workplace

etiquette a hard sell, while, at

the same time, a wishful tip of

the hat to the global office

(and foreign editions), Letitia

Baldridge's New Complete Guide

to Executive Manners justifies

its existence with the assertion

that there is a "new informality

at work in how we meet, greet,

entertain, dress and socialize,"

and a corresponding "new

formality dealing with a

diversity of people from other




Granted, in today's wired

workplace, where it's easier to

send a fax across the room than

to schedule a meeting, "another

country" might as well refer to

the workgroup down the hall, for

as much as we see of them. And

so, perhaps Ms. Baldridge has a

point: what she calls the

"techno-electric explosion" may

refer to more than the

microwaved CDs which result from

the DJ Spooky soundtrack

being played yet again on the

office stereo.


[Patent Leather]

In addition to more traditional

duties, Ms. Baldridge states,

today's executive "sets an

example for the staff in

environmental behavior" and "has

excellent telephone, cellular

phone, E-Mail, beeper and fax

manners." And though she warns

that "success at work does not

happen without good human

relations" (your boss

notwithstanding), we wonder if

we really need any of the spate

of workplace manners manuals

being spewed forth from the

presses. Might these codes of

conduct tailored to the modern

workplace simply be the

etiquette equivalent of needing

a Levis wardrobe to accommodate

the new orthodoxy of "casual

Fridays" - nothing more nor less

than a shameless grab at sales,

capitalizing on the insecurities

of a workforce existing in an

age where the phrase of the

moment could be either "being

digital" or "being downsized"?


[Complete Book]

In search of advice that would

carry us through these

precocious times, we happened

upon The Amy Vanderbilt Complete

Book of Etiquette. But lo - even

this girdle-stiff guide has been

compromised by encroaching

technology (and, more than

likely, by the death of Ms.

Vanderbilt). "Revised and

updated" by Nancy Tuckerman and

Nancy Dunnan, it takes on

subjects that, one assumes,

would have rattled Amy's teacup,

to say the least. The index

directs one to entries regarding

"addiction and substance abuse,"

"homosexuality," and "unmarried

pregnant women."


[Suck Condom]

But the Nancys are not exactly

breaking new ground in their

recommendations. The libertine

suggestiveness of their indices

aside, the advice gleaned from

the tome is as starchly

traditional as one might expect

of a book bearing the Vanderbilt

name. A list titled "Some

suggestions for items with

corporate logo," for example,

fails to include a knickknack

we've been proud to brand with

the Suck logo: the condom. Then

again, the idea of packaging

Suck condoms with one of the

items from their list - perhaps

a measuring tape or flashlight -

might end the confusion of

friends, who all-too-often

mistake the Gold Coin

prophylactic for a chocolate.

(Knowing our friends, perhaps

chocolate would have been a more

useful give-away.)



As it turns out, the Nancys are

no less behind the times when it

comes to "substance abuse." Far

from giving instruction ("pass

to the right, offer the host the

last hit"), all this "complete"

book offers are tips on how to

tell if someone else is using

drugs. And none-too-helpful ones

at that. "Is erratic or

inconsistent in his behavior

patterns"? Come on - around this

office, "blinks a lot" would

narrow the field more.


[Vanderbilt Classic]

Given the difficulty of finding

good advice among what is merely

advice, imagine our surprise

when a routine trip to the local

thrift unearthed - only

figuratively - the original

manners madam. Copyrighted in

1958, this edition of Amy

Vanderbilt's Complete Book of

Etiquette retains both its

subtitle ("A Guide to Gracious

Living") and a catty, arch tone

that speaks more directly to

today's post-ironic reader than

either Letitia or the Nancys




Take the O.A.'s (Original Amy's)

take on "substance abuse,"

known in those admittedly less

abundant times as "problem

drinking". Far from making the

assumption her successors do -

that the "problem" should be

somehow "solved" by intervention

or confrontation - Amy tells you

how to deal with the guest or

co-worker. Politely, of course,

but without unduly taxing

oneself: "Should the others

present voluntarily forget

alcohol to save the problem

drinker from himself? I think



[How To Eat]

Amy further distinguishes herself

from modern pretenders to the

politeness perch through a

refreshingly honest appraisal of

her readers. Whereas the modern

etiquette guides encourage

readers to parry direct

questions with humor, Amy

recommended leaving mirth to the

"naturally witty." Not everyone,

she wrote, could engage in the

repartee represented in this

example (a dialog between a

jealous writer and a published


"Who wrote your book for you?" 

"Who read it to you?"          

"This is the Socratic          
 question-for-question defense 
 which had best be left to the 

We couldn't agree more. Could



With sections which instruct the

female executive not to

"embarrass" her colleagues by

paying the bill, and a whole

roster of possible uniform

options for the family servants,

some might think that O.A.'s

applicability to today's

businessperson is negligible.

But its step-by-step instruction

on the backhanded recommendation

("There were some rather

embarrassing incidents with

Theresa...but she might work out

for you.") seems ideally suited

to these turbulent,

Profit-inspired times. And hey,

everyone should know the proper

way to handle asparagus.


courtesy of Ann O'Tate