As a teenager, I was an avid reader of Judith Martin, the columnist more commonly known as Miss Manners. I was particularly fascinated by esoteric topics that seemed to belong to another era, such as how to address a formal wedding invitation to a woman doctor and her non-physician husband, or which fork is ideal for serving wedges of lemon (a three-tined lemon fork, of course). Martin taught me that etiquette is best viewed as a means of conveying appreciation and respect for others: Lemon forks may not always be necessary but thank-you notes will never go out of style.
In addition to Martin’s column, I’m now a regular reader of “Social Qs,” Philip Galanes’ unintentionally revealing New York Times column. Billed as “lighthearted advice about awkward social situations,” the column frequently tackles situations more miserable than awkward: inheritance disputes, homophobic parents, kids with serious behavioral problems, etc. Galanes is an able and breezy writer, but there’s only so much good humor one can muster in response to the misery, greed and pettiness of the Times readers whose letters the paper chooses to print.
Common topics include: resentment of others’ good fortune, even when one is personally content and secure; ghoulish speculation about and disputes over the assets of living parents; disdain for anyone who relies on government programs rather than family money; and irritation at being expected to tip low-wage service workers—in short, the sticky “social situations” common to a narrow but politically powerful class of people with money and property, and little understanding of or patience for those with neither.
The sheer unpleasantness on display begs the question of why the paper prints these particular letters, of the thousands it must receive. Perhaps it’s meant to make the average reader feel better about ourselves (“I may not be the best person in the world, but at least I’m not as awful as that guy!”). Or maybe the Times simply highlights the situations it believes will resonate the most with the greatest number of readers. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: a column for and by the resentful rich.
‘Sick of being asked for handouts’
The mother of a young woman who paid off most of her educational debt via loan forgiveness programs for teachers (8/17/22) recently sought advice regarding an uncle who “complains constantly” about his niece’s “government handout.”
Concerns about tipping abound. Under the headline “I Thought This Was an All-Inclusive Resort,” one reader (1/16/20) reported that a pool attendant at a resort in Hawaii had explicitly asked her for a tip (“‘Thank you’ doesn’t pay the bills, ma’am”), which, being empty-pocketed at the time, she declined to provide. Her husband later suggested she return with a tip; her daughter-in-law suggested she report the man “for rudeness.” In the end, she neither reported nor tipped him.
What did Galanes think? After expressing compassion for the worker, he indicated that the letter writer should have tipped. Yet he couldn’t entirely betray his class. If the attendant “tip-mongered daily, or was otherwise aggressive,” Galanes added with undue sympathy, he would certainly have “spoken to a manager.”
Another reader (3/17/22) wrote that they
managed to get past [their] annoyance at the tip jar that appeared one day on the counter of [a] local coffee shop…. Now the proprietors have added a “tip screen” to the credit card payment process, reminding me to pay their workers for them in case I missed the tip jar.
“I am sick of being asked for handouts for people who are simply doing their jobs,” the reader continued, before asking Galanes’ blessing to “say something” to the owner of the shop.
Explaining that he tips because “our economy generates enough profit to pay all workers a living wage,” and “even if all full-time workers were paid the minimum wage…it still wouldn’t be enough to survive in many places,” Galanes wrote:
Many employers are not stepping up. So, while we wait for meaningful change for working people, some people tip. You don’t have to. But why make a fuss about others pitching in?
Why, indeed? One possible answer is that Times readers would rather whine publicly about workers looking for “handouts” than learn how to interact more charitably and peaceably with their fellow human beings.
‘Wise up and stop supporting’
Another common if mystifying complaint comes from those who can afford to be generous but would rather not be—or, even more bizarrely, would prefer others not to be. A reader (11/4/21) recently wrote:
I have been a Big Brothers mentor for six years…. [My mentee and I] share a love of dining out…. The problem: Apparently, no one taught him not to order the most expensive item on the menu when someone is treating him to dinner…. Before our last dinner, I played up the restaurant’s burgers and pastas, which are reasonably priced. I ordered an $18 entree. [Mentee] ordered a $14 appetizer and a $36 strip steak. I can afford it, but it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Another (9/10/20) wondered how to break it to a golf buddy that his 35-year-old son was a “deadbeat” whom he ought to “wise up and stop supporting.”
It seems that New York Times–reading, Hawaiian resort–going, $36 strip steak–buying, “handout”-resenting advice seekers are more likely to ask (11/22/18) why a nephew whose parents “died when he was 18, leaving him impoverished,” is now living above his means than how best to support a family member in need.
Galanes’ column reveals a passion for rules-following and resolving petty grievances—Why won’t the man who swims at my local pool abide by pool signage and wear a swim cap, even though he has no hair (11/22/18)? Why must my neighbors leave their shoes outside of their apartment doors (1/28/21)?—that supersedes any commitment to neighborliness, civic virtue or intra-family harmony. At its best, etiquette is about ensuring the happiness and comfort of others, not policing their behavior and denying them income. Miss Manners would be appalled.
ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the New York Times at email@example.com (Twitter: @NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.
The post NYT Etiquette Column Offers Advice for the Resentful Rich appeared first on FAIR.
This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Raina Lipsitz.