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THE SPITZ TAKE: Can we still talk?

By Julia Spitz/Daily News staff MetroWest Daily News

Get a group of teens or 20-somethings together, and they won’t talk to one another because they’re all too busy texting other people. They communicate in 140 characters or less, and don’t see any reason for writing a thank-you note rather than messaging TY.

The theory would be a cinch to prove if it weren’t for people like Dwayne and a few eons of history. Oh, there’s plenty of evidence that Millennials/Generation 9/11 are different from the rest of us, that growing up with amazing technology and plenty of parental bubble-wrap affected their standards of social interaction.

Get a group of teens or 20-somethings together, and they won’t talk to one another because they’re all too busy texting other people. They communicate in 140 characters or less, and don’t see any reason for writing a thank-you note rather than messaging TY. They can reconfigure their cellphone apps in seconds flat, but ask them to actually call someone on that phone and you’ll get a look of sheer panic. They have almost no experience engaging in chitchat because they were never encouraged to talk with salesclerks or other people who might be deemed strangers. We’ve all heard observations along those lines. Most of us have made such observations ourselves. They’re not without merit.

“Digital communication allows us to build an enormous community, but the relationships are long distance,” said Janet Parnes, an etiquette expert from Millis whose seminar offerings include job interview preparation for college students.

Not having practice interpreting body language or voice inflection does make a difference when young people enter a workforce where such skills are paramount,” said Parnes, who will soon be conducting a class for local teens being mentored through the John Andrew Mazie Memorial Foundation.

“When I interview new mentors, I always ask, ‘Can you text?’,” said Lauren Kracoff, director of the Mazie Mentoring Program. “With teenagers, that’s how they’re going to communicate, and we have to go with it.”

But the program, which has matched 500 Framingham High students with community mentors in the past 16 years, also shows that kids can and do learn to establish relationships with people of a different generation.

And it’s not as if older generations aren’t guilty of getting glued to cellphones and iPads.

“We need to look at the benefits” of our gadgets as well as the downsides, said Parnes. “They have their place, but we need to realize what that place is.”

When we are so busy sharing updates with our vast network of social media contacts that we don’t take the time to talk with the people at the dinner table, “we lose the opportunities to enrich our lives. … I hope we’re not losing our appreciation for the human touch,” she said.

“We have weather for a reason,” said Jake Livengood, director of Career Services and Employer Relations at Framingham State University. “To give us something to talk about.”

The challenge can be getting a generation less familiar with social chitchat to become more practiced in the art.

Published: Nov. 3, 2013

Taking a Stand for Respect

The Memorial Day Parade in my town was not flashy, the crowd was not crushing, and the speeches not self-aggrandizing. The parade was like a pot of mixed-berry jam: Civil-War soldiers in blue; women in hooped skirts; an American-Legion float skirted in red, white, and blue; Scout troops marching in loose formation; police marching in perfect formation; a WW II tank rumbling; flutists playing; and babies gurgling. The day’s events reeked of small-town charm and offered myriad opportunities for adults to model respect.

The parade made strategic stops to allow for prayers, and brief speeches honoring past and current veterans. A WW II fighter pilot addressed the crowd honoring a fallen comrade. After he spoke, this eighty-something stood, leaning lightly on the back of an empty folding chair, as the names of the veterans we lost over the past year were read, and the National Anthem sounded.

Through the National Anthem people saluted; others held a hand over their heart, and some simply stood straight. The Boy Scouts, hats removed, stood; one distracted Scout twirled his hat; a troop leader gently pushed the boy’s arm down, a silent lesson in respect. A group of elementary-age girls, sitting on a blanket chatted; they didn’t understand the significance of the moment, and the adults with them lost a valuable teaching opportunity. Along with some children, a few adults sat on the curb, setting a fine example of obliviousness, or, perhaps, ignorance.

Memorial Day is an annual opportunity for the town to honor those who protect us, and the families who take on the attendant sacrifices and losses. Opinions on the wars, health-care reform, or the choice of state flower don’t matter; this day is about displaying respect and self-respect and, in the process, utilizing important teachable moments.

MetroWest Daily News
June 6, 2010

How to Greet the Pope

It’s not that I expect to be plucked from some Google search for an audience with Pope Francis this week. I just found myself wondering, “How do you behave when meeting a pontiff?” Below are the results of my research:

  • What to wear. The guidelines are consistent with the Victorian edict to dress in consideration of the company you will be keeping (as opposed to whatever is clean, quick and comfortable). As such, for a papal visit, attire should be conservative. This means a jacket and tie for men and (knee-length or lower) suit, dress or skirt for women. That said, if you are one of the cast-of-thousands hoping to snatch glimpse of Pope Francis, feel free to wear whatever is comfortable.
  • Strand and wait. When the pope enters the room, stand and wait to be introduced. (You will be introduced to him; the pope will not be introduced to you).
  • Hold your tongue! Do not speak until the pope addresses you. Call him “Your Holiness.”
  • What to say? Use the pope’s questions and comments as a launch pad for your input. If you wish to introduce a new topic and have done your homework you will know that Pope Francis cooks his own meals, relishes an occasional slice of pizza, is a soccer fan and was a professor of literature, If you don’t find fertile ground in any of these topics, you might bring up a noncontroversial news story or relevant tidbit of American history. If the silence becomes awkward, you can always resort to the weather. In any case, keep the topics impersonal. Do not talk about yourself unless questioned.
  • No touching! Do not touch the Pope, unless he extends an invitation. As such, if the Pope extends his hand and you are Catholic, you may either kiss his ring or shake his hand. (Note that according to an NPR article, this everyman’s Pope wears a recycled gold-plated silver ring instead of the 35-gram pure gold ring worn by his predecessor.) Non-Catholics would shake his hand.

Do your best. Don’t let the worry of a breach of etiquette taint the pleasure of this experience. After all, this pope routinely steps put of his car to weave through a crowd and co-wrote a song titled So We can All be One (translated from Spanish). It is unlikely he will single out an innocent misstep. Indeed, Pope Francis would probably chock it up to you being, like everyone, including himself, “perfectly imperfect”

Janet Parnes is a first impression & etiquette expert from Millis. She can be reached at www.EtiquetteForToday.net.

MetroWest Daily News
Sep. 23, 2015

Flight Lost, Friendship Found

Ubiquitous clips of stranded airline travelers remind me of Lisa, a stranger’s flight emergency, and a friendship forged. My friend Lisa, her husband and their two elementary school-age children were on a flight destined for Mexico and stuck on the tarmac. To pass the time they chatted with senior citizen Jim in the window seat. Jim was distraught. His wife was terminally ill, and her condition had suddenly worsened. He was on what he thought was the first plane headed home.

After three hours, the plane returned to the gate. The passengers were directed to disembark and find another flight. There was no way to leave that day, so my friend and her family went home. The next morning at 6 a.m. they skidded along icy roads to return to the airport and placed themselves on the standby list for four seats. Ninety minutes later their name was called – exactly four seats had opened. My friend and her husband passed Jim on their way to the desk, exchanged a few words, and told the reservationist they were declining the opportunity and giving one of the open seats to Jim. They boarded a flight the next day.

Jim keeps in touch and takes Lisa and her family to dinner whenever he comes to Boston. The family has long since forgotten their lost vacation day. Jim never will.

JANET L. PARNES
Janet Parnes lives in Millis.

MetroWest Daily News
Feb. 21, 2010

How to Create a Frightfully Polite Halloween

They may have been “creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky,'' but the Addams family was also
courteous. The following tips can be used to teach children that when fairies, freaks, princesses, and
creeps share the sidewalk with courtesy, everyone can have a frightfully polite Halloween:

  • When you see other wizards, gremlins, and goblins smile and say, "Hi.'' Step aside and let
    them pass if there is not enough room for everyone on the sidewalk.
  • Do not approach a house that is dark. The ghouls and ghosts have, undoubtedly, eaten all the
    goodies!
  • Ring the doorbell once; then wait quietly. The people inside are expecting masked visitors and
    will come to the door as soon possible.
  • When someone opens the door, look at her, smile, and say "Trick or Treat.'' When you leave
    with your "loot'' look at her, smile, and say, "Thank you."
  • If you are offered a bowl of candy, take a few pieces (not a handful) off the top. Rifling through
    the bowl can cause candy to fall out; it will also hold up the trick or treaters behind you.
  • If you approach a house and other trick or treaters are filling their bags, wait patiently at the
    edge of the yard. When they pass you, walk up to the door.
  • If you accidentally bump into a ballerina or lion say, "Excuse me.'' They will understand.
  • When trick or treating by car, open the door carefully; you wouldn't want to whack a witch!
  • Leave a sweet impression by putting candy wrappers in your bag and not scattering them
    across the neighborhood lawns.

Finally, as monsters, scarecrows, and kitty cats can certainly be generous, children may want to fill,
not only a bag for themselves, but also a bucket for UNICEF.

Janet Parnes is an etiquette consultant, trained by the Protocol School of Washington® and owner of
Historical Portrayals by Lady J. She lives in Millis.

Visit her Web sites at www.EtiquetteForToday.net and www.women-history.com

MetroWest Daily News
Oct. 31, 2007

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode Photographer Kevin Dooley

Arguing with Artistry

How do we argue with respect? Drawing from the Crowley/Gates disheveled deck, we can find timeless lessons in the art of arguing. The guidelines below, stemming from time-honored rules of courtesy, help us to show our hand with diplomacy:

1. Listen: do not prepare a response while trying to listen. Giving full attention allows us to offer a thoughtful response.

2. Avoid “you-logizing”: most of us raise our emotional muskets when we hear “you”. So, keep the focus on yourself. Instead of saying, “But you said he was there!” try “I understand he was there”. If that is not possible, soften it: “If I understood you correctly, you said that…”

3. It takes two to tangle: if the other person’s temper rises, yours does not have to spiral with it. Take a breath and observe their behavior, don’t become entangled in it. For example, if I am the one spiraling, my spouse is apt to say “Let’s start this conversation over again…”

4. He’s not me: everyone is a product of his own unique life experience. This colors the way we see a situation and respond. Expect and respect a different frame of reference.

5. It’s not a family affair: an off-handed comment about another’s family member can cause a simmering argument to boil over. If they are not relevant to the conversation keep those who are near and dear out of it. If you must bring them in, do it in a cool, respectful manner.

Our forefathers are still spot-on! The Victorian Code of Etiquette decrees that a successful conversation requires all parties to
1. Listen with full attention
2. Know what NOT to say
3. Speak one’s opinion clearly and concisely

– JANET PARNES Janet Parnes is an etiquette consultant from Millis. For more information, visit
www.etiquettefortoday.net.

MetroWest Daily News Jul. 31, 2009
By Janet Parnes/ Local columnist

The Consequences of Dropping Courtesy When Responding to a Rude-Ball

rotation velocity imageA news story from this fall illustrates the consequences of responding to a rude pitch without bringing etiquette into play. A Minnesota couple accepted an invitation to a family member’s wedding. At the last minute their babysitter called in sick, preventing the couple from going. The couple did not notify the bride and groom. They may have figured that calling with this news “the day of” would have been more of a disservice than a courtesy. However, they never contacted the bride and groom to explain and apologize, as common sense and manners dictate. As such, three weeks after the wedding, the bride and groom sent them a bill of $75 to cover the cost of their food. The outraged no-shows sent the bill to a friend who posted it to Facebook.

This caused an Internet flare-up! Who’s right? The couple, for “no-showing” with no explanation? The bride and groom room for expecting them to pay for the uneaten food? What about the friend who posted the bill to the Internet? Just deserts for the bride and groom?

The actions showed a lack of manners, which translated into embarrassment for everyone. The bride and groom issued a public apology and rescinded the bill. Everyone lost this game.

How do you handle such a situation? Try courtesy, allowing the comfort and welfare of others to drive your game plan. Had the bride and groom, the guests and friend acted courteously, the outcome would never have hit the news! Below are a few insights:

  • The Guests. The morning of the wedding was probably not the time to deliver the no-show news to the bride or groom. However, this probably left them scratching their heads at the sight of the two empty seats. Did the guests find something better to do? Did something catastrophic happen? A call that morning to a family member, bridesmaid or even the reception facility would have circumvented all of this. That said, it is impossible to understand why the no -shows did not call after the wedding to apologize.
  • The Bride and Groom: The bride and groom could have assumed these family members ran into an insurmountable obstacle and feel terrible that they could not make it. They could have called the couple instead of invoicing them. In that case they may have caused no-shows to blush, but lessened the risk of a family rift.
  • The guests should have kept this matter to themselves and the bride and groom. Sending the invoice to the 3rd party resulted in a public display of embarrassment for all of them!
  • In bringing this private matter into the public arena via Facebook, the friend stepped beyond all bounds of courtesy and good taste. Everyone, including she, must have (or should have) cringed with humiliation!

I can only speculate about the damage these actions inflicted on the family relationships. What is the take-away? If someone pitches you a rude-ball and you throw another one back to even the score, everyone is going to lose. Particularly when it’s family!

Holiday Manners for Children

Children who attend this workshop will learn manners that help them to be comfortable and courteous around others; this will make the holiday festivities more enjoyable for themselves, friends and family. Topics will include the following:

  • Why manners matter; the power they give children to make themselves and others feel happy and important
  • How to introduce themselves and others with eye contact and a firm handshake
  • Table manners: how to set a table; utensil and napkin handling; cutting technique; asking for/passing food, ways to compliment the cook and dilemmas such as a bone in the mouth, sneezing/coughing, foods they don’t like and allergies. We will practice with snacks using china/linens.
  • General social graces: how to respond to a compliment; holding a door for someone; offering an adult their seat; accepting a gift and writing a thank-you note

Location: Morse Institute Library, Natick

Date/Time Saturday, November 7 from 10:15 – 12:15.

Each child will receive a workbook and a gift of note cards.

Suggested attire: dress, skirt or slacks with blouse or sweater for girls; pants with shirt or sweater for boys.

Registration required; visit the Library’s Children’s Room or call the Library at 508-647-6522. Space is limited.

​​​How to Have a Frightfully Polite Halloween!

Witch 2
They may have been “creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky”, but the Addams family was also courteous. The following tips can be used to teach children that when fairies, freaks, princesses and creeps share the sidewalk with courtesy, everyone can have a frightfully polite Halloween:

  • When you see other wizards, gremlins, and goblins smile and say, “Hi”. Step aside and let them pass if there is not enough room for everyone on the sidewalk.
  • Do not approach a house that is dark. The ghouls and ghosts have, undoubtedly, already eaten all the goodies!
  • Ring the doorbell once; then wait quietly. The people inside are expecting masked visitors and will come to the door as soon possible.
  • When someone opens the door, look at him, smile, and say, “Trick or Treat”!. When you leave with your “loot” look at him, smile, and say, “Thank you”.
  • If you are offered a bowl of candy, take a few pieces (not a handful) off the top. Rifling through the bowl can cause candy to fall out; it will also hold up the trick or treaters behind you.
  • If you approach a house and other trick or treaters are filling their bags, wait patiently at the edge of the yard. When they pass you, walk up to the door.
  • If you accidentally bump into a ballerina or lion say, “Excuse me”. She will understand.
  • When trick or treating by car, open the door carefully; you wouldn’t want to whack a witch!
  • Leave a sweet impression by putting candy wrappers in your bag; do not scatter them across the neighborhood lawns.

Finally, as monsters, scarecrows, and kitty cats can certainly be generous, children may want to fill, not only a bag for themselves, but also a bucket for UNICEF!

Cozy Coffin Motel photo courtesy of Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode  Photographer Kevin Dooley

How to Greet the Pope

Pope FrancisIt’s not that I expect to be plucked from some Google search for an audience with Pope Francis this week. I just found myself wondering, “How do you behave when meeting a pontiff?”  Below are the results of my research:

  • What to wear. The guidelines are consistent with the Victorian edict to dress in consideration of the company you will be keeping (as opposed to whatever is clean, quick and comfortable). As such, for a papal visit, attire should be conservative. This means a jacket and tie for men and  (knee-length or lower) suit, dress or skirt for women. That said, if you are one of the cast-of-thousands hoping to snatch glimpse of Pope Francis, feel free to wear whatever is comfortable.
  • Strand and wait. When the Pope enters the room, stand and wait to be introduced. (You will be introduced to him; the Pope will not be introduced to you).
  • Hold your tongue! Do not speak until the Pope addresses you. Call him “Your Holiness”.
  • What to say? Use the Pope’s questions and comments as a launch pad for your input. If you wish to  introduce a new topic and have done your homework you will know that Pope Francis cooks his own meals, relishes an occasional slice of pizza, is a soccer fan and was a professor of literature, If you don’t find fertile ground in any of these topics, you might bring up a noncontroversial news story or relevant tid-bit of American history. If the silence becomes awkward, you can always resort to the weather. In any case, keep the topics impersonal. Do not talk about yourself unless questioned.
  • No touching! Do not touch the Pope, unless he extends an invitation. As such, if the Pope extends his hand and you are Catholic, you may either kiss his ring or shake his hand. (Note that according to an NPR article, this everyman’s pope wears a recycled gold-plated silver ring instead of the 35-gram pure gold ring worn by his predecessor.) Non-Catholics would shake his hand.

Do your best. Don’t let the worry of a breach of etiqyette taint the pleasure of this experience.  After all, this pope routinely steps put of his car to weave through a crowd and co-wrote a song titled, So We can All be One (translated from Spanish)  It is unlikely he will single out an innocent misstep. Indeed, Pope Francis would probably chock it up to you being, like everyone, including himself, “perfectly imperfect”!

(Printed in the MetroWest Daily News. September 24, 2015)