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It doesn’t say much for Americans that there is a negative, rather than a positive spin, to all the articles and blogging I see on a little cafe in France that rewards etiquette.
La Petit Syrah in Nice, France charges less if a customers asks in a polite way for coffee or latte. And if you are very very polite, you pay even less. And this is clearly posted in a blackboard.
Say what you will about the alleged rudeness of the French, but I don’t see any restaurants in the United States with signs like this.
I am not the only old fart who sees etiquette as a lost art. It is very strange that Baby Boomers whose manners were pounded into them within an inch of their life (or so it seemed when I was 10-years-old) have not managed to leave the me-me-me 1980s mentality behind when it comes to their own children.
Because I had a child late — I was almost 40 — I had a great deal of time before that to watch my peers indulge for typical toddler crimes (tantrums, conversation domination, violence to younger siblings) which would have caused my mother or father to send me to my room for life.
When we decided to have a child, my husband and I promised each other than no matter how many stumbles we made as parents, instilling etiquette in our son would not be one of them. We had both just too many bad experiences with otherwise normal friends who produced offspring and then had gone and lost their minds when it came to disciplining them. And we had been in too many supermarkets and department stores where children screamed or ran wild throwing clothing or toys all over the place.
My husband has told me that his parents actually added a wall in front of the stairs leading from the second level to the first level of his family home — where the living room was located — because his parents wanted to keep the children seen and not heard when his mother and father hosted company. This always seemed a little extreme to me, but the Japanese are freaks for politeness and, then again, I don’t go to friends’ houses to end up as a captive audience for Small and Cute when I think I am arriving at a party with adults.
My favorite memory of Boomer parental delusion is at an evening party when the firstborn of the hosts came out in her pretty little pink dress and spent more than an hour singing, dancing and monologuing in a circle of paralyzed adults. She adored being the center of attention, which is what most five-year-olds want, of course.
The parents thought this was just terrific. In fact, when the little girl finally paused for breath, the mother turned to me with a huge smile and said, “M—- is just so intelligent. She gets bored so easily.”
A giant lightbulb went off in my head when I heard this. I had been wondering for years how parents rationalized their ill-behaved children. Suddenly, I had my explanation: The children were so bright that they needed the mental stimulation of performing for adults and never being disciplined for anything that came out of their mouths or off their tiny little fists.
M—- was a perfectly nice little girl who just needed her parents to yank the chain back and put her to bed. However, there is no doubt in my mind that while she probably is brighter than many in her generation, she also is one of the ones who texts endlessly in the middle of dinners in restaurants and has long, loud conversations on that same cell phone in the waiting room of doctor’s offices.
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Along with a lonely chafing dish that lives in my kitchen, I also have a sewing machine that slumbers most of the time in a dark recess of a linen closet.
The sewing machine actually does get pulled out occasionally. because I sew a fairly capable straight line, but that’s about it. And since my son hit six feet, I don’t have to shorten and hem pants for him any longer.
Right now I am all about lightweight California scarves, and they are one of those articles of clothing that should not be priced higher than $20 max unless they are made of pashmina, which is Nepalese goat cashmere. The average high altitude goat produces 3-6 oz. of fur during its annual shed, and this fur is six times finer than human hair, so I guess two fins isn’t going to get me a pashmina scarf any time soon.
But my scarf collection is limited and needs expanding. Rooting around in a couple of dresser drawers whose contents I have been trying to shrink turned up three sarongs made of rayon.
These were gifts from my mother-in-law and her sister-in-law when they traveled to Bali and Indonesia.
I have had about as much use for sarongs as I have had for a chafing dish over the years. But I took a long look at these things and realized that they were basically made of the same soft “viscose” material that Nordstrom was selling in scarf form, and which I had recently purchased (hypocritically, for $32).
The cards attached to these stiff sarongs said they were made of “rayon.” Well, Wikipedia said, viscose is the same damn thing as rayon. The word ” rayon” is totally uncool today. And it’s known as being somewhat, uh, flammable. But if it’s made of viscose, well, that’s all right.
So I threw the sarongs in the washing machine with a ton of fabric softener, then dried them with twice the amount of softener sheets one carelessly throws into the dryer. Voilà, soft viscose!
Cutting scarves out of them was not quite as easy as going wild and crazy with fabric softener, but three days, two pairs of scissors, one rotary pair of scissors, one metal yardstick, one long cut-healing cutting board, and one trip to Joann Fabric to get bobbins and matching thread later ……. I had made three very fashionable scarves.
I also had left scores of ribbon ribbon strips and cut thread ends all over my dining room floor.
I already knew I was keeping the turquoise one with shells and fishies on it. My son grabbed the black and white infinity scarf, and I still have one black, white and gray Hawaiian-ish themed cowl with an as-yet undefined Christmas recipient in mind.
All I need to remember now is to stay away from active fireplaces.
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Fortunately, our second biggest trauma during the day was finding a restaurant without a long line for lunch.
Around 4:30 pm, we were done. The decorations were pretty, the sales people still were in a good mood; it was time to go. We had ooohed and ahhhhed at the Saworski store crytstals and laughed at a lot of window displays. My sister — an entertainment lawyer — actually bought something at Tiffany’s with a gift certificate.
During the last 45 minutes before we hit that Mall Wall of exhaustion, a tidal wave of soccer moms and people who got a late start on the day began to wash over South Coast Plaza’s floors. A huge proportion of these people were pushing deadly, fast-moving strollers, containing toddlers who had been thoughtfully armed with giant balloons filled with blinking LED lights.
At 5 pm today, there was no advice to be had on circumventing the Not-Pulsing-at-All labyrinth of roadways in Los Angeles and Orange counties. It was Merry Gridlock.
I didn’t even clock how long it took me to return my mother to Pasadena and find my own way home.
Still….. it was a good day. We didn’t buy much, but knew in our hearts we really weren’t there to shop. It’s all about the Christmas decorations and window displays for people who know and love Amazon and internet shopping.
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