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Etiquette at Work

Online pals can be out of line in person

Q. Recently I met a friend from an iPhone social application for the first time. We went to a chain sandwich restaurant/deli, the type of place where you order from a front counter and later the staff comes around to ask if everything is OK, if you need refills, and to take your plates. I was appalled at how my friend would snap his fingers in the air while exclaiming “Excuse me!” to get the attention of staff on the other side of a divider to demand more napkins and a refill of iced tea. The station where the napkins were was within eyesight, and I personally would have gotten up and grabbed one myself. The most appalling thing is that he never said please or thank you. Is it me, or was his behavior totally out of place? If it is out of place, how do I bring this to his attention?

G.T., BEAUMONT, TEXAS.

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A. The short answer is, his behavior was out of line. Snapping fingers or loudly calling out to a waitperson is simply boorish behavior. Wait staff deserve to be treated respectfully. Just because they are serving you doesn’t mean they are beneath you and undeserving of respect.

Your situation highlights a larger issue: Will an online friend make a good in-person friend? One of the biggest downsides of online friending is an inability to see or hear the “friend.” All you really have to go on is words on the screen. You have no clues about how the person interacts with groups or in social situations. Unfortunately, in your case, without those clues you ended up in an embarrassing situation.

Be it business or social in nature, my advice for people who want to move an online friendship to an in-person one is to do what you did: Meet in a neutral place for a reasonably brief get-to-know-you encounter. A coffee shop or a deli is a perfect location. As a result, you found out your friend has a lack of manners that makes you uncomfortable. You’ll have to decide whether to address his behavior with him, end the relationship, or ignore what happened because you don’t want to hurt the relationship.

Unfortunately, ignoring his boorishness will only frustrate you time and time again. So unless you want to call it quits with this guy, at least in the real world, gently clue him in that he’s not making a good impression and hope that he takes your critique in the spirit it is given.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.
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