You can’t make these things up. It was last month. A weekday. I was meeting Rosanne Thomas for lunch to talk about her new book, “Excuse Me -- The Survival Guide to Modern Business Etiquette,” because Thomas teaches manners in these mannerless times and, God knows, a course in civility and kindness and an awareness of others is something our culture could use a dose of right now.
“Is South Shore Plaza good for you?” she asked in an e-mail. And when I said yes, she wrote “Excellent! How about Cafe Bistro, which is inside Nordstrom?”
Cafe Bistro is lovely. “Peaceful retreat from busy mall,” one reviewer said. It’s small and comfortable, and the food is delicious.
“It is always a good idea for a host to scope out the prospective establishment,” Thomas writes in a chapter she called “Business dining.”
Clearly she had scoped.
What she hadn’t anticipated, however, what no one could have anticipated, is what happened next.
I have heard children scream before. My grandson, Euan, can pitch a fit better than most anyone I know. And he does. But when he does, he is taken out of a room, out of a restaurant, out of earshot of people who have no desire to listen to a screaming child.
We heard the screaming child well before we saw him. It was like hearing a siren when you’re driving, a siren that gets louder and louder, and you wonder, where is it? Until there it is, right in front of you.
Small boys can make such big sounds. There he was, 2 at the most, in a carriage, caterwauling, his mother propelling him forward, all the while ignoring his cries.
There was a group of mothers, all with babies and toddlers, the toddlers running, the babies wailing. But none was as loud as the shrieker.
At Cafe Bistro, you order at the register and pay there. A waitress then delivers your food. All the women ordered. This took a while. And all the while the small boy with the big voice wailed.
Eventually they sat down. The mothers anyway. The kids ran around until the food was served.
What does a manners guru do when a restaurant becomes a playground? When children are undisciplined? When the adults in charge of the children are oblivious?
She does what we all do. She shakes her head in disbelief.
After they left, the waitstaff hurried to clean up. There were knives and forks, napkins, pieces of bread, all manner of food, all over the chairs and floor. “I hope they left you a big tip,” I said to a young server rushing by.
But they had left nothing. They hadn’t even said thank you.
Thomas writes in her book that “Staying calm, ignoring what we can, tactfully handling what we must, and laughing off the rest is the best approach” when a social situation goes south. “No matter what happens, it is truly never the end of the world. And who knows? It may even end up being a bonding moment.”
This was our bonding moment.
A day later I was driving home from Boston thinking about manners and how cars bring out the worst in all of us, when suddenly passing me was a giant white stretch limo with NO MORE (vulgar word for bull droppings) painted in big letters on the back.
That limo is a moving billboard, rude and crude and offensive. Children shouldn’t have to be exposed to it. No one should.
Respect is what’s missing in so many of our daily interactions. Rosanne Thomas is trying to fix this, one person at a time. Stand up. Say hello. Shut off the TV. Turn off your phone. Pay attention. Yes, please. No, thank you. Hold the door for the person behind you. Be on time. Clean up after yourself. Be civil. Be kind.
Her book, “Excuse Me,” is a primer, not just for people who want to succeed in business, but for all of us.
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