In The Magazine

Technical Genius

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mr. Manners dishes on how to handle social etiquette like a pro in the digital age

Q: My husband and I recently went to a party where we were required to “surrender” our phones since one of the guests was a political figure who didn’t want to be photographed at a private event. Although initially cross about it, we ended up really enjoying ourselves because people were forced to interact with one another, instead of retreating to a corner to check Instagram. We are having a party this weekend and would like to encourage the same level of social intimacy. Do you think there is a polite way to ask our guests to switch their phones off or not check them?

Mrs. Tired of Technology, Southampton

A: Dear Mrs. T & T,

To put it in terms of My Dinner with Andre, Internet culture is too much Andre Gregory and not enough Wallace Shawn (i.e., stream of consciousness gibberish vs. simply conversing like we all used to about the ordinary pleasures of life). All written in such truncated spelling that the next generation will only know to spell “you” as “U.” The ingenious clothing designer Paul Smith does not text or email. He finds such drivel clutters his mind—as well as his creativity (then again, the knighted multimillionaire has many an assistant to check his hundreds of business emails). He rarely talks on his cell phone—and only a precious few know his number (Mr. Manners included). The divine Simon Doonan of Barneys recently recommended to Mr. Manners that he make a habit of occasionally leaving his cell phone at home. Simon said it will do wonders in terms of liberating one’s psyche. And it did.

I adore the idea of checking one’s cell phone at the door (Harvey—as in Weinstein—does the same) and heartily endorse your motivation. It’s far better to have guests toss them in a chic basket than turn them off (would you trust your husband to silence his cell? Then again, do you trust your husband?). The invitation should note “Nanny Alert: Cell phones will be checked upon entrance” (the implication being that your landline will be readily available in case of a choleric heathen at home). You’ll readily find that your guests not only will be swayin’ their hips to Mr. Manners’ fave summer feel-good sensation, Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child,” but that their conversational skills and libidos will be nicely restored. Granted, there may be some initial awkwardness. Some will feel naked, if not impotent, without their cell. Not unlike those first few moments when one arrives at a home such as Reed Krakoff’s, he who asks that you remove your shoes at once (best you also remove those unsightly Odor-Eaters from your Berlutis). Let us raise a glass to the welcome absence of thy noxious cell.

Q: Dear Mr. Manners,

I recently went on an Internet date and was horrified by his, well, manners. He suggested we meet at a West Village café for coffee and, after queuing up for our lattes, he had us split the bill. My heart sank. He may have been a real “looker,” but the rest of our time together felt like he was looking in the mirror. What’s a girl to do?

Matcha Latte-less, New York

A: Dear,

Mr. Manners loathes rude behavior in a man. He will not tolerate it. It’s a miracle this lout didn’t also ask you to drop a couple of bills into the ol’ tip jar.

Men such as he revel in Internet dating because they can reveal themselves rather anonymously online. I empathize, my darling. You clearly feel like you can’t catch a fish, can’t charm a judge—but can cry on demand. It’s called compassion fatigue syndrome—overloaded from a particular feeling. In your case, the hopeless thought of another Internet date. But were you really going in “blind”? Mr. Manners believes you have the wherewithal to spot a narcissist beforehand online (he undoubtedly popped a Viagra before seeing you—for the bulging empowering effect alone) You are simply in what Sher, my ever-loyal Indian houseman, calls the “Wash, Spin, Rinse” cycle: always going after the same bad sort, over and over again. Remember, my dear: looks are a fleeting commodity. Be more discerning in your predate discourse. If not, you’ll find yourself seated across from fellows with the self-absorption of a texting teen. You might as well be selling health insurance at your Bryn Mawr class reunion. We don’t want you committing matricide, revoking your bed license and forever sleeping on the sofa, now, do we?

Q: Mr. Manners,

I recently received a gift from my husband for my birthday and, though I suspected something was a bit off upon opening it, I later discovered he had regifted it! I wanted to skin him alive after realizing the croc iPad case had been given to him by a client. What’s the rule on “regifting”? Now I want to give it away! (As a gift, I mean: it really is quite exquisite.)

Ms. Giveaway Girl, Sag Harbor

A: My Poor Dear,

Let’s face it: He might as well have given you a microwave. Regifting is a terrible no-no. Technically speaking. However, you all do it. It’s your Wildean streak: You can resist everything but temptation. That said, heed these tips or the act of regiving will be sure to come back to bite you in the arse. Upon receiving said unwanted gift, immediately make a note of who gave it and when it was given. When the spirit moves you to later cross the line, you’ll be reminded not to bequeath it to anyone at all associated with that person (or their immediate circle). Do not recycle

any freebie from a party or otherwise: if the person wishes to exchange it, you’ll be instantly revealed. And please don’t risk such a reckless instinct on some major occasion. (Besides, the best gifts are spontaneous. You were simply thinking of them and came home with—ta-da!—a Boucheron ring.) And you’d better know how to retie a damn good bow (like the redoubtable Sher). Regifting is rife with risks, particularly mistakes of an unconscious nature. Mr. Manners can’t help but chuckle at his good friend, the prominent London interior decorator, who misfired a texted photo of himself in leather to his dowager mother, one of the most prudish and prominent ladies of the land. Such is the case with regifting. We all love a little risk. But some risks are better than others.

Illustration by Gary Hovland


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