My mother always told me that there was a proper way to conduct myself in civilized society. Don’t be fooled by how archaic this first sentence sounds, or by the misconception that “etiquette” is a thing of the past. As ladies, we may not be crossing our ankles, balancing books on our heads or mimicking how a Barbie doll might wave (if you think that I’m modeling this upon The Princess Diaries … well, guilty). And as gentlemen, we are going to table the chivalric code for this article.

I would hope that you all have started to notice the impact of the way in which you interact. I certainly have. That old saying, “People remember not what you say but how you make them feel,” is actually a load of merde, if you’ll excuse my French. People most certainly remember what you say and how you make them feel! There is no way out of this, I regret to inform you.

But how rude of me; let me introduce myself to you. Think of me, ladies, as a bubbly fairy godmother with the voice of a more energetic Julia Child. Men: Think of me as your own Jiminy Cricket or Fred Astaire, but with the voice of Frank Sinatra (we all may want to be the next Humphrey Bogart, but let’s face the facts: that is quite unlikely). And it is very nice to meet you all.

Now that we have said our introductions, we can begin the first lesson on How to Converse Properly. We will examine three petty situations that I witnessed in Isla Vista over the course of this Halloween weekend, addressing where discomfort, poor taste and regretful decorum could have been avoided.


Interaction I:

A group of friendly, sober, well-to-doers are passing out candy from their corner yard with the hopes of spreading Halloween cheer. One of the harbingers of festivity reminds the others not to throw candy at the passersby. Over a low fence, they engage in playful banter and exchange anecdotes. An officer kitty-corner from them spies this scene, marches over and without even a, “Hullo,” barks, “Don’t throw candy!!” He ignores all attempts to clarify the intent behind having candy in the first place and promptly departs as quickly as he came. The costumed young people are taken aback, of course, and murmur their discontent for several minutes afterward.

A suggested alternative to the situation:

There is an old school etiquette rule that applies here: “Always select words calculated to convey an exact impression of your meaning.” The officer was in the wrong. He should have waited to see if the individuals were actually engaging in candy-throwing activity. If they were not, he undoubtedly has more important things to survey. If it was too urgent for him to bear, he should have said the words in a friendlier manner or posed a question without overabundant condescendence. The candy was causing no danger. No one was so much as grazed by anything resembling a pernicious Snickers bar.


Interaction II:

A lady, petite in build, is being violently dragged by an officer. She is not resisting, but does not have her hands free. Her garments are riding up well above her undergarments, and she is unable to make the imperative adjustment. A second officer follows directly behind her, gluing his eyes to her behind. Another lady offers the offended individual her stewardship by running after them. Though the officers ignore her efforts, she continues to shout and yell obscenities at them, prompting the one to instead begin to investigate her level of intoxication.

A suggested alternative to the situation:

Again, an old school etiquette rule to follow: “Don’t talk in a high, shrill voice, and avoid nasal tones. Cultivate a chest voice; learn to moderate your tones. Talk always in a low register, but not too low.” Oh, and perhaps I might add something resembling: “Don’t stare at a lady’s buttocks while in a position of power …” Both players could have acted differently. To have decorum while voicing an injustice makes for a far more credible case. And, really, I need not explain the officer’s offense!


Interaction III:

A couple is crying, curbside, when they are approached by three officers who begin to taunt them. They will not leave, although the couple continually attempts to explain the situation, which is unrelated to alcohol. The lady from the last interaction witnesses, but does not know what to say. The scene fades as the interrogation continues.

A suggested alternative to the situation:

There is not much to do from the position of the bystander. However, an officer should look at the weeping people, assess and ask if help is needed, instead of puffing up like a rooster. To the approaching officers, I would grant them a slight nod for respect while delivering the perfect exit line, thanks to the great poet Dylan Thomas: “And now, gentlemen, like your manners, I must leave you.”


Consider these bold words from Oscar Wilde, a gentleman in his prime: “The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.” Remembering the right fork is not challenging once you are aware of the proper one to use! Let us then, ladies and gentlemen, use the correct cutlery on our way to success.

Natalie O’Brien keeps her wit sharp and her cutlery sharper.

Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 5, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.