Digital Etiquette

WiFi manners

A very valid question is posed above.  When it comes to insights I often default to this one:  “When you go home to your mothers house, do you ever walk into the kitchen, open the fridge and have a good look at what is in there?”

It is amazing how this simple insight makes people smile, most recognise the behaviour as something they do.  It would be an incredibly rude thing to do with a friend or colleage, but we all do it when we go home to visit Mom, or as we Dubliners call her “de Ma”.  The fridge is a symbol for a whole raft of emotions around security, contentment, care and love.  A packed fridge is a welcome home, mothers bounty, always there in case of need.  It is a visual symbol of a mothers love for her children.

My own mother is old and putting it kindly one might say she is a little forgetful these days.  Now when I open the fridge it is to ensure that she is being cared for.  That is sad.  It makes the house a cold and clinical place to know we can’t just turn up and root out a lunch from the contents.

Food etiquette is central to how we interact with others.  Toilet etiquette is not far behind.  You don’t arrive into a persons house and just march straight to the bathroom, unless you are in a very bad state.  Excusing yourself to the bathroom entails a complex code of doubletalk, innuendo and social manners.

Sasha Baron Cohen, in the character of Borat, uses our ‘delicacy’ around bathroom issues as a source of comedy, as in this video, about 3.30 in:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PebL4qCGK1w

Bathroom etiquette requires that we mask our purpose,  We talk of bathrooms and toilets, which were originally places for washing.  We should be asking for the W.C. and indeed this is considered to be polite in upper class English circles. The Queen uses a WC. Other, lesser people, refer to the Loo, the Ladies, the Gents, the little girls/boys room, the Facilities, the Washroom, John, Khazi, Dunny and so on.

Now we have the thorny issue of WiFi to worry about.   As a good host are you expected to give up your access code?  As a guest is it polite to ask for it?  Are you going to spend the dinner party gazing into your smart phone?  When is it proper for a host to ask you to leave the phone in a box for the evening?  If your host asks you to put your phone away should you be mortified and apologetic, or is it OK to tell them to go to hell because they are just Luddites?

Table manners for food and toilets are established and are a still a social minefield.  Phone and WiFi manners are still in flux and are constantly evolving.  One thing is very sure, lots of people are using their time in the bathroom to check up on their live feed!  I just hope they wash their hands first.

Food Ritual 2: Inclusion and Exclusion

WEDDING

Food is a means of including and excluding people.  The most inclusive groups of people tend to have the most liberal tastes in food.  Everyone is welcome at the table, and you are welcome to serve any food you like.

Jewish Rabbis in middle age Europe fought a constant battle to hold the faithful in their religion.  Young people who fraternised with Christians were at risk of marrying out.  So the Rabbis reinforced observance of the kosher laws to keep their congregations intact.  If you cannot eat with people, you do not keep company with them.

The Spanish inquisition saw this also.  When ex-Jews converted to Catholicism the church in Spain monitored their food consumption.   If they did not roast a leg of pork from time to time they risked being accused of back-sliding.

So you can be included, or excluded from a “tribe” by the food you eat.  Kosher, Halal, Vegetarian, Vegan, Fruitarian, Pescatarian, South-Beach, Atkins, Weightwatchers.

In societies with “untouchable” castes, there are strict rules guiding who sits at what table.  In societies where food is eaten with the right hand, as in many Arabic countries, if a thief has his right hand removed, it is a far more dreadful punishment than the loss of the limb.  He is now excluded from dining with other people.  He must eat alone.  He is banished from the table.

An invitation to the table is an inclusion in society.  In the middle ages in Europe you could tell the status of a person by where they sat in the Lords hall, what foods they were permitted to eat, what cloth they were permitted to wear, in which colours, right down to what type of bird they could hunt with.

It was considered a great sin and shame to breach the laws of hospitality.  A guest under your roof must be fed.  The poor regularly appeared at the homes of the wealthy to beg alms from a feast, relying on the shame factor of the host if they were sent away hungry.

Stories abounded of mean minded hosts or their stewards, who would refuse to feed the poor, or charge them a fee for the table leftovers.

In one story from Middle Age Ireland a man starved himself to death on the doorstep of his enemy, to condemn his enemy to a lifetime of shame for permitting a guest to die on his threshold.

It is very important, to have a place in society, to eat with others.  In modern western society a lot of old people end up living on their own.  Volunteers give their time and effort to deliver Meals on Wheels to these people.  But it would be better to deliver the person to the meal, than the meal to the person.

Dinner Guest: Me   by Langston Hughes

I know I am
The Negro Problem
Being wined and dined,
Answering the usual questions
That come to white mind
Which seeks demurely
To Probe in polite way
The why and wherewithal
Of darkness U.S.A.–
Wondering how things got this way
In current democratic night,
Murmuring gently
Over fraises du bois,
“I’m so ashamed of being white.”

The lobster is delicious,
The wine divine,
And center of attention
At the damask table, mine.
To be a Problem on
Park Avenue at eight
Is not so bad.
Solutions to the Problem,
Of course, wait.