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Parking Violations 

Is standing in the street to save a parking space wrong?

Wednesday, Jan 30 2002
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Dear Social Grace,

I live in an urban, residential area with possibly the scarcest street parking in all of San Francisco. The other night, when searching for parking near my home, my friend and I saw a lady standing by herself in what would have been an available spot. When we pulled up next to her, she told us that we couldn't park there because she was saving it for her husband who would be arriving shortly. I told her that her actions showed poor social behavior and that I wouldn't stand for it next time. Was I wrong to be upset?

D.

Dear Driving Madam or Sir,

You weren't at all wrong to be upset -- parking in San Francisco is exasperating, and I don't think anyone who's maneuvered a car through the city will fault you for feeling a bit of frustration. However, it's never nice to tell someone that she is impolite; doing so is, in itself, impolite. There are other ways to get that message across if you need to. For example, a stern "I see" (practice raising one eyebrow as you say it) lets you keep your dignity while expressing displeasure. Besides, when someone is behaving badly, he or she is usually perfectly aware of the fact.

How improper is it to save a parking space by standing in it? Most drivers I've talked to about this feel that it's more wrong when they're circling the block and someone else is doing the saving than when they're doing the place-saving themselves.

This situation is a San Francisco variant of the This Seat Is Taken dilemma. Is it immoral or impolite to save a seat in a crowded movie theater? No, it isn't -- if we're talking about one seat, for a few minutes, while your date goes off to fetch you some Junior Mints. There is, however, something wrong with showing up at the Metreon on the opening weekend of Lord of the Rings with a dozen homemade "Reserved" signs that you use to save prime seats for friends who didn't put in queue time with everyone else. Obviously, that's just not fair.

Likewise, it's not necessarily anti-social for a person to hold a parking space. Perhaps that woman's husband was transporting an injured Great Dane that had to be carried from the car to the house. Perhaps he called to let her know he'd be home in three minutes with the poor doggy, and she looked outside and saw a parking spot right in front of her apartment. Would you really begrudge her that space? Of course, if her husband was running errands for a couple of hours and she'd brought a book and a cup of coffee down to the street, that would be wrong. Public parking must be shared with the public. But as we can't know the truth of the situation, the best we can do is practice fair parking ourselves. We all know how to behave on the street, and we should keep our temper when dealing with those who nab available parking before we can.

Dear Social Grace,

Not sure where to look this one up in the etiquette books. I realize technology has progressed at a rapid pace, and many of us are "wired" in a variety of ways and have come to rely on various modes of communication. My question: If you invite a guest to your home (not just a pit stop while doing business -- a bona fide vacation: time off, new linens, the "good" towels, flowers, dinner reservations, entertainment, etc.), what is the protocol regarding the guest logging on to the host's computer to check e-mail? Given that there is no emergency, no need to check for job leads or for an urgent message about an organ newly available for transplant, this seems like too much -- especially if the guest and host have a romance and the guest is reading and answering personal e-mails from other potential significant others. The host, of course, is not logging on or even having long phone conversations, as their time and attention is focused on the guest. Just not sure how to approach this -- should I just make my computer available and discreetly leave the premises? Any advice you can offer would be most appreciated.

Sigh

Dear Heavy-Breathing Madam or Sir,

My first piece of advice would be to think long and hard before buying an expensive Valentine's Day gift for someone who uses your computer to correspond with "other potential significant others." But it sounds as though you're already re-evaluating this romance.

In this case, we can safely liken a computer to a telephone: An overnight guest should use the host's electronic equipment sparingly, and only when necessary. A host would log on for similar reasons, with apologies, and wouldn't spend a lot of time socializing on the computer while a guest twiddled her thumbs nearby.

An overnight guest could be specifically invited to use your computer: "If you need to check your e-mail, just let me know." However, the blanket statement that most hosts throw out at the beginning of an extended stay -- "Let me know if there's anything you need" -- should include communication-device use. A guest just has to let you know if she has pressing e-business. There is no reason for you to "leave the premises" after connecting to the Internet, since a good guest won't use the computer for long. If she does need to have a lengthy correspondence, she should apologize and take care of it as quickly as possible. (And if she seems to be taking a very, very long time, you are within your rights as host to tell her nicely that you hate to rush her but that you must get in a couple minutes of e-time yourself before you turn the computer off for the day.)

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Social Grace

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