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Theater of the Absurd 

Wednesday, Apr 11 2001
Dear Social Grace,
I felt compelled to write after a horrific theater experience. My father and I went to a matinee performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the beginning of March. I realize that things can be a little more lax at a matinee performance, but I was not prepared for what I encountered. I saw no less than five young people in jeans, T-shirts, and baseball caps at the performance, and the young man behind me chomped on hard candy through most of the show. The ushers continued to seat people during the first 30 minutes of each act, and people got up to leave throughout the show. And, by far the worst, cell phones rang all during the second act. Am I overreacting to this? Or am I correct in being appalled at the lack of manners?

Via the Internet

Dear Appalled Madam or Sir,
Far from overreacting, you've been perhaps too lenient with these theater hooligans: I don't see any reason to make special behavior allowances for matinee attendees. The performers and crew work just as hard at a matinee as at an evening show; certainly we should pay them (and the rest of the audience) equal respect. The least we can do is make sure our cell phones don't ring during a play -- just the sort of thing that might drive a fiddler to jump off a roof.

I understand that children are likelier to be found in a matinee audience, and children can be disruptive -- but that's all the more reason for the adults present to behave themselves. How else will children learn, say, to eat before a performance, to show up on time, and to stay quiet? No matter what the time of day, well-mannered people pay attention to environment. Live theater is not a ballgame, and Fiddler on the Roof is not The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As to your question about attire, we must admit that Californians are by and large not "dressing" for the theater anymore. They call it comfortable, I call it mildly disrespectful -- and we've agreed to disagree, for now. However, the Social Grace Dress Code is inflexible on baseball hats: They come off at the theater. If you want to wear your cap and move about during the show, consider renting Jewison's film version of Fiddler on the Roof. It's really very good, and you can pause the performance if you have to take a phone call.

Dear Social Grace,
I have one roommate. She is not my "friend," and I don't really know her that well, although we are friendly enough. We just share a flat. Recently, her mother visited for a few days. The visit itself was not a problem for me; however, I mostly work at home and my roommate goes out to work every day, so the mother and I were together in the flat for hours at a time. I just left her alone during those times. I found out later that both the roommate and the mother think that I'm rude for not being more of a hostess to the mother while she was in the apartment with me and her daughter was off at work. Was I rude? I had actually been thinking it was rude of my roommate to leave her mother rattling around in our apartment all day, and I told her so. What was my hostessly duty in this situation? And how should we resolve the chilly atmosphere that now pervades the flat?


Dear Jane,
You're two people stuck together in the same flat, each telling the other that she is rude. That sort of behavior is what's really rude. If you can both see the humor there, your flat's atmosphere might warm up a bit. But if you really want to expel the chill, simply apologize to your roommate: Being polite (and maintaining good feelings in a relationship) sometimes means apologizing after a minor spat (or after one of your country's planes crashes into that of another) -- even when you believe that you're in the right.

On to your central question -- your "hostessly duty." It seems to me that you landed just short of qualifying for a Social Grace Hostess With the Mostest Award. One action would have boosted you over the top: explaining your situation to your roommate's guest (and your guest, by extension). You could have told her that you would be working in your room, asked her if she was comfortable (pointing her toward tea or television, perhaps), and then invited her to make herself at home and to let you know if she needed anything. It would have taken only a couple of minutes and relieved any awkwardness your roommate's mother felt about being alone in an apartment with a stranger.

Your roommate, though, could have smoothed this whole situation out before going to work in the morning. In doing so, she'd have explained to her mother that you work at home and aren't available as a companion. Then she could have come to you to ask for the favor of checking in on her guest once or twice -- a favor that a friendly roommate should not hesitate to carry out.

Dear Social Grace,
A friend of mine tells me that when she goes into work and says "Good morning" to her co-workers, she is usually met with silence or, at best, a response from one person. She works in information technology (at a computer support and help desk). She finds her co-workers' behavior to be a bit rude. Should she continue greeting them or just forget about it?


Dear Madam or Sir,
One sometimes finds oneself in the extremely awkward position of being the best-behaved person in a room. When this happens, the correct response is not to "rude it down." I wouldn't recommend that your friend emulate people who, in her estimation, are "a bit rude." I hope she continues to be a shining example of courtesy.

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