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Talia Talk: Miss Middot and the Introduction to Courteous Conduct

In its premiere issue, The Scene caused quite the scandal. Even with its extensive length, readers were left with many questions. Is this enlightening or kind of offensive? What's a spinal lamp? Is it still not over yet?  And wait isn't Talia a girl's name?  But perhaps the most common question is when we will be featuring a dating guide. That is certainly the simplest question to answer. A manual for the proper protocol of courtship is certainly long overdue and will surely appear in an upcoming Commie issue. It's only fair. I spend much too much page-space knocking the social skills of my peers to not offer assistance in building them. However, perhaps one of the greatest problems among daters today is that we just love to get ahead of ourselves. Before we can work on becoming an acceptable mate, we must learn to be normal, functioning human beings.

And how exactly do we earn that title? How exactly do we evolve past the little cells, those ape people and the hoodlums?  Etiquette. Etiquette is about rising above our simple our animalistic instincts. In proper etiquette we eat, approach conflict, mate and interact with other members of our species in the most respectful and dignified manners. These codes of conduct are put in place in order to guide us in respecting both others and ourselves. We follow these rules not only out of obligation, but for our own benefit as well. When we carry ourselves with an air or self-respect and grace others will inevitably reciprocate. However, most members of our generation don't know its rules, not even its true meaning or spelling.


et·i·quette n.

The conventional rules of personal behavior observed in the intercourse of polite society.

Granted, every community has its own rules and definition of appropriate decorum. The rules are developed based upon each culture's need to make sure that society runs smoothly. And that goes for each subculture that makes up our own community. But it seems that many are coming to YU without internalizing the values of a concept of proper social graces. Now, I don't claim to be an expert in the goings on of any one of the Five Towns. But where I come from, you'd be lynched if you wouldn't hold open the door for your date, your bubby or even a stranger. For manners are known to be more than simple empty gestures; they are indicators of class and character. No matter what your background, as young adults and contributing members of society, it is our obligation to mankindas well as to ourselves to act with an air of grace and respect for our surroundings.

While we are undergraduate students, our peers may be forced to interact with us;  however, after graduation, no one will grant us the time of day if we don't act in a respectful manner. We are not always going to have the security of YU guards or the feeling that we here at Yeshiva are above manners and have no need for social skills. One may avoid eye contact in the elevators until super-senior second semester but, once the bubble pops, so does the false sense of security. So it's best we begin to brush up on your class act now. For Miss Manners, etiquette-advice columnist extraordinaire, warns, "You can deny all you want that there is etiquette, and a lot of people do in everyday life. But if you behave in a way that offends the people you're trying to deal with, they will stop dealing with you... Etiquette doesn't have the great sanctions that the law has. But the main sanction we do have is in not dealing with these people and isolating them because their behavior is unbearable."

Through her iconic Miss Manners column, Miss is refining readers in over 200 newspapers worldwide. Although, even she would surely agree that 613 is a pretty big number. And it is understandable that many of us are often overwhelmed with the responsibility of mainstream mitzvot and the rules of etiquette. However, she would surely dispel the myth that the halakhic thing to do is choose Jewish law over rules of etiquette that seem to be a bit goyish. People often wrongly associate proper etiquette with snooty socialites and WASPS. But, etiquette is for everyone. We Jews, especially, should feel a connection to commandments that are about acting appropriately and making others feel comfortable. Our rabbis tell us to follow the rule of the land. And isn't it one of our own decrees to treat our neighbors as we'd like to be treated? Can you honestly say that life in the Heights has hardened you so much that you like it when someone skips you in the caf line? As much as I hate to mussar y'all on the shortcomings of Yeshiva's undergraduate behavior (okay, maybe that's not very much), I still must say that we need to start meeting the standard that our kippa sets. And so I, Miss Middot, am taking it upon myself to guide my fellow students towards menchdom. Throughout the Miss Middot columns I will dispel some of the etiquette myths of our world and offer my (semi-) humble opinions on how to approach the world properly. We will cover all sorts of topics such as chivalry, shuttle etiquette, elevator decorum and text message manners. For our first column, I will introduce a few topics in which many of us need a refresher course.


The Facebook Rulebook

Myth – Facebook is basically And, if you dare to sign up, you declare yourself a stalker

Truth – Facebook is a fabulous tool for connecting people. However, one must use it appropriately.

Facebook is the perfect place to start our path to poise. For it's where many of us start our days as well as our relationships. It has given a voice to our generation (in addition to every middle schooler we know as well as many of our mothers). The website has been unprecedented in rapidly revolutionizing our means of communication. Facebook means something different to each of its 500 million users.  A means for communicating and keeping up with your friends as well as your "friends," a way for many to live vicariously through the photographs of others, and of course the perfect outlet for anyone with stalking tendencies. Facebook etiquette is changing almost as quickly as your younger cousin's status and it's no longer a thing of shame to "F-stalk". We all do it. And your frummy friend who claims not to? Lying. However, there are certain Face behaviors that should be blocked permanently. Dislike.

a. The Status Quo 

Facebook brings out the narcissist in us. In an age when we are all hungry for attention, many become gluttonous in their aspirations for celebrity status. And so in order to update their social status, they do just that: status updates. If you want to announce your turkey sandwich lunch to people who care, join Twitter. If you would rather brood and broadcast all of the feelings that your subconscious should be keeping to itself, then hopefully your dark soul will find solace reactivating your Myspace account. That is the preferable outlet for you and those middle schoolers to post your party pics and those edgy shots that you have self-photographed with a camera in one hand and a gang sign in the other. Please be considerate and refrain from cluttering people's homepages with the nonsense that the people immediately around don't care to listen to. Just because someone agreed to accept your friendship doesn't mean they actually care about your life. Because, honestly, if you really have an issue with the newly-updated version of Facebook, then try venting your frustrations to a close friend. Because if you need to feel important, then try adopting a small pet or perhaps seeing a therapist, not waiting by the computer for someone to like your blurb about last night's activities. Because guess what? Nobody does.


b. To Post or Not to Post?

A running theme throughout many of my articles is basically not judging others. But that doesn't mean that you should give everyone on your network reason to judge you. Remember how we admitted that you are a total F-stalker? Well, so is everyone else you know. Including potential employers and mates. Once you post something on the Internet, it's there forever. It doesn't matter if you flip out and delete all of your non-shomer pictures or even your entire account. So please don't ever post anything that might lead your stalkers to any conclusions that you are not proud of. You may find yourself denied a whole lot more than a friendship.


c. Best Friending Forever

Friending. What an awkward verb. Friendship is a gradual transition and is often made unnatural when turned into a formal request. Is it too forward? Will they think that you are desperate? Is it weird that we're not Facebook friends already? Why can't s/he just friend me? Well the answer is that you are clearly sitting in front of a computer screen over-thinking your virtual social life. Perhaps you might benefit from closing your laptop and attending one of those event invitations that you have been ignoring. The general rule is if you will say hello to the person in real life, then a Facebook request is a perfectly acceptable friendly gesture. That is what friending is truly about, a gesture of extending friendship and extending opportunities for social networking. It isn't about stalking pictures. We're all on the Yeshiva Network anyway.

As for friending that person whom you'd like to extend more than friendship to? (I know I promised not to cover dating; Facebook friendship is certainly several steps short of a relationship. Sorry).  For many, friending can certainly be part of a gradual transition toward a relationship. In an age of emasculation and insecurities, it has replaced asking for a lady's number. In fact, if you are interested in a female, gentlemen, please friend her first. And ladies, please note that a Facebook friendship can be just that: friendly.


Classy in the Classroom

Myth – Texting in class is perfectly acceptable. Everybody does it anyway.

Truth – You should never text message when anyone is talking to you, especially your teacher. People who text in class are rude.

a. Text Offender

Hopefully, you have learned enough throughout your university education to be aware that the root of the teacher is teach. This means that teachers are in the classroom for you, not for their large paychecks. Contrary to popular belief, they have become university professors because they are pretty intelligent people and, in most cases, that involves being relatively aware of their surroundings. So please don't text in class. Although it has become socially acceptable, it is arguably one of the rudest places to text. If you would like to space out, or doodle hearts with your bashert's name, that is your choice, but want to know a secret? Your teacher can see you. In your backpack is not a creative hiding spot.


Cry Babies

Another fun way to show disrespect to your professors: crying for grades. By the time you started caring about your GPA, sobbing publicly became socially unacceptable. So suck it up and take the grade you earned. Next time you would like to regress to adolescence, you have a nice C+ paper to wipe your tears with.


Whose Class is it Anyway?

Want a way to lose popularity among both students and your professors? Try being that girl or guy. Now, I know that what you have to say is super brilliant, and I totally support speaking one's mind and sharing ideas. But interrupting in the classroom and speaking up more than necessary is truly the quickest way to simultaneously disrupt the classroom and establish yourself as an annoying fool. Before raising your hand, please consider if what you are saying is actually worthwhile. Don't get me wrong, as an English major and my own number-one fan, there is no sound I adore more than the music of my own high-pitched drawl. I totally understand the desire to use the classroom as a means of enlightening my peers. But, I know that my voice is a few decibels higher than I can hear, and there is a possibility that thoughts are a bit more brilliant in my own head. And I understand that the anecdote about that hilarious incident on your shuttle ride last night seems super-relevant in Introduction to Statistics, unless it will guide your classmates in finding the slope or your secret but kosher method for Acing the final, you should probably just let your professor drone on uninterrupted.

Cheater, Cheater...

Cheating is just rude. And please don't attempt to rationalize that you aren't hurting anyone else. You are breaking a university policy, insulting both your professor and classmates and possibly ruining the class curve. Now I am not even arguing that you are only hurting yourself in the long run. I don't really care about that so much.


We have now covered a few fun ways to act respectfully. Pretty soon you will be able to add lady or gentleman to your shidduch resume. But until then, enjoy practicing your proper behavior.


Shalom Y'all! Miss Middot