From the Editor: From time to time Miss Whozit answers reader questions about etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Gary Wunder, 200 E Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. It has been several years since we reprinted Miss Whozit’s June 2005 advice about convention etiquette, so here it is again, along with some additional advice on the same subject:
Dear Miss Whozit,
Would you please reprint your article about courtesy rules at convention? I am looking forward to our convention this summer, but I am always scared someone is going to get hurt, especially trying to get on the elevators before everyone has gotten off. We love your column.
Excited about Convention
Miss Whozit would be delighted to reprint the column from the June 2005 Braille Monitor. To prevent confusion about where we are going and what hotel we will occupy, she has brought those references up to date. Happily what Miss Whozit said about etiquette in spring 2005 has not become outdated, and she trusts it never will. Here is the column:
Dear Miss Whozit,
I will be attending my second convention this summer. I am generally looking forward to it because my experience last year was like nothing I had ever imagined, and as a result I have grown and changed this year. But several things last year bothered me. And since these all fall into the area of etiquette and good manners, I thought I would list them for you in the hope that you will give us all some pointers.
The first thing has to do with tipping. I have not traveled much, so I am never sure whom to tip and who is just offering to help me because it is convenient but not part of his or her job. I know to tip a skycap who walks with me out to my gate, but what about cabin crew members who are going my way and offer to walk with me? Unless they mention who they are, I can’t tell these folks from other passengers. I don’t want to insult people, but I also don’t want people who depend on tips to go away thinking I am cheap or an object of pity. I gather that I should tip the skycap who checks me in at curbside, but surely not the clerk behind the desk inside who does the same thing. And how much is enough?
At the hotel I know to tip the bell staff whenever they do anything for me, but what about housekeeping when they bring extra hangers or towels? How about the engineer who fixes the dripping toilet or the air conditioning? Some people tip the staff who clean the room at the end of a long hotel stay. Is this expected, and if so, how much is appropriate? You get the idea.
The other big thing that worries me at convention is the way some conventioneers act in large crowds. I am equally shocked by the way some people use their canes—more like spears or whips than as tools for checking whether the path ahead is clear—and the seeming obliviousness of some dog users. I was told about a dog that snatched a steak off a stranger’s plate with the fork still in the meat, and the handler did not do anything about the situation. My own room was covered in dog hair after a Federationist visited me with a dog who had obviously not been groomed properly. I know that dogs are going to have accidents under the stress that a convention causes them, but don’t users know when this happens? It seems to me that courtesy would demand that the person stand guard over the mess until someone can get there to clean it up.
Finally, Miss Whozit, please talk to us about elevator etiquette. Frankly I am going to see if I can get a room on a low floor this year so that I can walk up and down the steps rather than risking life and limb in the elevator lobby. I talked to a man who uses a wheelchair and who told me that someone once sat down in his lap in an elevator without asking permission. On the other hand I have been in elevator cars in which some people purposely stood close to the front and told people outside that the car was full when it was not, just because they did not want to stand close to other people and figured that the blind people outside the door wouldn’t know that they were lying.
I don’t enjoy being packed in like a sardine either, but at convention we just have to make each elevator trip as efficient as possible. Can you set down some rules of elevator etiquette?
Mystified at Rude Behavior
Miss Whozit is glad to hear that you are planning to attend your second national convention. Perhaps this response will help ease the way for this year’s convention for you and others in the movement.
Knowing what and whom to tip is an ongoing question for many people. Basic rules for tipping should be kept in mind when traveling and eating out. Tipping gives the customer an opportunity to reward those who provide service, and this income is essential to the people who provide those services—waitresses, bellhops, skycaps, and taxi drivers. Remember that your tipping habits not only reflect your professionalism but also contribute to your receiving more attentive service, a cleaner room, or a better table.
Tipping does not have hard and fast rules, but there are some general guidelines: When service is exceptional, tip more. When it is not good, tip less and explain why, either directly to the service provider or to that person’s manager.
Here are some basic guidelines for tipping. The amount can vary by city, region, or country:
As important as tipping an appropriate amount is showing respect for those who help you function more efficiently and comfortably. Smart businesspeople know that respecting and tipping service personnel is a reflection not only of their appreciation of the help they receive but of their own professionalism as well.
Your dilemma concerning the cabin crew member who is going your way and offers to walk with you to the gate is interesting. Initially the person’s role may not be clear. You may be uncertain whether a person is merely going your way or feels compelled to extend service beyond his responsibilities. You can determine his job by asking a few discreet questions as you are walking to your gate or destination. The conversation can begin with some basic introductory information. Initiate the conversation by volunteering your first name and destination and inquiring for the same information from him.
If, during the course of the walk you realize that he is going out of his way to walk with you, you have a couple of options. If you are grateful for the company and you believe your companion is happy to take the detour, accept the assistance graciously and part company at your gate with warm thanks. If on the other hand you are confident of your skills, thank him and assure him that you would hate to inconvenience him by having him go out of his way. Bid him good day and carry on in the correct direction. It is important for the person to know that you are confident. Your actions will underscore this message, which in turn will provide an illustration of your statement.
Often, but not always, this strategy works for Miss Whozit. No matter how confidently we travel or how self-assured we are, sometimes people feel a responsibility to provide more assistance than we either need or want. In such cases Miss Whozit suggests that the overly helpful person be offered a monetary tip, which clearly expresses the blind person’s view of the assistance being offered. Whenever possible, during the walk to the destination, she tries to instill a bit of education about the abilities of blind people, and, because Miss Whozit is never without several Kernel Books, she can present would-be rescuers with a book and hope they will read it and come to understand more fully the capabilities of blind people. The demands of civility always require that we make reasonable efforts not to offend a member of the public who is merely trying to be helpful, so the way we address the issues surrounding blindness is of the utmost importance. At the same time we must be confident in our skills and present ourselves positively. It may help to remember that the way members of a minority population present themselves inevitably has either a positive or negative impact on the way the general public views other members of that group. This truth should inspire us all to be both courteous and clear about what assistance we need.
As for maneuvering through crowds at convention, you are correct that often people do not use their canes appropriately. Proper cane technique is important in order to travel safely and efficiently. If used properly, the long cane will pick up drop-offs, textural differences, steps, openings, closed areas, and so on. The cane should be kept in close contact with the floor. Almost never should it be more than one to two inches off the floor, and it should never be slid along the wall to detect openings or to find a chair or bench. Keeping the cane just above the floor in the two-point touch or tap-and-slide techniques will provide all the information one needs to travel safely and efficiently throughout the convention.
When one is standing in line or waiting, the long cane should be held vertically in front of and close to the user until he or she is ready to stride out. And always remember, when traveling in a crowd, that using the pencil grip is the easiest, safest, and most courteous way to gather appropriate information for the size steps you are taking while not posing a hazard to oncoming traffic. Basic cane etiquette ensures safe travel and allows cane users to be efficient and considerate. If you are not certain about some of these techniques, stop any good traveler at convention and ask for a quick demonstration. We have all polished our skills by observing others and asking their advice.
Ah, the ghost of conventions past rears its head again to whisper the rumor of the missing steak. For many years this has been an oft-told tale, but Miss Whozit suspects it of being an urban legend. She has not been able to verify or deny whether the maid did it with the candelabra or whether the guide dog did it because he too likes good meat. Either way the trusty guide dog often receives a raw deal. So in order to reinforce what we know to be true about good guide dog handling, remember to follow the basic etiquette. A good guide dog handler knows that he or she is responsible for the care and upkeep of the dog. The handler should bathe the dog frequently, groom it daily, and make every effort to see that a trail of dog hair is not left behind. If you receive a visit from someone using a guide dog that leaves more than a few hairs, in the best interests of your friend and other guide dog users you should tactfully bring the problem to the person’s attention. If the information is presented as useful data rather than criticism, it should be well received and Miss Whozit hopes will serve as a reminder to groom the dog regularly.
Remaining beside an accident is of the utmost importance. Convention goers who work their guide dogs daily will know their dogs’ movements and habits and will be prepared to take responsibility for any accidents that occur. If the worst happens, the handler should remain at the scene until someone from the relief area comes to clean up. Convention goers should remember that this clean-up is not the responsibility of hotel staff; it is the primary responsibility of the handler with the assistance of the relief area staff. The handler must always be conscious of the relief schedule of his or her dog. Plan your schedule so that you allow plenty of time to accommodate the needs of the guide dog. The guide dog is doing her job, and guide dog handlers should do their jobs by being responsive and responsible to the needs of the dog.
Last but not least is elevator etiquette, which is plain and simple travel etiquette. Whether you decide to use escalators or elevators, common courtesy must be observed. First of all, if you are boarding an elevator, the first point of elevator etiquette is to allow the people on the elevator to exit without having to push through those waiting to board. When the elevator arrives, those waiting to board should step aside, allowing those exiting to leave without fear of losing life or limb or, even worse, not being able to exit the elevator at all. Often convention goers stand, nose to the door, waiting to board, refusing to budge. This only delays the flow of traffic.
When boarding the elevator, use your cane to sweep the area you are about to enter, using the pencil grip to determine whether or not there is room. If there is, swiftly step inside, turn to face the elevator door, press the button for the floor you wish to exit, and wait. If a crowd has filled the elevator, step in as far as you can without crushing the person next to you. Always make sure you turn to face the door. If you are using a guide dog, pull your dog in as close as possible to you. This is not the time to release the harness—allowing your dog to sniff the skirt of the woman next to you.
Miss Whozit wishes all convention attendees a wonderful and educational week in Orlando, and she assures everyone that, if we all practice civility and good manners whenever we are in crowds, the convention will be a more pleasant and gracious experience for us all.
Dear Miss Whozit,
I am beginning to make lists of what to pack for convention in July, so I hope you can resolve a disagreement I am having with another member of my chapter. He maintains that, since ours is a convention of blind people, it doesn’t matter how casually or even sloppily we dress because most people won’t see us. I couldn’t disagree more, if for no other reason than our self-respect. Which of us is right?
On another matter, am I being intolerant by resenting the chorus of talking watches that loudly announce the time during otherwise quiet convention meetings or speeches? I know that Braille and print watch users check the time when they are getting bored or are worried about getting to their next appointment, but they are at least silent when they do so. Is it rude to introduce an audible reminder of the time in a public gathering, or is this merely a reasonable accommodation that we must all resign ourselves to?
Running out of Patience
Miss Whozit applauds your embrace of business dress at convention. And now that she has relaxed her own standards by abandoning her hat and white gloves, you may even be able to hear her decorous clapping for you and your standard of dress. Obviously no one imposes such a code on convention delegates, and some attendees can demonstrate their respect for the organization only by ensuring that their casual clothing is clean and as wrinkle-free as they can make it.
Still, some of us can remember the resentment the entire convention audience felt many years ago when the talk-show host Larry King announced at the beginning of his remarks that he was pleased to be addressing a blind audience because it meant that he could appear in the jogging suit he had been wearing for a cross-country flight rather than changing into coat and tie. Those who could not see him were almost more insulted by that statement than those who could. President Maurer always wears a suit and tie on the platform, and virtually all organization leaders and speakers wear business attire when making presentations of any kind.
In this more informal era and in a vacation city like Orlando, it is acceptable for delegates to attend convention sessions and meetings in business casual attire. But Miss Whozit would hope that everyone would treat the banquet with the respect it deserves by dressing up for the occasion.
As for checking the time during quiet public gatherings, Miss Whozit always does so as discreetly as possible so as not to distract others or insult the speaker. She recognizes, however, that not everyone is capable of feeling the dots on a Braille watch or seeing even an enlarged watch face. These people too sometimes need to know the time and have the right to ascertain it for themselves. She therefore merely urges everyone to remember that invoking that audible announcement of the time is rude and should always be done as quietly and infrequently as possible. Automatic hourly or half-hourly announcements of the time should be turned off. The volume should be as low as possible, and, if another watch has recently announced the time, it is completely unnecessary to check the information against one’s own time piece.
Here’s to an orderly and courteous convention.