You Spin Me

News flash: Other people are often annoying, and there's little you can do about it

Dear Social Grace,

I regularly attend a spinning class at a local gym, and the class is terrific -- excellent instructor, great workout, awesome energy. The problem is a woman who also attends the class. When she feels pumped up or excited, she tends to emit high-pitched whoops and yelps that sound like a little dog that's been stepped on. Not only is the sound (and its association with an animal in pain) unpleasant, but it's extremely distracting to me as I try to focus on my workout.

So, while I understand her enthusiasm, I don't appreciate her expression of it. What's the best way to get her to stop shrieking and yapping?

Via the Internet

Dear Spinning Madam or Sir,

Well, here we are again at the gym (that's twice in two weeks -- much better than my normal health-club attendance). And now that we're here, let's take note of our surroundings: A gym is a noisy place, full of clangs, whirs, rumbles, grunts, shouts -- and, yes, shrieks and yaps (and that's just the piped-in dance music). If you were participating in a silent meditation course, a classmate's loud yelping might give you something to speak to your teacher about. But enthusiastic vocalization is hardly out of place in a spinning class (a fitness instructor I spoke to said she likes to hear the occasional "whoop" when she's teaching, as long as it doesn't interrupt or drown out her instructions).

There's a lesson here: Other people are often annoying -- some of them extremely so. But if an annoying person is following all of her environment's applicable rules of good conduct, both written and unwritten (the unwritten rules should be readily apparent if you pay attention to your surroundings -- a valuable skill that many folks need to work on), then the onus is on the annoyed person to, well, get over himself. I say that with all gentleness, as a person who can be easily annoyed.

Dear Social Grace,

When eating out (or at a dinner party), when leaving the table to use the restroom, receive a phone call, etc., where should one put one's napkin? On the table? On the empty chair? I often feel awkward when leaving the table and have asked many people with no resolution. Help.

Thank you,
Where Do I Put My Napkin

Dear Wiped-Up Madam or Sir,

A final resolution to this problem will, I'm afraid, continue to elude us. Placing a napkin on the table isn't absolutely wrong (if you leave it to the left of your plate, placed gently so that only clean cloth is showing). The chair is better, however, because that way no one has to look at your messy dinner detritus at all. Most etiquette books recommend the latter. Another thing to remember is that putting a napkin on the table sometimes indicates that you've finished eating, and waitstaff may remove your plates as a result. (At a formal dinner, for example, the hostess can signal that the meal is over by doing so.)

Dear Social Grace,

Is it not more correct to leave some part of a meal on your plate when you are finished? For example, if you are at a restaurant or dinner party? In such a situation, I believe it is incorrect to leave your plate wiped clean.

Via the Internet

Dear Leftover Madam or Sir,

In the not-too-distant past, it was not uncommon for people, especially girls, to be taught that they should leave a bit of food on the plate when they'd finished eating. This practice was more an etiquette fad than a true requirement of courtesy. It was meant as a show of disinterest in food -- the implication being that overwhelming hunger, or all-consuming appetite, is a beastly sensation that we civilized, well-fed people don't feel. (Students of etiquette may have noticed that many of our more elaborate table-manner rules serve to put as much distance between food and stomach as possible.) Nowadays, I think we can all agree that the custom -- and the idea that a healthy appetite is strictly a masculine characteristic -- is outdated.

Well-mannered people are not required to leave uneaten food on their plates. Some might even argue that discarding food solely for appearance's sake is shockingly wasteful in a world where so many go hungry. (Plus, there are plenty of cultures in which leaving food on your plate is, in fact, impolite.) In the main, however, what you do or do not leave on your plate, and your reasons for doing so, are your business. Etiquette insists that what you eat should concern only you, your most intimate relations, and perhaps your spinning-class instructor.

 
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