Feb. 7, 2022

Mistaking Customers for Employees, Forgetting Previous Introductions, Washing Dishes Before Returning, and More

Etiquette, manners, and beyond! In this episode, Nick and Leah answer listener questions about mistaking customers for employees in stores, forgetting you've been introduced before, washing dishes before returning them, and much more.

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Etiquette, manners, and beyond! In this episode, Nick and Leah answer listener questions about mistaking customers for store employees, forgetting you've been introduced before, washing dishes before returning them, and much more. Please follow us! (We'd send you a hand-written thank you note if we could.)

Have a question for us? Call or text (267) CALL-RBW or visit ask.wyrbw.com



  • What do I do about strangers in stores mistakenly thinking I'm an employee and asking for help?
  • What do I do about a parent who asked me to sign a pre-written recommendation letter for her daughter?
  • What's the best way to follow-up with non-responders to an electronic dinner party invitation?
  • Do I have to accommodate a vegan guest who is not always vegan?
  • How do I deal with someone who always forgets we've been introduced before?
  • Should you wash a dish before returning it?







Hosts: Nick Leighton & Leah Bonnema

Producer & Editor: Nick Leighton

Theme Music: Rob Paravonian



Episode 125


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Nick: Hey, everybody. It's Nick Leighton.

Leah: And I'm Leah Bonnema.

Nick: And we had so many great questions from you all in the wilderness ...

Leah: [howls]

Nick: ... that we have a bonus episode. So here we go. Our first question is quote, "For as long as I can remember, people have been coming up to me when I'm shopping and asked me questions about the store we're in because they always assume I work there. I have never worked there. Sometimes they ask if I work there first, but most of the time they just rudely start talking at me. Last week, there was a particularly rude person at an outdoorsy store. I just tried on some coats and went to return them when I hear "What's your return policy?" being shouted. When she repeats herself even louder, I turn around and she's staring at me. I said, "I don't work here," and her reply is, "You look like you do." And I said, "No, I don't," and I walked away.

Nick: "First of all, the uniform for this store seemed casual: jeans, shirt, vest and a lanyard with the store name on it. I was wearing a long floral caftan, and definitely didn't have a lanyard on. I don't know why this makes me so annoyed, but it does. Whenever I need an employee's help at a store, and I'm not 110 percent sure that they work there, I ask them if they work there, or if I'm sure that they work there, I start by saying 'Hello, how are you?' and then I go into my question, Can you please review the proper etiquette for how people should act and what context clues they should look for? Hello? Name tag! And do you have ideas for how I can handle myself in order to make this a teaching moment for them without being rude?"

Leah: I felt our letter writer at their limits in the line "I have never worked there."

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: Like, how many times has this happened?

Nick: I mean, a lot. I mean, I get if you're wearing a blue polo and khaki pants and you're walking in a Best Buy. Yeah, people might think you work there. But a caftan in an outdoorsy store? I mean ...

Leah: And also the idea that somebody would just come up to someone who works somewhere and yell at them about the question without any kind of an intro or "Hey, excuse me. What's the return policy?"

Nick: And I do love "You look like you work here."

Leah: You know, that is just somebody who is like, sort of caught off guard by—and then didn't want to look into themselves to think, "Oh, maybe I shouldn't just yell randomly at people," but instead they double down, and they were like, "Well, this is still your fault!"

Nick: Yeah. "It's on you still. You look like you work here. That floral caftan in this mountaineering section? Yeah, your fault."

Leah: [laughs] Really unbelievable.

Nick: So yeah, you're definitely allowed to be annoyed by this.

Leah: So allowed. And these people are just being really rude. They're being rude to you, and for sure, they're being rude to the people that work there if they just jump into the middle of a question with, like, essentially ...

Nick: A demand.

Leah: Yeah.

Nick: Yes. In general, when you are going to speak with somebody in a store, you should say hello first and get their attention, and then you can ask your question.

Leah: I always say, "Hi, do you work here?" Because I've definitely—there's been a red polo in a Target, you know? And ...

Nick: Yeah, you want to double check. Absolutely.

Leah: Unless there's like three lanyards and one of those clip-on belts with the key to the back door, and they're, like, leaned over packages that they're putting onto the thing, I always double check.

Nick: And how to make this a teaching moment? I don't know if there's a way to do that.

Leah: Just because some people are not going to—like this woman did. She still was like, "It's still you. Well, you should work here. You look like you work here."

Nick: [laughs] Right. Yeah, I don't think there's a way we can make these better people.

Leah: Well, you obviously weren't even wearing the outfit. You didn't look like you worked there. That's why there's no, a lot of times, teaching moments with people, because even in the face of everything that is not true about what they're saying, they commit to it.

Nick: Now one idea: should you just pretend you do?

Leah: That might be the best time.

Nick: Like, "Oh, what's your return policy?" "You can return it any time you want, ma'am."

Leah: "You can return it for the rest of your life. Use it as many times as you want. Bring it back." And they're like, "Really?" And you're like, "No, I obviously don't work here."

Nick: [laughs]

Leah: And I almost want to be like, "Hey, I don't work here. And also, for the people that do work here, maybe you should not come in so hot."

Nick: Oh, I mean, no, you're not gonna say that. Come on.

Leah: Maybe the new Leah Bonnema is gonna say that.

Nick: Oh, when do I get to meet her?

Leah: "Hey, I don't work here." I don't know. She's really gonna—I'm gonna have to test her out a few times. I'm gonna have to become a completely different person and then you can meet her.

Nick: Yeah, there's not a world we live in in which you're gonna be like, "Oh, I don't work here. And for future reference, the next time you speak to somebody in the store, this is how you do it." I don't think that's a sentence that's ever gonna come out of your mouth.

Leah: I don't know. It seems to be fun to be that person.

Nick: Oh, no, that person is a blast. That person is not you.

Leah: [laughs] I know.

Nick: [laughs]

Leah: Hey, I maybe could pull off, like, "Hey, I don't work here. And also, I think the people that work here don't love being yelled at."

Nick: I mean, if you can land that, great.

Leah: I'm gonna try it.

Nick: Okay, keep me posted. Our next question is quote, "I'm a teacher, and was recently asked to write a college letter of recommendation for a highly gifted Ivy League-bound student I've worked with for several years. I was delighted to honor her request, but was shocked to receive an email from the student's mother that questioned my writing ability because I did not graduate from an Ivy League school. Then the mother provided me with a letter which she herself had written, which she suggested I just sign and return instead. I was horrified that a parent would ask me to basically plagiarize a letter, and I simply told her, 'No thank you. I have many wonderful things to share about your daughter.' A week later, I'm still reeling, and I wish I had said something more to address the situation. Do you have other ideas on how I could have handled this?"

Leah: I wrote, "Incredibly rude" so big under this one that the whole word didn't get onto the page.

Nick: Yeah. I mean, this is great, yeah. Because I mean, you can't get ruder than this.

Leah: You can't get ruder than this.

Nick: Because you've insulted so many aspects of my life. You've insulted my intelligence.

Leah: You've assumed that people who go to Ivy League schools are somehow smarter than people that don't, which is not ...

Nick: Right. And also, just because you go to an Ivy League school, all it means is that you went to an Ivy League school. It really doesn't guarantee anything else about you.

Leah: Absolutely. And also, our letter writer was doing a favor!

Nick: Oh yeah, that actually didn't even hit my radar, but that's also a very good point, yes. That I'm actually doing a favor for you. Yeah.

Leah: I mean, unbelievable! I would—I feel like I've said this, but I would love to follow this mother around.

Nick: Oh!

Leah: Because what person—oh, this wonderful teacher is gonna write a letter? And I'm like, "You know what? Since you didn't go to an Ivy League school, I'm gonna write this for you because obviously I'm smarter, even though you're the teacher."

Nick: "But I still need you to do me a favor."

Leah: [laughs] Yeah.

Nick: "So please, please still do that. I don't believe in your intellect, but please just, you know, scribble something with a crayon in the line here."

Leah: "I'm gonna write the whole thing for you, since you may not know what words are. If you could just sign at the bottom."

Nick: For me, actually, the blessing here of somebody who acts so outrageous is that you can't take this personally. This mother? She's doing this to everybody.

Leah: Everybody.

Nick: It's not you. It is definitely not you. This is not exclusive to you at all.

Leah: Also, when you said, "How could I have handled it?" I felt like for this situation, because I think the top of my head might have popped off if I got this email. You, I think, handled it very elegantly.

Nick: Oh, very nice! Oh, I mean, this is a textbook perfect response.

Leah: It's so perfect.

Nick: And I think the problem with this response, and why our letter writer is like, "I'm still reeling from this," is that often in etiquette, we want there to be more closure. We want it to be a little clearer to the other person that they have transgressed. And sometimes the polite response doesn't actually give us that closure. We don't really get to say, like, "Oh, you're an animal." [laughs]

Leah: You don't get to say it, but you've let them know, "Oh, no, no, no, no. I'll be writing my own." Which ...

Nick: Yes.

Leah: ... is the biggest thing you could—you didn't budge to this person.

Nick: Yes, the thing to do here was not take their letter and just sign it. Definitely not.

Leah: And you saying "No, I'm good, thank you," is to this person setting up a boundary very clearly.

Nick: And you even said, like, "I actually have some very nice things to say about your daughter. I'm giving you a compliment."

Leah: You're so lovely.

Nick: But yeah, other ideas how she could handle this?

Leah: No.

Nick: I think this was good.

Leah: I think there's no way you could explain—this person is not gonna take in how absolutely inappropriate, rude, all the things that they're implying with their words, they're not gonna get it.

Nick: I mean, I guess this just goes to show we have our work cut out for us still.

Leah: I mean, this woman!

Nick: So our next question is quote, "I'm hosting a dinner party soon for all my new neighbors, and I sent them all electronic invitations. I can see that a few invitations were delivered, but the guests have not responded. I don't want to hassle them and make them feel like I'm annoyed that they haven't responded by reaching out and asking, but I also don't want to throw the dinner party and have them feel excluded because maybe they didn't see the invitation. When it comes to electronic invitations, what follow-up policy is the most polite?"

Leah: I think this is a two-parter.

Nick: Definitely.

Leah: One is that I absolutely think it's not rude to follow up. "Just checking in."

Nick: Yes.

Leah: "Trying to get a head count."

Nick: Absolutely.

Leah: And then I think that, if you can tell from whatever kind of online invitation you use that they haven't even opened it, I think it would be instead of—because you can often resend the invitation or doing a follow up through that service, you could send a separate email in, like, a regular email if you're worried that it went to spam and say, "Hey, just checking in."

Nick: Yes, I think definitely you want to make sure your guests receive the invitation, so I think we want that. But what's really happening here? These people got the invitation. They just haven't responded yet. And this is very common. This is the number one complaint of people throwing dinner parties. And the people that do this, these are people who have never actually thrown a dinner party because if you had, you would know all I'm trying to do is figure out how much cheese I have to buy for the fondue. Who is coming? How many people is that? And talking about RSVPs in general, traditionally, you wouldn't even put the phrase RSVP on an invitation, because if I got an invitation, I would know I have to respond to this thing. You don't ignore it. It's inherent. It is part of getting an invitation. It's like, I don't send you a text message. "Hey, did you see last night's Love Island?" And then I sent another text message right away, which is, "Please respond to my text." No. You know that when I send you a text with a question, you're supposed to respond. So RSVPs? It is redundant. And yet people don't do it, and that is very rude. So everybody should reply very promptly to all invitations, yes or no.

Leah: And for our letter writer, don't feel bad about following up. As Nick said, you're just trying to get the head count.

Nick: That's it. Yeah. I mean, you should not live in a world in which you don't know who's coming to your house for a dinner party. Like, that's not a world we live in that you just, like, don't know what the guest count is.

Leah: Yeah, that's too hard on a host or hostess.

Nick: And it's just like, "Hey, Lisa, will you be able to come Friday? Please let me know." And ideally, this would be a phone call where you get them live, and so you can get the answer in that phone call. But, you know, an email, a text, maybe some other medium that's not the same as the invitation system.

Leah: Yeah.

Nick: That's probably your best bet.

Leah: I think the other medium, that way we can take the worry that they didn't see it off our plate. We're giving them another medium.

Nick: And then another idea for the future is on the invitation, put a date by which you would like to hear back from people. And if that date passes, then update the mechanism in the online invitation to prevent people from RSVPing any further. So if they miss their opportunity, well then that's it. So that avoids you getting an RSVP "Yes," like, four hours before your event.

Leah: Hoo!

Nick: Hey, you snooze, you lose!

Leah: No, I love it. I love it. I just saw in my theater one of those lines going up, you know, those like marked off, "These seats are full."

Nick: Yeah. Oh no, these are reserved. Yeah. And these are not for you. So our next question is quote, "Please offer advice on how to deal with somebody who always forgets that you've been introduced before. I just had someone who forgot twice in a single day. Should I acknowledge that we've been introduced before, or should I avoid him, or rise above and follow his lead, forgetting that he has forgotten?"

Leah: I do think there is the possibility, especially for somebody who met twice in one day, there is a medical reason that some people have bad facial recognition.

Nick: Yes, for sure. So I think we definitely want to give the benefit of the doubt, and that is a possibility.

Leah: Also, as the person who you have to reintroduce yourself, I do understand feeling irritated. You're like, "We just met."

Nick: Right. Yeah, it's like, "We just did this."

Leah: Yeah.

Nick: "How could you not remember my name?"

Leah: "I met you 10 times." I definitely have people in my life where I'm like, I've met them 10 times.

Nick: Yeah. So I don't think we want to pretend that it's never happened before.

Leah: No, I don't think so, either.

Nick: And I don't think we want to make a big deal of it, though.

Leah: No. I think it's a very casual—I've said to people, "Oh, hey, I'm Leah. We met at blank."

Nick: Yes. Or, "Oh yes, we've met before. Nice to see you again."

Leah: Yes.

Nick: And the key for this is, even though you're super annoyed inside, to try and use a tone that is not. That's hard. That takes practice, but that is what's required.

Leah: Yeah, I think that's perfect. Because I do think that you can acknowledge it.

Nick: Yeah, and you should. Yeah. But you can do it in a nice sort of value-neutral way like, "Oh yes, we've met before. Nice to see you."

Leah: And I think then that gives that person the time to, "Oh yeah, so sorry. Blah, blah, blah." Fix it.

Nick: So yeah, it just comes down to tone.

Leah: I definitely struggle with names because I specifically have problems when I see people in different environments than when I originally met them. I know I've met them.

Nick: Yeah. No, seeing somebody in a new context? That can always be a little tricky. Yeah.

Leah: So I would love to know that. I wouldn't feel like you were being rude at all. I would be like, "Oh, so sorry!" And then I would get the reference and I'd know where we met each other, and then we could move forward. I wouldn't feel like you were being—so I think that's why we say, "Oh, we met at so-and-so. Oh, we've met. Blah, blah, blah."

Nick: Yeah, exactly. Our next question is quote, "I often host friends for game nights at which I also serve dinner. One of my friends is vegan, so I make vegan food for everyone. But I usually have a side dish or two that isn't vegan, and my vegan friend always eats the non-vegan dishes along with the vegan dishes because she says the non-vegan foods quote 'Look really good too.' Can I stop centering my menu around vegan food since most of my friends aren't vegan and my vegan friend seems comfortable with non-vegan food?"

Leah: I just wrote, "Yes."

Nick: Yeah. I mean, vegan is also different for different people. So you have very strict vegans on one end, and then you have people who are usually vegan, but maybe will do dairy, will do honey, will do certain types of sugar that are non-vegan. So, like, there's a spectrum of what certain vegans are comfortable with. You have vegans that eat vegan for medical reasons, but would wear leather shoes. You have vegans that would not do that. And also people who start one way? They don't have to be this way for the rest of their life. People change. People have different things.

Leah: Absolutely. But I just think that our letter writer has been putting all this time and effort and centering all the food groups around the idea that this person is a strict vegan. And they clearly aren't.

Nick: They do not seem to be, no. So I think you could definitely at the minimum ask. Like, "Hey, I was planning on making lasagna for dinner with cheese. Would that be okay?"

Leah: But I think if we're having multiple people over, if we have one vegan thing for them and then other things, then it's fine.

Nick: I mean, I guess when we are entertaining, the idea is making your guests comfortable, and we want to offer them refreshments and something to eat. So I think as long as we are trying to please our guest with something they can enjoy, I guess that's what we're trying to achieve here.

Leah: I guess my only thing is they're saying they're centering it around this person.

Nick: Yes.

Leah: So I don't want our letter writer, who's clearly going out of their way to meet this person's dietary needs, I think they can be more—not worry about it as much.

Nick: So I think we want to just clarify what actually are the parameters of this person's diet, and have they changed and what are they today, so that I can offer something to everybody that everybody's gonna enjoy.

Leah: Yes.

Nick: Yes. Okay. We solved it.

Leah: We solved it.

Nick: Okay, great. So our next question is quote, "Recently, I had a friend return a dish I let them borrow, and it looked like it had been rinsed out but not cleaned. I pointed it out in a joking tone because I thought it was unusual to not wash a dish before returning it, but I wasn't particularly put off by it. They said I always wash dishes again when I get them back, so what's the use in both of us washing it? I have to agree that I also rewash dishes when I get them back, but does that really mean that I shouldn't wash them when I give them? I can see where they're coming from logically, but this would never have crossed my mind. Thoughts?"

Leah: I legitimately did one of these where I, like, touched my eyebrow, forehead. You know what I mean? And I was like ...

Nick: Yeah, to make the twitching stop?

Leah: [laughs] Yeah, and then I just like—what are you going to do with this? You know, obviously, you said to this person, you brought it up in, like, a ...

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: Tried to do the polite, non-judgmental tone. And they were like, "Oh no, this is how the world works." And then you're like, "I—okay."

Nick: Yeah. I always love people that use logic to try to explain why they are gonna do something rude, and why it's not actually breaking an etiquette rule.

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: Very common. Very common.

Leah: And then it's sort of like, what are you gonna do? I feel like you don't want to argue.

Nick: No, no.

Leah: So you're just gonna be like, "Ugh!"

Nick: But let's use your logic—quote unquote—to another etiquette situation. Let's say I'm your houseguest for the weekend, and let's say I love Cheerios. I love them so much. I love them dry out of the box. And I enjoy eating them in bed, and I'm very casual with them. I kind of toss them. And now I'm leaving your house for the weekend. "Oh, thank you so much. It was a lovely stay." And there's maybe a couple hundred Cheerios on your floor.

Leah: Mmph!

Nick: And why should I clean them up? You're gonna vacuum my guest room when I leave, so why should we both clean it?

Leah: I mean, yes, that's—this would be the same logic.

Nick: [laughs] I mean, it seems like the same logic. And I would like to think that the friend in this story would be like, "Oh, no, no. Actually, you're right. Yeah, I'm not gonna leave a floor full of dry Cheerios in the guest room. No, of course not." But yeah, I mean, I think somebody who has this attitude, it's really hard to make them look at life in a different way.

Leah: Yeah, because the answer is, oh, because it's the polite, it's the polite thing to do.

Nick: Well, it's polite because it's considerate to the person that you're returning a dish to.

Leah: Yeah, it's considerate. And if you have to explain what being considerate is, I mean ...

Nick: And I guess ...

Leah: I keep feeling like I keep saying, "I mean." I mean, I just don't know at this point, you know what I mean?

Nick: Yeah, I mean—but let's try and get through to this person, because I think there's a lot of people in a lot of our lives that is this person. And so they are right on some level. Yes, I'm going to rewash this thing. So they're not wrong about that. But how do we get through to this person that, like, that's not the point? You're missing the point.

Leah: I think that you could actually say that, "Oh, no, I see what you're saying. I don't think of that as the point. I think the point is that when you wash it before giving it back, it's just being considerate to the other person."

Nick: And I guess it's considerate because I'm gonna make a little extra effort as a show of appreciation for allowing me to borrow the dish and presumably whatever else was in it.

Leah: Yes, I think it's the show of appreciation.

Nick: Right? Is that what it is? Yeah, I guess it's just a little gesture of gratitude.

Leah: Mm-hmm. And not giving somebody else work, even though they probably will rewash it.

Nick: But they don't have to.

Leah: They don't have to.

Nick: That's true.

Leah: You're not giving them a job.

Nick: Yes. By deliberately not washing it, you're now obligating the person to wash it.

Leah: Yes.

Nick: Hmm. Okay, I think that's actually a very key detail too then. Yes. Just because I was probably gonna rewash it, now you're forcing me to.

Leah: Yes.

Nick: And that's rude.

Leah: Just because I could doesn't mean I should have to.

Nick: Yes. Oh, so much of etiquette is the difference between "could" and "should."

Leah: Hmm.

Nick: Ponder that. And I guess, yeah, sometimes when you sort of think about the same etiquette problem in a different context, you can see like, oh, how bonkers that is.

Leah: Right. Bonkers!

Nick: And this is a little bonkers.

Leah: That's such a good word for it. Bonkers.

Nick: It's bonkers to not wash a dish before you return it.

Leah: Yeah. Well, and then to have someone mention it and then you explain to them.

Nick: "No, you're wrong."

Leah: "You're wrong."

Nick: "That's not logical."

Leah: "That's not logical."

Nick: All etiquette must be logical.

Leah: I mean ...

Nick: I mean—so do you have any logical questions for us? Or illogical? We'll take them. Please send them to us through our website, WereYouRaisedByWolves.com. Or you can leave us a voicemail or send us a text message (267) CALL-RBW. And we'll see you next time.

Leah: Bye!

Nick: Bye!