Etiquette, manners, and beyond! In this episode, we'll tackle passing dishes at a dinner party, behaving at the opera, posting photos of others on social media, tipping on take-out, snooping in medicine cabinets, and much more. Please follow us! (We'd send you a hand-written thank you note if we had your address.)
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Producer & Editor: Nick Leighton
Theme Music: Rob Paravonian
Nick: Do you pass food platters in the wrong direction? Do you open medicine cabinets that aren't yours? Do you post photos of others without their permission? Were you raised by wolves? Let's find out.
Here are some things that can make it better
When we have to live together
We can all use a little help
So people don't ask themselves
Were you raised by wolves?
Nick: Hey everybody...welcome to the show. I'm Nick Leighton.
Leah: And I'm Leah Bonnema.
Nick: And we're coming to you from New York today and let's just get right to it with our amuse-bouche.
Leah: Let's jump in there.
Nick: Leah, which way do you pass dishes at a dinner party?
Nick: There's only two answers.
Leah: I know, I know...
Nick: It's a 50/50 shot...
Leah: I know! I feel so...
Nick: ...just roll the dice.
Leah: Am I at a round table? Am I at a square table?
Nick: Doesn't matter!
Leah: Oh, no. I'm going to say I probably pass to the right.
Nick: OK...why would you say that?
Leah: Because I'm left handed and I always say that I do the opposite of what I would do.
Nick: Hmm. I mean, this is correct!
Nick: Yes, you always go counter-clockwise. So, you always want to basically pass from the left to the right. And it does come down to most people are right handed! OK!
But if you are at a dinner party full of all left-handed people, it would be OK to go the other way.
Leah: Finally we can be ourselves.
Nick: Yes, finally you can be you. Also, it should be mentioned that if this is not like a platter and you're asking for something specific to be passed like, "Oh, pass the salt...pass the pepper," you can just pass that the quickest way. You do not have to send that all the way around the table.
Leah: Like across the table.
Nick: Yeah, you don't have to make sure it always goes counter-clockwise all the way around if that's the long way.
Leah: What you shouldn't do...
Leah: ...is stand up and reach.
Nick: You should not do that.
Leah: Then you're going to drag your shirt in and it's going to be wild.
Nick: Yeah, that will be wild, so don't do that. And there's many more things you shouldn't be doing after the break...stay tuned.
Nick: And we're back and joining me now...Sam Neuman, opera expert. Welcome.
Nick: So, Sam...you were the press director of the Metropolitan Opera for seven years.
Sam: I was. Very exciting.
Nick: And how many operas do you think you've seen?
Sam: Oh my god. I've probably been to the opera a thousand times I would say?
Nick: Literally a thousand times.
Sam: Literally a thousand times. Because there are so few operas that are done, I've probably seen La Bohème a hundred times. So, I haven't seen a thousand different operas, but I suspect I have been to the opera, I would say, a thousand times.
Nick: So, for someone who has never been to the opera, it feels a little intimidating perhaps. Why are people actually intimidated by the opera?
Sam: I think the image of opera in pop culture is very elitist. I think when you see it in movies, it tends to be something that very wealthy people do or if an ordinary person goes to the opera, it's like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman or Cher in Moonstruck where they don't really know how to act and they're sort of a fish out of water. So, I think that scares people.
Nick: So, in terms of the etiquette of going to the opera, as a baseline, the rules are the same as any performance. But opera has some unique things, right?
Sam: Sure. That's absolutely true. I think one thing that people would ask me, and I think is a really common anxiety that people have who have never been to the opera, is what to wear because again you have an image of an old lady in a tiara and a man in tails and people with lorgnettes that they're looking at the action through. And I will tell you every time I went to the Met, all of those hundreds of times, I would see, without fail, a person in sweatpants and I would see a person in black tie.
Nick: Well, just because someone's wearing sweatpants does not necessarily mean that's acceptable.
Sam: It was fine...truthfully.
Nick: It's fine...like, thank you for your ticket money.
Sam: It's fine...there are four thousand people in that room. It is absolutely fine. No one is going to be looking at you. You aren't going to be turned away. You really should just be comfortable and feel good. But if you like to dress up, it's a good opportunity to dress up because you really cannot be overdressed. It is the one place where you can have a cape and a tiara. You were there with me when Latrice Royal was there dressed as Aida in headdress and evening gown and that was absolutely fine. And it is also if you just come from work and you wear whatever you're wearing.
Nick: Ok. So, one unique thing about opera is the applause rules are a little different than in other types of performances.
Sam: Yeah, so I would say surprisingly for something that is very sophisticated, high-culture art form, or at least it's perceived as that, there is a lot of yelling. It inspires a great deal of enthusiasm; the stories of the operas tend to be very passionate and it is an art form that when people love they love it to an extreme level. So, it is very common to hear people yell, either "Bravo" if they like something in general that has been sung. So, during the applause, you'll just hear people say, "Bravo!" If it is something specifically for a woman, which is very common in opera, right? If a diva sings very well, people will say, "brava."
Nick: So, now we're doing Italian conjugation.
Sam: Yes. If you like what everyone is doing, you can say "bravi" for the whole group, which is rare because when are you going to think that the person who has one line as the page is probably up to that level of enthusiasm, so it's rare that you get a "bravi" unless you just see a perfect moment in a performance. And this could be at the end of the show, this could be after an aria...you will hear this yelling. What that goes with is you still will hear people booing, which is very strange. Even if you go to a lot of theatre, you are not used to people actively booing the performers. And I will say even though in Italy, there is still more booing of singers...Renée Fleming was famously booed when she sang at La Scala in the 90s.
Nick: And how did she take that?
Sam: You would have to ask her, but I'm guessing it wasn't evening for her. But she sang a part that was very identified with Maria Callas at La Scala that is Italian, Lucrezia Borgia, about an Italian woman and they were really not ready for that.
Nick: She didn't quite live up to the Maria Callas standard.
Sam: In Milan. It wasn't quite what they were looking for. But will you hear, still quite frequently at the Met, is booing of stage directors. So, normally there's enough affection for the performers and for what they do that people will be polite enough to just not applaud very loud if someone sings horribly. But the stage directors are very controversial in opera because there are so few pieces and they're done in specific ways. So anything that sort of deviates from the form will often inspire people to boo the stage director.
Nick: So, if there's a new production and we just hate the set...
Nick: ...at what point do we boo that?
Sam: The director will come out and you boo him at that point...
Sam: ...at the end of the bows. The bows are a like a ten minute choreographed show in themselves where everyone bows in order and then they repeat and then the soprano brings out the conductor and he bows and then everyone bows together and then you have the director. So, basically, the person you don't recognize because you haven't seen them on stage is likely the director and that's when you sometimes will hear booing if a production that people don't like.
Nick: So, what else should we know?
Sam: So, one specific thing that people might notice at the met, which is kind of strange, is that operas are often very long...sometimes they can be five or six hours if you're dealing with a German opera, especially. But strangely there is an impulse from some particularly older members of the audience to run out of their seats the second it seems like it might be over, which often is not the end. So, for example, at Tristan und Isolde, Isolde dies at the end — sorry that's a spoiler — and she collapses to the stage and then there's a beautiful about ninety seconds of music that concludes the opera that resolves this unresolved chord that has been happening in the background of the opera that has been happening for five and a half hours. So, it's the culmination of the piece. Every time she dies and falls on the floor, you will see people get out of their seats even though the lights aren't on and start... My co-worker at the met used to call it "canes up the aisle" because you will suddenly see this mobilization of people just sort of running to get the M72 bus or to get to the parking deck. And, I would suggest it is more considerate to your fellow opera-goers to just give it a moment, wait for the curtain to come down, wait for the lights to come on, and then maybe you can think about getting your car.
Nick: OK...that's a good pro tip.
Sam: Another thing I would suggest, which I think goes for any performance, but the Met in particular has famously great acoustics, which also carries to the audience. So, no only is going to hear you if you're unwrapping candy or snoring or any of the other things that happen. You also want to be mindful of commenting negatively about the performance while it's going on because everyone will hear you if you say it at a sort of an awkward moment. And even at intermission you can really, I think, have a negative impact on someone's experience. So, even though most performances at the Met are great — the standard of singing is very high — there are bad performances, of course. And, you have to remember that someone in that audience is loving it no matter what because, again, you have four thousand people...there is someone who has never heard La Bohème before or they just particularly like a singer...they're having a great time. I specifically thought of this because I remembered a time when I was at the opera and Patti LuPone was there a couple of rows in front of me...I had seated myself near her obviously when I heard she was coming. It was a Carmen and the lights just started to go down at the end of the first Act...there's a pause between Act I and Act II...and so loud, you know how loud Patti LuPone can be that you could hear it in the fifth balcony, she said, "This is why hate opera..." I looked and she's like, "There's two hundred people on stage and they're just milling! Everyone's just milling, milling, milling, milling!" So, I would say, if you're not Patti LuPone, you should keep that to yourself. But I was very glad she did it because it was very entertaining.
Nick: I mean, to be fair, there is a lot of milling in Carmen.
Sam: There is a lot of milling...and Patti was not interested in the milling.
Nick: So, now it's time to play a game we call, "Vent or Repent?"
Nick: ...which is your opportunity to either vent about some bad etiquette experience that has been happening to you or you can repent about some bad thing you've done.
Sam: I see.
Nick: Would you like to vent or repent?
Sam: I would like to vent.
Sam: I would like to vent for sure. So, it only happened once but I think it's indicative of a wider social phenomenon, which is... I was at dinner at a nice Italian place and it's small, like a lot of Italian restaurants in New York, and so we're sitting at a little two-top that's right next to the bar. The bar has tall stools. The reason I set this scene for you is that there was a man, who is otherwise well-dressed, but he was wearing flip-flops right at my eye level who is sitting at the bar. And, immediately as soon as he sits down, he drops off the flip-flops and it's just these huge bare feet that are essentially in my face. Like, horrible fifty-year-old man feet.
Nick: So, this was not not like pedicure...
Sam: No! A nightmare. And he was on a date with a woman who couldn't see the feet I don't think. And I really wanted to warn her. Should I pass her a note and be like, "Look down! You're in danger!" But, it was truly just... And they kept getting more wine and they just... these feet were just sort of dangling inches from our pasta for hours.
Nick: I'm horrified, A, but also I think flip-flops in public in general is a provocative thing in New York City. But I think this date was apparently going well...
Sam: It seemed to be.
Nick: ...and she knew that this man was wearing flip-flops.
Sam: He got there first, so I don't know. I genuinely don't know. Maybe she did...maybe that's what she's into. I don't know.
Nick: Well, I'm sorry this happened to you.
Sam: You know, I got over it. But it was a difficult time.
Nick: But I think the lesson for anyone listening is: Please don't wear flip-flops to dinner.
Sam: Should I have done anything as the patron? Like, I really...it was such a palpable moment that I was like, "am I supposed to say something?" Like, I'm not going to...
Nick: Well, you can't say anything to the guest.
Nick: I guess you can flag management and be like, "Do you have a shoe policy here?"
Sam: So, I did actually say something to the waiter. I was just like, "This guy's feet are like...and it's horrible." Because I felt like we had built a rapport with the waiter and he was like, "Oh my god that's so gross." But he didn't do anything about it.
Nick: Did you get comped drinks, at least?
Nick: Ok, well...another unfortunate etiquette experience in New York City. Well, thank you Sam for joining us.
Sam: Happy to be here.
Nick: And after the break, more "Raised by Wolves." Stay tuned.
Nick: And we're back. And now I want to talk about posting photos of other people on social media.
Leah: This is such a big topic.
Nick: And so there's just posting random strangers. And then there's posting photos of your friends and doing it all without permission. And I do not appreciate other people posting photos of me on their pages, especially if my hair is not looking good.
Leah: Well, if you post a picture of someone, you should care about if it's a good picture of them.
Nick: Yes. If it's like you're the only one that looks good in the photo, then that's rude.
Leah: It's super rude.
Leah: I've been tagged. I got tagged in a photo two weeks ago that could have laid me out for the whole day. I was like... I don't know in what world this person thought it was OK. I can only assume that I did something to them in a past life. You know what I mean?
Nick: Or current life.
Leah: It was so bad.
Nick: What did you look like?
Leah: I looked like... I'm aware of the bad angles that are like, "Oh, could you find me at my fattest?" That, I'm like, "Ugh, bad angle." This was not that. I missed the day I just looked fat. I looked like I had that old age face app on and I didn't have the old age face app. I don't even actually know what happened. I looked 85 in this picture. And I didn't even know the person who took it. It was at a comedy show and they posted it and I had to take a breather. And then tagged me!
Nick: So, they knew you well enough to know who you were.
Leah: Well, they just tagged...yeah, they were at the comedy show and they tagged, "Oh, I saw..." You know, so I didn't want to be like to some person who took a picture of me, "Are you crazy?" But I want to be like, "You're going to send me to therapy with this!"
Nick: Well, they probably assumed that an 85-year-old woman doesn't have social media, so wasn't ever going to see the photo. So, they should have...
Leah: They should have known better.
Nick: Yeah, that not everybody...
Leah: It was a woman! Sometimes guys put stuff up and you're like... But another woman? It feels purposeful. And I don't mean to say that about... But I feel like women are always like, "Did I? Can I take another?" Do you know what I mean? I mean, she knows.
Nick: She knows that you look horrible and she did it on purpose.
Leah: She knows that looked horrible.
Nick: OK. Well, so don't do that I guess is the...
Leah: Don't do that to people. I always when I have pictures I want all my friends to feel good about it.
Nick: A rising tide lifts all boats.
Leah: Yes! A rising tide lifts all boats. Why would you do that? And if you can't get one, you've got to filter it. You've got to maybe write some words over where your friend doesn't look right so they feel good.
Nick: Yeah, I agree with this. Yeah
Leah: What if your friend takes your picture and you look great but they didn't get to ask your permission but that you look great.
Nick: Yeah, if I look great? I'm OK with this.
Leah: Right? It's fine.
Nick: What about taking pictures of strangers and posting it?
Leah: I have a lot of friends who do it so I try not to judge other people, but I don't like it. I think it's really disrespectful to people.
Nick: So, let's say one of your friends posted something horrible online...terrible photo. What is a nice way to ask them to take it down which doesn't make you sound like a crazy person.
Leah: Oh, all my friends know that I am a crazy person. Like, this person I didn't know this person. Also, I had already seen it. You know, that's the worst part. I don't want to see it. I don't want to see that.
Nick: The damage was done.
Leah: The damage was done. I don't care who else saw it...it's more that I had to see that. But with my friends, I'll just be like, "Hey...you've got to take that down. Are you crazy?"
Nick: So, did you reach out to that stranger?
Leah: No, I just blocked them.
Nick: OK. So, that photo is available...I can look up this photo now.
Nick: Oh, this is the first thing I'm going to do when we're done here.
Leah: Actually, I don't know if you can.
Nick: Oh, I can. Oh, I'll figure it out.
Leah: Don't bring it up to me.
Nick: I will find it...
Leah: You're going actually.. The problem is you're going find multiple photos that are horrible and you're not going to know which it is...
Nick: ...I'm going to make pillows...
Leah: ...and then you're going to send them all to me and I'll be like, "I can't handle this."
Nick: ...oh, I'm going to do a whole montage with "Wind Beneath My Wings" as the background soundtrack.
Leah: I hope you're joking because I really can't handle it.
Nick: I have some free time. After the break, we're going to take some questions from the wilderness. Stay tuned.
Nick: And we're back and now is the time of the show we're going to take some questions from our audience. So, the first question...very good question. Do you tip when you pick up take-out?
Leah: You have to let us know this. I look to you for the real answers.
Nick: So, let me preface by saying the Emily Post Institute, who I have mixed feelings about...
Nick: They say, "No...no obligation to tip." I think this is incorrect. I think they are giving you bad advice by being so definitive. I do not think there's a clear answer on this. I think it comes down to why people tip at all because you can tip to ensure good service. You can tip because you realize that the compensation system in the United States for service workers is totally messed up and the tip is actually part of their base wage because they make, like, a dollar an hour.
Leah: That's why I'm tipping.
Nick: Or sometimes a tip is just to express appreciation for them for some reason. Maybe they did something nice or you just like them or you had a nice experience or whatever. So, I think the answer to the question is: You tip if it's for one of those reasons. So, if you want to do any of those things, tipping for take-out is totally fine. If you don't want to do any of those things, then I don't think you're obligated necessarily, but you are not necessarily off the hook. So, that's my feeling on this.
Leah: What do you think would be an OK tip if you wanted to do one of those things but you don't want to tip 20% on take-out. So then what's not disrespectful but, "Hey, I want to throw a little something"?
Nick: I think one way to think about it is what would you tip if you were at a bar and a bartender handed you a bottle of beer? So, is that a dollar a drink? Is that two dollars a drink? So, that could be sort of that. I think 10% is nice, yeah? Or, you know, a couple bucks? I mean, it depends on how big the order is.
Nick: If it's just a $4.95 soup...
Leah: Say it's like nachos.
Nick: If it's just nachos, hypothetical example for you.
Leah: Hypothetical example.
Nick: Never happened.
Leah: Hypothetical example: It's two empanadas — broccoli cheese — with both the pink and green sauce. What would you tip on that hypothetical?
Nick: I think two dollars is nice.
Nick: OK. Next question is, "Is it OK to open someone's medicine cabinet?" Have you ever done this?
Leah: I mean, it's between you and God. Because they're not going to know.
Nick: So, I was reading this book, which is called, Are You Normal? and they...
Nick: ...it's a good book. And...sometimes we wan to know the answer to this. And they reference a study, which they don't actually tell you anything about, but they say that upwards of 40% of people snoop in medicine cabinets. Which I believe that.
Leah: Oh, absolutely.
Nick: And that's just the 40% that admitted in some survey that they do it.
Leah: My guess is that it's higher.
Nick: 99%. And in this same research, they also showed that people that are single and people that are divorced are more likely to do it than people who are married.
Nick: Go figure. And younger people are more likely to do it than older people. So, I guess I am all of these categories for snoopers and yet I do not do this. It does not occur to me to snoop in somebody's medicine cabinet, but...
Leah: I don't either.
Nick: Hmm? Look me in the eye and tell me that.
Leah: I don't.
Nick: OK. I believe you. One thing I was reading online about this is that some people like to snoop to see what medication you're on.
Leah: Right, but if I was to have a house party, I would take my medication.
Leah: Why would I ever... I would only leave things that I expected people to see.
Nick: Yes, I think if you know that 40% of people admit to snooping, you should just hide everything.
Leah: Yeah, I hide everything that's worth hiding.
Nick: Yeah. So, all your fungal cream.
Leah: Oh, I don't have fungal cream. C'mon, now.
Nick: Not that I would see if I opened up your medicine cabinet.
Leah: Yeah, but you know me that I would just own up to it.
Nick: That's true. You'd be like, "Yeah, I've got fungal cream...what about it?" But yeah, I think you should definitely hide everything just knowing that everyone's going to snoop. You shouldn't snoop, but we know you're going to do it, so...
Leah: I have looked in a shower.
Leah: I just want to see their shower's like. I love a nice shower.
Nick: Like, you want to see the plumbing?
Leah: I just want to be like, "How's the tiling in here?"
Nick: Isn't it, like, the same as the rest of the bathroom you have access to?
Leah: No, it's always different.
Nick: So, you're moving the curtain.
Leah: Sometimes I'll just...
Nick: That was Leah, like, leering around the corner.
Leah: Yeah, you didn't see me. And, you know, you've using "leering" twice with me today and I just want you to know it's a glance.
Leah: It's a thoughtful look.
Nick: It's a...
Leah: It's a, "Oh! What's going on?"
Nick: Yeah, it's a little...
Leah: It's not a "leer."
Nick: It's a curiosity.
Leah: A "leer" is nefarious slightly.
Nick: There's a malicious intent.
Leah: Which I don't have.
Leah: It's a delighted curiosity.
Nick: I was also reading that Dear Abby I think in the 90s recommended that people put marbles in their medicine cabinet to basically shame people who open their medicine cabinet.
Leah: That would be so funny.
Nick: So, I don't... who has marbles? Does anybody have like extra marbles?
Leah: No, I haven't seen marbles since My Fair Lady.
Nick: Were would I buy? I guess Amazon? Where do you buy marbles?
Leah: I think maybe like a... I always imagine they have them in those bags...those fishnet bags like in a kid's store? Does that still happen?
Nick: Are there stores? I don't know.
Leah: Oh, I bet it's a aquarium store.
Nick: OK, OK. Fish-related.
Leah: Like a Petco. They have marbles.
Leah: But that's a fun idea. We should just go do that.
Nick: So, next time you're having people over you should just get the marbles in your medicine cabinet somehow.
Leah: Honestly, that gives me so much joy. Because you know it's going to be most people. But it's only going to be the first person. It's not going to work for anyone else.
Nick: Well, after the first person is shamed by the marbles cascading and pinging around your bathroom, I don't think anyone's going to take that risk.
Leah: Yeah, you just only get that one chance. But I would laugh so hard.
Nick: But what would the host say? "Yeah, I put marbles in my medicine cabinet." Like, what do you say?
Leah: Oh, I would just openly laugh. We'd all be like, "Ahh! Gotcha!"
Nick: And then person comes out and is like, "I cut myself...I was looking for a Band-Aid."
Leah: Then you could be like, "Oh, OK."
Nick: I definitely have friends that probably snoop in my medicine cabinet. Yeah. This is why I've actually merchandized it. If you look in my medicine cabinet, it is all merchandized. I even have photos in there. It's like a display cabinet. It's like a curio cabinet. Yeah, so...
Leah: So when someone opens it and they're like, "This seems very curated. Is this an exhibit?"
Nick: It is, yeah. Welcome to my life. It's all curated. It's all for show. It's all artifice. Welcome to the world of Nick Leighton. So, do you have a question for us? Oh, yes you do. Send them to us. You can send it to us through our website - wereyouraisedbywolves.com - or you can text us or call us and leave a voicemail: 267-CALL-RBW. And after the break, there's much more Raised By Wolves to come. Stay tuned.
Nick: So, Leah...what have we learned today?
Leah: I've learned that both of us don't look in people's medicine cabinets.
Nick: Yeah, I like that about you.
Leah: I like that about you.
Nick: I was a little surprised, to be honest.
Leah: You were surprised? I'm into giving people their privacy.
Nick: I appreciate that.
Leah: That's why I don't take pictures of people in public.
Leah: Both in the same vein.
Nick: OK. Same flavor. Alright, I like that.
Leah: I also liked your breakdown of why people tip and if you feel any of those things that's why you'd tip. I thought that was a very great breakdown.
Nick: Yeah, I think it's good to think about why tipping happens. I wish as a society we did not actually have to tip and it was all just built in and then we didn't have this weird charade.
Leah: Because I definitely have a lot of anxiety around it.
Nick: Yeah, I don't think I resolved your anxiety. But, at least...
Leah: I just have to let it go.
Nick: You do need to let it go, Leah.
Nick: Gotta let it go.
Leah: It's so hard.
Nick: Thank you, Leah.
Leah: Thank you.
Nick: And thanks to you out there for listening. If I had your address, I'd send you a hand-written thank you note on my engraved social stationery. Please subscribe to the show and also visit our website - wereyouraisedbywolves.com - so now, hopefully nobody will ask, "Were you raised by wolves?" See ya next time!