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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The first of Ten Commandments

I love the ones that Moses showed us. And even though I know it's like running on a treadmill, I still try to abide by 'em. So far I haven't killed anyone. So that's one successful commandment.

But my commandments are hardly Holy and definitely not guides to clean living. Mine are guides to avoiding awkward silences with people who are different from yourself. They're about not making yourself feel or look stupid unnecessarily.

So commandment one is about familiarity. You've heard familiarity breeds contempt? I used to think that meant getting to know someone too well, as in ALL of the good and bad. Now that I'm a little older I think it's also probably a reference to being too familiar, almost like being fresh with someone.

Thou Shalt Not Address A Stranger by A Nickname, Slang, Or Hip Phrase, And Thou Shalt Not Address People You Know By The Same, Unless You Are Good Friends With Those People.

Commandment number one goes out to the bartender who called me "homey" the other day. Go ahead and laugh. But "homey" is a very personal nickname. It's not like buddy, or pal. Homey is something you call your tight friend or the person with whom you feel an inexplicable sibling like bond. Homey is one of those slangs born of hip-hop culture. I'm almost as uncomfortable with a stranger calling me "homey" as I am angry when I hear people tossing around racial slurs. It's not a race thing though. I have white and Asian and Latino friends who can call me "homey." A stranger calling me that ain't cool though for one reason: Strangers do it not because they know you well. Strangers use such nicknames, because they make certain assumptions about who you are, based on what you look like. And they think by calling you a slang nickname it instantly gives them credibility with you.

You get my drift? I know you do.

So that's commandment number one. I'm no Sydney "They call me Mr. Tibbs" Poitier, but if you don't know me like that: I don't work with you, hang out with you, etc., then call me James (not Jim) or Mr. Burnett.

Next week, commandment number two.


  • Oh, I hear ya.

    I'm reversed on this one - I hate being called Ms. (last name), or worse, Mrs. (whatever) - I'm too young for that! And, most people call me by my full name - Teresita - when they first meet me, but I have to tell them to just call me Tere. I've always been Tere and feel weird when someone calls me otherwise. Oh, and it's amusing to me only, but some people call me "Terry" - a sure sign they really don't know me AT ALL and are not kindred spirits.

    Have you ever gone by Jim? Is it something only family calls you?

    By Blogger Tere, at 8:48 AM  

  • Dear Mr Burnett,

    like Tere I find it strange when people, other than those much younger than me, address me as "Mrs ..." & we've been married 25 years!

    Makes me wonder what I've done wrong or something. Shades of bad memories of school?

    By Anonymous Bronchitikat, at 4:01 PM  

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