On Dealing With Relatives. And Security Guards.

Hmmm. The Lady of the Manners said she was probably going to talk about Dealing With Parents for the November lesson, didn’t she? Well, Snarklings, is Dealing With Parents and Relatives During the Holidays close enough? The Lady of the Manners will even include a bonus lesson of how to politely deal with being harassed by security guards at shopping establishments, which is probably a very timely topic, what with the holiday shopping season looming near and all.

So. The holidays (as the media is so fond of reminding us) are a time for family. Which the Lady of the Manners agrees with, actually, but the Lady of the Manners realizes that not everyone is lucky enough to have family who accept them for who they are. The Lady of the Manners is also aware that it’s a bit difficult to be full of holiday cheer when arguments about “You aren’t going to your grandparents dressed like that!” are ringing through the air instead of, say, sleigh bells.

First things first: there is no such thing as a picture-perfect holiday celebration, and the Lady of the Manners is sure that you know that. But! No matter how aware of that you (and probably your family) are, that doesn’t change the fact that deep in everyone’s heart of hearts, they think that if they just do the right thing, say the right words, then they WILL have that greeting card”“perfect holiday. And there’s nothing wrong with striving for that; just keep in mind that you may need to be a little more patient and accommodating than usual.

What does accommodating mean here, exactly? It means keeping a pleasant facial expression when you are asked (for the umpteenth time) “So, what’s with all the black? You could be so pretty or handsome if you only dressed like a normal person!” Accommodating means replying to that question (and others like it) with a pleasant tone of voice, even if your answer is simply “Because I like to”. Accommodating means making sure you have some easy, relative-friendly answers to “So, what is this Goth thing?” (And in case you were wondering, talking about Tim Burton movies, the Addams Family, and literary classics will probably get a better reaction than talking about wearing black on the outside because you’re SO morbid and depressed on the inside. Just a hint.)

Some of your relatives genuinely will be curious about why you decided to join the Goth subculture (and if they are, thank your lucky stars and spend most of your time talking to them), but others might, sadly, look upon you as a scary, possibly dangerous creature, and will treat you with suspicion. The important thing to remember is to NOT treat them the same way, no matter how tempting it seems. If you are suspicious and unkind in response to them, they almost certainly won’t realize that you’re mirroring their behavior. No, they’ll probably just take it as proof that all Goths are unpleasant, antisocial creatures, and will be even more unpleasant to you. If you can manage being polite and civil to your more annoying relatives, not only will you look good to the rest of your family, but you can console yourself with the knowledge that you’re being a better person than certain other people and helping improve the perception of Goths everywhere. Who knows? Maybe one of your relatives will talk to one of their friends or co-workers about their charming, albeit spooky, relative, and how they now know that Goths aren’t dangerous freaks. (Yes, this is yet another refrain of the Lady of the Manners’ usual comments, but every little bit of polite behavior helps, Snarklings, it really does.)

As to the familiar “You’re not going there dressed like that!” argument … the Lady of the Manners is going to say something that may shock you. In the interests of family harmony, you might want to consider dressing a bit more formally. If you usually favor trousers with an assortment of straps and buckles, ripped fishnets, t-shirts, or smeary eyeliner, why not try an outfit that’s a bit more polished? Something from the more historical or romantic side of the subculture closet, perhaps?

The Lady of the Manners is sure that some of you are glaring at her right this very instant. “What about being true to myself?!”, she can hear you muttering. Yes, Snarklings, being true to yourself is very important. But if you’re truly secure in who you are, then dressing in an darkly elegant, spooky, and event-appropriate manner is a fine way of showing your confidence. Being one of the best-dressed people at a gathering is fun, not to mention most parents and relatives think it’s sweet to see someone “properly dressed up”.

The holiday season also brings needing to find gifts for people, which usually means shopping. And thinking of shopping brings the Lady of the Manners to a letter she was sent recently:

I really enjoy reading your insight on manners in the Darkwave Scene. I am writing because I would like to know your advice on an issue that I’m sure many of us are familiar with. I shop regularly at a convenience/mega store that sells many different departments of goods. I am there regularly and I am very friendly with the staff that works there. Though my issue is…How do I go about kindly asking an employee to stop following me and keeping an eye on me, sure my appearance may be a bit different, and I don’t exactly mesh in with other customers. I am an honest hard working individual who would never think about stealing goods. Your advice is eagerly awaited.

Ah yes, there’s nothing quite like being followed around stores by the employees to make one feel like a valued customer. Unless, of course, one becomes tired of playing “Spot the plainclothes security guard” when one is trying to merely run a few errands. Yes, the Lady of the Manners has experienced this particular annoyance too. And while the Lady of the Manners just finishes her shopping and heads home to rant about it (in a restrained and ladylike fashion, of course) to the Lady of the Manners’ dear husband, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t thought about what steps to take the next time this happens.

Thing the First: make it obvious that you are there to shop. The Lady of the Manners asked the advice of some acquaintances who work in the profession of Loss Prevention, and their helpful comments were to make it clear you are a shopper, not a potential thief. That translates to using one of the shopping baskets or bags provided by the store instead of carrying items in your hands, and walking with a purpose instead of skulking around. (“Walking with a purpose? What on earth do you mean by that?” asked the Lady of the Manners. “Oh, you know. Look like you know what you’re in the store for, don’t repeatedly go wandering to the back corners or out-of-the-way parts of the store. That sort of thing”, was the reply the Lady of the Manners received. Which, the Lady of the Manners must admit, is very like how the Lady of the Manners wanders around when the Lady of the Manners is browsing through a store.)

Thing the Second: if you notice an employee paying a marked amount of attention to you, make it obvious that you notice them. Catch their eye and smile at them. If you notice that you are being followed around by what is probably a plainclothes security person, catch their eye and smile at them, or say hello. If they keep following you, stop, look at them, and comment that you seem to keep running into them, and do they need help with something? (The Lady of the Manners realizes that this means some of you will have to overcome your natural shyness and/or aversion to talking to people you don’t know, but feels that it will be worth it.) Don’t look like you are trying to hide or to avoid attention. You have every right to be in the store, so act like it.

Thing the Third: If you have time, after you have purchased your items, go to the store’s customer service desk and (politely and calmly, of course!) ask to speak to the manager. If the manager is available, explain to them that you have noticed that you seem to garner an undue amount of attention when you shop at that store, and that you do not appreciate being singled out as a potential shoplifter. Point out to them that shoplifters usually try to avoid being noticed, to blend in, and that those descriptions probably do not apply to you. Do not raise your voice, do not start blustering or lose your temper, but make it clear that you will not stand for such treatment, and that if it continues, you will take your business elsewhere and tell everyone you know to do the same. Keep (again, politely!) stressing these points until the manager offers an apology, and (hopefully) to speak to the employees or security guards.

Thing the Third, supplemental: If the manager is not available, ask for the mailing address of the store manager and the corporate head office. When you get home, write up a short, polite letter that covers what the Lady of the Manners suggested you say to the store manager. Make two versions of the letter; in the one intended for the store manager, be sure to mention that you are sending a copy of the letter to the corporate head office. In the version intended for the corporate office, ask them what steps they are going to take to ensure that such harassment does not happen to you or other Goths in the future. And then, be sure to mail the letters off. Don’t just let them sit on your desk collecting dust; you have to send them off for them to do any good.

Now, the Lady of the Manners is well-aware that there are more dilemmas that the holiday season brings than just the ones she mentioned in this month’s lesson at Gothic Charm School. But no matter how much you may plead, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is not going to help you shop for your relatives. (Except for suggesting that you could be terribly clever and give everyone Gothic Charm School merchandise, of course! Did the Lady of the Manners mention that there finally are black Gothic Charm School t-shirts available? Well, there are.) The Lady of the Manners isn’t even going to badger you about Gothic holiday décor (though the Lady of the Manners thinks that bats are always a festive touch). At least, not right now; but who knows what next month will bring? Of course, one of you might send the Lady of the Manners a particularly interesting letter …

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