Technology

Social Graces with a Smirk


By Francesca Di Meglio The birth of Etiquettegrrls.com, a Web guide for the politesse-challenged, happened on a whim. New Yorkers Lesley Carlin and Honore McDonough Ervin turned a bad day into a business, when a week of endless interaction with rude people begat a Web site to help those who simply don't know any better and need an education in everyday etiquette. The Web site has generated enough interest that book publishers have taken notice. The Etiquette Grrls' Things You Need to Be Told: An Etiquette Manifesto is due out in the fall of 2001.

Spunky retorts and wry remarks certainly help attract publishers and visitors to Etiquettegrrls.com. But the lack of competition doesn't hurt, either. When searching for etiquette sites, surfers will find a slew of pages dedicated to the social conventions of modern weddings. Yet when it comes to everyday manners, sites are scarce. Etiquette expert Sue Fox specializes in business manners in her books, but her company's site, www.etiquettesurvival.com, fails to answer visitors' questions. In fact, it serves more as an advertisement for the company's offline services: on-site lectures and published materials.

DETAILS OF CIVILIZED SOCIETY.The EGs, as the Etiquette Grrls refer to themselves, offer advice on everything from appropriate table manners to the nuances of gift giving. Visitors learn the finer details of civilized society, the first step on the road to success.

The bread and butter of this etiquette operation is the "Q&A" page, where visitors to the site can seek counsel (especially -- hint, hint -- as B-school recruiting season heats up). The EGs respond with hip, practical advice, part of their "mission to purge the world of the horrible, crass, rude, boorish behavior that sadly, shockingly, has become the norm in our Post-Post-Modern World," as they explain on the site. For example, this week, the EGs warn that French manicures are tasteless, especially because that's the style "preferred by people like Kathie Lee." That's Gifford, in case you've forgotten. Talk-show host. Sings a little.

The EGs are more than fashion mavens: They offer cultural awareness. The duo even answered my questions about the right tone to use when refusing a job offer from a floundering e-business outfit. Their solution: "Simply say something along the lines of, 'Well, Mr. Startup, thank you so much for your offer. I'm sure it would be really great working for Nocapital.com, but I've decided to explore another option, and the timing just isn't right. But thanks so much for thinking of me.'" Good advice, if you ask me.

HARVARD HATERS. With their Q&A archive full of advice, the EGs might seem like workaholics. But all work and no play would make the grrls a total bore. Fear not. On the "See Us in Hell!" page, the grrls take revenge on the most egregious etiquette offenders. Atop the list: anyone who went to Harvard University. The EGs say they've never met a Harvard alum skilled in the fine art of conversation, nor have they found one "whose ego could fit in the same room with them." I just want to know if that includes Matt Damon, my favorite Harvard dropout. Ivy Leaguers (the EGs hate Wharton, too) are only one of several Etiquette Grrl pet peeves, including bottled water, Ikea, and J. Crew.

The grrls satirize the rules of etiquette while managing to give sound advice about maintaining decorum. They're serious about etiquette, but they realize stringent social conventions must be tempered with humor. As a result, Etiquettegrrls.com is like Miss Manners meets Saturday Night Live. The site works both for laughs and advice.

Since the grrls specialize in social graces, they might be a useful resource the night before a big company party. They also can suggest the perfect outfit for every occasion, including interviews. Regardless of the question, the witty responses are sure to charm. The features page, which most recently focused on coming up with creative holiday gifts, forced me to think about subjects that seemed inconsequential before my stop on the etiquette train.

The lack of formidable rivals makes Etiquettegrrls.com's flaws seem less important. The site's practical applications, for example, overshadow a look that's short on sophistication. One other site appeared promising at first glance and owned my favorite Web address: www.CourtesyFlush.com. A slew of questions and answers flood CourtesyFlush's homepage. However, the observant visitor will notice that the site hasn't been updated since 1999, and my round of questions to CourtesyFlush went unanswered. The moral of this story: The grrls certainly can flush the competition in business and in refinement. So, if you want to put the manners back in "MBA," then hop on to Etiquettegrrls.com. Di Meglio is a freelancer in Fort Lee, N.J.


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