Dear Clementine

Need a boost of modern etiquette? Read our weekly Dear Clementine article.
woman blowing bubble gum

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Dear Clementine,

Is it polite to ask people not to crack their gum? The lady at the coffee shop next to me is driving me CRAZY.

Pet Peeved

Dear Pet,

It is not polite. Thank you for asking. I'm glad we cleared that up. Let's do this again sometime.


Fine. I'll tell you the whole truth.

It is not polite to ask people - especially strangers at the coffee shop - not to crack their gum or stop gulping so loudly or ease up on that perfume or “Seriously?! You’re breathing down my neck, Lady!” in a queue. Remember this: It is not polite, so don’t do that.

But no matter how much remembering we try to do, there are some moments when the cracking and gulping and a sudden need for nose plugging or shoving overwhelm even the most polite and patient intentions. Then maybe we find ourselves saying “Pardon me?” to the cracker in the coffee shop. And then maybe she looks at us with total confusion, shaking her head and wondering what we’ve been drinking.

In a perfect world, that sweet stranger would stop smacking her Sorbitol and move on, quietly. As would we. But maybe it’s a certain Thursday, and I was grumpy about my skinnies being too skinny and my skin looking every bit its age and someone I love tall was very short with me and I couldn’t let it go because oh my goodness she would not stop with the gum and then it had to be said again!

“Sorry?” I repeated.

“I didn’t say anything,” she repeated.

“Oh! “ I said. “I keep hearing you say something! I must be crazy!”

Which is actually the whole truth, isn’t it? I was temporarily crazy. I had to be. Because I know better, and because I’m better than that. In fact, we are all better than that. Unknowingly poor manners or sad little social graces shouldn't bring out the worst in us. If we're living this life thing right, those moments should bring out the best in us.

I could tell you how the situation was eventually sorted, but it doesn’t really matter at this point. Even if I had succeeded in shaming her to stop, I did not win. Not even close. I acted like a weak jerk, at best. At worst, I failed at being a friend to all, which is kind of who I imagine my mother hoped I would grow up to be.

Think about that for a minute, will you? Pretty much every behavior we choose on a moment to moment basis could be judged in a very basic sense the same as if we’d acted that way back in the day. Would our parents have hissed in our ears to “Knock it off, Little Miss!” or would they have beamed proudly from no less than eight steps away, trying hard to put their heart back in their chest?

Gosh, it could all be so simple again…

I’ve learned along my way that I can’t control you or you or even gum-cracking her, but I can sure as hell control myself. You can, too. Remember that. And I know we’re all grown-ups here, but sometimes it bears repeating that we were raised better than this. Remember who you are. More importantly, remember who someone quite wonderful hoped you’d someday become. Yes, remember that.

With the exception of a certain Thursday, that’s the only way I live my days.


p.s. Have a question for our resident life expert? Ask Clementine here.