Menacing Kitten Services You Part II: The Everyone is Tacky Wedding Edition

Hello, fair felines, to my second edition of The Menacing Kitten Services You. Through the thick storm clouds of writer’s block and moving stress, a beacon of inspiration has cracked through thanks to this lovely article appearing on Jezebel which involves the tackiest people ever to both give and receive a gift. To summarize if you aren’t up for reading the link: a former boss was invited to a wedding and gave the blushing brides a basket of grocery store items. Well, to be specific:

“As a gift, my Girlfriend and I gave [the couple] a wicker box with a hinged lid, filled with food items, most of them PC Black Label, including: tri-color pasta, salsas, Balsamic vinegar and Olive, Gourmet croutons, Panko Breading, Pesto, some baking ingredients, Biscuits from Godiva and a few ‘Fun’ items like Marshmallow Fluff, Sour Patch Kids and Butterscotch sauce.”

Bride #1 requested a receipt from the gift-giver, explaining she was gluten-intolerant. The former boss didn’t have a receipt to give, so Bride #2 told him that a basket of fluff and sourpatch kids isn’t a good gift for a $100-a-plate wedding. Well, to be specific:

“Hey it’s [Bride 1's] wife Laura. I want to thank you for coming to the wedding Friday. I’m not sure if it’s the first wedding you have been to, but for your next wedding… People give envelopes. I lost out on $200 covering you and your dates plate… And got fluffy whip and sour patch kids in return Just a heads up for the future :)”

They then got into a passive-aggressive war over etiquette, which basically is the same as when the Real Housewives of Botoxville start throwing overpriced tequila and electric plug-in dildos at each other while arguing over who is klassier.

While the bride side of things is pretty abhorrent, both sides present us with teachable moments in the art of wedding gift-giving and gift-receiving. When discussing etiquette, rule number one should always be:

ETIQUETTE IS NOT AN EXPECTATION YOU FORCE ON ANOTHER PERSON, BUT THE STANDARD YOU HOLD YOURSELF TO.

But Anne-Marie, you say, you’re placing an expectation on other people just by posting this very thing. To this I say, YES! But that’s because I’m better than them, as are you, dear reader. We are third party observers and have no personal stake in this matter. This is the internet – an anonymous, unnecessary collective that joins together from across the globe to pass judgement on viral stories with minimal perspective and even less fact-checking. You and I are but two lion heads in a Shame-Voltron.

Plus, I’ve been uninspired to write lately, and this story just tickled my sarcastic side. So this is happening.

Let’s start with the lesser of two evils (in my opinion), the Gift-Giver. Let’s walk through his missteps in this matter, remembering that we are discussing what he has control over – the brides’ missteps will be covered later. We’re spending a little more time on this side because it’s a bit more nuanced:

  • As an attendee, the polite thing to do is to provide (if you can afford it) a gift or gift of services that roughly equals the expected cost of your meal. Even when couples are established, weddings are not cheap. More graceful couples than Bridezilla2 are inviting you to share in their special day at a great expense to themselves; as a friend, consider helping them offset that cost in some way.
  • You know how I placed “if you can afford it” in parentheses above? Don’t let that part go unnoticed. Not everyone can afford a $100+ gift, and a graceful couple usually knows that. If you are a close friend or family member to the couple, it can be assumed that they have at least an inkling of your financial situation. I would argue that it means more to the couple that you are there than that you gave them an expensive gift. If you do fall into this category, I guarantee the graceful couple would be honored to receive something you made or designed, or accept a service you can provide – perhaps you can arrange the flowers, pick people up at the airport for the event, or even housesit for them when they’re on their honeymoon. Here is the fact of the matter – a graceful couple should expect nothing, but that doesn’t mean it’s proper for you to take advantage of them.
  • The food gift basket the gift-giver gave them is a tricky thing; why? Because he states he didn’t know them all that well. That sort of gift takes on a different meaning if you know the couple and you know they love those things; for example, one of my sisters gave me this amazing marriage-themed Penzey Spice Box. I love baking and I love Penzey’s. Plus, the spice box was filled with certain spices and a description of how they represent marital bliss, love, etc. in different cultures. That is a well thought-out gift and an excellent gesture. I loved it so much, I bought one for another couple.
    There is one other problem with the gift-giver’s homemade basket: it doesn’t make any fucking sense. You’ve got tri-color pasta, balsamic vinegar, pesto and olive oil. Italian. Then you’ve got salsas. Mexican. Then croutons and panko crumbs? Okay… “some baking ingredients” – flour? Extract? Huh? Godiva biscuits, and…fluff, Sour Patch Kids and butterscotch sauce. And a card that says “life is delicious.” This is such a random hodgepodge of food with such a lazy cliché attached, Mr. Gift-Giver, that it tells a story of you running down the grocery store aisle an hour before the wedding in panic mode, throwing random crap in your wicker basket that you’re probably re-using from a gift you received along with the original straw that came with it. I’ll bet you the straw was still molded in the shape of a wine bottle and glasses. I probably sound like a bitch on this point, but here’s why – I’m seeing zero sentimental value or thought behind this gift. If there was some real thought, at least tell a story that ties all this shit together – a story that doesn’t involve you sweating in your cheap suit in the Cost Plus parking lot with your trunk open, desperately trying to reshape the straw in the basket while bags of Korean-labeled Lemonheads and Israeli couscous spill everywhere. Effort and thought? That actually would have made this gift A-OK.
  • This takes me to my third suggestion: if you don’t know someone that well and you don’t feel they are worth a thoughtful gift, why are you bothering to go to this wedding?  I’m just throwing that out there.
  • I’d go into the etiquette of their text exchange, but there is just so.much.wrong.happening. I can’t say I disagree with him on a few of his points, but there are a few too many low blows made for me to approve of his handling of the matter.

Now, onto Bridezilla2:

  • So after Rule Number One, which applies to both gift-giver, and gift-receiver, you, dear Bridezilla have a Rule Number Two: NEVER HAVE A WEDDING YOU CANNOT AFFORD BECAUSE YOU SHOULD NEVER INVITE SOMEONE TO MAKE MONEY OFF OF THEM. This ties into Rule Number One. See, a gracious host (which is what you strive to be since this is the grandest event you will likely ever host) wants to share an experience with others. That’s your end-game; not how many envelopes you’ll get at the end of the night. My favorite weddings were the ones that were basically giant celebrations filled with food, drinks and laughter. My least favorite weddings were ones where you can see every corner cut, every mini-quiche counted, and a couple who only interacted with 70% of their guests during the Money Dance. And people – can we please stop with the Money Dance? It is SO FUCKING TACKY. If you really need money, start up a fucking Kickstarter or something so I don’t have to treat you like a freaking stripper on YOUR SPECIAL DAY. It’s ridiculous. Unless you offer a lap dance option. Then it suddenly just turned into a hilarious crazed Hedonistic Awesomefest fully worth the price of admission.
  • Following Your Special Day, when you find out you got a few shitty gifts, do you know what you do? YOU WRITE A THANK YOU NOTE. “Thanks for the Marshmallow Fluff and croutons! We smeared them all over each other and had sexy sex on the basket! I’m so glad it had hinges! Life IS delicious, Pasta Boy!” It’s that simple. Now wait a minute; did you write thank you notes to your other gift-givers? You know, the ones who apparently gave you the dollas that make you holla? I’m guessing you didn’t. Call it a hunch. Sit down and write your damn thank you notes! I know it forces you to open your Precious Wedding Kitty filled with its sweet, sweet cash (and a half-eaten Sour Patch Kid), but it is what you do.
  • A quote from Bridezilla’s message: “Weddings are to make money for your future.” Please read Rule Number Two. No, they’re not. If they were, I would have skipped college and just married myself every couple of years. It definitely would have been a better return on investment than a Music degree with an Art History minor. Another quote: “People haven’t gave gifts since like 50 years ago!” Coincidentally 1963 was the last year grammar books were handed out as gifts.
  • Keeping all of this in mind, do you know what you don’t do? You don’t tell people what to gift you at your wedding, and for God’s sake, you don’t tell someone how cheap they are and proceed to give them an etiquette lesson. Now, the closest thing to telling people what to gift you and having it be acceptable is to set up a couple of bridal registries. If Bridezilla2 did this (I’m assuming they didn’t since it’s not 50 YEARS AGOOO), they probably only put expensive things on there, like I don’t know, Jimmy Choo pillow cases (I don’t know if that’s a thing; probably not). Please don’t do this. If you want to put a few nice items on there, by all means, go ahead; but please, give your guests affordable options as well. And don’t force the registry on people – if they want to go off a registry, they’ll ask you where you’re registered.

There is something I tell people when I talk about my philosophy on weddings: A wedding is just a day, a honeymoon is just a vacation, but a marriage is a lifetime. People spend way too much time, money and drama on the one day. If you’re going to make that level of effort, think of it as a gift you are sharing with others. If you are viewing Your Special Day as a giant G-string for people to stick their hard-earned dollars into, perhaps you need to reevaluate your priorities. And your friendships. Likewise, if your friend is getting married, celebrate it with them. Give them something thoughtful and nice. Like two jars of maraschino cherries. Black Label.

The Other 90%

So, I am now officially moved to the Bay Area – yay!  I am still temporarily tied to my job in Arizona, so there is only so much I can say about that experience for the time being, however I feel like things are finally getting better. It’s been a rough 6 months with new experiences I would be happy to never encounter again. I’m recovering, and part of that recovery is dusting off the Kitten. That does not quite sound right. Anyhooz, for today, I want to talk about assholes.

I recently witnessed an exchange between two strangers where it was clear one of them made an honest mistake and apologized profusely for it, whereas the other person chose to be an asshole.  It got me thinking: what qualities make up an asshole, and what percentage of the world is made up of them, really?

I conducted a highly scientific study where I hypothesized that the world is probably 20-30% Asshole. Recalling my experience as a waitress, I decided to round that down to 20% – it just seems there should be more because assholes take up a lot more time, space and energy than your average human. Then I thought, “20%; that’s like 1 in 5.  There’s no way there is one asshole to every five people…is there?” I then thought about every place I’ve ever worked. I figure work creates a good cross-section of people; I wouldn’t be friends with assholes, and the average family dynamic is far too complex to determine who is an asshole (plus, I wouldn’t classify anyone in my family is an asshole; mental? Yes. Asshole? Nah ;)).

Upon assessing every former co-worker I’ve ever dealt with, I realized that while there were certain people I certainly didn’t like, most weren’t assholes.  I mentally went through each person I didn’t care for: Slacker. Con artist. Pain in the Ass. Complainer. Rich brat. Psycho. Gossiper. Person Obsessed with Self-Help Groups Who Cannot Be Counted On. Narcissist. Liar. Eggshell-Walking Condescender. To be fair, I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years.  At any rate, it turns out that none of those people could be classified as assholes; there were aspects of each of them I liked and in most cases, they were genuinely decent people. The actual assholes accounted for only 10% of the people I’ve ever worked with.

What was it about this 10% that made me classify them as assholes?  There is a common criteria among all of them:

  • A persistent victimhood where they believe every person around them is angling to attack them
  • An assumption that there is a selfish/hurtful motive behind everything a person says or does
  • A complete disrespect and lack of consideration for others while demanding to be treated like they are King or Queen of the World. This is usually done by belittling, yelling, unnecessary defensiveness and passhole-aggressholery.
  • Anger. Just constant anger over the dumbest, smallest shit.

When you write it all down like this, assholes are a pretty sad lot.  Yet, we give them so much power.  I mentioned earlier about being a waitress.  In my ever-so-brief stint at Friendly’s, I took something from that experience that I still carry with me to this day. No, not the peanut butter fudge ice cream I pilfered when I found out they weren’t paying me my credit card tips – that shit went straight down the piehole three seconds after I walked out the door.

No, I learned that the 10% took up 90% of my time and energy because I only wanted to make them feel satisfied. They were volcanos of anger just waiting to erupt, and I shoved ice cream and attention into their giant, gaping calderas as an offering in the hopes of appeasing them. Silly me. Every time – let me emphasize that – EVERY TIME – it didn’t make a difference. They weren’t looking to enjoy the food I gave them or appreciate my service; they went there looking for problems, free food, and the opportunity to feel superior. This happens all throughout service industries and all throughout life, yet no matter where you go it’s the 10% that get 90% of the attention. It’s the 10% that ruin your day. It’s the 10% that make you throw a phone across the room or take an extra moment in the bathroom to catch your breath. It’s the 10% that make you briefly forget that there are plenty of good, non-asshole humans around you.

In my own experience, I’ve had the most success flicking assholes out of my life by following certain guidelines. When encountering the asshole in your life, consider these tips:

  1. Recognize that an asshole is going to be an asshole no matter what you do, so the first thing you need to realize is their anger is not about you.  Their life is an ongoing flow of rage and negativity and you just happen to be next in a long line of people they are going to rage on.
  2. The best weapons against assholery are patience and kindness. Nothing makes an asshole lose their mind more than another person’s refusal to play their game. I personally believe that at the heart of it all, assholes are assholes because it’s the only way they know how to control their environment and/or feel important. Their power is only what you give them. Be kind, be you, love you, and trust yourself.
  3. There’s a temptation to question yourself after you experienced someone’s rage. Promise yourself that you will take accountability for the mistakes you actually made, but recognize the difference between someone looking for a solution versus someone who wants to just yell for 20 minutes. True story: I once had someone yell at me for 20 minutes over the phone because their health plan gym membership card said “middle name” but it only showed their middle initial. She was rude, sarcastic and of course, pissed. I let her speak, but I remained politely firm that there was nothing that would be done about the situation. After about 10 minutes, I asked, “is there anything else I can help you with today?” She went on ranting for another 10 minutes about how her middle name isn’t “E”, and after she got tired of ranting in circles and not getting a rise out of me, I responded with a pleasant, “well, I thank you for calling; is there anything else I can help you with today?” She finally got off the phone, and for once, I felt perfectly fine after a negative phone call.  It was a transformative moment for me, because it is my tendency to want to please everyone. At that moment I realized some people only want to be displeased, and they want to make you displeased too. Those are the 10%.
  4. Finally, if you are in a situation to do so, just ignore them. As they say on the interwebz, don’t feed the trolls. It sounds like such an elementary school approach to it all, but their behavior is childish.

The biggest challenge for me is when I see examples like the exchange I referenced above. It’s very strange – I am naturally shy and have that whole social anxiety thing going on, but all of that goes out the window when I see an asshole picking on someone. My gut desire is to fucking destroy them. But if I do that, then I’m playing into their game. I’m giving them the attention they crave while letting them control the situation. They win. Instead, take the best of who you are and share it with the people around you – take your compassion, your kindness and your goodwill to the people who will appreciate it as well as the people who haven’t had the opportunity to appreciate it. Randomly pay for a coffee or a toll, say “hello” to people you pass by on the street (people in larger metro areas will look at you suspiciously, but don’t worry about that – just keep at it, I am).

We’re not going to change the world with our kindness, but if we all work to remind each other that there are 9 of us to every 1 asshole, we’ll at least take 90% of our lives back to spend on the things we enjoy and the people we love.  That’s worth it, isn’t it?

Image courtesy of chrisroll/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tips for Donating Post-Sandy

As most of you know from my other blog posts, I grew up in Connecticut.  My family is out there, and many of my lifelong friends still live somewhere in the northeast.  I’m happy to say that my loved ones escaped harm from Sandy.  By all accounts, everyone is warm and dry at home, and in most cases, they have power.  Not everyone in the region is that lucky – this storm was devastating, and flooding is widespread.  Even when the tides recede, residents will have to contend with cleaning, rebuilding, and dealing with a lack of available resources.   As we have seen with prior disasters, we have a tendency to donate with our hearts and without question, and unfortunately less legitimate organizations bank on that sentiment.  Here are a few quick tips to make sure your time and money is being used effectively in this crisis:
1)      Visit Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) to see if the charity in question is legit and if they are well-rated.
Charity Navigator is a great site committed to what they call “intelligent giving.”  They provide a multitude of resources to educate donors on a charity’s financial health, accountability and transparency.  In addition to looking up charities, be sure to check out their Tips for Donors page.

2)      If you are concerned that a charity’s values conflict with your own, do your research.
Let’s be honest here – there are some charities that do good work, but they may involve themselves in political agendas that are polar opposite of the values you hold.  If this is not a concern to you, by all means, donate; but if there is something you feel very strongly about – perhaps you have a personal policy to donate to apolitical charities – be sure to do your research.

3)      Cash is better than goods.
Currently, many charities such as the American Red Cross are asking that people donate cash rather than physical goods.  While it may feel good to physically hand over a palate of water or clothing, the cost to sort, transport and distribute such things is typically high and extremely inefficient.

4)      Never give in to “impulse” donations – always get something in writing before you donate.
Another thing you see often in post-disaster fundraising are telephone outreach campaigns, where people solicit money from you over the phone, pressuring you to donate on the spot.  In some cases, people may even go door-to-door.  While it is tempting to agree to donate on the spot, it is always better to ask for something in writing detailing what the charity is and where the money goes to.  Find out the organization’s name, and look them up on Charity Navigator or your local Better Business Bureau web site.  A common solicitation scam in Arizona is where someone selling magazines goes to your door and tells you that the funds are going to a charity. Here is my personal rule with these impulse solicitations: if they really want you to donate money for a cause, they won’t turn down your offer to send in money or refuse to give you access to documentation.

5)      Finally, Here are three charities that have high ratings with charity navigator, have a long and proven track record, and/or perform a unique and needed service:

The American Red Cross: As a disclosure, I volunteered for the Red Cross when I was in high school and received training in mass care for disasters.  While there have been occasional controversies with the ARC over the years, in my opinion, no one has more experience or a better system for shelters and temporary housing than the Red Cross. Their volunteers work hard around the clock to ensure that families have a safe place to stay when disaster strikes.  With all the destruction to property that has occurred from this storm, the Red Cross will need your help in ensuring they have enough funds to make sure all displaced families are cared for.

The Humane Society:  Please note that Red Cross shelters do not accept animals.  To ensure that pets, horses, and other animals are safe during a disaster, donate to the Humane Society so they have the funds to do so.

Direct Relief International:  One of the top-rated charities on Charity Navigator, Direct Relief International provides medical assistance when disaster strikes.  They ensure supplies, medicine and medical equipment is provided to those in need, working closely with local health care organizations.

Advice for College Freshman

Shop Amazon – Off to College Essentials
Between last week and this week, thousands of kids all over the country are moving into dorm rooms and getting ready for Act Two.  This is a time that is scary and overwhelming and exciting, so those of you who are new students and feel like you’re in panic mode – don’t fret! It will all be just fine.  To help you through the rough patches, I have five pieces of advice for you that will help you get through this first year:

1) Go to class
After a few weeks of class, you’re going to be really tempted to skip at times – those 8 a.m. classes catch up with you and you’re going to want to hit that snooze button or watch TV instead.  Going to class and sitting near the front will reduce your study time by at least 30%.  Possibly even more.  If you go to class you don’t have to worry about trying to squeeze 10 chapters of information into your brain the night before a test.  That method does work for some people out there, but for most of us? All it does is cause stress and take away hours and hours the night before a mid-term or final.

2) Liquid Detergent > Powder
Powder may be cheaper, but it can get clumpy and yucky.  Plus, coin-operated machines in dorms are pretty wimpy compared to what you’re used to at home. My life improved exponentially when I switched to liquid.  If you MUST use powder, take this tip from my former roommate: let the washer run empty for a minute to get a few inches of water in it, add your powder, let the water go for a few more seconds so the powder dissolves, and then add your clothes.  While we’re in the laundry room, one other tip: NEVER leave your clothing unattended.  Someone will steal all of your cute clothing and you will never find the person who did it.

3) Avoid cheese, fried foods and vending machine sweets
Okay, there’s a lot you can do to be healthy – eat your fruits and veggies, work out regularly, blah, blah, blah.  If you can’t do all of that, and you’re not good at planning out your meals? Avoid anything cheesy or fried.  Vending machines? It’s tempting to grab a Snickers or those yummy little sugar-caked donut sticks that go perfect with a cup of coffee, but all of that quick and easy stuff is where your “Freshman 15” will come from. It all adds up, slowly but surely.

4) Don’t panic if you feel lonely
I can’t tell you how many people feel like they are never going to make friends their first semester.  It always seems like everyone around you is having an easy go of making new friends, but just as many people are feeling shy and nervous around all these new faces.  It takes a while to really connect with people.  It will happen; until then? Enjoy the quiet time – read a book, listen to music.  Walk around campus and enjoy life.

5) If you are in a relationship that involves long-distance sobbing at least once a week, end it.
Every floor on every dorm in America contains one-half of the co-dependent high school couple who fights and weeps over the phone at least once a week for the entire school year.  Look; it’s sweet you guys want to be together, but this is supposed to be a fun time for both of you.  You’re wasting this wonderful time in your life by crying on the phone.  It’s not healthy.  Relationships should never involve that much crying.  Seriously – put the relationship out of its misery and have fun.  Date other people.  See how brilliant and amazing you can be on your own.  By yourself.

Of course, don’t just take advice from me:  I asked a number of former college students for their advice to incoming freshman.  Here are some of their responses:

  • Do your homework and don’t gain the fresh 15 (Analisa)
  • Drink water and eat bread while drinking (Peter)
  • Don’t run out in front of cars (Jacob)
  • If you’re not a morning person, don’t take 8am classes. (Chris)
  • This is going to be the worst time of your life. After you survive this, anything else is cake. (Kirsten)
  • Go and explore the town and city. Take pictures of all the doors on campus. Live the college life! …I should have taken advantage of everything college had to offer me…so much more so than I did.  Lectures, concerts, museums, so much! I did a lot my first semester…visiting Boston and all but it teetered out quickly. (Douang)
  • Simply be yourself.  College is probably the only time where you’ll be surrounded by people just as confused as you so there’s no sense in trying to be someone you’re not. (Jacob)
  • Don’t get a credit card. And don’t drink so much. (Jenique)
  • Try to get a part time job to structure your study time, use that time to actually study, and use a condom every time! (Angela)
  • Study more, drink less, have more confidence in yourself.  And know that if you aren’t already there, you should have gone to St. Mary’s College of Maryland. (Joy)

Does anyone have any advice they’d like to share? Help a student out and post below!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net