Karma Police
July 30, 2012 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Is it ever ok to tell a friend or loved one to "be nice?" Or is this an big old oxymoron?

Maybe an example will help illustrate what I mean.

Let's say you're out to dinner with a friend. The friend orders fries, but gets a big plate of onion rings instead. She glares at the waiter and says very angrily, "I can't believe this!" The waiter looks mortified and, with shaking hands, knocks over a glass. "This is ridiculous. Come on! Get with the program," says your friend angrily.

Is there a gentle way to just say, "cool it" without offending your friend?

I get that it's hard to answer this. Different friendships have different styles.

For your friend, let's say this is literally an experimental phase for her-- your friend is experimenting, as people do. She is interested in trying to be perceived as a tough, demanding woman, and with pressing people to get results. But that doesn't mean she wouldn't be super hurt if you spoke up and said, "that's not nice."

Let’s say your personality is the opposite. You don’t like conflict. But when conflict starts, you usually jump right in, telling everyone, “let’s just get along.” This annoys people a lot but is not likely to change, ever.

In general-- is it worth it to ruin the peace over these little social moments, which nonetheless can feel so big? Or can a friendship accommodate these "moments" and smooth them over? If anyone has lived through these kinds of moments with friends, does the tendency to get hung up on them go away with age/practice?

(Full disclosure: I was definitely not one of the popular kids in school and have been way bullied in my time, it sucked, that's partly why I do this).
posted by kettleoffish to Human Relations (47 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Don't make it about her, make it about you. "You know, I feel really uncomfortable when you address people, especially service professionals, like that."
posted by xingcat at 7:38 AM on July 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

Why wouldn't it be appropriate to call your friend on it if they're behaving so badly? You're doing it for their own good.

Look at it this way -- if your friend took you aside and said "hey, you have spinach stuck in your teeth," you'd probably be embarrassed for a few seconds, but you'd also be grateful that they told you rather than letting you just walk around with spinach in your teeth. Right? This is kind of the same thing -- it's embarrassing to be called on it, but you're also doing it for their own good.

If you know that your friend is "experimenting with being more assertive," maybe you could temper it by saying "you may be overdoing the assertiveness" rather than just saying "that's not nice", perhaps.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:38 AM on July 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

The peace is already ruined at that point. I have friends with whom I would say something about this and friends with whom I would not say something.

I don't tell people we should all just get along. I tell people not to be a dick. If you're close to this friend, it's okay - once the waiter is gone - to say (quietly), "Hey, I know you're practicing being assertive but that was kind of over the line," and if you have to, follow up by saying, "See, I'd like to be able to come back here at some point." If your friend is basically not a lunatic, she'll get it. Then (because I doubt she would), I'd leave a massive tip.

I think it's good to try to be seen as tough and demanding, and yes it does get results in a lot of situations. But your friend needs to learn a critical lesson: Never be rude to waitstaff. Never, ever. The squeaky wheel eats the boogers.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:44 AM on July 30, 2012 [13 favorites]

Personally, I would feel comfortable telling anyone I know to stop being a dick to someone else working in a service job. I value as friends only people who don't abuse others without provocation. Whether it's OK for me to says something is a distant second concern.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:44 AM on July 30, 2012 [21 favorites]

Don't make it just about you, also make it about the person your friend is bossin' on, too. Or maybe even make it about the idea that experimenting with being more assertive =/= being rude to the minimum wage employees that bring you fries. You can be assertive and polite at the same time.
posted by sibboleth at 7:45 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's worth it, if it makes you uncomfortable and this is a person you want to spend time with. I had a friend who did this sort of thing repeatedly (to service workers, to acquaintences, to friends, to whomever) and it never stopped bothering me -- rather than ask her to temper her behavior, I stopped hanging otu with her so much but has she been a friend I valued, I would have definitely let her know.
posted by sm1tten at 7:49 AM on July 30, 2012

Is it ever ok to tell a friend or loved one to "be nice?"

Not only is it ok, it's an obligation.

"Dude, that is so not cool" gets the point across. If your friend is trying to "experiment" with being a tough, demanding person, pushing boundaries, then part of that experimental phase is going to be learning where those limits and boundaries are. And if you're not going to provide those boundaries, who will?

Of course, I'm a bit conflict averse, myself, so the outcome for me would probably be to disengage from that friend, and I think if I explained, "I can't hang out with so-and-so anymore, because he/she's an embarrassment when being rude to the waitstaff," most people would understand. But if you want to keep your friend, you're going to have to learn to give her some pushback so she learns proper socialization and boundaries while going through this experimental phase.
posted by deanc at 7:49 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

is it worth it to ruin the peace over these little social moments, which nonetheless can feel so big?

What peace still exists when someone is being hostile and unkind?

If your friend were trying to plant a tree and she kept swinging at the ground with golf clubs and baseball bats, would you not say anything so as not to hurt her feelings? Or would you offer her a more effective tool to help her achieve her goal?
posted by headnsouth at 7:51 AM on July 30, 2012

I know people who would feel entitled to comment on this type of behavior even if they didn't know the offender. While I appreciate the if-you-see-something-say-something mentality in some respects, I don't feel so entitled. I'd limit my commentary to people I know.

If someone I was with behaved in this way, I'd address it with them privately.
posted by jph at 7:53 AM on July 30, 2012

(Full disclosure: I was definitely not one of the popular kids in school and have been way bullied in my time, it sucked, that's partly why I do this).

Look at it this way: Since your friend is obviously bullying the waitstaff, why are you taking the side of the bully? Wouldn't you rather, when you were in school, that some of the bully's friends took the bully aside and told the bully that what he/she was doing was not cool?

Because the people making apologies for the bully and excusing the bully's behavior and just trying to convince "both sides" that they should get along are just enabling the bully.
posted by deanc at 7:58 AM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

Instead of scolding, put on a concerned face and say, "[Friend], such mean and petty behavior is so unlike you. Is everything all right?"

This is the approach I take, and it's worked every time for me.
posted by pecanpies at 8:01 AM on July 30, 2012 [17 favorites]

IMHO it's important to make a distinction between calling out your friend in front of other people versus taking them aside and privately saying "that's not cool" or "chill out, you're being kinda mean." Being undercut in public can be very embarassing/angry-making for many people.

Also, to echo advice given above, it sounds kind of corny but using "I-statements" really can help (when done in a casual and not self-rightous way).
posted by Wretch729 at 8:07 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Both of you need to learn how to handle minor conflicts appropriately. Your friend isn't presenting as strong, she's presenting as a jackass. You're not defusing conflict, you're pretending it doesn't exist.

I would like to tell your friend that firmness and calmness gets results; throwing a fit and acting like a prima donna, especially over something so ridiculously minor, gets you labeled a bitch.

If my friend freaked out over onion rings because they were having a bad day, I'd probably say, "Dude. Relax. We'll get the fries fixed and I'll buy you a margarita." (And I'd apologize to the waiter, frankly.) If my friend was behaving like this ON PURPOSE, I don't think we'd be friends any longer.

The appropriate response to receiving the wrong order is, "Excuse me, I ordered fries, not onion rings. Thank you." I'm not sure what behaving like an insane person who is literally having a meltdown over a fried side dish is supposed to accomplish.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:26 AM on July 30, 2012 [14 favorites]

I think it depends in part on the age of the person and the strength of the friendship. When I was in college and 18 or 19 years old, my best friend notified me that some of the things I said to people sounded incredibly harsh and hurtful. I didn't realize it. I made an effort to change and appreciated the feedback.

I also told her once that she was being especially snarky and rude. She was under a lot of stress and hadn't intended to be mean to anyone. I didn't tell her she was mean, just that her phrasing and tone were really not very nice sounding. It made her more self aware of how she was coming across and she toned it down, no big.

Young people sometimes simply do not know how they come across. Older people are generally more likely to be intractable and to not want to change.
posted by Michele in California at 8:29 AM on July 30, 2012

I think the word "nice" may be a problem. It suggests a certain level of superficiality and phoniness. "Make nice." "Smile and act nice." I mean really, acting nice is kind of overrated.

Treating people decently, on the other hand, is not overrated. In the example you give, the person doesn't habitually go off on wait staff; she's sort of trying something on. There's no way of knowing what would happen if you objected. She might end the friendship because, in fact, she knows she's been acting like a jerk and now she's embarrassed. I don't think you can make these decisions based on possible outcome. Personally, if this happened repeatedly, I wouldn't put up with it in silence. A good way to comment without getting into an argument is to make a point of leaving a large tip. If my friend commented I'd say, "We gave him/her a pretty hard time." Because as a table, you did.
posted by BibiRose at 8:29 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let’s say your personality is the opposite. You don’t like conflict. But when conflict starts, you usually jump right in, telling everyone, “let’s just get along.” This annoys people a lot but is not likely to change, ever.

Just wondering, how effective is it usually when you do this?

What would be obnoxious to me in this scenario (if I were one of the people who was upset over something and trying to get it fixed) is that it would come off as very selfish to me. It would come off as you not caring about me and what was in my best interest, because all you cared about was yourself and in your best interest. Like all you cared about was your own comfort and relaxation and didn't care that I was in a situation that was negative for me or something negative was happening to me. You just wanted my negative situation to be ignored so that you would be more comfortable.

Would you be willing to change to be somewhat more effective? What is more effective is if you acknowledge what the upset person is upset about and demonstrate that you care about that and it is important to you that the negative situations be resolved. You can do this AND say something about their behavior as well. If you are going to take on this role it's best if you can acknowledge what EVERYONE is upset about in the scenario, even if they oppose, without coming off as condescending or hot-tub-guru-ish.

So in your example, you could say something like, Never mind, the example you gave is just very rude and abusive behavior, and it's behavior that should just not be tolerated. If this person is experimenting, all the better to let them know that they (maybe inadvertently) crossed whatever line they were going for. I don't think I would say "be nice" because that's a little condescending, like something you say to a 5 year old. I think I would probably say, "What are you doing???" and when they replied, say "Please don't be disrespectful to him. This is overkill."

In other situations though, where the person is not behaving that badly, it's best to say something like, "Hey Melanie, it's not okay that your dinner order was messed up. We need to get that fixed but this is absolutely not the most effective way to do that."
posted by cairdeas at 8:32 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Let's say you're out to dinner with a friend. The friend orders fries, but gets a big plate of onion rings instead. She glares at the waiter and says very angrily, "I can't believe this!" The waiter looks mortified and, with shaking hands, knocks over a glass. "This is ridiculous. Come on! Get with the program," says your friend angrily.

Is there a gentle way to just say, "cool it" without offending your friend?

Is this example really representative of your friend's behavior? Because if a friend of mine acted that way, I not only would mention it but I would broach the topic of therapy for anger management. And I'd probably never go to a restaurant with them again. If your friend is really just experimenting, they are way off base in terms of what represents a proportionate response to life's little annoyances.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:33 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Generally when my friends do something that I ethically disapprove of, I try to encourage them to change by framing it in a way that makes them see why it would be advantageous for them to modify their behavior.

For example, in this situation, I might say (once the waiter left): "Look, I want you to know that you're my friend and I'm not judging you - how you treat waiters is none of my concern. But just so you know, if I were that waiter and you happened to talk to me that way, I would be in the kitchen busily rubbing my penis all over your food right now. If you're comfortable with that, that's fine with me. But I just wanted to let you know that sometimes, our actions can have more of an impact than we intend. Also that you might want to check your plate for pubes."

If this is a major ethical issue and there's no way to frame it in a way that makes it seem beneficial to my friend, I tend to say "Look, I'm a little uncomfortable when you act that way. I'm not asking you to change who you are, but could you maybe try ro not do that when you're around me? As a personal favor to me?" And usually when I put it that way, my friend accedes.

This should help if you're trying to change your friends behavior when she's around you. If you're trying to modify her behavior entirely though (ie, even when she's not around you), then I think that you might be the one with the issue, and she probably won't react too kindly to your suggestion, since you're basically telling her that she doesn't meet your standards for friendship. That generally doesn't end well.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:42 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your friend needs to learn in any way that she can that being assertive does not equal being a nasty asshole. In fact, it is almost the exact opposite. Being assertive and confident means that you project yourself and your needs in such an effortless yet irrefutable way that people WANT to get things right/do things well/fast/correctly, and not because you've badgered, threatened, or otherwise bullied them into doing so.

Imagine your friend was learning how to drive, and she thought that driving competently meant speeding and cutting people off and changing multiple lanes rapidly without signaling. You'd tell her that she was unbearably wrong, wouldn't you? In this case she's not in danger of dying in a car accident or being arrested for reckless driving, but she's in danger of everyone she encounters thinking she is a huge, entitled douchebag.
posted by elizardbits at 8:43 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

In this situation, instead of telling the person what to do I encourage them to empathize by saying something like "wow, that waiter looked pretty upset and surprised at what you said to him".

If they're decent people who miscalibrated, they'll say something like "Really? Oh shit, I didn't mean to be that harsh" and often they'll apologize.

If they're assfaces they'll say something like "So?" and then I know that they are assfaces and I might or might not tell them they're being assfaces, depending on how much I want to maintain the relationship. The more I want to spend time with them, the more likely I am to tell them how I feel about their behavior.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:46 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh and definitely ensure that a decent tip is left. If they're paying leave a few extra ones on the table.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:51 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wolfdream01 and I are on the same wavelength. My first response, after the waiter left, would have been, "So, you really want spit in your food?"

I'd might be more subtle, "Boy, our waiter sure is having a bad day. Maybe you are too?" Hopefully your friend would be remorseful. If not, I wouldn't agree to dine out with her again. I'd tell her so, "Sounds tempting, but I'll pass. After that last contretemps with the waiter, I'd rather not risk it."

I'd also slip the guy an extra $5, because no one should have to put up with assholes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:52 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't make it just about you, also make it about the person your friend is bossin' on, too.

I disagree.

One, there's an element of gang-up there - you're creating a perceived imbalance of two-on-one by making yourself that person's proxy. If this person already is trying on this tough-guy thing for some reason then this is unlikely to work well and will instead just play into their insecurity.

Two, I think it's less effective. If your friend is lacking empathy for this person already then what will they care?

I think it's more effective to make it exclusively about you in the sense that you convey to your friend how their action makes you feel. Since you're their friend and they presumably care what you think and about your well-being I'd simply say "It makes me really uncomfortable when you escalate conflict like that; I feel like being here with you when you're that sharp with a waiter makes me a part of it and it's not how I like to handle conflict."

One of the most effective things a friend ever said to me, when I wanted to argue with her about a certain way I was phrasing something that she didn't like, was "I figured it would be enough reason that it bothers me."

You can also use wolfdreams01's angle and, if they dispute that it's inappropriate, say "I'm also worried they don't remember who ordered what and they'll just spit in ALL the food to make sure you get it. And I'd rather not eat spit because you called them stupid." Marginally amusing and drives home the repercussions of taking the more aggressive angle.
posted by phearlez at 8:52 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also agree with Wordwoman that if the person did exactly what you said, I'd be concerned for them. The first words out of my mouth would probably be, "Are you all right?"
posted by BibiRose at 9:00 AM on July 30, 2012

FWIW, i would rather a friend tell me I was being an asshole than tell me to "be nice". Personally, phrases like "be nice" and "that's not nice" I find to be patronizing. It's something people say to children when they are misbehaving.

With your example, your friend needs to know she is not coming off as tough and demanding, but as a jerk. Tell her that you don't want to deal with that behavior from her.
posted by inertia at 9:03 AM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

I mean, it's also totally possible that since this is an "experimental phase" for her, she will soon enough realize the gross error of her ways on her own with no outside help, and stop being a huge jerkface. If she's never done anything like this before, it really just might not sit well with her inherent personality and basic human goodness. The only people I know who truly act like this have acted like this all their lives and it is nigh impossible to make them stop, even when you throw your hands up and say FUCK THIS SHIT and loudly confront them in public before 100 enraptured people.
posted by elizardbits at 9:03 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Under the circumstances as you have described them : ie, its not that your friend is a jackass, or a rude arrogant person, they're a person experimenting with being assertive - its ok to let them know they missed the mark.
Would I be correct in assuming that this friend is naturally more like you, a very "nice" person who dislikes conflict and consequently gets walked all over? Normally wouldn't make a fuss, even if the waiter brought her something she couldn't eat kind of person? I can totally empathise with that and I can totally understand her wanting to change , you should be supportive of her wanting to change and you can do that by letting her know when she's crossed the line between assertive and jerkface.

Don't say anything in front of the waiter, she's attempting something new and failing, no need to embarrass her publicly, when the waiter has gone, say something like "friend, I know you're trying to be more assertive but that was a little over the line into asshole territory"
posted by missmagenta at 9:16 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mother is a raging lunatic. When I start to get out of hand my husband uses the code "ALM" to tell me that I'm Acting Like my Mom. Usually shuts me right up.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:23 AM on July 30, 2012

I think that you're right that telling someone to be nice is not helpful. But your friend doesn't have to be nice. She does have to refrain from acting like an asshole (well, she doesn't have to, but she should). In your situation, I would just say, "if you're going to act like an asshole to the waiter, I'm not going to eat out with you anymore."
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:23 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd also remind them (in addition to telling them they're not being nice, acting like an asshole, etc. - no need to be subtle about it, since they're not doing so), that it's not really a good idea to be an asshole to people who are preparing their food. Ask them if they fully understand what you're trying to tell them. If not, explain how they might be served a little something extra with their meal if they piss off the wrong person.
posted by SillyShepherd at 9:37 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think if I was in your situation I'd find myself apologizing to the waiter: "I'm sorry, my friend is having a bad day." Because 1) you don't mess with people bringing you food, 2) the waiter doesn't deserve to be treated like a slave, 3) your friend should understand from that exchange that her clumsy efforts at not being a doormat can cause embarrassment for people around her. If she is brought the wrong thing the adult way to handle it is to say "I ordered french fries, not onion rings" or any other non-jerky variations on that theme. It's totally asinine to be mean to people who have to serve you, and it has nothing to do with being "tough". Being tough is standing up to assholes and bullies, not being one.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:39 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and the other thing is -

She is interested in trying to be perceived as a tough, demanding woman, and with pressing people to get results. But that doesn't mean she wouldn't be super hurt if you spoke up and said, "that's not nice."

No. That's not how it works at all. You don't get to be "tough and demanding," treating people like shit, and then turn around and get "super hurt" and boohoo when someone says you're not nice. If she wants to dish it out then she has to expect to take it too in at least equal measure. So refraining from saying anything about her behavior would only be patronizing and unhelpful here.
posted by cairdeas at 9:47 AM on July 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

I eat lunch with younger (19-26) men sometimes that I peripherally know, and have experienced this type of behavior, especially towards those in the service industry. Usually, I'll simply address the server/counter person/cashier directly, and smile and half-jokingly say something to the effect of "That's just his way of saying he loves spit in his food!"

With a friend, which doesn't really come up to often, I would definitely say something. Depending on what's going on in their personal lives that I know about, it could range from a "Dude, seriously?" to a "Wow, I knew you were having a bad day, but do you need to vent?"
posted by Debaser626 at 9:59 AM on July 30, 2012

As you said, it very much depends on the relationship and the circumstances. An affectionately teasing "be nice!" (directed to me or coming from me) is never an issue when I'm close to the other person.

When dealing with someone who I know will be defensive I usually start off with something like, "Whoa! Are you okay?" It gets the point across and implies that the person is normally not at all mean. And if they want to push me on why I said it I can then gently point out that they were a bit more abrasive than the situation required.

On preview: a lot like what Debaser626 said.
posted by idest at 10:01 AM on July 30, 2012

The actions of the person in the scenario you describe are those of a raging asshole. If a person like that is receptive to reproach, that would be the time to say something. And for me personally, to decide not to be friends with this person.
posted by cmoj at 10:07 AM on July 30, 2012

Usually, I'll simply address the server/counter person/cashier directly, and smile and half-jokingly say something to the effect of "That's just his way of saying he loves spit in his food!"

If I were the waiter in this situation, I'd be really annoyed if anyone said that to me. I've worked in restaurants that run the gamut from Panda Express to fancy fancy, and I've never seen anyone spit in someone's food. It doesn't happen that often, and I'd be pretty offended if one person at a table acted like a dick, and then another person implied that I was going to mess with their food in retaliation.

The main issue is that your friend is an asshole. Tell her to stop acting like an asshole.

How many of those implying that the friend got a booger-filled meal have actually worked as a waiter?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:08 AM on July 30, 2012 [9 favorites]

Next time she asks if you want to go out to eat, decline the invitation and tell her that you don't feel comfortable going out to eat with someone who treats the wait staff poorly. Maybe it will get her to re-think her behavior. It sounds to me like she's turning into a bully. In my younger days, I would have quickly forgiven and forgotten, but now I don't have the patience to put up with jerks.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:21 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

In this situation, a simple, light-hearted "Man, it's not our night, but let's cut the poor guy a break. :)" has worked for me. Make it less about their not-niceness-as-a-person and more about, just this once, easing up a bit because stuff happens.
posted by ninjakins at 10:32 AM on July 30, 2012

A window to the soul is how someone treats people that are in a weaker position than they are, i.e. a service employee. I'm sorry that part of your question is asking if you're doing the right thing by encouraging people to relax. You are.

Your friend meanwhile... is a grade A jerk. Now some people have anger problems where they can get initially very angry, behave badly and then instantly feel bad. You should find out if that's their problem or if they are actually just mean.

I don't like being friends with mean people. Life is way too short.

Plus they get shitty return service.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:38 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've never worked in food service. I have a feeling that I'd I did, it would last until I got the first snotty customer and end when I respond verbally in kind. Those who do work in serving others, whether they're serving food or behind the wheel, get tipped well from me. As for anybody with me who treated others in such a way, I'd be just as blunt as they're being with the servers. The being served extra stuff with food thing, I'd mention privately (and not assume that all food service personnel engage in such acts). I do know hat law enforcement are careful about where they eat.
posted by SillyShepherd at 11:00 AM on July 30, 2012

Your friend is Doing It Wrong. She may be basing her ideas about assertiveness on what she's seen in movies, or on the way adults acted towards her when she was a child, but neither is a good template for action when you're an adult dealing with another, actual living and breathing adult and your behavior is being perceived and evaluated by other actual living and breathing adults. She may also be looking at flipping out at other people as a "privilege" from growing up in a dysfunctional family, but she's far better off viewing it as something to be avoided at all cost.

And as someone who's read a few books about assertiveness and put those ideas into practice, I can tell you that someone who brandishes anger the way your friend does is one of the EASIEST types of people to get the better of in a confrontation because (to quote the 48 Laws of Power blog), "To show your frustration is to show that you have lost your power to shape events."

So, you can recommend to your friend that she read Crucial Confrontations or anything from The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense series and rethink what it means to be able to handle herself.

As for the waiter, you already know it's not a matter of her having a bad day or things not being okay in her life; she's told you she's willfully acting this way. You may wish to tell her that you don't think that she handled the situation with the waiter well, not because it made you uncomfortable, but because it's toxic behavior (if you need to specify).

As for how to handle situations like that in the future, I'd do it by sticking up for the waiter in the moment and pointing out the ways in which she's acting over the line: "Okay, so he got your order wrong; just politely let him know and ask him to fix it instead of flipping out on him; he doesn't deserve that."
posted by alphanerd at 11:21 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your friend is wrong. There is a middle way, and it's called "having class".
I liked pluckysparrow's comment, "Having class means behaving in a dignified manner and in a manner that supports the dignity of others."
And, this, from gjc, "Class is the honest and genuine belief that everyone else is a fully capable and valid member of society."
posted by leigh1 at 11:46 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Unlike other posters, I'm fine with friends telling me, in friendly tones, to "be nice". (Possibly because my bratty self glosses 'be nice' as "Although we admire your assertiveness, and are entertained by your critical faculties and razor-sharp wit, you have other talents more needed in this particular situation.")

On the other hand, should I ever act the way you describe above, I hope my friends would cut the meal short, apologize to, pay, and heavily tip the waiter, and hustle me somewhere private for a long come-to-Jesus talk.
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:52 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd say if you *don't* call the friend out, a la "Hey, man, don't be such a dick!", you're not being a very good friend.

Good friends call each other out on their bullshit.
posted by notsnot at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

"You're embarrassing me."

By saying nothing about how you feel you're condoning their behaviour, which you find bad in the first place. If they are able to say that to service staff, then you are able to tell them to pull their head in and they have no right to be offended.

In my opinion, a "tough, demanding woman" is one who calmly says something along the lines of:

"Actually, we ordered the fries."

Perhaps you could model such behaviour for your friend.

Having said that, such outbursts are often indicative of stress or depression, and not so much about people testing boundaries.
posted by heyjude at 4:44 PM on July 30, 2012

I've had to do this to my boyfriend, who has a bit of a tendency to be autocratic and harsh to wait staff in restaurants. Generally I handle it in two steps - the "making sure the waiter understands that I, at least, know he's overreacting" stage, and the "explaining it to boyfriend afterward" stage. A typical interaction we had recently went something like:

[Boyfriend and I are sitting at a casual-service restaurant. A waitress, noticing that I'm done eating, stops at our table]
Waitress: You guys done? Let me get those for you. [picks up my empty plate, then reaches for boyfriend's almost-empty one]
Boyfriend: [snatches back plate] I'm not done yet, OBVIOUSLY! If I were done, would there still be part of my sandwich left?!
Me: Hey, Boyfriend, she probably figured that you were done because I was done, and your napkin is covering part of your plate. [To waitress:] Sorry, yeah, I'm done with mine but he's still working on his.
Waitress: Oh, sure, no problem. [Disappears, looking a bit upset, with my plate]
Me: [To boyfriend, when waitress is gone] You know, that was sort of a dick move. She thought you were done, it's not a federal case. All you had to say was "Oh, no, I'm still eating" and she would have not touched your plate. She's cleaning up after us, the least we can do is not be nasty.

Sometimes he gets my point, and sometimes he doesn't, but I feel that the more important thing is to, at least in the moment, make sure that the waiter (or barista, or cab driver...) knows that someone else acknowledges that they aren't the ones in the wrong here. Service person gets some acknowledgement, and then I can deliver the lecture-y part of the performance in semi-privacy so that Boyfriend doesn't feel outright attacked. And Boyfriend is changing, slowly. Not necessarily because he doesn't still think service employees aren't expected to cater to his wishes using psychic powers they don't have, but because he knows if he acts like that, I will be upset and call him on it, and at some level it's easier to let things slide than listen to me tell him afterward that he *should have* let it slide.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 10:26 PM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

"that's not nice."

If this is a female friend who is working on her assertiveness, do not say this to her. She's already fighting a metric shit tonne of cultural programming that tells her that she needs to be nice, pleasing, etc, almost all of which is actually harmful to her. Please don't reinforce it in this way.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:09 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

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