I’m in shock. It’s probably been decades since I found myself agreeing with anything coming out of the White House. This week it happened. A dress code was posted for visitors there, requiring a certain formality in entering that beautiful focal point of our national history. No jeans, sneakers, shorts, miniskirts, T-shirts, tank tops or FLIP FLOPS—the capitalization was theirs.
Wahoo! This is so overdue.
I’m thinking of the embarrassment I’ve felt in traveling the world and seeing my compatriots wearing all the above, in museums, in plazas, in temples. David Sedaris asked the right question, reflecting on Americans in Paris: Why would they arrive in that beautiful place dressed as if they’d come to mow the lawns?
Flip flops at the White House were in the news when a college girls’ sports team arrived for a photo with the President and several were seen to be wearing these wonderfully useful and practical shower sandals.
I have several pair myself. I wear them at the beach. In the shower at my gym. In private. Flip flops (actually "zoris"—I’ve been wearing them since I lived in Japan eons ago) are wonderful. I have been to the White House, both as a tourist and as an invitee. I have not worn shower shoes.
The Rooney Factor is nibbling at me. Excessive codgering can get tiresome. But here’s still more on the problem of excessive informality: if I meet you in a business or professional context, I will not call you by your first name nor do I want you to call me by mine. I do not know you. I am probably older than you are. I may someday be Your Buddy Ann, but not yet. Right now, you’re better off with Ma’am.
Particularly irksome—physicians’ offices where a 20-something assistant summons me to the inner sanctum by calling out “Ann?" in the reception room. Aside from being disrespectful, it’s inefficient. There may be any number of Anns sitting there reading old Newsweeks. There will, I’m sure, be only one Medlock. It gets really over-the-line when I get to the MD’s desk. “Well, Ann, I see you’ve been referred here by Dr. XYZ." Wait. We’ve never met. I’m a paying customer. Using my first name gets us off on a path that isn’t promising for solving the problem at hand, whatever it may be. So I check his nameplate and reply, “Yes, Charlie, Dr. XYZ did recommend I see you…."
It’s a startling moment. The respectful “Dr." is expected. But I’m for mutual respect in this and all other public situations. If the White House honors your team with an award, or just welcomes you for a look-see at its beautiful rooms, you reciprocate by arriving dressed appropriately for the dignity of the place. If you’re talking to someone you don’t know, someone who has some years on you, and maybe even some achievements that might be admirable, try Ma’am. Try Sir. Try respect.
Here endeth my Rooney-snit.