Friday, September 30, 2011

Word to the wise: Know when to shut the cell up

My friend Kasia lives in Chicago and uses the public transit system to get to and from work. Sadly, a potentially quiet and relaxing ride can often turn into a technological nightmare the moment a passenger decides to talk on his cell phone.

She recounts a recent cell phone conversation, one way, of course: “I’m on the bus … the bus … THE BUS! I’ll be home in 15 minutes … 15 minutes … 15 MINUTES! We’re at Belmont now … Belmont … BELMONT!”

What is wrong with us that we think our private conversations are now for everyone and his brother to hear? Where is our sense of etiquette?

In the past, we’ve had experts on etiquette: Miss Manners, Emily Post, and pre-jail Martha Stewart, just to name a few.

But with the explosion of technology, I feel like modern society is in sore need of cell phone etiquette.

Ever the servant, I came up with a few basic rules to adhere to:

The Six-Foot Rule: Just because I happen to be in the same row of shoes with you at Ross, this does not mean that I want to be privy to the ins and outs of your recent divorce. Which is why I suggest the six-foot rule: If a very tall person cannot lie down between us while you prattle on about who gets the dishes and who gets the coffee maker, then you’re too close. (Unless, of course, you want to be that person lying down on the floor in Ross, in which case I think I can arrange that.)

The Too Much Information Rule: If your conversation has anything to do with (A) bodily functions, (B) medical test results, or (C) intimate relationships, refrain from talking in public on your cell phone. My friend Colleen was in a changing room at a store in Phoenix recently and overheard the woman in the next changing room on her cell phone recounting her latest gynecological evaluation. Colleen explained, “I heard about how she only has a few eggs left, how in vitro fertilization isn’t really an option, and how she’s just too young to be without a supply of ample viable eggs.” It’s amazing … you go in to try on a shirt for some retail therapy, and you get a whole lot of information that requires another kind of therapy altogether. Lovely.

The Rent the DVD and Stay Home Rule: If I just shelled over a $20 to see a movie with a friend, please don’t be surprised if I give you a dirty look when you pull out your phone and start talking to the babysitter DURING THE MOVIE. It’s a little unnerving to be following Brad Pitt’s dialogue in “Moneyball” with you behind me asking, “Did you try the other diaper ointment?” As a parent myself, not to mention a huge fan of babies, I totally get you. But I also want you to take a few steps out and talk to the sitter in the hallway. That’s all I’m saying.

The Get off your Phone and Drive Rule: If most human beings are unable to rub their stomachs and pat their heads simultaneously, chances are pretty good they can’t drive and talk on the phone very well either. Oh, and it’s ILLEGAL in some states to do so, so there’s that.

The Time-Out Rule: I understand … we often have our cell phones in our pockets when we enter a public restroom, but if it rings you do have the option to – you know – ignore it. Unless you’ve left your curling iron turned on and wrapped in a newspaper, and the incoming call reads FIRE STATION, I’m pretty sure any phone call can wait until you finish your business. (By the way, WHAT are you doing wrapping a hot curling iron in newspaper for? That’s just asking for trouble.)

The Polite Rule: My friend Joanne shared that people in China cover their mouths when they speak on their cell phones. “This makes it so much more pleasant for those around them,” she said. I say, “Brilliant idea, China!”

Now I’m sure I’ve forgotten some critical points of cell phone etiquette, but I’ll leave you with one over-arching thought: Just because modern technology makes it possible to talk wherever we want, whenever we want, does that mean we should abandon all propriety in what and when we “share?”

Say it isn’t so.

Eileen Burmeister lives and works in Southern Oregon. She can be reached at or you can follow her on Twitter @EBurmeister.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

If they left the light on for you, it would probably ignite

When I stay at hotels, I typically like to stay at a 3-star establishment or better. But I’m cheap, so I like to get the best possible deal. These two facts don’t always mix well, resulting in a less than stellar hotel stay.

Take my recent trip to Portland for my daughter’s soccer tournament. Refusing to spend the equivalent of a round-trip ticket to Paris for a three-night hotel stay in Portland, I decided to use Priceline and get the most bang for my buck.

The problem with Priceline is you never know WHICH 3-star hotel you’re going to get, and I got a dud. Thanks for nothing, William Shatner.

As a result, I decided to give the hotel some feedback, giving them every opportunity to improve their hovel, er, I mean hotel.

I took the liberty of copying the categories off another hotel review site and using that format to offer my thoughts. (I’m sure they’ll thank me later.)

Value for money: Initially I was charmed by your low price, but the proverbial “you get what you pay for” became a reality as I drove up your drive and discovered that I would now be charged $12 a night just to park in your lot. A nice lot? Perhaps to some, but not to my friend who backed up into the cement post directly behind her parking space. Just saying.

Room quality: Ah, the room. When I entered the room, I nearly tripped over the piece of “furniture” that held our coffee maker. This trolley-like “cupboard” was not unlike something my in-laws owned for their tea service in, oh, 1982. Charming in Amish country, yes, but not so much in a metropolitan hotel. The coffee pot itself went untouched since I saw that Dateline NBC episode where they showed people using hotel room coffee makers to cook crystal meth. In fact, the hotel on Dateline NBC’s story looked an awful lot like the room I stayed in. I’m hoping that’s just an eerie coincidence. The fact that our room was positioned right across from the elevator seemed convenient at first. I changed my tune at 2 a.m. when the elevator was on its 55th DING (something it does each time it opens, by the way) before opening and dumping out its drunken travelers who then stood outside our door to issue their lengthy, tearful goodnights.Oh, and before I forget, thank you so much for placing the ice maker RIGHT NEXT TO THE ELEVATOR. It was an audial win-win. Not to mention the fact that the aforementioned drunk patrons liked to get buckets of ice at 4 a.m. before slamming their doors once again.

Cleanliness: I am nothing if not a fan of mysteries, but stepping in a wet puddle on the carpet took my mind to possibilities that were the stuff of nightmares. I still don’t want to know what it was (and, fingers crossed, with some good therapy, I might be able to stop obsessing about it) but I have to tell you that the idea of setting the room on fire did cross my mind. Then I realized that I might have to go down the elevator once the fire was started and I seriously could not take another DING.

Bed comfort: Once I examined the bed for bed bugs (courtesy of Dateline NBC – again) I was able to safely go to bed. But I came to find out that a very angry marine sergeant had made the bed before I arrived. So tightly were the sheets tucked in that my ankles cramped within 10 minutes, requiring me to get up and yank the sheets out. Of course now I was certain that the bed bugs that were squashed by the marine were now free falling all over the room. Suffice it to say, it was a long night.

Staff and service: Lovely. Not a single complaint. They were friendly, relaxed, and a bit relieved I must say. In retrospect I think that was because they were thrilled that they were at the front desk and not being forced to stay in your guest rooms.

Will you recommend this hotel to your friends? If by friends you mean enemies, then by all means yes. And I’ll tell them to be sure and try the coffee.

Eileen Burmeister lives and works in Roseburg. She can be reached at

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Old Navy lets go of its grammatical sense

Just in time for National Punctuation Day on Sept. 24 (please celebrate responsibly) Old Navy has unleashed one doozy of a grammatical blunder. I would love to say that they were attempting to be ironic, but sadly, I’d be wrong.

Now we all make mistakes. In fact, I, self-proclaimed grammar vigilante that I am, just spelled umbrage incorrectly last week (umberage: wrong, umbrage: right). The difference is that I didn’t spell umbrage incorrectly on thousands of T-shirts that went out to stores all over the United States. Which brings me back to Old Navy.

Here’s the story. Old Navy printed sports t-shirts with the saying “Lets go” across the top.

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Stare at the phrase “Lets go” long and hard. There should be an apostrophe after the “t” because it’s a contraction of” let us go,” right?

Right. (See? You did pay close attention in Sister Clare’s English class. Oh, wait, that was me.)

But it gets better. This grammar goof was on T-shirts for … wait for it … colleges throughout the United States. Resulting in a green and yellow T-shirt that reads “Lets go Ducks” for the University of Oregon, or a scarlet and grey T-shirt that reads “Lets go Buckeyes” for The Ohio State University.

As an Ohio native, that last one particularly stings.

(Never mind that there should also be a comma after go, because "Ducks and Buckeyes" are being addressed, just as "Gerald" is in the sentence, "Go get 'em, Gerald." So, it should be "Let's go, Buckeyes"- instead of "Let's go rowing.")

Yes, Old Navy, let’s celebrate colleges by misspelling words on T-shirts promoting those bastions of higher learning.

I get the random mistake here and there, and I’ve even been guilty of them on a fairly regular basis (see umbrage above). But how did this error get all through the ranks of editors to finally reach the print shop and slip by unnoticed?

Have we completely abandoned our apostrophe rules?

Sadly, this error isn’t limited to Old Navy. Over the last few weeks, I’ve driven by a sign in front of a credit union that advertises “Low APR rates for boats, ATV’s and RV’s.”

Boats is a plural noun, therefore no apostrophe is needed, so well done there.
But then someone went all crazy with apostrophes for the ATVs and RVs when they don’t need one at all. The only time an apostrophe is necessary is if you’re talking about RV as a possessive noun, as in “I particularly like the RV’s fuchsia shag carpet.”

When I point out these errors to the people responsible (um, yes, I do that – overly obnoxious?), the response is often the same: “It just looks better that way.”


Back in the ‘80s someone thought leg warmers with high heels looked good. A misguided interior designer once made the grave mistake of assuming a mechanical singing fish hanging on a living room wall looked good. And the entire band of Flock of Seagulls once believed mullets were the way to go. But just because you think it, does not make it so.

Thank the Lord.

Geography has hard and fast rules. Topeka is in Kansas – period. Math also has rules. The square root of 64 is 8 – period. (Says the woman who ordered four sodas today when there were only three of us because … well, that’s how I count.)

And yes, English has rules built in, for better or for worse. Are they easy and straightforward? No. Is it easy to decide when to use “lay” versus “lie?” No. But I’m nerdy enough to have a cheat sheet on those two words tacked to the wall next to my computer because let’s face it … when you can’t count accurately and don’t know where Topeka is without looking, you have to capitalize on your strengths.

So let’s go kids (notice the apostrophe there?) and get this new school year started off well. Capitalize on your strengths, pay close attention to your teachers, and for Pete’s sake, please follow the rules.

And if you bought one of those Old Navy shirts, PLEASE return it immediately or get a red marker and insert the apostrophe. You’ll sleep better at night knowing that all is right in the grammar world once again.

Eileen Burmeister lives and works in Roseburg. When she is not out fighting grammar crimes, she can be reached at

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