06/19/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Passive-Aggressive Has A New Calling Card

Oh my my my. The things people get up to when I take a little hiatus! My friend in the Windy City, Stefania, sent me a recent Daily Candy Chicago post that she thought might be up my alley. Pardon Moi, a company near Chicago, is producing sets of business cards printed with phrases that speak volumes for you when you're at a loss for words. They are cheeky. They are apropos. They are downright funny.

Provided, of course, you never actually go so far as to use them. I'm not a fan of wasteful gag gifts--there's too much junk in this world already--but sure, I have a funny bone. One card reads, "Pardon moi! I couldn't help but notice that your child is kicking the back of my seat. Natural turbulence will do just fine, thanks."

I probably snorted with gleeful laughter louder than the average reader over some of these cards. After all, I deal with questions of etiquette all day long, and I hear a lot of ridiculous things, things I would sometimes dearly love to respond to this bluntly. I'm human, after all! Are there days I'm flying when I'd love to hand this message to someone whose child behind me is clearly destined for a career in shiatsu, or maybe national kickball? Yes! Oh yes! I relish the thought.

But there's a reason I don't. It's hurtful. And obnoxious. And it has a particularly galling kind of passive aggressiveness that has nothing to do with good manners. Can you imagine being handed one of these cards? In many cases I think it would only escalate the problem, which isn't going to help you one bit. I'm not saying it's okay for people to be rude; but how you handle rudeness matters just as much. Emily Post herself said, "Whenever two people come together and their behavior affects one another, you have etiquette." This goes for strangers on planes as much as it does for meeting your significant other's parents for the first time. Good manners aren't just about good impressions--they're about how you choose to interact with other people.

So why is the card rude, you might ask? Just because you have been "wronged" doesn't give you license to respond rudely, so it all comes down to how you handle yourself. In cases such as this, or any place where you are sharing public space, asking an attendant or manager to deal with the problem is the way to go. There are two reasons behind this. First, they are in a position to do something "official" about the other person's behavior--in other words, they are harder to ignore or argue with than you. They are also in a neutral position, and you are not, as you are affected by the rude person's actions. Second, you never know what kind of reaction you are going to get when you approach a stranger. People behaving badly in public may not care that you are bothered by their behavior, and may do something worse than they already are to show you so.

And what about the times when there is no third party to turn to? Remove yourself from the situation or grin and bear it. I know this isn't the silver-bullet solution the card seems to present, but it really is your best bet. As a last resort you can try approaching them, but be prepared that you may not get any results. In this case, your tone of voice and attitude will have a lot to do with the results you get. And I suggest you not open with, "Pardon moi, but..."