Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries, and Quagmires of Today

Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries, and Quagmires of Today

by Philip Galanes
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Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries, and Quagmires of Today by Philip Galanes

Office attire and e-mail misfire. Twitter snafus and dating miscues. Philip Galanes hears an awful lot of WHAT SHOULD I DOs?!

“I’m pretty sure the woman who swims laps next to me at the Y is peeing in the pool. What should I do?”

It started in 2008, when Galanes began the “Social Q’s” advice column for the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times.

“My boyfriend has an identical twin that I’m strangely hotter for than I am for him. What should I do?”

Since then, the questions come faster than a drunken starlet behind the wheel of a speeding Maserati.

“My Dad seems to have mixed up my cell phone number with the number of the woman he’s seeing behind my mother’s back. He sends her sexy texts that are freaking me out. What should I do?”

A cornerstone of The New York Times’s Styles section, Philip Galanes confronts today’s most awkward and pressing questions. Branded with an inimitable voice— witty and wise, sharp and saucy—Philip tackles unanswered questions and brand-new subjects with laugh-out-loud dish and practical wisdom. Not only about the new ways to thank a friend for throwing you a bridal shower (at a strip club), or when it’s appropriate to tell Nana to stop dressing like the latest Pop Tart, but also how to navigate a new age crowded with Tweets, twits, OMGs, and WTFs.

Social Q’s is a knockout book that will guide you swiftly through the treacherous terrain of modern etiquette—and keep you laughing for days.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451605792
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 11/27/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 258
Sales rank: 896,844
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Philip Galanes is the author of “Social Q’s,” the advice column published weekly in the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times. Philip is also an entertainment lawyer and novelist. He was born and raised in New England, and graduated from Yale College and Yale Law School. He occasionally sidelines as an interior designer, and his projects have been published in Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, New York magazine, and The New York Times. Visit him at

Read an Excerpt


Taking the “Woe” out of Co-Workers

Just Because You Sit Together Doesn’t Make You Besties


My name is James. I introduce myself as James and sign my name as James. But my co-workers always refer to me as “Jimmy.” I think the nickname conveys an image of immaturity, and is inappropriate with clients and other professionals. How do I get my colleagues to change the way they refer to me?

—James, Long Island, NY


Have you thought about wearing long pants to the office, and maybe leaving that little red wagon at home?

People who christen us with nicknames, on their own steam, think they’re being “regular,” and respond poorly to statements like “Please call me by my full name.” They see their nicknaming as a hearty gesture of friendliness, and take our correction as stuck-up.

Here’s what you do: Simply repeat your name (in full) as often as possible. If your boss introduces you to a new client, “This is Jimmy,” you’ll say, “It’s James” when you shake her hand. Answer your telephone: “This is James.” Repetition is the key. That way, you’re not correcting anyone or acting snooty, just reinforcing your desired result.

If that doesn’t work, choose a new nickname that conveys the professionalism you’re after. (People love to get in on a new nickname.) How would you feel about Spike?

Despite what your mother may have told you and your siblings, everyone has favorites—even her. I know I do. There’s full-fat chocolate ice cream; those Acne jeans I got on sale at Barneys; and my best friend, Chiccio. They’re my top draft picks, simple as that.

Of course, there are many other things in this world that I’m perfectly fond of, especially when my favorites aren’t readily available. Weight Watchers fudgesicles, for instance, if we’re out of Ben & Jerry’s, the jeans I wore before the Acne jeans (if my favorites are in the laundry hamper), and the pals I call when my besties are busy or out of town. These other things are perfectly fine, just not my faves.

Like versus love: not a hard concept, right?

So keep it in mind, because this distinction is going to come in handy when we consider the conflicts that tend to arise between co-workers. The most common troubles in the workplace (or the ones that most commonly find their way to Social Q’s anyway) come from the failure to distinguish between co-workers (whom we like perfectly well) and bona fide friends (whom we actually love).

Think about it: Just because we sit next to someone for eight hours a day—a person, by the way, who was assigned to sit there by our employer—does that make him or her an intimate? Of course not!

It makes them someone we should treat respectfully, but not necessarily someone with whom we should share our marital troubles—or worse, someone whose marital troubles we should take it upon ourselves to diagnose, dispensing unbidden advice as we would with family members or close friends.

I don’t think your boyfriend is good enough for you, for example.

Step back! Before you weigh in on your co-worker’s love life, tell me this: Is she someone you actually care about, or are you just passing the time with her because your real pals are sitting in their own offices across town?

Like versus love, remember?

It’s an understandable error. We’re often bored at work, and we’re social animals at heart, so we delude ourselves occasionally into thinking that we’re “close” with that woman in the next cubicle. We confuse physical proximity with emotional intimacy. And sometimes, if our favorite people aren’t around, we can actually convince ourselves that we’re crazy about folks we barely like. (I can’t be the only one who’s wolfed down an entire box of Mallomars—mostly because they were there—only to realize that I didn’t even like them, can I?)

Well, it’s the same with work pals. Do we really like them, or do we just like them because they’re there? And if it’s the latter, better to back off and not become too embroiled in their lives (or they in ours).

Because here’s the thing: Work friendships are largely geographical in nature. If we didn’t have adjoining cubicles, we’d never know most of our co-workers. And the proof of this is once we leave the company, we rarely speak with them again. Or if we do, it’s strained and uncomfortable, and we wonder how we were ever so close. So try to keep this in mind—she’s the friendly gal at work, not your best friend—and watch your troubles melt away.

Let’s start with an easy one:

A guy that I work with—who seems very nice, but whom I don’t really know—has a habit of keeping his shirt unbuttoned down to, um, there. His ample chest fluff is the first thing that greets anyone who sees him at any point during the day. How can I get him to button up?

Your company doesn’t have a “manscaping” department, by any chance, does it? (Too bad.)

So, what kind of person is this Tom Selleck at the next desk over? Let me give you a clue: He seems nice, but we don’t really know. We’re pretty much strangers who happen to work at the same place. So why in the name of Harry Larry would we tell this fellow how to tend his garden? Are you in the habit of approaching strangers on the street to critique their wardrobes? Just because you receive a paycheck signed by the same guy doesn’t make you any better acquainted.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s better not to be distracting at the office—in what we wear or, more precisely, what we don’t wear. And shirts unbuttoned to the navel, whether on men or women (of the smooth or hirsute variety), do exactly that. Still, this man, who missed a button (or three) is none of our concern. Better to stay out of it.

Here’s another:

My best friend at the office always underpays when we go out to lunch. At first, it was just a couple of bucks, but gradually the underpayments have increased. Last time, it was nearly $15. She usually dashes out before the meal is over, leaving me and other colleagues to pick up her slack. How can we get her to pay up?

Have you thought about banging on her cubicle wall? “Hey, cheapskate, you owe me fifteen bucks!”

Now, a “best friend at the office” can mean many things, from “blood sisters” to “the person I loathe the least.” But one thing is sure: This is a person toward whom we have some level of affection. What’s more, we’re dealing with a pretty cut-and-dried issue here—consistent underpayment of the lunch tab—which will not require any wading into psychological territory best left to our shrinks or those annoying trainers on The Biggest Loser.

So hop right in, but gently. Try casting the problem as an honest mistake: “I think you made a math error at lunch.” Remember to show your work. I bet she takes the point—and the problem disappears as fast as that plate of fries she ordered for the table.

Let’s try another:

At fifty-four, I’m the second-oldest person at the school where I work. On occasional Friday afternoons, several teachers get together for a beer at a restaurant nearby. Everybody used to be invited, but in the last couple of years, only the young people are included. I asked a couple of the organizers to let me know when they next meet. They agreed, but I’ve never heard from them. The rejection makes me feel bad. Any advice?

Well, I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably not going to be invited to Vanity Fair’s Oscars party or Malia Obama’s birthday dinner either. We can’t all be invited to everything, and even though it stings, it’s just a part of life.

For the record, I admire your asking to be included, in the first place. Most of us wouldn’t have had the guts for that. But now that you’ve asked, and been refused, where do you go from here?

Well, nowhere. We can’t be everyone’s cup of tea, any more than everyone can be ours. So here’s what you do: Don’t ask again. For better or worse, the whippersnappers are entitled to socialize with whomever they want. These guys are not your dearest friends, who owe you more; they’re just guys who teach at the same school as you.

So how about starting a new tradition instead? Invite all your colleagues—even the youthquake splinter group—for drinks on the last Friday of every month. You’ll be turning the other cheek and bolstering school morale at the same time. Now, that’s a solution everyone can love, right?

Okay, last one:

I recently returned to work from maternity leave and found the office drastically changed. My co-workers are really cold to me and talk about me behind my back, especially about me and an older male co-worker, who’s become a mentor to me. He and I go to lunch every once in a while, and my co-workers are suggesting that we are having sex—and worse, that he’s the father of my child. This is really hurting me. I work so hard and try to be a good colleague. What should I do?

Toxic co-workers! Beware!

It’s easy to be mean, and unfortunately, it’s breathtakingly fun on occasion, which is why we know every stupid thing that Lindsay Lohan (and her mother and her father) have ever done, but next to nothing about the electoral college, say, or the quantum law of physics.

For what it’s worth, gossip always says more about the people trading it than it does about its victims. And my usual advice is to put it right out of your head. But not in this case. The nasty colleagues have crossed a line, and shown themselves to be malicious. Do not engage them directly. Even a calm word could be twisted out of context and fuel even more venom. I’d speak with the boss and ask for help. Speculating about the sex lives of others is never cool, and under some circumstances, can even constitute sexual harassment under the law.

Better safe than sorry: Get help!

Co-Workers and Their Nasty Habits
When You Just Can’t Take It for Another Second!

You know what I mean.

The woman who sits next to me chews like a cow. I can hear the smacking of her lips no matter where I hide. Please help!


The guy who sits in front of me strokes his hair ALL DAY LONG. It is driving me crazy!

Or choose one of the following:

1. My boss whistles until I could scream;

2. My boss hums—off-key, mind you—until I want to die; or

3. My boss’s perfume makes me sick to my stomach. The mere sight of the ugly lavender bottle is enough to make me gag!

They’re the pet peeves from hell!

What can we do about them?

It doesn’t matter whether we like these folks or hate them. We’ve simply got to make this damned behavior stop. (Either that, or be hauled off to the nearest mental institution.)

So here’s what you do. In the calmest voice possible, say, “You know, I have no right to ask, but could you stop [INSERT HIDEOUS HABIT HERE]?” Then add, with a big smile, “For some reason, it’s really getting under my skin!”

It’s debatable, of course, whether the person sitting next to you has the right to chomp his food like a barnyard animal. But why go there? By making believe that it’s your problem—and by being charming about it, to boot—you will be much more effective in stopping it. You avoid defensiveness and even the prospect that there’s something to be defensive about.

And in my experience: It works!

If you have to remind your colleagues a couple of times about knocking off the dastardly habit, that’s okay. Just do it in the same sweet, blame-accepting way.

In the end, who cares—as long as it stops, right?

Okay, now that you’ve got the flavor of the exercise, let me give you one to solve on your own. Once you’ve come up with your solution, turn the page to take a look at mine.


When speaking English with me, a multilingual co-worker pronounces words from other languages in the full accent of the word’s origin. For example, “I’m thinking of going to Barcelona (bar-theh-LO-na) for Christmas (instead of bar-seh-LO-na). Does her technically correct pronunciation trump the fact that I find it rather awkward?

—Debbie, New York City


Awkward? What’s French for pretentious, Debbie?

This sounds like one of those super-fancy French chocolates that are too sophisticated for my Hershey-loving palate.

It would be one thing if your co-worker’s native language were coloring her pronunciation. Accents are sexy; everyone knows that. But this woman seems to be giving you the “ooh-la-la” in many different tongues, as if she were auditioning to be a foreign correspondent for CNN or to do a television spot for General Mills’ International Coffees. (Remember them?)

Feel free to mock her behind her back. Or if it’s driving you absolutely crazy, tell her “Basta!” “Arrêtez!” or “Shimete yo!”—unfortunately, giving her one last chance to correct your accent while showing off hers.

© 2011 Philip galanes

Table of Contents

Introduction: Not Your Mummy's Advice Column 1

Part 1 Getting Ready

1 When Good Hygiene Goes Bad: Dog Breath and B O and Snot, Oh My! 9

2 Beauty Experiments: Or, Who Died and Made You Estée Lauder? 20

3 If the Shoe Fits, It's Ugly! On Fashion Crimes and Misdemeanors 31

Part 2 Getting There

4 The Court of Public Transportation: Judge Judy for a Day! 43

5 When Strangers Get a Little Strange: On Sidewalks, at Starbucks, and Just Waiting in Line 56

6 Car(tastrophes): See the USA in Your Own Damn Chevrolet 66

Part 3 Getting Down to Business

7 "Who's the Boss?": Handling Yours Like They Do on TV 75

8 Taking the "Woe" out of Co-Workers: Just Because You Sit Together Doesn't Make You Besties 87

9 Free at Last! After You've Quit or (Let's Face It) Been Fired 98

Part 4 Getting Online

10 Step Away from That Keyboard! E-mails, Texts, and the Three Commandments for E-living 107

11 Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media: It's Your Party (But You Still Can't Diss Your Sister) 122

12 Online Dating: When True Romance Is Just 10 Million Clicks Away! 136

Part 5 Getting Along (with the Folks We're Stuck With)

13 Neighbors and Roomies: How Can We Miss Them When They Won't Go Away? 151

14 Kids and Parenting: When There Aren't Enough Time-Outs in a Day 167

15 If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother: Finessing Family Friction 181

Part 6 Getting Nickeled-and-Dimed

16 Money Isn't Funny: Why Do You Think We Call It "Cold, Hard Cash"? 193

Part 7 Getting Lovey-Dovey

17 Crushing Hard! Surviving Your Infatuations 207

18 Breakups (and How NOT To): Learning from Slaphappy Scarlett O'Hara 217

Part 8 Getting Through Our Big Days

19 In the Spotlight (at Last!): Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and Our Other Big Moments 235

20 Surviving the Holidays: The Gifts, the Grannies, and All That Booze! 244

Afterword: So, What Do We Do Now? 255

Acknowledgments 257

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Social QS 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Philip Galanes interesting and entertaining insights into everyday issues.  I don't always agree with everything he writes, butt almost always i come away thinking about something in a different way and with additional perspective.
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Holiday stress is the question. Like the memorable way we are reminded in 4 pages, to calm down and do and expect less.
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