Recession Etiquette: How to Cry in Your Beer

May 14 2009, 10:55 AM

When I graduated from high school my music teacher handed me a present: a copy of Emily Post's Etiquette. At the time, I was offended. I thought he was insinuating that I was uncouth. But this was also a time in my life when I thought "dress-up pants" were the McDonalds pants I had scored at a thrift store. They had an elastic waist and the golden arches on a back pocket.

Etiquette helped me not only in finding appropriate clothing (as have Stacy and Clinton), it also guided me in how to act in certain situations. But now that the economy has turned life on its head, leaving many of us unemployed, insecure, or in downright hardship, I find myself wishing for a guidebook on recession etiquette.

Hence, the first installment of my now-and-again advice column on how to behave in a recession.

First question:

"I need to cry in my beer. Literally. How can I do this and still be respected at my neighborhood bar?"

1. Do not, under any circumstances, take your problems out on the bartender.

This is not the time to be passive-aggressive or coy. Do not hint that you have a terrible problem and then sigh heavily when you learn that the bartender is out of a certain beer. Sure, life is all about you right now, but the bartender is more than a glorified vending machine or a free therapist. This person will regularly smile at you--for free, treat you as a decent human being every time you come in, and may even slide you drinks on the house when you come back from a promising interview. Play nice.

2. Remember that the details of your tale of woe are not interesting to anyone except you.

Keep your story simple. If you lost your job, took a massive pay cut, or just learned exactly how far upside down you are on your house, state the facts and then take a deep drink. If you feel the urge to say more, take a moment and look off into the distance, even if the distance is the musty bar bathroom. This pause not only shows your steely resolve, but it often creates a space for people to ask questions or say something sympathetic like, "I'll get your next round."

Related: Do not use this time to diss your company and/or ex-bosses. Sure, they might have treated you poorly at the end. The bad economy makes us all act a little sub-par. Talking about them makes you look skeezy, and skeezy people get fewer free drinks and bad karma (see item #3).

3. Buy a stranger a drink.

This new recession world is governed heavily by the laws of karma. With an impossible job market, it's all about who you know and what they know about you. You do not receive the karma until you put a little away in the bank, so it's time to invest, my friend, and get a PBR for the guy in the corner.