One thing we really talk about is social responsibility. For etiquette to work properly, each player must know his or her part and perform it perfectly. That's what makes it a challenge: how can you be polite to someone who has been rude to you? (You can, I promise.) So we talk a lot about how we let people know they are being rude, and how one "punishes" someone who has committed a social error.
Which leads me to the "cut direct."
In etiquette, the "cut direct" is the ultimate punishment. It is only considered acceptable (I don't think it is ever considered polite) under the gravest of circumstances, when someone has wronged you so grievously that conventional apologies simply won't do.
When applying the "cut direct," there are three parts that must be played. Attention, etiquette students: this is essential:
1. The "Cutter": must make it obvious that he/she sees the person, but chooses not to acknowledge that person's existence in any way. A frozen posture, staring directly at the person, then a deliberate turning away with no acknowledgement works. Add a bitter laugh and toss back a dry sherry for that extra, classy flair.
2. The "Cuttee": must make it obvious that he/she noticed the cut in one of two ways: immediate fleeing of the room, preferably with audible sobs; or a brave-but-trembling smile followed by tears in the bathroom. Runny mascara and smeared lipstick works well for the ladies, not so much the men (in most circles).
3. The "Bystanders": must attempt to smooth the awkwardness by being frozen in embarrassment for no less than 3 seconds, then all speaking and laughing at once while attempting to form a human barricade between "Cutter" and "Cuttee." It is the responsibility of the Bystanders to say nothing about the incident to anyone, until the next night's Mah-Jongg party over brandy-laced Earl Grey.*
Without all three players, the "Cut Direct" becomes nothing more than the "Jerry Springer Episode No One Wants to See."
A fantastic example of the Cut, properly applied, is in the book "Gone With the Wind." In the book, Scarlett is walking down the sidewalk when she spies several of the "old cats" she has been so contemptuous of. They stop, obviously seeing her approach, then they cross the street to avoid having to speak to her. Scarlett is so embarrassed that she runs straight home, absolutely mortified that anyone might have seen her cut right in the street! If you have never read "Gone With the Wind," or even if you have, I urge you to curl up under an afghan and begin immediately
We all cut people, I'm sure. We have that former co-worker whose e-mails we delete without reading, or that embarrassing relative we only see when forced. But the "Cut Direct" is done in front of people, obviously, as a punishment. That's what makes it such a severe step.
Have I ever given someone the "Cut Direct?" No, but I've had it done to me.
I chose the brave smile. Then I told the teacher.
*I have noticed that most traditional etiquette stories seem to revolve around alcohol and tea. I substitute NyQuil and Sprite and feel quite cosmopolitan.**
**Just kidding, Mom.