One day this week, in the public restroom shared by students and faculty at UConn, where I teach, I noticed that in the stall next to mine a young woman had her clothes down around her feet and pooled directly on the tiled floor. They were overalls.

As a person who, in her youth, also wore overalls, I know that the great inconvenience of that particular clothing choice is the impossibility of using the toilet without more or less removing your entire outfit. But as an adult, it took all my inner strength not to yell, “For heaven’s sake, kid, pick your clean clothes up off the toilet floor. Pay attention.”

That girl needed to go to Gina School.

The concept of Gina School was introduced into a recent conversation by another young woman, the daughter of a good friend, at a dinner celebrating the anniversary of her parents. I was seated next to the daughter and her long-term boyfriend. A young man of good character and steady habits, the 24-year-old nevertheless lacked certain graces. The hosts had carefully chosen the dishes to be served, addressing the dietary needs of 20 guests from four countries, and chosen wines to accompany the food. For non-drinkers, there was sparkling water. The nice young man, however, rather grandly ordered a rum and Pepsi to be served with the first course. He announced, “What can I say? I’m not a wine guy.” His girlfriend’s face scrunched up, like a cat sniffing a lemon.

I whispered, “Then have the water. Don’t make the servers schlep all the way to the bar in a different part of the restaurant to fetch you rum and canned soda when nobody offered it to you and nobody else is having it.”

His girlfriend, who overheard and approved, asked, “Can he attend Gina School?”

Because even the Pepsi fan thought it was a good idea, here are some of Gina School’s basic lessons:

When asked at an interview to describe your major flaw, do not say, “I work too hard.” Given that every job applicant since the Earth’s crust cooled has used that line, you’ve just demonstrated that you don’t exactly work too hard coming up with original answers. Instead, speak thoughtfully, carefully and memorably. You can’t speak that way? Then smarten up. You don’t have to go back to school, either. Read more; know what matters; come up with your own ideas and opinions. Think for yourself and you’ll be equipped to explain yourself.

 Learn how to shake hands like an adult: no dead-fish fingertip presentation; no machine-like pumping action; no grabbing and holding hostage the handshakee. Learn to become comfortable looking someone in the eye without heavy blinking, lip biting and/or nose rubbing. You are in a live-action world in real time where your expression matters. Understand that you will be evaluated by the impression you make and that if you slouch, whine, sigh and smell like weed, you’re not going to seem like a great catch no matter how impressive your grades, letters of recommendation, test scores, looks or – ultimately – even your family connections.

 Learn the names of everybody you deal with on a regular basis and your life will be immeasurably better. Saying “I’m no good with names” is a lazy way of excusing yourself from believing that other people are important.

 Clean up after yourself. You ate from it, cooked in it or finished it? Don’t just leave it there. Wash it and replace it. The world is not your mother, and even your mother is getting tired of this stuff.

Learn to address an envelope and use a stamp. Then go to the post office and mail those thank-you notes you’ve handwritten.

 Offer to help. The worst that’ll happen is you’ll be shooed away by somebody who has the situation under control. Offer directions if folks are puzzling over street signs or maps. Offer to take a picture of a big group so they can all be in the photo. Offer whatever gesture might make somebody’s day a little bit easier and it’ll make your own day better. Don’t let shyness get in the way of kindness.

 Pick everything up off the floor, kid. Pay attention and be generous and you’ll do just fine in life – and in Gina School.

 

filed under: