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Newport Manners & Etiquette: Trump’s Body Language, How to Say You’re Sorry + Beards on Trial

Wednesday, March 01, 2017


What is the importance of saying "sorry?" Are beards really dirtier than toilets? What to do when you're stuck at a table between two bores, and Mr. Trump's signature body language, were best questions to Didi Lorillard at NewportManners this week.

Mr. Trump's hand jives

Q.  The president's hand movements are disconcerting. When I see him on the evening news with his hands waving like batons I keep thinking he'll pull a rabbit out of his jacket. His hands may be small, 7.25 (compared to the average man's hand size of 7.44), but those flapping arms keep us entertained. What is the gesture Trump makes when his palms are facing out toward us and his index fingers form half-circles and then he pinches his index fingers and thumbs together?  Name Withheld


A.  There are several theories. Supposedly, the formation of the index fingers to the thumbs represent 666, meaning "number of beast," otherwise in the New Testament of the bible known as the devil. There is a conspiracy theorist called David Vose who claims Mr. Trump uses his hand signs as an "open acknowledgement of his secret society affiliation with the Illuminati." (The Illuminati allegedly rules all the countries in the world from behind the scenes under the umbrella of the NWO -- New World Order.)  Vose explains on YouTube, that the gesture says, "You care about our future, under the American constitution, our liberty and our rights, as free citizens of the world."

It is the same gesture, however, that Mr. Trump made while mocking a disabled newspaper reporter, which the press described as the "air pinch with thumb and forefinger," signifying precision and control. When he then exploded this gesture into an open hand with fingers spread, and then added a hand chop, it sent an effective signal that he was ready to act on a certainty. Mr. Trump also used the baton up-and-down beat of the hands to emphasize content he deems significant.

Yes, I agree that Mr. Trump's hand gestures are disconcerting. It may be that he doesn't want you to think about what he is saying.

Are beards magnets for germs and bacteria?


Q.  I met a wonderful man on social media and we've been dating. In his online photos he is clean-shaven. On our first date, it was a shock to meet him in the flesh hiding behind a hipster mustache and beard. I must confess to being somewhat of a germaphobe and awfully disturbed by news reports of studies comparing the amount of bacteria in public toilets to those in men's beards that show that most toilets are more hygienic than beards! How do I bring up the problem of his beard?  LWL, Boston


A. His beard may be your problem, not his. So far there isn't any concrete research that bearded faces are any less hygienic that clean-shaven ones. A beard may even be beneficial to his health: studies show antibiotics work slightly better on men who have beards. Apparently, as long as proper hygiene is consistently maintained, most beards contain normal levels of bacteria and, in fact, keeping clean and not being clean-shaven could be the key to better health. 

Listen up, if you don't like his beard and you became smitten with him when he was clean-shaven, you should bring this up in conversation with him. The jury is still out on just how "dangerous" beards are or are not. Beards can trap dirt and germs more easily, but if your friend is well-groomed, his beard and mustache will be clean, too.

Saying "sorry"

Q.  In trying to restore a friendship, I think I made the situation worse by making too big of a deal about my mistake. No matter how hard I tried to explain the situation from my point of view, I didn't come away with the feeling that my saying, "I'm sorry," was enough to mend fences. How do you convince someone that you are really sorry?  Irene, Portland, OR


A.  The apology should have been about the other person who was offended by what you said or did or neglected to say or didn't do, than about you, Irene. According to psychologist Harriet Lerner, in her new book, WHY WON'T YOU APOLOGIZE?, when there is an attempt to rationalize the reason for the apology, the lasting affect is "never satisfying."

The most authentic apologies are short.
Don't include an explanation in your apology, because it undoes the apology.
Never ask for forgiveness, the offended may accept the apology but probably won't forget the wrongdoing.

Focus should be on what the offender has done or said, not on the offended's reaction to the apology.

Never say, "I'm sorry you feel that way," because it moves the focus away from the person apologizing by yo-yo-ing "I'm sorry" into "I'm not really feeling all that sorry."

Dr. Lerner writes, "humans are hard-wired for defensiveness. It's very difficult to take direct, unequivocal responsibility for our hurtful actions. It takes a great deal of maturity to put a relationship or another person before our need to be right."

It may be that the offended person is the one who needs to talk (to you or a professional) about why they are so hurt by the offense. In order for the offended to understand their history behind the hurt feelings exacerbated by the transgression, they may need to do some soul searching. In that situation, Dr. Lerner says, "non defensive listening (to the offended party) is at the heart of offering a sincere apology."

Listen to the offended person and don't "interrupt, argue, refute, or correct facts, or bring up your own criticisms and complaints," says Dr. Lerner.
Apologize for the offense, no matter how small your part may have been.

Assuming your share of the responsibility by making a simple apology for the offense is the healthy, mature and healing way to repair a relationship.

Stuck in the middle

Q.  Help! What do you do when you're stuck between two people at a business conference dinner and they talk -- the for whole two hours -- to each other over you. I was stuck through a long evening of speeches, long applauses, and dreadful waits between courses suffering under the barrage of conversation between the guy on my left and the guy on my right. Would it be rude to have left the table? I really wanted to get out from under.  LM, Atlanta


A.  At some point between the entree and the dessert during the final speeches, you could have offered either the guy on your left or right to change places with you. Yes, instead you could have left the table, but you would have had to know where you were going to sit before you gave up your seat. Possibly, you could have excused yourself to use the restroom, but really to search for the prospect of a more interesting dinner partner. At the very least, if neither had wanted to switch chairs with you they would have gotten the not-so-subtle hint that they needed to include you in their conversation.


Didi Lorillard researches manners and etiquette at NewportManners.


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