“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
— Emily Post
Maybe it’s because my wife and I are approaching thirty, but I’ve started to pay closer attention to how my older sister is raising her two young children (a girl and boy, ages four and two). In these important developmental years, there are many teaching moments and many of those involve manners. Say “please” and “thank you”. Be patient and do not interrupt when someone else is talking. Share.
Oh, how soon we forget.
I’m painting with a broad brush here, but I’ve observed a general societal decline in kindness to our fellow man. At the same time, our senses of entitlement have seemingly spiked. You can look almost anywhere and witness this unfortunate evolution. As part of the autograph community, I see this all the time. Clearly, it’s not everyone but there are certain individuals who are routinely rude, overly aggressive and take away from the experience of others.
As another holiday season winds down—a season in which our spirits are typically peaked—it made me think of how we, as autograph collectors, could be kinder to each other and celebrities. Would it result in a more enjoyable hobby? I think it would.
Here are my 10 Rules of Autograph Etiquette (DISCLAIMER: While I try to abide by these guidelines, I am by no means a model citizen. I’m teaching not preaching.):
1. Don’t try to graph a celebrity who is with their family.
A couple years ago I got a tip that Gisele Bundchen was at The Barking Crab, a seafood shack on Boston’s Fort Point Channel. The restaurant is a few blocks from my office and I grabbed my camera and scooted over. Needless to say, I was excited to graph or get a picture with the world’s top supermodel. About a half hour later, Gisele stepped out…with Tom Brady’s son John in her arms. I holstered my camera and Sharpie, smiled and said hello. She gave me a nod and walked away. Given the situation, I didn’t want anything more.
2. Don’t request multiple autographs at the expense of others getting none.
I remember one instance in which Dwight Howard—one of the best signers in all of sports—stepped off the team bus and into a crowd of collectors. Now, I’ve never seen Dwight turn anyone down but I walked away steaming and without a graph. Why? Because several people had formed a wall around him and were getting stacks of items done. I simply could not get within an arm’s reach. After several minutes, Howard began to tire and security ended the session.
3. Don’t interrupt a celebrity.
In my interview with Donyell Marshall, the only times he indicated that he wouldn’t sign was when he was with his family (see #1) and when he was eating. I also apply this rule when someone is in a conversation (on or off the phone). Be patient and you’ll get your shot. Interrupt someone and you’re chances of getting that graph plummet.
4. Don’t lie to other collectors.
Information is a form of currency in the autograph trade. Knowledge about where someone is and when they will be somewhere is precious. This rule should not be interpreted as a suggestion that you should give up your intel when someone asks for it—just don’t intentionally mislead them. More than once I’ve heard someone send a fellow collector to the wrong hotel just to reduce competition.
5. Don’t badmouth a celebrity for not signing.
When you are out in the field, no one is obligated to sign for you. Even if you’ve waited for hours in the bitter cold, autograph collecting is permission-based (unlike, for example, taking celebrity photographs). Spouting venom at a celeb for not signing only negatively impacts future opportunities for you and other collectors. Even if you think you have been undeservedly blown off, kill them with kindness. People have bad days.
6. Say “please” and “thank you”.
No explanation necessary, but here’s a video that should cover it.
7. Give people—celebrities and fellow collectors—their space.
It’s a natural instinct to descend upon a celebrity once they get into range. But I wonder how many more autographs we would get if we lined up in an orderly fashion and politely asked someone to sign. It only takes one person to start a bum rush and, in most cases, it usually ends poorly. Also, I always try to consider other collectors as fellow hobbyists, not obstacles in my way of an autograph. There are a lot of overly aggressive individuals out there who don’t understand that this activity is supposed to be fun.
8. Don’t trespass to gain access to a celebrity.
As I mentioned in my previous post on the best places to get a celebrity autograph, charity events are near the top of the list. But with admission prices requiring a donation that could reach several hundred dollars, many find a way to circumvent the guest list. When I’ve broken this rule I always feel lousy and it’s not as fulfilling knowing I got a graph this way. Also, my night often ends in an awkward confrontation with someone running the event and I don’t want to put either of us in that position again.
9. Give young collectors the prime positions.
In addition to offering kids a chance to get a graph, this is a great way to lube a celebrity’s Sharpie. The only reason I got David Ortiz outside the Roxy one night was that a 12-year old kid came running down the street and caught his ear. Though my buddy and I were a foot from Ortiz and pleading for a graph, he somehow didn’t hear us.
10. Share with others.
Often I’ll be outside a hotel and see a kid standing there with a pad of hotel paper and a ballpoint pen. I’ll slip him a Sharpie and a few index cards, or a spare 5×7 if I have it. The favor has been returned by other collectors more than once when I didn’t have something for a particular athlete. Simply, it’s the right thing to do.
What rules would you add to this list? Please leave a comment below.