Signs of the Times, Vol. 17, Issue 44

One of an occasional series of photo essays of instructional signs in public, usually designed to encourage humorously Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer admires the creativity!

 In a Washington, DC, coffee shop.

In a Washington, DC, coffee shop.

 In a Washington, DC, used bookstore.

In a Washington, DC, used bookstore.

 Outside a well-known Provincetown used bookstore.

Outside a well-known Provincetown used bookstore.

 Seen in Ogunquit, Maine.

Seen in Ogunquit, Maine.

 In a well-known gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In a well-known gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

 In a shop in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In a shop in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Back-to-School Questions for Grownups, Vol. 17, Issue 43

Etiquetteer found a couple questions in the mail bag than can loosely be filed together under "Back to School." Please contact Etiquetteer with your own back-to-school queries!

Dear Etiquetteer:

I recently got married, and have decided to hyphenate my last name (until my kids are 18 anyway.... easier to deal with if my last name matches the kiddos for school purposes). So, I am going to be (after I get my card) Ashton MacDonald Islesworth-Min. (It's a mouthful, isn't it?) My question is.... what are my initials? AMI? AMIM? AMI-M? How does one initial documents with a hyphenated last name?

Dear Monogrammed:

Congratulations on your recent marriage! Etiquettteer wishes you and your family long life and happiness.

These days monograms are very much a personal choice, so you can do almost anything you prefer. It's so rare for Etiquetteer to say anything like that that we should pause for a moment to take that in. Your initials may be whatever you choose.

With four initials, a block monogram - a simple row of all four initials from first to last names - seems to be the standard. But even before you, many ladies drop a name to keep their total initials down to three. For instance, you likely have a middle name, and dropped it when you married your first husband to keep your monogram to three: AMI. Of course with that MacDonald, could it also be AMacII?

You might now wish to drop your maiden name to keep your monogram to three: AIM. But if you keep all four, just keep it simple: AMIM.

When you initial your documents, no need to include the hyphen. When monogramming your lingerie, keep it small!

Dear Etiquetteer:

My son is looking to buy some new shoes. Most of his work dress is casual as with everyone else these days, but he does own two suits, one grey and one navy blue.  He's wondering if black shoes go with a navy blue suit? (I hope so, since that's what I always wore/wear.) Does brown go with either? And cordovan? We look forward to hearing what you think.

Dear Well Shod:

Etiquetteer's first reaction to your query was to remember Michael in The Boys in the Band complaining about "those ten pound cordovan loafers and those constipated Ivy League clothes," and then having to pause as he realizes that one of his guests, Hank, is wearing ten pound cordovan loafers with a classic Ivy League ensemble. You can never go wrong with a classic, but it's how you wear it that makes you stand out.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, Etiquetteer turned to Business Insider for a fairly comprehensive guide to pair suits and shoes. You'll see that they allow brown shoes with navy blue and medium or light gray, but they don't allow it with charcoal gray. Cordovan, it seems, goes with anything but black.

Etiquetteer would be rather more traditional (unsurprisingly) and prohibit brown shoes with navy blue. Indeed, once upon a time Etiquetteer vaguely remembers reading someone's memoir's story about Alfred Hitchcock advising Gregory Peck "No brown in town." Of course that might reflect the Sort of People Who Don't Weekend in Town . . .

In your son's case, investing in two pairs of good black shoes would be the conservative path, but he may want to shake up the mix with a pair of cordovan. It's interesting to note that only lace-up shoes were once thought proper in an office environment. Loafers and slip-ons were thought of as casual shoes, and of course sneakers, tennis shoes, and other athletic shoes were considered only for the activities for which they were designed and not everyday wear. But those footwear distinctions were eroded decades ago, first by airport security measures and then by St. Elsewhere.

The Meltdown of Bridezilla, Vol. 17, Issue 40

Just in case you were wondering, no one owes you a wedding - except possibly your parents. Etiquetteer isn't going to inquire into your private life. But no one owes you a wedding, and you shouldn't expect everyone you've ever met in your entire life to pay for it, and you should certainly not charge a four-figure "entrance fee" to attend your wedding.

Have you seen the story making the rounds, about a bride's internet meltdown while cancelling her wedding only four days away because none of her friends or family would pay $1,500 each (!) to come to her wedding? Etiquetteer even heard two women talking about it on the subway this evening. (Read the Fox News coverage or the Bored Panda article for details.) Etiquetteer isn't entirely sure this isn't a hoax, but it does prompt some commentary about the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need.

First of all, it's never Perfectly Proper to stage a wedding so very out of keeping with one's own social status, precisely because it creates such surreal stress about finances. It's also tacky. Etiquetteer has never seen A Catered Affair, but that's the same situation: a cab driver's family pressures themselves to give their daughter a fancy wedding they can't afford (and which she doesn't really want), sacrificing a business opportunity that could make a profound difference for all of them. In this case, Bridezilla - who was raised on a farm and met her fiancé there well before high school - wanted a dream wedding inspired by the Kardashians (!) and including a honeymoon in Aruba. And now let Etiquetteer say it: America is a land of freedom, but Jackie Kennedy is an inspiration; the Kardashians are an abomination.

Second, what are we really celebrating about a wedding that makes it so particularly about the bride only and what she wants? That a man chose her above all others? No, that's patriarchial. That she "snared," "trapped," or "used her wiles to get" him? Etiquetteer hopes not; that only makes Bridezilla look like an insincere Conniving Temptress*. You see where Etiquetteer is going, yes? There is no reason to focus exclusively on the bride and everything she particularly wants. As has been said before, no one cares about the bride! Let's focus on the Happy Couple as a couple instead, and bypass completely the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need.

Lastly, a wedding is not about a blow-out "once in a lifetime" party; it's about two people committing to each other for life, and the families and friends of this Happy Couple assembling to wish them well - often with a meal, and especially so if you're making people fly in from hither and yon. How many "once in a lifetime" weddings ended in divorce? (If you have that datum, please share.) Much better to simplify arrangements and guest lists rather than generate so much wedding angst that the marriage doesn't have a chance (as in the current case).

This young woman (if this is a true story) has jeopardized her relationships with the love of her life (who is also the father of their child), her family, her best friend, and pretty much everyone she's ever met in her entire life. Was the vision of a Kardashian-inspired wedding worth all that destruction? Bridezilla, beware!

*If Etiquetteer has to hear from one more married woman (or divorcée) that she "earned" her wedding and/or engagement rings . . . once they had a name for women who "earned" their jewels, and it was something no Nice Woman wanted to be called.

Snark vs. Sarcasm, Vol. 17, Issue 39

The clever insult replaced the gallant compliment.

- Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, from their excellent Misia: The Life of Misia Sert

Dear Etiquetteer:

Can you explain to me if there's a difference between snark and sarcasm? Maybe I've lived overseas too long and dislike sarcasm as a result, which to me is an excuse to say something nasty to or about someone or something masked as humor, but snark seems to be acceptable by many around me as sharp wit with city edge humor.

Dear Snarked:

Your query had more than a whiff of hair-splitting about it, so Etiquetteer felt the need to define exactly the terms "snark" and “sarcasm” as well as “snide." Amusingly, Dictionary provided only the original definition of “snark:" "a mysterious, imaginary animal." How often we forget that it was the late Lewis Carroll who created this term in his nonsense poem “The Hunting of the Snark!”* Urban Dictionary provides the definition "Combination of “snide" and "remark". Sarcastic comment(s),” and defines snide as "a mean, snobbish, or spiteful remark." So at least according to Urban Dictionary, snark contains sarcasm.

Sarcasm, according to Dictionary, is “harsh or bitter derision or irony” or “a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark.” Urban Dictionary is franker: “The ability to insult idiots without them realizing it.”

So, tossing all these definitions together, Etiquetteer discerns the difference between snark and sarcasm thus. If sarcasm is the ability to insult idiots without them realizing it, snark is the ability to insult others who will realize it and will a) appreciate the effort made and/or b) respond in kind in a perpetual snarkfest, making them a worthy opponent in a battle no one should have to fight.

Long story short, Etiquetteer sees both terms as insults delivered with irony, which often leads them to be mistaken for wit, which is defined as “clever or apt humor.” So Etiquetteer would encourage aspiring snarkers to give up now. Because let's face it, if you're not the late Dorothy Parker, you'll never get it right.

Etiquetteer pines for the days when the well-turned compliment was more common, and more valued, than the snappy comeback. For instance, Etiquetteer was recently asked by an old friend’s new lover what his favorite flower was. Not knowing, Etiquetteer responded “You are always his favorite flower!” We don’t have nearly enough of This Sort of Thing these days.


*Decades later this was surrealistically translated into French by the Last of the Bright Young Things, Nancy Cunard, as “La Chasse au Snark."

Reader Response, Vol. 17, Issue 36

Etiquetteer is always pleased to hear from readers, and has a couple items to share from the mailbag:

In response to a recent column on Sarah Huckabee Sanders vs. the Red Hen, a Facebook follower commented: "I'm curious how Etiquetteer would have counseled Ms. Huckabee Sanders in light of the widespread social media attention engendered by the restaurant staff posting about the incident. Does Perfect Propriety require one to stay silent in the face of Social Obloquy, or may one offer, as Ms. Huckabee Sanders did, one's own, respectful (in the opinion of this Humble Commenter), take on one's experience?"

And Etiquetteer replies: Dignified Silence is always preferable, but even Etiquetteer understands how difficult that can be to maintain in the face of worldwide Twitter-shaming. Ms. Huckabee Sanders' tweet, for the record, said: "Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so." Ms. Huckabee Sanders could have omitted that comment about the behavior of the restaurant owner and focused instead on the good behavior of herself and her party in leaving the restaurant without making a scene. Otherwise, Etiquetteer does have to give Ms. Huckabee Sanders credit for bringing less heat to the discussion of this topic than her boss.

Thank you also for your use of "obloquy." Etiquetteer is fond of quoting the late Mame Dennis Burnside, who memorably said "An extensive vocabulary is the hallmark of every truly intellectual person."

Another reader responded to Etiquetteer's column on how Wimbledon is using honorifics for married ladies competing in its tournament: "Thank you for another very well written article! I remember when I married my husband back in 1989, when I was young, I decided not to take my husband's last name. He had even thoughtfully asked me first what I would prefer to do. Having recently graduated from college, I decided to keep my maiden name. We didn’t really discuss it again for almost ten years when our son was about to be born. How was his name to end? I helped us decide this by giving my maiden name as a second middle name. My husband's last name is the name passed down to our son. This has proven to work for all three of us."

And Etiquetteer replies: Thank you very much for sharing your family's choices. The use of family names as middle names is not unknown - indeed, the New York families of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence seem only to have family names! Your solution seems a particularly elegant one, since it doesn't involve you assuming a hyphenated name at marriage and then changing it later once the children are born (as has happened).

While there is greater acceptance today of brides retaining their maiden names after marriage, Etiquetteer hears tell that those who have the most trouble with this practice are the mothers of the groom . . . readers, is this what you've witnessed?


Honorifics, Vol. 17, Issue 34

Since Etiquetteer couldn't possible be considered one of Those Sporty Types, it takes a matter of manners to draw Etiquetteer's attention to the athletic arena. So how convenient, now that Wimbledon is well and truly launched for the season, for The New York Times to run a piece about how the All England Club uses honorifics for married female competitors. Forms of address are most decidedly a matter of manners!

The Club continues to use what Etiquetteer calls the Pre-Ms. Practice of referring to married ladies as Mrs. Husband's Name. This hearkens back to the era when ladies had no choice in what they were called. Once a lady married, she took her husband's name, and that was that. Then came the 1970s, and not only did Gloria Steinem give the world the new honorific Ms., but more and more ladies decided to retain their own names after marriage. Now, almost 50 years later, ladies most definitely have a choice in how they are addressed, and Etiquetteer thinks those choices should be honored. All England Club . . . get with it! Protocol author Robert Hickey best explains the current state of feminine honorifics on his Honor & Respect website.

The situation at the Club is made a shade more complicated by the fact that, although it is a private club for members (and can therefore establish its own rules), it's hosting an event with unrelenting television coverage and everyone competing in it is already a worldwide celebrity. Very, very few people are going to recognize that "Mrs. L.W. King" is really Billie Jean King, for instance. Expecting the rest of the world to understand a private club's rules is not, perhaps, very realistic.

All that said, Etiquetteer must betray some impatience with Serena Williams, who has said she is "still figuring out how she wants to be addressed." Good gracious, that is something that should have been "figured out" before the wedding took place to prevent just this sort of confusion! Having expressed that Fit of Pique, Etiquetteer recalls that this Change of Status does present unique challenges for Prominent Women. The great Letitia Baldrige Herself, after her marriage to Bob Hollensteiner, went through a brief period of being known professionally as Letitia Hollensteiner. But then several people begged her to go back to her maiden name in professional life. Not only was that how everyone knew her, "Letitia Hollensteiner" was a real mouthful to get out over the phone!*

So ladies must be addressed as they wish to be, but Etiquetteer draws the line at Royalty. "Her Royal Highness, Megan Markle" is not Perfectly Proper. She is now properly addressed as Her Royal Highness Princess Henry of Wales, Duchess of Sussex.**


*This charming story from Baldrige's wonderful memoir A Lady, First, page 222.

** Etiquetteer absolutely expects to hear from a few Devoted Royal Watchers who will take issue with this one way or another.

Etiquette in the News, Vol. 17, Issue 30

At times Etiquetteer has to wonder if people are actually behaving worse than they used to, or if the press is just writing about it more. Recent news stories of Absolutely Appalling Behavior have been more than distressing to Etiquetteer.

First, we have the case of a white man asking a black woman if her daughter showered before swimming in a hotel swimming pool. This is wrong on so many levels it makes the head spin. First, and most obvious, it's bald racism. Second, it's rude to comment publicly on the manners of total strangers. The excuse that he "was perfectly within his rights to ask such an intrusive question" is no excuse. We have the right to do many things that we should not do, and this is so very clearly one of them. If this man really did have concerns about the hygiene of a fellow hotel guest, he should have directed them to a hotel staff member. But the fact of the matter is, if he was really that concerned about hotel pool hygiene ("Google it"), he should have reconciled himself to going without a swim.

Next is the mysterious resignation of Harvard Pilgrim CEO Eric Schultz for "behavior that was inconsistent with my personal core values and and the company's core values and code of conduct." The mere phrasing of this statement, as well as the absence of any specific follow-up in the press, indicates that some Very Powerful People are trying to spare a scandal, and perhaps Mr. Schultz's reputation, as much as possible. Now everybody can have an off day every once in a while, but that usually doesn't lead to resigning from a high-profile position after a three-week investigation. And while humiliation should never be the goal of a public announcement, honesty should be. As distressing as this no doubt is, Etiquetteer hopes that more information will be forthcoming, if only to cease a lot of Unseemly Speculation.

Then there's the spectacular fall from grace about three weeks ago of Roseanne Barr after an especially racist tweet. (Etiquetteer is a bit late to the ball on this, as the rest of the world has already stopped talking about it. Sic transit gloria Dei nuntium.) This experience should prove to a whole lot of people, regardless of their views, that sharing every Random Thought in Your Head as it appears is not a very good idea. Let that thought marinate for a bit before firing into the Internet; you might feel differently about it in an hour. We must always remember President Lincoln's good advice to write the angry response to the letter - and then not send it.

Of course Etiquetteer never understood how Roseanne Barr could ever be considered seriously after her unpatriotic rendition of the National Anthem in 1990:

And since it's Father's Day, let Etiquetteer conclude with the words of his own Dear Father: "We must concentrate on lovely, pure, and virtuous things."

Noisy Children in Restaurants, Vol. 17, Issue 26

Over on Etiquetteer's Facebook page (you are following Etiquetteer on Facebook, yes?), there's been an unusual amount of commentary about a restaurant in Monterey, California. The Old Fisherman's Grotto does not allow disruptive children, specifically "children crying or making loud noises," and they've made it known with a prominent sign in the lobby and on their website.. A group of Bay Area mothers has made their opinion of the restaurant's policy known. Etiquetteer's repost of the article generated almost two dozen comments - pro, con, and nuanced - and almost two dozen reactions. A nerve, as they stay, was struck.

Etiquetteer approves of this policy, let's not be in any doubt about that. When it comes to Perfect Propriety, no one cares what you want or how you feel; manners come first. And Etiquetteer understands that it's shocking to many parents that other people simply do not care about their children and won't indulge or stand for bad behavior from them. The restaurant, though, has taken into account the size of their dining room, the ability of their staff to serve safely and well when access is impeded by strollers, high chairs, and other paraphernalia, and what their most frequent customers value about the restaurant. And they seem to have made the right call; business is strong.

Most commenters approve, though one, using ALL CAPS, plans to take her business elsewhere - a good idea IF THAT IS HER VOLUME LEVEL IN A RESTAURANT. The idea of a special occasion in a special place being marred by noisy babies or unruly children seems to have motivated many to take this view. And more than one reader noted that children who behave well are welcomed at the restaurant. Etiquetteer would rather like to see parents indignant at the thought of their Precious Snowflake being criticized start to think of the Old Fisherman's Grotto as a Final Exam of sorts, to see if their children can pass the test of dining out with Perfect Propriety.

Some reminiscence about parental training in restaurants also ensued, with commenters recalling maternal methods to get correct behavior. In the words of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, "Discipline mixed with love is such a good recipe." Certainly Young Etiquetteer was brought up to behave well by his parents in restaurants of all types. What seems to motivate so much heat around this issue is those parents who won't or can't instill manners in their children. Unfortunately, those parents are giving all parents an undeserved reputation.

And speaking of training, it's worth noting that once upon a time children ate at home in the nursery until they were old enough to have the proper table manners to dine with adults in the dining room. Etiquetteer remembers well seeing the back dining room of Beauvoir (the final home of Jefferson Davis), where the grandchildren would eat. Finer hotels of the 19th century would even have a special dining room for the children.

Several commenters used a word on many lips today, "discriminiation," and felt that the restaurant's policy was ageist. Diners of any age who are making loud noises must be banished, they say! (Reading those comments, Etiquetteer will have to admit to giving some Significant Side Eye to That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, who's ahem Made an Impression at more than one "very gay dinner party" over the years.) Yes, Dsruptive Adults also impact restaurant dining, but Etiquetteer rather worries that setting expectations for grownups might not help business. Policies about children's behavior seem to be good for business, attracting clientele who want a dining experience guaranteed to be free from disruptive children. But policies about disruptive behavior from adults might lead too many Otherwise Lovely People to over-examine their behavior, decide they might not make the cut, and take their business elsewhere. Who wants to run the risk of the humiliation of being asked to leave a restaurant?

One commenter who Etiquetteer can only describe as Noble expressed the wish to project compassion toward misbehaving children and their parents. That is a truly admirable viewpoint to take, but Etiquetteer has to admit that it's easier to do when the parents appear concerned about the impact their children are making. Indeed, the principal reason there seems to be so much dialogue on this issue is the number of parents who take no action and seem not to care.

Wherever and with whomever you dine, Etiquetteer wishes you joy as you gather about the festive board.