Greeting Cards, Vol. 16, Issue 5

Dear Etiquetteer:

I seem to have inherited my mother's compulsion for keeping greeting cards. You know, the stacks of Happy Birthday or <insert Winter holiday here> cards that people send. When sufficient time has past, and one is tidying up, I carefully pack the cards away in a manila envelope, labeled with the occasion, and tuck them away for later enjoyment. Except I never do. I just don't look at them again. They are lovely, and many of them are quite expensive ($7 for a greeting card, oh my!) and I feel just awful putting them in the recycling, but as time passes, the collection of Greeting Cards Past is growing. What is the proper thing to do with them, once you've noted the address of the sender, added them to your list for next year, and it is time to put them away?

Dear Card Collector:

This may come as a shock, but the most Perfectly Proper thing to do with a greeting card after you've received it is whatever you choose. If you wish to save them, save them. But if, as you have observed, you save them for no purpose, then there's nothing prohibiting you from tossing them out. This is especially true of greeting cards in which the writers have written only their names and/or a basic greeting. As long as you've updated the address in your address book, toss out the cards and any Guilty Feelings you might harbor about tossing them out.

To assuage those Guilty Feelings, though, you could bundle them off to St. Jude's Ranch for Children, which has a recycled card program to support their programs and services for abused, neglected and homeless children, young adults and families.

There are those, though, who use greeting cards to share special stories, memories, or offer lengthier expressions of their good wishes for you, and these you might wish to keep as a record of your relationship with that person.

One criterion might be whether or not your biographer would find it useful in writing your biography. Etiquetteer has never quite gotten over the footnote in Richard Buckle's definitive biography of Serge Diaghilev. It seems the composer Igor Stravinsky never threw away a letter, and kept a copy of every letter he ever sent (more difficult in those days before copiers). "Biographers can only be grateful," wrote Buckle.

Reader Response and Pajamas, Vol. 16, Issue 3

Dear Etiquetteer:

Thank you for the thorough post on Condolence Correspondence. A question for you: as you stress that timing is of the utmost importance when writing condolences, is sending a card after a funeral appropriate? I recently attended a funeral of a good friend who's father had passed very suddenly. I was able to see her and give my condolences in person, but thought it might be nice to follow up with a handwritten note and a few photos I have of her father-daughter dance at her wedding. It was suggested to me that sending the photos might prolong her sadness when she's trying to get back into the swing of everyday life, but I thought she might appreciate them. What would you advise?

Dear Condoling:

The most Perfectly Proper time to send a Lovely Note of Condolence is as soon as one hears about a death. Often that happens after the funeral. Etiquetteer commends your thoughtfulness at wanting to sending a condolence after greeting your friend personally at her father's funeral. Believe Etiquetteer, it does make a difference to the bereaved.

As to the photos, Etiquetteer would err on the side of sending them, especially if they are photos she is unlikely to have seen before. (Of course Etiquetteer suspects that the Usual Horde of wedding photographers was following that father-daughter dance you mention, but that doesn't mean that each individual image of the event might not be considered meaningful to your friend.)

Recently a couple writers Etiquetteer admires have weighed in on the Perfect Propriety of pajamas. British etiquette expert William Hanson wrote a humorous article about what is and is not appropriate to wear in bed. Etiquetteer is just a tad more lenient than Mr. Hanson about wearing pajamas outside the house. While Mr. Hanson would permit only in the event of one's own medical emergency, Etiquetteer will joyfully permit pajamas al fresco when attending a pajama brunch.

Mr. Hanson reinforces some tenets of Good Taste, for instance that pajamas should be pajamas and not underwear (both for ladies and gentlemen), and that cotton, specifically sea island cotton, is more Perfectly Proper than silk or satin (especially for gentlemen).* The necessity of a Perfectly Proper bathrobe/dressing gown is emphasized, as well as having a good pair of slippers. One can't just pad around barefoot, especially if one is a houseguest. He particularly inveighs against sheepskin. Etiquetteer must confess to being partial to furlane from Pied a Terre in Venice.

Etiquetteer cannot join in Mr. Hanson's condemnation of those who sleep without pajamas altogether, preferring the altogether. After all, as long as your pajamas stay in the bedroom, it's no one's business what you wear - or don't wear - to bed. Still, as Someone Whose Name Etiquetteer Is Ashamed to Be Unable to Recall said, "Etiquette is how you behave when no one is looking."

Then Peter Lappin over at Male Pattern Boldness waxed nostalgic over the bed jackets ladies used to wear. Sixty and 70 years ago there was perhaps no more feminine garment, and this was, of course, designed especially for the boudoir. That was still the era of the Lady of Leisure who slowly began her day with breakfast in bed, telephoning her friends and perhaps chain-smoking with a long holder.

But there were other Bed-Jacketed Ladies who conducted their business in bed. No, Etiquetteer does not mean that sort of business! One thinks of the late Mamie Eisenhower, propped up in her tufted pink bed in a quilted pink bed jacket, breakfast tray on knees and cigarette in hand, briskly conducting her daily meetings with members of the White House staff.** And Lily Daché, the great 20th century milliner, leaves us a hectic picture of her morning in bed in her book Talking Through My Hats: "I suppose it would look strange to someone who did not know me to look in on this penthouse bedroom most any morning and see me sitting up in my bed, with a leopard-skin rug over my knees, a lacy bed jacket over my shoulders and my newest hat creation on my head, dictating to my secretary on one hand, consulting my designers on the other, sorting through piles of straw and lace and feathers and perhaps having a massage." Hardly Ladies of Leisure, they!

In the winter months, when hibernation is so tempting, Etiquetteer knows that you will sleep the sleep of the Perfectly Proper.

*Reading this, Etiquetteer instantly remembered the description of James Hazen Hyde's bedroom in Patricia Beard's excellent book After the Ball. Hyde had a reputation as a Vile Seducer; he nephew took one look at Hyde's black bedroom with its black silk sheets and black silk pajamas laid out for the night and thought "Uncle's working clothes."

**See Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West.

Bad Spousal Behavior, Vol. 16, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:

A dear and close friend of mine was married about one year ago. Before and since the wedding, my friend has cried to me about the bad behavior of her now-husband. On one occasion, he exhibited some of this bad behavior in my presence, and it was appalling. He overindulges in alcohol, makes advances on other women, and becomes belligerent. In my opinion, he is embarrassing, disgraceful, and unkind. He is not violent, and her physical wellness does not seem to be in jeopardy, but I have expressed my concern to my friend about her emotional well-being in this relationship. She agrees with me.

Nevertheless, my friend recently invited me and my partner to join her and her husband for dinner. The invitation actually immediately followed my friend's latest lamentation about her husband's behavior and the uncertainty of their future. (NB: The last time that my partner and I joined them for dinner, my friend and her husband ended the evening shouting at each other on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant. They both left separately and without saying goodnight to my partner and me.)

What am I to do? I love my friend dearly, and she is choosing to stay in this relationship; does our friendship dictate that I withstand her husband's company at the occasional dinner party? Or do I take a stand and request to her that he and I not share space until his behavior is improved?

Dear Friendly:

Few things test a friendship the way that an Unsuitable Spouse does. The picture you've painted of your friend's Unsuitable Spouse gives the appearance of alcohol abuse, to be sure, and History is littered with the bad behavior of the Overimbibed. Etiquetteer could not help but think of Emma, Lady Hamilton, the most infamous and dazzling adulteress of her generation. While she stayed in Canterbury with relatives of her deceased lover, Lord Nelson, they began to receive invitations superscribed with "but not Lady Hamilton." Her reckless behavior with champagne had ruined what little reputation she had left.*

You want to support your friend without subjecting yourself to the bad behavior of her Unsuitable Spouse - and incidentally, protect your own partner from it, too. The time has come to start declining her invitations for activities that include him. By all means continue to see her on her own. You can emphasize, gently, that you value the time the two of you spend together.

At some point your friend needs to confront herself with the Ann Landers Question: "Are you better off with him or without him?" It's not up to you to pose that question, but since she is already using you as a Sob Sister, you may end up posing it. When she comes to the conclusion that the answer is "Better without him," she will need supportive friends to encourage her to take the next steps. Good luck.

*From Emma, Lady Hamilton, by Flora Fraser, page 271.

Condolence Correspondence, Vol. 16, Issue 1

Because That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much was recently bereaved, Etiquetteer thinks this is a Perfectly Proper time to review the basics of condolence correspondence.


Write as quickly as you can. Condolences make a positive difference whenever they are received, but especially in the days immediately after a death and/or a funeral. That Mr. Dimmick received an email message from a Dear Friend that began "I know a handwritten note is more appropriate in moments such as this, but I find that speed is more important than propriety." Both speed and propriety are important, but while the speed of the Internet is taken for granted today, the appearance of an envelope in the letterbox remains double touching when one is bereaved. When in doubt, there's no reason not to send both an email and a handwritten card or letter.

But write anyway, whenever you do. Sometimes it feels embarrassing when someone is bereaved and you haven't communicated your condolences at all, for whatever reason: couldn't find the right card, couldn't think of what to say, heard the news months later, personal aversion to acknowledging Death, just plain forgot. Months can go by. Taking the trouble to communicate condolences, whenever they're communicated, no matter how long after the funeral, makes a positive difference. Cover any embarrassment you might feel with the phrase "You have been on my mind since the death of [Insert Name of Deceased Here]" or something similar.

A sampling of recently received condolence cards.

A sampling of recently received condolence cards.

There's a lot of Perfectly Proper stationery out there, so don't use that as an excuse. For those uncomfortable using their own letterhead, there are many Appropriate Cards on the market from which to choose, some of which appear in the image above. Mostly in neutral shades and/or patterns, they all incorporate sympathetic language, either secular or religion-specific. Images from nature are also very popular. When shopping, if you find one you like, buy a dozen or more to have on hand when needed.

Non-condolence-specific notecards may also be used. Certainly the most original and appropriate choice of those pictured above was that of the Black Cross by Russian artist Kasimir Malevich. Still, as they say in the fashion world, "You can never go wrong with a classic." Plain black-bordered notecards in white or ecru, like these from Crane's, are always Correct.

By the way, using one's own letterhead is Perfectly Proper for all correspondence, including condolences. Some sticklers would even say it is More Perfectly Proper than a condolence card, while others Etiquetteer would call Small-Minded don't consider a condolence a condolence unless it's written on a condolence card. Etiquetteer considers anyone who would complain about the way in which people offer them sympathy unworthy of it.

Use your full name and address. It's easy, when writing to people one knows, to save a bit of time or trouble by omitting a return address from a sympathy card. Don't give into that Slothful Temptation. The return address you write (or stick) onto a sympathy card is one less address the bereaved will have to spend time finding. Similarly, you may think yourself the only Beowulf in the life of the bereaved, and might be surprised to learn about them wondering if your condolence came from Beowulf "Bay" Brummell in Arizona or Beowulf "Wulfy" Brummelli in Accounting. Help out the bereaved by including this Useful Information somewhere, even when you're sure they already know it. It will make a difficult task easier.

Originality is unnecessary. Many correspondents will delay writing a condolence because they want to think of something original to say, either about the deceased or about the situation. But if those words don't come, write and send them later when they do pop into your head. There is no shame, and actually quite a lot of good, in responding quickly with the same thoughts that everyone else is having: that you care about the bereaved, that you care about the deceased, and that you want to help.

Be understanding if you don't hear back for awhile. No matter how you send your condolences, the bereaved have a lot going on and may not reply very quickly. If you sent your condolence electronically, it never hurts to send another email along the lines of "Thinking of You" after a week or so.


Find the right stationery, but don't let the search slow you down. The stores don't always have the Right Thing when needed, and it isn't always possible to wait to reply to condolences for an order to be delivered from Who Knows Where. That Mr. Dimmick was fortunate to discover some Perfectly Proper black-bordered cream notepaper on short notice.

That Mr. Dimmick, caught short without Perfectly Proper stationery, discovered black-bordered cream notepaper from Peter Pauper at a local stationer.

That Mr. Dimmick, caught short without Perfectly Proper stationery, discovered black-bordered cream notepaper from Peter Pauper at a local stationer.

In a very few instances, since Excessive Embellishment is the antithesis of mourning, That Mr. Dimmick used notecards engraved with a peacock feather. While the peacock symbolizes immortality and eternal life in some religious traditions, Etiquetteer looks on this level of embellishment as the Thin End of the Wedge. That Mr. Dimmick also found, in the dark recesses of his stationery wardrobe, a box of notecards emblazoned with dancing skeletons. Needless to say, that was considered Not at All Perfectly Proper, and back they went. Gallows Humor has its place, but this is not it. Most decidedly not!

These beautiful notecards may be found in the online catalog of Classica Italiana.

These beautiful notecards may be found in the online catalog of Classica Italiana.

Reply to condolences in the manner in which they were received. Handwritten condolences are replied to in handwriting.* Email condolences are replied to by email. Condolences received via social media are acknowledged via social media. In the last case, it's not necessary to respond to individual comments under a status update (but you may, if you wish). A single comment thanking all for their condolences will be seen by all, and that comment may be added again after subsequent responses.

Be brief. Death brings many stresses, and many things to be attended to, which means that there may not be extended time to spend on correspondence. It's not necessary to write more than "Dear [Insert Name Here], Thank you for your kindness at this difficult time. Yours gratefully, [Insert Your Name Here]." A reply can be heartfelt without being long-winded.

Anyone in the family may reply. Death brings up a lot of emotions, and not everyone is ready to respond to a pile of condolences, even those it is "easier" to respond to electronically. One or more Capable Family Members may be detailed to reply "on behalf of all our family" or "on behalf of [Insert Name of Prostrated Mourner Here]" without any lapse of Perfect Propriety. It would be Bad Form for recipients to protest "But I was hoping to hear from [Insert Name of Prostrated Mourner Here]."

A reply makes a difference. Aside from learning that their condolence was received, your reply to a condolence reassures correspondents of your current state.

While of course Etiquetteer hopes you won't have to use these guidelines any time soon, it never hurts to Be Prepared.

* Sticklers will here try to ensnare Etiquetteer and other writers into a debate on the merits and demerits of handwriting vs. typewriting or computer printing. Etiquetteer admits to finding this debate tedious in the extreme. If someone writes by hand and you prefer to type/print a response for whatever reason (the one that seems given most often is illegibility), then go right ahead and do so. The reverse is also true.

Random Issues and Observations, Vol 15, Issue 58

It's been quite a while since Etiquetteer's offered a potpourri/grab bag/salmagundi kind of a column, but that's what the inbox is providing at the moment. Let's look at mourning clothes, group texts, and holiday cards:

Many of us noticed Hillary Clinton's black pantsuit with purple lapels when she gave her concession speech last week. Now everyone knows that in Western culture black is the color of mourning, but true connoisseurs of style and symbolism were quick to note Secretary Clinton's combination of it with purple. Purple, along with white and gray, take mourning from what was called "deep mourning" of all black to "half mourning," which includes those colors. An even greater bit of symbolism: the combination of black and purple represents "triumph over death," which Etiquetteer discovered when reading Infinite Variety, the biography of the outrageous Marchesa Luisa Casati (and which Etiquetteer has pointed out before). The famous portraitist Giovanni Boldini painted the Marchesa in a black dress with an infinitely long streamer of purple and a huge disk of purple violets, perfectly expressing the Marchesa's unshakeable belief in her own invincibility.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I was at a Remembrance Day Service at Battalion Park which is about 15 minutes from my place. It was an outdoor service. There was a few times during the Service that I took off my hat. I noticed that a woman next to me also took her hat off at the same times during the Service. I as a male took off my hat, but I thought women didn't have to do the same thing. I am not saying that women have a free pass for not taking hats off during services like this.

Dear Capped:

You're correct that the old-fashioned rule is that ladies keep their hats on, but gentlemen remove their hats. It isn't clear to Etiquetteer whether or not you removed your hat because of elements of the service, or because you were uncomfortable. For all Etiquetteer knows, this woman could have been following your lead of uncertainty of what to do.

For an outdoor memorial service in a place that offers no shade, Etiquetteer would bend the rules sufficiently to allow gentlemen to leave their hats on. There's no point in getting sunstroke and possibly providing another reason for a memorial service.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Sometimes I receive a group text and not all the phone numbers are in my contacts. They appear as phone numbers. Is it rude to ask for a name for a phone number? Should I offer mine, too? I think if I don't have theirs, they may not have mine. I was curious about how to handle this.

Dear Text Groupie:

By all means, identify yourself and ask others to identify themselves! In situations such as this, which are initiated by Someone You Know, everyone has the privilege of knowing exactly to whom they are communicating. But the situation you describe also sounds like a good reason to avoid group texts.

But then Etiquetteer admits to bias against them anyway. Etiquetteer endures a certain amount of good-natured teasing about continuing to use a flip phone; it's only three years old, but already an antique. Compared to smartphones, its limitations include a much smaller screen and actually having to flip it open to use it. Some time ago a New Acquaintance included Etiquetteer in a group text with who knows how many Total Strangers, leading to a good 20 minutes or so of a constantly vibrating flip phone with texts from random numbers filled with Meaningful Content like "LOL!" and "Yes!" Etiquetteer has not spoken to the New Acquaintance since.

The latter half of November has now begun, which prompts Etiquetteer to remind Thoughtful Readers to prepare for sending out their Holiday Cards. Aside from actually creating or purchasing cards, it's just as important to review your address list to correct mistakes, change addresses of anyone who's moved, and to add new friends. Cards for the Winter Holidays may be sent immediately after Thanksgiving (for those eager to Launch the Season) or even as late as Twelfth Night (the true Twelfth Day of Christmas).

Election Day, Vol. 15, Issue 56

Dear Readers,

A long and anxiously-awaited presidential election is almost upon us. And like many citizens, Etiquetteer is anxious about the outcome. Etiquetteer is perhaps over-fond of quoting Agatha Christie's Cornelia Robson in Death on the Nile, who famously said "Cousin Marie says politicians aren't gentlemen." This does, of course, lead Etiquetteer to observe with the glimmer of a smile that neither of the presidential candidates of the Dominant Parties could be described as a gentleman.

Now Etiquetteer is going to ask something of you, something that no one else will ask you in this election. Etiquetteer wants you to thank the workers at your polling place, including observers, for their important part in the accuracy of the election results. One suspects that they labor away "unheralded and unsung," and especially with this election, Etiquetteer thinks they will appreciate the moral support even more. Just say "Thank you for your work today. I appreciate you." It will go far.

The presidential campaign, one of the ugliest if not the ugliest in American history, will shortly come to an end. The Perfect Propriety of the United States has been shredded and tattered almost beyond recognition after the "politics and knavish tricks" of the last two years. So Etiquetteer casts an anxious eye over the citizenry and wonders how we as a nation are going to restore Civil Discourse to its proper place in our National and Political Life. Answers are not apparent, but Etiquetteer cannot believe that a robust national dialogue can take place by eliminating contact with those with whom we disagree. Regardless of affiliation, we are all still Americans in this Experiment in Democracy together. Furthering a rupture in the citizenry does not help. Stay open, keep talking, and most importantly, verify the news that's reported with your own research.

INVITATIONS, Vol. 15, Issue 55

The Holiday Season will be with us shortly, and already Etiquetteer is hearing from readers with concerns about party invitations.

Dear Etiquetteer:

An invitation to a Christmas party was received from a Facebook "friend." Being that I have only met this person once and have not seen him since two years ago, would it be appropriate to attend the holiday party? I'm concerned that the person is using a large email list and really does not know me well if at all.

Dear Reticent:

It's entirely possible that your Facebook "friend"* would like to renew your acquaintance and has chosen to do so in this way. But if the guest list is an extremely large one (Etiquetteer is assuming that it's visible to you), well . . . that's not a very practical way to renew an acquaintance.

Now, Etiquetteer wants to know how much you want to renew an acquaintance. Since you seem uncomfortable with the idea of attending this large party, Etiquetteer would encourage you to decline the invitation. But if you think getting together with your Facebook "friend" would be pleasant, extend an invitation for the two of you to get together for coffee or drinks. This leaves you looking appreciative, and also setting the terms of reconnection in a way that appears more sincere and individual.

*It is sad how the valuable word "friend" has been devalued via social media, when "acquaintance," "colleague," "family," or even "frenemy" would be more accurate. That, alas, would probably lead to many people discovering that they had different ideas about their "friendships."

Do you have questions about Perfect Propriety over the holidays? Please contact Etiquetteer for assistance!


Hillary Clinton's White After Labor Day, Vol. 15, Issue 53

Dear Etiquetteer,

In light of recent posts from you, I have meant to ask: What did you think of Secretary Clinton wearing all white, after Labor Day, to the final presidential debate?

Dear True Colors:

You are not the first reader to twit Etiquetteer on this apparent violation of Tradition and Perfect Propriety, but Etiquetteer is ready for you.

A wardrobe for a place on the stage - whether that of the theatre or that of the world - is subject to different requirements from Everyday Perfect Propriety. The situation in which Secretary Clinton finds herself is not Everyday Perfect Propriety. It’s Political Theatre. White is one of the three patriotic colors of our Great Nation, and it is also the color that most reflects back light. Since women always have more sartorial freedom than men, Etiquetteer considers it shrewd for Secretary Clinton to have appeared in that crisply - one might say severely - tailored all-white suit, because it helped her image fill the screen and draw more attention. No male candidate could have done that without lookling like either Sidney Greenstreet, Burl Ives, or a summer stock refugee from a musical chorus. And yet it did not dominate the impression she made that night, as obviously people have been talking about much more than her pantsuit since then.

Now Etiquetteer could only wish that Secretary Clinton had worn One Important Jewel with that suit, very much like Dagny Taggart in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, or - a reference beloved to devotées of camp cinema - Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest.  But the two risks of of One Important Jewel in Politics - first, that it would be seen as elitist, and second that its sparkle might deflect from one’s words - would outweigh Etiquetteer’s wish. Perhaps, if she is inaugurated, Secretary Clinton will wear One Important Jewel in her ensemble. Or, if her husband is inaugurated, Melania Trump will wear an astrakhan hat with a diamond aigrette.

On the Subway: Scenes from the Daily Life of Etiquetteer, Vol. 15, Issue 53

Etiquetteer is one of Those People who travel daily by Public Transportation. And as any Daily Traveler knows, one becomes familiar with the persons and habits of other Daily Travelers. And their eccentricities, often to be borne stoically (how many more stops?). and very very rarely by changing seats or cars.

Over the years Etiquetteer has become used to seeing a mentally challenged man riding the subway. He has a neutral expression and appearance, and his clothes and hair are not perhaps as clean as they might be. If a seat is free near the door, he will sit down and ask the person sitting next to him to help him out with some money. If no seat is free near the door, he will stand in front of someone seated (usually a woman) and ask repeatedly in his soft voice if he can sit down because of his "sore back." It would be difficult to call him aggressive because his demeanor is so quiet. Intrusive is probably a better word. Clearly he has a routine with details that need to be met to maintain his equilibrium, and as much accommodation as possible is helpful to ensure a smooth commute for everyone in the car.

Yesterday, Etiquetteer saw this man board the subway and ask a young woman for her seat, which she gave him - which was a very nice and Perfectly Proper thing for her to do. And that should have been the end of it. Unfortunately, another woman, now sitting next to this man, took exception and decided to make a scene about it. "Oh my Gawd," she yelled in her Bawston accent, "she was sittin' theah!" Now a subway car is not the place for loud conversations - or shouldn't be - so you can imagine the effect. "She was sittin' theah!" Etiquetteer could barely hear the Nice Young Woman mumble "Oh, it's all right," and as often before the man said something about his "sore back."

Anyone in earshot could tell that, to this Angry Woman, a man asking a woman to give up her seat was just about the Worst Thing in the World. With a loud harrumphing "You wawk inta this cah like it was all yahs," this angry woman hunched herself back into an angry silence, unavoidably in close contact with a total stranger she'd just criticized very publicly. Her noise-cancelling headphones would have protected her from this man's usual appeal for money, had he dared to ask her.

Etiquetteer cannot quite understand what that Angry Woman expected to happen after her outburst. Did she think that, having asked for a seat, this mentally challenged man would apologize and return to standing? Obviously she was unfamiliar with this man, his condition and habits. She clearly didn't want to be sitting next to him - but not to such a degree that she was going to give up her seat. Etiquetteer would like to think that she was embarrassed by her outburst.

What can be learned from this experience?

  • First, things are not always as they appear.
  • It's bad manners to criticize the behavior of others in public, especially total strangers.
  • People feel strongly about violations of codes of behavior by other people. Etiquetteer would like them to treat their own behavior violations more seriously.

Travel safely!


Reader Response: Birthdays of the Deceased, Vol. 15, Issue 51

Etiquetteer is always pleased to hear from readers, and has received a couple thoughtful responses to a recent column on how to observe the birthday of someone who has died.

First off:

"I enjoyed your recent column about honoring someone's memory on their birthday or on the anniversary of their death.

"I'd like to respond from a Jewish perspective if I may. In the Jewish faith, it is very important to remember loved ones who have died. To do so we traditionally light a special 24-hour candle called a yartziet candle at sunset the evening preceding the day that the loved one died. So if I'm lighting a candle for my father who died on March 29, I would light the candle at sunset on the 28th. All Jewish holy days begin at sunset the day before. Now it is Perfectly Proper to light a yartziet candle to honor a loved ones birthday if you are a Reform Jew. Orthodox Jews only light candles on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Being a Reform Jew myself, I light yartziet candles to mark my parents birthdays as well as their deaths anniversary. It gives me great comfort. Also, I have a dear grandmother who was an atheist and I know she would NOT want a candle lit for her memory on any day. So to honor her, I like to put her picture next to my blooming house plants on her birthday. Just because she loved her plants so much. I don't think there is a right way or a wrong way to honor your loved ones who have died. I think it's improper not to remember them at all."

And then:

Dear Etiquetteer:

Would it be pedantic to observe that one has but one birthday and that thereafter one can only celebrate its anniversary?

Dear Pedantic:

Yes, rather. But then it's our pedants who keep us up to the mark.


Reader Response: Seasonal Shoes, or Not?, Vol. 15, Issue 50

Etiquetteer received some interesting responses about the Perfect Propriety of off-white linen shoes after Labor Day:

  • "The Problem of Linen Shoes (for Men, presumably) is not so much the color but that they are twee. They belong to prepsters on holiday or at The Club/resort, or to ironic hipsters, or collegians who are wearing berets and smoking clove cigarettes. They are more properly classed with things like sneakers and other athletic wear, and are not proper urban day wear, even in the summer, except when worn by (i) men who are so strikingly beautiful or handsome that no one will look at their shoes, or (ii) men who are sufficiently non-attractive that no one notices what they are wearing anyway."
  • "Today [late September] in San Francisco it's about 90 degrees. Linen shoes would be comfortable and sensible. Therefore, I think in perfectly good taste."
  • "The shoes pictured look like summer beach wear to me. I live in Illinois and it is often chilly even in September. These look far too flimsy to keep your foot comfortable on long walks in the city. I would think they belong in a summer wardrobe and best put away after Labor Day.
    However, I'm speaking from a woman's point of view. A woman who likes to walk and wear shoes that are made for walking. These shoes look much more like ornamental shoes to wear Out for an Occasion. And not for everyday."
  • "James Michener noted in his novel Hawai'i that the English (or at least Anglo) settlers there would change from cotton to wool on the same date that they had done so in their homelands. If you are a working stiff this is damned inconvenient; if you're into conspicuous consumption (see Thorstein Veblen) it is yet another way to consume conspicuously (less capability to actually do something, requiring others to do it for you, more laundry services, etc.)

    "So if not linen, what would you wear to a sunny, 90 degree, garden party in Charleston in late September?"

Seasonal Shoes, or Not?, Vol. 15, Issue 49

You have all heard Etiquetteer inveigh against White Shoes After Labor Day often enough to know that it's not Perfectly Proper. The marvelous Miss Manners had a wonderful solution for how to get around a desire for pale shoes outside summer, which she put forward in her Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior: just call them "bone."

Best Society also uses the official end of the summer season* to lay away obviously summer things like linen. Which leads to today's conundrum: a pair of natural-colored linen shoes.

They aren't white, but they are linen. What do you think, readers? Could these shoes be worn with even a vestige of Perfect Propriety until, say, Hallowe'en? Or should they be properly treed and stored until next Memorial Day? Why not use the Etiquetteer contact form to express an opinion? Etiquetteer predicts some strong views on the subject.

*As opposed to the autumnal equinox, which is the natural end of the season.

Invitations from Fund-Raisers, Vol. 15, Issue 48

Dear Etiquetteer:

A development officer from my college library (not the college itself) sent me an email saying he would be in my area and asked if I would like to meet with him while he is in town. Although I have an interest in libraries, I am not interested in making a contribution commitment to this one. I do make an annual contribution to my college. I have not responded to him because I do not want to engage. Is it OK to ignore a solicitation like this? I don't feel that it is a purely social call that I would typically respond to, either to accept or reject the invitation. On the other hand, I have been involved with nonprofit board fundraising, and know that it is a difficult job.

Dear Prospected:

Certainly this is not a social call; the development officer knows you're a donor to the College in Question and is unlikely to be calling you out of the blue. But that is the job of a development officer: to meet and foster relationships with Likely Prospects. This is not a Bad Thing, and Etiquetteer does become weary with those who sneer at the place of fund-raising. Those doors don't just magically stay open . . .  *

At the same time Etiquetteer recognizes the feelings of those who fear they are Only Attractive for Their Resources, and the anxiety Invitations Such as These arouse. Prospects can manage these relationships by managing the expectations of the development officer. Etiquetteer is inclined to encourage you to acknowledge this invitation by setting the expectation, graciously, that you're not in a position to alter your current annual giving amount or designation. Should the officer repeat the invitation, recognizing the current state of your charitable intentions, you could meet and learn something that might be valuable to you in your perception of Life at College Today. And who knows, the day might come when you need Inside Information and this development officer could become an ally.

Just remember that "anything you say can and will be used against you" when crafting future college solicitations. Use discretion about your personal circumstances. While you needn't appear in rags, this is no time to refer to your latest glamorous overseas vacation.

And speaking of libraries and charitable giving to colleges, Etiquetteer wants to advise you to restrict any future Major Charity you're contemplating to a purpose that aligns to your preferences. Etiquetteer was upset to read that the University of New Hampshire had applied a significant portion of a bequest from one of its deceased librarians to a new football scoreboard. Etiquetteer could only wish that the Late Lamented Librarian had consulted with someone privately about this long in advance.**

*Etiquetteer is irresistibly reminded of that famous scene in Meet Me in St. Louis: Rose: "I loathe, hate, despise, and abominate money!" Father: "You also spend it."

**Of course Etiquetteer recognizes the importance of unrestricted giving to any non-profit organization - paying the utility bills has never been considered Sexy - and considers unrestricted gifts a wonderful opportunity for annual giving.

Birthdays of the Deceased, Vol. 15, Issue 47

Etiquetteer launches this column with a reminder that September 15 is Felt Hat Day, the autumnal counterpart to Straw Hat Day on May 15. Time to put away those boaters and other summer straws in favor of some Forthright Felts!

Etiquetteer is ready for Felt Hat Day with a favorite fedora.

Etiquetteer is ready for Felt Hat Day with a favorite fedora.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I thought there was a rule about this. One can celebrate the anniversary of the birth of a deceased person, but not the birthday of that person. Only living people can celebrate their birthday. I see this in media reports and especially on social media. Can you let us know the right way to celebrate the day of a deceased person's birth?

Dear Observing:

What an interesting question to ponder, especially since many willconsider it only a semantic distinction. Can one celebrate a birthday when the celebrant cannot celebrate it actively in this realm/dimension? Would it be more proper to say that one is observing the birthday of the deceased? Is celebrating the anniversary of a birthday more solemn, or less?

Regardless, Etiquetteer can't say the distinction impacts what one chooses to do, whether the birthday or the anniversary of the birthday. These fall into two categories: the Dead One Has Known Personally and Dead Celebrities. For the former, any Perfectly Proper activity enjoyed by the deceased would be appropriate.* Nor would Etiquetteer find a traditional birthday cake amiss - though one or no candles would be in Better Taste, nor would it be necessary to sing "Happy Birthday." One could visit a favorite place of the Deceased, or even the Deceased's Final Resting Place. Invitations could be sent as widely or narrowly as one chose, as long as attendance was not required. The grieving process is different for everyone, and for some such a gathering might not suit.

The anniversaries of the birthdays of Dead Celebrities are celebrated all over the Internet on any given day. Just this September 13 Google honored "Peruvian Songbird" Yma Sumac with one its famous Google Doodles, noting that "Tuesday marks what would have been the singer's 94th birthday." That's a rather neat way of sidestepping whether one is celebrating a birthday or its anniversary. Otherwise, feel free to contribute and comment appropriately throughout the Internet, and consider a memorial donation to a Worthy Cause.

*For instance, many people like to sit around and drink beer, and that would be a Perfectly Proper way to observe the birthday of a Deceased Semi-Recumbent Beer Drinker. But to sit around in one's underwear and drink beer would not be Perfectly Proper, even if that was a regular habit of the Deceased.

Bloggers Respond: What's Missing from Modern Manners, Vol. 15, Issue 46

There's something missing from modern manners. Most everyone knows how Etiquetteer feels about that, but is Etiquetteer the only one concerned? Etiquetteer asked other writers and bloggers what they think is missing from modern manners, and their responses are illuminating:

Catherine Tidd, better known as Widow Chick, author of Confessions of a Mediocre Widow and the creative genius behind the Widdahood:

"I had an experience recently with a friend whose children had absolutely NO MANNERS at the dinner table: belching, feet on the seat, etc. I think a great topic would be what's appropriate in a casual situation (I still think we need SOME manners) and how to go about correcting bad habits with teenage/pre-teen children. Remind them that their children might have to go to dinner with their boss some day!"

David Santori, also known as Frenchie of Frenchie and the Yankee:

"With the rise of smart phone usage and people being individually trapped in their own world, nose down and unaware, acknowledging others has become a rarity: eye contact when saying hello, politeness when passing someone, people watching and smiling at one another as if to endorse and accept each other as human beings being in the same vicinity. It is now the norm to never look up and it is very interesting to put one’s phone away when waiting at the airport for example and observe who is not looking down at a phone or a tablet. Very few. Walking and talking, walking and texting, speaking too loud and sharing your conversations with others - I guess what’s missing here is simply awareness of others.

"What’s missing from the dinner table is class - eat with both hands on the table standing straight rather than with one arm left down on the knees or worse flopping along the body and bringing your head to the fork and the plate like a hunchback, use a fork and a knife with both hands rather cut and switch fork and knife to eat with the other hand, hold fork and knife properly to cut rather than stab and carve a piece of meat like a Thanksgiving turkey for example. Whether casual or elegant, class at the table is not asking too much especially when phones haven’t been put on silent mode before dinner.

"Is a Thank You text or email the same as a Thank You mailed note? Do you do both because people expect to be thanked promptly and will start worrying, or worse [complaining] about it because the mailed note hasn’t been delivered yet? Thank You notes are rare anyway so what’s missing to me is the elegant way of thanking someone. But if people don’t know how to write anymore or are no longer taught cursive, it’s not going to be any better in the near future.

"The last thing I can think of right now missing from modern manners is caring because selfishly displaying personal convictions, personal conversations and arguments on social sites makes for a dramatic airing of grievance and personal choices that no one tends to care about."

Mark McGuire, the more retiring Yankee of Frenchie and the Yankee:

"I would add one more.  Coming from a generation or a region of the country that instilled work ethic, what is missing from today's work force is responsibility/loyalty.  For some reason today's generation either expects everything to be handed to them immediately or upon demand, but at the same time isn't willing to dedicate long, hard work/hours to achieve it.  The days of showing up to work, every day, on time, seem to be gone.  If they do show up, at all, they expect to be rewarded.  Maybe its because they witnessed the greed of American executives/companies as their own parents were downsized.  Maybe they figured out what work/life balance actually means. Work ethic may not be a modern manner, but a modern trait."

Christina Wallace, podcasting on The Limit Does Not Exist:

"Here's what I find missing from modern (business) manners: it's called the 'double-opt-in intro.' Introductions can be very valuable but usually they are more valuable to one party than the other (e.g., "My friend Cate is an expert in online marketing -- I should introduce you to her so you can pick her brain.") Many times people want to be helpful and will take these intros in order to 'pay it forward' or build a relationship that may be valuable to them in return at some point. But in general, they should have the choice to say yes (or no, if necessary) before the introduction has been made. After all, the person making the intro is trading their contact's time and expertise in order to gain social capital with person being introduced. Without checking that it's a welcome introduction they are literally giving away their friend's time so as to look more connected or powerful than they are. It's rude. Just check if the 'expert' is willing to take the intro and then make it clear in the connecting email what each person brings to the relationship and how it might become mutually beneficial."

Peter Lappin, blogging and sewing at Male Pattern Boldness:

"Here's what I think is missing from modern manners: Thanks largely to the Internet, there's a temptation (as well as a pressure) to communicate instantly. When we're expected to reply to a text or email immediately, we lose the time to craft a careful reply or to form a considered opinion. It's not impossible to communicate more slowly, but it can be a challenge since the technology is at your fingertips. Slow communication can also be isolating: when others are responding THIS VERY MINUTE to an invitation, who will want to wait three days for yours?  (You may even miss the event altogether!)"

Glen Donelly, Nude Movement Media:

"Missing from modern manners, is basic self love. Simple self-respect. What this means is opposite to what people may normally see as 'manners' and 'respecting others'. To me, respecting others starts with respecting yourself. So how are you good mannered to YOURSELF? To me this starts with ending shame. Not giving a [Expletive Deleted] about what others think. Imagine a world in which everyone did that? Maybe everyone would start accepting each other more, loving each other more, and understanding each other more? Then the world, as John Lennon said, would 'be as one.'"