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.'"

Charged Phone Etiquette, Vol. 15, Issue 45

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have a few questions about etiquette around phone chargers.

  1. When having friends over, for drinks or dinner, should phone chargers be available, if a guest asks? Is it appropriate for a guest to ask for this?
  2. Should an overnight guest expect a phone charger near the bed? What if your guest has a different phone brand from you?
  3. In a public place (airport gate for example) should you be aware that others may need to charge their phones and you may not need to fully charge yours? Share the outlet? While traveling, I had to recharge my phone at the airport gate. I used an outlet in the wall. The charge took a while and I got some dirty looks. Hey, I got to the outlet first and other people were using them, too. You can’t share an outlet. Did I do something wrong?

Thanks for your advice.

Dear Charged:

Reading your first two questions, Etiquetteer had to wonder if your houseguests had mistaken you for a deluxe hotel concierge instead of their host. Or is that a catty remark?

Etiquetteer doesn't understand how people can leave their homes for the day with a phone not 100% charged. Bad planning, Etiquetteer calls it. But emergencies happen, and it's not inappropriate for a friend to ask another friend for access to a charger. It is inappropriate if the friend insists on it and can't take no for an answer. You shouldn't have to stop whipping your soufflé to ferret out a phone charger.

As to outlets by guest room beds, Etiquetteer lives in a house over 100 years old, and overnight guests are lucky to have an outlet in the same room. With entrée to your home, your houseguests gain something infinitely more important than a phone charger, and that's the honor of your friendship and the pleasure of your company. If they need to have everything just their own way, they'd be better off at a hotel.

Ignore those dirty looks at the airport, but when outlets are scarce, don't use it longer than necessary. Pull out as soon as you're completely charged. Etiquetteer is happy to say that more airports are making a point of providing lots of outlets and chargers for travelers; Dallas/Fort Worth Airport stands out in this regard. Let's hope more follow suit!

Signs of the Times, Vol. 15, Issue 44

Etiquetteer remains fascinated by etiquette signage in public. Herewith, a brief photo essay:

Etiquetteer trembles to think about the experience that led to this sign being posted.

Etiquetteer trembles to think about the experience that led to this sign being posted.

When shopkeepers feel the need to start posting signs like this, it might really be time to decide if keeping a shop is the right occupation.

When shopkeepers feel the need to start posting signs like this, it might really be time to decide if keeping a shop is the right occupation.

Blunt, but perhaps necessary if shoppers are befuddled by the fumes of the, uh, incense. Still, Etiquetteer thinks name calling is so ugly and certainly detracts from a positive customer experience.

Blunt, but perhaps necessary if shoppers are befuddled by the fumes of the, uh, incense. Still, Etiquetteer thinks name calling is so ugly and certainly detracts from a positive customer experience.

It's a sad day when Art cannot be recognized for what it is.

It's a sad day when Art cannot be recognized for what it is.

A Perfectly Proper example of an instructional sign.

A Perfectly Proper example of an instructional sign.

Etiquetteer wishes it wasn't necessary for signs such as these to be posted. Everyone should know how to behave at a memorial, and want to behave that way.

Etiquetteer wishes it wasn't necessary for signs such as these to be posted. Everyone should know how to behave at a memorial, and want to behave that way.

In other words, Customers Only.

In other words, Customers Only.

Customer Service: Massage Studio, Vol. 15, Issue 43

Dear Etiquetteer:

I own a very successful clinical massage studio. Occasionally clients will come in, have a great session, leave very grateful and smiling (having given a nice gratuity), and in the next day or two, call back and say they were not happy with their session and ask for a free one or a refund. It's so very rare that clients are not happy. When some clients aren't, they typically immediately address it with the massage therapist or the receptionist directly after their appointment. We always provide discounts and follow-up on people who are unsatisfied (one even wrote a review saying they appreciated the free session and that they were happy we made it right).

My question for you is, how can we dissuade would-be scammers from trying to get free work? It's so rare that anyone is unhappy, and it's hard not feel exploited when people who seemed thrilled with their session call days later asking for a free one, claiming to be unhappy.

Dear Massaging:

Etiquetteer sympathizes with your feelings of exploitation. This condition is not limited to your situation, alas. Etiquetteer has long said that you really know how successful your party was based on what the guests say three weeks later; it's not always what they said when they left. Your query even reminded Etiquetteer of a couple who were banned for life by a cruise line because of the number and volume of their complaints. But that seems rather extreme for your studio, especially as you say it's a rare occurrence.

You and your colleagues have the opportunity to let clients know that their feedback is both important, and will be taken at their word. Does your massage studio use one of those intake forms that some other studios use? You might add to it a checkbox with something along the lines of "Your honest and candid feedback about your massage experience will help us serve you better at future appointments. As the client, it's your responsibility to bring to our attention any problems or concerns during and immediately after your massage." It could also be a placard in each massage room.

Perhaps you could invite them to record their comments in a guest book on site, before they leave? Another possibility: next-day follow-up with clients you find suspiciously satisfied to see how they feel - and perhaps to schedule another appointment. Use their feedback in your message.

Etiquetteer wishes you and your colleagues continued success in practicing your healing arts on appreciative and grateful clients.

Means of Communications, Vol. 15, Issue 42

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve been thinking about an Etiquetteer subject . . . I wonder if you've covered it? It doesn't necessarily speak well of me, but it's an issue I sometimes face . . . If I COULD, I think I'd be quite happy to live without a phone. I love email and "snail mail", but really am not at my best on the phone . . . There are exceptions . . . Some people I know are delightful via any means of communication!

Now, one thing I often hear from a handful of people is, "You are SO difficult to get in touch with. You NEVER answer your phone!" If it's someone I want to communicate with but don't love chatting with, I'll remind them that the best way to reach me is by email. These people don't take the hint and keep and continue to call and complain.

The question: does having a phone obligate me to use it? Are we free to tell people how best to communicate with us? Are we obligated to reach out to people in the way that suits THEM best? (I think "yes" and try to communicate in the way that works best for the person I'm trying to reach.)

I should note that this question is in relation to personal, not "business" contacts and refers to people that one is not particularly close to. Acquaintances, semi-close acquaintances, some personal business . . . You get the drift!

Dear Over-Phoned:

So, how can personal preference be accommodated in the method of one-on-one social communications? You have illustrated the problem beautifully. Everyone wants to communicate using the method that they prefer themselves, which is not always the method preferred by their correspondents. Sometimes these preferences are generational. Etiquetteer knows octogenarians who have never taken to the Internet and insist on phone or written communications. Often the hearing-impaired prefer written or electronic communication. And then there are all the various forms of social media - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Snapchat, etc. - most of which have private message functions. Not to mention video phone capabilities such as Skype. Too many possible preferences!

Etiquetteer prefers email, but then misses out on hearing from the growing number of people who prefer texting. And sometimes Etiquetteer has had to reply to a text, “I’ll email. Too long to text.” (Etiquetteer has always felt that texting should remain a brief, telegraphic means of communication, and has been surprised, discouraged, and intimidated at how it’s become another form of email.)

So no, you’re not obligated to use your phone (or other communications media, really) to communicate with anyone. These are like the servant at the door who replies “Madam is not at home” when callers appear at inconvenient times. But then, whose preference should take precedence? Probably the method that both correspondents can use with the least inconvenience. In your case, email should be used since you’ve stated you prefer it. But if your correspondent is unable to use email, or finds typing extremely difficult and time-consuming, Etiquetteer encourages you to reconsider. Having to take 20 minutes to type three sentences is too great a burden.

As to your social acquaintances who can’t take a hint, you will have to give them the facts. “You’re absolutely right. I never DO answer the phone because I don’t like to talk on the phone. It’s easy to get in touch with me by email; I prefer it so much more, and actually do respond. I’d love to hear from you that way, especially now that you know I hate the phone!” You could, if so inclined, underscore the point by emailing the next day on a topic of mutual interest. If they continue to attempt telephoning, well, you’ve done what you can.

Post-Wedding Lovely Notes, Vol. 15, Issue 41

Dear Etiquetteer:

Because I faithfully read your blog, i know you can answer this for me. My husband and I recently got married and threw quite the party the next day after the ceremony. Is it wrong to not expect any thank-you notes from the guests for this event? I was diligent in sending immediate thank-yous to all who attended. Why do people not send thank you notes to those who have hosted a reception? Thank you in advance for your answer.

Dear Married:

First, allow Etiquetteer to congratulate you on your marriage and to wish you and your husband a long, happy, and Perfectly Proper life together.

It's always Perfectly Proper for party guests to send a Lovely Note after a party. How does a wedding differ from a party? In this case, it's a wedding hosted by the honorees, the Happy Couple Themselves. It's perhaps more usual for wedding guests to feel that they should be thanked by the Happy Couple for a wedding gift and, increasingly, for the time, expense, and trouble it takes to attend a wedding (especially for those traveling a great distance). Etiquetteer once advocated (perhaps - embarrassingly, Etiquetteer can't find the reference) for Lovely Notes to be sent to the Parents of the Happy Couple following a wedding, and then had to stop and think when Etiquetteer might have done that at the many weddings attended over a lifetime. The answer was close to two or three times only. Oops.

So, while Etiquetteer shares your disappointment that your wedding guests didn't think to send a Lovely Note, you're encouraged not to take it personally, and to focus instead on their sincere joy expressed personally at your wedding celebration.

Social Speech, Vol. 15, Issue 39

The question "How are you?" as a greeting was created only to get the conversational ball rolling - verbal oil, if you will, on possibly troubled waters. It need not be answered truthfully. There are ways and ways to respond.

The most Perfectly Proper response is, of course, "Very well, thank you. And you?" whether or not you are, in fact, very well. Etiquetteer's beloved Ellen Maury Slayden so decreed to her nieces, who she admonished for answering "Fine."* One could also deflect to the weather ("Beautiful day!") or the greeter ("Better for seeing you, my dear"). For those who are scrupulously honest but in a bad mood, Etiquetteer remembers from years ago a woman who would simply answer "Thank you," acknowledging the consideration of being asked, but not divulging her True Inner State. But this can seem rather brusque, and even call attention to one's reserve.

What ought to be avoided are an accounting of Negative Physical Symptoms. No one needs an Organ Recital of one's various ailments and pains - unless one is being greeted in a hospital bed. Etiquetteer also recommends avoiding comments on the political scene, especially in an election year. Etiquetteer will never forget greeting a Somewhat Eccentric Elderly Lady with a "How are you this evening?" and getting a somewhat hazy doom-and-gloom scenario on the Political Crisis of the Moment.

Please, ladies and gentlemen, spare us all and give us a nice "Very well, thank you!"

And please spare us all a speech. Any response to "How are you?" shouldn't take more than six words.

*"Fine," of course, is yet another example of Improper Slang that grew with frequent use to become Perfectly Proper." Etiquetteer has been known to shoot a look at That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, who will often answer with "Fine as frog's hair," aping Richard Cromwell in Jezebel (1938).

Etiquetteer Goes to New York, Vol. 15, Issue 38

Etiquetteer makes a foray to New York City every so often to check out conditions of Perfect Propriety. Because of its sheer size and the robust diversity of its population, Manhattan might be considered an ongoing etiquette experiment. Three observations:

WALKING: It almost doesn't matter where you are in Manhattan, you are sure to be in someone's way, and someone is sure to think that you are in their way. In fact, the sheer volume of people on city sidewalks has become so compressed that locals are risking their lives to walk in the streets in order to get anywhere. Etiquetteer thinks it's more than helpful to know where you're going and how to get there before you leave your hotel room; surprisingly few don't. Remain aware of where you are in relation to other people while you're out on the Sidewalks of New York.

STAYING WITH FRIENDS: Etiquetteer was so very blessed to have a Hospitable Friend in New York who offered accommodations. The Hospitable Friend arranged many comforts for Etiquetteer, from chocolate scones, computer and wireless access (how marvelous, and how essential in this century!), wooden hangers, retail and other recommendations, freedom for Etiquetteer to pursue the city at leisure, and (in a city of one million sounds) privacy. Etiquetteer could not have been more fortunate.

"Such hospitality deserves my thanks!" as Hercule Poirot says in Murder on the Orient Express, but many houseguests are not sure what to do or how far to go. Hosting one's host to a meal is (or should be) an inviolate custom, and "a good time was had by all" at a mighty fine Restaurant Celebrating Regional Cuisine Other Than That of Manhattan. The question of the traditional "hostess gift" was a little more challenging, and where Etiquetteer relied on conversational clues. Hospitable Friend, not knowing Etiquetteer was looking for hints, spoke about having a Christmas tree for the first time in a new home. Etiquetteer's light bulb went off, and two lovely ornaments were received happily. Flowers, of course, are traditional -- and easy to find all over New York -- but don't last as long as friendships.

ATTENDING THE THEATRE: Forget what you heard about New York audiences being more stylish and sophisticated. Middle-class America no longer cares to keep up appearances here, either. The age of evening clothes in the theatre has irrevocably ended, but Etiquetteer would think that gentlemen would at least present themselves in a suit and tie, and ladies in something equally dressy. And indeed, the number of people attending the theatre with huge luggage, especially backpacks, continues to mystify Etiquetteer. (Of course, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much sat through a performance of Sweeney Todd some years ago with a huge backpack jammed under his seat and a gigantic valise in his lap since he had to catch a train immediately after the matinée.) All of us ought to examine the amount of stuff we tote about with us daily, and make reductions. For ladies especially, a handbag of moderate size is much more elegant than a backpack, or even one of those fashionable but unwieldy satchels called a "purse."

At least New Yorkers are fiercely punctual, management taking an appropriately dim view of late arrivals. Latecomers know in advance that if they arrive after the curtain has risen, they can't be seated. Bostonian audiences are notoriously tardy, and Etiquetteer, who is notoriously not, is getting mighty tired of hearing the usual excuses about traffic, parking, and subway delays. Etiquetteer will always side with those who came on time, and whose enjoyment of the performance is marred by late arrivals.


The Etiquette of Activism. Vol. 15, Issue 37

“What,” a friend asked a few months ago, “is the etiquette of activism?” Courtesy and activism are not mutually exclusive, though many assume so. It could be argued that much activist behavior is Not Perfectly Proper, and Etiquetteer would have to agree. But multiple forms of activism are necessary for positive change to take place, a position Etiquetteer didn’t fully understand until reading years ago Martin Duberman’s history of the start of the gay rights movement, Stonewall. His account of the July Fourth meeting of the Mattachine Society illustrates this, with one woman’s plea for good behavior (“We should be firm, but just as amicable and sweet as —“) met with the fierce need for confrontation (“Sweet? Sweet! Bull****! . . . We have got to radicalize . . .”) And witness the sweeping changes in the last 47 years. Americans are having these discussions again now, today, finding once more the creative tension between assimilation and defiance, between words spoken in quiet hope and others shouted in raw outrage, all requiring urgent change.

But doesn’t it seem prim and prissy to associate a word like “etiquette” with a word like “activism” anyway? Does it matter if that clenched fist has a white glove on it? Etiquette is part of every aspect of our daily lives - why should activism be any different?

First, anger is a valid, even a necessary, emotion, but you're supposed to dominate it. Unharnessed anger leads to actions that harm one’s cause, such as violence and death threats, which are unacceptable. Etiquetteer supports efforts to recall the judge in the Stanford rape case, but not the threats of violence and death heaped on him and his family via the Internet. Open, spirited, vigorous questioning - not intimidation - should be part of every political system, especially the American system.

Second, think about your motives. Be brutally honest about your goals for your cause and for yourself. Do you want progress or effective change on a certain issue? Is your first purpose to vent your anger or other emotions? Are you looking for an excuse to attract attention to yourself, possibly with arrest? If your reasons veer more toward the last two questions, Etiquetteer urges you to reconsider. That’s more exhibitionism than activism. The cause belongs in the spotlight; you don’t.

Third, recognize the humanity of the other side, and show your humanity to them. Many find this difficult, especially the former. Everyone has traveled a different journey to realize what is, and isn’t, important to them. This makes fear such a strong motivator in activism - fear that one’s way of life will, or will not, change for the better. Demonizing the other side does not further progress.

To that end, comments about physical appearance are out of bounds. Donald Trump’s hair and complexion are easy targets, but it’s his statements, positions, and behavior that are truly controversial. It could also be suggested that activists that stoop to unkind remarks about physical appearance really have nothing more substantive to say.

Fourth, don’t be spoonfed what’s handed to you. Responsible activitists do their own research. Read widely and wisely: Seek out and absorb not just what Your Side of the Issue at Hand is publishing, but the Other Side as well. Check your sources and theirs, too. (Etiquetteer is particularly suspicious of meme graphics interpreting varying amounts of data.) Source checking and research also helps separate the wheat from the chaff, especially with the proliferation of parody news websites, always eager to hoodwink the hotheaded.* And if you're going to post an article on social media, for mercy's sake, read the whole thing first.

Finally, when motivated to correspond or comment, stay on topic. Don’t get distracted by side issues, such as debating the proper use of hashtags or acronyms. Just say what you have to say, and back it up with data if necessary. There will be disagreements. Keep your cool. Ask yourself if profanity helps or hurts your argument. (Likely it won’t.) And don’t feel the trolls. Never feed the trolls! They’re only in it for the lulz.

Etiquetteer can think of no better way to close these instructions than by invoking the late Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously included in one of his speeches “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”


Now this is Robert talking.

You may wonder why I feel moved to write on this untraditional topic for an etiquette column. It was prompted in part by a local scandal last spring that a friend told me about: the Boston Pride Committee revocation of its invitation to Anthony Imperioso of the New England Gay Officers Action League because of offensive posts he made on social media. I was impressed by the time, attention, commitment, and passion for those aware of the officer’s comments to bring them to the attention of the committee.

That was at the beginning of April. What has happened since then makes that situation seem a tempest in a teapot. June 6 saw the Stanford Rapist receive a mere six months in prison for brutally raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. June 12 saw the tragic killing of 49 people in the Orlando gay nightclub Pulse, the largest mass killing in the United States since 9/11. July 5 saw the horrifying police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. And now, July 6, the even more horrifying police shooting of Philando Castile - more horrifying because a four-year-old child was present. All these incidents make even the nightmarish vulgarity of the 2016 presidential election pale in comparison. I am horrified by the killings, angry at the corruption and deception, and despairing at the tone of the national dialogue. How on earth are we going to get anywhere with all this deranged yelling?!

I've followed the Internet commentary, noticing the greater and more frequent calls to take action, politically and socially, to prevent future bloodshed. More people need to get engaged, and more engaged, and more effectively engaged in advocating for what they want our society to be like. Like many, I have no idea yet how I can best be an effective advocate for change. I can’t believe that bullying, threats, and intimidation are the only options available to us. All I have to offer right now is set of guidelines, composed mostly from my reactions to bad behavior, in the news and on the Internet. So let’s get out there and make a positive difference.

*Etiquetteer is particularly contemptuous of those who, on being told that a parody news story about a particular enemy of theirs is untrue, reply “Well, it’s the kind of thing [Insert Name of Enemy Here] would do.” Except [Insert Name of Enemy Here] didn’t actually do it. Let’s not let Hatred blind us to Truth.

Signs of the Times, Vol. 15, Issue 36

From time to time Etiquetteer takes note of behavioral signs posted publicly to promote Perfect Propriety. It's a shame and a pity, really, that they have to be posted at all . . .

Reference to Bodily Function is never Perfectly Proper, but even Etiquetteer recognizes the need to defend one's property against Irresponsible Pet Owners.

Reference to Bodily Function is never Perfectly Proper, but even Etiquetteer recognizes the need to defend one's property against Irresponsible Pet Owners.

Here we have a different sort of Canine Admonition, but Etiquetteer has to wonder how successful it is.

Here we have a different sort of Canine Admonition, but Etiquetteer has to wonder how successful it is.

Unfortunately, the need for this instruction never seems to abate. Please, people,, show respect to those working behind the counter!

Unfortunately, the need for this instruction never seems to abate. Please, people,, show respect to those working behind the counter!

This rather abrupt instruction lacks any ambiguity, and just about crosses the border of Perfect Propriety.

This rather abrupt instruction lacks any ambiguity, and just about crosses the border of Perfect Propriety.

One example of trying to guide tourists into the path of Perfect Propriety.

One example of trying to guide tourists into the path of Perfect Propriety.

It should not be necessary to explain this . . .

It should not be necessary to explain this . . .

To round out this little collection, something from the service entrance.

To round out this little collection, something from the service entrance.

Email Invitations, Vol. 15, Issue 35

Dear Etiquetteer:

Has it become OK just not to respond to email invitations? When I'm traveling to cities, I'll email friends and acquaintances (individually, not as a group) with "I'm going to be in your city for a few days and if you're free I'd like to meet you for a drink or dinner or something." When I don't hear back, I have no idea what to do.

Dear inviting:

It's never Perfectly Proper to leave an invitation unanswered. Etiquetteer sympathizes with your plight. Vagueness, however, can make it more difficult for someone to think it's important enough to respond (and indeed, they might just respond "What did you have in mind?" which is even more vague about their availability). So Etiquetteer recommends more specificity. In your email, suggest a date and a location, adding "If another time and place works better, please tell me." Even more important, give your friends a deadline by which to let you know: "If you could let me know by (three days before your suggested date) it would be great. I'll check in with you closer to the time if I haven't heard fromyou." This way you set the expectation that their response is important, and that they'll hear from you until they send it.

Or, until your deadline, after which Etiquetteer absolves you of any conflicts. It's Perfectly Proper, then, to say that you made other plans after not having heard back, but say so with a tone of Infinite Regret.

Military vs. Academic Honorifics, Vol. 15, Issue 34

Dear Etiquetteer:

I'm working on some thank-you correspondence following an event, and have run into a new situation I don't know how to deal with correctly. One of the guests is an Army officer, but he also has a Ph.D. Do I use one and not the other, or do I combine them like "Col. Dr." or something? Please advise.

Dear Corresponding:

Robert Hickey, author of Honor & Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles, & Forms of Address, makes it pretty clear: only military titles and honorifics are used. They aren't combined with academic or other honorifics, like "Professor," or post-nominal abbreviations like "Ph.D." To Etiquetteer's surprise, this also includes religious honorifics.