Gift Cards in the Workplace, Vol. 16, Issue 47

Dear Etiquetteer:

You helped me so much with my [Insert Name of Popular Cookie Here] problem, a couple months back that I feel bad having to ask for your assistance once again but I am at a loss as to what to do.

Five weeks ago, I began a new job. It's the first 9-5 job I've had in over a decade so it took awhile to get acclimated to the workplace environment. But, my co-workers are nice.

Last week, my boss and her boss brought me into their office to tell me they thought I was doing a great job. As a reward for my hard work, they gave me a gift card to [Insert Name of Unavoidable Global Retailer Here]. It had $25 printed on it.

This past weekend, I tried to use the gift card to make a purchase on the company's website. To my surprise, the gift card wouldn't go through and an error message popped up on my screen: "This card has already been redeemed." I'm not sure what happened. My first guess was that my boss must have made a mistake when buying the card. Then, I thought maybe she was "re-gifting" me a card she, herself, had received.

Perhaps you can guess my dilemma. I'm thinking, "It's the thought that counts" and would never mention this to my boss, but friends and family think I should tell her because she may have spent the $25 to buy the card but somehow not completed the transaction.

To be honest, I'm not always the most confident person, so now I'm even wondering, did my boss do this on purpose? Am I NOT doing a great job?

Dear Gift-Carded:

Reading the end of your query, Etiquetteer immediately remembered the words of Cher in Moonstruck:

Of course you are doing a good job, and your boss and her boss think so, too! This is not some convoluted scheme to undermine your self-confidence and drive you, weak and quivering, over the Brink of Despair. Snap out of it!

And then (Etiquetteer is just full of diva quotes today) one must remember what Lena Horne said when being photographed for the Blackglama mink ads back in the 1970s: "A lady can never get enough mink off a gentleman." In this case, Etiquetteer interprets this Received Wisdom as being sure you receive all possible employee benefits in the workplace. While recognizing your interest in Not Making Trouble, it's better to mention this now so that your employers can address any possible issues with their source - and for all you know they got it directly from [Insert Name of Unavoidable Global Retailer Here]. But when you bring it up, do with with an air of Not Wanting to Make Trouble, which will inspire them to take care of the problem.

Etiquetteer wishes you joy in your new career. And who knows, as your employers get to know you and your work better, they may acknowledge you in future with a $25 package of [Insert Name of Popular Cookie Here]!

Doughnuts and Tipping, Vol. 16, Issue 42

Dear Etiquetteer:

Recently I told someone I was looking to share doughnuts made by [Insert Purveyor of Doughnuts Made with Bacon Here] with someone else and was yelled at - "Why are you planning eating that crap?!" - in a very condemning tone.  The person who spoke to me this way is very stressed and later explained about struggling to make healthy choices.  My question is how to supportively talk to this person about how being yelled at like that made me feel and to come up with a way for us to avoid this person's hot buttons.

Dear Doughnutted:

Everyone has their hot-button topics, and it's not always easy to know what they are until the hot button gets pressed. Reading your query, Etiquetteer was suddenly reminded of that line from the play Sexual Perversity in Chicago: "Men! They only want one thing . . . but it's never the same thing."

It sounds as though your friend at least attempted to apologize for that Sudden Outburst, but Etiquetteer doesn't really consider it enough under the circumstances. You could reopen the discussion by acknowledging how embarrassing it was to upset this person, since that wasn't your intention, and that it's probably best for you not to raise the issue of food in future conversations. This gives your friend another opening to apologize, after which you can say that you felt belittled and judged for making the choices you choose to make in your own life about Doughnuts Made with Bacon.

Etiquetteer must admit it was rather refreshing to read your query. Most differences between friends these days seem to be political rather than culinary.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I am clear that I do not need to tip my hairdresser annually because I tip her every time she cuts my hair.  I am also clear that I tip the cleaning crew 10% of my annual expense in cash to the leader of the crew on an annual basis.  The gray area for me is the people I see frequently, the swimming instructor, the personal trainer, the yoga teachers, the postmistress, whom I do not tip on a regular basis.  Because tipping professionals such as doctors, therapists, or dietitians may be considered an insult, I do not tip them.  Back to the trainers etc. what I am doing now is giving gift cards of moderate amounts.  What is your advice?

Dear Tipping:

You are correct that medical professionals are not tipped. But service personnel, like personal trainers who you employ regularly, are tipped annually (usually at Christmas or New Year's) in the same way that your domestic staff is. (Etiquetteer assumes that you are not tipping them after every training session.) Gift cards may be Perfectly Proper if they are to a business you already know they use regularly. But in professional relationships such as these, you can never go wrong with cash. Just be sure to put it in a nice envelope first.

Etiquetteer was surprised to see your inclusion of the postmistress in your list of service professionals. Etiquetteer was never aware that it was Perfectly Proper to tip the staff of the United States Postal Service. Read the Postal Service's official policy on their website.

Now let's get back to your hairdresser. You may not like hearing this, but it is, in fact, customary to tip one's hairdresser at Christmas or New Year's in the amount of one appointment. Yes, this is in addition to the $2-5 you tip at each appointment.


DBYO Refreshments, Vol. 16, Issue 38

Dear Etiquetteer:

My husband and I went to [Insert Name of Popular Seaside Resort Restaurant Here] for breakfast. Several groups of diners brought in coffee in paper cups. Isn't it rude to bring food from one establishment into another? I saw it a couple other times this summer. When did this start? I felt bad for the wait staff who had to clean up the paper cups. If the customer left them, I might say "Excuse, you left this cup. You brought it in. So I assume you want to take it home?"

Dear Breakfasting:

Etiquetteer does understand how important that first cup of coffee is every morning, especially at Popular Seaside Resorts. Nevertheless, it's never been Perfectly Proper to bring your own refreshments into a public establishment*. After all, restaurants are in business to make money by selling food and drink. Why on earth should they tolerate Interloping Caffeine?! Coffee Cup Capers like this need to stop at the restaurant entrance. Toss that cup in the trash, or at least refrain from going inside until you've savored every last drop.

Etiquetteer must restrain you from engaging in Disingenuous Banter with these scofflaws. It's already clear that they are Beyond Embarrassment, and you don't want to Cause a Scene. But it is tempting to contemplate lobbing that cup at them with a "Oh here, you forgot this!" That is why Rose Sayre said, in The African Queen, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put on this Earth to rise above."

*It's truly rude to do this in a private home unless the invitation has specified "pot luck" or "BYO."** It casts aspersions on the hospitality being offered. Etiquetteer's coffee-brewing prowess has been insulted this way more than once - but then Etiquetteer also recognizes that one of the beauties of Friendship is Mutual Forgiveness. And Etiquetteer's friends have so much for which to forgive That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much. . .

**Vegetarians follow the example of the late Gloria Swanson, who would slip her vegetarian sandwich (or whatever it was) to the butler on arrival, whispering "Please serve me this when everyone gets the entrée." Observe that she didn't go announcing it to All and Sundry, including the hostess, but handled it discreetly. You'll observe how helpful it is to have staff on occasions like this.


Wedding Invitations, Vol. 16, Issue 37

Dear Etiquetteer:

We received a wedding invitation last year that asked that no children under age 18 be brought to the wedding "to avoid frightening the groom!!" We did not attend but thought it a silly request OR a real fear on the bride's parents' part that the groom might bolt at the last moment! We have not received any traditional wedding invitations in such a long time that I've almost forgotten what one looks like!  One of the horrors of growing old . . . too many changes in too many ways and some of them so unbelievable!

Dear Invited:

At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, Etiquetteer really regrets the passing of the traditional, formal wedding invitation, written in third person from the parents of the bride and engraved (not printed!) by top-notch stationers like Tiffany & Co. and Crane's. A wedding is not Just Another Party. It's what Shakespeare used to refer to as a "solemnity," "a formal, dignified rite or ceremony," as in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "And then the Moon, like to a silver bow new bent in heaven, shall behold the night of our solemnities." The chain - uh, joining - of two souls for the remainder of their lives is not to be treated lightly.

Of course the formal forms have been necessarily adapted to today's blended families, and also to the reality of the Happy Couple being old enough to manage their own wedding all by themselves, thank you very much. Etiquetteer has become quite fond of the invitation that begins:

Together with their families,
Miss Dewy Freshness
Mr. Manley Firmness
request the honour of your presence, etc. etc.

Regarding the invitation you quoted, Etiquetteer has to wonder how much confusion it created with wedding guests who possessed children under the age of 18.

Joshing about one's Readiness for Marriage might be all right for the reception, but not for the invitation, and certainly not for a religious ceremony. But alas, Tradition is often seen as either Dull or Unoriginal or Both. Everyone is so busy being so Ostentatiously Different that we're forgetting That From Which We Wish to Differ.


READER RESPONSE, Vol. 16, Issue 34

Etiquetteer is always delighted to hear from readers, and recent columns have provoked some correspondence seeking clarity:

On Wedding Refreshments:

I enjoyed you response about the wedding a great deal. I myself had an early afternoon wedding and with all the guests from out of town, we offered a large buffet of lunch items before cutting the cake. Still, I don't feel that your response fully answered the question. My gut says you might have responded to the stand up reception or your disapproval of them. Personally, having a wedding with thirty guests, a buffet worked well and allowed everyone plenty of food. As bride I even got a plate! I feel that stand up receptions don't allow those who need to sit down the option of sitting down. I would have enjoyed hearing your response include an answer to the question.

Etiquetteer responds: Your buffet dinner reception for 30 guests sounds delightful; the smaller a wedding is, the easier it is to look after everyone's comfort, in your case providing a meal format in which people might sit or stand as they choose. To restate from the original column, a stand-up reception of hors d'oeuvres may be interpreted by the guests as insufficient acknowledgment of their own commitment to attend the wedding. Whether Etiquetteer approves or not is somewhat beside the point. Whether the level of bridal hospitality offered has the desired effect of making the wedding guests glad they came is the real issue. If more Happy Couples - brides especially - considered how well they treated their guests, there'd be less back-biting about weddings.

On a Night at the Opera:

Our seats at the [Insert Name of Very Important Opera Company in Prominent American City Here] were in the very, very last row of the upper balcony last season.  It is all we could afford. We wore black tie for the Friday night premier of the first opera of the season, and every performance of six thereafter.  Hobnobbing in the main lobby with the hoi polloi was fun, and the Champagne was free.  

Not Perfectly Proper? 

Etiquetteer responds:

There are few situations in which Champagne is not Perfectly Proper! And Etiquetteer has spent many performances in seats near or similar to the ones you describe.* Your request for clarity on the Perfect Propriety of black tie in an opera balcony led Etiquetteer to seek out some "chapter and verse," starting of course with Etiquetteer's beloved 1950 edition of Emily Post. And even in that postwar period, formal dress for gentlemen was still de rigueur in the orchestra, parterre boxes, and first tier boxes. Black tie was worn in the first balcony only and "above that, clothes are no longer formal." As with so many things in the postwar years, formality kept sliding down the slippery slope, so that when Esquire Etiquette came out in 1953, it made no reference at all to what a gentleman wore to the opera, only that he must on no account sit in the front row of the box.

But for the 21st century, we are best guided by the old saw that it's a greater sin to be overdressed than underdressed. Inconspicuousness remains the best choice. So unless it's a gala night or the opening of the season, it's more Perfectly Proper to wear dark suits. On a more general note, the true test of a gentleman's clothes is how he chooses to stand out by blending in.


*Etiquetteer vividly recalls a recital given by Dame Joan Sutherland in the mid-1980s in a cavernous Boston theatre. Etiquetteer sat next to the ceiling and remembered first a large bit of paint peeling off the ceiling and wondering if Dame Joan would dislodge it with a high note, and then the fierce glare of Dame Joan's passementerie, which even so did not obscure the vast expanse of her black gown.

A Night at the Opera with Etiquetteer, Vol. 16, Issue 24

Earlier this summer Etiquetteer trotted off to the opera, and you might all be expecting Etiquetteer to Sigh for Bygone Days and exclaim "It isn't what it was." But then going to the opera hasn't been "what it was" for such a long time already, there's really no need, is there? It's as useless to pine for the Days of Black Tie*, Wine and Roses as it is to search for Robert Taylor in the orchestra. Besides which, the space per person is so compressed one does not necessarily leave the theatre feeling elegant. Greta Garbo would clearly have been eaten by her hoopskirt trying to negotiate those narrow seats - NOT Perfectly Proper.**

That said, there were so many opportunities to ask (to oneself, of course) "You wore that? Really?" A suit and tie at a minimum for gentlemen, and an equivalent standard for ladies, should not be difficult. There's no need to appear in a theatre a T-shirt or (shudder) shorts. Etiquetteer used to think that Boston audiences were exceptionally dowdy. That illusion was shattered on observing opera audiences in New York, Paris, and Venice. As Etiquetteer has pointed out before, too much of the middle class has Simply Given Up.

Ladies seated in the mezzanine or balcony, however, might be encouraged to wear flats or low heels. Etiquetteer witnessed a lady take a tumble on the steep mezzanine stairway when making way for others. Mercifully she fell up or she might easily have rolled down a good 14 feet of staircase before collaping in the aisle.

Before the curtain rose, Etiquetteer was horrified to discover that he was sitting in the wrong seat. Now of course These Things Happen, and when they do it's important to follow the advice of Etiquetteer's beloved Ellen Maury Slayden: "This is a test of breeding. Keep cool." Once apologies were extended, it remained only to hoist one leg after the other into the row above, which required some dexterity. At least it prevented disturbing nine other people, but this approach is not recommended for Those Wearing Skirts.

Supertitles on screens at the opera excite strong opinions. Some of them because only with supertitles can they understand what the singers are singing. Others revile them as a distraction from the stage. Etiquetteer will confess to feeling guilty for finding them helpful, but Etiquetteer vastly prefers hearing an opera in a foreign language with supertitles rather than in English (if English was not the original language of that particular opera.)

Now Etiquetteer is not much for "upgrading" during intermission, moving to (hopefully) unoccupied seats closer to the stage. (Should you find that someone has upgraded themselves in your seats, just alert the usher.) At this particular theatre, though, the mezzanine seats almost required amputating one's legs, and Etiquetteer's friend spotted almost an entire row vacant just a bit down, so the second act allowed for more legroom. The key is to move seats just before the lights go down. (Why on earth did so many people not return after intermission? Could it have been the tightness of the seats? The absence of a plot?)

But how beautiful to witness an audience completely in sympathy with a singer. Some of the ovations . . . remarkable.

Lastly, in theatres with minimal public space, it's even more important to Get Out of the Way. A collection of fellow operagoers clotted the intersections to greet each other for an extended period. A brisk (and possibly brusque) "Excuse me" solved that problem.

Etiquetteer is eager to return to the opera again once the Season resumes, and hopes you are, too.


*Still, Etiquetteer does remember one opera night when Dewy Youthfulness still clung about one's figure and complexion, the night that turned out to be Sarah Caldwell's final performance conducting the Boston Opera Company. The production was Aida, and Etiquetteer and a friend donned black tie and excitement for a very special evening. As it happened, the rest of the audience hadn't dressed, leaving Etiquetteer feeling a shade de trop, until discovering the other six gentlemen in the house who wore black tie. The parties combined, making a jolly octet for the rest of the evening. But remember, this only works in the orchestra and perhaps the mezzanine. Black tie is never Perfectly Proper in the balcony.

**One recalls that, at the premiere of Handel's Messiah, instructions went out early that, due to the crush, ladies were requested not to wear hoopskirts, and gentlemen to leave their swords at home.

Signs of the Times, Vol. 16, Issue 33

Seen recently in a garden in Boston's South End neighborhood:

These signs are a sad reminder that not all dog owners are equally Perfectly Proper. As the saying goes, "There are no bad dogs, only bad dog owners."

Personal Grooming, or the Case of the Clipping Colleague, Vol. 16, Issue 32

Dear Etiquetteer:

I'm somewhat new to working in an office environment so the subtleties of what constitutes public and private behavior may elude me. That said, I have a coworker who once a week straddles his trash container and cuts his nails. I can't stand the sound of this and warily watch for the errant clipping heading my way. I'm dumbfounded on what I could possibly say? I suppose we are all lucky he doesn't clip his toenails. Help!

Dear Newbie:

Etiquetteer's first reaction on reading your query was a piercing "Eeyew!" This sort of public grooming needs to stop. Etiquetteer firmly believes that no one should have to "see the magic happen," or hear it, either.

No one should leave home without being fully dressed and fully groomed.* A nail kit of pair or nail clippers for emergencies should be kept at the office, but taken into the restroom to be used.

Most problems like this don't get resolved without actually having a conversation with the offender. Someone will have to Say Something. The goal, of course, is to stop the behavior, not to shame the offender. As a newcomer, it might be thorny for you to do so; you don't want to get a reputation as a complainer so early in your tenure. Your colleague's supervisor should be informed, discreetly, and asked to address this issue with your Clipping Colleague. An office memo reinforcing Perfectly Proper behavior might work depending on the size of your workplace. You could even send a gift card for a manicure with the heading "It's time to put the man in manicure!" (While it's dangerous to assume, Etiquetteer believes this must be a man.)

If those options aren't open to you, and you don't find it possible to step out for a coffee when your Clipping Colleague is clipping, then take a deep breath and have a quick private conversation. Apologize for raising the issue, be honest about the impact of his behavior, and ask if he could take his clippers into the restroom. Etiquetteer hopes your Clipping Colleague will take this in the spirit intended.

Best wishes for a successful outcome!

*Yes ladies, that means not applying your makeup while behind the wheel or on public transportation.

Wedding Refreshments, Vol. 16, Issue 30

Dear Etiquetteer:

My boyfriend and I are getting married next year. We're on a budget, paying for the whole thing ourselves. The tradition seems to be a sit-down dinner, but one person suggested that we do a heavy hors d'oeuvres reception with everyone standing up. I'm not really comfortable with this, but because we do need to be careful I wanted to ask your thoughts. Is it OK to go against tradition like this?

Dear Bride to Be:

There are traditions and traditions. Etiquetteer grew up going to Southern weddings with punch-and-cookies receptions featuring a Gigantic Wedding Cake and no other refreshments (for the most part), regardless of whether the wedding was in the afternoon or evening. In New England the tradition is certainly for a wedding banquet of at least three courses - one of them being the Gigantic Wedding Cake.

The Perfectly Proper answer to your query will involve how many of your guests are traveling from out of state to attend your wedding. It can be ruinously expensive to travel to a wedding: airfare, taxis, accommodations (if not staying at the home of friends), new clothes, and of course a wedding gift. After all that trouble, a Perfectly Proper sit-down banquet is well-deserved. You don't have to feed them steak and lobster, but fobbing them off with a few trays of quiche cups and stuffed mushroom caps may not leave them feeling that their efforts for your happiness are appreciated. Feed your guests well, and they'll always wish you happiness on your anniversaries to come.

Have you considered having a luncheon instead of a dinner for your wedding reception? Consider also substituting something novel for your table centerpieces instead of flowers, often a hefty chunk of any wedding budget. For instance, if a lot of your wedding guests are construction-minded, a large tin of Tinker Toys on each table could lead them all to construct some outrageous concoction. Pyramids of photo cubes featuring photos of the Happy Couple and guests at Pleasant Times Gone By will also entertain.

Best wishes as you and the Gentleman of Your Choice prepare for a Long and Happy Life Together!

Vendor Relationships, or the True Source of Beauty, Vol. 16, Issue 29

Etiquetteer was taken aback by yesterday's news story about the one-million-dollar judgement against a Happy Couple for destroying the professional reputation of their wedding photographer. Neely Moldovan, also known as Neelykins, a beauty blogger, and her husband Andrew initiated a news story in 2015 about photographer Andrea Polito withholding their wedding album and photos because of an additional fee for the album cover. Now that they've destroyed her business, they're going to have to pay for it.

The most charitable thing that could be said about the Moldovans is that they didn't read their photographer's contract well enough to understand what their obligations were. And that's probably the only charitable thing that could be said for them. A Perfectly Proper business dispute is handled in a meeting room, possibly with attorneys if it's Come to That. It is not handled on the evening news. The Moldovans, however, with vengeance in their hearts and publicity on their minds, brought it to the networks. The result then: Polito, her reputation unjustly shattered, had to close her business and has depleted her savings since the story broke. The result now: just look at the hashtag #neelykins to learn the extent of her public shaming. Her website is down, and her Twitter and Instagram accounts have gone private.

This entire situation could have been avoided if the Moldovans had first reviewed their paperwork and recognized that they still had a financial obligation to the photographer. Barring that, they should have tamed their unquenchable, unjust need for vengeful publicity, which is now backfiring on them. Rumors to the contrary, there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Some Perfectly Proper Tips for Working with Vendors

  • Recognize that people go into business to make money.
  • Understand the terms of the contract before you sign it. If you don't, get a third party to explain them for you.
  • Abide by the terms of the contract after you've signed it.
  • Be sure the vendor abides by the terms of the contract, too. That document is a two-way street!
  • Don't let your temper flare so much that you use language you'd be embarrassed to find in print. (Etiquetteer wishes someone had shared that advice with Mr. Scaramucci . . .)
  • Resolving a vendor dispute in a public forum is likely not a great idea. Call your lawyer first, not the local news outlet.

A final question: how beautiful a beauty blogger can you be, really, to behave this way? True Beauty, like Perfect Propriety, starts on the inside and works out.

Party Guests, Vol. 16, Issue 26

Dear Etiquetteer:

There’s an old expression, “in the powder,” which means that when guests arrive too early. Last weekend a couple party guests showed up two hours early. My house was not yet ready to receive guests, I was still cooking and cleaning, I hadn’t showered yet, and all of a sudden there were people at the door I must entertain. In my case they could’ve spent time walking around my historic neighborhood. Other people must have had this happen to them and heard the excuses: light traffic, easier than expected parking, bringing perishables to the party, etc. How can I get out of this? I love having people over, but I love having them over when I’m ready more than when I’m getting ready.

Dear Pre-empted:

No host or hostess wants their guests to see “how the magic happens,” and that’s doubly tough when they show up so very early. Sometimes that happens because guests miss the correct arrival time on the invitation.* The Perfectly Proper solution is, as you suggest, to take a walk until the party is supposed to start. That’s tough to do, though, if it’s raining or viciously cold.

You’ll be relieved to know, though, that there’s no obligation to entertain early arrivals. Just park them in the parlor with a “Don’t mind me, I’m in my prep zone," and get back to your business. Deflect any offers of assistance (if unwelcome) with "Thanks, I really appreciate it, but I have my routine already set and I just need to get things done at my own pace."

If you don't mind some extra help, however, toss them an apron and put 'em to work. This can sometimes be more trouble than it's worth if your guests then question how to do what you've asked them at every step of the process, so they can be sure it's done the way you want it. Much better, in Etiquetteer's view, to leave them in the parlor with a magazine.

You can mitigate this kind of behavior in two ways: confirm the time on the morning of your event, and plan to have everything but the cooking complete one hour before the party starts.

*Etiquetteer has had to lecture That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much about this more than once. Indeed, his ability to appear up to an hour early by mistake at one annual gathering has become almost an eye-rolling tradition.

Signs of the Times, Vol. 16, Issue 25

Etiquetteer has been traveling lately, and has been amused and/or instucted by instructional signs everywhere:

As usual, Etiquetteer believe these signs should read "Everyone must wash hands."

As usual, Etiquetteer believe these signs should read "Everyone must wash hands."

Seen in a San Francisco bookstore. An important reminder that no one cares about your "private" conversation.

Seen in a San Francisco bookstore. An important reminder that no one cares about your "private" conversation.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are becoming quite the rage, as can be seen from these two examples:

Of course there's also a Head 1.

Of course there's also a Head 1.

The screen makes this difficult to read, but the sign says "Sorry ........ Due to our environmentall delicate location, restrooms are for customers only Public restrooms are across the parking lot. Thank you ......." Isn't this a triumph of Euphemism?

The screen makes this difficult to read, but the sign says "Sorry ........ Due to our environmentall delicate location, restrooms are for customers only Public restrooms are across the parking lot. Thank you ......." Isn't this a triumph of Euphemism?