Verbal and Written Thanks, and Video Bonus, Vol. 15, Issue 11

This afternoon, while Etiquetteer was taking advantage of the French Toast Alert system to stock up on a few Snowstorm Necessities at the local food co-op, the woman bagging groceries couldn't forbear making a few remarks about the Previous Customer. "You should say thank you when someone's baggin' y'groceries!" she said. "I don't have t'be doin' this. I could just wawk away 'n' say 'Bye!'" As she mimed the action, Etiquetteer had to beg her hastily not to leave, especially since Etiquetteer was going to thank her! We ended up Bonding Over the Issue - or at least appearing to, since Etiquetteer can't really find it Perfectly Proper for an employee to complain about the customers in front of other customers. But the neglect of the Previous Customer did give Etiquetteer pause. We've all heard the phrase "know one's place" before, but never considered another meaning to its original threat of "and don't try to rise above it or sink beneath it." Etiquetteer invites you to consider a more truly patriotic rendering: "Know your place as a citizen of a country where all are created equal." Thanks to those who assist you, even if they are paid to do so, makes a difference. No one should be so grand that they can't express thanks - especially customers of a food co-op well known for its embrace of progressive causes.

Come to think of it, that's a new meaning for "Think globally, act locally," too.

invite

Etiquetteer has also recently been sorting through masses of old papers, and has been Exceedingly Happy rediscovering and rereading Lovely Notes of Thanks from Friends and Family Old and New. Let Etiquetteer tell you, it's a much more delightful experience - reopening envelopes, feeling the texture of paper, and reading handwriting - than scrolling through one's email inbox. That handwritten Lovely Note you send now will continue to delight years later, much more than an email, and certainly more than an instantly-deleted text message.

lorgnette

For today's video content, Etiquetteer shares again some Gentle Suggestions for Teleconferences and Webinars:

etiq15.11 from Etiquetteer on Vimeo.

 If you have queries for Etiquetteer, please be sure to send them to queries <at> etiquetteer <dot> com.

smalletiquetteer

Shaking Hands, Vol. 15, Issue 6

Dear Etiquetteer: Does Perfect Propriety require one to remove one's glove when shaking hands with another? It is my practice, but it seems inconsistent among the public at large. Also, is gender a consideration here?

Dear Shaking:

In the play Divine Sister, the Mother Superior reportedly said "We must never forget that we are on the brink of a period of great social change - and we must do everything in our power to stop it." Public health is playing a role in how people shake hands - or don't - and Etiquetteer is still trying to consider the most Perfectly Proper Compromise.

Traditionally, a gentleman removes his glove to shake hands, but a lady does not. A lady also has the privilege of not shaking hands if she doesn't choose to. Why? Etiquetteer suspects this comes from the long-standing belief that a gentleman doesn't force his attentions on a lady. So a gentleman doesn't offer his hand to a lady first; she offers hers, or doesn't.

The Book of Good Manners: A Guide to Polite Usage for All Social Functions, by Walter Cox Green (1922), elaborates a bit on ladies and gentlemen shaking hands with gloves: "A man with hands gloved should never shake hands with a woman without an apology for so doing, unless she likewise wears gloves. A sudden meeting, etc., may make a hand-shaking in gloves unavoidable. Unless the other party is also gloved, a man should say 'Please excuse my glove.'" No wonder people gave up on gloves - which is very sad indeed.

By 1953, however, Esquire Etiquette: A Guide to Business, Sports, and Social Conduct, by the "Editors of Esquire Magazine," advised that "Excuse my glove" had become old-fashioned. "That one belongs with 'After you, Alphonse,' and there is no comfortable response to it." [Emphasis Etiquetteer's.] Etiquetteer asks now, can't we just have our manners and use them without calling attention to them while in action? Besides the fact that there are more interesting things to talk about, there is always the likelihood that someone will then be made uncomfortable by suspecting that they are behaving incorrectly.

In this century, there seems to be no "comfortable response" to the phrase "I don't shake hands." Universally accepted as a greeting of acceptance and friendliness for centuries, the relatively recent incursion from Those Who Fear Germs still leaves a lingering Aura of Rejection. Once, not accepting a hand offered by one man to another would give offense*, or at least give the impression that one's further acquaintance was not sought. When meeting strangers for the first time, it leaves an unwelcoming impression.

Etiquetteer has to wonder if the time has come for Westerners to adopt the Far Eastern custom of bowing instead of shaking hands to accommodate (Etiquetteer does not say appease) Those Who Fear Germs. Bowing is quite dignified, does not need to appear subservient, shows respect to the other party, and does not require either to touch at any point. Indeed, not long ago Etiquetteer was obliged to dine out with a group of close friends while very clearly in the early stages of a Head Cold. Fearing undue exposure of others, Etiquetteer did what was possible to limit physical contact by bowing over a martini . . .

Debate over this issue - how to show respect and not give offense while also maintaining one's microbial integrity - will surely continue, just as scientific research does about what, exactly, we communicate when shaking hands.

 

gloves

*Sometimes, of course, offense is exactly what someone wants to convey by refusing to shake hands. Etiquetteer could show you some scars from such encounters . . .

"You Should Be Kept on a Leash!" Vol. 14, Issue 46

Etiquetteer is probably going to anger a lot of dog owners with this column, but so be it. Earlier this year, taking a weekend constitutional through the Arnold Arboretum, Etiquetteer witnessed two unleashed dogs going after a dog on a leash with its owner. The owner of the former rushed up saying "I'm really sorry!" once or twice and making a show of commanding "Sit!" The extent of this dog owner's sorrow was visible ten minutes later, when the dogs were seen trotting along, unleashed and without visible owners, down another path.

All this left Etiquetteer to think "But not sorry enough to follow the rules, which are posted at every gate of the arboretum:"

arnold arboretum sign

You'll observe that the very first rule on the sign is "Dogs must be leashed; dog waste must be removed." It should not be necessary for Etiquetteer to point out that an arboretum, by definition, is for the study and display of plants, not a playground for dogs. Or humans, for that matter, but far fewer humans put the plantings at risk by pawing through them or committing Acts of Metabolic Waste. Or attacking each other, one hopes.

Now Etiquetteer can just imagine the Righteous Outrage of that dog owner saying that the arboretum is convenient and that dogs need a place to run. And, as Etiquetteer has said so often, Convenience means nothing in the face of Perfect Propriety. As to the latter issue, Etiquetteer couldn't agree more. Dogs do need a place to run about unfettered. And in so many communities there are parks especially for that purpose, called dog runs. Patronize those places, dog owners, and do your part to keep the peace. Because, just as no one cares about your Loud Child, no one cares about your Misbehaving Dog either.

Etiquetteer knows so many Perfectly Proper dog owners, ladies and gentlemen who genuinely care about the behavior of their pets and how they impact others, and applauds them for their consideration of others. Etiquetteer dearly hopes that their Good Example will inspire their Errant Fellows.

smalletiquetteer*Those who care about Old Hollywood will recognize the headline of this column from Mildred Pierce.

Perfect Propriety on Public Transportation, Vol. 14, Issue 38

Doesn't it seem to be the common refrain of etiquette columnists - and, sometimes, the elderly, who have seen so much already - that things are just getting worse and worse? Well, in the words of the late Sylvia Fowler, "Here I am, girls! Move over." Etiquetteer needs to sound off about how things are just getting worse and worse, this time on public transportation. Etiquetteer has noticed a degeneration of courtesy, and can't really blame it all on last winter's dreadful weather. Once upon a time, passengers standing in the door would step out of the way to allow other passengers to exit. And by "step out of the way," Etiquetteer means "step completely outside the car and to the side so that the doorway was entirely open to exiting passengers." Within the last year, Etiquetteer has observed with frustration the growing number of Passengers In the Way Who Won't Move at All. At best they'll compress themselves against the side - not too helpful if they're wearing a backpack - but more often they just stand there, placid as bulls, leaving exiting passengers to squeeze between them to Freedom. Even worse are those passengers who walk into the train and stop right there in the entrance, regardless of the number of people behind them who want to get in, too, and of available space further inside the car.

Now of course Etiquetteer understands why everyone wants to stand near the door: because they can disembark at their stop without anyone blocking their way. What frustrates Etiquetteer is the number of passengers traveling more than, say, four stops who defiantly stand in the door, forcing everyone to squeeze by them. Etiquetteer encourages Public Transportation Entities to mark out floor space in its vehicles as Space to Clear for Exiting Passengers.

The only tool of Perfect Propriety that Etiquetteer can offer is a brisk, crisp "Excuse me, please" or "Comin' out, please!" when moving about the vehicle. It's admittedly passive-aggressive to put more force than necessary getting past Passengers In the Way, so Etiquetteer can't endorse it, no matter how satisfying it may feel.

And another thing. Once upon a time it used to be such an intrusion when the audio leaking from a fellow passenger's earbuds disrupted the relative silence of public transport.* Now, alas, our civilization has reached a place where passengers aren't even bothering with earbuds and openly - loudly - watching videos or playing children's games on their smartphones regardless of anyone else's comfort. Was no one else taught what Etiquetteer learned at Dear Mother's knee, "Your right to listen stops where my ears begin?" Passengers using devices to entertain themselves on the Long Commute Home must use earbuds or earphones. How you choose to entertain yourself can be torture to those who cannot escape your presence.

Public transportation passengers will go far toward furthering World Peace by considering more the impact they have on fellow passengers with their voices, devices, and baggage.

smalletiquetteer

Are you taken about by public manners? Please drop Etiquetteer a line at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

*Once upon a time, you weren't supposed to talk at all in order not to disturb others.

How Young Etiquetteer Was Embarrassed, Vol. 14, Issue 36

You may have heard Etiquetteer tell this story before, but it came to mind vividly again, and Etiquetteer must tell (or retell) it now for the record. Etiquetteer has always had an interest in seeing things done with Perfect Propriety and with people Behaving Well. And as a college student, Young Etiquetteer had an equal and abiding interest in Free Food. So one day many years ago Young Etiquetteer received with pleasure an invitation from an elderly lady to a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton. What could be more Perfectly Proper than a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton? Young Etiquetteer accepted the invitation with alacrity and brushed off his best suit in preparation.

Now this elderly lady - let's refer to her as Madame - who Young Etiquetteer had never really met, was a friend of Young Etiquetteer's Stern Grandmother, but there was no reason to suspect she might be any different from the legions of elderly ladies Young Etiquetteer had been entertaining since birth: full of indulgent smiles, Christian rectitude, canasta, and a dash of genealogy. Young Etiquetteer's eyes were to be opened, as Madame's principal focus was Herself and Her Reactions, as we shall see.

In those days*, the Ritz-Carlton dining room was described by many as the most beautiful room in Boston, and to a young man who hoped to be Perfectly Proper it was considered a crucible of Perfectly Propriety. From its snowy napery to its brocade draperies to its famous cobalt glass chandeliers and goblets, the room represented what Americans used to aspire to (and should continue aspire to today) as the Good Life. But almost from the beginning, Madame set a very different tone.

She was first nonplussed (but quietly) about an odd feature of 1980s restaurant etiquette: maitre d's who kissed on the mouth. Next, loudly exclaiming over the beauty of the china, Madame picked up the service plate like the latest bestseller to read the trademark. Young Etiquetteer, who had not only been taught that the first thing you did at table was put your napkin in your lap but also that you never did anything so gauche as to examine the provenance of the china, was nearly demolished by this. But more was still to come.

This occasion proved to be Young Etiquetteer's first encounter with service à la russe, which requires one to serve oneself each course from large platters offered by the waiter. Negotiating salmon with asparagus and hollandaise sauce is difficult enough for the uninitiated, but made even more so with Ceaseless Commentary on the novelty of the service from Madame, who thought it was different and charming, and didn't fail to mention this at top volume anytime a waiter - any waiter - appeared within two feet of us. She was having a wonderful time, and wanted everyone to know it!

This luncheon was not an ordinary luncheon, but a fashion luncheon featuring beautiful models in exquisite clothes (day and evening) languidly strolling among the tables. The place Young Etiquetteer was filling was originally intended for a Female Relation of Madame's who was unable to attend. Young Etiquetteer was one of perhaps three men present, somewhat ambivalently relishing the Walter Mitty role, but enjoying the setting, the (free) luncheon, and indeed the couture promenade. Madame was enjoying it, too, and assailed each model with Expressions of Delight, and also some Embarrassing Questions. She asked one model for her phone number to share with her son! Etiquetteer did not know quite where to look.

But the most embarrassing moment came after dessert. With the conclusion of the luncheon, the models were circulating with little lipsticks as favors for the ladies. Madame dearly wanted one to share with her Female Relation, but she wanted one for herself more. And when a beautiful model presented her with a lipstick, Young Etiquetteer froze in fright to hear Madame respond with Six Horrifying Words:

"Aren't you gonna give him one?"

Young Etiquetteer withered under the icy stare of the model, who asked "Do you need one?" in such a way as to question Young Etiquetteer's masculinity, upbringing, and right to exist - none of which seemed to matter to Madame, so intently was she focused on a free lipstick. "Certainly not!" replied Young Etiquetteer, whose limit had been reached, and the model passed on. Words were passed, but the mood restored, and of course Young Etiquetteer omitted any reference in the Lovely Note mailed the next day.

The morals of this tale, if there are any, would be that a) consideration of the feelings of others is an important part of daily life, b) to be distracted by trinkets indicates a lack of breeding**, and c) that there is no such thing as a free luncheon.

*The mid-1980s.

**The lyric from Chess comes to mind: "Trinkets in airports sufficient to lead them astray."

smalletiquetteer

The Price of Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 3

It's one thing to dream idly of exacting vengeance on Those Who Have Wronged One, but it is never Perfectly Proper to follow through, as Julie Lawrence of Cornwall is discovering, Etiquetteer hopes to her sorrow. Ms. Lawrence held a birthday party for her child. And just as at parties for grownups, someone who said he was coming didn't come after all. In this case it was five-year-old Alex Nash, who was already scheduled to spend time with his grandparents that day. Now double bookings happen, and when discovered they involve a certain amount of groveling from the Absentee Guest and tolerant understanding from the Neglected Host (who may choose to use caution when issuing any future invitations), if the social relationship is to continue.

Ms. Lawrence, for whatever reason, chose instead of send an invoice for the cost of entertaining Young Master Nash to his parents. You will not be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer has a Big Problem with this, for a few reasons. First of all, how on earth is this going to affect the ongoing social relationship of Young Master Nash and the Unnamed Birthday Child? How embarrassing for both of them, especially since they will continue to have to see each other at school whether or not their friendship has survived this Social Mishap. For Heaven's sake, won't someone think of the children?!

Second, hospitality is supposed to be freely given, without expectation of reciprocity. Though recipients of hospitality are moved by Perfect Propriety to reciprocate, this should not be expected. For hospitality to be freely given, in this case, means accepting the expense of Absent Guests with Good Humor. Etiquetteer understands how frustrating it is spending money on guests who don't show up, but if one is not willing and able to suffer absentees more gracefully, one should not be entertaining socially. And to describe oneself as "out of pocket" suggests that one is Entertaining Beyond One's Means.

And lastly, for this to be paraded so publicly - well, Etiquetteer can see the entire community questioning Ms. Lawrence's judgement and ability to raise a child by behaving this way.

The Nash family, however, comes in for its share of disapproval, since it appears they didn't try to contact Ms. Lawrence before the party to say that Young Master Nash would be unable to attend.

Under the circumstances, it doesn't look like these families have any interest in Social Reconciliation, but if they do it will involve Lovely Notes of Contrition on both sides.

Long story short, don't make a scene.

Man-spreading *shudder*, Vol. 13, Issue 61

A reader has encouraged Etiquetteer to speak out on the issue of men sprawling beyond the limits of their seats on public transporation, which has been given the Vulgar Appellation of "man-spreading." Indeed, this issue has become such a Menace to Public Decency that the MTA has inaugurated a campaign to curb it. A gentleman does not take up someone else's space. And that should be quite sufficient.

Really, Etiquetteer compares this Ostentatious Behavior to blaring one's car radio (or do we have to call it "sound system" now?) outside the limits of one's car, or revving one's motor to call attention.

In short, Etiquetteer considers Excessive Sprawl advertising one's shortcomings.

The Etiquette of Prohibition, Vol. 13, Issue 57

Etiquetteer delivered these remarks at the 2013 Repeal Day Celebration at the Gibson House Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Among other things, the madness of Prohibition created a Culture of Alcohol Concealment, leading people to find ingenious ways to secrete liquor in their homes or on their persons. Images survive of hollow canes, fake books, and even shot vials concealed in high-heeled shoes so that people could travel with their tipple unrevealed. In the 21st century, already awash with alcohol, similar devices are used to get around outrageous liquor prices at sports and concert venues. These include hollow flip flops, a necktie flask, and even a “wine rack,” which is a sports bra with tubing.

Prohibition left a permanent mark on American manners, illustrated uncompromisingly in a little etiquette book called No Nice Girl Swears by Alice-Leone Moats, first published in 1933, the final year of Prohibition. The last chapter, headed "Our Plastered Friends," begins "When our mothers came out, learning to handle a drunk was not an essential part of a debutante's education. Now every girl has to be capable not only of shifting for herself, but, more often than not, of looking out for her escort as well." Can you imagine?! This is not the way Best Society is supposed to conduct itself. But Miss Moats goes on to detail the ten different types of drunks and how to make the best of their bad situations (often using one's mad money to abandon them and take a taxi home. Miss Moats paints a worst-case scenario from the beginning. "If you're going out very often, you might as well be prepared to think quickly and be ready to exercise your ingenuity at any time. You may be called upon to do anything form catching the bottles that your escort, in his exuberance, may chance to throw, to burrowing in the sawdust for him." (You must remember that often the floors of gin joints and other dives were sprinkled with sawdust.)

And going out was what people did. Prohibition saw entertaining at home decline (though of course it still went on) in favor of the jazzy rise of café society. Willa Cather famously described the phenomenon in 1924, saying "Nobody stays at home any more." And that meant men and women drinking together in public, whereas before Prohibition, saloons were for men only. At home, one was less likely to be entertained at a traditional seated dinner of several courses as at that brand-new gathering, the cocktail party. Ladies and gentlemen just standing around drinking liquor without a meal, or perhaps any food at all, being offered -- revolutionary!

Miss Moats makes it sound easy: "Cocktail parties have become the line of least resistance in entertaining. They are convenient for the person who must get 50 or 60 people off the list of obligations and prefers to do it at one fell swoop, saving money at the same time. It certainly isn't much trouble; all you need is a case of synthetic gin and a tin of anchovy paste. The greater the number of the guests, the smaller and more airless the room, the stronger the gin, the more successful the party. But if you give one, you must be prepared to have your friends on your hands until two in the morning, as they will invariably forget their dinner engagements and stay on until the last shakerful is emptied."

One of the places they went in Boston was the famous Cocoanut Grove on Piedmont Street, which opened in October, 1927. But in spite of some shady connections, the Grove was on the up and up. They didn't serve hard liquor, but would provide setups, trays of siphons and glasses, so you could discreetly add your own booze from your flask under the table. It was often better to bring your own to some places. In The Greeks Had a Word For Them, a gentleman at a speak asks "Well, what do you have that won't kill us, blind us, or burn holes in our clothes?" The brutal Dinah Brand in Dashiell Hammett's equally brutal Red Harvest said that someone's liquor tasted like it was drained off a corpse. Other places would get around the law by serving booze in teacups.

Tolerance for drunken behavior became more accepted, too. Again, we hear from Miss Moats: "There was once a time when a man who got drunk in a lady's drawing room was never invited to that house again. If he showed the same lack of control in another home, he ran the risk of having every door closed to him. Now a hostess who insists that all her guests remain sober would find that she was giving parties to a chosen few, and very dull ones at that. She takes it for granted that the majority of her guests will be wavering before the evening is over." A Paul Cadmus painting of 1939, “Seeing the New Year In,” shows just such an occasion, with drunken, careless intellectuals coming apart at the seams. It’s a mean and tawdry descent.

One of the most astonishing ways that Prohibition changed America was the sudden appearance and acceptance of young women drinking in public. And it was this that led Pauline Morton Sabin, an aristocratic heiress to the Morton Salt fortune, to begin to campaign for Repeal. She said "Girls of a generation ago would not have ventured into a saloon. Girls did not drink; it was not considered 'nice.' But today girls and boys drink, at parties and everywhere, then stop casually at a speakeasy on the way home." And indeed, a Topeka police chief observed "The girls simply won't go out with the boys who haven't got flasks to offer." But a girl still had to hang on to her reputation, as Miss Moats makes clear in No Nice Girl Swears. "A great many people have come to believe in the single moral standard, but few have been converted to a single drinking standard. A drunken woman is still looked upon with disgust and she is certainly more objectionable than a drunken man. Liquor generally hits her in one of three ways: she gets boisterous and wants to play games, or she gets maudlin, or, more often, she grows desperately amorous. Whatever the effect, she is dangerous."

To which Etiquetteer can only conclude, "Hotcha!"

What a Gentleman Does, Vol. 13, Issue 55

It takes courage to own up to a mistake, especially one that has had a negative impact on others, and very especially one that has exploded on social media to mark one a Very Bad Person. But that's what a gentleman is, someone who has the courage to admit a mistake and to do what's possible to make up for it. So Etiquetteer has to salute Jeff Conklin, the resident of the South End of Boston who parked his BMW next to a fire hydrant last week, rendering it useless in fighting a house fire. Unlike the generally accepted stereotype of BMW owners as simply not caring about the consequences to others of their actions, Mr. Conklin has taken the trouble to visit the neighborhood firehouse to apologize personally to the firefighters whose essential work was jeopardized. Etiquetteer can only imagine the strength of character that took, and can only express admiration.

Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham writes "The social media that connect us also make it distressingly easy to be vicious. Emboldened by anonymity, we pounce on people, convicting them with scant evidence." Mr. Conklin may now have to find within himself the strength to forgive hundreds of complete strangers who convicted, tarred, and feathered him before. And you may be sure that Etiquetteer shared that column with That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, well known for his bitter tongue on many subjects.

In short, Mr. Conklin, through a grievous error, has proved what a gentleman he really is through his response to it - and many others have proved what ladies and gentlemen they are not.

Table Manners: "You just put your lips together and . . . or don't you?" Vol. 13, Issue 52

Dear Etiquetteer: At a brunch, is it improper when out at a restaurant or such to blow on your food to cool it?

Dear Brunched:

Reading your query, Etiquetteer was reminded first that the reason Chinese teacups have no handles is because, if the cup is too hot to pick up, the tea is too hot to drink. So a certain amount of Restraint is involved is consuming hot food. It's what separates us from the animals.

It's generally accepted that blowing on hot food to cool it is less than Perfectly Proper. Cutting small bites of solid food allows it to cool faster. Not filling your soup spoon all the way, Etiquetteer considers, would act on the same principle.

What's worse than blowing on one's food, in a private home, restaurant, "or such," is calling attention to someone else's doing so. Few topics of discussion are as tedious at the table as table manners, not least because it promotes performance anxiety, which detracts from the real purposes of a shared meal, Camaraderie and Conversation. And yet there are those, doubtless plagued by little Imps of Satan, who are eager to point out each and every mistake that someone makes, either because they think it's funny, or deliberately to make trouble. Etiquetteer needs them to stop it at once.

Etiquetteer will conclude by sharing that the late Emily Post took vigorous exception to the word "brunch," describing it as "that singled-headed double-bodied deformity of language." Mrs. Post vastly preferred "breakfast," because it "has a break-of-day friendliness that brings to mind every degree of hospitality from country breakfasts to hunt-meets and weddings. 'Brunch' suggests 'standees' at a lunch counter but not the beauty of hospitable living."* To which Etiquetteer, who has attended many lovely and hospitable brunches, can only respond Autre temps, autre moeurs.

* From Etiquette, by Emily Post, page 497, copyright 1937. Used without permission.

A Loss of Temper, Vol. 13, Issue 42

Etiquetteer, of course, is the soul of Perfect Propriety, but it comes at a price: daily battle with That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, who carries on either like a Rank Parvenu or the most Impatient Curmudgeon. Recently Etiquetteer lost a battle, and That Mr. Dimmick is still paying the price. Etiquetteer is now breaking out of the prison into which That Mr. Dimmick has cast him to tell the story. "Hell," as Sartre famously observed in his play No Exit, "is other people." Perfect Propriety is either the key to the exit or a useful blindfold. It is an essential tool in daily life, because there will always be people who don't care at all about how they impact others. Always. This is why we have etiquette, to make dealing with Those People easier and less demeaning for ourselves.

It brings us to a bus with two loud children and an angry mother. While That Mr. Dimmick was speaking quietly with a friend near the back of the bus, two little girls and two adult women with them boarded at the next stop. The little girls ran to the back row, immediately behind That Mr. Dimmick, and continued their conversation VERY loudly, with what one would call Outside Voices. Really, it became nearly impossible to hear one's own conversation. And after a few minutes of this, in a fit of impatience, That Mr. Dimmick burst out with "Young ladies, ENOUGH!" There was no thought about results or consequences, just a complete inability to bear one more moment.

Etiquetteer's Dear Mother has always said "When you lose your temper, you lose your point." And alas for That Mr. Dimmick, Dear Mother was once again correct. That Outburst of Temper roused the Maternal Wrath of the mother sitting closest, who immediately challenged any interference. She actually said "This is not a library!" and suggested that we move! She should have been apologizing for the fact that those children were making a public nuisance. (That Mr. Dimmick was so astonished by her that he was unable to respond "It's not a playground either! Why aren't you teaching those girls to use their inside voices?! You're a bad mother if you don't care!")

Of course Etiquetteer understood why she reacted that way; no one likes to be called out publicly. Etiquetteer would never have addressed misbehaving children directly. One speaks to the parents or guardians. Etiquetteer would have turned to the mother and asked "Would you please ask the young ladies to use their inside voices? They probably aren't considering how loud they are inside." That mother probably would still have suggested Etiquetteer move to another seat, but at least Etiquetteer would be able to sleep nights, secure in the knowledge of having acted with Perfect Propriety. Because That Mr. Dimmick no longer had a leg to stand on. You can't go about complaining about the behavior of others if your own behavior is cause for concern.

Long story short, the bad behavior of others never excuses one's own bad behavior. But this story does raise other questions:

Why are we not all of us taught about consideration for others? Why are so many people standing in the doorway of the subway or bus, blocking the people who need to get by them? Why are so many people talking or texting (or eating!) through live performances in theatres, cinemas, and concert halls? Why are so many people blasting music so loudly through their headphones and earbuds that the lyrics are distinctly heard outside? Why are so many people standing two abreast on the escalator, preventing others from moving past them? Why are so many people eager to tell their friends how to spend their money on them with elaborate gift registries, or even bald requests for cash instead?

Why have we stopped caring about the impact that we have on others in daily life, whether friends or strangers?

That's the question that keeps Etiquetteer awake at night, and there just doesn't seem to be a Perfectly Proper answer.

Reacting to Offensive Comments, Vol. 13, Issue 39

Dear Etiquetteer: What do you say when someone makes inappropriate comments without creating a scene?

Dear Etiquetteer:

How does one politely yet emphatically interrupt conversation to deal with other participants who have dropped rude, crass, ignorant, racist or homophobic remarks?

Dear Offended Auditor(s):

We are blessed to live in a land that affords Freedom of Speech. The surprising advantage to this is learning how hateful people can be through what they say, which gives you the freedom to avoid them ever afterward. Etiquetteer wishes dearly that the memory of who said "I think if a man has opinions like that he should keep them to himself" in what movie would come back, but it is nevertheless good advice when one has Controversial Opinions about Other People, Beliefs, Practices, Behaviors, or Places.

Before getting involved, it's very important that you ask yourself honestly what outcome you expect. Do you expect to change this person's point of view? Do you want to warn them that someone who belongs to one of the groups being disparaged is nearby and could be offended? Do you want merely to change the topic? Do you just want to explain why your beliefs are different? Do you want to be sure they know that you think they are a Bad Person Unfit for Polite Society? Because let Etiquetteer tell you, if the answer to that last question is Yes, the most Perfectly Proper thing for you to do is to Remove Yourself from that person at once. Etiquetteer's Dear Mother wisely said "When you lose your temper, you lose your point." If you let anger overmaster you, you defend your point of view poorly.

As a general rule, it is safest not to respond to total strangers. With acquaintances and friends, there is slightly more leeway to offer Gentle Correction. With family . . . well, family dynamics are most challenging. While bound together by blood, differences in generation, region, and education do make themselves felt. Proceed with caution.

Let's establish the situation, which affects in part if and how you should react:

  • Are you in public, and are the offenders total strangers? If so, say nothing. That will surely create a scene.
  • Is this person just a Provocative Contrarian waving a red cape at a bull for his or her own entertainment? Stay away. You will always lose an argument with such people, who live only to humiliate others.
  • Are you a guest at a party overhearing a stranger? Say nothing, or speak to your host or hostess quietly.
  • Are you in a group of friends or acquaintances enjoying conversation? If it's necessary to prevent a scene, take the person aside - "Adolf, there's something I particularly want to ask you about" - and suggest Ever So Gently that they're making a bad impression and that more neutral topics are better for the occasion.
  • Are you in your own home or are you the host of a gathering at which these remarks are made? If so, it may be necessary for you to say a Quiet Word that the topic in question is forbidden in your house.

Irrepressible Elsa Maxwell recorded a Perfectly Proper example of the latter in her book I Married the World when the woman most known to History as Consuelo Vanderbilt had to react to an insult at her dinner table. It seems that the Earl of Carnarvon, her houseguest along with La Maxwell, suddenly popped out with "the French were a lot of frogs, anyway" in a discussion about postwar Europe. Alas for him, he had forgotten that his hostess was no longer Duchess of Marlborough but had been Madame Jacques Balsan for several years! La Maxwell related: "As Madame Balsan is married to a Frenchman and devoted to France the fat was in the fire. Icily, firmly and irrevocably the ultimatum was delivered to [the Earl]: 'Will you kindly leave my table and my house this instant,' Mme. Balsan demanded. Whereupon, his dinner half eaten, he left the room, went upstairs and had his bags packed and left the house.'"* Which just goes to show that it isn't Perfectly Proper to bite the hand that feeds you. Etiquetteer at least gives the Earl credit for recognizing his Stupendous Blunder and actually leaving the house without trying to have a Tedious Discussion about Feelings.

Etiquetteer will conclude by observing that sometimes Icy Silence communicates more effectively than any words.

Dear Etiquetteer:

When a friends posts something on a social network that you find offensive, is it proper to say anything? Is it simply proper to tell them they have offended you and why?

Dear Internetworked:

It is astonishing how people will toss off the most offensive comments online that they'd at least think twice about before uttering in person. To avoid making a scene (see above), Etiquetteer prefers sending a private message via the Social Media Being Used to explain, in as neutral and brief a way as possible, how what was communicated offended you. Depending on the Offensive Comment, you might include the possibility that they weren't aware their comment could be intepreted in an offensive way. You might also encourage them to delete it. But a flame war should be avoided.

Etiquetteer recommends NOT leaving a comment under the offensive post, which would be likely to prompt a public Airing of Dirty Laundry. Your goal is not to embarrass the other person (Etiquetteer hopes) but to express your own offense.

* Elsa Maxwell, quoted in Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt, but Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, p. 479.

The Woes of a Travel Agent, Vol. 13, Issue 37

Dear Etiquetteer: I work in the travel industry, and my colleagues and I provide excellent service for our clients. Two recent incidents made me want to write you to ask "Since when did it become OK to tell people that their jobs are meaningless?"

Not long ago one of my colleagues was seated at an industry event when someone at the table said he could not understand why people use a travel agency when they can go online and "get it cheaper." Well, let me tell you, she told him why in no uncertain terms why people go to travel agencies. She was charming about it, but there was no question when she was finished. She was just great.

It happened again last night, but to me. A well-dressed woman approached me at a party and asked what I did. When I told her she asked if I knew a colleague, and when I told her did she replied: "It amazes me any of you people are still in business." I thanked her for concern, told her that, frankly, I had a good year, but lamented having to answer some form of that question so frequently. "Well, it's no wonder. I really am amazed you still exist." She just kept going. Even if were true, it would be even worse. How completely offensive to force a complete stranger to justify their livelihood, in a casual conversation. Perhaps she considers good manners as obsolete as travel agents.

This is something people in my industry have to address in almost every social situation, and I must say, it's exhausting. I've even had cab drivers, in casual conversation will say things like this. Is it really "perfectly proper" to suggest to someone you've only just met that their livelihood is obsolete, and demand they justify their professional existence? It always seems, at the very least, rude, and at worst, somewhat threatening and insulting.

Dear Justified:

At the very least it's Taking a Liberty to offer an Unsolicited Opinion like that. One wonders if blacksmiths and thatchers had to run the same sort of Challenging Party Chat in their days. Unfortunately few people have any internal monologue any longer, much less sensitivity to the feelings of others. Questions of This Sort might be marginally less offensive if they were couched in concern for your own well-being, such as "What are you doing to retain market share in the face of the rapid growth of the online travel industry?" But only marginally.

Etiquetteer suspects what you really want to know is how to get out of conversations like this, and the answer is really a sort of verbal Bunburying. You remember Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, yes? Algernon's fictional friend in the country, Bunbury, who he had to go visit whenever he had to get out of an invitation, is what you require, while also making a point about the stability of your industry. Respond thus: "Happily not everyone feels the same way you do! We're having a very successful year. Now please excuse me, I must go greet one of my friendliest clients." And then walk away without waiting for a response; that will communicate that you've taken offense.

Should you wish to engage such a person in conversation - and anything is possible - draw out the other person's travel practices, and then turn the conversation to specific destinations mentioned by that person.

Etiquetteer knows personally the values both of booking online and working with an agent, and wishes you and your colleagues well as you champion your industry by providing excellent service to satisfied clients.

How Not to Tip, Vol. 13, Issue 36

First of all, Etiquetteer is writing about restaurant tipping only, and not the myriad of other service industries in which tipping is conducted. Let's establish that Etiquetteer has never been a fan of tipping. It is, however, the prevailing system in the restaurant industry, and regardless of how widely it's disliked, it isn't going away anytime soon. This means adapting to the prevailing tipping system of 15-20% of the total bill, depending on who you talk to. (Etiquetteer says 15%; other writers, and almost all restaurant server blogs, say 20%.) This also means tipping on the full amount of the bill if you are using a discount, coupon, or gift card. It is considered a kindness, when paying by credit card, to tip in cash so that the staff don't have to claim it separately when their shifts are over.

Bad service is the most legitimate reason not to tip fully, or not to tip at all. Etiquetteer encourages you not to be petty over brief delays in service - well, really, Etiquetteer encourages you not to be petty. Now if a waiter forgets an entire order for a member of your party (and this has happened to Etiquetteer), if a waiter spills a strawberry margarita on your head, etc., then you have sufficient grounds. Etiquetteer acknowledges that bad service happens, and that there are waiters and waitresses (Etiquetteer dislikes the term "server," but recognizes that that is an individual choice) who consistently perform poorly. Before tipping less than the standard percentage, consider also the circumstances. If the restaurant is full to bursting (think New York Saturday nights before the theatre, or Sunday anywhere after church - see below), delays in service are understandable; allowances must be made.

Quite possibly the worst, and certainly the most offensive, excuse not to leave a tip is proselytizing. Recently Etiquetteer discovered Sundays Are the Worst, a heart-breaking and angering blog about how poorly a segment of those who profess Christianity treat those who serve them. Pastor Chad Roberts and his congregation have created what might be the most innovative way ever to minister to a community in need; read how it came about here. Etiquetteer could spit tacks at some of the behavior exhibited - so much so that readers will have to peruse for themselves rather than read examples here. The Word of God may feed the soul, but it doesn't sustain our bodies as well as those who leave tracts instead of tips might light to think.

It's also worth pointing out that in a nation in which All Are Created Equal, it ill becomes anyone of any religion to behave as though they are "better" than anyone serving them. This doesn't mean that we all have become Best Friends Forever with those serving us, but it does mean acknowledging our Common Humanity.

Modern Technology, Vol. 13, Issue 28

Dear Etiquetteer: If Etiquetteer would do away with one aspect of modern technology, what would it be?

Dear Teched:

It would be the way people give precedence to people interacting with them via modern technology over people interacting with them in person. (Etiquetteer supposes this is really an aspect of the usage of modern technology rather than an aspect of technology itself, but will leave that to the hair-splitters.)

How many times have any of us been out and about with others only to have them actively engaged on their devices communicating with Those Dear and Far Away as opposed to us, the Near and Dear?

How many friends have we tried to talk with while they fail at surreptitiously glancing in their laps to read and send text messages?

How many dinner companions have we watched not just photograph their dinner (a relatively harmless trend borne of digital photography), but then post the photo to social media, and then wait for and interact with those commenting on the photo?

How many dinner parties have been derailed by focusing on a "phonestack" while everyone waits for (and perhaps bets on) a guest to weaken and respond to one's device?

How many quiet moments on public transportation have been shattered by fellow passengers with Music Loud Enough to Distinguish Lyrics blasting from earbuds firmly lodged in their ears?

How many times has one's view been blocked at a concert or performance by someone holding up their smartphone to record the whole thing, regardless of those seated in back?

How many checkout lines have been delayed by a customer calling a friend or family member to confirm something hasn't been forgotten - or just by being on the phone?

To all this, Etiquetteer can only say, stop it at once! Be with the people you're with! Show them the consideration of your attention and engagement. Not just your friends, family, and companions, but also the working people you interact with during the day: bus drivers, waiters and waitresses, cashiers, receptionists, ushers, bakers, clerks, salespeople, missionaries, tourists, law enforcement, house cleaners - everyone!

In other words, HANG UP AND LIVE! And don't make Etiquetteer come after you . . .

Moving Beyond Constant Criticism, Vol. 13, Issue 25

Dear Etiquetteer: How do you deal with a co-worker who constantly berates and criticizes everyone? She is the epitome of "lipstick on a pig" so there would be room to retaliate but none of us feel it is the right thing to do. We want it to stop but we have no idea how to deal with it.

Dear Berated:

Sometimes Euphemism is insufficient to solve a problem. In such cases, a direct statement needs to be made, as gently but directly as possible, to state that there's a problem, and that a solution needs to be found. Here is just such a situation.

Etiquetteer once had to work with a Perpetual Complainer, a lady whose high standards could only be achieved by herself, and who always verbalized her dissatisfaction in the most uncomfortably specific ways. Finally having had enough, Etiquetteer said to her one day "Madam, tell me something good! You may say whatever you wish about this topic, but you must start with at least one good thing about it." And that exercise for her, while it didn't color her overall opinion, tempered her general unhappiness. It also proved to others that she was capable of seeing at least a little good in the matter at hand.

Etiquetteer encourages you to guide Madam Lypsticka into beginning her criticisms with some sort of kind observation, and to do so with candor. "Madam Lypsticka," you might say, "everyone knows that you prefer to express negative opinions, and we don't want to take that away from you. But we do think your opinions might carry more weight if you could balance your criticism with a couple good points about [Insert Name of Person or Topic Here]."

Converting Perpetual Complainers takes time, and Etiquetteer wishes you and your colleagues well as you begin this endeavor.

How an Introvert May Party, Vol. 13, Issue 24

Dear Etiquetteer: What's you best advice for introverts at parties?

Dear Introvert:

First of all, don't stay away from the party! This is doubly true when your host is a close friend or relative, who may well understand that large gatherings make you uncomfortable at times. If the invitation is for something small, like a dinner party for eight people, the degree of comfort might be greater.

Before the party, there are a couple things you can do to make yourself feel more prepared. Usually it isn't Perfectly Proper to ask who the other guests are going to be; this is because the pleasure of the host's company is supposed to be a sufficient reason to accept the invitation. But under these circumstances, Etiquetteer will allow you to ask, at the time you accept the invitation, if mutual friends will also be there. Knowing that there will be at least one or two people there that you already know can help a lot.

You may also catch up on the news of the day before the party by reading that day's newspaper or one of the news websites. This will give you a knowledge base to contribute to the conversation. If you and the hosts share a common interest, it's likely that others at the party will, too.

If you're really feeling anxious, ask how you can help. Passing hors d'oeuvres, for instance, still requires you to move throughout the room, but doesn't really require a lot of small talk. But even helping to gather dirty glasses or discarded paper napkins gives you something to do and helps out the host. But do ask first; hosts can be fussy about how they like things done.

For large parties, roaming does help relieve the pressure of introversion. Tour the public rooms of the house. Etiquetteer, who occasionally suffers spasms of Party Overwhelm, particularly enjoys being entertained by friends who have a library to which retreat is possible during open houses. This is such a relief when the well of small talk has run dry, or when it just isn't possible to stand up one more moment.

Do NOT bring a good book or spend all night on your smartphone texting (or pretending to text) people who aren't there. That's insulting to the host.

Finally, another introvert might also be there who needs reassurance that they aren't the Only Introvert at the Ball. Here you have a common bond for conversation!

Now go forth and party, and be sure to send a Lovely Note the next day.

Cell Phones and Perfect Propriety, Vol. 13, Issue 22

Dear Etiquetteer: Okay, is it just me? My boyfriend and I were in a Restaurant/Bar, on the Bar side having drinks and dinner. A father and son came in and sat down at one of the bar side tables. Within five minutes the son receives a call from his mother. I say this because he had it on speaker phone. Just when it was beginning to annoy me, I received a call, answered and walked away to the back hall to have my conversation. When I returned ten minutes later, the son was still on his speaker phone talking to his mother. What amazed me is the father had no problem with his son subjecting 20 people IN A BAR to his conversation with his mother. I thought having to listen to one sided conversations in line at stores was bad enough. At least I eventually walk away.

Dear Phoned:

Remember phone booths? For those of you under the age of 30, phone booths were tiny compartments usually no bigger than a shower stall containing a pay phone, a phone book, and a tiny bench behind a bi-fold door. Etiquetteer thinks it's high time to bring them back, but without the pay phone. Clearly enough people are wandering around inflicting their private lives on us at full volume over their cell phones that every bar and restaurant could use one or two.

Etiquetteer cannot say enough - and should not have to say to begin with - that if you're going out with people, be with those people, and not with people at the other end of a device. Now Life does intervene - even Etiquetteer understands this - but unavoidable interruptions need to be kept to a minimum. Etiquetteer prevents them altogether by turning a cell phone OFF. If that isn't an option, one can at least let nonessential calls (e.g. someone you don't think will be calling from the hospital) go to voicemail.

(And so often these conversations are like one Etiquetteer had to follow unavoidably down a sidewalk over the weekend: "Mom? Can you hear me? CAN YOU HEAR ME? CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? I just wanted to tell you we're on the way!" The entire conversation was not necessary. He could have just gotten there punctually and no phoning would have been required. Just because we have cell phones doesn't mean we always need them.)

Etiquetteer thanks you for removing yourself from the bar so that your own phone conversation could be held without disturbing anyone, and trusts you let your boyfriend know in advance that you might have to interrupt your time together with a call, and apologized for leaving him alone in a public place for an extended period during which time some Seductive Temptress might try to steal him away from you. Which is another good reason to limit distractions from Absent Friends . . .

A Pre-Valentine's Warning from Etiquetteer, Vol. 13, Issue 19

With St. Valentine's Day on its way tomorrow, Etiquetteer feels it necessary - strictly in the name of Perfect Propriety - to advise you against Popping the Question Publicly. Fictionally we have the example of Vicki Lester and Norman Maine, seen here in the George Cukor film of A Star Is Born:

Now you'll notice that the situation was saved beautifully by Our Heroine who, seeing the embarrassment of her beloved, called out "Oh no, that's much too public a proposal to say no to! I accept!" And those who know the story know exactly what that got her . . .

Cruel Reality shows a different outcome:

But if you are really intent on doing this, Etiquetteer has some questions to ask first:

  • How comfortable is your beloved in the spotlight? Are you choosing to propose in public because she likes having attention called to herself, or because you want to call attention to yourself?
  • Are the manner and location of your proposal what you think she might expect of a marriage proposal? (Reviewing that compilation, and recognizing that Etiquetteer might be succumbing to stereotypes, Etiquetteer finds it hard to believe that most women want to entertain proposals of marriage at sporting events or the mall.)
  • Are you 110% sure that your beloved will say yes? And even then, Etiquetteer thinks you should reconsider.
  • Do you have a Graceful Exit planned in the (to you unlikely) event that your proposal is declined? Even if you're 110% sure your beloved will accept, plan one.

Etiquetteer asks these questions not only for your benefit and that of your beloved, but also for the Embarrassed Spectators who, if they don't want to laugh in your face, will want to turn their backs. Please, Etiquetteer begs you, consider your plans very carefully.

Now of course Etiquetteer expects to hear from several people who did witness Successful Public Proposals of Marriage, and that's just wonderful. Etiquetteer is delighted that you had that experience. Etiquetteer rather hopes that Those Who Popped the Question evaluated their situations intelligently.

You may be sure that Etiquetteer will have Shields Up on St. Valentine's Day, and if one of Cupid's little arrows gets in the way, Etiquetteer will use it as a swizzle stick for a martini.

Marcus Smart vs. Jeff Orr, Vol. 13, Issue 17

Unfortunately more and more people believe that etiquette only matters someplace that's defined as "formal," for instance a funeral, a library ("Sssssshhhhh!"), and especially at weddings. (Etiquetteer believes that weddings probably generate more questions about how to behave than anything else.) But Good Behavior is needed in every part of the day, from the bedroom to the boardroom, from the elevator to the escalator, from the cafeteria line to the telephone line, from the concert hall to the colosseum. Wherever you are, whether you think of it as "formal" or not, Good Behavior matters. So Etiquetteer was dismayed to read about Marcus Smart, the Oklahoma State University basketball player, who shoved a fan, now identified as Jeff Orr, after a bungled play. The OSU Cowboys are on a five-game losing streak, so undoubtedly the pressure was on Mr. Smart, the star player for his team, to deliver something good. Mr. Orr, a well-known fan of the Red Raiders of Texas Tech, is also well known for taunting players of the Raiders' opponents.

It appears that Mr. Orr said something to Mr. Smart - apparently not an expression of concern for his well-being - that enraged Mr. Smart enough to make physical contact. Fox News reported "CBS personality Doug Gottlieb said via Twitter that a Texas Tech friend of his had a text conversation with Orr, who texted that 'Yeah, i kinda let my mouth say something I shouldn't have. I feel bad.'" Mr. Orr did not repeat what he said to Mr. Smart, which of course leads everyone to think that it was a racial slur.

Etiquetteer can only wonder if Mr. Orr feels badly enough to issue a public apology to Mr. Smart. Whether a Filthy Name was used or not, Mr. Orr has discredited the behavior of all Texas Tech fans, which Etiquetteer feels sure he does not want to do. Plenty of Perfectly Proper people are enthusiastic football fans without demonizing the opposing team. Ask yourselves, sports fans, what means more to you: the victory of your team, or the defeat of the opposing team?

While sympathizing with Mr. Smart, Etiquetteer can in no way condone physical violence. Figures in the Public Eye, simply because they are in the Public Eye, must restrain themselves from responding to outrageous provocation. Because when you respond, your opponents win because they have made you lose control. It's a true art, containing one's natural reactions - even Etiquetteer has yet to master it - but as Rose Sayre famously said in The African Queen, "Nature, Mr. Allnut is what we are put on this earth to rise above."

Etiquetteer hopes that both these men will offer public apologies for their behavior, but that we'll also be spared the ostentation of a "beer summit" such as President Obama hosted for Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley after that Unfortunate Incident.