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

On the Importance of a Lovely Note, Vol. 14, Issue 35

This morning two things happened that made Etiquetteer think about the expression of thanks. First, a series of text messages arrived on Etiquetteer's flip phone - quite possibly the pocket watch of its generation - from a friend expressing thanks for a gift. These were written very much in the style of a Lovely Note, with salutation, body, and closing, but via texts. They were a lovely way to begin the morning.

Second, discussing this with a colleague, she confessed that she photographed the draft of a thank-you note to transmit to someone who had given a gift, knowing that the gift-giver would want to know the gift was received as quickly as possible - even though she hadn't finished her draft. She asked if it could be Perfectly Proper to communicate thanks only electronically.

Etiquetteer would be a fool not to acknowledge that our means of communication have evolved, just as they have at other periods of civilization. The printing press and engraving changed the forms of how word got around, most notably to Etiquetteer with the invention of the engraved calling card in the early 19th century*, and later on engraved stationery. Benjamin Franklin used his own printing press (imported illegally into France during the American Revolution) to print invitations to an Independence Day party in 1779**. In its turn the typewriter made its mark, then audiocassettes, the computer, the Internet, and now, saints preserve us, the smartphone. In most cases these innovations reduced the amount of time between sending and receiving, from weeks, to days, to seconds.

But what we gain in time we lose in those old-fashioned qualities that we shouldn't think of as old-fashioned, Grace and Charm - and sometimes in the appearance of Sincerity, too. A text message or an email can appear so perfunctory, no matter how many fonts one might be allowed to use, no matter through what form of social media delivered. This is why Etiquetteer continues to advocate for the Lovely Note, because now it signifies even more how much one values the courtesy received, whether a gift, an invitation, or some other consideration. Whether the chastest white or cream foldover or the most garish greeting card, the Lovely Note demonstrates that one has taken some trouble to express gratitude. Because of its immediacy, the email or text has a place in Perfectly Proper correspondence, to inform gift-givers that their gifts have been received. But Etiquetteer still holds that it’s only the first of two places. The second should still be filled with that handwritten Lovely Note, especially for wedding gifts.

And yet  . . . and yet, it was so nice to get that barrage of texts this morning, since the sender expressed knowledgeable appreciation for the gift. No perfunctory "Got yr box, kthxbye" message this! Those of us who are recipients must be grateful for what acknowledgement we receive, and continue to lead by example.

Etiquetteer is certainly not the first person to express these sentiments, but the fact that it still needs to be expressed . . . well, it means you ought to run down to your local stationer and buy a box of notecards, that’s what it means.

invite

*At first calling cards were blank and one wrote one’s name on each one. Later, “calling cards became more elaborate, sporting engraved names, mottoes, gilt edges, and pictures.” Parlor Politics, by Catherine Allgor, page 121.

**The Great Improvisation, by Stacy Schiff, opposite page 300. It is interesting to note that Franklin included the instruction “An Answer if you please."

How to Respond to Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 25

Dear Etiquetteer: Can you tell me whether you think people who have been good guests at a dinner party or cocktail party (separate answers I think) - brought a hostess gift, behaved well, etc. - should also email or call the next day to say thanks? If they don't, were they unhappy with the party?

Dear Hosting:

When a Lovely Note of Thanks has not been received, it's always more charitable to assume Incompetence rather than Malice. Possibly your guests were taken ill, swept up in current events, anxious at the thought of finding something original to say about your party (which is completely unnecessary), or just too lazy to find your zip code. Regardless, their failure to express gratitude for your hospitality is no reflection on the hospitality you provided.

Etiquetteer may be the Lone Holdout in considering the Lovely Note more important than the hostess gift, but the expression of thanks afterward means ten times as much as the "payment for services rendered" sometimes implied by that bottle of wine. Few things reassure a host or hostess as much as the confirmation from guests of a "job well done," that one's efforts have not only been recognized, but appreciated. Too many people, Etiquetteer would suggest, feel daunted by the need to express themselves originally. But writing a Lovely Note certainly doesn't take as much effort as picking out a bottle of wine. (Etiquetteer can just hear the oenophiles shuddering as they read this.)

You are more accommodating than Etiquetteer is in terms of how you'd allow these Lovely Notes to be delivered, suggesting email and telephone as options without even considering a handwritten note - which even today Etiquetteer is loath to refer to as "old-fashioned." Communications unavoidably evolve with technology; this is not necessarily bad, but it's made many people careless. While it was once the only way to communicate at all, now - with the near-universal adoption of the Internet - handwritten correspondence now signifies a special effort to express sincerity and appreciation. This is why Etiquetteer continues to think it's the best way to convey thanks for hospitality received.

Etiquetteer hopes that you will not let the neglect of your guests cause you further anxiety, and that you'll set them a good example with your own Lovely Notes after they entertain you in turn.

Penpoint

Suggested New Year's Resolutions, Vol. 13, Issue 63

"Fast away the Old Year passes," as the carol goes, and let Etiquetteer be the first to speed its passing! It's a time-honored custom to make resolutions to improve oneself in the New Year, usually with diet and exercise. Etiquetteer would like to suggest some resolutions to improve the Perfect Propriety of the nation:

  1. Resolve not to forward articles from satire news websites as though they were real news*. Etiquetteer is getting mighty tired of pieces from the Daily Currant, Empire News, the Borowitz Report over at the New Yorker, and the grandfather of them all, the Onion, being sent about with Righteous Outrage or Fierce Glee as the Gospel Truth, when they're just an elaborate joke. This concerns Etiquetteer most because of the damage it does to public figures. Public figures are already judged harshly enough - and deservedly - on what they have actually said. Let's not obscure the Truth with this patina of Satire any longer.
  2. Resolve to disconnect at the table. When you sit down to share a meal with a group of people, especially in a private home, you have a sacred obligation to to be fully present and contribute to the general merriment. It is not possible for you to do this if you're always glancing into your lap, and it is hurtful to your companions because you give the impression that you would rather be someplace else. Turn your device gently but firmly OFF before you get to the table, and don't make Etiquetteer come after you.
  3. Resolve to give a dinner party. These days the phrase "dinner party" sounds much more intimidating than it really is, which is having a total of four to 12 people around your table for an evening meal. Start with a maximum of four, which is easier to prepare for, and design a menu in which one course may be prepared a day or so ahead. The hospitality of the home is too little celebrated these days, but it remains a cornerstone of Perfect Propriety. Please join Etiquetteer in bringing it back.
  4. Resolve not to be so insistent about your diet when you're away from home. Etiquetteer suspects one reason for the decline of the dinner party is the ever-increasing number of people who insist on their food preferences wherever they go, as if they were more important that the spirit of Hospitality. No one has the right to expect their friends and relatives to be professional-grade chefs who can keep straight the infinite, and infinitely changing, diets of so many people all at once. The best illustration is what has happened to coffee service in the last 20 years. Once one only had to serve coffee, cream, and sugar. Now one must offer coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea, cream, skim milk, 2% milk, soy milk, powdered creamer, sugar, at least three kinds of artificial sweetener, honey, and agave nectar just to keep everyone happy. This is ridiculous!** When someone invites you into their home, it doesn't make them a slave to your preferences. Be kind to your hosts and just say "No, thank you" if offered something you can't eat.***
  5. Resolve to correspond more by hand. Yes, Etiquetteer remains a devotée of the Lovely Note of Thanks, not only because it is more Perfectly Proper than any electronic communication, but also because it makes the recipient feel special. Also, in our Society of Increasing Surveillance, fewer eyes can intercept a handwritten letter than an email or text message. (And how sad it is that Etiquetteer even has to mention that.) Do it!
  6. Resolve to R.s.v.p. on time, honor your original response, and arrive on time. If someone invites you to something, whether it's in their home or not, they need time to prepare to entertain you. A prompt and definite response from you is essential to this. "I'll have to see how I feel" is never Perfectly Proper! And if someone has invited you to the theatre and you suddenly decide on the day that you can't go, your host is left scrambling to use your ticket. Cancelling is only Perfectly Proper in circumstances of death or illness, but professional crisis is becoming more accepted as a valid excuse. If you pull a Bunbury too often, you'll find that invitations come to you less frequently.
  7. Resolve not to monopolize reservations. Etiquetteer deplores the growing practice of making multiple restaurant reservations for the same time to keep one's options open depending on one's whim. This is not only rude to other diners, but fatal to the restaurant's bottom line. Stop it at once!

For tonight, of course Etiquetteer exhorts you to celebrate responsibly by not drinking to riotous excess and not drinking and driving - and by remembering a Lovely Note to your hosts.

Etiquetteer wishes you a Perfectly Proper New Year!

*Etiquetteer will provide an exemption from this on April Fool's Day.

**And please get off Etiquetteer's lawn, too!

***Of course those with fatal allergies need to be vigilant at all times, and wise hosts remember these and take them into account.

Lovely Notes of Thanks, Vol. 13, Issue 62

Gift-Giving Holidays - Christmas being the most widely celebrated, followed closely by Hannukah and Kwanzaa - conclude with the most Perfect Propriety when gifts are acknowledged with Lovely Notes of Thanks immediately afterward. The late B.R. Johnstone made a point, the afternoon of every Christmas Day, of sequestering himself at his desk with a box of his stationery and thanking everyone who had taken the trouble to give him a gift. He remains the Perfect Example of Perfect Propriety for all of us who wish to be thought Ladies and Gentleman. (And if you don't wish to be thought a Lady or a Gentleman, Etiquetteer has grave doubts about your Character.) Who, some of you have asked, is this mysterious B.R. Johnstone? Why, it is none other than Etiquetteer's beloved godfather, seen here imparting the Spirit of Perfect Propriety to Infant Etiquetteer. Would that all children were so fortunate in their selection of godparents!

Now, let's get on with our Lovely Notes, shall we?

Broken Gifts, Vol. 13, Issue 48

Dear Etiquetteer: A wedding gift arrived in the mail today from a seller on [Insert Name of Popular Craft Website Here], a charming vintage martini set. One of the martini glasses arrived broken. Do I tell the gift giver that this happened, do I contact the seller with this information, or do I just write a lovely thank you note and forget about it. One pitcher and two glasses, so the set is mostly useless. Unless one is making martinis for oneself only.

Dear Shaken and Shattered:

Etiquetteer certainly hopes that your fledgling marriage hasn't already arrived at the state where you find it necessary to make martinis for one! Usually it takes a few years to get to that unhappy state of affairs . . . and often it's an unhappy affair that gets one to that state.

Receiving a gift that's broken is different from receiving a gift that's unwanted. In the latter case, as Etiquetteer has said so often, no one cares what you want or how you feel. Send a Lovely Note anyway and then put it in your next yard sale, regift outside your Circle of Mutual Acquaintance, or contribute it to a Worthy Tax-Deductible Cause.

But surely it was not the intention of your Benefactor to send you a broken gift to celebrate your wedding. In this case Etiquetteer recommends that you contact your Benefactor with this information right away so that he or she may resolve the situation; this means by phone or email, not a Lovely Note. You should not be asked to do more than repackage the gift to be returned and to receive the apologies of your Benefactor for the inconvenience. Etiquetteer recommends this approach since your Benefactor already has a customer/vendor relationship with the Online Vendor. For all Etiquetteer knows, your Benefactor orders frequently from this Online Vendor. News of deficient service (as well as how satisfactorily the Online Vendor responds) could impact that relationship. Indeed, you may be sufficiently satisfied to become a customer yourself.

At all times you should reassure your Benefactor of how much you appreciate his or her thoughtfulness and generosity, and then send a Lovely Note as soon as an (unbroken) substitute gift is received.

At Random, Vol. 13, Issue 6

Now that the milestone of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has passed, Etiquetteer certainly hopes that you've finished all your Lovely Notes of Thanks from all the gifts and invitations you received. And Etiquetteer hopes you've received a sheaf of them in return for the gifts and entertainment you shared.

In bleak and bare January, it is pleasant to think of the spring to come and the blossoms that will appear in one's garden. So it's also helpful to remember that Oscar Wilde made the green carnation popular in his day. Gentlemen who wore a green carnation were instantly recognizable as "men of the Wilde sort," which made introductions of the like-minded so much safer and convenient. Remember this next St. Patrick's Day, now less than two months away.

Etiquetteer is getting mighty tired of people who do not understand that in this country, on escalators we stand on the right and pass on the left, and we certainly do not stand next to each other talking and blocking the way for others to pass us. Stop it at once!

Many people find it difficult to feel Perfectly Proper in subzero temperatures for the simple reasons that a) they're extremely cold and b) bulky winter wear obstructs movement, and sometimes vision as well. We can't all be Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago, more's the pity - PETA would be after their fur coats with their paintball guns in a flash - but concentrating on Perfect Posture can help transport us to a nice warm drawing room in our minds.

Hostess Gifts, Vol. 13, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer: What is the proper etiquette for what to bring to a dinner party?  Does one always simply ask what to bring or perhaps just a nice bottle of wine? Does one ask what one can bring if it is not mentioned in the invitation?

Dear Invited:

Call Etiquetteer old-fashioned, but Etiquetteer prefers to maintain that a Lovely Note of Thanks after a dinner party is much more essential, and Perfectly Proper, than a hostess gift. That said, flowers are the safest choice for a gift, with wine running a close second. Etiquetteer ranks them in this order because the number of people who are allergic to flowers is less than the number of people who don't drink wine.

As you point out, sometimes hosts will specify what they would like to guests to bring; honor that as closely as possible. If hosts don't include a preference in their invitation, by all means ask if you're so inclined. But be warned: you might get more of an assignment than you bargained for. Etiquetteer vividly remembers asking one hostess "What may I bring?" to be given the reply "Oh, the dessert!" This was more work than Etiquetteer wanted to do, but having asked in the first place, Etiquetteer gritted his teeth and baked a cake. Etiquetteer still thinks of this as a bait-and-switch invitation; having been invited to a dinner party, it actually turned out to be a potluck.

Hosts should also be prepared for this question, and Etiquetteer encourages general instructions rather than specifics, e.g. "Oh, just a bottle of red you like that will go with roast" rather than "a couple bottles of Chateau de la Tour de Bleah 2008." This gives the guests the opportunity to stay within whatever budget they have.

But Etiquetteer really thinks the best response to that query is "Please bring a smile and a couple good stories!" A dinner guests "sings for his supper" best with a contribution not of a bottle, but of one's camaraderie and good humor.

Random Issues and Comments, Vol. 6, Issue 22

This column appeared in the June 15 issue of The Times of Southwest Louisiana.

The death last month of Etiquetteer’s dear friend, Keith Gates, saddened all true lovers of Music and of Perfect Propriety in the Imperial Calcasieu area. At such times it is right and good to think about the influence our friends have on us, and Etiquetteer has been drawn to consider many people from Earlier Life who guided Etiquetteer in the ways of Perfect Propriety, including Keith.

These days the definition of "informal" seems to be "no visible tattoos or underwear," but it was Keith Gates Himself who taught a Teenage Etiquetteer its true definition, which for gentlemen is "coat and tie." Long ago in 1983, when Teenage Etiquetteer was briefly one of Keith’s students, Keith and the Perfectly Poised Christa kindly accepted an invitation to an "informal" dinner. Etiquetteer, not yet wise in the ways of the world, answered the door in shirtsleeves and couldn’t quite conceal his astonishment to see dinner guests dressed as though for church. Keith’s quiet example, underlined only by an arched eyebrow and his usual smile, could not have been more effective in getting across Who Was Correct and Who Was Not.

Keith’s examples of how to respond to a question with silence and how to make impromptu guests feel welcome and not in the way will long shine for Etiquetteer and, hopefully, all those who care about compassion. He was not only a Great Artist, but a true Christian Gentleman.

It’s often been said that "It takes a village to raise a child." Aside from Etiquetteer’s parents – who know all about Perfect Propriety – many villagers invested their time in Etiquetteer’s manners. From the neighbor across the street who explained that you don’t just walk into people’s houses without knocking to the many bad examples in the schoolyard, Etiquetteer learned a lot. From the late Rev. James Ailor, Etiquetteer learned that you never ever scream in pain during the benediction, no matter how hard the person next to you is maliciously squeezing the blister on your finger. Etiquetteer’s redoubtable grand-aunt, Kate Thompson, would sternly admonish "Ladies!" if ever Young Etiquetteer’s enthusiasm caused him to dash for the front of the line.

And since it’s just past Father’s Day, it’s appropriate to recall one of the many lessons Etiquetteer’s own father taught him: don’t buy gaudy jewelry for a girl you’re not really dating yet, and really, don’t buy gaudy jewelry at all. (Etiquetteer still remembers those earrings . . . and tastes do change, thank goodness.)

On a completely different note, Etiquetteer has to lash out at Andrew Speaker, the Atlanta lawyer who flew to Europe knowing he had tuberculosis and was exposing this disease to others around him. Ayn Rand may have written about "The Virtue of Selfishness," but Etiquetteer can find no virtue here! Hasn’t he ever seen "La Boheme?" Modern medicine aside, people still die of tuberculosis. Etiquetteer is appalled that he and his wife would travel across the world with that knowledge. This gives not only lawyers, but destination weddings, a bad name.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I was raised to write thank-you notes. I do enjoy getting thank-you notes in return when I give time and effort to picking out a gift or for donating time to a special cause. Recently, I took special effort in picking out the perfect baby gift for a co-worker and was promptly surprised by a thank-you email with an attached thank-you Powerpoint presentation. I will say that I believe this was a first for me. Has the computer age taken over so much that people should not put pen to paper in appreciation?

Dear Thanked:

Certainly not! While appreciating your co-worker’s eagerness to thank you right away for your generosity, it certainly doesn’t excuse her from actually writing a Lovely Note on Actual Stationery to you.

 

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.

Restaurant and Random Issues, Vol. 6, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:

Recently at a Fine Dining Establishment we were told that there was no room to accommodate our party. As we were putting on our coats one of the waiters came past, who turned out to be a social acquaintance, and asked if we were having lunch there. We said we had hoped to, and explained the predicament while continuing to put on our coats. "Wait a moment." he said, and shortly we were squeezed into a cozy but otherwise charming table for a delicious lunch.

Though he was not our waiter, I did thank him afterwards and slipped him a tip, since I felt he had acted in a professional capacity as much as in a social capacity. Was this proper? When is it proper to tip friends or acquaintances, and how much is appropriate when indirect service is rendered?

Dear Well Led and Well Fed:

Interacting with personal friends working as service personnel does sometimes feel tricky. When friends do each other favors, they respond in kind with another favor or a Token of Gratitude, not Cold Hard Cash. But Etiquetteer thinks you acted correctly in slipping a consideration to your waiter/acquaintance because of his position in the restaurant. Had he waited on your table, you would have tipped him as you would any other.

Dear Etiquetteer:

My wife and I were out to dinner with friends not too long ago, and I started the meal with a delicious crab bisque. As I got down near the bottom, I tilted the bowl toward me to get to the last of the soup, and my wife nudged me to stop. And, she added, I should be pushing my spoon away from me rather than pulling it towards me. Was I wrong to tilt the bowl, and is that idea of spooning away from your body real etiquette or merely an old wives tale?

Dear Spooning:

Etiquetteer hates to tell you, but your wife is correct. Etiquetteer’s Beloved Grandmother even had a rhyme about it: something something "Like little ships that sail to sea/I tip my spoon away from me." Etiquetteer believes that you have less of a chance of slopping a bowl of soup on you if it's facing the other direction. So when getting down to those last excellent drops of crab bisque, please tip your bowl and spoon toward the table.

Etiquetteer hopes Your Lovely Wife didn't correct you verbally before people, which is certainly not Perfectly Proper. Nothing more than a raised eyebrow or gentle nudge should be required.

Dear Etiquetteer:

How do you address an envelope for a thank-you note if the wife is a doctor? Mr. and Mrs. John Doe seems right. Mr. and Dr. John Doe doesn’t seem right. But I'm open to suggestion.

Dear Corresponding:

That’s good, because ignoring a lady’s professional title is a bad idea. Put Dr. Jane Doe on the first line and Mr. John Doe on the second line. Please note that these are in alphabetical order; if they had different last names, they'd be in alphabetical order regardless of gender, e.g. Dr. Jane Adler/Mr. John Doe.

Dear Etiquetteer:

This came up with my wife, and then a few days later in a conversation with another couple. What is the proper etiquette for a man and a woman approaching a revolving door? I thought the man should go first. My friend proposed that, if the door is already moving, the woman should go first, otherwise, the man should go first.

Dear Revolving:

This is really a question of safety and chivalry. The gentleman goes first to keep the door from speeding out of control, thereby knocking to her knees some poor lady in spike heels or platform shoes. It doesn’t matter whether or not the door is already moving. Gentlemen similarly go in front of ladies when descending staircases or getting out of buses.

Dear Etiquetteer:

President Ford’s funeral was over a week ago. How come all the flags are still at half-staff?

Dear Flagging:

Because the period of official of mourning set by President Bush is 30 days from the date of death of President Ford. The Flag Code indicates that this is established by the President of the United States by proclamation at the time. You may find the President’s proclamation here.

While researching this, Etiquetteer also found out that when one raises the flag when it’s supposed to be at half-staff, one must first raise the flag all the way to the top of the staff and then lower it halfway down the flagpole. For two years in elementary school Etiquetteer got stuck with . . . uh, gladly took on the duty of raising and lowering the flag at school each day and understood that half-staff only meant one flag-length from the top of the flagpole. What a relief to find out what True Perfect Propriety is now.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.

 

Reader Response and Lovely Notes, Vol. 6, Issue 1

Readers alternately applauded and chastised Etiquetteer for rewriting "Away in a Manger" recently. One was even inspired to reply in verse!

Now now, dear Etiquetteer, I do so believe

You've never tried to find a sitter on Christmas Eve

My cherub was quiet all the way here in the car

But the lights and the music have brought out her voice thus far

 

Please do forgive parents, they really do mean well

And are in emotional agony trying their babe's cries to quell

Instruct, please, the ushers for next year to gently take

Parents with crying babes to nursery as their job, and make

 

The parents, who are mortified that NOW their babe is loud, oh, not good

Tried so hard to make this service, so meaningful from their own childhood

Some have never stepped foot in this church, or haven't in years

And the stress of the season has the parents close to tears

 

All they wanted, to a person, I bet, was one peaceful hour

Full of the sounds and songs of Christmas Eve, the glory and its power

It is not our place, as adults, to turn struggling ones away

But to offer comfort, and the nursery, and a hope for a better day

 

Seriously Etiquetteer, lots of new parents, particularly, seem to turn up at a church on Christmas Eve, hoping for some of what they remember of the magic of Christmas. They don't know, most of them where the church nursery is - never mind that it is staffed with patient and experienced volunteers, even on Christmas Eve.

Etiquetteer responds: Your spirited defense of New Parents is most appreciated, and you are quite right to point out that ushers have a duty to "keep the peace" by directing Those With Unruly Children to the church nursery. But Etiquetteer stands fast against those who behave in church as they would at a stadium, allowing their children to caterwaul or even walk around without any restraint.

From a former altar boy: I loved the new version of the Christmas hymn! I yowled out loud when I read it.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer can only hope you weren’t in church at the time.

From a devoted son: My parents insisted on Christmas Eve services this year, and though I am far less pious in my old age than they are in theirs, I agreed.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that at [Insert Name of Church Here] holds a children's service at 4:00 PM, with children both welcomed and participating in the activities (with the requisite meltdowns and bawling), followed by several grown-up services. That struck me as a perfectly proper solution to your own Christmas Eve lament.

I'm also wondering, what is the right age for children to send Perfectly Proper notes of thanks on their own stationary for gifts received? I have several young nieces and nephews from whom I have never received a thank-you note. To me, "thank-you duties" aren't complete without the note, even though, when the family is together, verbal thanks may have been exchanged at the time the gift was bestowed. Do these on-the-spot thanks substitute for written sentiments?

Etiquetteer responds: What a wonderful idea! Etiquetteer heartily encourages other churches to adopt a children’s service and grown-up services.

As to Lovely Notes of Thanks, Etiquetteer started giving his nephews and niece boxes of appropriate stationery when they turned six. When time permitted, Etiquetteer would actually sit down with them the day after Christmas to be sure those Lovely Notes got written. Ah, happy times . . .

On the other hand, Etiquetteer was completely charmed by his niece this year, who smilingly hand-delivered a Perfectly Proper Lovely Note not half an hour after the gifts had been opened.

You are quite correct that verbal thanks do not substitute for a Lovely Note. And as Etiquetteer writes this, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much blushes with shame, since he hasn’t even started his Lovely Notes yet!

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.

 

Lovely Notes and Wedding Entrées, Vol. 5, Issue 28

Dear Etiquetteer:

Not too long ago, I attended a lovely and informative, and not a little grand, buffet luncheon in the gardens of a stately house. The event was actually a fund-raiser for an Old New England Institution of which I am a very junior member, actually billed as celebrating the accession to Director of said institution of a good, talented, and engaging man who is a friend of mine. I attended both to support him and to get to see said stately house, which is architecturally significant, in the midst of restoration and not open to the public. My gut instinct, despite being a 'paying customer,' is to write an Etiquetteer-approved Lovely Note to mine hosts (the event WAS wonderful, and I fear the clock has already ticked a bit long). Perhaps it could be couched in terms of "Thank you so much for opening your home in support of O.N.E.I. and providing a brilliant, informative, and delightful afternoon for me, as for all - bravo!"

My only discomfort with that is that I don't know these people, nor they me. Plus, I am in a profession where I don't want to seem like I'm self-promoting. And my reticent English side is suggesting that maybe it would be considered too forward or gauche even to mention it in this crowd. The only other minor complication is that I met the hostess but very briefly and I don't believe she shares the patronymic of the host, who was the only person listed on the invitation; this, however, I can ferret out from my friend the Director, I suppose.

What are your thoughts, o great guru of that which is or is not gauche?

Dear Well-Feted:

It’s a rare day when Etiquetteer advises against writing a Lovely Note. Today is that rare day. After attending a fund-raiser, you are the one who should be getting the Lovely Note! In this case it would be from that Old New England Institution and it will tell you how lovely you are to have shown up to support the new Director; then, in much smaller type at the bottom, will cut to the chase and tell you about your tax deduction.

Etiquetteer rather agrees with your "English side" in this situation. This event really introduced you to the Stately House as a Stately House and not as a Home. In other words, being greeted by the hosts in their Stately House at a fund-raiser is not a social introduction. To write them privately, no matter how pure your motives, would be considered "pushy" by the recipients. The best way to communicate your thanks is through your mutual friend, the new Director of O.N.E.I. The next time you speak or e-mail, tell him "And please do tell Belshazzar Grandee and his wife how much I appreciated their opening their home for your party. It was all the more special because of their hospitality."

One last thing: it’s no minor thing to be uncertain about your hostess’s last name! Etiquetteer has been bruised often enough by assuming that "Mrs. Belshazzar Grandee" would be Perfectly Proper only to find out that "Ms. Shrieking Militant Feminist Termagent" was her real name. Life was much simpler when women didn’t have any choices, but that does not excuse Oppression. While more complicated, Life in General is much better now.

Dear Etiquetteer:

My fiancé and I are planning a small wedding of just immediate family and close friends. This nevertheless has created a list of 60. To keep costs down we'd originally planned a buffet dinner with an option between a vegetarian pasta and chicken option for the main course. After the tasting at the caterer, however, we were so impressed by the quality of both dishes and by the elegant presentation that we've decided that everyone would likely enjoy both dishes and to make it a sit-down dinner. The oh-so-tasty pasta will be the first course with the chicken as entree. Since the increase in costs has knocked a dent in our budget, we will not offer a second entree option.

Some are saying we simply must offer a second entree choice, declaring that not everyone will like the elegant chicken dish we've selected. We're doing our best to accommodate guests with specific needs. A vegan relative and a friend with significant food allergies will each receive special meals. The caterer has told us they are unable to provide a whole different, formally-plated entrée without another significant hit to our budget.

We'd like to balance generous hospitality at a memorable event with a reasonable budget. Can you advise?

Dear Too Hot in the Kitchen:

First, allow Etiquetteer to congratulate you and your fiancé on your impending marriage and wish you a long life of Perfect Propriety together.

Etiquetteer is delighted that you’re only serving one entrée. Etiquetteer’s favorite entrée at special occasions like weddings has always been "Shut Up and Eat." Whether everyone "likes" it or not makes no difference. They aren’t attending your wedding because of what you’re serving at the reception. Besides, it’s an additional hassle to track down all the last responders to find out not only if they’re coming to the wedding but also what they want to eat. So offer only your elegant chicken with Etiquetteer’s blessing.

 

Birthday Parties and Thank-You Notes, Vol. 4, Issue 31

Dear Etiquetteer:My stepfather and I are planning a surprise 60th party for my mom. My stepfather is paying for almost everything, I think I'm just paying for the decorations and cake. The party will be in Florida and so far we know there will be at least six out-of-town guests who have to fly and stay in a hotel. The party is a Saturday night at a hall.The next day I'm planning on hosting a brunch for the out-of-towners at my house, and for the afternoon/evening I think a one-hour boat tour of the island where we live would be nice. The tickets for the boat tour are $15.00 each. If I suggest we all go on the boat tour, do I have to pay for all the tickets myself, or is it possible for me to say politely that each guest pay for him or herself? Is it crazy for me to even think that I should not pay for everyone? I don't want to offend anyone, but I don't want to buy $150.00 worth of boat tickets, either. Any thoughts? Dear Partying: If you present it as an optional activity that people can choose to do or not, Etiquetteer thinks you may be excused from paying for the tickets. You could say "For those who are interested, a boat tour of the island is scheduled every day at 4:00 PM. The tickets are $15 per person, and I’m happy to reserve non-refundable tickets for anyone who might like to go. Just please let me know by [Insert Deadline Here]. You may pay me when you arrive. Otherwise we can always hang out at Dad’s."Have a great party!

Dear Etiquetteer: I recently had a baby, and gifts have been arriving by mail for the past few weeks. We received two gifts that I thought were from childhood friends of my husband. The cards were simply signed "the Blanks." My husband now informs me that these gifts were from the PARENTS of his childhood friends, who of course share the same last names.My dilemma: I have already mailed Perfectly Proper lovely notes of thanks to the offspring of the actual gift givers. Part of this gaffe is easily rectified. I will mail thank-you notes to the appropriate parties posthaste. However, the couples who will shortly be receiving notes of thanks from me will probably be quite confused as to why I am so grateful for gifts they know nothing about. And more than that, these childhood friends did not send us baby gifts and my concern is that I am highlighting that fact in a most inappropriate manner. I'm mortified!What do I do? Should I call or e-mail my husband's friends and blame this regrettable episode on "Mommy brain?" Do I camp out by my local mailbox and accost the postal carrier? I have visions of me getting arrested for fishing around inside the mailbox up the street with an unbent coat hanger. Please advise. Dear Gifted Mommy: First, let Etiquetteer congratulate you and your husband on the birth of your child. Etiquetteer wishes you all long lives of Happiness, and of course Perfect Propriety. Next, Etiquetteer thanks you for getting out those Lovely Notes so quickly. What a pity the Blanks didn’t sign their card "Boaz and Jezebel Blank," which would have eliminated any opportunity for confusion, but alas, we are not all perfect. Etiquetteer finds your concern for your friends touching – so many mothers would simply tap their feet waiting for more Glorious Tribute for their Sweet Precious Darlings. But you need not fret so much. This sort of gaffe is easily passed over with a quick e-mail or phone call. "If you haven’t gotten it already, you’ll be getting a thank-you note from me and Jehoshophat for a baby gift that we actually got from your parents! So sorry for mix-up. Please just fling it wantonly into the trash when you get it." DO NOT even for one moment reference that you haven’t received a gift from them. Only your misaddressing the thank-you note is relevant to the discussion. And if this little faux pas prompts your friends to send a gift for Baby, Etiquetteer knows you’ll acknowledge it with a doubly Lovely Note.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

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