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.

St. Patrick's Day, Vol 11, Issue 7

Today is St. Patrick's Day, when everyone can claim to be Irish. Perfect Propriety takes a bigger hit on St. Patrick's Day than any other day in the American calendar, what with so many people using its parades and whatnot as a cover for Excess Alcohol Consumption. Etiquetteer has a few observations to make:

  • Mixed greens are suitable for a salad, but not your St. Patrick's Day "Wearin' of the Green." Please don't wear clashing shades of green. Kelly, olive, chartreuse, and day-glo look vile together. Remember, only blue-greens with blue-greens, and yellow-greens with yellow-greens.
  • In the last 30 years St. Patrick's Day has become a forum for homophobia in some communities. So let us not forget that it was the late Oscar Wilde who made the green carnation boutonniere a symbol for men of "the Wilde sort." "That sort" can now wear their carnations with a difference.
  • As the child of a Southern community with no Irish heritage, Etiquetteer grew up with only two St. Patrick's Day traditions: 1) wear green, and 2) pinch people who are not wearing green. And yet the tradition of pinching is unknown in certain Irish-American communities. If you're determined to go around pinching the greenless on St. Patrick's Day, remember that it's all in fun! Don't inflict pain, and don't let that be your purpose.
  • It's been suggested that the Irish should be exempt from pinching. Etiquetteer suggests that Irish who forget to wear green on St. Patrick's Day should be pinched twice.
  • If you're not wearing green, do not claim that you have on green undergarments. This is only an invitation for Rude Questions to prove your honesty, and quite possibly an Indecent Assault. (Of course, if that's what you really want, Etiquetteer has to wonder why you're even reading an etiquette column in the first place.)
  • Etiquetteer was taught early on, once moving North, that the only thing one must not do on St. Patrick's Day is wear orange. In some communities such attire is an invitation to violence. Etiquetteer hopes all the Syracuse University alumni will be safe today.
Finally, Public Drunkenness is overrated, and it is certainly not Perfectly Proper. Please drink with Perfect Propriety this St. Patrick's Day by obeying all local laws and law enforcement.
Etiquetteer will be delighted to take your questions about all Problems of Manners at queries <at> etiquetteer dot com.

Unwanted In-Laws and Current Events, Vol. 8, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer: We live near my husband's brother, who is constantly inviting or letting my mother- and father-in-law invite themselves.  We (my husband, two kids, and I) are always faced with the "threat" of their every other month visits.  These visits usually last at least five days.  The events involved are excruciating to me.

What should I or my husband tell my brother-in-law and his parents to make them understand this is totally inappropriate?

We have invited them one time in seven years.  All the other visits, which have been every other month for the last seven years, have been them inviting themselves and no one saying anything.  Or my brother and sister-in-law inviting them for some reason.

Bear in mind that I have a special needs son who is 11 and my daughter is very active; she is six.  I home school my son as of about two weeks ago.  We live in the country and my husband could be losing his job.   Things are not perfect right now but it doesn't help to have people in your face that you would rather not see at all - ever!

Dear Daughter-in-Law:

You are correct to note that someone has to say something about this situation to solve it. Nearly everyone thinks that etiquette has a way to make problems disappear without them having to say or do anything. Unfortunately, since humans are involved, that's not possible. And Etiquetteer knows, to his sorrow, that the longer one seethes silently, the worse a problem becomes.

First of all, and this is true in any marriage, if it's his family, he does the talking, not you, and vice versa. On the other hand, you may find out that your husband isn't as opposed to these frequent visits as you are. Etiquetteer can't assume that he shares your revulsion for his family, although he may. Etiquetteer predicts a frank conversation between the two of you. Whatever the result, it's his family, and he has to deal with them. 

Etiquetteer hopes that your brother-in-law is not actually inviting people for multi-day visits into your own home! Only you and your husband have that privilege. 

All you have the power to change is your own participation and, in consultation with your husband, the participation of your children in these visits. If members of your husband's family want to get together outside your house, that's not your business. But Etiquetteer sees no reason for you to join them more than once over the course of five days. 

Now, how are you going to change the expectations of your in-laws, who are used to seeing you and your children a great deal after seven years? Etiquetteer recommends that you start not being available. Oscar Wilde created "Bunburying" in The Importance of Being Earnest, the subterfuge of leaving town to visit a fictional sick friend (in this case named Bunbury.) Etiquetteer doesn't think you need to go to those lengths, but you can create special activities with one or both of your children, or your own friends, that keeps you from joining your in-laws. Send your husband alone with the excuse that you'd already made other plans, or he can bring the kids and say you "need some time alone being worn out taking care of the children." If he doesn't want to go either, he can tell his brother that all of you have other plans, every night of the week, if necessary. 

You have probably already figured out that your in-laws are with you for life, until death or divorce severs your relationship with them. Rather than rely on those two courses (the first immoral and illegal if you arrange it, the second painful for your children), Etiquetteer very much hopes that you can stake out your own territory in your family life.

 

Etiquetteer has seen a lot in the news over the last week worthy of notice and comment:

Etiquetteer has seen a lot in the news over the last week worthy of notice and comment:

Etiquetteer applauds the Bill Duncan Opportunity School of Lakeland, Florida, for suspending Jonathan Locked, Jr. for deliberately disruptive flatulence. Unfortunately Young Master Locked's father is appealing the suspension, apparently believing that the punishment went too far. Etiquetteer cannot agree, and regrets that Mr. Locked isn't using this suspension to teach his son to respect the authority of teachers and school principals, respect for education and his classmates, and of course Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer can only hope that the Locked family eats fewer beans after this unfortunate, um, outburst.

In Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, a pastor and a congregant got in trouble with the law for shooting an arrow in church during a service. Reading the article Etiquetteer certainly got the impression that the pastor is more devoted to using props to illustrate the Word than the Word itself. This sort of sensationalism, plus the way the pastor evicted an objecting congregant, violates every sense of Perfect Propriety to Etiquetteer.

Also in church news, Etiquetteer was very interested to read about the innovations of Rev. Anne Gardner's iSermon Sundays at Phillips Academy. Certainly technology and References to Popular Culture will follow us everywhere, and Etiquetteer really has no objection. What raised Etiquetteer's hackles was the fact that Academy students were eating breakfast in the pews during church! Forgive Etiquetteer for sounding just a bit old-fashioned, but eating in church is NOT approaching worship of the Deity of One's Choice with Perfectly Proper undivided attention. Stop it at once!

Etiquetteer could not but agree with the Daily Telegraph's list of ten first date faux pas

Finally, Etiquetteer was both touched and amused to read the obituary of Stella Trafford last week. "The Grande Dame of Boston Parks," who was unafraid to wield a hoe or take on City Hall, received from her stepdaughter what Etiquetteer thinks is the ideal epitaph for a Working Lady to the Manner Born: "She died with her pearls on."

Etiquetteer has a new address for all your etiquette questions, queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

Wedding Invitations, Vol. 7, Issue 14

Dear Etiquetteer:

 

During a conversation with a new business acquaintance I was invited to an August wedding in a sincere but casual manner. She said she would love to have me but had run out of invitations. I looked at my calendar and gladly accepted. My plan is to call her regarding the time and place and whether or not to be there for the ceremony. I plan to bring a lovely gift, have a good time and leave at an appropriate time. It feels like I am doing the right thing, but somehow it all feels just a bit awkward. What do you think?

 

Dear Pinned:

 

As a general rule, Etiquetteer does not like wedding invitations extended on such short acquaintance. And Etiquetteer firmly believes that if you are over the age of consent, you deserve your own printed wedding invitation and should not be shunted off to a wedding website or a photocopy. Etiquetteer is willing to give this Sincere But Casual Bride the benefit of the doubt, crediting her with being sincerely (but casually) delighted with your new business relationship rather than insincerely (but casually) trolling for more wedding gifts. Without reflecting on you at all, Etiquetteer cannot condone her lack of Perfect Propriety in this artless invitation. It bodes ill for your own reception at the nuptial festivities.

 

Sometimes Literature offers a Perfectly Proper Precedent for such predicaments. Happily Oscar Wilde gave Algernon an ideal Design for Living in his play The Importance of Being Earnest, the custom of Bunburying. Bunbury, you may recall, was his fictional friend who lived in the country. He frequently required Algernon to be with him during illness, always whenever Algernon received invitations he wanted to decline. 

 

Now you need your own Bunbury to avoid attending this wedding. Etiquetteer thinks yours should be a friend you have known for many years who is organizing a surprise birthday party that you cannot miss and which just happens to be scheduled on the same day. With sufficient advance notice, your Sincere But Casual Bride will understand. Having already accepted the wedding invitation, however, Etiquetteer thinks you still ought to send a gift.

 

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