Random Correspondence Issues, Vol. 7, Issue 22

Dear Etiquetteer:I am putting together my wedding invitation wording and have hit a roadblock. As the bride, my parents are hosting the wedding. My mom, being the closet feminist that she is, does not want me to address them as "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith." I find this rather archaic myself, but what is the alternative while still using honorifics and not offending any one else? These are the options I have come up with: "Mr. And Mrs. Smith," "Mrs. Mary and Mr. John Smith," and "Mr. and Mrs. John and Mary Smith." Which one would be the most proper etiquette? Please help me! 

Dear Bride to Be: 

The honorific "Mrs." is used with Perfect Propriety only with the name of the husband, e.g. "Mrs. Stephen Haines." If your mother does not wish to be referred to as "Mrs. John Smith," then the form your wedding invitation should take is:

 Mr. John Smith and Ms. Mary Smith

request the honour of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter

Miss Perfectly Proper Smith

to Mr. Manley Firmness

Feminists everywhere claimed the honorific "Ms." in the 1970s, and it has only grown in acceptance since then. It's high time, in Etiquetteer's opinion, for your mother to come out of the closet.

 invite.jpg

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have recently gone through an interview, and sent both parties a thank-you note, via email. They mentioned they would be interviewing for the next 2-3 weeks. Since I have sent the thank-you notice, how long should I wait till I contact them again? How should I contact them, phone or email? How often should I attempt to contact them?Dear Interviewed:

Since you have already initiated correspondence with your interviewers via email, Etiquetteer suggests that you continue to correspond with them this way. So as not to appear impatient, you might wait to check in with your interviewer after 3.5 weeks have passed, making a gentle inquiry to see if you can provide additional information.

Etiquetteer wishes you well in your job search, and encourages you, after subsequent job interviews, to send a letter of thanks through the mail on crisp white stationery. It still makes a positive impression, and it also gives you more of an opportunity to proofread.

invite.jpg

Hell Is Other People, Vol. 6, Issue 33

Jean-Paul Sartre once famously opined (Etiquetteer thinks it was in No Exit) that "Hell is other people." Etiquetteer cordially invites you to share what behavior of other people irritates you. Please drop a line to query <at> etiquetteer.com

Dear Etiquetteer:

What do you think about people who use their cell phones to carry on long and very loudconversations in public places, such as on trains and buses, or in restaurants? Or even on airlines when they are allowed.

And there is the public HEALTH risk of drivers so preoccupied with their calls that they run over pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s referred to as DWD: driving while distracted.

Dear Tintinnabulaphobic:

People like these, Etiquetteer has decided, must have low self-esteem and feel the need to call attention to themselves, and therefore making themselves more important. That the attention is negative doesn’t seem to make a difference. It would be easy to peg this behavior as lower-class, but many offenders have graduated from the finest business schools (AHEM!).

Etiquetteer remembers, from the dim past of 1994, his first trip to Los Angeles. Cell phones were just beginning to become available to the public, and Etiquetteer and his friends were agog to see peopleactually talking on the phone right there on the street!

Let’s just say the honeymoon is over.

You have the power to disconcert public cell phone yakkers by asking them personal questions about their phone calls. Proceed with caution; Etiquetteer disclaims all responsibility if they beat you up.

DWD is certainly becoming more of a problem. Last year Etiquetteer referred to a young woman in the Midwest who killed a man while she was simultaneously driving and downloading ringtones. And Etiquetteer will never forget riding in a car driven by a friend who was operating the car, the phone, and a personal digital assistance at the same time. Please drivers, hang up and drive!

Dear Etiquetteer:

For almost 50 years I've been friends with a man from my home state. We email infrequently, but I always manage to see him on the rare occasions when I return for a visit. My situation is that he keeps sending me email of a religious nature, long silly stories about how prayer has saved a grieving family, etc, or how the rainbows will come out if you just believe. He is a devout Baptist; I am an atheist, though he doesn't actually know this. Not only have I jettisoned my faith, I consider religion a pernicious deception of the gullible and an obstacle to the general love of mankind. As one can imagine, his emails make me acutely uncomfortable.

My problem is: do I (gently and tactfully) request that he stop sending me these ludicrous messages, stressing the fact that I would rather hear about what he's doing and thinking, or do I remain silent and simply erase the damned things?

Dear Persecuted and Scornful:

You can finesse the whole thing without even mentioning your change of religious beliefs. Ask your friend to take you off his distribution list (Etiquetteer assumes that he is sending his e-mail messages to more friends than yourself) because you find your mailbox so full of general communications such as this that you can’t keep up with specific e-mail from friends. (Once upon a time such specific communications were known as "letters" and they came in the mailbox.) Tell your friend that you still want to hear from him, but enjoy much more e-mail messages that he’s written himself.

This is a good place for Etiquetteer to remind everyone that the best way to forward humor, religious, or political posts (once referred to as "chain mail" when the postman delivered it) is to bcc: all the recipients and put your own e-mail address in the To: field. You not only preserve the privacy of your correspondents, but you also eliminate the possibility of annoying flame wars.

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

Birthday and Errant Ushers, Vol. 5, Issue 20

At last Etiquetteer is returning to the the results of Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey! The results are from the section of "Atttitudes about Wedding Customs and Behaviors." Answers in bold are Perfectly Proper.

Question: Do you agree with the American concept of the "princess bride" who gets to wear the largest dress in the world, boss her friends and family around, and generally get anything she wants because she’s the BRIDE?!

0.7% . . . . .Yes

12.7 % . . . Yes, if she remembers to write her thank-you notes

86.6% . . . .No

Etiquetteer finds it very ironic that the overwhelming majority of respondents don’t like the idea of a princess bride, and yet respond "anything she/they want" to other questions in this survey.

Question: Should a bride and groom get to do anything they want for their wedding if they are paying for it themselves?

54.2% . . . Yes, you bet they do!

45.8% . . . No, they should be considerate of their family and friends, for whom the wedding is also important.

Etiquetteer invites you to notice that respondents were fairly evenly divided on this question. This leads Etiquetteer to opine that the 54.2% may have had to fend off some parents with undesirable ideas about how the wedding should be conducted, and the 45.8% felt slighted, overlooked, or inconvenienced by some arrangements.

American mothers of brides and grooms, with their overbearing bossiness and dirty tricks, have become an American institution, unfortunately. Etiquetteer has been told at different times of mothers who secretly changed all the music for the wedding ceremony or wore "champagne-colored" gowns which were really white. Etiquetteer does not blame any bride or groom who’d want to get away from all that!

But Etiquetteer has also seen hearts bruised by engaged couples who plan destination weddings their parents or closest friends can’t afford to attend, beachside ceremonies that Feeble Old Granny can’t get to because it’s too taxing to walk over sand, weddings held deep in the country without adequate restrooms and only the lightest possible refreshments. Deity of Your Choice Above, people, don’t sacrifice convenience and comfort for picturesqueness! And if you want people to do you the honor of attending your wedding, be sure you make them feel honored!

Question: If a bride discovers that she is pregnant before marriage, what is the most correct type of wedding?

15.5% . . . Any kind of wedding she wants

50% . . . Any kind of wedding she and her groom want

8.5% . . . Any kind of wedding she, her groom, and her parents want

0.7% . . . A large, full-blown wedding with everyone there

2.8% . . . A mid-sized wedding with about half of who they might ordinarily invite

11.3% . . . A very small wedding with only parents and the most intimate family and friends present

2.8% . . . Just the two of them at City Hall

Even Etiquetteer is not so heartless as to condemn a couple to wed on their own at City Hall! Some respondents offered their own suggestions and comments:

  • [The pregnancy has] No bearing on the wedding
  • Whatever - I'm just glad they are marrying - hopefully for each other and their child.Etiquetteer responds: Slacker!
  • Let's assume love between the bride and groom, in which case a tasteful wedding that makes the immediate wedding parties' families reasonably happy should be appropriate. Etiquetteer responds: And a "tasteful wedding" under these circumstances is a very small one.
  • If still desired, the type of wedding they would have had prior to the discovery.
  • Any kind of wedding the bride, groom, and both sets of parents want as long as the guests are treated with consideration. Etiquetteer responds: One would hope that the guests would be treated with consideration at any wedding, whether the bride was pregnant or not.
  • How pregnant? One month - it's their business... eight or nine months, it looks tacky to have a giant wedding, and they're going to have to make their peace with stares and whispers.Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer couldn’t agree more!
  • Depends on how far along she is and her current living situation.
  • Shotgun!!! Etiquetteer responds: Don’t be so barbaric! Besides, you couldn’t get a shotgun through the metal detector at City Hall . . .
  • Any kind of Perfectly Proper wedding she, her groom, and her parents want They who pay have input so any kind if she and her groom are paying for it. Etiquetteer responds: Those with the gold may make the rules, but that doesn’t endow them with Perfect Propriety. Money rarely does, in fact.

Speaking of weddings, Etiquetteer would like to congratulate Mark Schueppert and Jim Hood, who were legally joined in matrimony on Saturday, May 20 in a Perfectly Proper ceremony at the Old State House in Boston. May you enjoy a long and happy life together in a state of Perfect Propriety!

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@etiquetteer.com.

 

Wedding Survey Results, Behavior and Customs, Vol. 5, Issue 19

At last Etiquetteer is returning to the the results of Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey! The results are from the section of "Atttitudes about Wedding Customs and Behaviors." Answers in bold are Perfectly Proper.

Question: Do you agree with the American concept of the "princess bride" who gets to wear the largest dress in the world, boss her friends and family around, and generally get anything she wants because she’s the BRIDE?!

0.7% . . . . .Yes

12.7 % . . . Yes, if she remembers to write her thank-you notes

86.6% . . . .No

Etiquetteer finds it very ironic that the overwhelming majority of respondents don’t like the idea of a princess bride, and yet respond "anything she/they want" to other questions in this survey.

Question: Should a bride and groom get to do anything they want for their wedding if they are paying for it themselves?

54.2% . . . Yes, you bet they do!

45.8% . . . No, they should be considerate of their family and friends, for whom the wedding is also important.

Etiquetteer invites you to notice that respondents were fairly evenly divided on this question. This leads Etiquetteer to opine that the 54.2% may have had to fend off some parents with undesirable ideas about how the wedding should be conducted, and the 45.8% felt slighted, overlooked, or inconvenienced by some arrangements.

American mothers of brides and grooms, with their overbearing bossiness and dirty tricks, have become an American institution, unfortunately. Etiquetteer has been told at different times of mothers who secretly changed all the music for the wedding ceremony or wore "champagne-colored" gowns which were really white. Etiquetteer does not blame any bride or groom who’d want to get away from all that!

But Etiquetteer has also seen hearts bruised by engaged couples who plan destination weddings their parents or closest friends can’t afford to attend, beachside ceremonies that Feeble Old Granny can’t get to because it’s too taxing to walk over sand, weddings held deep in the country without adequate restrooms and only the lightest possible refreshments. Deity of Your Choice Above, people, don’t sacrifice convenience and comfort for picturesqueness! And if you want people to do you the honor of attending your wedding, be sure you make them feel honored!

Question: If a bride discovers that she is pregnant before marriage, what is the most correct type of wedding?

15.5% . . . Any kind of wedding she wants

50% . . . Any kind of wedding she and her groom want

8.5% . . . Any kind of wedding she, her groom, and her parents want

0.7% . . . A large, full-blown wedding with everyone there

2.8% . . . A mid-sized wedding with about half of who they might ordinarily invite

11.3% . . . A very small wedding with only parents and the most intimate family and friends present

2.8% . . . Just the two of them at City Hall

Even Etiquetteer is not so heartless as to condemn a couple to wed on their own at City Hall! Some respondents offered their own suggestions and comments:

  • [The pregnancy has] No bearing on the wedding
  • Whatever - I'm just glad they are marrying - hopefully for each other and their child.Etiquetteer responds: Slacker!
  • Let's assume love between the bride and groom, in which case a tasteful wedding that makes the immediate wedding parties' families reasonably happy should be appropriate. Etiquetteer responds: And a "tasteful wedding" under these circumstances is a very small one.
  • If still desired, the type of wedding they would have had prior to the discovery.
  • Any kind of wedding the bride, groom, and both sets of parents want as long as the guests are treated with consideration. Etiquetteer responds: One would hope that the guests would be treated with consideration at any wedding, whether the bride was pregnant or not.
  • How pregnant? One month - it's their business... eight or nine months, it looks tacky to have a giant wedding, and they're going to have to make their peace with stares and whispers.Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer couldn’t agree more!
  • Depends on how far along she is and her current living situation.
  • Shotgun!!! Etiquetteer responds: Don’t be so barbaric! Besides, you couldn’t get a shotgun through the metal detector at City Hall . . .
  • Any kind of Perfectly Proper wedding she, her groom, and her parents want They who pay have input so any kind if she and her groom are paying for it. Etiquetteer responds: Those with the gold may make the rules, but that doesn’t endow them with Perfect Propriety. Money rarely does, in fact.

Speaking of weddings, Etiquetteer would like to congratulate Mark Schueppert and Jim Hood, who were legally joined in matrimony on Saturday, May 20 in a Perfectly Proper ceremony at the Old State House in Boston. May you enjoy a long and happy life together in a state of Perfect Propriety!

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@etiquetteer.com.

 

Mother’s Day, Vol. 5, Issue 18

Baby Etiquetteer with Dear Mother, 1964

 Etiquetteer came to a much better understanding of his own dear mother when chancing upon Miss Behavior: Popularity, Poise and Personality for the Teenage Girl. This peppy little volume, alternating between wisdom and naivete while attempting to sound "hep," was published right around the time Etiquetteer’s dear mother graduated from high school. Let’s just say it was after the war . . . and no, Etiquetteer does not mean the War of Northern Aggression!Miss Behavior takes us back to a time when teenage girls made their own clothes and wore suits to school, when fathers worked outside the home and mothers kept it, and when people of all ages still listened to the same music. This was a time before Elvis Presley and rock music, and LONG before fashions like extreme body piercings, tattoos, and "grunge" would ever have been permitted in the middle class. This was a time, in other words, when teenagers were expected to behave like adults.Indeed, the idea of being "respectable" was even more important thanappearing respectable, but both clearly went hand in hand. Wholesomeness was seen not only as desirable in itself, but also as attractive to boys . . . and of course nothing could be more important than that! Today’s role models like Lady Guy Ritchie and Mrs. Kevin Federline just don’t project wholesomeness. And indeed, with slang like "ho" and "beeyatch" making their way into white middle-class culture, one can only wonder when being respectable will again be fashionable.Hilarious anecdotes illustrate these points. One teenage femme fatale from the Big City visits rural relatives complete with off-the-shoulder lounge pajamas and foot-long cigarette holder. All that put-on sophistication loses her a date with the star quarterback from her own high school, visiting her cousin’s boyfriend that same weekend! Another girl, a forward flirt, gets saved from date rape by the "warden of the woods" after her date drives her into a local forest. Of course the situation is all her own fault for not behaving herself in the first place . . .Girls were exhorted to bypass bottled shampoos with harmful chemicals in favor of grated Castile soap melted over the stove in a saucepan, or warm olive oil to get rid of dandruff. Girls were to spend every Saturday morning going over their wardrobes and mending underwear, darning stockings, and replacing buttons. Spending time every night in a quiet space for homework was essential. And of course one must save time for eight hours of restful sleep! Now that teenage girls are getting their tongues pierced and having babies out of wedlock, wouldn’t you agree this seems quaint?Into this atmosphere Etiquetteer’s dear mother came of age, and she exemplifies all its best qualities. Mother is a mistress of the bread-and-butter letter, a talented seamstress, and superior cook, and a welcoming hostess. Throughout her history – Vietnam, Watergate, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, September 11, and the rise of hoydens like Courtney Love – Mother has retained her wholesomeness, her integrity, her belief that the world is and can continue to be a good place. What better qualities could a mother need today?

Etiquetteer and Dear Mother, Mother's Day, 2006

 And speaking of the kind of advice only a mother can give: Dear Etiquetteer: My most recent etiquette challenge was sitting outside on the benches in front of a college student center and noticing a young lady who was wearing wide-legged shorts. Her knees were folded up towards her chest and she was giving more of a view than she realized. I did not want to know that she was not wearing underwear and since my companion was male I did not mention it to anyone at the time. In what circumstances and how could I have told her what was happening? Dear Viewing:This is the first time Etiquetteer has ever heard about this particular problem with a female; Etiquetteer thought only men "went commando!" Now do you all know why your mothers told you not to leave the house without clean underwear on?Once upon a time, before ladies wore shorts at all, if a lady saw another lady's slip showing she'd discreetly whisper to her "It's snowing down south." Etiquetteer can only imagine what the equivalent could be in THIS situation; reader suggestions are welcome! You were discreet and wise not to mention anything to this unwitting exhibitionist in front of your male friend, especially since she was a total stranger to you. Had you been on your own, however, you might have approached her quietly and said "Excuse me, you'd probably better put your knees down. You don't realize how much people can see." Etiquetteer thinks these sorts of things are best left between ladies.

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@etiquetteer.com.

 

Talkative Strangers and Wedding Gifts, Vol. 5, Issue 17

EXAMPLES FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF ETIQUETTEER: Many people in the world have a need to talk. But Etiquetteer has no need to listen. Two recent experiences reminded Etiquetteer that, frequently, silence is golden.On Easter Sunday Etiquetteer found himself traveling by subway to an afternoon party. While innocently standing on the platform reading American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, an urgent young woman asked Etiquettteer the time. The time Etiquetteer gave her, however, was insufficient to send her away. "Oh my goodness, I’m late for church! And not that I go every Sunday, but the music is so good at the beginning of the service . . . " You can probably see where this is leading, but not the references to her boyfriend and her inability to pay her mortgage, which came about ten minutes later. Etiquetteer tried doggedly to continue reading, but concentration on the printed page was near impossible with this persistent flow of personal information. At the suggestion of a question, Etiquetteer saw an opening: "Oh I’m sorry, I’ve been reading my book and I wasn’t paying attention." Alas, this didn’t stop her, but the train did. (No, Etiquetteer didn't throw her under it.)Not long after that, Etiquetteer was enjoying the daily newspaper and a Cobb salad at the bar of a popular restaurant. Anyone who lunches at a restaurant bar knows that a certain amount of camaraderie between other diners is unavoidable, even welcome. But Etiquetteer finds it too much to ask to have to give up both paper and salad to focus fully on a total stranger. You see, an elderly man sitting next to Etiquetteer found his conversational opening with Etiquetteer’s lunch. "Say, that’s some salad!" he said. "Yes, it’s very good." Etiquetteer replied. "Now what all do they put in there?" he persisted. "Tomatoes, cheese – I’ll bet that’s bleu cheese – and turkey . . . " "No, it’s chicken." "OH, chicken! Oh, that’s good." Good heavens, Etiquetteer thought, must we discuss all the ingredients of this salad while I’m trying to eat it? This continued for no little time, until "Boy, the sandwiches we used to get at the [insert name of Defunct Cafeteria here]. Gosh . . . " and he just kept going on and on. Etiquetteer, exasperated, finally had to turn fully back to the newspaper and simply not respond. It was the only way to finish lunch without indigestion and still get back to the office on time.Heaven knows both of these people were harmless, but also clueless. A person with his nose in a book or newspaper should not look as though they are ready to strike up a conversation, and yet how often do we hear stories of just that happening? This may lead Etiquetteer to get an iPod . . .

Dear Etiquetteer:My husband and I found ourselves with opposing thoughts. (This rarely happens, so it's headline news around here.) One of us says that a wedding invitation can be answered with the regrets card plus a lovely congratulatory (or cute, depending on the couple) greeting card. The other one of us says no, that's what you do when an announcement is sent; an invitation obligates you to send a gift whether you're attending the wedding or not. If it makes any difference, one of us works at the same place (we couldn't even say "works with") the groom and we have never met the bride. What's correct?Dear Gifting:Now let Etiquetteer make this perfectly clear: a wedding invitation is not an invoice. If you and your husband feel you are close enough to his colleague, then by all means get the Happy Couple a gift. But only if you feel moved to do so. Otherwise send the reply card and a heartfelt message of congratulations.

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@etiquetteer.com.

 

The Tale of the Princess Bridezilla, Vol. 5, Issue 16

Dear Etiquetteer: Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who is in the midst of planning her wedding. I am a member of the wedding party and I found many of the things she is doing to be extremely cheap and a little offensive.1. She is adamant about not walking around to each table at the reception to greet/thank her guests for attending. (The ceremony and reception are at the same place, so there’s no receiving line before the reception begins.) She feels it is her day and she is spending so much money that she wants to enjoy it and not waste time thanking her guests. Is this appropriate or is the tradition of walking around table to table to greet your guests at the wedding reception not the current practice?2. She is not sending out a save-the-date because, again, she does not want to waste money on printing them when she doesn’t want half of her wedding guest list (from out of town) to attend because the wedding is already very expensive. I am sure not everyone sends save-the-date cards but the reasoning behind it is, again, insensitive.3. She is very adamant about not having wedding favors (which is completely fine.) She plans, however, on taking the $600 dollars she would spend on favors and only donating half to a charity. The cards on the table will read, "In lieu of wedding favors we have made a donation to [insert charity name.]" What I do not find perfectly proper is making guests believe you are so genuine when making this donation but really you are keeping half of the money for yourself. Do you agree? Is this the usual practice when a couple chooses not to do wedding favors?4. Last but not least, she told me in a curt manner that she refuses to do gifts for her wedding party (16 total for bride and groom) because it is too expensive. Even if I was not in the wedding party, I find this in poor taste not to thank your wedding party in some small way for spending so much money to be a part of your special day. Do you agree, is this perfectly proper?Dear Bridesmaid of Bridezilla:Your friend defines the Princess Bridezilla. She is evil and must be destroyed . . . which may happen after the wedding when she finds she has no friends left. Who does she think she is, Kathleen Battle? Etiquetteer was appalled with two Ps reading your letter, so let’s demolish her sanctimonious selfishness point by point:1. You’ve got it a little mixed up here. The current practice is to walk among the tables, but the traditionis the receiving line. Etiquetteer really prefers the latter (you don’t miss anyone that way) but rather likes the former, too. Princess Bridezilla will find herself in hot water if she doesn’t do either! Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey revealed that 87% of wedding guests expect to speak face-to-face with the bride and groom. That’s not "hope to speak," but "expect to speak." Were Etiquetteer getting married, Etiquetteer would find getting to talk to everyone the most enjoyable part of the day!2. Technically one doesn’t have to send a save-the-date card, but it is a very welcome courtesy for those who will need to arrange air transportation and accommodations. If Princess Bridezilla doesn’t even want these people to come to the wedding anyway, Etiquetteer would like to know why she doesn’t just send a wedding announcement and not invite them at all. That would be more Perfectly Proper and less a back-handed compliment.3. Wedding favors are optional. Etiquetteer has received some lovely ones but also been to beautiful weddings where no favors were given. To call attention to their absence will only make the guests feel short-changed.You know, the Holy Bible is frequently a wonderful source of etiquette advice. Here Etiquetteer must turn to the Gospel of Matthew 6:5-6: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret . . . " Do you see what Etiquetteer means here? By calling attention to her "charity" Princess Bridezilla will make the wrong impression on her guests. And Etiquetteer would guess she’d be furious if anyone pulled that trick on her with a wedding gift!4. Really, this is the final nail in the coffin for Princess Bridezilla. A tangible expression of gratitude to one’s attendants – who, let’s face it, she’s probably made spend a lot on their dresses – is the least a bride can do. To neglect it (and the traditional bridesmaid’s luncheon) is shabby in the extreme. You and the other bridesmaids must feel quite hurt at this callousness.You did not ask, but Etiquetteer wonders if you aren’t thinking about how to get out of being a bridesmaid, or if you even want to be a friend of this woman any more. Weddings do bring out the worst in people, and she may not realize just how she appears. Since you are a bridesmaid, you have a unique opportunity to tell her, gently, that her greed and vanity are disappointing everyone around her and making her look like someone you hope she is not.In summary, where is the exchange of affection here? Etiquetteer cannot see Princess Bridezilla caring about anyone save for what they can give or do for her. In a vengeful moment Etiquetteer might tell you to give her a lump of coal as a wedding gift: "If you squeeze it hard enough it’ll be a diamond!" But that would notbe Perfectly Proper . . .

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Reader Response, Vol. 5, Issue 15

Etiquetteer heard from a few readers after a recent column about concert hall manners and bumper stickers, some of which are worth sharing:Dear Etiquetteer:Although I have been going to concerts since I was very young (not as a babe-in-arms, though!) and learned early on to watch my parents for the signal to clap, as a professional violinist concerned about the future of classical music, I hesitate to criticize those who clap between movements. Sometimes the music is just so moving or the performance so incredible that it seems totally appropriate and wonderful that people express their appreciation with clapping. This was in fact the classical tradition until Mahler criticized it and insisted that people wait until the end of the piece. We need to break the barriers between new concert-goers and classical music and make it accessible, less like an event that might cause embarrassment if you don't know "the code." Recently, I played a concert with the Lexington Symphony to a sold-out hall, where people clapped between several of the movements, expressing sheer joy for the gifts of baritone Robert Honeysucker as he sang Copland's "Old American Songs." It was music to our ears. What a wonderful display of enthusiasm and how rewarding for all of us on stage to know that this music and its performers are held dear to many.Etiquetteer responds: Thank you for raising a different point of view. Etiquetteer certainly did not mean to criticize those genuinely moved by a performance, but those who applaud early solely to call attention to themselves. A breathtaking recording of Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, and Marilyn Horne in recital at Lincoln Center is marred only by some pretentious man honking "Bra-VEE! Bra-VEE!" at the end of several pieces. So now everyone knows he can conjugate Italian . . . and would rather not have that knowledge. Etiquetteer agrees with you wholeheartedly that new concert-goers need to be welcomed enthusiastically into the concert hall. But Etiquetteer must gently express some concern that too many people believe that making classical music "accessible" means letting people behave any way they wish with no regard for those around them. Do not underestimate the value of embarrassment. Thinking people will learn from it and thereby grow in Perfect Propriety.Dear Etiquetteer:What's worse than boors who applaud before the last note are the hordes of (I'd call them one of the names that come to mind but I hate to insult a whole group of tacky people for these are worse.) Those I speak of are the people who must rush to leave and take care of the thief making off with their car.As for bumper stickers, I once pulled behind a car with one that read "Honk if you love Jesus." I honked politely and got the well-known finger.Dear Etiquetteer:I no longer employ bumper stickers, as a result of an otherwise Perfectly Proper (and very successful) interview back in the early 1970s, followed by watercress sandwiches on the exclusive suburban lawn of my Republican hosts. I had gone to the effort of getting a short haircut, polished shoes, clean car, etc, and felt wonderful as the enthusiastic hosts walked me to my car. (You know what's coming).As I watched them cheerfully wave goodbye through my rear view mirror, I saw their hands drop abruptly as they read the message on my rear window (which I could read, because now it was reversed and read right to left), "Impeach The Cox* Sacker".Of course, I didn't get the job.*The writer is referring to Archibald Cox, who was fired by President Richard Nixon during Watergate.

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Weddings, Vol. 5, Issue 14

Dear Etiquetteer:We are getting married later this year and are preparing a wedding website. We want to post information about the Friday night reception and Sunday brunch on our website (the wedding is Saturday afternoon and evening), but we’d also like to limit the guests at those two events to people coming from out of town that we don’t see very often. How should we word the events on our website to make that clear? Some ideas we had:
  • "Friday night reception by invitation" and "Sunday brunch by invitation."
  • "Friday night reception for family" and "Sunday brunch for family" (we’d then include invitations to these events in the wedding invitation mailing).
  • "Welcome reception for out-of-town guests" and "Sendoff brunch for out-of-town guests."

Will people understand who we mean by out-of-town guests? Because, only a handful actually live in the town where we’re marrying. What a challenge. Any advice would be great!Dear Betrothed:You know, Etiquetteer’s learning quite a lot about this wedding website phenomenon, and it is just amazing what people are doing out there . . . in a good way. It’s such a help to a wedding guest (especially one who’s traveling) to be able to go to one source for hotel reservations, maps and directions to the house of worship and the reception hall, and answers to the many questions wedding guests always have.But Etiquetteer has some concerns about what you want to do. It’s never good manners to talk about a party in front of people who aren’t invited. You really can’t avoid that by referring to these additional events on a website that all your wedding guests will read. It will be easy for someone to assume they’re invited to all three events. You may be opening yourself to some confusion and hurt feelings. Etiquetteer worries that the ill-bred (and we all know ill-bred peeople) will be tempted to ask why they weren’t invited if you put "by invitation only." One should NEVER ask why one was not invited; one might find out . . .If you are bound and determined to include these events on your wedding website – and Etiquetteer isn’t entirely sure that you should – then you should be very specific and refer to them as "Out-of-Towners Welcome Reception" and "Out-of-Towners Sendoff Brunch." Etiquetteer defines "out-of-town guests" as "anyone sleeping in a bed not their own" on the nights before and after the wedding. Even so, don’t be surprised if some locals show up with the excuse "Well, we saw this on your website and thought we should be here."Readers, what do you think? Please share your opinions with Etiquetteer at query <at> etiquetteer.com.By the way, you are quite correct to send a separate card for each event in the wedding invitation. Etiquetteer wishes you both long life and happiness, both before and after the wedding!

Dear Etiquetteer:Don’t you think it would be nice for someone to champion the return of the Morning Wedding and the Wedding Breakfast? This would include a luncheon for the famished wedding party, closest family and long-distance guests who cannot readily find a place to eat lunch if they require it, and old-fashioned afternoon Reception (light tea-type foods, punch and/or champagne, cake and dancing. Couples would have much more choice of venues (churches and halls and whatnot) and it would not cost nearly as much if they did not want to spend a lot of money. And people could drive home while it was light during much of the year.Dear Early Bird:Indeed, it sounds charming! Etiquetteer has attended many weddings over the last 38 years at all times of day and night, and some of the loveliest have been morning or afternoon weddings. Etiquetteer is happy to join you in your call for a return of the Wedding Breakfast, not least because of Etiquetteer’s fondness for eggs benedict and champagne.Of course, now it’s all your fault that Etiquetteer can’t stop singing "A Frog Went A’Courtin’." 

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An Unwanted Houseguest, Vol. 5, Issue 12

Dear Etiquetteer:Twenty years ago, the man in my life was named in a paternity suit and couldn't deny the possibility. I threw him out, and we have had limited social contact since then (once every six or seven years). Not too long ago he showed up at my front door because he was 'in town and looked me up,' apparently hoping for a place to stay. This would have been awkward enough if I had been home, but I was traveling on business, and the door was answered by my housemates. They felt obliged to extend hospitality to this man on my behalf, but fortunately called me first. I explained to him, very apologetically, that it would be a terrible imposition for me to ask my housemates to put aside their plans for the night, and that he would simply have to make other arrangements. He did, and I have not heard from him since.While I have no reason to believe he was in physical or financial distress, was it rude to turn him out like that without making sure? Should I call him to find out if he is OK? If I had been home, how much hospitality would I be obliged to provide? I am curious to hear how he is doing, but I think I would prefer some advance notice to prepare myself, and perhaps explain things to the current man in my life. These spontaneous sorts of things always seem to work out well in the movies, but my life is more complicated than that. What should I do?Dear Survivor:"When you assume," as one of Etiquetteer’s best friends is tiresomely fond of pointing out, "you make an ass of you and me." Your Former Love showed bad planning and poor taste by showing up at your door, suitcase in hand, without warning of any kind. Etiquetteer cannot fault you for declining to offer him overnight hospitality. Had you answered the door to him yourself, you could have said "Oh, I’m sorry, but it won’t be possible for you to stay tonight" and nothing more. If he’s so ill-bred as to ask why it’s not possible, add no more than "Well, I have plans that make it impossible." They could be nothing more than a pedicure, but he doesn’t need to know that.If you felt safe with him, you could have invited him inside for a beverage and brief conversation, but only if you felt safe. Etiquetteer still has visions of Ike Turner molesting Tina in that parking lot in What’s Love Got to Do With It? And please fight down the urge to call and check up on this guy. The whole thing sounds like you’re well rid of him.

Dear Readers: Etiquetteer made a trip to Manhattan not too long ago and was amused to see this sign outside a synagogue. Etiquetteer couldn’t agree more!

 

 

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Wedding Survey Results: Clothes, Vol. 5, Issue 11

Etiquetteer would like to thank everyone, anonymous and identified, who took Etiquetteer’s wedding survey over the last month. It has been very interesting intepreting the results; most respondents are more permissive than Etiquetteer would prefer . . . which makes this a Perfectly Proper time to review them.Exactly 145 responses to the survey were received. Females responded to the survey roughly twice as much as males, 69% to 31%. 54% said they had never been married in a wedding service, 39% had been married once, and 7% more than once. Of those who chose to define their politics, liberals responded most (52%), followed by moderates (21%), ultra-liberals (13%) and conservatives (11%). The ultra-conservatives stayed home, but 2% of the apathetics at least roused themselves to take the survey.As a general rule "anything they want" is not the Perfectly Proper answer. Unfortunately, it was the most popular. Answers given in bold are Perfectly Proper.Question One: When should a bride be allowed to wear white at her wedding?2.1%......At her first wedding, but only if she is a virgin.16.0%.. At her first wedding, regardless of her virginity.5.6%.... Only at her first wedding, not if she remarries for any reason.73.6%... At any wedding, if that’s what she wants.0.0%..... Never: it’s an archaic symbol.Comments: 1. As the mood strikes her. Their wedding, their rules!Etiquetteer responds: Ladies and gentlemen, behold the princess bride!2. "At any wedding" and "it's an archaic (and vulgar) symbol" both apply here.3. At any wedding if she wants, but she must be willing to accept some criticism for doing so. I think a bride's attire should reflect a respect for the commitment of marriage regardless of color.4. I think a bride should wear whatever she wants...but taste and thought should be used! Etiquetteer responds: And taste and thought dictate that a bride wears only white at her first wedding.Question Two: should a bride ever be allowed to wear black?68.1%.....Yes, if she wants to2.8%.......Yes, if she’s a Goth15.3%.....No under any circumstances9.0%.......No, it means she’s in mourningComments: 1. If she is insane.2. Black is fine; it might be the only color she looks good in.Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer remains unswayed by that argument. Midnight blue is a beautiful compromise color here.3. If there is a specific reason for wearing black that the guests are made aware of, then it would be OK, but still odd.Etiquetteer responds: What reason could that be? This strikes Etiquetteer as far too eccentric.4. As the mood strikes her. Their wedding, their rules!Etiquetteer responds: Again, the princess bride!5. Well, let’s see . . . what color are some formal tuxedos? Are the groom and groomsmen in mourning?Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer does not pretend to understand the contradictions between the clothes of ladies and the clothes of gentlemen, only to observe them.6. Yes, if the bride intends it as a sign of mourning and is being married in an informal ceremony and without a great deal of celebration (for example, if a parent just died.)Etiquetteer responds: Ah, but a wedding is the one exception to mourning dress. Emily Post, bless her, gave specific dispensation to bridesmaids in mourning to wear colors because a bridesmaid’s dress was really her uniform for the wedding. Etiquetteer offers the same dispensation for brides and could only add that, if you are so prostrate with grief that you wouldn’t dream of going to someone’s wedding without wearing black, then you are really not ready to be out in public yet and should decline the invitation.Question Three: Should a bride ever be allowed to wear red?84.6%...Yes, if she wants to15.4%...No, she’ll look like a prostituteEtiquetteer adds: This is not true of Eastern cultures, of course, where red is the traditional color for brides. But as Etiquetteer has said before, it’s the color of harlotry in the West, and therefore undignified for a bride.Question Four: What is the correct dress for a groom at a FORMAL wedding that starts before 5:00 PM?22.4%...Anything he wants24.5%...Dark suit and tie23.8%...Tuxedo27.3%.. Cutaway coat and striped trousers2.1%.....White tie and tailsEtiquetteer adds: There are those who might think of this as a trick question, but Etiquetteer finds it quite simple. Dark suits and ties are worn to informalweddings ("informal" really does not mean "without a tie;" Etiquetteer leaves that to "casual.") The cutaway coat with striped trousers (and frequently a pearl-gray top hat) is Perfectly Proper formal dress for a daytime wedding. Tuxedos and white tie, Etiquetteer must point out sternly, are evening clothes and completely incorrect before 5:00 PM.

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Wedding Survey Comments, Vol. 5, Issue 10

Etiquetteer would like to thank everyone who responded to Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey. The survey will close Monday, March 20, at 10:00 PM EST, but Etiquetteer thought it appropriate to start addressing now some of the interesting issues raised by responding to some of the open-ended comments given at the end:Comment: Weddings are an expression of love between two individuals.Etiquetteer: Etiquetteer could not agree more, but would note that weddings are an expression of love between two people to their families and friends assembled.Comment: Make the wedding a celebration of your love of each other and those you have invited to share this momentous moment in your lives - not some nerve-wracking extravaganza where any detail that goes wrong dooms the joy of the day.Etiquetteer: Etiquetteer thanks you for including the guests in the general purpose of the wedding; Etiquetteer has long felt that the guests are often overlooked. As for the day being ruined by one detail gone wrong, Etiquetteer would like to point out that it’s the reaction to the mistake that dooms the day. So the groom forgot the ring? The flowers aren’t what you ordered? The mother of the bride secretly changed all the music in the service? The DJ ignored all your favorite songs? Laugh! Make every error a source of amusement and you will resurrect disaster into an anecdote for years to come.Comment: Formality is silly. A wedding is about commitment not etiquette.Etiquetteer: What do you think etiquette is? Talking in a fake English accent in a cathedral? A wedding is never about etiquette, but even informal weddings need a set of rules for people to follow to keep everyone from offending each other. And you would be amazed how often feelings are hurt at weddings.Comment: Weddings should be fun for the people involved. If it doesn't sound like fun, don't give one or go to one.Etiquetteer: Who said fun and etiquette don’t go together? Etiquetteer will never forget attending a family wedding with a buffet dinner reception several years ago. The Happy Couple selected a fish as their emblem. The groom made fish magnets for all the guests as souvenirs, as well as a bride fish and a groom fish for the wedding cake. They even had live goldfish instead of flowers for centerpieces. Instead of rice, everyone blew bubbles at them as they departed on their honeymoon. One of their friends even created a wedding crossword puzzle! And yet the wedding was as formal as any Perfectly Proper wedding, with a receiving line and toasts.Comment: I don't think the bride and groom or guests have any more of a right to forgo manners at a wedding. Everyone should be friendly and well-mannered even if they have been offended, left out in some way, or don't agree with the wedding choices. There is so much going on that people shouldn't take things too personally.Etiquetteer: Amen! But Etiquetteer acknowledges that this is difficult to do when you haven’t been invited and feel you should have been.Comment: I think the bride and groom should do whatever they want, but also be considerate of their guests. So, even if my groom and I want a steakhouse-themed dinner, we would make sure hearty veggie options are also available for those who don't eat meat. If we decide to get married in Europe, I would understand that my grad school friends just couldn't make it (and I wouldn't pressure them to show up knowing it was financially impossible for them). On that note, I think guests should be considerate of the bride and groom's values, etc., and what they want. So, it's very rude to criticize the wedding for not being traditional enough, nice enough, etc. If you don't agree with how a wedding is going to be held, just don't go. For example, I'm having a very low-key, nontraditional wedding (no bridal party, just cocktails and appetizers) for many reasons: it reflects my and my fiance's values, and it's cheaper that way (we're paying for it ourselves). Some people have decided not to come, because it's not worth flying cross-country for what's not a "real" wedding to them. To me, this is so insulting I no longer want to be friends with these people. My wedding is no less sacred or important just because I can't afford the traditional shebang.Etiquetteer: Etiquetteer is always amazed when brides do just what they want and don't understand why people feel unhappy about going to their weddings. Have you noticed that you’ve just ignored your own advice? You’re having a wedding that your friends disagree with, they’ve decided not to go (which is just what you’ve recommended), but now you’re insulted. If your "values" involve making people spend a lot of money to travel cross-country for a cocktail party, then it’s time to adopt some more selfless values. You are behaving like a princess bride and you had just better stop that right now. Etiquetteer thinks it would have been better for you to invite only those who live locally to attend the wedding and send wedding announcements to everyone else.

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Cashiers, Vol. 5, Issue 9

Dear Etiquetteer:It seems that cashiers and other direct service people, especially at large department stores, have been drilled with the necessity of greeting customers with a "Hello, how are you today?" as he or she begins to process my purchases. While I do appreciate the gesture it seems that often staff have grasped the expression, if not the intent. The surly clerk (I'm sure exhausted by a mundane job on his or her feet for the thirteenth hour) doesn't bother to look up and gives the required, half-hearted expression.A certain friend finds this terribly offensive and, seemingly in an effort to forge genuine human interaction, refuses to respond with the necessary payment until the clerk has given my friend undivided attention and a full gaze to receive his benevolent smile. In an ironic mirroring, he's got the intention right but I think the expression here is all wrong. The line behind him begins to grumble from the ten-second hold-up and the clerk seems to find the loss of rhythm only troublesome. Do you have any thoughts?Dear Customer:Etiquetteer admires your friend’s intent but not his method. Just standing there waiting expectantly for the cashier to perform like a trained seal doesn’t achieve anything but grumbling by other customers, as you pointed out. Etiquetteer has had better success by sympathizing with particularly surly or aggrieved cashiers. An innocent remark like "Must be a long day for you" or "And how are you today?" goes a lot farther. Etiquetteer has found this successful with waiters and waitresses, too. When they ask "How are you tonight?" Etiquetteer invariably responds "Very well. And yourself?" Often they are pleasantly surprised anyone cares to ask. Remember, there are at least two sides to any human interaction. Your friend errs in thinking that his side doesn’t have to do any of the work just because he’s the customer.All that said, the sullen automaton you describe is still far nicer than the cashier who is actively engaged in something else while ringing up your purchases. Etiquetteer has had the sorry experience of being "attended to" by a cashier actively talking heatedly on a cell phone in a foreign language. Others have shared with Etiquetteer the disappointment and frustration of cashiers who ignore them entirely while talking to friends with them behind the counter! (Ask yourself, would your employer let you bring a friend with you to the office or factory for the day?) Etiquetteer’s redoubtable friend said it was all she could do to keep from hollering "Excuse me, you’re being paid to take care of ME!" And while Etiquetteer is mighty glad she didn’t, Etiquetteer understands completely.

Dear Etiquetteer:I’m traveling for work to a conference, and I got an invitation to a conference-related reception. The dress code says "Business dressy." I have never seen that before; what does it mean?Dear Business Dressed:Bother! Etiquetteer supposes the host organization wants this to be an elegant affair and doesn’t want people traipsing in wearing khakis, tweed jackets with suede patches, bulky sweaters, and other, more casual clothes that people get away with at the office now. If you are a man, Etiquetteer suspects "business dressy" means a dark suit, plain shirt, and shiny tie; don’t forget a pocket square! If you are a lady, it probably means a severely tailored two-piece suit or suit-dress with hose, heels, pearls, and one Important Piece of Jewelry. Lacking that, you could probably get away with a bright scarf from Hermes. Your purse should unobtrusively match your shoes and be no larger than a silver case for your business cards, hotel key, wallet, and a handkerchief. This is not the time to show up with a big leather satchel.

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Reader Stories of Wedding Gowns, Vol. 5, Issue 8

As you might expect, Etiquetteer has heard some interesting stories in response to last week’s rambling on the color of the bridal gown. Etiquetteer will share some of the choicest with you this week:From a wedding guest: "Those of us with friends in [Insert Flashy Industry Here] are just happy when the bride isn't - as we say - half nekkid. This year I've seen bridesmaids all wearing black, brides carrying babies, four-footed maids of honor, veils worn at a bride's fourth wedding, drunken mothers, and a preacher who got her degree via mail order. None of them told me what to wear. [Etiquetteer adds: Etiquetteer just cannot approve of including pets in the wedding party, no matter how devoted you all are to each other. Lady Bird Johnson would not even allow her daughter’s pet poodle into the wedding photographs at the White House, and Etiquetteer wouldn’t dream of arguing with her.]From a young matron: My own mother got married at age and didn't wear white. She wore a light pink, tea-length gown that went well with the roses she carried for her bouquet. But my aunt loves clothing, and vintage clothing, and used to do fashion shows with wedding dresses of different vintages.I can tell you on her authority that in Colonial times in America, the most prestigious color to wear for one's wedding was black, because it was the costliest, most difficult to get fabric, due to dye technology of the era. Other less wealthy brides usually chose a solid color, a lovely deep blue, and a slightly faded green from the 1800s, as well as a nice brown taffeta were amongst those featured in her fashion show. [Etiquetteer adds:Those who are interested should rush out and readColor: A History of the Palette, by Victoria Findlay, which explains all about how black clothes were made black in the 18th and 19th centuries.]Only into the 20th century, as you noted during Victoria's reign in England, did white become the color of choice. When my mother's mother got married, she had a white flapper-style gown, but tradition of her day dictated that one didn't save her gown. After the wedding, she dyed it yellow and wore it until it was worn out. [Etiquetteer adds:Etiquetteer’s beloved grandmother made over her orange wedding dress after the wedding and regretted it ever afterward.]My great-great-grandmother (she and her sister were ladies-in-waiting and seamstresses for Queen Victoria) came to America with my infant great-grandmother and no husband in tow. They were very fine seamstresses, and made lace by hand. One nice tradition is that a lace collar that was on my grandmother's dress was saved and used for the wedding gowns of my mother and older sister. We decided to keep it just for eldest daughters, so I chose a different piece of antique handmade lace to incorporate into my own wedding dress.From a Midwestern matron: My step-mother was very opposed to my marrying my husband in any sort of public ceremony since we had lived together for four years prior to our wedding. (My step-mother went so far as to offer us money if we would elope!) I wanted a wedding and so the compromise was a small wedding at my parent’s home on the East Coast. It was lovely. My husband and I wrote our vows and I wore an ivory tea-length dress and an ivory hat with a small veil on the rim and fresh flowers on the side.

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White and Other Weddings, Vol. 5, Issue 7

Etiquetteer has been exceedingly interested in the responses to date to Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey. So many attitudes have been expressed about the color of the bridal gown that this a good time for Etiquetteer to delve into some of the history surrounding this garment. Etiquetteer was surprised several years ago to learn that brides in ancient Rome wore gowns and veils of flaming orange. (Etiquetteer has not learned why this color was chosen; if you have any ideas, please inform Etiquetteer at once.) The first instance Etiquetteer has heard of a white wedding gown was the first wedding of Mary, Queen of Scots, to Francis II in 1558. Mary knew how to dress to impress, and she chose a white gown for her wedding, with magnificent jewels, knowing it would set off her skin and rich auburn hair to perfection. But unrelieved white was what court ladies had always worn in mourning, so Mary’s choice raised a few regal eyebrows. Mary’s attire for her other two weddings was equally unconventional, which ought to comfort brides eager to make their weddings ostentatiously individual. When Mary married Lord Darnley in 1565, she approached the altar as the widow of Francis II in the deuil blanc, the rigidly presecribed mourning white of the French court. Between the nuptial mass and the feasting, Mary devised a ceremony in her bedchamber where each of the nobles present would remove a pin from her wedding veil. She then changed into another gown for the two banquets and dancing that followed. At her 1567 marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, three months after the murder of Lord Darnley, Mary appeared in alleged mourning, elaborately gold-embroidered black velvet with a white veil. And then, of course, everything fell apart: Bothwell was imprisoned in Scandinavia and Mary had her head cut off by Elizabeth I. You see what happens when a bride wears black? Mary may have started a royal trend with her white wedding gown. The next Etiquetteer hears of it, George III’s eldest daughter, the Princess Royal, is preparing a white silk wedding gown for her own wedding. Because her groom was a widower, she was supposed to have gold embroidery, but her mother the Queen permitted her to use silver instead. Perhaps silver is purer than gold? Of course the most famous example of the white gown, the one that started the craze at every level of society, was the beautiful white satin dress Queen Victoria wore at her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840. Before that, Etiquetteer imagines everyone just trotted out their best dresses whatever the color. But Victoria changed all that, and a white satin wedding gown became the default for generations. Indeed, this mania even gets mentioned in Gone With the Wind. Rhett Butler ends up smuggling in a bolt of white satin for Maybelle Merriwether after all the wedding gowns in the Confederacy were cut up to make flags. Of course, back in the day wedding finery was thought only Perfectly Proper for younger brides. Once you got to what Jane Austen called "the years of danger" elaborate weddings were not considered in the best of taste, because they unflatteringly called attention to the bride’s age. In Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Mrs. Archer has been saving her own wedding gown (white satin, of course) for her daughter Janey. "Though poor Janey was reaching the age when pearl gray poplin and no bridesmaids would be thought more ‘appropriate.’" Even Letitia Baldrige, who married in 1963 at age 37, chose a knee-length white suit and a white fur hat with veil rather than a full-length wedding gown. To her, one just didn’t do that after age 32. Now, of course, first-time brides older than 25 are much more common, and this silly stigma has been lifted. Still, Etiquetteer always advises to dress appropriately to one’s age. It’s no good pretending you’re 19-year-old Miss Dewy Freshness drifting down the aisle on a cloud of tulle to the arms of 22-year-old Mr. Manley Firmness when you aren’t. Etiquetteer has been surprised to hear from several people who just don’t like white for brides. This sharp opinion made Etiquetteer think about his grandmothers, neither of whom married in white. About 1919 Etiquetteer’s paternal grandparents married in a daytime ceremony. Held in the parlor of the bride’s family’s New Orleans boardinghouse, the bride wore a green daytime suit with fur scarf and matching hat; the groom wore his World War I army uniform because he couldn’t afford a suit. Having no idea she was imitating the Roman brides of yore, Etiquetteer’s beloved maternal grandmother sewed and embroidered an exquisite dancing dress of bright orange crepe for her wedding in 1920. Attending a Leap Day dance with her sweetheart, they surprised everyone by leading the Grand March, which turned out to be the famous march from Lohengrin we all know as "Here Comes the Bride." A justice of the peace met them at the end and married them in the presence of the astonished and delighted company. So you see that brides can get away with colors, but Etiquetteer just can’t approve of red for Western brides. Red, of course, is the color that Asian brides have worn for centuries, but in the West red is still the color of harlotry (as in "red-light district.") We have only to look at Madonna, who wore a strapless red gown to her wedding to fiery actor Sean Penn in 1985. Of course they got divorced in 1989; see what happens when the bride wears red? Some references for those who are interested: Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, by John Guy Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III, by Flora Fraser Persuasion, by Jane Austen The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell A Lady, First, by Letitia Baldrige

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Random Questions, Vol. 5, Issue 6

Dear Etiquetteer:I may be one of the few people in the country under 40 who has never belonged to a gym, so the whole gym culture is a bit of a mystery to me. However, I recently moved into a condo building with a nicely equipped fitness room in the basement and am trying to turn over a new leaf with morning visits to use the equipment. The room includes a television, and I've noticed that it's usually tuned to news programs. Is this required viewing while working out? On a couple of occasions when I've been in the room alone, I've taken charge of the remote and turned on some lighter fare, like reruns of "The Nanny." But I always feel awkward when someone comes in and I offer to turn the TV back to the news. The response is always very nice and people don't usually seem to mind, but am I breaking some unwritten code of the gym? Is there an acceptable range of appropriate gym viewing, somewhere between Teletubbies and soft porn? And are there any other rules I should know about?Dear Viewed and Viewing:You don’t need to feel guilty about watching "The Nanny" during your workout (though of course Etiquetteer would prefer reruns of "Upstairs Downstairs"). You don’t even need to offer to change channels when others show up in the workout room, though that is courteous. While Etiquetteer suspects that audiovisual programming is handled by the staff at large gyms, in your condo complex folks should be free to ask to change the channel . . . and not be offended if they’re turned down.

Dear Etiquetteer:I just got an invitation to a rehearsal dinner with "evening casual" on it. What on earth does that mean? Can I wear black?Dear Invited:Once upon a time this used to be so easy. Etiquetteer still remembers when everyone understood that "Informal" meant suits and ties for the gentlemen and appropriate dresses for the ladies. Alas the day, everybody’s aggressive embrace of the casual has made getting dressed much more complicated.Etiquetteer imagines that "evening casual" means a blazer but no denim or khaki and no neckties for the men. Ladies could wear something shiny or sequinned that didn’t look too dressy. For instance, a silk mandarin jacket or a shiny silk blouse over slacks might do.As for black, Etiquetteer doesn’t understand why everyone’s so fond of it when there are more beautiful colors in the world. For a rehearsal dinner black should be fine, just don’t wear it to the wedding!

Dear Etiquetteer:I need some etiquette advice, the subject: responding to condolence cards. My father passed away two weeks ago. What’s proper as far as how soon I must respond to cards and notices of donations in Dad’s name? Surely they can't expect someone in the midst of all there is to handle with someone's passing to write back quickly . . . but then again, it IS the Deep South. Is something short like "Thank you so much for your kind donation in Dad's name. I know he would have appreciated it" enough? That seems kind of abrupt.Dear Bereaved:Permit Etiquetteer to offer condolences at this difficult time.So, what's Perfectly Proper under the circumstances? Respond to those cards and letters now; don’t put it off, or it will become an impossible burden to you later, and Etiquetteer knows from experience, too. Even if you only decide to do a limited number a day — say five or six — you'll eventually get to the last one. Are you the only person able to write them? Draft other family members to assist who can respond for all of you. And don’t forget that your response may bevery short, even only one sentence, e.g. "Thank you for thinking of us," "God bless you for your beautiful note about Dad," or some such. But don't delay. It may seem insurmountable now, but Etiquetteer promises you the notes won’t be answered later.

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Weddings and Whistleblowers, Vol. 5, Issue 5

Dear Etiquetteer:Do I have to invite someone to my wedding if I was invited to theirs?Dear Engaged:Etiquetteer suggests you consider your relationship to the couple in question before using attendance at their wedding as a factor. If it’s your sister, yes, you should probably invite her and her spouse. If it’s the brother of a colleague you see at quarterly meetings, probably not.Long story short, invite the people you want to be with you, and the people your parents want to be with them. Then plan the reception based on that number of people. Yes, this might mean you can’t offer more than a thin slice of cake and thimble of champagne to each of your guests, but so be it.

Speaking of weddings, Etiquetteer found himself getting mighty annoyed reading a discussion about pregnant brides over as Smart & Sassy. (Special to Etiquetteer's mother: there's a lot of profanity, so you probably won't want to read it.) This led Etiquetteer to create a wedding survey, which you are cordially invited to take here. This does involve controversial questions about bridal pregnancy, wedding clothes, and catering, so be prepared.

Dear Etiquetteer:Do you stand by a whistleblower who is a friend? Not necessarily a friend but an honest person?Dear Ethically Challenged:Your question reminded Etiquetteer of Little Mary Haines in TheWomen asking her mother "Which is more important, Truth or Honor?" "They are equally important, darling" coldly responded her glamorous mother, played by Norma Shearer in the most memorable role of her career.If you believe the whistleblower to be not only an honest person but also accurate in the accusations, then YES, by all means, back up that person in the face of all adversity! How else are we to have a Perfectly Proper society unless innocent bystanders like yourself stand up for what is Right and True to defeat the Wicked and Evil?

EXAMPLES FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF ETIQUETTEER: Etiquetteer had occasion recently to begin a journey to a Distant City by train. One of the most distressing experiences was trying to purchase two magazines at a magazine stand from a Woman For Whom English Was Not the First Language who was much more absorbed in talking with her friend on her cell phone than in conducting any business! Transacting business in these circumstances is difficult at best, but with someone whose attention is actively engaged elsewhere . . . well, it didn’t make Etiquetteer feel like a valued customer, to say the least! A brisk "Excuse me, would you please finish your conversation later?" was definitely in order.

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Random Questions, Vol. 5, Issue 4

Dear Etiquetteer:Isn't "flipping someone off" a very strong gesture? Let's take it one step further: flipping off a total stranger who has done nothing to you. I'm a big guy and it makes me want to beat the crap out of the gesturer.A recent entry in one of my favorite blogs relates how the writer gleefully flips off Hummers. Just because the writer has misconceptions about that automobile and probably knows nothing about the environmental activities of the Hummer driver, what gives the writer the right to flip off an innocent stranger? The writer is under the misconception that his gesturing is protected under the "First Amendment" (he really should study the Constitution before writing about it). I truly believe the blog writer is a nice person, but needs to learn that polite manners are for useeverywhere.Dear Flipped:Etiquetteer is fascinated by bird life, but not this kind! Perfectly Proper ladies and gentlemen know what this "splendid gesture" means, but it is not a part of their body language vocabulary. When Etiquetteer wags an Admonitory Digit, you may be sure it isn't the middle finger.But what you're really interested to learn is how you can guide this digitally profane blogger into the paths of Perfect Propriety, yes? Etiquetteer will observe that true cretins frequently try to use the law or the Holy Bible to justify bad behavior. They may indeed have the right to offend in any way they wish; they ALSO have the right to suffer the consequences. So if this blogger is mowed down in a fit of road rage by a raving-mad Hummer driver, so be it.The roadways of the world are tense enough as it is. Please encourage your friend to promote Highway Harmony, Road Safety, and Perfect Propriety by refraining from shooting the finger. He really ought to channel his anger more constructively in other ways, perhaps by joining the Sierra Club or something.

Dear Etiquetteer:When is it OK to call a colleague honey, sweetie, sweetheart or sweetpea? I thought I could use it if I am intimate with someone, no? I am so confused!Ooh, honey:You just might have come to the wrong person with this question. Etiquetteer will admit to being very free -- perhaps too free -- with terms of endearment in the workplace -- shucks, just about everyplace! Etiquetteer once nicknamed a particular boss "BooBoo" to the delight of all, including the boss in question.But let's face it -- that's not really Perfectly Proper. Oh no.In the Politically Correct New Millennium, it's unwise to use terms Lecherous Old Men used to use for Beautiful Young Women when referring to anyone, especially of the opposite gender. Some overly sensitive person could sue you and you'd end up in front of Judge Judy. And this is especially true in the workplace.That said, a nickname can cement a close working relationship with a colleague. Long story short, save the terms of endearment for close colleagues.

Dear Etiquetteer:It's almost the end of January, and I'm sorry to say that I still have a box of Christmas presents at home that I have to give to people. Most of them are for friends, but one or two are for family members. Obviously I don't want to save these for next Christmas, but I also don't want to make people feel like an afterthought. We just couldn't find time to get together in December. Is it bad to give them their Christmas presents now?Dear Gifting:Yes Virginia, there is a problem here. What you're telling Etiquetteer is that you're too busy at Christmas for Christmas. You could take a tip from a group of friends Etiquetteer knows and have your Christmas celebration after Christmasand New Year's festivities. This group usually gets together for a meal around Twelfth Night (also known as Epiphany, when the Three Kings finally showed up with their gifts) and exchange gifts then. No reason you couldn't host such a gathering with modest refreshments and good cheer, and you could hand people their gifts as they leave.But trust Etiquetteer, if you're still hanging on to those gifts by Valentine's Day, you need to evaluate why you're still buying these folks presents in the first place. They may need to graduate to your card list.Dear Etiquetteer:I think some people in my office talk way too much in group meetings. I don't know if it's because they like hearing themselves, or whether they actually believe they are the only ones amongst us who work hard; either way they are loud, annoying meeting hijackers. The thing is, what they usually say in meetings is often not new because most have been either communicated via e-mail, reported at other meetings, or you've overheard it through the thin office walls. To those of us who work just as hard as these loud domineering colleagues, but are respectful of other people's time and space, we have passed the Advil and Tylenol way too many times to count. Is there a school these people can be sent to to learn that with a little bit of consideration they can actually save us a lot of time by keeping their mouths shut! Any advice you can give will be most appreciated.Dear Fuming:Etiquetteer is very familiar with this type of gasbag, and they can be fun toneedle in large meetings. Start questioning their basic assumptions and seethem lose their control. Try it . . . it's fun!Seriously, though, the person to whom you should speak is the person running themeeting. Large group meetings need to be particularly focused so that everyone'stime is most efficiently used. If you're able to approach this person (andEtiquetteer thinks you should before you lose your cool), work with them tocreate a more specific and tightly focused agenda that will dramatically reducethe bloviation of your colleague.Etiquetteer, who these days has more trouble disguising his impatience intime-wasting meetings, has also taken to announcing a "time check." "I'm very sorry to interrupt you Ermentrude, but it's now 1:37 PM and we have 13 more agenda items before our meeting ends at 2:00 PM." This can be a risky strategy in an organization with a complicated hierarchy, but it's better than blowing up at someone . . . or going out for a drink with gossipy colleagues after work and spilling all your frustrations so they can tell everyone how much you hate Ermentrude the next day.

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Holiday Fallout, Vol. 5, Issue 3

Dear Etiquetteer:

As has become my tradition, I made a charitable donation at Christmas in the names of several loved ones in lieu of sending paper greetings. I have chosen to support [insert Name of Appropriately Altruistic Non-Profit Institution Here]. So, Etiquetteer, what say you about this effort? I’ve done this now for several years. Some love it — others, I fear, are silent, finding it in bad taste expecting that I donate AND send paper greetings. In other words, I wonder if they consider me cheap and/or lazy and using it as an excuse not to send cards.

Dear Lazy:

Etiquetteer cannot call you Cheap, since you’ve generously supported the Non-Profit of Your Choice. Forgive Etiquetteer’s bluntness, but you’d be writing the check anyway, right? So what’s in it for the "honoree:" the knowledge that you were thinking of them when you wrote a check? Etiquetteer could see people thinking that wasn’t much of a holiday greeting for them. Perhaps they aren’t even particularly interested in the mission of the Non-Profit of Your Choice!

Now Etiquetteer does know of people who make donations to organizations their friends support in honor of their friends; that’s more like it. But those people make those donations instead of gifts, not Christmas cards. If your loved ones mean enough, you can at least send a Christmas card.

Etiquetteer received quite a few responses from a recent column about Christmas cards vs. holiday cards, two of which Etiquetteer shares with you now:

From an Orthodox matron: To your response on the subject of which holiday cards to send to whom, I must add that the whole issue of non-Christians who celebrate "with trees and presents" is a matter that tests my own capacity for Perfect Propriety. During all the December holidays I was asked by a colleague whether or not we celebrate Christmas. This is someone I've known for years and who knows my persuasion. Just after I'd said "No," the phone rang -- saved! But if the conversation had continued, I'm sure this person would have cited the example of so-and-so who was Jewish but . . you know. Between the "J's with trees" and the people who know "J's with trees," this season is simply fraught with occasions requiring the obligatory exhibition of The Indulgent Smile.

From a doyenne: I am no heathen and I was one who sent the Happy Holiday cards to people of faiths other than Christian. Having time restraints I couldn't go shopping to select cards for every faith even if I'd know which was proper. I'm lucky enough to have Christian, Jewish, African-American, African-African, Chinese and a couple from India on my list! The Christians got a Merry Christmas and the others got a Happy Holiday (no red or green ... it was white with gold) with a hand written note mentioning "what kind" of holiday if I knew it or could spell it!

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