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

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

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


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


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

etiq15.11 from Etiquetteer on Vimeo.

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


Shaking Hands, Vol. 15, Issue 6

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

Dear Shaking:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Teleconference and Webinar Etiquette, Vol. 15, Issue 2

Almost without exception, anyone in the professional world now needs to be adept at participating in Virtual Meetings Made Possible by Technology, usually in the form of a teleconference or a webinar. Teleconferences, of course, take place via a telephone. Webinars, a comparatively new phenomenon, utilize both telephones and the computers of participants. Webinars allow video of participants in front of their computers, and also the ability to share documents and images on one's computer screen. These are very useful and helpful tools to have when everyone can't be around the same conference table - but only so long as a participant's inability doesn't jeopardize the time, resources (and hearing) of the others. So Etiquetteer wants to put forward some Gentle Suggestions about participating with Perfect Propriety in a teleconference or webinar:

  • R.s.v.p. promptly. Login information may only be sent to those who respond that they are going to participate.
  • Verify the arrangements. The day before the call, check that you have the correct dial-in/login information. Yes, the day before. the organizer certainly can't respond to your email or voicemail after the call has begun, and may not be able to even five minutes beforehand.
  • Schedule yourself honestly. If you're with your children at the zoo, in a bar waiting for a birthday party to start, in the doctor's waiting room, or - worst of all - operating a motor vehicle, you shouldn't be on a conference call. Not only is the background noise where you are impeding the acoustics of the call for everyone, your vocal participation is disturbing those around you. You show respect for other participants and for the agenda by being sure you're in a quiet space where you can participate fully without disturbing others.
  • Arrive early. Everyone's been on a call where the leader has had to repeat the first five or ten minutes for late arrivals. Plan to call in two minutes before the designated start time so that the content of the meeting can begin promptly. That makes a more efficient use of the time of all participants.
  • Know the technology. If you're unfamiliar with the technology being used - and Etiquetteer knows you don't when you call to ask for parking at the meeting - become familiar with it before the day of the call. Ask the organizer whether or not your available technology can accommodate the technology being used, and find out specifically what you need to do to get on the call with no disruption. (Good webinar organizers send instructions in advance, but not all participants make a point of reviewing beforehand.)
  • Know your mute button. Background noise where you are is magnified on a conference call, and has the power to drown out the words of other participants. If you aren't speaking, mute your phone. Unmute when you wish to speak.
  • Start every sentence with your name. Not everyone will recognize your voice.
  • At the end of the call, if you want to have a private conversation with another participant, hang up and call that person. The organizer can't be expected to keep the line open for you.


Today is Twelfth Night, the final day of Christmas, and therefore the last day on which Etiquetteer will allow Christmas to be sent with Perfect Propriety. Imagine how delighted Etiquetteer was to receive in the mail today a Christmas card from friends with the inscription "You said this would not be too late!" Indeed, it was not, and Etiquetteer was deeply touched to have been so remembered.

Table Manners, Vol. 14, Issue 11

Dear Etiquetteer: This question came up at a work dinner. I was served first, as was one other person. As I was taught, I waited for others to be served. One other told me to eat while it was warm. It was then mentioned that the new etiquette is to eat when you are served. So what are the rules? Eat when you are served, or wait for others?

Dear Dining:

Etiquetteer's first response when reading your query was, alas, rather sarcastic: "Have you heard about the new etiquette? You get to do whatever you want no matter how inconvenient to others!"

Why do we wait for others? Because it's awkward to be the only person at the table not eating, whether that's at the beginning of the meal or the end. We are invited to break bread together, not consecutively. Suppose you had bolted through your dinner and had nothing left by the time everyone else was served? You'd be in the same boat as the diner who had been served last. It's equally awkward to be the last person still eating.

When dining in a private home, everyone's dinner is more likely to arrive because everyone is (more often than not) being served the same meal. When dining in restaurants there is always the risk that diners will be served at different times, because the cooking times of individual choices may vary.

It's most Perfectly Proper to wait for all to be served before beginning one's meal. It's most Perfectly Proper, when one is one of the last to be served, to exhort others to begin eating - especially if there seems to be a risk of a lengthy delay. And even when urged to begin, Etiquetteer does so with reluctance, hoping that the waiter will really not be too long with the remaining covers.


What a Lady Wears: Tiaras in the Workplace, Vol. 13, Issue 60

Last week Etiquetteer and That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much had a bit of a disagreement about ladies wearing tiaras in the workplace. That Mr. Dimmick, of course, thinks it’s outrageous and Improper to wear a tiara in the workplace and that it’s the result of the Disney Princess culture. Lorelei Lee was always looking for new places to wear diamonds, but the office wasn't one of them. Etiquetteer is ambivalent, since hair ornaments have a more varied history, but of course would rather see these ladies turn their attention to Perfectly Proper kid gloves and Mainbocher two-piece suits. Or even Hillary Clinton's "velvet arc of control" from the 1992 presidential campaign, which has the advantage of not glittering before 5:00 PM. Since neither Etiquetteer nor That Mr. Dimmick is a Powerful Woman in the Workplace, Etiquetteer turned to a genuine Powerful Woman in the Workplace, Christina Wallace, Founding Director of BridgeUp: STEM, who had this to say:

"I can see your point that an actual tiara in the workplace is entirely inappropriate and juvenile, but the photographs in the New York Times piece (ignoring Lady Gaga and the Kardashian, as I tend to do in general*) show not a crown but simply a jeweled headband, which I find polished and lovely. I actually agree with some of the women quoted that the jeweled headband (or diadem as one woman referred to it) increases the sophistication of a ponytail or bun. So while there is likely a fine line between appropriate and over-the-top (I would refrain from wearing anything that could double as a wedding-day headpiece), I think jeweled headpieces are welcome in the boardroom. Just don't call them a tiara (indeed, I might venture that labeling a headband a "tiara" is bordering on sexism)."

With this endorsement of the practice, Etiquetteer will now set down some ground rules:

  • Your Daytime Diadem should not detract from you. Come evaluation time, you'll be judged on how well you met your goals, not how much Faceted Radiance you shed in the board room. As Auntie Mame famously said to Agnes Gooch about an evening dress, "You're supposed to dominate it!" And while we really shouldn't be looking to the movies for etiquette advice, Etiquetteer can't help remembering David Brian advising Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry, "A beautiful woman never wears anything that detracts attention from her face."
  • Your Daytime Diadem should not increase your height appreciably.
  • Your Daytime Diadem should not look like you could wear it to the senior prom.
  • Your every hair should be in place and not blowing about all tangled and casual. This kind of jewelry is only going to attract more attention to your head, so there will be more opportunity for co-workers to notice Tonsorial Neglect or Error.

Now, let's all get back to work!

Issue 60 of Volume 13 of Etiquetteer marks a milestone, the largest number of columns published yet in a single volume. Thank you, readers!

*Etiquetteer adds: As all Perfectly Proper People should.

Urinal Etiquette, Vol. 13, Issue 57

Dear Etiquetteer: The men's room in my office was designed with too few urinals, which means sometimes having to use a stall instead. I'd rather use a urinal than a stall, but standing around in the men's room waiting for a vacancy feels awkward, and I also worry about making "active users" uncomfortable when they realize that someone is waiting for them to finish? What do you recommend?

Dear Waiting:

Etiquetteer has never found a public restroom a place to linger, and indeed, Those Who Linger are often looked on with suspicion. And one doesn't want to be looked on with suspicion in the workplace. If you simply cannot bring yourself to use a stall, it's probably best to leave and return in a couple minutes.

If you do decide to use a stall, please close the door. It doesn't matter if you're using the stall standing up, stall doors were made to be closed.

Food in the Workplace, Vol. 13, Issue 27

Dear Etiquetteer: At work, most Fridays, the company provides bagels for breakfast. Many times, I've already eaten breakfast. Is it appropriate to take a bagel home and eat it on Saturday? Would it make a difference if I waited until 10ish, when most of the bagels are gone?

Dear Bageled:

It's ironic that your query should arrive on this particular Friday, as Etiquetteer's own workplace is nearly impassable with free food - from farewell breakfasts, from a caterer's bountiful tasting, from Heaven knows what else.

Etiquetteer believes that priority should be given to those who intend to consume provided food immediately, and so endorses your waiting until just after the breakfast rush to select a bagel to enjoy later. You show exceptional and courteous restraint. Etiquetteer, in over 25 years in the work force, has seen some appalling behavior around free food in the workplace. Circling like vultures for the kill doesn't even begin to describe it . . .

On days of Exceptional Bounty, the best time to head to the office kitchen would be 4:30 PM to package any desired leftovers for the journey home. While only very few might snarl, you'll be blessed with gratitude from your poor colleague whose responsibility it is to clean the kitchen the next day.

Punctuality, Vol. 13, Issue 8

"Punctuality is the politeness of kings," often attributed to Louis XVIII*, really lays out the most basic Perfect Propriety for kings and commoners. Arriving on time and prepared, whether it's for a party or a meeting, shows respect to the other participants (whose productivity may depend on one's punctuality) - and also for one's hostess's soufflé, which could be ruined for all. So Etiquetteer read with interest this article about the four habits of punctual people. It really is astonishing how many people don't allow themselves enough time to get from one place to another, allow for delays, or, new to this century, rely on a Global Positioning System that is not 100% accurate en route without checking a map first.

This story also vividly brought to mind an incident from Etiquetteer's early life in the work world, which Etiquetteer has told so often you may have heard it before. A weekly management meeting would routinely begin up to 20 minutes late in this company because managers (who perhaps just didn't want to attend the meeting anyway) couldn't remember the time. Eager Young Etiquetteer, taught courtesy at his mother's knee, was assigned to record the minutes to these meetings, and began listing in the attendance at the top those who had been tardy. Within two weeks, everyone appeared promptly and the productivity and brevity of the meetings improved. But Eager Young Etiquetteer continued to list the tardies, who would occasionally appear for one reason or another.

And then the day came for which, apparently, many people had been waiting. Eager Young Etiquetteer Himself was tardy. It happened very innocently! At lunch with a colleague at a restaurant perhaps too distant from the office, the waitress was too slow with the check, and traffic was encountered returning to the office. Eager Young Etiquetteer and the colleague rushed to the conference room, only to discover that the door was locked! There was nothing to do but knock on the door. And much merriment ensued when Shamefaced Young Etiquetteer had to mark himself down as a tardy.

And the moral is this: good punctuality, like good housekeeping, is what goes unnoticed.

*Etiquetteer somehow prefers to remember him as the Comte de Provence, the younger brother and sometime Dauphin to Louis XVI.

Introductions for the Absent-Minded, Vol. 11, Issue 15

Awhile back, on Etiquetteer's Facebook page (did you know Etiquetteer had a presence on Facebook? Etiquetteer uses it mostly to post relevant media articles about manners, or the lack of them, and the occasional one-line etiquette tip. Please stop by.) Etiquetteer posted a handy tip on social introductions: "When out in public with friends or acquaintances and encountering other friends or acquaintances, always introduce everyone to everyone else. No one likes to be overlooked." To which a reader replied "I would love a suggestion on what to do when I can't recall someone's name and I need to introduce them." And which led another reader to query "A problem arises when the friends you meet know you and you cannot remember ever having seen them before! Etiquetteer, what does one do then? I am quite serious."

This column endeavors to answer these questions. As Ellen Maury Slayden once said (about another situation entirely, but it still applies here): "Keep cool. This is a test of breeding."

Naturally it's very embarrassing to realize that you can't remember someone's name, or even whether or not you know them, or how. Three courses are open to you, once the flames of panic have been suppressed: introduce the other person first (though this may be out of precedence*, Etiquetteer will give you a dispensation), buy time by drawing the out the conversation hoping that a clue will jog your memory, or frankly admit that your memory has failed you. Believe it or not, the latter course is often the better one. A simple "My goodness, this is so embarrassing. I have completely forgotten your name! Please forgive me." ought to win everyone over to your side. It's such a direct appeal for sympathy, and you'll underscore it by maintaining eye contact with that person, and not looking away shamefacedly. You must then, if you can, follow it up with the memory of some kindness that person did for you, to prove that your temporary mental lapse was only the person's name, and not their value to you.

On a more comic note, you could also try the Scarlett O'Hara Approach -- "Every time I have on a new bonnet all the names I ever knew go right slap out of my head!" -- or the Tallulah Bankhead Approach -- "I don't really care what your name is, I just want to call you all Dahling, especially when you come to make love to me at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me." The latter should startle everyone enough that you can make a clean getaway swooping off to the bar.

Whatever you do, don't try to con them into saying their own names by saying "And I've had so much trouble pronouncing your name you'd better introduce yourself." The name you've had "so much trouble pronouncing" might be "Joe Smith."

When you can't even remember who those people are, much less their names, often the best course is to ask "My goodness, I can't even remember the last time I saw you! Where was it? And what have you been up to since?" This puts the onus of the conversation on them, which should lead to many clues.

The real test of breeding is, when you discover that your own name has been forgotten by someone else, passing it off lightly and not taking it to heart. This sort of lapse happens to everyone.

*Precedence for social introductions used to be much more complicated than it is today. Etiquetteer boils it down to these:

  • Gentlemen are introduced to ladies. "Mrs. Oldwitch, may I present Mr. Randy Wicket."
  • Younger people are introduced to older people. "Miss Dewy Freshness, may I introduce you to Mrs. Raddled Oldwitch?"
  • Junior employees are introduced to senior employees or executives, regardless of gender. "Mr. Chairman, I'd like you to meet Jeremy Filing, from the Accounting Department. Jeremy, this is Gerald Chairman."
  • Everyone is introduced to elected officials, regardless of gender, age, or rank. "Mr. President, may I present Mrs. Raddled Oldwitch."

It's almost October, which means that the Perfectly Proper are already thinking about their address lists for Christmas, New Year's, or other seasonal greeting cards. Should you have queries on this or other subjects, don't hesitate to reach out to Etiquetteer at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com!

Layoffs and Colleagues, Vol. 11, Issue 10

Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently catching up with an acquaintance and asked “How’s work?” and got the reply “Well, I was laid off.” I’m not sure what to say beyond “I’m so sorry to hear this.” How does one respond supportively, but not obtrusively? It’s a little easier with a closer friend as you can be a bit more intimate.  If it’s someone you don’t know so well, it can be tricky.

Dear Properly Concerned:

How Very Delicate of you to consider how best to respond without Unnecessary Prying. More often than not those in Unwilling Professional Transition are pestered with coded queries such as:

Question: "What happened?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "Were you downsized?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "Did they let a lot of other people go, too?"  (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "What are you doing?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "Are you OK?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "I suppose you'll take some time to yourself now." (Meaning: "Did you get a good severance package when they fired you?")

People react differently to being unemployed. Some go into complete tailspins. Others express anger, take a philosophical attitude, proactively begin networking by making the job search their Topic Number One, or decline to talk about it altogether. Gauge your response by that of your acquaintance. For the reluctant, drop the topic. For the angry and the depressed, listen and make Noncommittal Sounds of Sympathy. For the philosophical, speculate with them on ideal or fantasy careers.

The sentence "I'm so sorry this happened to you" is often the best response. Etiquetteer advises care with "If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know." Only say this if you truly intend to help out when asked! Few things are as embarrassing for those in Unwilling Professional Transition than asking for help from those who have said  "If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know" -- whether it's for a professional introduction, review of a resume or correspondence, or even grocery money -- and then not getting it.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I need your help. My male colleague in the next cubicle wears the most annoying cologne. I think this is a fairly new habit because I have never noticed it until today. I have been sitting next to him for the last five months but we have never really talked so I can't just tell him "whatever you're wearing must stop". But I guess I have to. Is there a kind way to do this?

Dear Asphyxiated:

Someone once decreed that one's perfume should not be noticed in a room where one is not, in fact, present. Which is the problem with cubicles -- they're all in the same room!

Questions of Hygiene in the Workplace must be approached sensitively. And questions of cologne are especially sensitive, since scent is used to enhance one's Personal Appeal. (Please note: Etiquetteer did not say Sex Appeal since the setting for this query is the workplace. Those looking to enhance their Sex Appeal in the workplace . . . well, all Etiquetteer can say is, they'd better watch out, or they could find themselves laid off [see above].) It must be a jolt to find out that something one thought of as a positive has turned out to be such a negative that it's created a problem for a colleague.

Your concerns must be approached with sensitivity, too. Many people have olfactory health issues that are exacerbated by heavy or pungent scent, leading them to lobby for Fragrance Free Zones in their workplaces. Whether or not your own reaction to this is medical or just annoyed, Etiquetteer imagines it impacts your productivity. No one can type well while holding a handkerchief to one's nose.

Etiquetteer believes most people who apply their scent heavily don't realize the impact it has. You can bring up the topic casually ("Did you just get some new cologne?") and then segue into the heart of the matter ("Actually, it's quite overpowering.") If the idea of raising this issue creates too much anxiety, talk to your supervisor about it. That's what supervisors are for, after all! Your supervisor can address this issue anonymously on your behalf with your Highly Scented Colleague, or can arrange for a Fragrance Free Zone for you by moving your cubicle.

Equality in Workplace Coverage, Vol. 8, Issue 5

Dear Etiquetteer: I am constantly confronted with co-workers who feel like they get a pass on helping with special events, working late, or covering shifts because they have family obligations (kids). Meanwhile, I (the only queer) become the default go-to person. In my mind, their kids, wives, etc., are not my problem and irrelevant. Their lives are no more important than mine. Whether I go home to a house full of kids or a bar full of fun friends or some late night tricks, it is of no concern. 

My question is, how do you tactfully express that? Having a big diva tantrum isn't going to help the situation, but the breeders need to know that my life is just as important as theirs and we all need to either take turns or as a group cover the undesirable hours.

Dear Working Girlfriend:

First, let's cast this question in such a way that it's free of sexual orientation. Gay parents are far from unheard of in the workplace, and so are single straight people. And considering the after-work activities you mention, Etiquetteer is obliged to point out that licentiousness knows no distinctions.

Assuming that these special events and other shifts are scheduled in advance, Etiquetteer recommends that you make yourself unavailable first, before your other colleagues do. No need to say why (and in fact, it would be none of their business), but set an expectation that you are not automatically free to be the default cover. When Entitled Mommy or Entitled Daddy respond, "But I can't that night! I always have to pick up Precious Snowflake at day care" or something, apologize and say you're still not available and that your plans are unbreakable. Refrain from getting on edge with a snappy comeback like "Too bad, I have a [Insert Profane Expletive Here] life, too!" Professional colleagues always have knives. 

Data becomes your best back-up in such situations. When you can point out that, of an office of six people you've been responsible for over 75% of overtime coverage, everyone must recognize that a more equitable solution is needed.

You need to speak with your supervisor about availability, specifically that yours is NOT determined by the fact that you don't have family waiting at home. Ultimately these after-hours assignments are his or her responsibility and if further advance scheduling is needed to assure that coverage is fair, so be it.

Etiquetteer has a new e-mail address for all your questions about Perfect Propriety, queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com. Etiquetteer hopes to hear from you soon!

More Random Issues, Vol. 6, Issue 15

Dear Etiquetteer:

I need your guidance. A cousin of mine, with triplets, works two jobs (one of which is as a waiter at a local restaurant) while his wife stays at home with the kids. Money is tight for them. I just received from them a gift certificate large enough to cover a lovely dinner for two at my cousin's restaurant with a little note that he is always there waiting on table on Saturday nights. I have no trouble with the hint that I should dine on a Saturday night. My quandary is, if he is my waiter that evening, does one tip the waiter/donor when the account is tallied?

Dear Diner:

How does one tip one’s host? Such an interesting query. If your cousin was entertaining you in his own home, tipping would be out of the question. Were your cousin the owner of the restaurant, and waiting on your table, tipping would again be unthinkable. But in this case – in which one’s benefactor is also an employee – Etiquetteer thinks one would tip as one ordinarily does when the service has been exceptionally good. Etiquetteer knows how very much waiters depend on tips to supplement their meager salaries, and Etiquetteer finds it too great an extension of your "host’s" hospitality to omit a gratuity.

And if you really found everything to your liking, you could send a little basket of edible treats to your cousin’s home the next day, to return the hospitality of their gift certificate . . . and make a reservation at the restaurant for another Saturday night.

Dear Etiquetteer:My mother, who works at a local college, has an antisocial boss who turns around when he sees her coming in his direction, so he doesn't have to say hello. Last week, she and her colleagues received this missive. I'd love to have your expert take on this latest social anomaly. By the way, he is loathe to meet face-to-face. As to handwritten notes, do octopi fly?P.S. Grammatical errors and typos in letter (sic).

In an effort to reduce the amount of e-mail I generate, effective today, I'mgoing to experiment eliminating most, if not all, "thank you" messages.In lieu of these, I'll try:* assuming you understand that I always appreciate your good work* picking up the phone and thanking you* thanking you in person as we meet face-to-face in a meeting or on campus* sending you a handwritten thank-you note Basically, I wanted to to know that I appreciate all you're doing for [Insert Name of Local College Here] despite you're not necessarily receiving a "well done" e-mail message from me to clog your inbox.

Dear Skeptical:

At first glance, Etiquetteer has to wonder why this man was put into a supervisory position. So often in academia, and even in large corporations, the only way talented people can advance is by becoming supervisors. But talented people are not always effective supervisors, which leads to communications problems like this.

Surprisingly, Etiquetteer likes the idea of reducing the amount of e-mail going around, but it is never good form to assume that one’s employees "know" one thinks highly of their work. Etiquetteer wishes your mother’s employer had just started writing Lovely Notes to thank employees without this clumsy e-mail announcement. As it is, those Lovely Notes had better be extra lovely and he’d better not be seen dodging his staff, as your mother has witnessed, to keep from talking to them.

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>


Mourning and Help Wanteds, Vol. 6, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer:Last week my mother called me to tell me the child of neighborhood acquaintances had died. It was a baby, and I guess it was sudden and unexpected. I haven’t seen these people in awhile, and I wasn’t sure if I should have gone to the funeral or not. I haven’t seen these folks in a very long time, and I wouldn’t want them to think I was intruding. We also, I know, have different opinions about gay marriage; would they think I was rubbing it in their faces?

Dear Sympathizing:

Conventional wisdom has always been "When in doubt, don’t." But whenever attending a funeral is in question, Etiquetteer says DO. The bereaved are more likely to be grateful for any effort taken to console them, rather than think of slights and disagreements. And if they WERE to think of slights and disagreements, then they wouldn’t be very worthy of consolation, would they? But that would be their fault for thinking it, and not yours for going to the funeral. Etiquetteer hopes you will at least send a letter of condolence (not an e-mail) to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Dear Etiquetteer:

An elderly cousin in North Carolina died last month. She was an eighty-year-old first cousin who had not married, but had a large town full of friends. While she had cousins on the other side of her family, my wife and I were the closest next of kin. We were the ones to make funeral arrangements. While she had already prearranged her funeral, there are those final details to take care of: getting proper clothes for her to be buried in, arranging a time for the funeral service that would fit the church, minister and family that had to make travel arrangements. Finding the cousins on the other side of the family was a problem. We had to be escorted into her apartment by the security man at her group residence to look for her address book. Looking up the phone number of the cousins on the other side along with other friends and finding out who is the custodian for her mentally retarded god child in New Orleans. After recording all the addresses and phone numbers of people we recognized as being our cousin’s close friends, the address book was turned back to the security man. Our cousin had been very generous in helping just about every good cause in town and out. I was informed by the administrator of the county school system that she had given over 90 scholarships. This did not include the city school system.Writing the obituary was really a joy as we included facts about her life. The funeral home had their web site or e-mail address included at the end of the obituary. Yesterday, I received from the funeral home several copies of e-mails from some of those who had received college education due to her scholarships. These are people that could not make the funeral due to time or may not have known until days later. And, if they had come to the funeral, I would not have the email to read again in my mourning time or to share with those other cousins. Dear Next of Kin:Permit Etiquetteer to offer you sincere sympathy on your bereavement, and also congratulate you on handling all the arrangements with such organization. But Etiquetteer must take issue with you over one tiny item. Whether mourners attend the funeral or not, they still must write a Perfectly Proper letter of condolence to the family. So if everyone was pulling their weight, you’d have these stories to read later anyway, whether you’d met the people at the funeral or not.

Dear Etiquetteer:I put an ad for a Medical Assistant on [Insert Name of No-Cost On-line Community Here] last week, outlining job responsibilities with instructions to call and speak with the office manager, leaving her name and office number. Almost immediately, I started to receive e-mails with résumé attachments!I deleted the first ten or so, thinking that, if they cannot read and follow instructions, then they could never work for me.But dozens of responses kept coming in via e-mail. And we did eventually start to review them - thinking maybe we are not keeping up with the times. Who doesn't want to be au courant? But, we did get a near equal number responding in the manner suggested.While reviewing the applications I also noted one e-mail address in particular, because it included the word "sexy." My first impulse was to e-mail them and tell them if they were to ever be taken seriously for a position as a Medical Assistant (and not a call girl) they should change the e-mail address! But, I didn't.So my questions for you are:1. Is this what society has come to? If so, do I have to accept this?2. Should I have expected this 50/50 split in responses - i.e. those who can follow instructions versus those who cannot - considering the medium I chose to advertise the position?3. Why do I seem to notice (and then have to relay) all the oddities I observe daily - like sexy's e-mail address? Or is that a question for the shrink? You don't have to answer that last one!

Dear Ad Doctor:

Etiquetteer very much fears that this is what society has come to, but you do not have to accept it. You will aid and abet Perfect Propriety by not advertising on [Insert Name of No-Cost On-line Community Here]. Etiquetteer promises you’ll get better responses by going directly to medical communities on-line. The first rule of any advertising is "target your market!"

As to the even split between responsible applicants and ignorant doofuses unable to read what’s put before them, Etiquetteer isn’t really surprised. While it’s common now to expect to respond to something seen on-line via e-mail, that’s no excuse for missing the instructions not to do so altogether. Really, Etiquetteer doesn’t see why you shouldn’t reply to them via e-mail that their applications will not be considered because they were sent improperly.

As for your last question, Etiquetteer’s Polite Explanation is that you notice these sexual references because they are Absolutely Improper in the workplace.

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Holiday Cards and Other Correspondence, Vol. 4, Issue 52

Dear Etiquetteer:With all this “national dialogue” about how Christians have to take back Christmas, what’s your take on mailing Christmas cards to non-Christians. I always feel uncomfortable sending Christmas cards to Jews I know, but then some of them surprise me by celebrating Christmas with a tree and gifts. Please let me know what you think. Dear Thoughtful:Christmas does need saving, but not from the politically correct dogma you might think. To Etiquetteer, thoughtful Christians should turn their efforts to saving Christmas from the Retail Frenzy that grips our Great Nation every winter. Already the news stories have come in of riots at big box stores from people coming to blows over the last available [Insert Highly Desirable Toy or Computer Here]. That is NOT Perfectly Proper behavior, and it certainly isn’t good everyday Christian manners. Stop it at once.But you were asking mostly about Christmas cards. Other etiquette experts disagree, but Etiquetteer strongly believes that one should not send Christmas cards to those whose religion is other than Christian, whether they celebrate Christmas or not. One sends one’s Jewish friends Hanukkah cards, and Kwanzaa cards to those who celebrate Kwanzaa. Etiquetteer fancies that pagans and others might welcome a generic “Happy Holidays” card that didn’t have blatant red-and-green Christmas imagery all over it.Of course there is a VERY elegant way to avoid this whole hullaballoo, and Etiquetteer doesn’t know why more people don’t do it. Send New Year’s greetings to everyone instead of holiday greetings! These have an added advantage: you may mail them as late as January 6!

Dear Etiquetteer:A kind gentleman conducted an interview with me one month ago. Immediately after the interview I forgot to thank my interviewer, much as I had intended to send a card. The interview was for something whose acceptance letter is due earliest by February, but it seems inappropriate to thank my interviewer only after receiving a reply; yet, I am incredibly late. What is the most proper and polite thing to do now?Dear Carded:Etiquetteer’s dear mother has always said “Better late than never.” The later one is, however, the more oomph needs to be put into the communication. This is especially true in your situation, which Etiquetteer can tell involves admission to a college. Most of the “kind gentlemen” you mention, and a greater than or equal number of kind ladies, too, volunteer their time to interview prospective students like yourself. So by all means, get that letter out today! – don’t even go to bed until you’ve finished it – and thank your interviewer for his time, attention to your case, and service to his alma mater. Please don’t use some frilly greeting card. Grown-up business stationery is most Perfectly Proper here.Etiquetteer wishes you all the best in your admissions adventures!

Dear Etiquetteer:What do YOU want for Christmas?Dear Presenting:Aren’t you sweet for asking! Thank you! All Etiquetteer wants is a world of Perfect Propriety for all, where the Wicked and Evil are confounded, where women know not to wear sequins before 5:00 PM, where gentlemen remember to hold the door, and where cell phones are perpetually set to vibrate.

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How to Set Limits, Vol. 4, Issue 43

Dear Etiquetteer: How do you deal with e-mail sarcasm? The other day I got an e-mail with the subject "This is really not good" from a client. Aside from being really vague, it really put my back up. Turns out the matter at hand was something that was his fault in the first place! Dear Offended: Whether in person or on-line, it’s best to behave like cream: rise to the top. In your case, Etiquetteer would have changed the subject line when you replied to relate specifically to the matter at hand. (Etiquetteer gets more e-mail headed "Etiquette Question" or "Query" than he knows what to do with.)This feels more difficult in person when Snidely Whiplash is standing right in front of you. At least you have the distance of the Internet between you. Most important, don’t respond to the red flag they are waving in front of you. Express concern ("I’m sorry you’re having such a difficult time") and fix the problem when possible. When it’s not, apologize and suggest alternatives (and no, "go jump in the lake" is not an alternative.)

Dear Etiquetteer: In our world of instant gratification what is the acceptable time frame for responding to someone if they have contacted you? I work with someone who will send me an e-mail and if I do not respond within an hour they will call me and ask why I haven't e-mailed them back. If someone e-mails you how long do you have to e-mail them back and if they call how long do you have to return their call? Dear Besieged: Sounds like someone could use a little Prozac to deal with separation anxiety, and Etiquetteer doesn’t mean you. Of course drugging all your colleagues won’t really get you very far.This person is expecting WAY too much attention from you. We all know people who are excited about their work, but this is over the top. Etiquetteer hopes you have a phone with a display screen so you can at least screen his or her calls. A Perfectly Proper standard should be to respond to phone or e-mail messages within the span of a business day. Etiquetteer knows one person, an architect, who includes a time limit in his voicemail, saying "I commit to returning your call within 24 hours."The multi-media barrage you’re facing from this person, however, is unacceptable. A non-immediate response does not mean you’re avoiding the issue at hand. Explain graciously what the standard of your office is, and also that part of your job requires you to be in places other than your office during the workday. If this behavior continues, Etiquetteer gives you permission to explain that your duties also require you to devote your attention to more than one person.

Dear Etiquetteer: Like most people today I have a very full schedule. My husband and I both have divorced parents which means we have four families to contend with, not just two. I also work full time and try to spend time with my friends as well as (heaven forbid) my husband. Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining. I'm very lucky to have so many people in my life, but recently some of these people have been less understanding regarding my busy schedule. I have a friend who insists on calling me daily and if she doesn't see me at least once a week she tells me that I'm ignoring her. I don't want to lose her as a friend, but I need to scale things back. How do I do this without hurting her feelings? Dear Asphyxiated by Affection:If Etiquetteer was less Perfectly Proper than he actually is, he would advise you to suggest tartly to your friend that she is ignoring you by failing to recognize how overwhelmed you are. But this is not really Perfectly Proper, as we all know . . .You should take the initiative in scheduling together time with your importunate friend at appropriate intervals, say every two or three weeks. She should be flattered that you are making the effort, but if she asks to meet sooner, kindly but candidly tell her that you need to spend time with your husband. As for the phone calls, screen them when you don’t want to talk and take them when you do. One would think people would be more sensitive about pestering a friend with social calls at the workplace, but too often these situations come up because one isn’t thinking.

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Office Etiquette, Vol. 4, Issue 41

Dear Etiquetteer:This past week a co-worker was out sick from the office. As I was sitting at my desk I heard his telephone ring and normally I wouldn't think anything of it, except following the ring came a voice of another co-worker (who does not assist or supervise this individual) answering his telephone. This individual answered the phone to let the person calling know that he was out sick and took a message. This person could not assist or provide any information to the caller because this person is a separate entity from him. I thought first that this was out of line and inappropriate to answer a colleague's phone; second, this hindered his ability to check voicemail from home and forward along any impertinent time-sensitive information to other co-workers in the office. In this situation was it appropriate for this person to answer a co-worker's phone when they are out sick and what would your response be (besides that of bewilderment) to the co-worker you witnessed answering the phone? I look forward to hearing your thoughts! Dear Perturbed: Well, you’re not going to like this, but Etiquetteer’s first thought about this is that you need to learn the difference between "pertinent" and "impertinent." The former means "relevant to the situation" and the latter is really a dressy way to say "sassy."Someone once said something like "Never attribute to malice what you can put down to incompetence." Unless you know this colleague to be a wicked, back-biting and evil person eager to take every advantage against other colleagues, Etiquetteer encourages you to attribute this person’s actions as an absent-minded desire to help the caller. After all, one can never assume that colleagues writhing in pain on a sickbed have remembered to change their voicemail.As a general rule, however, if it’s not your phone, it’s not your business.

Dear Etiquetteer: Can you talk a bit about the pitfalls of deadpan humor in office situations - from co-workers, bosses or underlings? I sometimes wonder if I am inappropriate. Dear Dead Duck: The biggest pitfall there is is being taken seriously. Nothing is worse than realizing your snappy comeback was taken at face value as an insult. It’s sort of like realizing the woman whose due date you just asked about is not at all pregnant.What this really means is you have to know your audience. Too much wisecracking at a job interview or on your first day on the job, or with anyone you’re meeting for the first time in a professional setting – it’s like setting off a string of firecrackers. One of them could put someone’s eye out.Etiquetteer blames World War I for all this. Before the "war to end all wars" society knew how to pay a well-turned compliment. After the war, during the Roaring Twenties, the well-turned compliment fell to the well-aimed wisecrack. This evolved into the insult humor we know so well now, alas. Society has lost the art of creating a verbal posy, and more than a few people end up bruised without knowing how to say so.Now Etiquetteer doesn’t mean that humor has no place in the office – not so! Indeed, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much laughs louder than anyone in the place does. But again, know your audience.Etiquetteer can make only one other comment here, which is never to joke aboutDilbert with employees who report to you or who are lower on the corporate ladder. They interpret it differently, and you could only come out looking like the Evil Pointy-Haired Boss with your observations.

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Customer Service, Vol. 4, Issue 37

Dear Etiquetteer: What does one say to the proprietor of a faraway lodge (that I really want to visit) when queried about reservations and his response is "Go online and make your reservations yourself." Twelve hours later, when I had time to get to a computer, the reservation took about 20 minutes to make. The online, impersonal response only reserved one night of my five-day request. Back online, I made reservations at the same place in a different room, surmising that the problem was that the room that I wanted wasn't available for the entire week, so I volunteered to change rooms, ergo making a reservation for the remainder of the five days.The response was favorable but the main lodge, all the other facilities and the dining room are closed for three of the five days. And by the way, once the reservation is made online, there is a no refund cancellation policy. Poor business tactics.And I remain very interested in going there: the dining room is closed, but the lodge is a refuge and CULINARY SCHOOL! Dear Frustrated Foodie: Etiquetteer feels compelled to ask if this lodge is also a refuge from basic customer service. To quote the late Mamie Eisenhower, "Never mess around with some clerk. Always go straight to the top."But with sinking heart, Etiquetteer now observes that you are already negotiating with the proprietor, and not just some reservations agent. How very vexing!  So, what do you say to the proprietor? Tell this person exactly what you told Etiquetteer: that you were disappointed to be directed from a person to a website to make your reservations, and then angry and frustrated when the website made a bad, evil reservation for you that was not what you wanted. You then need to insist – nicely at first, then more forcefully if you don’t get results – that the proprietor take your reservation by phone at once.

Dear Etiquetteer: Don’t you think people should make eye contact with people they do business with? By this I mean that I am disturbed by fellow shoppers/customers who make no human acknowledgement of cashiers and other service people and the disappearing custom of thanking customers. I am so tired of "Here you go" or "You're all set buh-bye," when I want to hear "Thank you!" Dear Eyed: Etiquetteer would add to that litany of apathy the desultory "No problem" that comes from cashiers and waiters. It always suggests to Etiquetteer that they might, in fact, have a problem with doing part of their job.The Declaration of Independence offers some of the best etiquette advice one could use in the United States: " . . . that all men are created equal . . . " This suggests that both customer and employee are fully engaged in the transaction, and not talking on cell phones (you would be amazed at how often Etiquetteer sees this on both sides of the counter), watching television, or talking to friends to the point that the customer/employee is ignored. It also suggests that customer should refrain from condescending to the employee because they (the customer) are so much more superior. You are quite correct that a professionally cheerful "Thank you!" should be the last words from a customer service employee. And it should be acknowledged by the customer with a smile and a nod to conclude the transaction before the customer has started to walk away.Let Etiquetteer add, too, that customer service shouldn’t ostentatiously call attention to itself. Etiquetteer will confess to impatience with hotel operators who say, "It’s my pleasure to connect you" when all they really need to say is "One moment please."

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Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 30

Dear Etiquetteer: I was a bit saddened to see your excessively hearty embrace of the post-interview thank you letter. Such letters are a relatively recent development in business etiquette: I remember that they were considered rather aggressively self-serving 20 years ago (and almost unheard of several years ago before that except in very personally connected business interviews), and still can be considered so in many quarters. It may depend on the field, but I know that I have more frequently received job offers from places that I did NOT send such letters, and vice versa. I know many (many) business people who loathe them as an imitation of the personal in a business context. I and many other people actually prefer not to receive them; while I rarely hold them against an applicant, there have been exceptions -- especially where the letters fake being more that perfunctory. Fakeness is a distinct negative in an applicant for most jobs, except in acting and fund-raising, where the quality is essential to flatter the audience. Business thank-you notes are to personal thank-you notes as prostitution is to love: they can be OK only so long as they are not confused. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer could not agree with you more that insincerity would sink any thank-you letter, personal or professional. And Etiquetteer would also suggest that "fakeness" doesn't really help any actor or fund-raiser. Someone once asked Spencer Tracy for advice on acting. His response: "Don't get caught." For thank-you letters in business, this translates to "Brief, concise, and specific."And let Etiquetteer add that, when you accept a job offer, it is also best accepted by letter ALONE, and completely without flowers, chocolates, or any other non-corporate trinket.

Dear Etiquetteer: This is a personal question of my own relative to the brides who were serving what sounded like wedding cake and a glass of champagne for guests who have spent time and money to honor them. Is the following not the proper formula for a destination wedding?

  • Guests are expected to pay for their transportation and hotel.
  • Once at the chosen destination, should invitees not be treated with almost the same hospitality as houseguests? That is at least two meals each day (continental breakfast and lunch or dinner, often hosted by relatives) and some sort of entertainment plan for the in-between wedding activities?
  • On arrival, welcome notes with possibly a small basket of fruit, nearby places to visit and a lineup of the wedding activities in each guest's room is not a costly thing and can be prepared well ahead.
  • Before departure, wouldn't a pre-written "thank you for coming" under their door be a nice but inexpensive gesture?

Maybe it's my Southern upbringing but darn it, if I go to the trouble of buying gifts, attending a shower, making reservations for travel and hotel, and sometimes buying a tacky bridesmaid dress, then giving up two or three days of my life, I'd like to know my efforts are appreciated. I'd also like a nice meal, even if the bride is a vegetarian and this is her day.Weddings are expensive. Plan on it or go to the city hall. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer doesn’t know about you, but you wouldn’t see Etiquetteer poking Lovely Notes under hotel room doors at 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning after a wedding. Other than that, your proposal seems appropriate, but not achievable for those on a strict budget. For instance, assuming a Saturday evening wedding, Etiquetteer would find it Perfectly Proper for the out-of-town guests to go to the rehearsal dinner and a morning-after breakfast in addition to the wedding itself.Etiquetteer loves the idea of a little giftie waiting in the hotel room, and wants EVERYONE'S suggestions! Please send them to And speaking of weddings, please join Etiquetteer in wishing Maria and Seth a long and happy life together after their beautiful wedding on Saturday, July 23. Rarely has Etiquetteer seen a bridal couple so radiant!

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Resumés and Receptions, Vol. 4, Issue 28

Dear Etiquetteer:In this day of e-mail resumes and cover letters, can you help me to sort out the rules?As a potential employee, if I've been given both a street address and e-mail as a contact, should I contact the employer in both ways? I certainly don't want to be a pest but if I missed out on the great job to the speedy candidates via e-mail I'd be devastated!And what about post-interview? To send a thank-you note for the meeting, can I do this via e-mail?I've noticed that as the whole recruiting process goes electronic the days of rejection letters seem to be completely passe. As much as I hate the "Thank you for your interest.... many strong candidates... you're a loser" sort of correspondence it can be settling to cross that possibility off one's list at least. Has this process fallen out of tradition or are employers now merely lazy? Dear Resuming:These days most job postings include instructions for submitting job applications, most frequently with the admonition "No phone calls." Resume submission by e-mail and fax has become standard, but Etiquetteer still believes that a crisply-printed resume on Perfectly Proper bond paper makes the best first impression. Some may Wag an Admonitory Digit at Etiquetteer for suggesting a duplication of effort, but Etiquetteer really thinks you should fax or e-mail your cover letter and resume first, and then send it via post with the superscription "Faxed/e-mailed on [Insert Date Here]."Interviewers determine how best to communicate after a job interview. Goodinterviewers will remember to tell you this, as in "We are still interviewing candidates, but I will be in touch with finalists in two weeks." They should also hand you a business card that should include their contact information. If an interviewer forgets to mention any of this, Etiquetteer permits you to direct the conversation by asking "So, what are the next steps?" and asking for a card and whether phone, e-mail, or footman is the best contact method.And now, with barely audible disdain, Etiquetteer is going to have to tell you that you never send a thank-you note after a job interview. Notes are for social correspondence. What candidates send is a thank-you letter on Perfectly Proper crisp letterhead. If more than one person has interviewed you, you send an individual letter to each interviewer. Make sure they vary a bit; you never know if they’ll all powwow and compare them. And make doubly sure you write, print, and sign them that night and mail them first thing in the morning. If possible – and Etiquetteer has done this – you may deliver them to the receptionist of the company in question, but only if you think you will not be seen by the interviewers.Like you, Etiquetteer laments the electrifying of the rejection letter. Somehow a printed letter in the mail seemed more human – certainly unmistakable – than another e-mail which could easily be spam.

Dear Etiquetteer:I have a party, or more specifically, a wedding reception-related question. Two very good friends have asked me to help with some of the aesthetic details of their wedding. This is an honor and I am very happy that they are, after 21 years together, finally able to marry like our straight brothers and sisters.Here is my question: what do you think about weddings without a meal? My friends have planned for passed hors d'oeuvres and cocktails but no meal. The ceremony is to be about 4 o'clock, at their country place. I feel they should provide a meal. I might feel differently if it were in town and did not involve travel and a hotel stay for a majority of the guests.Two of my colleagues attended weddings in another state last fall, and neither reception provided lunch or dinner. They both felt hungry and like something was missing. As one described it, she was very happy for her friends, thought the service was beautiful, and the reception location a gem, but that the event from start to finish lasted almost six hours and the hors d'oeuvres were minuscule and in short supply. As the receptions were also something of a reunion of old friends both of my colleagues felt reluctant, though tempted, to duck out for a bite.While I am guessing that there is no requirement of a meal it does in my own memory seem to contribute measurably to a wonderful event and shared experience. If my friends were just starting out in life and on a tight budget I would feel differently, but they are clearly upper-middle-class owning three homes and a successful business.Here are my questions: do you feel there is the expectation of dinner, and is it correct for me to gently raise the question?Dear Drafted:Oh dear, Etiquetteer thought he heard a parakeet just now. Didn’t you hear it? It sounded like "Cheap cheap cheap cheap cheap cheap cheap cheap cheap!"If your lady friends are so intent on dragging all their kindred and kind friends into the country for a wedding, they ought to feed them lunch or dinner. If they were keeping them all in town (much more sensible, if you ask Etiquetteer) they could perfectly well get away with hors d’oeuvres. Clearly they are not thinking about how their guests are going to experience their Special Day. You, happily, have been put into the unique position of advisors to your pair of brides, and Etiquetteer encourages you to speak with them, gently, about serving a luncheon or dinner as part of their festivities.

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Perfect Propriety for Presidents, Vol. 4, Issue 20

Dear Etiquetteer: I'm a chief academic officer at a small private college and desperately need your advice in how to handle that Mother of All Uncivil Behavior, the College President.  If you don't believe me, let me tell you a hair-raising, yet true, story.Some time ago the president of a college where I consulted got into a snit with his faculty, not because of inept or corrupt management, but because he was a bully and a tyrant.  The faculty moved heart and soul first to redeem him and second, when all attempts failed, to unseat him.  This, of course, enraged him more, and he set out on a path of revenge against his enemies, real and imagined.After several years of tireless effort cultivating its best and brightest students to compete for prestigious national fellowships, the college found itself in the enviable position of having produced its first-ever winner of the distinguished and coveted [Insert Name of Distinguished and Coveted Fellowship Here].  Everyone at the school was ecstatic and endeavored to celebrate the young woman’s triumph with great fanfare.At the luncheon following the annual spring awards convocation, the student and her parents found themselves walking next to the college president as they were leaving the auditorium.  He did not speak to the young woman and also ignored her parents, although he did congratulate another student present for having won some lesser honors.  The fellowship recipient and her parents were surprised but thought it merely an oversight. As they waited at the head table where they and several other students and parents were placed, they received an even greater insult.  The president arrived at the head table, and instead of sitting down, picked up his placecard, said only, "I'm going to move to another table," turned his back and walked away.  The reason for this snub was simple: the student’s advisor was a faculty member who had worked to remove the president.  The young woman and her parents were crushed. Well, Etiquetteer, I know you are as horrified as we all were.  Could you please comment on appropriate behavior of chief executives in academia?   And especially offer some insights for those leaders who must be attentive to the ceremonial role of their positions? Dear Chief Academic Officer Who Never Wants to Be a President: Etiquetteer’s heart goes out to that poor fellowship winner and her parents, needlessly snubbed just like a child stuck between two divorcing parents. Your college president seems to be guided by the maxim “The friend of my enemy is my enemy.” This is not only foolish, but could be disastrous for the future of the college in question. Small-Minded People should never be placed in Big Picture Positions. Academic leaders, like world leaders, cannot afford to compromise their dignity or to burn bridges. This means that the carrying-on of blood feuds such as the one you describe need as much as possible to be limited to the issues, and not to personalities. We have only to look back as recently as last year for examples. Take, for instance, the profane way Vice President Cheney treated Senator Patrick Leahy during their “class photo” in Congress. It justifies what Cornelia Robson said in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile: “Cousin Marie says politicians aren’t gentlemen.”All this is to say that whatever disagreements one may have with a colleague, they must be confined only to the colleague, and they must not intrude on the public role of the college presidency. And of course that public role involves acting as a figurehead for the entire college, and acknowledging dignitaries and special guests, such as your fellowship winner and her parents. Most of this can be limited to hand-shaking en masse, taking seats of honor on daises, delivering keynote addresses, making small talk with people who speak other languages in the glare of photographers and thousands of onlookers, and remembering to wear pants under one’s academic gown. Etiquetteer will admit that this routine can become grinding after only a few years, but heavy lies the head that wears a mortarboard.Your Petty Little President behaved inexcusably moving to another table, and if it were up to Etiquetteer he’d get a good sound spanking. As it is, he needs a handler who will stick to him like glue and make sure he behaves the way he ought, and Etiquetteer is not kidding. Heads of state and celebrities of all stripes employ people to help them remember everything they need to do and everyone whose names they are supposed to remember. Your guy needs to shape up and hire one pronto if he cares anything about the institution he’s leading.

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