Etiquetteer Tours the White House, Vol. 14, Issue 41

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Last week Etiquetteer had the great good fortune to tour the White House, and would like to recommend that you do so as well. Requests for White House tours are handled through the offices of your elected representatives to Congress, so find out who yours is and follow the directions. Etiquetteer will admit to having been drawn to the House to tour after a summer announcement from the Obama White House that the tour format had changed to a self-guided tour, and that tourists would now be allowed to take photographs. From the White House website, "As of July 1, 2015, Smartphones and compact cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches (stills only) are permitted on the public tour route as long as their use does not interfere with other guests’ enjoyment of the tour" [emphasis Etiquetteer's.] Etiquetteer wants to offer a few tips to make your White House tour both enjoyable and Perfectly Proper.

It's very important not to bring much of anything with you. Aside from the list of prohibited items*, there is no place to check anything belonging to you so you can retrieve it later, including your coat. This is because tourists enter the House through one entrance and exit through another; there's no backtracking. Etiquetteer's concession to this was to forego wearing a hat, which would of course be removed instantly on entering someone's home. Etiquetteer rather regrets that Misbehaving Very Young Children are not included on the prohibited list, but to suggest such a thing would seem to some an Assault on American Motherhood. If Very Young Children must be brought, their parents should be mindful not only of keeping them out of the way of others - and there's a lot of movement with so many people self-guiding about the House - but also of the historic importance of the rooms one is privileged to tour.

The tour begins outside, rain or shine, so dress accordingly for the weather. Etiquetteer also thinks you should dress for Perfect Propriety - one never knows when a Very Important Person might appear - but most tourists appeared in tourist clothes: cargo pants, jeans, sweaters, etc. Etiquetteer observed one large group of chaperoned high school students all wearing identical hoodies with their school logo, which has the advantage of being Perfectly Practical.

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The line forms here, in front of the building next door to the White House.

Etiquetteer was fortunate enough to enjoy bright and brisk autumn sunshine while waiting in line with other citizens, chatting with the family from Alabama directly ahead. At the appointed time, National Park Service rangers admit those in line with tickets and government-issued identification. The line curves past a large equestrian statue, and then divides in two, where reservation forms and ID are checked by agents. Tourists then walk past another ranger who distributes small tour guides to an interior space where everyone is briefly checked and goes through a metal detector. It is very important to pay attention before to items not allowed on the tour; Etiquetteer witnessed a tourist have to give up some sort of prohibited item or be turned away.

Tourists then walk outside and approach the entrance to the East Wing. Etiquetteer remembers touring the White House in 1980 and entering directly from this entrance without the intervening security. One proceeds up the stairs and down the East Colonnade overlooking the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, and through a square room containing large portraits of former presidents and a small gift shop. (Etiquetteer thinks Millard Fillmore deserves better than to be hung over the cash register.)

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President Fillmore surrounded by cashiers.

From here one enters the Ground Floor of the White House, where the China and Vermeil Rooms and the Library may be viewed. At least on the day Etiquetteer was there, the Diplomatic Reception Room and the other half of the floor were screened off. The rooms on this floor are not suitable for large crowds of tourists, as they have only one door. Ropes across the door keep tourists from entering. Etiquetteer recommends showing courtesy to fellow tourists by not spending too much time in the doorways; have a look and then pass on. Don't become an obstruction for others.

Etiquetteer does not advise making political commentary on current or former occupants of the House to the Secret Service agents on duty. Staff of the House are loyal to the Presidency, and Etiquetteer thinks it courteous not to put any of them into a position of saying "No comment" to an Impertinent Question, no matter how humorously or mock-humorously intended.

From the Ground Floor one ascends a staircase and suddenly enters the East Room from a corner entrance.

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The East Room

Mostly roped off so that one can appreciate the true scope of the room, the Obamas have added a few items created by groups they have visited or who have visited the White House.

From the East Room, tourists may proceed at their own pace through the Green, Blue, and Red Rooms to the State Dining Room. Throughout the State Floor rugs have been rolled back to preserve them from extensive tourist foot traffic, but this does not mar the beauty of the rooms, nor much disarrange the furniture.

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Notice how the beauty of the Blue Room is retained even with the carpets rolled up.

Each room has two doors. For parties of two or more, Etiquetteer recommends splitting in half so that one half can photograph the other in each room. A uniformed Secret Service agent is present in each room to answer questions and share information. They are also there to keep tourists from sitting on the furniture, even if it isn't behind a rope. Etiquetteer witnessed a Secret Service agent politely directly a young woman not to sit in a Red Room chair, even though it was not behind the ropes.

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The deceptively available Red Room chair.

From the Red Room, the tour continues through the State Dining Room (with a peek into the smaller Family Dining Room), through the other half of the Cross Hall, and then out the Entrance Hall through the North Portico. This portion of the tour contains the location where most tourists want to get their pictures taken: the Blue Room entrance flanked by the flags and surmounted by the Seal of the President of the United States.

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The most popular selfie backdrop in the White House.

Under the circumstances, waiting for the Perfect Photo Opportunity could take so long that the Secret Service might get overly interested. Etiquetteer considers that "making do" is the best strategy.

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Etiquetteer could not avoid being photobombed.

It might seem odd to some that the grand piano has been placed in the Entrance Hall instead of the East Room, but one must remember that it is often used when there is dancing in the Entrance Hall, and that the East Room is used for many types of functions when a piano might be in the way.

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And so the White House tour ends with an exit to the North Portico. Tourists want to linger on the steps, but the Secret Service firmly and courteously keep everyone moving down the stairs. Many continue taking photographs down the drive, and in the street outside the gates, and across the street in Lafayette Square. The entire tour was a worthwhile experience, not only to view the rooms which have witnessed so much History, but to see how valuable Fellow Citizens feel it is to tour. Etiquetteer encourages you to do so.

*Items prohibited on White House tours: video recorders, video cameras including any action camcorders, cameras with detachable lenses, tablets, tripods, monopods, camera sticks (the increasingly popular and menacing “selfie stick”), handbags, bookbags, backpacks, purses, food or beverages, tobacco products, personal grooming items (i.e. makeup, lotion, etc.), strollers, any pointed objects (which Etiquetteer took to include pens or pencils), aerosol containers, guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size.

And, We Have a Winner, Vol. 14, Issue 23

And, at last, we have a winner, a Pet Peeve that trounces all others in Etiquetteer's Spring Madness of Pet Peeves:

TABLE MANNERS/DINING OUT: ILL-MANNERED CHILDREN WITH COMPLACENT PARENTS

Powerful, isn't it? And Etiquetteer is impressed that, of all the Pet Peeves in the grid, a selection that didn't specifically mention technology made it to the top.

Why don't today's parents realize that no one else cares about their Precious Snowflakes as much as they do - and never will? Are these parents absorbed in their own technology? So afraid of daily confrontation that they give in to the threat of any tantrum? Or simply blind to the fact that any children, even their children, will quite naturally behave in a way that is not Perfectly Proper?

Of course Etiquetteer must hasten to acknowledge all the good parents out there - surely there are some left, yes? - who are raising their children with Perfect Propriety (which is always better than Discipline Mixed with Love.)

But these Complacent Parents could use some Discipline Mixed with Love from the maitre d'. Years ago Etiquetteer was dining in a family-friendly restaurant (with, in fact, family members), and witnessed two parents with two children approximately age five, who were not only barefoot, but also using their banquette as a jungle gym. The parents were, Etiquetteer recalls, even worse than complacent; they were amused. And while Etiquetteer hardly advocates for that sort of behavior in the home, the home is an infinitely better place for it than out in public, where total strangers have to witness it.

One has only to do an internet search for "waitress blog" to find many stories of ill-mannered children dining out with complacent parents. Etiquetteer is eager to hear your own experience, should you be inclined to share it, at queries@etiquetteer.com.

Etiquetteer would like to thank all the readers who participated in this interesting little experiment. Let us now proceed into the summer, a summer without a pet peeve.

smalletiquetteer

The Price of Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long story short, don't make a scene.

A Loss of Temper, Vol. 13, Issue 42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entertaining with Autism, Vol. 13, Issue 35

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a very new friend who has a son with severe autism. I don't have much experience with this, but would like to invite the family to the same family-friendly gatherings that I invite all of my friends who have children to (I do not have children, but love them and love to include them). What is the kindest way of approaching my friend about anything their child might need that might be different from what I'm used to? I want everyone (parents and children) to feel cared for, nurtured and relaxed at my gatherings.

Dear Hostess:

Etiquetteer applauds your Hospitable Impulse. Frequently the families of children with special needs want nothing more than to be included along with everyone else, and Etiquetteer suspects your New Friend will be grateful for your hospitality and consideration. A candid but sensitive conversation with your New Friend should come first.

Confirmed Bachelor Etiquetteer, with no direct experience raising children with or without autism, felt the need to consult a friend with an autistic child. Her words tell much of which Etiquetteer was not aware. Etiquetteer has chosen to emphasize some of his friend's word in italics.

"The best thing for a hostess to do is find out ahead of time what special accommodations might be needed. Parents of autistic kids need to plan ahead as well. For example, having food that would appeal to your autistic guest. Autistic kids have trouble tolerating loud noises or bright lights. They often cannot control making noises so activities that require quiet are difficult. Open spaces or a pool or bodies of water maybe problematic due to elopement issues. My child jumped in a host's pool in the middle of winter because he is attracted to water. Having a quiet room where a parent can take their child if he melts down is helpful.

"Preparing children who will be present is helpful. Children, God love them, say whatever is on their minds which can be hurtful. When it comes down to it just being flexible to the needs of your autistic guest and their family even if they have to leave early. As a guest I call ahead to see if the activities are appropriate for my child. I want my host's party to be successful. If the activity is not a good match then I decline the invitation. A kind hostess will not take offense. It is always nice to be asked even if it isn't a good match.

"Parents of autistic children need good manners as well. If a child will disrupt a party, or ruin a special activity, or cannot tolerate the host's environment then they should decline the invitation or leave the party early. It is important to respect the host's generosity and personal possessions.

"And finally, it is sometimes easier for the family of an autistic child if they have small gatherings at their own home where the autistic child is most comfortable and has all of his accommodations already in place. This is the most relaxed entertaining we can do."

The number of people with autism, and therefore the number of people who know someone with autism, seems only to be growing, and Etiquetteer predicts that more and more people will be seeking advice about the best way to include this portion of our community. Etiquetteer wishes you well as you incorporate your new friend and her family into your social circle.

No Really, No One Cares About Your Children, Vol. 13, Issue 15

Remember that child who was crawling all over that expensive modern sculpture that looks like a stack of shelves? Unfortunately the parents are not feeling as guilty and ashamed as they ought to be, and have given a rather self-serving and defensive interview to the London Evening Standard, making the disingenuous claim that their little girl was just being "anti-establishment." While Etiquetteer supposes this could be taking the "All response is valid" mantra of the contemporary art world to an extreme, that position was belied the decidedly establishment-looking school uniforms the "anti-establishment" daughter was wearing when photographed for the newspaper with her family. Kait Bolongaro, the child's mother, outrageously brags about other statues her children have climbed, and then says "It’s not right, but they were just interested. Their only crime was to be seduced by a ladder of jewel-coloured shelving. Sissi has always been anti-establishment but she would never hurt anybody." This statement is perfectly ridiculous. One can easily be seduced by a work of art without having to touch it, much less physically climb or inhabit it. And have you not noticed how people add the word "just" to an offense to try to minimize its impact, to make what is unacceptable sound simple and excusable?

Etiquetteer strongly suggests a course in remedial parenting for Ms. Bolongaro and her husband Stuart Trevor. They clearly do not understand how essential it is to raise children to respect the property of others.

No One Cares About Your Children in Public, Vol. 13, Issue 10

Since there seems to be some doubt on the subject, Etiquetteer would like to clarify that no one cares about your children. Especially when they are misbehaving out in public. No one cares! And no one cares especially if you, as a parent, do not care about the impact your children have on other people and/or their belongings. What, you are probably asking yourself, launched Etiquetteer into this tiny tirade? The answer, dear readers, is this article, with photos, of parents blissfully unconcerned about their child climbing all over what is apparently a multi-million dollar work of art at the Tate Modern. One of the parents responded, "You obviously don't understand kids." To which Etiquetteer protests that the parents don't understand them. Children want a place to play! This is why there are places for children to play that are specifically for playing. This is why we have parks with jungle gyms. This is why we have playgrounds with swings. This is why we have traffic with . . . wait, no . . . no, that's not helping. Don't send the children to play in traffic.

Parents who fail to set boundaries for their children outside the home fail to teach them respect for other people. This is most often seen in restaurants, where parents of Children Too Young to Know Better are allowed to get away with terrible behavior, which usually has to be cleaned up by a long-suffering waiter or waitress who is insufficiently tipped. Parents, think honestly about the impression your family makes when you're out and about. It takes a village to raise a child, the old saying goes, and you want to be sure the villagers aren't coming after your Precious Snowflakes with tar, torches, and pitchforks.

Of course, when you look at the artwork on which the child was climbing, an obvious solution presents itself. A reasonable facsimile can be purchased from West Elm or some other stark and severe home furnishings catalog and installed in the nursery at home. Problem solved.

Perfect Propriety at a Time of Tragedy, Vol. 12, Issue 10

The City of Boston, Massachusetts, has just undergone one of the worst weeks in its almost-400-year history, the bombing of the Boston Marathon and subsequent manhunt for its two suspects. Five people, including one of the suspects, were killed, and dozens more injured, some grievously. The bravery of many men and women has led Etiquetteer to reflect on how best to react in such situations:

  • Aid the wounded or get out of the way. Etiquetteer admires the unbounded courage of the first responders who rushed into the smoke not knowing what they would find, or even able to see where they were going. Those unable to follow their example, for whatever reason, do best to clear the way for first responders. The standard fire-escape announcement in theatres comes to mind: "Exit the building from the nearest available exit and move away from the building quickly."
  • Comfort the afflicted. Everyone reacts to tragedy differently. Some internalize their reactions and manifest them later; others exhibit emotions right away. Etiquetteer was deeply moved by the generosity of Brent Cunningham, who gave his medal to another runner, Laura Wellington. Ms. Wellington, a runner who was deeply distressed at not being able to find her family after the bombing, was discovered weeping by Mr. Cunningham and his wife. He gave her his medal - what magnificent sportsmanship! - and has now received hers, since she was able to receive her own only a few hours later. Boston saw many such encounters throughout the week. They are an example to all of us.
  • Be patient with the network, however frustrating. Telecommunications went haywire after the bombing, leaving many people unable to connect reliably with loved ones. This underscores the need to select a meeting place in advance, as many runners did with their families, perhaps even an alternate location in case the first is inaccessible. It's also a good reminder to stay calm enough to speak slowly and distinctly with good diction, so that you'll definitely be understood over static and background noise on the line.
  • Reach out to those you love. Everyone knows Etiquetteer's fondness for Lovely Notes, and those may come later. But telephone and electronic communications - brief, concise, and specific - mean a great deal. Etiquetteer, though never in danger, greatly appreciated expressions of concern via text message, email, and voicemail.
  • Use the arts to heal. Etiquetteer took heart reading that several museums and other arts organizations in Boston waived their admission fees in the days after the tragedy. In the words of MFA director Malcolm Rogers, “It’s doing something positive. You’ve just seen a horrible example of what a perverted human mind can do. What the works of art in our care show is what the human mind and the human hands can do at their greatest and their most inspired.” In the days after the bombing, people came together to sing - not only the National Anthem, from which many draw comfort at such times, at the Boston Red Sox game - but also in the streets to sing hymns, and to raise money for the victims. And let us not forget those who came prepared to sing hymns over picketers from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (who, to the relief of all, did not appear). All these expressions of Beauty are necessary for healing.
  • Restrain your greed. Etiquetteer was incensed to read that not long after the tragedy, 2013 Boston Marathon medals appeared for sale on eBay. Etiquetteer is not going to speculate on whether or not those medals were obtained ethically in the first place. But even if they were, this is too soon.
  • Think before you speak. Etiquetteer was deeply disappointed when the FBI had to chastise the media about its inaccurate reporting that a suspect was in custody and en route to the Moakley Courthouse. This led not only to a convergence of the curious on the courthouse, but also its evacuation. Nor was the situation helped by individuals spreading rumors or incorrectly reported facts via the many forms of social media. "Least said, soonest mended" and "Loose lips sink ships" are still good maxims. Get your facts straight and, if you can't, pipe down until someone else does.
  • Or don't speak at all. Unfortunately several people tried to take political advantage of the tragedy to further their own particular views, which is cynical at best and downright offensive at worst. The instance that seems to have provoked the most backlash was undoubtedly Arkansas state representative Nate Bell's comments via Twitter to work in the national debate on gun control. To which Etiquetteer can only quote the character Cornelia Robson in Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, who says "Cousin Marie says politicians aren't gentlemen."
Now that the surviving suspect is in custody and daily life in the city returns to its expected rhythms, Etiquetteer encourages everyone to use Patience and Kindness with those you meet, both in person and online.

Seven Actions for Perfect Propriety in Public Life in the New Year, Vol. 12, Issue 2

Here we are, embarked on a New Year, and Etiquetteer is working hard to maintain a Feeling of Hope for increasing Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer has identified seven areas -- some simple, some quixotic -- where action should be taken. At once. 1. Homeowner associations (HOAs) need to write exceptions into their governing documents allowing homeowners to display the American flag on or from their properties without being fined or censured. Every year an HOA makes the news when it sues or fines a homeowner who displays an American flag on his or her property against the HOA rules about decorations and displays. These stories are even more poignant when the flag is tattered or in otherwise less-than-perfect condition, usually because of its association with a family member who died in service to this nation. If you live in an HOA, take the initiative now to modify your bylaws to permit display of the American flag on one's property.

2. Anyone who has charge of an escalator, whether it's in a shopping mall, transportation hub, government or office building, or any other public place, needs to be sure that every rider knows that standing is on the right, and passing is on the left. This can be achieved with signage or a painted line down the center.

3. Retailers need to stop colonizing private life and pandering to our baser instincts by scheduling outrageous sales events on holidays - and we need to stop letting them do it by buying into this manufactured "excitement." Etiquetteer was outraged that some retailers actually scheduled some sales to begin on Thanksgiving Day Itself, and appalled viewing some of the video footage of the Black Friday mélee. Etiquetteer has extreme difficulty reconciling this with the True Spirit of Christmas. If it was up to Etiquetteer -- which, of course, it ought to be -- Black Friday sales would not be allowed to begin until 10:00 AM on Friday. Even if the retailers don't, Etiquetteer wants you to make the commitment to refrain from shopping on holidays.

4. Unfortunately, Western civilization has reached such a low level of sloth, selfishness, or contempt that more and more people don't care about being properly dressed in public. Indeed, many don't even know what proper dress is. With great reluctance, Etiquetteer must endorse the use of instructional signage, such as "No Visible Undergarments" and "No Sleepwear" so that standards can be reinforced.

5. Theatres and concert halls need to enforce more vigorously the rule not to use recording devices of any kind (cameras, recorders, smartphones, etc.) during concerts. Anyone who has ever had their view of a performance blocked by rows of upraised arms with iPhones will appreciate this. Etiquetteer believes that violators should be evicted, which means that ushers will need to be more vigilant and prowl the aisles during performances more often. (It is interesting to muse on how differently Woodstock might have affected Western culture if everyone there had had a smartphone or videocamera. Etiquetteer is mighty relieved they didn't.)

6. The battle between drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians must stop. To quote Stu Ackerman, "There is only 'we.' 'Them' is a hallucination born of fear." Everyone has the same goal: to get wherever they're going as quickly as possible. Etiquetteer would like them to get there as safely as possible, too. And this means being aware of one's own situation and of other travelers around one. For pedestrians, it means looking left, right, and left again before walking across the street -- and only at intersections. For drivers, it means knowing where one is going before getting in the car and relying on an often-faulty GPS. For cyclists, it means awareness that both pedestrians and drivers, through no fault of their own, will have to cross the bike lane. For all it means putting away one's electronic devices so that one can travel with full concentration and without distraction! Etiquetteer's heart has leapt into his mouth more than once seeing a pedestrian blithely walk into an intersection while staring intently at a smartphone screen, or a driver making a sharp left turn with one hand on the wheel and cellphone held to the ear. In summary, no one group of travelers is evil, as many would like to think. Rather, there are impatient and inattentive travelers in each group. Etiquetteer urges you to represent the best aspects of your particular Mode of Travel.

7. If parents are not going to enforce Perfect Propriety in their children when dining out, restaurants are going to start having to do it for them by either asking them to leave, being sure they know not to come back until the children can behave, or banning children altogether. While hastily acknowledging the very many good and attentive parents who understand and train their children well, Etiquetteer must note that the legions of oblivious and ineffective parents make dining out difficult for everyone.* The stories from waiters and waitresses (one need only search the Web) can curl one's hair.

And that, as they say, is that. Etiquetteer welcomes your Perfectly Proper queries resulting from these recommendations at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

*It's worth noting, too, that every time Etiquetteer sees a news story about Chuck E. Cheese, it's because grownups started a brawl there.

Two Current Events, Vol. 11, Issue 1

Two items in the news recently came to Etiquetteer's attention, each disturbing in its own way, and each worthy of comment. First, let's turn attention to Patron X, the gentleman whose smartphone stopped the New York Philharmonic mid-Mahler and enraged both the audience and the conductor. First, Etiquetteer has only praise for conductor Alan Gilbert. Not only did he sensibly stop the performance, later in the week he graciously accepted the personal apology of Patron X. Other artists of a more, shall we say, "artistic" temperament might have swooped down like a flock of harpies and banned the offender forever from concerts. It is to Mr. Gilbert's credit that he has accepted this man's sincere apology, and even to express sympathy for his predicament.

The situation could not have been more humiliating. Patron X was sitting in the front row of the concert hall with a new iPhone (received the day before from his company) that he only partly knew how to work. When the iPhone alarm clock went off, Patron X was near powerless to stop the noise. Etiquetteer believes that the contrition of Patron X is genuine and forgives him for this horrifying lapse of Perfect Propriety. But the entire experience boldly underscores the unquestioned necessity of powering off all personal electronic devices during a live performance of any kind. Not just to "silent" mode or "vibrate," but OFF. There is nothing so urgent that you need to know about it in the middle of a performance, and if it IS that urgent, maybe you shouldn't even be there. Power off completely and experience the performance completely! Dividing your attention will diminish your pleasure, and could eliminate the pleasure of others distracted by you.

When speaking in public, Etiquetteer begins with a "ritual power-down," so that everyone in the audience can switch off their cell phones and other paraphernalia together, making a group commitment to Perfect Propriety and Mutual Respect.

Then there's the Caddo Parish official trying to ban the wearing of pajamas in public:

Etiquetteer cannot claim to have seen people (of any age) cavorting about in their nightclothes, so perhaps this Lapse of Decency is only a local problem. What bothers Etiquetteer more is the careless attitude of offenders. Shreveport resident Khiry Tisdern is quoted saying "I'm an American, and I can wear my clothes anywhere I want. I'm a grown man. I pay my own bills, so I can wear my clothes the way I want." Mr. Tisdern may be a grown man, but he's not a grown-up. Grown-ups don't wear their pajamas in public.*

Even worse is the slovenly attitude of mother-of-three Tracy Carter, who says "... they're covering everything. I've got a three-year-old, a five-year-old and a 12-year-old to deal with." Her implication that Motherhood is so difficult that her family should be excused from putting on street clothes is an insult to parents everywhere who work hard to raise their children to behave and be strong, contributing members of Society. Etiquetteer's contempt for Ms. Carter cannot be stated too clearly.

This proves, too, that Perfect Propriety cannot be legislated. But because one has the Freedom to do something does not mean that one should do something.

*Some wag will certainly ask "Well, what about a pajama brunch?" And Etiquetteer will Heave a Weary Sigh and explain what is Perfectly Obvious: "If one is attending a pajama brunch in a private home, that falls under the definition of a costume party. If one is attending a pajama brunch in a restaurant, one attends in street clothes to avoid appearing like one is Trying Too Hard. If one is waiting tables at a restaurant's pajama brunch and one has to wear pajamas, they become one's uniform for the shift."

Etiquetteer hopes to greet you in person on February 1, 2012, at the Gibson House Museum for "Good Manners at the Gibson House with Etiquetteer."

Lessons from Childhood, Vol. 10, Issue 7

Truly it has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Children learn about Perfect Propriety from many other people besides their parents: teachers, neighbors, friends, and other family members. Etiquetteer recently had cause to contemplate this idea with the death of his Lovely Aunt Joan. Because while Etiquetteer promotes Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer was not born Perfectly Proper. Lovely Aunt Joan once took an opportunity to teach Young Etiquetteer a gentle lesson in Paying a Compliment. As in many families, children's clothes are passed from one child to another, and Lovely Aunt Joan's daughter, Little Cousin, was just the right age to receive things from Etiquetteer's Little Sister. During one large family gathering, Young Etiquetteer artlessly paid a compliment by saying "Cousin, don't you look lovely in Little Sister's old dress!" "No," interrupted Lovely Aunt Joan, who was sitting with us. "The best thing to say is 'Don't you look lovely in your new dress!' That's nicer." And she said it nicely, without making Young Etiquetteer feel unwholesomely small.

The point, of course, is that it's unkind to underscore the perception of charity in public. (Indeed, one thinks of Meg March in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" dressed up in another girl's ball dress at a house party.)

You see how the Innocence of Childhood needs to be refined to become Perfect Propriety. Thank you, Lovely Aunt Joan, for your Gentle Correction, and so much else.

Hacked Hand-Me-Downs, Vol. 10, Issue 5

Dear Etiqueteer: I have a question about hand-me-downs - a particularly thorny issue to begin with.

In my family, infant clothing is passed down. It is commonly understood and practiced without discussion. My daughter, Effie, is currently in line between two of my cousins who are sisters. We will call them Abby and BeBe. Their daughters are Cici and Deedee, respectively. Cici is a year old, Effie is four months old, and Deedee is currently wearing newborn sizes. In theory, this works very well.

In practice, to be short, it does not. Cici's clothing is generally off-season. Whether the print is sunflowers or snowmen matters less than whether it is a sundress or snowsuit. More importantly, the clothing is not wearable. It is stained, tattered, threadbare, and paint is peeling off of snaps. Goodwill and Salvation Army would not sell clothing so worn. I do not use this clothing. Currently, everything Abby has given me is in a box in the closet.

On one occasion, Abby borrowed a bib from me. She had it for only a few hours and returned it stained.

To further complicate things, Abby is pregnant. This child would very reasonably follow Deedee. The clothing that I pass on to BeBe would be passed on to Abby again within a matter of months.

BeBe and I take very good care of our things. The clothing that I pass on to BeBe is nearly new. When I see Deedee, I can tell that BeBe is treating these hand-me-downs as well as if they were freshly store-bought. We have also both received very nice gifts, and so our daughters each have beautiful clothing.

I get rags from Abby. Because the only hand-me-downs Effie gets are those previously worn by Cici, she effectively does not have hand-me-downs. Therefore, everything passed from Effie to Deedee is new. Everything BeBe passes down after Deedee has outgrown it, I'm sure, will still be in very good condition.

There is a social issue with Abby as well, in that she constantly requests my professional services without hesitating to point out that they are not worth what I am asking. When I stopped discounting, she stopped patronizing- but not requesting.

I am not at all comfortable with that clothing being passed on to Abby, who clearly lacks appreciation for a variety of things. I am also sad to know that anything she gets will be ruined.

I have another friend who is pregnant, but passing clothing to her would mean that BeBe would not get my hand-me-downs. Deedee would instead only get Cici's clothing. I would not wish on BeBe what I am I trying to escape.

It is important to note that my husband and I have decided that Effie will be our only child.

Question One: What to do with the box.

Question Two: How to avoid receiving more.

Question Three: What to do with my hand-me-downs.

I have been struggling with this for weeks now. Thank you.

Dear Gigi:

Let's see if Etiquetteer can untangle the path of the baby clothes through your Family of Alphabetical Pseudonyms. Three cousins share hand-me-downs as needed. Currently they begin with Abby, for her year-old daughter Cici; then to you, Gigi, for your four-month-old daughter Effie; and then to BeBe for her newborn daughter Deedee. They will then return to Abby for her expected newborn (probably Heeheeheeheehee).

Because the hand-me-downs you're receiving from Abby are no longer fit to wear, Etiquetteer assumes that you are having to buy new baby clothes and/or acquire hand-me-downs from another source which will then go into the family's collective bassinet. You resent the expense and the necessity for this, and would like to spare BeBe your troubles by eliminating Abby from this silently operating Family Tradition.

Etiquetteer suggests ending this Family Tradition because it is not equally respected by all the participants. Since you and your husband are not planning to have any more children, pass on the box to BeBe (Question One) and declare to all that you are Out of the Loop (Question Two). This then becomes BeBe's problem, to manage with her sister Abby in any way she sees fit. Which means that you should say nothing about it evermore unless BeBe asks you.

As for your own hand-me-downs (Question Three), since they're yours, direct them where you think they will be most appreciated and cared for: either to BeBe or to your friend, or divide the lot and send some to each.

And should you and your husband end up having another child - which has been known to happen - make it clear from the beginning that you won't resume the Family Tradition.

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Daughter-in-Law:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houseguests/Current Events, Vol. 7, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer:

On a recent vacation trip to a far away place, I stayed in the home of a good friend and colleague.  While I was there, another professional colleague called my host and insisted on knowing with whom I was traveling and what the sleeping arrangements were.  My host was, of course, perfectly proper, and we all had a good laugh about it.  My question is, am I entitled to include this story when recounting my travels either to friends or to colleagues?  May I tell the story in the inquiring colleague's presence if I don't actually name him?

 

Dear Traveling Man: 

 

Etiquetteer commends the discretion of your host in not divulging any of his domestic details; clearly it was None of a Busybody’s Business. 

 

No one loves a good story more than Etiquetteer, and this does indeed sound like a very good one! But even so, it’s more Perfectly Proper to keep this one to yourself. Good stories have a way of traveling on their own, picking up extra embellishments along the way. Should the original Busybody ever hear of it, which is more of a Possibility than most people care to consider, it would only reflect badly on your host having divulged a confidential conversation.

 

Stories of This Sort are best Filed for Future Reference. Thanks to your host, you’ve just learned an important characteristic of your Busybody professional colleague that can help you evaluate his reactions in professional settings. 

 

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Etiquetteer has been doing his best not to get too involved in the 2008 political campaigns and resulting candidate faux pas. Etiquetteer feels sure that Barack Obama hasn’t done much to court the Militant Feminist Vote, but he made a SERIOUS misstep last week by referring to WXYZ-TV reporter Peggy Agar as “sweetie.” Terms of Endearment are, by definition, those we use with people who are close to us. And while we all know how close politicians like to be to the press during campaigns, “sweetie” is TOO close. Another way for men to gauge their behavior: if you wouldn’t say it to a man, you cannot say it to a woman. 

 

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Etiquetteer was horrified to read in the Duluth News Tribune on May 10 about an insensitive lawsuit. Jeffery Ely hit a dog with his car, killing it. He then sued the dog’s owners, Niki and Daniel Munthe, for damages to his car. No matter how wronged one feels in such a situation, no matter how justified, one’s own sense of Perfect Propriety should prevent one from filing such a lawsuit. Honestly! What was he thinking? “Your dog dented my car as I was running it over so you should pay to fix my car?” Clearly Mr. Ely cares more about money than his reputation OR the feelings of others.

 

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From the “Children Must Be Seen and Not Heard” Department, Etiquetteer was delighted to hear that the Red Thai Restaurant of Portland, Oregon, has begun banning children younger than six years of age from its establishment. If more parents knew how to control their “precious snowflakes” in public such a ban might not be necessary. After hearing from a colleague that she saw a woman breast-feeding* her infant at a theatre performance (!) Etiquettteer understands that parents don’t understand where their children are welcome and where they are not. It is insensitive to others in the audience to bring a babe in arms to a live concert or performance where they could start howling any moment. It is equally rude to dine at a “grown-up” restaurant with young children who haven’t yet been taught to use inside voices, silverware, or to keep their seats. Parents of Young Children, take note! 

 

*You may be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer has no trouble at all with breastfeeding in public. This necessary function can be handled discreetly and modestly in restaurants, vehicles, and other public places. But in places of assembly, such as theatres, concert halls, or churches, it distracts too much from the program one is supposed to be watching.

Current Events, Vol. 6, Issue 17

Celebrities only seem to get into the news when they are behaving badly. Two recent mini-dramas have captured Etiquetteer’s attention.

You will be surprised – very surprised, Etiquetteer suspects – to find Etiquetteer defending Karl Rove about anything. But after the White House Correspondents Dinner last week, Etiquetteer must Wag an Admonitory Digit at Sheryl Crow and her dinner companion Laurie David for initiating a nasty little contretemps about global warming. Crow and David, whose self-serving account of the incident appears on Arianna Huffington’s blog, certainly make themselves out to be the Calm Crusaders. From ingenuous comments like "How excited were we to have our first opportunity ever to talk directly to the Bush Administration about global warming" to glossy acccounts of their own part in the barney ("We felt compelled to remind him that the research is done and the results are in"), they present themselves as Earnest Little Girls nicely asking the Big Man about a Bad Decision. Etiquetteer finds abhorrent their idea that Sheryl Crow’s beauty alone should compel Rove to speak with them ("How hardened and removed from reality must a person be to refuse to be touched by Sheryl Crow?"). Feminists everywhere should be offended with this 19th century notion.

If they really wanted to have a meaningful dialogue about climate change with Rove, they would have used this opportunity to schedule an appointment. Indeed, courtiers of Louis XIV were always advised not to surrender petitions to him during particular audiences because the Sun King was likely to lose them while changing clothes. Instead, it just looks like they wanted to get in the paper themselves.

Not that Rove comes out smelling like a rose. Eyewitnesses indicate that he gave as good as he got, whereas a change of topic or a cold "This is not the time or place to discuss it" would have been Perfectly Proper. The truth, as is so frequently the case, is someplace in the middle.

Moving right along, we find that actress Kim Basinger has released to the press an abusive voicemail message from her ex-husband, Alec Baldwin, to their daughter Ireland. While hardly excusing Baldwin’s vicious telephone tantrum – did he miss that day in anger management class? – Etiquetteer is outraged that La Basinger and her attorneys leaked the voicemail to the press. Can you think of anything that would be more embarrassing to eleven-year-old Ireland? All this dirty laundry could have been kept right where it belonged – in the family – without the vengefulness of a celebrity divorcée selfishly shaming the father of her child, and her child as well.

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

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

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

Now now, dear Etiquetteer, I do so believe

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

My cherub was quiet all the way here in the car

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

 

Please do forgive parents, they really do mean well

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Declining Invitations, Vol. 4, Issue 23

Dear Etiquetteer: At dinner last night a group of friends had a lively conversation and solved nothing in the matter of how to decline an invitation. Here are some of the situations pondered:
  • A four-year old boy cries and screams at the suggestion he attend a birthday party. It seems the birthday boy was the bully of the pre-school. This left the mother having to decline by note or phone, then again having to decline when she dropped off a gift. Is there a way to decline without the Social White Lie that teaches the child a bad habit?
  • The pre-teen of either sex who is painfully shy and is serious about not wanting to attend a party where there will be dancing and probably kissing games?
  • The teen who fears asking for a date because he dreads being turned down. The girl who doesn't want to hurt the boy's feelings and is so non-committal that the boy has no idea what she means. Or the girl who is cruel to the bone and laughs. The boy or girl who stands up one date because a more attractive date comes along.
  • The adult who accepts an invitation to dinner then forgets.
  • The adult who accepts more than one invitation on the same night and spends only a few minutes at any one party.
  • That wretched person who ignores the whole scene and doesn't respond at all.
  • Those who just plain don't want to go.
  • When is "previous plans for the evening" not enough? Is "not in this lifetime" too terse?
  • Is there any graceful way to get out of a lie when you're caught out on a night you claimed illness?

A really good book is needed to cover these situations. I nominate Etiquetteer. Dear Declining in Hiding: While thanking you for the nomination, Etiquetteer hopes to be up to the task of addressing with Perfect Propriety all these different situations. What a minefield you and your friends have sown for Etiquetteer! Fewer parties are as fraught with peril as a child’s birthday party. And Etiquetteer has never forgotten, at age 12, being forced into attending one for the Most Loathsome and Evil Boy Ever. Not only that, it was a roller-skating party, and Etiquetteer was also forced by kindhearted but utterly misguided adults into the humiliating experience of having to learn how to roller skate right there in front of everyone with two other non-skating guests. At least Etiquetteer has stopped waking up screaming now . . . Just as a ball is no place for dancing lessons, so is a skating party not the place to learn how to skate. Etiquetteer still doesn’t know why he ever got on the guest list for this party (probably the Most Loathsome and Evil Boy Ever was made to invite the entire class, who knows?), and Etiquetteer remembers begging his dear mother not to make him go, but she insisted that it would be fun* . . . Socializing in controlled environments like parties is supposed to teach children and teenagers how to get along well in the world, but parents ought to think very carefully about the circumstances. The teenage years are possibly the most self-absorbed in the human life span. So, back to your four-year-old. Etiquetteer has to say that he has a certain amount of integrity, not wanting to accept the birthday cake of a sworn enemy. As long as his mother can confine her declining to "He’s not able to come that day" without concocting some fictional previous engagement, she is actually setting a good example for her son. It’s a truthful answer edited to spare the other mother’s feelings. What mother wants to be told that her Sweet Precious Darling is really just Wicked Trash?As for the shy pre-teen afraid of dancing and kissing (or roller-skating), it’s a question of ensuring that it’s OK to go to the party and NOT engage in dancing or kissing (or roller-skating). Even at school dances or church youth functions you can often just hang in the lobby and talk away from the dancing.Dating, of course, carries emotional risk whatever the age. And whatever the age, Etiquetteer always says "If you can’t figure out if they’ve said yes or no, they said no." Girls need to understand that they do no boy a favor by dangling him because they don’t want to hurt his feelings. The quicker you decline, the quicker you can both get on with your lives. Even to say "It’s really nice of you to ask me, but I’m just not ready to date right now" or "I don’t feel that way about you" clears the air right away, no matter how much it may hurt at the moment. Cruel girls will get theirs later, when their husbands either cheat on them with their best friends or dump them for trophy wives. Etiquetteer can’t wait . . .People of any age who stand up previous engagements for better offers reveal more of their character than they know. The stood up at least have that as a guide and can reject them on the inevitable rebound. Now we move to your invitation problems for adults, who are supposed to be Old Enough to Know Better. This is not always the case, as we know:

  • Etiquetteer recently had the deeply embarrassing experience of forgetting to attend a dinner to which he’d accepted an invitation not too long ago. It was an innocent mistake, but which of course must be followed up with a Lovely Note of Apology. (That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much had better get busy with that note, too . . . )
  • We see more party-hopping the way you describe during the holiday season, and really Etiquetteer does not find it offensive until it interferes with a seated dinner. It is the height of rudeness to arrive at a dinner halfway through or leave before the last course has been served and consumed to go on to another party.
  • The wretched non-responders may not have any more invitations to respond to if they keep that up.
  • There are a lot of lovely people out there who just don’t want to go. Sometimes you just can’t turn down an invitation, however. The true test of Perfect Propriety is going to the party you don’t want to go to and convincing everyone that you’d rather be there than anyplace else.
  • "Previous plans" should be enough without further elaboration. It’s actually impolite to ask for more information when you’re given that response by people you’ve invited. Etiquetteer thinks you already know that "Not in this lifetime" is Never Proper. That’s when you say "unable to accept your invitation." And when they press, you just keep saying "I’m sorry, we’re just unable to accept, that’s all."
  • The late Gertrude Lawrence, when she was still performing inCharlot’s Revue, was given sick leave for a week. During that time she accepted an invitation to a theatre party. Imagine her surprise when she was seated next to M.Charlot himself at the theatre! They were terribly polite to each other, both at the theatre and when he fired her the next day. Let this be a lesson to you a) not to lie to get out of something, and b) when you do and are found out, come clean right away.

Etiquetteer hopes this list provides you and your friends with all the solutions you need; please write again if this is not the case.*Special to Etiquetteer’s mother: All is forgiven.

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

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.

 

Condo Living, Part One, Vol. 4, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer:

I live in a condominium building. I am blessed with very considerate and quiet next door neighbors, our building is extremely happy for its diversity, a mini United Nations. We have people of every race, a dozen countries, every creed and no creed at all, gay, straight, and a lovely range of ages from newborn to retiree. And even here in blue state Massachusetts we find two Republican neighbors living amongst us, who are included in parties and dinners! Imagine what a happy lot we have mostly been.

So, wherein lays the problem, you might ask? It seems to be the under-disciplined and often unaccompanied five- and seven-year-old grandchildren who frequently visit one of our retired couples. The chief complaint is not noise but the physical damage they are allowed to make to our recently redecorated common areas. Once in an elevator I saw the indulgent grandpa look the other way when the youngsters dropped candy wrappers on the floor, and wiped their sticky hands on the walls. Yesterday the two of them dragged their feet along freshly painted walls leaving black sole marks that we could not remove.

My husband spoke to the grandparents, who we are usually quite friendly with. The grandmother responded in a quite wounding manner, "Well, since the two of you have no children, it's no wonder they bother you." To another couple who nicely asked the grandfather if he could keep an eye on the boys while they are in the lobby and corridors, he just chuckled "You know, you were a kid once yourself, too!"

Many of us are at our wit’s end. A recent $50,000 freshening up of our five-year-old building already shows great wear and tear thanks to these undisciplined little guys. While our building has been among the happiest (and loveliest) places we have lived, it is turning into a nerve-wracking experience. Your advice is eagerly awaited. Thanks.

Dear Scuffed and Blackened:

Oh, those jolly old people who like to say, "Well, we all used to be children." One could so easily retort, "Yes, but we lived to be adults! Will your grandchildren have the chance?" Etiquetteer does not encourage such a response, of course . . . but it’s so satisfying to think of it.

Respect for one’s neighbors and their comfort remains an essential part of any neighborhood, especially when the neighborhood exists within one building. The neighbor underneath who has to listen to your step-aerobics every day may be the closest person on hand when you break your arm.

It sounds as though you have tried to handle this in a neighborly way that didn’t take. Next time you have to bring the children’s behavior to the attention of their grandparents, emphasize the depreciation of your common investment in the property that could only increase condo fees or require an assessment. 

And if that doesn’t work, Etiquetteer will allow you, always with a tone of Infinite Regret, your sorrow that they respect you so little that they don’t care what impact they have on you or the others in the building. Then walk away.

But if "many of us" in the building are complaining, as you say, then "many of us" in the building needs to tell these neglectful grandparents exactly where they stand. The time for talking amongst yourselves is over!

And 

where

, Etiquetteer is compelled to ask, are the trustees of your condo association? You are going to have to bring out the big guns if the grandparents won’t listen. Complaints to a condo association of your size ought to be submitted in writing and documented with evidence (e.g. a list of the damage). Enough of these from more than one source ought to convince the trustees that they themselves will need to take action.

Of course Etiquetteer hopes it won’t come to that. Condo associations can make rules and regulations, and they can enforce them. But they cannot legislate the heart, and that is where neighborliness grows and flourishes.

ThankYou.jpg

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Reader Response, Vol. 2, Issue 13

On Condolences: Maybe my upbringing was rigid, but I was always trained that one never, ever sent a commercial sympathy card; the handwritten letter was mandatory. As you know, people think they need to be creative, and this need really needs to be extirpated when it comes to this arena. Personal anecdotes aside -- which are wonderful if you have them, but often are unavailable because you are comforting someone you know over a loss of someone you don't know -- there is a good reason why expressions of sympathy in writing and in person are ritualistic and formulaic: because it is all really quite beyond words. That is precisely why rituals and formulas were invented: as code to express the inexpressible, the unfathomable. Now, if we could only bring back some form of mourning clothing to warn innocents that someone in grief is in their midst. Since black is the new black, and is politically incorrect as mourning, I nominate good old gray, white and lavender/dull purple. Once indicating half mourning, it’s now a color combination one rarely sees (therefore hard to be confused with anything else) and actually looks good on most people, regardless of their "season." 

On Call Waiting: I take exception to the your answer regarding Call Waiting. Although I agree that one must do one’s best not to interrupt the conversation at hand, there are always exceptions. As the mother of small children I occasionally need medical advice. Call Waiting allows me to rest assured that the return call from their pediatrician is not missed. That said, when awaiting such a call, I always preface any personal conversation with the caveat that another call may come in and I will have to take it. I also never initiate a call. So I suppose I both agree and disagree with you!

On Bad Toys for Good Children: My husband adamantly disagrees with your advice! He thinks since our child is only four, if we don't want a certain toy, we should go ahead and say so! We kind of did when he was a baby and we have an [Evil Toy I] free home. Now if we could just get rid of [Evil Toy II]! Ugh! Even his babysitter gave him a one for Christmas. Now she is so sick of the boys fighting with them she doesn't want our son to bring his when he goes to her house. It's a fine line parents have to walk when it comes to appropriate toys! Etiquetteer responds: That’s true, but your husband needs to remember that nobody cares what you want or how you feel.

On Etiquette Books: I suppose for some of us (and I daresay we are a particular crew), one is loyal to one's "first" etiquette book. For me, Amy Vanderbilt's Etiquette will always have pride of place. (I speak only of the editions published before her death, of course.) I have read and re-read it over the years. It was my favorite high school graduation gift, though I had of course been aware of it for years as it had a prominent perch in our home library. Miss Vanderbilt had her own way of creating characters. I have never forgotten such ruffians as "the hatless and gloveless man" and "the tieless man." I must confess that Miss Manners is a siren, but in her way, Miss Vanderbilt remains my muse.

On Cummerbunds: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Heaven forfend!!!! A cummerbund’s pleats go up!!!! They are for opera tickets and as our ancestors used to say tongue-in-cheek: "Up to catch the soup."Etiquetteer responds: With a certain amount of horror, Etiquetteer is forced to concede. If our sainted ancestors were using their cummerbunds as bibs and file cabinets, one can see why the Brahmins don’t run things any more. All the more reason to forego it for a Proper Waistcoat.

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Etiquetteer's next regular column will appear on the weekend of May 3. Whether something additional appears between now and then, Etiquetteer hopes that you'll spend a Perfectly Proper Religious Holiday of Your Choice.

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