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.

 

gloves

*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 . . .

How Young Etiquetteer Was Embarrassed, Vol. 14, Issue 36

You may have heard Etiquetteer tell this story before, but it came to mind vividly again, and Etiquetteer must tell (or retell) it now for the record. Etiquetteer has always had an interest in seeing things done with Perfect Propriety and with people Behaving Well. And as a college student, Young Etiquetteer had an equal and abiding interest in Free Food. So one day many years ago Young Etiquetteer received with pleasure an invitation from an elderly lady to a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton. What could be more Perfectly Proper than a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton? Young Etiquetteer accepted the invitation with alacrity and brushed off his best suit in preparation.

Now this elderly lady - let's refer to her as Madame - who Young Etiquetteer had never really met, was a friend of Young Etiquetteer's Stern Grandmother, but there was no reason to suspect she might be any different from the legions of elderly ladies Young Etiquetteer had been entertaining since birth: full of indulgent smiles, Christian rectitude, canasta, and a dash of genealogy. Young Etiquetteer's eyes were to be opened, as Madame's principal focus was Herself and Her Reactions, as we shall see.

In those days*, the Ritz-Carlton dining room was described by many as the most beautiful room in Boston, and to a young man who hoped to be Perfectly Proper it was considered a crucible of Perfectly Propriety. From its snowy napery to its brocade draperies to its famous cobalt glass chandeliers and goblets, the room represented what Americans used to aspire to (and should continue aspire to today) as the Good Life. But almost from the beginning, Madame set a very different tone.

She was first nonplussed (but quietly) about an odd feature of 1980s restaurant etiquette: maitre d's who kissed on the mouth. Next, loudly exclaiming over the beauty of the china, Madame picked up the service plate like the latest bestseller to read the trademark. Young Etiquetteer, who had not only been taught that the first thing you did at table was put your napkin in your lap but also that you never did anything so gauche as to examine the provenance of the china, was nearly demolished by this. But more was still to come.

This occasion proved to be Young Etiquetteer's first encounter with service à la russe, which requires one to serve oneself each course from large platters offered by the waiter. Negotiating salmon with asparagus and hollandaise sauce is difficult enough for the uninitiated, but made even more so with Ceaseless Commentary on the novelty of the service from Madame, who thought it was different and charming, and didn't fail to mention this at top volume anytime a waiter - any waiter - appeared within two feet of us. She was having a wonderful time, and wanted everyone to know it!

This luncheon was not an ordinary luncheon, but a fashion luncheon featuring beautiful models in exquisite clothes (day and evening) languidly strolling among the tables. The place Young Etiquetteer was filling was originally intended for a Female Relation of Madame's who was unable to attend. Young Etiquetteer was one of perhaps three men present, somewhat ambivalently relishing the Walter Mitty role, but enjoying the setting, the (free) luncheon, and indeed the couture promenade. Madame was enjoying it, too, and assailed each model with Expressions of Delight, and also some Embarrassing Questions. She asked one model for her phone number to share with her son! Etiquetteer did not know quite where to look.

But the most embarrassing moment came after dessert. With the conclusion of the luncheon, the models were circulating with little lipsticks as favors for the ladies. Madame dearly wanted one to share with her Female Relation, but she wanted one for herself more. And when a beautiful model presented her with a lipstick, Young Etiquetteer froze in fright to hear Madame respond with Six Horrifying Words:

"Aren't you gonna give him one?"

Young Etiquetteer withered under the icy stare of the model, who asked "Do you need one?" in such a way as to question Young Etiquetteer's masculinity, upbringing, and right to exist - none of which seemed to matter to Madame, so intently was she focused on a free lipstick. "Certainly not!" replied Young Etiquetteer, whose limit had been reached, and the model passed on. Words were passed, but the mood restored, and of course Young Etiquetteer omitted any reference in the Lovely Note mailed the next day.

The morals of this tale, if there are any, would be that a) consideration of the feelings of others is an important part of daily life, b) to be distracted by trinkets indicates a lack of breeding**, and c) that there is no such thing as a free luncheon.

*The mid-1980s.

**The lyric from Chess comes to mind: "Trinkets in airports sufficient to lead them astray."

smalletiquetteer

You Can (or Cannot) Leave Your Hat On, Vol. 14, Issue 30

Even Etiquetteer needs to check on what is Perfectly Proper or not, and one mystifyingly foggy aspect of etiquette has always been when and where a gentleman may wear his hat indoors. Movies are never really a reliable guide to How to Behave Properly, and yet there are so many old films in which men are seen wearing hats indoors (around poker tables, in hotel lobbies, etc.) that the practice must have had some wider acceptance. But one gag in Auntie Mame (1958) is about a man with his hands full needing to take his hat off in an elevator. What is the final word on this? To Etiquetteer's delight, the key to unlock the mystery was found in a gem of a book called Male Manners: The Young Man's Guide to: dating, good looks, making friends, getting into schools, clubs, activities, talking easily, job hunting, traveling, cars, and more, by Kay Corinth and Mary Sargent (1969). The key is whether or not a space is public or private. In someone's home or office, hats are removed when you enter. If it's an office building, and therefore public, your hat may remain on. If you're riding on a public bus, subway, or streetcar, it's Perfectly Proper to remain hatted. Gentlemen may leave their hats on in a public elevator (for instance, in an office building or a college campus), but not if it's an elevator for a residence (like one of those tall residential towers so fashionable in New York and elsewhere these days). This was Etiquetteer's big surprise, having always thought that a gentleman removed his hat in any elevator.

Two important exceptions exist where hats are always removed on entry: churches and restaurants. Of course this relates only to secular headgear.* Etiquetteer gets enraged when seeing hipsters or other men wearing those fashionable narrow-brimmed hats - or worse, baseball caps - inside churches. Stop it at once! Several years ago, Etiquetteer joined the audience of a New Year's Eve evening concert in a church and was put off by the usher barking "Hats off!" as soon as the door opened, not even giving Etiquetteer a chance to take it off first before being disciplined. Later, seeing the rest of the audience, Etiquetteer understood, but still felt rather abused.

To summarize, a gentleman may wear his hat inside in these places: public buildings (e.g. hotel lobbies, office buildings, and their elevators). A gentleman removes his hat when he enters these places: private homes (and their elevators), restaurants, churches and other houses of worship (unless religious headgear).

Etiquetteer is relieved that the "Bad Hair Day" excuse to remain hatted seems to have been capped. After all, if people think you can't manage your hair, do you think they'll think you can manage something more important, like your career?

smalletiquetteer

* Once upon a time, it would not be necessary to state this, but with wider, and Perfectly Proper, acceptance of other cultures, it's important to specify.

The Common Core of Etiquette, Vol. 13, Issue 40

Last week Etiquetteer was pleased to speak to a group of MIT student ambassadors, and among the many questions afterward came one from a student who had read a manners manual from the late 1890s. "What of that etiquette is still relevant today?" Etiquetteer's reply could be distilled to "Consideration of others." The etiquette of calling cards, for instance, is all but irrelevant now, but it's still necessary to know how to respond to a kindness (with a Lovely Note), an invitation (with a Timely and Definite Response), and to tragedy (with a Sincere Offer of Assistance). Coincidentally, not long after this pleasant interchange, Etiquetteer stumbled upon Emily Post's chapter on "The Fundamentals of Good Behavior" from her 1922 edition of Etiquette. The core values of this document - Financial Honor, Consistency in Behavior, and above all Discretion - should remain guides for all of us. Rereading it, Etiquetteer was by turns relieved, alarmed, and saddened by how far we've come as a civilization since 1922.

For instance, "A gentleman never takes advantage of a woman in a business dealing . . . " does not take into account the exponential rise of women in business, nor their considerable abilities, like many male counterparts, to seize the advantage when offered. In other words, while Chivalry may have retired from the board room, the merger of Gender Equity and Mutual Respect is supposed to have taken its place.

In these days of social media and the sometimes aggressive assembly of "connections," it is worth revisiting Mrs. Post's injunction "The born gentleman avoids the mention of names exactly as he avoids the mention of what things cost; both are an abomination to his soul." That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much should probably stop tagging so many people in social media status updates . . .

Mrs. Post writes "A man is a cad who tells anyone, no matter who, what his wife told him in confidence, or describes what she looks like in her bedroom. To impart details of her beauty is scarcely better than to publish her blemishes; to do either is unspeakable." Nowadays, alas! This sentence could be rewritten "A man is a cad who takes advantage of a lady by creating revenge porn with her nude images and ruining her reputation."

Another area where Mrs. Post gets it right and we frequently don't is in the way we treat service personnel. "When you see a woman in silks and sables and diamonds speak to a little errand girl or a footman or a scullery maid as though they were the dirt under her feet, you may be sure of one thing; she hasn’t come a very long way from the ground herself." And as Etiquetteer pointed out earlier in a column on restaurant tipping, Americans are known to treat service personnel poorly. Etiquetteer is still angered and heartbroken by the stories from waiters and waitresses in Sundays Are the Worst, and needs this Bad Behavior to stop.

Thinking about what makes Perfectly Proper Conversation, Mrs. Post admonished "Notwithstanding the advertisements in the most dignified magazines, a discussion of underwear and toilet articles and their merit or their use, is unpleasant in polite conversation." Think of nowadays, when Reference to Bodily Function is bandied about so casually! Etiquetteer does not need to know why you're going to the restroom. The only Perfectly Proper reason would be to wash your hands. (And you'd better, too, whatever else you're doing in there that you shouldn't be talking about.)

On the other hand, it's important to remember that etiquette books get written, and etiquette advisors like Etiquetteer have vocations, because people have always, and will always, behave thoughtlessly and without a care for how their actions affect others. The common core of Mrs. Post's guidelines is awareness of the impact our behavior has on other people. That remains even truer today, when fewer people have been taught consideration for others from the beginning.

Deflecting Intrusive Questions, Vol. 13, Issue 31

Dear Etiquetteer:

How does one handle politely one who blurts out to you in front of others in the middle of a dinner party: "So I hear your father died?" I thought it was inappropriate; did my best to change the subject - it was an awkward, and painful, moment.

Dear Bereaved:

Please accept Etiquetteer's condolences at your bereavement. During a time of so many emotions, Etiquetteer imagines that you found it comforting to join groups of friends for intimate gatherings - until questions like this came up.

Etiquetteer remains astonished at the Blind Idiocy of Some People, who never seem to understand that some matters are more delicate than others. It's one thing to be asked "How is your father?" but quite another to be asked "So I hear your father died?" The use of the word "died" automatically indicates that Mr. Nosey expects that something with a Strong Emotional Impact happened to you and your family, and is too curious about the specifics to consider what impact that Sad Event had on you. Certainly it's an inappropriate question to ask at the dinner table as part of general conversation! At least at a cocktail party you could have changed the subject by moving away. That's difficult to do at the dinner table without Making a Scene, which Etiquetteer knows you didn't want to do.

In situations such as this (awkward questions at the dinner table, when everyone around the table is bound together by Appetite if nothing else for the foreseeable future), what's most important is to maintain the atmosphere of general and pleasant conversation; this will reassure the other guests that they are not about to witness a Dramatic Scene. The polite way for you to handle this is to acknowledge how awkward and painful the question is, but with Great Calmness, and then introduce another topic. "Yes, Father died [Insert Distance of Time Here], and it feels really awkward to be asked about something so painful at the dinner table. I'll give you the particulars later, but now I'd much rather talk about [Insert Diversion Here]." The Diversion might even be the specialty of Mr. Nosey, which will get him thinking about something else.

Should questions persist - because Some People are too ill bred to Take a Hint - your Last Resort is to excuse yourself and head to the bathroom. Whether you need a good cry or not, hopefully your absence from the table will lead someone else to tell Mr. Nosey to be quiet.

Special Advice to Those Who Want to Know: If you really must ask someone about a death in their circle, do so privately and not in such a way that they feel a spotlight is shone on their private grief. It's natural to want to know, but selfish to call it out.

Long story short, Sensitivity trumps Curiosity.

A Pre-Valentine's Warning from Etiquetteer, Vol. 13, Issue 19

With St. Valentine's Day on its way tomorrow, Etiquetteer feels it necessary - strictly in the name of Perfect Propriety - to advise you against Popping the Question Publicly. Fictionally we have the example of Vicki Lester and Norman Maine, seen here in the George Cukor film of A Star Is Born:

Now you'll notice that the situation was saved beautifully by Our Heroine who, seeing the embarrassment of her beloved, called out "Oh no, that's much too public a proposal to say no to! I accept!" And those who know the story know exactly what that got her . . .

Cruel Reality shows a different outcome:

But if you are really intent on doing this, Etiquetteer has some questions to ask first:

  • How comfortable is your beloved in the spotlight? Are you choosing to propose in public because she likes having attention called to herself, or because you want to call attention to yourself?
  • Are the manner and location of your proposal what you think she might expect of a marriage proposal? (Reviewing that compilation, and recognizing that Etiquetteer might be succumbing to stereotypes, Etiquetteer finds it hard to believe that most women want to entertain proposals of marriage at sporting events or the mall.)
  • Are you 110% sure that your beloved will say yes? And even then, Etiquetteer thinks you should reconsider.
  • Do you have a Graceful Exit planned in the (to you unlikely) event that your proposal is declined? Even if you're 110% sure your beloved will accept, plan one.

Etiquetteer asks these questions not only for your benefit and that of your beloved, but also for the Embarrassed Spectators who, if they don't want to laugh in your face, will want to turn their backs. Please, Etiquetteer begs you, consider your plans very carefully.

Now of course Etiquetteer expects to hear from several people who did witness Successful Public Proposals of Marriage, and that's just wonderful. Etiquetteer is delighted that you had that experience. Etiquetteer rather hopes that Those Who Popped the Question evaluated their situations intelligently.

You may be sure that Etiquetteer will have Shields Up on St. Valentine's Day, and if one of Cupid's little arrows gets in the way, Etiquetteer will use it as a swizzle stick for a martini.

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.

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!

George Washington 2.0, Vol. 11, Issue 5

In honor of Presidents Day, and the Father of our Country's birthday on February 22, Etiquetteer is going to update parts of George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. Etiquetteer bets you didn't even know George Washington wrote an etiquette book! He copied 110 maxims when he was only 14. Several of these have to do with precedence and are, shall we say, overly exaggerated for the 21st century. But others remain classic at the core, and need to be restated. For instance:

GW 1.0: "7th, Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half-dressed.

GW 2.0: The idea is, you show respect for others by looking put together in public. Don't leave the house until you're completely dressed; for ladies this means completely made up, too. No one should have to see these things in action: mascara wands, buttons, belts, and especially underwear. Say no to the fashion of sagging! Say no to gaposis! And, as Etiquetteer mentioned earlier this year, don't wear your pajamas in public!

GW 1.0: "18th, Read no letters, books, or papers in company; but when there is necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave."

GW 2.0: George's essential truth is still sound, that the person with you in person is more important than the person with you through another medium. Do not text or take or make phone calls in the presence of others, especially at the table, unless you ask permission first. This is especially difficult at table, or in a car, when your prisoners - um, Etiquetteer means companions - might be unable to continue talking themselves while waiting on you.

GW 1.0: "22nd, Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy" and "23rd, When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased, but always show pity to the suffering offender."

GW 2.0: Refrain from flaming on online comment boards, especially anonymously. It's no surprise that people give in to their baser instincts when their identities are concealed. Such behavior does, however, brand one a coward.This is only one reason you'll never see a comment board here at etiquetteer.com (not that readers of Etiquetteer behave that way, of course.)

GW 1.0: "48th, Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precept."

GW 2.0: Simply put, "Practice what you preach." It is very bad form, for instance, to advocate for the sanctity of marriage when one has been divorced, and certainly when one has been divorced more than once.

GW 1.0: "50th, Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any" and "79th, Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof."

GW 2.0: Don't trust what you read on the Internet and do your own research. Sad to say, partisans on every side of the political spectrum, in their eagerness to paint as dark a picture as possible of their opponents, do not adhere as zealously to Truth as they ought. Inflammatory email that gets circulated and recirculated, charts and graphs that appear on social media such as Facebook, more often than not contain errors of fact, bald or nuanced. All this has led Etiquetteer to take refuge in the pages of The Economist.

GW 1.0: "110th, Labour to keep alive in your breast the little celestial fire called conscience."

GW 2.0: No change needed for GW 2.0. This little phrase still summarizes the entire book perfectly.

Holiday Fallout, Vol. 8, Issue 1

Dear Etiquetteer: About a month before the holidays I moved into a roommate situation with a social friend. We have known each other for years and it is a great living situation. I have enjoyed getting to know him better. I was raised Catholic, but now view myself as a more spiritual person, and my roommate is Jewish and about as devout as I am to his roots.

I was unsure how I might have approached him on the subject of a small Christmas tree somewhere in the apartment. Unfortunately my room is too small to put up a tree there.

How do you suggest that I approach my roommate on the mixing of our respective religious backgrounds when the holidays come again next winter?

Dear Respectful Roommate:

Etiquetteer must commend your sensitivity in considering the effect your choices might have upon your roommate. Battles royal have been waged over the most minuscule things, even how the toilet paper is placed on the roll. (Etiquetteer never ceases to be amazed at the fierceness of those defending either having the paper fall in the front or the back. The most Perfectly Proper solution to this dilemma is to have two rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom. Why no one else has thought of this mystifies Etiquetteer.)

While roommates share many things, they don't always share holidays. But the simplest solutions are best. Ask your roommate how he would feel about having a Christmas tree, even a small one, to broach the idea. If he likes it, obviously go ahead with a tree. If you detect resistance, confine yourself to decorating your own room. It's amazing what one can do with garlands, lights, and ribbon without even having a tree!

Etiquetteer wishes you and your roommate well as your shared living arrangements evolve in cordiality, courtesy, and Perfect Propriety.

Dear Etiquetteer:

As a frequent reader of your column I am well aware that you generally deal with matters appropriate for company. That said, I hope you can asisst me with an issue of a more delicate nature, "nature" being the operative word.

My loving husband -- especially after consuming foods such as raw onions, Indian food, and Brussels sprouts but, it seems, just about any food -- has a tendency to, let us say, "toot." Sometimes these gaseous emissions are accompanies by an audible announcement, sometimes by just a tell-tale odor.

I've asked him to please give a simple "pardon me" to apologize to whatever companions may be nearby and forced to participate in a not Perfectly Proper environment. As we cozy on the couch after dinner, for example, I do appreciate a polite acknowledgement when it's not the creaking of our old house that's disturbing the romantic moment.

There are times, however, when he chooses to ignore the whole situation, telling me this is the more polite thing to do For example, at his weekly poker game, following a silent attack his fellow players are well aware of an offense while my husband sheepishly seeks to avoid a tell of his cards as well as the ownership of this atmospheric intrusion. These gentlemen have been polite enough not to fall prey to childish behavior. They do not interrogate one another followed by claims of "He who denied it supplied it" and like nonsense. It does seem ill-advised to call more attention to the situation but to say nothing seems like a case of ignoring a foul elephant in the room. If one were to cause some other offense, from arriving late to tipping a chair to a coughing gag, I'd expect a simple apology for disturbing the peace. Is this any different?

Can you please advise?

Dear Aware:

Etiquetteer has written on this olfactory subject before, and must commend your husband for knowing that Acknowledgement of Flatulence is never Perfectly Proper. It remains one of etiquette's pecularities not to acknowledge this Bodily Function while offering an "excuse me" for coughs, sneezes, and even yawns. (It differs completely from your other examples, late arrival and chair-tipping, which are not Bodily Functions.) But flatulence, never!

Indeed, Etiquetteer wishes everyone would stop asking those "What's that?!" type of question when they encounter palpable flatulence. Etiquetteer still shudders with embarrassment over an occasion several years ago. Having been the cause of a sulfurous aroma, Etiquetteer's shame was compounded when the insistent bewilderment of an idiot acquaintance could only be stopped by having to say "I farted. Would you please shut up now?!"

Etiquetteer does have to Wag an Admonitory Digit at your husband for not altering his diet. Since he knows that raw onions, Brussels sprouts, and Indian food affect him adversely, he should stop eating them! And really, if all food puts him in a State of Perpetual Indigestion, he ought to see his doctor.

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.

Restaurant and Random Issues, Vol. 6, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:

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

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

Dear Well Led and Well Fed:

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

Dear Etiquetteer:

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

Dear Spooning:

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

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

Dear Etiquetteer:

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

Dear Corresponding:

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

Dear Etiquetteer:

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

Dear Revolving:

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

Dear Etiquetteer:

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

Dear Flagging:

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

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

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

 

Gallantry and Tipping, Vol. 4, Issue 24

Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently in a situation where my sister, a married lady, was at a family event in a club and was unaccompanied by her husband. My mother came up to me and asked me to buy my sister a soft drink from the bar. It was not a problem and I was happy to do this; I get on well with my mom and sister. But it was an odd request. My mother later related that it is inappropriate for a married woman to approach a bar and buy a drink sans husband. Have I missed the memo? Haven't we progressed to the 21st century? This reeks of all those bad Taliban stories we read about in the papers with women embargoed from all aspects of life. I just don't get it. Perhaps I should keep a cape handy in case a woman needs to perambulate over some mud. Dear Gallant Family Man: Perhaps you should just get over it and listen to your mother. Etiquetteer adores your mother and can’t wait to take her to lunch. She understands that we have progressed into the 21st century in every way but gossip, and that a matron has to protect her reputation. Etiquetteer thanks you for accommodating her request, even while doubting the reasoning behind it. You have helped to prove that Chivalry isn’t dead yet. By the way, Etiquetteer has always been fond of big Inverness capes and opera cloaks, but alas, they look out of place unless you’re tramping the moors or taking in La Traviata.

Dear Etiquetteer: Do you tip your housecleaner? Is there a certain percentage that one tips each time? or at holiday time? Do you know anything about the etiquette of this?OK, so that was four questions. I would have answered: no, I don't tip the housecleaner. She's doing a job, she's getting paid cash. I figure that's tip in and of itself, since she's not claiming it on her taxes! As for holidays, I would consider the equivalent of a weekly fee as "tip". But, I'd much rather get the most proper response from dear Etiquetteer! Dear Lady Bountiful: Etiquetteer has said before that one’s housemaid or housekeeper (the term "housecleaner" sounds like a detergent to Etiquetteer: "New and Improved Housecleaner, now with Scrubbing Acid for those Tough Stains"), along with any other domestic staff, should be tipped at the end of the year (you can go back here for all the details). It’s certainly not necessary to tip her each week, but if some special, extra service is performed (cleaning up after a party of marauding yaks or frat boys, for instance) an additional gratuity is Perfectly Proper.

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.