Teleconference and Webinar Etiquette, Vol. 15, Issue 2

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

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

gloves

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

2015: A Year in Review, Vol. 14, Issue 47

Like any other year, 2015 held its share of Issues of Perfect Propriety - or the lack of it - in the news. Yes, people are still behaving badly everywhere, sometime astonishly so. ENTERTAINING AT HOME

January saw one British family invoice another when their child failed to attend a birthday party. Etiquetteer wrote about this issue here, but the most Perfectly Proper way to deal with no-shows is to stop sending them invitations. Certainly one doesn't make a scene involving one's children, or the children of others. A wedding guest in Minnesota also got a bill from a Bridal Couple when they failed to attend the wedding. As frustrating and expensive as no-shows are, it's not Perfectly Proper to bill them.

THE WEATHER

New England was hammered with record-shattering blizzards in winter, which led one sexagenarian female to attack another with a snow blower. As the police chief involved said, “Emotions may run high during a historic weather event like the Blizzard we just endured, but that is no excuse for violence.” Etiquetteer couldn't agree more. Indeed, it inspired Etiquetteer to write on blizzard etiquette. And conditions deteriorated so much that later on Etiquetteer had to write even more.

RESTAURANTS AND FOOD

This year also saw the rise of a terrible practice, that of making multiple dinner reservations at different restaurants for the same time. While this increases one individual's options, it's discourteous to other diners, and disastrous to restaurants, who count on filling every seat to pay their bills. Stop it at once! Another restaurant issue to hit the news was the number of people claiming "allergies" for preferential treatment. And speaking of people who are precious about their food, even the Thanksgiving table is a battleground now. Etiquetteer rather wishes people would just be grateful there's something to eat . . .

TOURISTS

The behavior of tourists made the news this year. American tourists were caught carving their names into the Colosseum in Rome. The twenty-something California women managed one initial each before getting caught. Remember, take only photos, leave only footprints. But don't take photos of someone's bedrooms. Harvard University had to issue new rules for tourists to protect the privacy of their students. And you might want to think about taking photos at the 9/11 Memorial in New York. One writer called out tourist behavior there, especially around selfie sticks.

CLOTHING AND FASHION

Anno Domini 2015 saw the rise of "athleisure wear" - shudder - which has led children to reject denim for public wear in favor of sweatpants.  There was also the Suitsy, the business suit onesie. This article explains, rather fascinatingly, why we're dressing so casually now.

Also, musicians are taking a stand about their standard uniforms of white-tie or black-tie formal attire. In another direction, see-through wedding dresses are being promoted by designers. Of course Etiquetteer thinks they're Perfectly Proper - if you're getting married at the Folies Bergere. Another fashion trend that needs to end is the sloppy manbun, now also available as a hairpiece. Sadly.

First Lady Michelle Obama made the news when she didn't cover her hair on a brief visit to Riyadh to meet King Salman of Saudi Arabia. Her allegedly bold and courageous stance in not wearing a headscarf was, in fact, Perfectly Proper diplomatic protocol, as was shown by photographs of previous First Ladies and Female World Leaders like Angela Merkel, also without headscarves while meeting Saudi dignitaries. The Duchess of Cambridge made a fashion choice that brought coverage for a different reason: wearing a bright red gown for a state dinner in honor of China. Since red is the national color of China, that was not just Perfectly Proper, but also Deftly Diplomatic.

Higher Education is supposed to teach students about making Appropriate Life Choices, such as wearing shoes that will not make you fall over. Etiquetteer felt alternately sorry and embarrassed for this young woman who floundered through her graduation because of her shoes. Conversely, ladies in flats were turned away from screenings at the Cannes Film Festival. Please, ladies and film festivals, safety first!

EXHIBITIONISM

Under the guise of asking a question of Senator Rick Santorum, Virginia Eleasor let out an incoherent rant against President Obama, accusing him of nuking Charleston. This led Etiquetteer to ask questioners at public events whether they really want to ask questions or make their own speeches.

AIR TRAVEL

Regarding air travel, The Boston Globe reported on the rising phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who, when flying, refuse to sit next to women not their wives on religious grounds. Later in the year The New York Times wrote about the increasingly fraught sport of seat-swapping on airplanes. One man no doubt wanted to switch seats after his seatmate repeatedly stabbed him with a pen because he was snoring. Violence against fellow passengers is never Perfectly Proper. Etiquetteer would have put that seatmate on a no-fly list.

THE THEATRE

Stories about bad behavior in theatres continued to make the news in 2015, including Madonna Herself, who was not invited backstage after a performance of Hamilton because the cast saw her texting throughout Act II. But even Madonna was upstaged by the young man who went onstage before a performance to recharge his cellphone on the set! And even that Astonishing Event was eclipsed by the woman who went backstage to ask the actors where the restroom was during a performance.

Benedict Cumberbatch, a True Gentleman, appealed to his fans in a Most Perfectly Proper Way not to use devices during performances.

CHILDREN

This year Etiquetteer tried out a March Madness-style survey of Pet Peeves. The winner, from the Table Manners/Dining Out category: Ill-Mannered Children of Complacent Parents. And in fact, there were some related news stories. A little girl's meltdown at a White House function led Etiquetteer to wish more parents used babysitters, for instance. But the champion news story on this topic - and perhaps for the entire year - has to go to the incident at Marcy's Diner, when the owner yelled at a crying toddler who wouldn't shut up.

GENERALLY IMPROPER BEHAVIOR

Anno Domini 2015 began with a story about a woman in Florida shaving her - ahem - "bikini area" while operating a motor vehicle. While Etiquetteer understand the desire to be completely groomed before arriving at one's destination, Etiquetteer longs for the day when it was understood that ladies and gentlemen were completely groomed before they left the house.

Both Vice President Joe Biden and actor John Travolta came in for criticism for getting too "up close and personal" for greetings with Ladies Not Their Wives.

A Florida fraternity got itself into a colossal amount of trouble at its spring formal when drunk fraternity boys spit on wounded veterans, stole their American flags, and urinated on them. It should be needless to say that these aren't the values any fraternity is supposed to inculcate into its members.

Thirty people got in a fight over whether or not someone cut in line to use a waffle maker. Sometimes it's best not to escalate the situation. Sometimes it's best to stay in a hotel with a proper restaurant with a proper cook to make the waffles.

Perfect Propriety and pets moved uneasily in a Brooklyn building where dog waste in stairwell and elevators was becoming an issue.

And finally, a South Carolina politician used his holiday greetings to express his unhappiness over a vote on displaying the Confederate flag by enclosing this message: “May you take this joyous time as an opportunity to ask forgiveness of all your sins, such as betrayal.” Rather like getting a lump of coal in the mail.

And with that, allow Etiquetteer to wish you a Happy and Perfectly Proper New Year in 2016!

smalletiquetteer

Condolence Correspondence, Vol. 14, Issue 39

Dear Etiquetteer: How long does one really have to write a condolence note after someone dies? Is it still acceptable to send a note a couple months later?

Dear Condoling:

Condolences really should be written and sent as soon as one learns of a death. Etiquetteer will never forget the Busy Executive who, on learning of the death of a colleague's parent, reached instantly for the box of notecards and began penning his condolence. This is why it always helps to have a box of Perfectly Proper stationery on hand, as well as postage stamps that don't look too celebratory.

The later one puts off a condolence, the harder it feels to write. That does not, in fact, make it harder to write; it just feels that way. Late condolences, which for the purposes of this column Etiquetteer will define as condolences written later than two weeks after the death, should include at least one of two subjects: specific reminiscences to cast a positive light on the deceased, whether humorous, inspiring, or otherwise; and the knowledge that the writer remains concerned about the recipient even after the funeral has taken place. Etiquetteer advises correspondents to avoid "If there's anything I can do . . . " or its variations unless one really is ready to do anything when the condoled call for help.

Penpoint

On the Importance of a Lovely Note, Vol. 14, Issue 35

This morning two things happened that made Etiquetteer think about the expression of thanks. First, a series of text messages arrived on Etiquetteer's flip phone - quite possibly the pocket watch of its generation - from a friend expressing thanks for a gift. These were written very much in the style of a Lovely Note, with salutation, body, and closing, but via texts. They were a lovely way to begin the morning.

Second, discussing this with a colleague, she confessed that she photographed the draft of a thank-you note to transmit to someone who had given a gift, knowing that the gift-giver would want to know the gift was received as quickly as possible - even though she hadn't finished her draft. She asked if it could be Perfectly Proper to communicate thanks only electronically.

Etiquetteer would be a fool not to acknowledge that our means of communication have evolved, just as they have at other periods of civilization. The printing press and engraving changed the forms of how word got around, most notably to Etiquetteer with the invention of the engraved calling card in the early 19th century*, and later on engraved stationery. Benjamin Franklin used his own printing press (imported illegally into France during the American Revolution) to print invitations to an Independence Day party in 1779**. In its turn the typewriter made its mark, then audiocassettes, the computer, the Internet, and now, saints preserve us, the smartphone. In most cases these innovations reduced the amount of time between sending and receiving, from weeks, to days, to seconds.

But what we gain in time we lose in those old-fashioned qualities that we shouldn't think of as old-fashioned, Grace and Charm - and sometimes in the appearance of Sincerity, too. A text message or an email can appear so perfunctory, no matter how many fonts one might be allowed to use, no matter through what form of social media delivered. This is why Etiquetteer continues to advocate for the Lovely Note, because now it signifies even more how much one values the courtesy received, whether a gift, an invitation, or some other consideration. Whether the chastest white or cream foldover or the most garish greeting card, the Lovely Note demonstrates that one has taken some trouble to express gratitude. Because of its immediacy, the email or text has a place in Perfectly Proper correspondence, to inform gift-givers that their gifts have been received. But Etiquetteer still holds that it’s only the first of two places. The second should still be filled with that handwritten Lovely Note, especially for wedding gifts.

And yet  . . . and yet, it was so nice to get that barrage of texts this morning, since the sender expressed knowledgeable appreciation for the gift. No perfunctory "Got yr box, kthxbye" message this! Those of us who are recipients must be grateful for what acknowledgement we receive, and continue to lead by example.

Etiquetteer is certainly not the first person to express these sentiments, but the fact that it still needs to be expressed . . . well, it means you ought to run down to your local stationer and buy a box of notecards, that’s what it means.

invite

*At first calling cards were blank and one wrote one’s name on each one. Later, “calling cards became more elaborate, sporting engraved names, mottoes, gilt edges, and pictures.” Parlor Politics, by Catherine Allgor, page 121.

**The Great Improvisation, by Stacy Schiff, opposite page 300. It is interesting to note that Franklin included the instruction “An Answer if you please."

How to Respond to Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 25

Dear Etiquetteer: Can you tell me whether you think people who have been good guests at a dinner party or cocktail party (separate answers I think) - brought a hostess gift, behaved well, etc. - should also email or call the next day to say thanks? If they don't, were they unhappy with the party?

Dear Hosting:

When a Lovely Note of Thanks has not been received, it's always more charitable to assume Incompetence rather than Malice. Possibly your guests were taken ill, swept up in current events, anxious at the thought of finding something original to say about your party (which is completely unnecessary), or just too lazy to find your zip code. Regardless, their failure to express gratitude for your hospitality is no reflection on the hospitality you provided.

Etiquetteer may be the Lone Holdout in considering the Lovely Note more important than the hostess gift, but the expression of thanks afterward means ten times as much as the "payment for services rendered" sometimes implied by that bottle of wine. Few things reassure a host or hostess as much as the confirmation from guests of a "job well done," that one's efforts have not only been recognized, but appreciated. Too many people, Etiquetteer would suggest, feel daunted by the need to express themselves originally. But writing a Lovely Note certainly doesn't take as much effort as picking out a bottle of wine. (Etiquetteer can just hear the oenophiles shuddering as they read this.)

You are more accommodating than Etiquetteer is in terms of how you'd allow these Lovely Notes to be delivered, suggesting email and telephone as options without even considering a handwritten note - which even today Etiquetteer is loath to refer to as "old-fashioned." Communications unavoidably evolve with technology; this is not necessarily bad, but it's made many people careless. While it was once the only way to communicate at all, now - with the near-universal adoption of the Internet - handwritten correspondence now signifies a special effort to express sincerity and appreciation. This is why Etiquetteer continues to think it's the best way to convey thanks for hospitality received.

Etiquetteer hopes that you will not let the neglect of your guests cause you further anxiety, and that you'll set them a good example with your own Lovely Notes after they entertain you in turn.

Penpoint

Condolences and National Card and Letter Writing Month, Vol. 14, Issue 19

Dear Etiquetteer: Is the term, "I'm sorry" an appropriate response upon hearing of a death in the family of a friend? I see so much of that on Facebook, while I had thought that extending sympathy or condolences would be a more proper response.

Dear Condoling:

Your query shows a discerning attitude about how we use language, which Etiquetteer can only admire and wish more people would adopt. This led Etiquetteer to examine more closely the definition of "sorry." For a moment Etiquetteer thought the word might imply personal responsibility for what one was sorry for. As it turns out, one definition is ""Feeling regret, compunction, sympathy . . . " and another is "suggestive of grief or suffering," so Etiquetteer can say that "I'm sorry" is an appropriate response to the news of a death. I'm sorry.

Now, is it the most appropriate response? Like you, Etiquetteer would rather see "My condolences" or "My sympathies" used instead, because those words are more specific to the occasion. "I'm sorry" is used every time an apology is made. One cannot say "My condolences for forgetting to attend your birthday dinner," for instance. And online, "I'm sorry" looks rather like a throwaway comment, which (Etiquetteer must hasten to add before the brickbats fly) is surely not the intent of those commenting.

Etiquetteer remains ambivalent about online condolences, whether on social media or through the online guest books of funeral homes. This is not to say that such things aren't, or can't be, Proper; this only reflects Etiquetteer's ambivalence. Condolences serve two purposes: to express sympathy to the bereaved by sharing positive thoughts and memories of the deceased; and, through the act of thoughtful writing, to assist oneself through the grieving process. What is attractive about expressing sympathy online is its immediacy, and the swift expression of condolences remains a very important part of expressing them. But the pitfalls of Immediate Online Expression are thoughtlessness and indiscretion on one side, and the consciousness of writing for a larger audience than the bereaved on the other. This last can sometimes lead to - how to say it? - an Escalation of Histrionics that becomes less about the impact of the deceased and more about the individual grief of each commenter. Just as it is improper to steal the spotlight from the bride at a wedding, so is it improper to steal the spotlight from the deceased. Often that form of writing is best left to one's personal, offline journal.

 Penpoint

Etiquetteer learned only recently that April is National Card and Letter Writing Month. Considering the query above, it's essential to note that online comments on a message board do not replace the need for a handwritten condolence note. Nor will Etiquetteer accept the complaint that this is stuffy and old-fashioned. If anything, the understandable rush to adopt online communications has made handwritten letters and notes that much more significant and special to the recipients! The Lovely Note of Thanks (especially for wedding gifts), the Get Well Card, and even the Letter for No Reason give us opportunities for creativity and thoughtfulness unavailable online, because the audience is the Recipient Alone. And the thrill of seeing an envelope in one's mailbox that isn't a bill or junk mail remains fresh.

Unfortunately Etiquetteer has mailed exactly two handwritten pieces of correspondence this month. Let's all do better than that in the remaining week of National Card and Letter Writing Month, and in the months beyond!

Teacup

Today is the last official day to vote in Etiquetteer's Spring Madness of Pet Peeves, and my goodness, what is to come afterward . . . This round determines the champion pet peeve in each division. NEXT week we'll see the divisions compete against each other: Weddings vs. Driving and Traffic, and Dining Out/Table Manners vs. General Peeves! So far these look like difficult choices. Please vote today!

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.

Random Observations, Vol. 14, Issue 2

Etiquetteer has been reading Meryle Secrest's delightful Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography, and was particularly arrested by two stories. The first, a real dinner party disaster, involved some new rubberized upholstery that had a lower-than-considered melting point. When the dinner guests, including Coco Chanel, rose from their chairs, the upholstery had made an impact on their clothes. Etiquetteer imagines all the host or hostess could do at that point was accept the dry cleaning bills and send a Lovely Bouquet of Contrition the next day. Have you a dinner party disaster in your past? Etiquetteer has a couple, but the scars are still too fresh.

The next interesting item concerned Schiap's great friend and collaborator Bettina Bergery, who apparently was known for stubbing out her cigarettes on women she felt were flirting too much with her husband. The book does not indicate how these ladies reacted, but Etiquetteer can only hope that the Rebuke was accepted without making more of a Scene than necessary. Other, less physically scarring, methods may be just as effective. Etiquetteer will never forget a costume ball about 15 years ago when a Lady Friend gave him the Eagle Eye and Hard Smile combination that invariably mean "Don't even think about touching my husband."

Wintertime in northern climates usually involves going out with two pairs of shoes: boots to manage the cold and snow, and regular shoes for indoor wear. Etiquetteer has seen increasingly, in homes where shoes are left at the door no matter what kind they are, guests bringing slippers to wear throughout the evening. Regardless, struggling into and out of shoes in someone's doorway in the Bleak Midwinter is never very graceful, and Etiquetteer must insist that hosts provide a chair or two nearby for the convenience of their guests. Once upon a time in the Stately Homes of Yore, an entire room off the entry was provided for this purpose. For the rest of us - Etiquetteer, for instance, lives in a "servantless household" with a narrow hallway immediately inside - having a chair as close as possible to the front door, or allocating a bedroom, is the best we can do.

Etiquetteer has certainly noticed in the last year the near disappearance of "Dear" from salutations everywhere, in both handwritten and electronic correspondence. Etiquetteer cannot let this stand, and must insist that it be included. Some will argue that its elimination is more efficient. Etiquetteer will counter that it is certainly less gracious, and we need some graciousness in our daily lives. Kindly attend to this at once.

Un-invitation, Vol. 14, Issue 1

Dear Etiquetteer: For a long time I've given a big party every year to celebrate something fun, but this year I've decided to do something different for myself that won't be a party. What's my obligation to tell people they won't be hearing from me as usual? It feels weird to tell people, but I also want to be thoughtful for folks to make other plans if they want to. What's the rule?

Dear Unhosting:

Your query brought to mind two things almost at once. The first was the voice of a Dear Friend, who delights repeating the old saw "When you assume, you make an ass of you and me" when Situations of This Sort arise. The other was Washington author and journalist Sally Quinn and her 1997 book The Party: A Guide to Adventurous Entertaining. Etiquetteer recalls La Quinn writing about her annual New Year's Eve party, but that also some years she and her husband Ben Bradlee would just go off to the country place instead and not host it. This led to some confusion from guests who, out of force of habit, just showed up at their dark town house and found nothing happening.

It's the responsibility of your guests not to assume there's a party if they haven't received an invitation. There is no social requirement to issue an un-invitation*, a term of Etiquetteer's invention that means "an announcement of an event that will not take place." That said, if you want to "control your own narrative" and ensure that people don't start creating Gossip, it makes sense to email your usual guest list to say that your plans have changed and that what they have come to expect will not, in fact, be on the calendar. Etiquetteer imagines that such an announcement would be helpful for those who travel.

*Etiquetteer was all set to call this an "unvitation," but that term has already been invented and defined by the cast of Seinfeld.

Suggested New Year's Resolutions, Vol. 13, Issue 63

"Fast away the Old Year passes," as the carol goes, and let Etiquetteer be the first to speed its passing! It's a time-honored custom to make resolutions to improve oneself in the New Year, usually with diet and exercise. Etiquetteer would like to suggest some resolutions to improve the Perfect Propriety of the nation:

  1. Resolve not to forward articles from satire news websites as though they were real news*. Etiquetteer is getting mighty tired of pieces from the Daily Currant, Empire News, the Borowitz Report over at the New Yorker, and the grandfather of them all, the Onion, being sent about with Righteous Outrage or Fierce Glee as the Gospel Truth, when they're just an elaborate joke. This concerns Etiquetteer most because of the damage it does to public figures. Public figures are already judged harshly enough - and deservedly - on what they have actually said. Let's not obscure the Truth with this patina of Satire any longer.
  2. Resolve to disconnect at the table. When you sit down to share a meal with a group of people, especially in a private home, you have a sacred obligation to to be fully present and contribute to the general merriment. It is not possible for you to do this if you're always glancing into your lap, and it is hurtful to your companions because you give the impression that you would rather be someplace else. Turn your device gently but firmly OFF before you get to the table, and don't make Etiquetteer come after you.
  3. Resolve to give a dinner party. These days the phrase "dinner party" sounds much more intimidating than it really is, which is having a total of four to 12 people around your table for an evening meal. Start with a maximum of four, which is easier to prepare for, and design a menu in which one course may be prepared a day or so ahead. The hospitality of the home is too little celebrated these days, but it remains a cornerstone of Perfect Propriety. Please join Etiquetteer in bringing it back.
  4. Resolve not to be so insistent about your diet when you're away from home. Etiquetteer suspects one reason for the decline of the dinner party is the ever-increasing number of people who insist on their food preferences wherever they go, as if they were more important that the spirit of Hospitality. No one has the right to expect their friends and relatives to be professional-grade chefs who can keep straight the infinite, and infinitely changing, diets of so many people all at once. The best illustration is what has happened to coffee service in the last 20 years. Once one only had to serve coffee, cream, and sugar. Now one must offer coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea, cream, skim milk, 2% milk, soy milk, powdered creamer, sugar, at least three kinds of artificial sweetener, honey, and agave nectar just to keep everyone happy. This is ridiculous!** When someone invites you into their home, it doesn't make them a slave to your preferences. Be kind to your hosts and just say "No, thank you" if offered something you can't eat.***
  5. Resolve to correspond more by hand. Yes, Etiquetteer remains a devotée of the Lovely Note of Thanks, not only because it is more Perfectly Proper than any electronic communication, but also because it makes the recipient feel special. Also, in our Society of Increasing Surveillance, fewer eyes can intercept a handwritten letter than an email or text message. (And how sad it is that Etiquetteer even has to mention that.) Do it!
  6. Resolve to R.s.v.p. on time, honor your original response, and arrive on time. If someone invites you to something, whether it's in their home or not, they need time to prepare to entertain you. A prompt and definite response from you is essential to this. "I'll have to see how I feel" is never Perfectly Proper! And if someone has invited you to the theatre and you suddenly decide on the day that you can't go, your host is left scrambling to use your ticket. Cancelling is only Perfectly Proper in circumstances of death or illness, but professional crisis is becoming more accepted as a valid excuse. If you pull a Bunbury too often, you'll find that invitations come to you less frequently.
  7. Resolve not to monopolize reservations. Etiquetteer deplores the growing practice of making multiple restaurant reservations for the same time to keep one's options open depending on one's whim. This is not only rude to other diners, but fatal to the restaurant's bottom line. Stop it at once!

For tonight, of course Etiquetteer exhorts you to celebrate responsibly by not drinking to riotous excess and not drinking and driving - and by remembering a Lovely Note to your hosts.

Etiquetteer wishes you a Perfectly Proper New Year!

*Etiquetteer will provide an exemption from this on April Fool's Day.

**And please get off Etiquetteer's lawn, too!

***Of course those with fatal allergies need to be vigilant at all times, and wise hosts remember these and take them into account.

Lovely Notes of Thanks, Vol. 13, Issue 62

Gift-Giving Holidays - Christmas being the most widely celebrated, followed closely by Hannukah and Kwanzaa - conclude with the most Perfect Propriety when gifts are acknowledged with Lovely Notes of Thanks immediately afterward. The late B.R. Johnstone made a point, the afternoon of every Christmas Day, of sequestering himself at his desk with a box of his stationery and thanking everyone who had taken the trouble to give him a gift. He remains the Perfect Example of Perfect Propriety for all of us who wish to be thought Ladies and Gentleman. (And if you don't wish to be thought a Lady or a Gentleman, Etiquetteer has grave doubts about your Character.) Who, some of you have asked, is this mysterious B.R. Johnstone? Why, it is none other than Etiquetteer's beloved godfather, seen here imparting the Spirit of Perfect Propriety to Infant Etiquetteer. Would that all children were so fortunate in their selection of godparents!

Now, let's get on with our Lovely Notes, shall we?

At Random, Vol. 13, Issue 6

Now that the milestone of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has passed, Etiquetteer certainly hopes that you've finished all your Lovely Notes of Thanks from all the gifts and invitations you received. And Etiquetteer hopes you've received a sheaf of them in return for the gifts and entertainment you shared.

In bleak and bare January, it is pleasant to think of the spring to come and the blossoms that will appear in one's garden. So it's also helpful to remember that Oscar Wilde made the green carnation popular in his day. Gentlemen who wore a green carnation were instantly recognizable as "men of the Wilde sort," which made introductions of the like-minded so much safer and convenient. Remember this next St. Patrick's Day, now less than two months away.

Etiquetteer is getting mighty tired of people who do not understand that in this country, on escalators we stand on the right and pass on the left, and we certainly do not stand next to each other talking and blocking the way for others to pass us. Stop it at once!

Many people find it difficult to feel Perfectly Proper in subzero temperatures for the simple reasons that a) they're extremely cold and b) bulky winter wear obstructs movement, and sometimes vision as well. We can't all be Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago, more's the pity - PETA would be after their fur coats with their paintball guns in a flash - but concentrating on Perfect Posture can help transport us to a nice warm drawing room in our minds.

Reflections on Wedding Invitations, Gifts, and Attitudes, Vol. 12, Issue 13

Etiquetteer has been relieved of the burden of wedding invitations this summer. Consider that sentence for a moment. Isn't it a pity that so many people consider an invitation to a wedding a burden, rather than a Happy Occasion to celebrate a Joyous Marriage with friends and relations? Etiquetteer is of the completely subjective and entirely unresearched opinion that there are two causes: the expense of attending a wedding for a guest (especially travel, which is not only expensive but inconvenient) and the selfish behavior of brides that led to the coining of the term "bridezilla" several years ago. These two causes combine in the selection of a gift for the Happy Couple. Etiquetteer was deeply sorry to read last week about a bride who was sufficiently unbalanced to call out her friends on social media for what she perceived as their inadequate generosity. First of all it's vulgar in the extreme to mention how much money was spent to entertain your guests. You invite friends (or the friends of your parents) to a wedding for the pleasure of their company, not because you expect them to cover the costs of their own entertainment*. Second, your wedding is not as important to your friends as it is to you; no doubt there are other, more important claims on their resources than your Gaping Maw of Bridal Need. And third, criticizing someone so bluntly on social media about their behavior is just as bad as, if not worse than, doing so to their faces. Brides who follow this example deserve to lose a lot of friends.

With the advent of social media, some confusion has also spread over how to interpret how one receives knowledge of a wedding -- or, to be completely candid, when to suspect that the only reason you're hearing is that the Happy Couple expects a gift. Over at Etiquetteer's Facebook page (speaking of social media), Etiquetteer recalled learning of the wedding of a Friend of Etiquetteer's Youth from Dear Mother; the invitation had been addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. [Parents of Etiquetteer] and Etiquetteer," which is far from Perfectly Proper. Why, you ask? Because at the time the invitation was sent, Etiquetteer was not only well over the Age of Consent, but also not living under the parental roof. Anyone over the age of 21 deserves his or her own engraved invitation sent to his or her own address; attempting to economize by doubling up invitations to parents and grown children makes you look shabby. Saying you can't find that person's address no longer serves as an excuse, thanks to the Internet.

This led to the question of how to respond to wedding invitations from Long Unheard-of Schoolfellows who haven't been heard from in so long that their motives are suspect. Back before the Internet (and before brides expected everyone to Travel the Earth on Command), wedding announcements were sent instead of invitations, something along the lines of

Mr. and Mrs. Fairleigh Freshness

announce the marriage of their daughter

Miss Dewy Freshness

to Mr. Manley Firmness

on [Insert Date Here].

Frequently a little address card would be included so that recipients would know where the Happy Couple would be living. You must remember that this was before the days of "Live Together First:"

Mr. and Mrs. Manley Firmness

After [Insert Date After Honeymoon Here]

5456 Cottage Lane, Apartment Six

Verdant Greens, New Jersey

Receipt of a wedding announcement was taken as information that the Happy Couple felt you should know, but not with the expectation of a gift. As much as Etiquetteer enjoys social media and other electronic communications, Etiquetteer would rather like to see engraved wedding announcements come back.

Should you receive a wedding invitation from someone you haven't heard of in many years, put pen to paper at once and send a Lovely Note of Congratulations along with your Infinite Regret that you cannot attend in person. And that concludes your obligation.

*If the costs are really bothering you, have a simpler wedding and invite fewer people.

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.

Returning Wedding Gifts, Vol. 11, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: I recently sent a very nice gift for my niece's bridal shower. Unfortunately, the wedding was called off shortly thereafter.

A few weeks later, the mother of the groom sent me a gift card to "compensate" me for my gift and my inconvenience. I am the only one in my extended family who received such "compensation." I suspect she sent it because we occasionally run into each other in the same social circles. Although I don't care about the money, the gift card is actually for much less than the cost of the gift.

I was offended that the groom's mother sent me the gift card because I do not feel it was her place to step in. My niece should have been the one to communicate with her own family. I would have preferred not to hear at all from the groom's mother. My current concern is what to do with the gift card. Should I keep it or return it to the groom's mother? I really don't want her gift card, so if I return it, what should I say?

Dear Unregifted:

A few years ago Etiquetteer was invited to a wedding. About three weeks before the wedding day Etiquetteer received a card in the mail that matched the wedding stationery with the announcement that

The wedding between

Miss Dewy Freshness

and

Mr. Manley Firmness

will not take place.

Underneath and to the left one found the sentence "All gifts will be returned."  Because let's face it, the first thought one has when learning of such a thing is "Am I going to get back that gift on which I spent so much money?"

It appears that your niece and her family have observed neither of these necessary social niceties, something you may want to take up with whichever Parent of the Bride is your Sibling. In the event that your niece does marry, Etiquetteer would absolve you from giving another shower gift -- but acknowledges that other etiquette writers may differ.

The involvement of the groom's mother certainly muddies the water. It's really not her business, but Etiquetteer has some sympathy with her, having been put in an awkward position (the cancellation of her son's wedding) through no fault of her own. And for all Etiquetteer knows, this lady has already raised the issue of returning gifts with the former bride-to-be and her family. Since you haven't yet received your gift back, the results may not have been satisfactory to her, prompting her to send gift cards to all her relatives and friends who sent gifts as well as to you. Etiquetteer does wish, however, that the lady hadn't used the term "compensation," which suggests that you needed to be paid for your troubles.

By all means return the gift card, but cut the lady some slack. Send the card back with a Lovely Note thanking her for thinking of you, but suggesting that you don't feel quite right keeping and using this gift card since your bridal shower gift to your niece was freely given. It's also Perfectly Proper to express sympathy with this lady over the cancellation of the wedding, and best wishes for the future happiness of her son.

Random Issues, Vol. 9, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:
Last night, I took a dear friend as my guest to an expensive art gallery dinner, held in honor of a newly opened show. It was meant to be a special treat for us, as my friend is just emerging into social life again, after a devastating divorce.
Unfortunately, we were seated at a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious. After attempting polite introductions and brief small talk with our fellow diners, we two girlfriends tried to converse quietly together. But conversation was rendered impossible by the group's rude comments, and shenanigans such as dinner rolls being thrown across the table.
The room was otherwise full, and no alternative seats were available. The gallery owner ignored the situation. I was mortified to subject my friend to such obnoxious buffoonery. She is not native to the US, and the group even mocked the pronunciation of her name. We left as soon as the dessert had been served.
What on earth can one do to rescue such an evening, short of leaving as soon as possible? I apologized to my friend for the disastrous experience. As her her host, what else should I have done?
Dear Subjected:
Etiquetteer can only respond to you with the deepest compassion. The only thing worse than dining with "a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious" is dining with "a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious" who are your closest friends of whom you expected better.
The best way to guarantee your enjoyment at the sort of dinner you describe, which sounds suspiciously like a fund-raiser, is to round up enough friends and acquaintances to fill a table. As you have sadly learned, when Money is the only criterion for entrée, ladies and gentlemen are not safe from Bad Manners. (The roll-throwing tempted Etiquetteer to hope that perhaps these drunken bawds had once read P.G. Wodehouse, but this does not really seem likely. There are restaurants that cater to the roll-throwing crowd, like Lambert's Café, a more likely influence.)
It seems that you did everything possible at the time to salvage the evening, except speaking directly with the gallery owner. You indicate that s/he was ignoring the situation; you had the power to call it to his/her attention in no uncertain terms, by beckoning, or at worst, leaving your table and going to him/her. Another temporary solution might have been to take your dessert into the lobby.
Now that this ghastly dinner is behind you, Etiquetteer encourages you to create a new social opportunity for your newly-divorced friend: a dinner party in your own home given in her honor, with your own friends whose Perfect Propriety you know well enough in advance. You may also correspond with the gallery owner and sever any possible future connection with that organization.

Dear Etiquetteer:
I am a new, part-time teacher at my school.  I teach music in a building that is away from the main building and I very rarely socialize with other teachers; I'm just not around them much and don't eat lunch with them or chat in the teacher's lounge.  I received an invitation to a bridal shower for one of my coworkers.  He is getting married soon and I only know him by his last name.  I met his wife at the Christmas staff party, but can't remember her name.

What should I do about this shower?  I don't want to go, because I don't know the groom at all, and I know the bride even less.  Do I have to send a gift if I wimp out on attending?

Dear Teaching:
Undoubtedly this invitation was sent to all school faculty as a courtesy, and the groom didn't want you (or others) to feel left out. At least, that's how Etiquetteer could explain this situation charitably. (Whoever heard of a groom inviting professional colleagues to his fiancée's bridal shower?!) You need not attend, or send a gift, but please do send a Lovely Note of Congratulations to the Happy Couple on your most Perfectly Proper stationery.

Random Correspondence Issues, Vol. 7, Issue 22

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

Dear Bride to Be: 

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

 Mr. John Smith and Ms. Mary Smith

request the honour of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter

Miss Perfectly Proper Smith

to Mr. Manley Firmness

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

 invite.jpg

Dear Etiquetteer:

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

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

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

invite.jpg

Electronic Thanksgiving Invitations, Vol. 7, Issue 21

Dear Etiquetteer: My husband and I decided  to throw a potluck Thanksgiving Day Open House to best accommodate our expanded family, including mothers-in-law, babies, cousins, and their busy schedules. We thought it would be much more fun and convenient for people to come and stay as long as they want rather than having one fixed formal mealtime -- and we all know how long those last during holidays! 

We posted an invitation on [Insert Name of Electronic Invitation Service Here] that included the line "Family and friends welcome." To my surprise, a distant cousin responded that he and his wife would not be able to attend because they were going to Thanksgiving at her family's house. I don't know either of them terribly well, but invited them as a courtesy and because we hope to get to know them better. However, even though he responded that they could not attend, he added six other people to our guest list (this was before I thought to disable that function!), none of whom I know -- I think one or two may be his children. 

I would have had no problem if he and his wife had attended and brought their adult children and spouses with them. But to send them along to a party (only 20 or so people were invited in total) that they would not attend seemed inappropriate. And it seemed a large number of guests to invite without checking with us first. 

I wound up deleting them from the guest list and "hiding" the replies. I am not in regular contact with the cousin, so I don't expect any complications. But what would be the appropriate response in the future? And am I correct in assuming that he crossed a courtesy line? 

Dear Perplexed Potluck: To answer your last question first, Etiquetteer gets the impression the courtesy line was so blurry here that it was difficult for your cousin to know just what he was crossing.  With statements like "Open House" and "Family and friends welcome," you led him to believe that all were welcome.  

Plus your use of [Insert Name of Electronic Invitation Service Here] makes it FAR too easy to add as many additional guests as one wishes without contacting the host or hostess. This is one of several reasons Etiquetteer dislikes such services. [Secretly, Etiquetteer's Evil Fraternal Twin, Madame Manners (the Etiquette Dominatrix) wants to invite hundreds of strangers to someone's wedding on [Insert Name of Electronic Invitation Service Here.] It would serve them right.] When Etiquetteer issues invitations electronically, they are sent e-mail to e-mail without an electronic intermediary. For those who insist on using an Electronic Invitation Service, Etiquetteer highly recommends suppressing the guest list (to respect the privacy of guests) and disabling any function that permits the guests too much control over YOUR party (such as the ability to invite their own guests). 

Etiquetteer does agree with you that, if a party guest is going to invite more guests to a party, he should accompany them to the party. But without realizing it, you created two opportunities for your cousin to invite his entire family to your home: first, by not disabling the "Invite additional guests" feature on your electronic invitation; and second, by saying "Family and friends welcome." It's also an open house, which you said you were giving because "it would be much more fun and convenient for people to come and stay as long as they want . . . " Even if your cousin and his wife WERE coming to the party, perhaps it might have been "more fun and convenient" for his six guests to come or go at times different from theirs. You'll infer from all this that Etiquetteer really prefers a set mealtime for holiday gatherings, whether formal or informal.

Etiquetteer remembers with great pleasure the many Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Easter Sunday meals of childhood. At the homes of different family members in the 1960s and 1970s, Etiquetteer could expect long lines of card tables in every room set with snowy linen just like the dining room, the good china and silver, and a buffet in the kitchen groaning with turkey and all the trimmings. Having everyone together to break bread at the same time remains special. And of course early arrivals with fully laden plates would always use the Bible verse "When two or three are gathered in My name" to begin eating before everyone was seated. Ah, those halcyon days . . . 

Etiquetteer also calls to your attention a little but significant contradiction. You begin by saying you "invited them as a courtesy and because we hope to get to know them better," but later that you are "not in regular contact with the cousin, so I don't expect this will cause any complications." You can't get to know them better without starting some sort of regular contact.  Etiquetteer encourages you to consider another open house, for New Year's Day, and to make a special point of inviting this cousin and all his family to join you. You might end up starting the New Year by making new friends within your own family. 

A Gentleman’s Clothes and A Tricky Note, Vol. 4, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: I favor the pocket square, and have always noted the "tips out after 6:00 PM" rule. I further favor proper attire on airplanes, in the perhaps foolish notion that one receives better regard and attention from the waiter. However, when one is crossing the Atlantic or otherwise shuffling time zones, when does "tips out" actually take effect? In other words, when is six o’clock in the evening really six o’clock in the evening? Is there a condition in which it is acceptable to have tips out prior to six o’clock, and thus spare oneself the spectacle of public readjustment?Dear Tipped Out:You will be interested to know – as Etiquetteer was when he found out – that during the day the pocket square is considered optional and not required with a suit or sport jacket. When you do wear one, make sure that it doesn’t bear the least suggestion of a spot or stain, and be careful it doesn’t look too perfect. Resembling a mannequin has never been Perfectly Proper.You may always spare yourself the spectacle of public readjustment of any portion of your apparel by retreating to the nearest men’s room, even on an airplane. Let’s not hear any more about that. As for timing, Etiquetteer will allow you to put your tips out when the stewardess brings the first rounds of evening martinis.

Dear Etiquetteer:Alas, is there no opportunity to wear one’s tuxedo to the theatre/symphony any longer? Not even to opening/closing night? I fear the only suitable venue left may be a party chez Etiquetteer - it is bittersweet.Dear Dressing:You will know it’s completely safe to wear your dinner clothes to the theatre or the symphony when you are invited to do so, either to the performance itself or to some madcap party afterward. Otherwise, Etiquetteer advises you to appear with a dark suit, an elegant tie, and a happy heart.

Dear Etiquetteer:A tragedy has struck our family and I'm at a loss to express my sympathy. A cousin's wife has just given birth to a baby diagnosed as Downs Syndrome. I'm told by those close to the couple that problems were foreseen prior to birth but they preferred not to share the information.Obviously, they have not had time to send birth announcements, etc., as the parents have been at the children's hospital where many tests are being performed. Those of us of the extended family want to show our support by the gifts bought months ago which, of course, we will send and by a note of love and concern. Etiquetteer, you have always been able to compose beautiful sensitive notes. Please give us some advice this time. Dear Concerned Cousin: Etiquetteer’s heart goes out to your cousin’s family. Children born with what are euphemistically termed "special needs" are welcomed with open arms and loving hearts into families all over the world, but they do present challenges to every family member. These new parents will certainly need your support in the years ahead.As you write to your cousins, please do not assume that they look on the birth of their child or its condition as a tragedy, especially since they were aware of the possibility that the baby might be born with this condition. In your note, say how pleased you are that the baby was delivered safely, that the mother is healthy, that you look forward to seeing the baby when they are home from the hospital, and that you are praying for each and all of them as they adjust to the new circumstances and responsibilities of parenthood. And please follow up again in a couple months with another note that you are still thinking of them. Etiquetteer knows it will be appreciated.

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.

 

Reader Response, Vol. 2, Issue 2

On Holiday Gift-Giving: I am writing to request a clarification on the "money-as-gift" issue. Are gift certificates acceptable gifts, and, if so, under what circumstances? A certificate is not quite money and, in the case of a mall-wide certificate, ensures that the recipient gets whatever s/he wants. I admit it is not the most creative gift, but avoids the unwelcome gift scenario (especially in the case of out-of-state teenaged nieces and nephews) and is at least one step removed from cash. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer will condone, reluctantly, the giving of gift certificates. Heavens, they are so popular whether Etiquetteer does or not! But so often it looks like one didn’t care to make the effort to find a real gift.  Odd answer on tipping the personal trainer. He's not an employee but a self-employed professional. Outside a narrow range of traditional professional service occupations (like hairdressers, etc.), professionals are distinguished by NOT being tipped; it actually contradicts the nature of being a professional and in certain circumstances can be sort of insulting (for example, in not-so-olden days, when it was the height of rudeness to tip the owner of a hairdressing shop). I am surprised you fell for the American habit of metastasizing the sphere of tipped occupations. I used to tip my body worker regularly, until I discovered it was very unusual, and only normal if extra time was devoted or an unusually difficult therapy was required (in other words, the session went beyond the normal work associated with the normal compensation -- in which case, it's not really a tip but adjusted compensation). Etiquetteer responds: As Etiquetteer said the first time around, “Etiquetteer prefers to think of it as a holiday bonus rather than a tip.” And for personal trainers it is hardly required. Your comments to the man who got the birdhouse are so-o-o right on! Until her death, I used to get gifts from a cousin who chose everything with jewels on it. Have you ever seen a calculator with jewel buttons? An umbrella with a jeweled handle and ruffled to boot? Then there was the problem of industrial strength perfume! But they were gifts of love so your advice had I had it would have been perfect then as today. 

On Lovely Notes of Thanks: Lovely Note Roulette is going to be a lifesaver. My parents taught me to write thank-you notes. In fact, I often didn't even get to enjoy -looking- at the gift before paper and pen were thrust under my little hands. But after decades of notes, I feel mine have become, as you so aptly put it, dorkily inadequate. Now I am confident that my notes, as heartfelt as ever, will be all the lovelier for your help.  Are you saying, then, that it would be appropriate for me to send your response to all those deadbeats out there as a not so subtle hint that I am awaiting a suitable arrangement of responses generated by Lovely Note Roulette? Etiquetteer responds: No, but you could forward that column saying that you’ve been getting this terribly amusing etiquette column and perhaps they’d enjoy receiving it every week as much as you do . . . ;-)

On Etiquetteer: Thanks so much for you thoughtful reminders about the real meaning of the holidays. I, for one, appreciate that you take the time to reflect and shareyour thoughts on matters of such importance, which often are ignored in therush of the holidays.

Etiquetteer is the first e-mail I read on Monday morning!

 

 

Certainly you don't lay awake at night conjuring up these atrocities ofetiquette misdemeanors? The language is great; the messages are well-taken, and the references are scholarly.

Etiquetteer responds: Thank you for your kind words! As others have asked as well, Etiquetteer will admit that every question published in the column has come from a reader. Except one, the question about singing the National Anthem in church, which is one of Etiquetteer’s hot-button issues (and Etiquetteer knows that the church in question has blithely continued to ignore it, leaving Etiquetteer to praise Freedom of Speech as well as Freedom of Religion.)

On the Things on Dining Room Tables: Actually, the faint presence of slightly (emphasis on faint and slightly) pinkish marks on fine linen is a hallmark of long and loving use, like the patina on sterling flatware and the stains on chargers; the petty bourgeois thing is to try to keep these things ever-new . . .

Etiquetteer responds: Then Etiquetteer will have to admit to enough petty bourgeoiserie not to want to air his dirty laundry before guests . . .

***

Where, for heavens sake, does one find a replacement service for ancient glassware?

Etiquetteer responds: Not to get into the whole product endorsement thing,but www.replacements.com has gotten Etiquetteer out of a couple scrapes in the past.

***

I have just been gifted with a wonderful hostess gift that I have never thought about giving: a dozen very nice, cream-colored tapers. They were not gift wrapped, though tied with a lovely satin ribbon so I could see what was inside and not be obligated to open, ooh, and ahh. Since I adore lighting tall candles, this is a most welcome present as they are, of course, of the highest quality.

Etiquetteer responds: How delightful that you, like Etiquetteer, know only the very best people! Your guest obviously discerned your personal preference and acted accordingly.

On Politically Correct Speech: Ye gads, Etiquetteer, how dast you refer to a sightless person as "that poor miserable blind wretch" who was brave enough to attend the theatre? You surely must flinch as you re-read that reply. Or you should. I'm not objecting to the word “blind.” It's the poor, miserable wretch, terms that I save for l8th-Century references.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer is sufficiently chastened to hang his head for a moment, even though “poor miserable blind wretch" was an accurate description of the theatergoer. Perhaps it would have been more sensitive to describe him as “wretched” instead of call him a wretch.

That said, Etiquetteer adores the 18th Century, except for the plumbing, sexism, religious intolerance, health care, economic injustice, and corsets. Language was certainly more colorful then, and one does get mighty frustrated with the sanctimonious ostentation of bloodless "correct" terms like "visually-impaired" or "mobility-impaired.”

ETIQUETTEER, Encouraging Perfect Propriety in an Imperfect WorldTo subscribe: rbdimmick@earthlink.netTo unsubscribe: rbdimmick@earthlink.netTo submit questions: rbdimmick@earthlink.netCopyright 2002, 2003 by Robert B. Dimmick

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