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

Straw Hat Day and Felt Hat Day, Vol. 14, Issue 34

Earlier this year Etiquetteer was reading Erik Larson's fascinating Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, when a sentence turned Etiquetteer's attention completely away from the story. "They found a city steaming with heat - 91 degrees on Tuesday, April 27, with four days yet to go before "Straw Hat Day," Saturday, May 1, when a man could at last break out his summer hats." Straw Hat Day?! Etiquetteer had never heard of such a thing. Was this really an annual, historical ritual for American gentlemen, or had Mr. Larson been hoodwinked by the Internet, which is always making up holidays like National Underwear Day?

Turns out Straw Hat Day was indeed an actual, annual occurrence, with a date selected locally for the gentlemen to retire their fedoras and homburgs for the season, substituting them with their "skimmers" and panamas. A New York Times editorial of May 20, 1908, fulminates against those wearing their hats earlier than June 15, which was Straw Hat Day that year. "One or two warm days in the month of May do not justify the appearance of straw hats. The ancestors of this blind and impetuous generation who set down June 15 as straw-hat day considered the vagaries of the climate." The article suggests a rather folksy way the date gets determined. "The straw hat properly comes in with the strawberry. All our strawberries as yet come from the South, and it would be reasonable for the rushers of the Northern season to go South to wear their straw hats."

It would follow that, if there was a day to get out one's straw hats, there would be another day to put them back. Another Times article, this from September 16, 1900, indicates that September 15 was Straw Hat Day, and that those who did wear straw hats had them destroyed, particularly on the stock exchange. "Just because it was Sept. 15 some of brokers on the Stock Exchange wore their straw hats once more in order to get them smashed, and they were not disappointed. The ostracized hats lasted about fifteen minutes after the opening of the Exchange."

Later in the same article, Etiquetteer was chagrined that, even in History, there were rebels not paying attention the rules. "All through the financial district there were to be found individuals who wore straw hats, despite the cooler weather, just to show that they were not slaves to the custom of retiring straw hats on a given date, regardless of the climatic conditions." Etiquetteer knows with what glee certain readers will read this - those readers who ostentatiously wear white shoes after Labor Day and before Memorial Day.

In the 21st century, September 15 is now known as Felt Hat Day, so Etiquetteer will be lovingly retiring the boater until next May, and brushing off the black fedora for Another Autumn of Perfect Propriety. But for one last look back at what was truly a beautiful summer, allow Etiquetteer to leave you with this Perfectly Proper Portrait by Joe Williams of JWLenswerk. Now let's all put May 15, 2016, on our calendars for Straw Hat Day.

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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.

Blizzard Etiquette, Vol. 14, Issue 4

With the latest blizzard having ravaged the Northeast, Etiquetteer thinks it's time for a few tips on Perfect Propriety during Heavily Inclement Weather:

  • Don't dramatize the situation with all these mashup words* like "stormaggedon" and "snowpocalypse," etc. It's a blizzard. Blizzards happen. Heaven forbid Etiquetteer restrict anyone's Freedom of Speech, but really. Blizzards also don't have names assigned to them by television networks. Just run along to the National Weather Service and see what they have to say. Incidentally, they'd do well to dramatize the weather less by not typing their bulletins in ALL CAPS.
  • Don't rush. Allow yourself a lot of extra time to and from your destination, whether you're traveling on foot, on skis, or by auto. Be patient; there will be delays, no matter how you're traveling.
  • Drive carefully. You never know when someone will have to walk in the street because the sidewalks haven't been shoveled. Etiquetteer will only allow you to honk at them if they're texting at the same time.
  • It will happen that a shoveled sidewalk is not wide enough for two people to pass, regardless of any local ordinance. Etiquetteer awards precedence to the party closest to exiting the Narrows, or to the person who is not texting at the same time. Those who are unaware of what's going on around them deserve what they get.
  • If someone stands aside for you to pass, thank them kindly. Otherwise you increase the bitterness and resentment already caused by the weather. That old saw about Good Behavior being its own reward is highly overrated.
  • It is not uncommon - though it is illegal, and therefore not Perfectly Proper - for drivers who park on the street to "mark" or "save" a parking space they've cleared of snow - admittedly a vigorous undertaking - with some sort of street refuse like a trash barrel or an old chair. While deploring the practice, Etiquetteer refrains from getting involved by removing those markers. Remember, safety first! No one wants to lose teeth to some Vindictive Motorist.
  • Wear something simple and straightforward for winter work and sports. Etiquetteer was for some reason reminded of Gloria Upson's description of her newlywed apartment in Auntie Mame: " . . . I don't mean just some little hole-in-the-wall, but a really nice place with some style to it . . . " Consider Etiquetteer's interpretation above: vintage snowsuit, white scarf, and gray stocking cap with white leather work gloves. No fuss, no frills, nor rips and tears either. This is certainly one of those occasions when a bow tie is not Perfectly Proper. No one wants to be thought a parvenu while wielding a snow shovel . . .

Etiquetteer will conclude that, at times of Heavy Weather like this, Safety and Perfect Propriety go hand in hand.

*Actually, the best mashup word to come out of this blizzard is "snowmanhattan." Etiquetteer takes his on the rocks.

Tradition vs. Fashion as the Seasons Change, Vol. 13, Issue 47

Labor Day 2014 has decidedly come and gone, and the Perfectly Proper now complete their workday toilettes without the summer staples of seersucker, linen, and especially for those who are sticklers of tradition as Etiquetteer is, white shoes. Each year Etiquetteer feels a tinge of sadness treeing and bagging his white bucks. This is not helped by fashion gurus like Tim Gunn saying all the old rules need to be broken! Perhaps the thrill of white shoes is made more special by the artificial construct of an "official" season in which to wear them. And why not? We only eat Christmas cookies at Christmas. Special things are reserved for special times. Etiquetteer is happy to go along.

Fashion has ever been ephemeral, fleeting, nonsensical, and often frustrating. Abigail Adams herself, fresh from colonial Boston in London, observed "There is a rage of fashion which prevails here with despotick sway. The couleur & kind of silk must be attended to; & the day for putting it on & of[f], no fancy to be exercised, but it is the fashion & that is argument sufficient."* But let's face it, the everyday dress of Americans in the 21st century has much less to do with Fashion, or even with Style (alas!) than it does with Careless Convenience. And that, dear readers, is a sad state of affairs.

And with that, Etiquetteer is quickly going to knot a neat bow tie and head to the office.

*Quoted in Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams, by Lynne Withey, p. 161.

Notes from a Memorial Service, Vol. 13, Issue 32

Etiquetteer recently attended a memorial service for a Public Figure, and had this to observe:

  • Perfectly Proper dress is most important at a funeral or memorial service when respect is shown both to the dead and to the living. While Etiquetteer naturally prefers black - always Perfectly Proper in the West - many tasteful and respectful ensembles in black, gray, and white were observed. Down jackets and flannel shirts, regardless of the weather - and Etiquetteer does understand that this has been a brutal winter - simply are not Perfectly Proper.
  • For such events, Etiquetteer wears a black necktie that incorporates stripes of purple and silver gray, having learned that the combination of black and purple symbolizes triumph over death. Etiquetteer tends to avoid wearing a black bow tie with a plain black suit, as too many people believe it's pretending to be a tuxedo - which it certainly is not!
  • To leave a funeral or memorial service before it has ended is the Height of Bad Form, no matter how much longer it continues than you expected. Etiquetteer was outraged to see between 10-20% of the assembly scurry out. At such times your convenience means NOTHING! This is not an entertainment for your benefit or curiosity. Remain seated and attentive until the service is definitely over - or at least remain seated, close your eyes, and think of England.
  • For Heaven's sake, turn off your devices before the service begins! Etiquetteer counted three cellphone interruptions (two possibly from the same phone). If you can't prevent yourself the embarrassment (should you be incapable of feeling embarrassment), at least prevent the rest of us the annoyance. Sadly, it's become necessary to indicate at least by signs of printed announcements, if not by a verbal announcement, that devices must be switched of.

Cummerbunds, Vol. 13, Issue 4

Etiquetteer hates cummerbunds. Not that they aren't Perfectly Proper. A cummerbund still falls within the Perfectly Proper evening clothes of a gentleman. But they can be rather difficult. Moving about causes a cummerbund to ride up, exposing shirttail and crumpling shirtfront, or to ride down, contributing to an air of sloppiness that is not consistent with evening clothes. And for gentlemen with a waist over, say, size 28, they only increase the size of one's girth - or its perception, which is quite different. And Etiquetteer thinks it's silly that the pleats have to be facing up - "up to catch the soup" as one friend of Etiquetteer's was taught - when what they really catch is crumbs, necessitating a trip to the restroom. No, Etiquetteer does not like cummerbunds, and was quite happy to see the waistcoat start making a comeback in the 1990s. A waistcoat hides a multitude of sins and displays one's most elaborate watchchain. (What? You have no watchchain, no pocket watch? Get thee to the antique store!) But Etiquetteer longs for the day when the current fashion for a waistcoat with a shallow neckline - one that begins buttoning almost below the second stud - is replaced with a return to the waistcoat with a deep narrow V sets off that sliver of gleaming white shirtfront studded with - well, studded with shirt studs. Nothing could be more striking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Husband Alone at Wedding, Vol. 11, Issue 11

Dear Etiquetteer: I am invited to a family member's wedding in another state this fall, and expect to be able to attend. I shall be attending toute seule, as two of the children are in college, one will be in the thick of things in high school, and my bride believes her place is at home, making sure he's staying on task. Although the bride and groom to be are in their late thirties, this is their first marriage, and I'm just thrilled for them.

My questions are manifold: first is the obvious what to wear. Is a dark suit acceptable? If so, white shirt or light-coloured?

Second, the rehearsal dinner is at someone's home, so is that a suit occasion, or 'smart casual,' which I tend to think of as a dress shirt, open at the neck, and dark slacks?

Is there a footwear custom of which I should be aware in New York? In Minnesota, it is customary to remove one's shoes upon entering someone's home--with snow and slush covering the ground half the year, it makes sense to doff footwear so as to avoid tracking that mess into your hostess's carpeting. But I was not taught this social grace growing up in Michigan, so I don't know whether it's regional, or just a reflection of my mother's agricultural background.

The invitations say nothing about dress, and I'm confident that if I ask my brother or his wife, they will assure me that what's important is my presence, not what I'm wearing, which is characteristically kind of them, but ultimately unhelpful.

Gift? What is considered proper these days? Since they aren't teenagers, just getting started in life, they probably don't need a silver fondue pot or a half dozen toasters, and they've had the grace to omit any mention of a registry in their invitations. Would a nice card, with a check inside it be appropriate, and if so, is there a standard amount?

The couple have arranged for a block of hotel rooms at a reasonable rate. Is it expected that I will stay there, our is it perfectly acceptable to make my own arrangements elsewhere?

Finally, my son is attending college about four hours away from the wedding location, and I would like to spend a few hours with him the day after the wedding; is it permissible to leave the reception 'early,' say, around 10pm, to get started on that drive, or is the expectation that the guests will remain until the newlyweds retire?

Dear Husband:

That's a forthright series of questions, and Etiquetteer has answers:

WHAT TO WEAR: The invitation should have the dress code on it, but since you say that it doesn't, you must ask your brother and his wife. If they, as you predict, say "We really just want you to be there, it doesn't matter what you wear!" you must ask in reply, "What are YOU wearing?" Base your choices on what they're planning to wear. (But really, Etiquetteer cannot understand why hosts for big family events like weddings neglect adding basic information guests need like what to wear.)

REMOVAL OF FOOTWEAR: It is never Perfectly Proper to expect people to remove their shoes in one's home without warning them in advance. Again, you must ask your hosts what they expect since they've neglected to include this on the invitation, but Etiquetteer rather expect they'll tell you to leave your shoes on.

GIFT: A check is always Perfectly Proper as a wedding gift. Etiquetteer is delighted to hear that registry information was omitted from the invitation! That said, you may now ask if there is a registry and purchase something from it as your gift, if you wish. Etiquetteer is not going to suggest a gift amount. That depends entirely on the means and inclination of you and your wife.

ACCOMMODATIONS: The guest block has been arranged for the convenience of wedding guests. If it's more convenient for you to stay elsewhere, then it is Perfectly Proper for you to do so.

DEPARTURE: Married couples aren't royalty (though some brides clearly think of themselves as princesses) so you don't have to wait for them to make their departure before yours. It's customary, however, for guests to remain until the couple have been showered with rice (or birdseed (for the politically correct), bubbles (for the whimsical) or rose petals (for the romantic with unlimited resources)), so you should tip off the family that you'll need to be on the road before festivities end.

Next weekend is Labor Day, the official -- and often sad -- end of Summer. Etiquetteer expect you to join him in carefully folding away your white linen and treeing your white shoes until Memorial Day comes again next year. In the meantime, please do send your autumnal questions about manners to <queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.>

St. Patrick's Day, Vol 11, Issue 7

Today is St. Patrick's Day, when everyone can claim to be Irish. Perfect Propriety takes a bigger hit on St. Patrick's Day than any other day in the American calendar, what with so many people using its parades and whatnot as a cover for Excess Alcohol Consumption. Etiquetteer has a few observations to make:

  • Mixed greens are suitable for a salad, but not your St. Patrick's Day "Wearin' of the Green." Please don't wear clashing shades of green. Kelly, olive, chartreuse, and day-glo look vile together. Remember, only blue-greens with blue-greens, and yellow-greens with yellow-greens.
  • In the last 30 years St. Patrick's Day has become a forum for homophobia in some communities. So let us not forget that it was the late Oscar Wilde who made the green carnation boutonniere a symbol for men of "the Wilde sort." "That sort" can now wear their carnations with a difference.
  • As the child of a Southern community with no Irish heritage, Etiquetteer grew up with only two St. Patrick's Day traditions: 1) wear green, and 2) pinch people who are not wearing green. And yet the tradition of pinching is unknown in certain Irish-American communities. If you're determined to go around pinching the greenless on St. Patrick's Day, remember that it's all in fun! Don't inflict pain, and don't let that be your purpose.
  • It's been suggested that the Irish should be exempt from pinching. Etiquetteer suggests that Irish who forget to wear green on St. Patrick's Day should be pinched twice.
  • If you're not wearing green, do not claim that you have on green undergarments. This is only an invitation for Rude Questions to prove your honesty, and quite possibly an Indecent Assault. (Of course, if that's what you really want, Etiquetteer has to wonder why you're even reading an etiquette column in the first place.)
  • Etiquetteer was taught early on, once moving North, that the only thing one must not do on St. Patrick's Day is wear orange. In some communities such attire is an invitation to violence. Etiquetteer hopes all the Syracuse University alumni will be safe today.
Finally, Public Drunkenness is overrated, and it is certainly not Perfectly Proper. Please drink with Perfect Propriety this St. Patrick's Day by obeying all local laws and law enforcement.
Etiquetteer will be delighted to take your questions about all Problems of Manners 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.

Two Current Events, Vol. 11, Issue 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clothes of a Gentleman, Vol. 8, Issue 6

Dear Etiquetteer: I enjoy wearing white tie to the opera, despite the snide comments from the sartorially challenged. My problem is finding the appropriate tie. I was taught that since white tie is highly formal, the tie should be restrained and have very little flare. My old tie is nearly worn out, and the only white bows available are practically the size and shape of Luna moths. Am I overly restrictive in what I think look appropriate for white tie (and on me for that matter) or is this another failure of the American clothing industry? There is no rush for this question; the opera company has gone on hiatus due to "the current economic situation."

And, by the way, what is appropriate (non-funeral) attire for those mourning the loss of a close friend? Is there such a thing?

Dear Tied:

Etiquetteer thinks you have not been searching broadly on-line for a new white tie. If you visit Beau Ties Ltd. and order your choice of bow ties in "Very Slim Line," your need for an absence of flair will be met with Perfect Propriety.

Etiquetteer also enjoys white tie. But in an age where only ambassadors, conductors, magicians, and community theatre choruses wear it, Etiquetteer must regretfully advise caution. If you are the only gentleman in the audience so attired, you may not be making the impression you wish. Parvenus, more than ever, are to be shunned. And you would appear even more so wearing white tie in the balconies. White tie belongs without question in the orchestra or the boxes, but not above them. "Dress Circle," alas, is a distinction in name only.

Emily Post, may she rest in peace, used to refer to a "brilliant opera night" when the ruling matrons decided among themselves that extra jewelry would be worn, usually if someone was giving a ball that night. This reminds Etiquetteer, of course, of Regina Beaufort in The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton's greatest novel, departing at some point before the end of the third act, thereby signalling the start of her ball after the performance.

As for mourning clothes outside a funeral, the custom has all but disappeared. The original purpose of mourning clothes was to deflect unwelcome attention, but Etiquetteer has to wonder if your purpose is really to show respect for the dead. Gentlemen used to wear a black armband over their right coatsleeve during mourning, which would now be considered ostentatious. Just wearing black won't do, since it's still considered so hip and edgy by so many. (Ladies could also be mistaken for bridesmaids, to Etiquetteer's continued chagrin.) And most people today are too oblivious to color distinctions even to recognize half-mourning, which is the absence of blue, red, yellow, and green.

The only thing Etiquetteer can recommend that would be universally recognized as a gesture of mourning is the memorial button, often seen with a picture of the deceased, handed out at so many funerals. To wear such a button on your lapel ought to let even the most thick-headed lout know that you're mourning someone who died recently. And by recently, Etiquetteer means "within the last month." For good or ill, usually the former, it's no longer customary to wear mourning after the funeral. 

Dear Etiquetteer:

What is your opinion about wearing a bow tie with a sweater?

Dear Sweating:

Would it surprise you to learn that Etiquetteer doesn't really have an opinion? Etiquetteer can't really find anything wrong with wearing a bow tie with a sweater, nor a requirement that one must. So by all means, tie one on! As a guideline, not a rule, Etiquetteer would suggest pairing bow ties with crew neck sweaters and neckties with V-neck sweaters.

Etiquetteer has a new address for all your manners queries, queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

What to Wear to the Polls, Vol. 7, Issue 19

As if this year's political campaign weren't fraught with enough etiquette minefields as it is, now the state of Pennsylvania is involving itself in what voters can and cannot wear at the polls. Read all about it here.   At least this case doesn't involve visible undergarments -- at least not yet -- but it does highlight the junction of Free Speech, Undue Influence, and Perfect Propriety. At issue is whether or not voters may wear clothes, particularly T-shirts, promoting the Candidate of Their Choice.   Why, one might ask, is this so important?  Because polling places, within a legally mandated radius, are intended to be neutral spaces. In other words, nothing within them should be thought to sway a voter toward one candidate over the other. This is why one sees a ring of signs or volunteers around a certain point at a polling place, but not within it. And Etiquetteer has not been shy about chastising overeager campaign volunteers clustering too close!  Etiquetteer believes the need for neutrality in a polling place deserves respect from partisan voters, but not so much that all candidate identification needs to be suppressed.  After careful thought, Etiquetteer is ready to draw the line of Perfect Propriety at the wearing of buttons and ribbons, but not T-shirts or other printed clothing. In other words, accessories are OK, but not clothes. Etiquetteer freely admits that part of this decision comes from a desire to see more citizens show respect for this Important Civic Function by dressing up to vote. Ninety percent of men, and all gentlemen, look better in a suit and tie anyway, and there's no reason American ladies can't appear in something better than blue jeans and hoodies.  Partisan exhibitionists can bring their candidate gear in a backpack to change into after voting if they must.  

Mourning Clothes, Vol. 7, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer:

I am puzzled at funeral fashions these days. Whatever happened to tasteful subdued dignified attire for funerals? I behold now the advent of funeral “flair” with a combination of puzzlement and dread.

Dear Mourning:

Like you, Etiquetteer is sometimes puzzled by what passes at funerals and memorial services these days. Unfortunately most people are too stupid to understand the original color code of mourning clothes, from deep mourning (all black with no ornamentation) to half mourning (black, white, gray, purple, brown, and sometimes green). These days a lady wearing black is more likely to be mistaken for a bridesmaid than a widow! Appearing all in black now is more likely to initiate the Question of Humorous Intent “Who died?” Humor is seen fleeing the room when the deceased is identified. Etiquetteer’s point is that mourning clothes are supposed to prevent stupid questions, not prompt them.Etiquetteer blames this Sad State of Affairs on Sally Kellerman, whose character in the 1980 sex comedy Serial wore white, with ostentatious spirituality, to a memorial service. (Actually, Etiquetteer really blames Coco Chanel, who famously designed the Little Black Dress after her lover Boy Capel was killed in a plane crash).These days Etiquetteer feels fortunate if everyone attending a funeral shows up neatly dressed without athletic shoes/clothes and without denim. One should be somberly dressed: no skin visible from neck to knees, no ostentatious bling (that’s redundant but Etiquetteer really wanted to make the point), nothing that looks fussy. And it seems necessary now to point out that one's shoes should be CLEAN!What one does see more of these days is mourning buttons or T shirts with the picture of the deceased on them. You may be surprised to find out that Etiquettteer rather likes this custom. It hearkens to the mourning ribbons and badges that used to be handed out when presidents were assassinated. Some beautiful examples from Abraham Lincoln’s funeral observances may be found at the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History at http://www.gilderlehrman.org/collection/docs_archive/docs_archive_lincoln.html Last week Etiquetteer saw in the press a bolder example of the memorial T-shirt. At the sentencing of convicted murderer Daniel Tavares, the families of his victims, Beverly and Brian Mauck, all wore T-shirts with pictures of the deceased underneath the legend “Among the Angels.”

Obviously this was not a funeral, but Etiquetteer was moved by this visible call for justice. To some, however, such attire might not be appropriate in a court of law. What do you think, readers? Please share your opinion at query (at) etiquetteer.com.In case you needed more proof that “low riders” are not Perfectly Proper, seacoastonline.com reported February 21 that a young woman was tossed off a bus because the driver could see her, ahem, rear cleavage – enough of it that he was offended. The young woman in question gave her address as a homeless shelter, and appears to have been in and out of trouble with the law over the last few months. Now if Etiquetteer was going to be flippant (which is easy to do) he would declare that it’s a good thing the look of the early 1960s is coming back and why isn’t Grace Kelly her role model anyway. But it seems clear that this young woman is what is called “acting out,” seeking negative attention. Apparently she is being helped by a mental health center in her area. So without flippancy, Etiquetteer can only turn to the title of that Victorian tearjerker “She Is More to Be Pitied Than Censured,” and hope that she will choose Perfect Propriety for her lot in the future. Have you had enough of that revolting troll checking you out in the locker room? Feel like a prude but just don’t want someone’s, uh, business in your face while you’re dressing? Sick and tired of workout benches glistening with the sweat of another? Etiquetteer is preparing a simple guideline for a future issue on Perfect Propriety at the Gym and is eager to hear from you at query (at) etiquetteer.com.

Random Issues, Vol. 7, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:

I recently received an informal party invitation via text message on my cell phone. Unfortunately, the message was unsigned, and I did not recognize the origination phone number. What is the proper response in such a situation?

Dear TXTD:

You could start with a reverse phone number search on one of the Web search engines, such as whitepages.com, to see if you recognize the owner of the phone number. Otherwise Etiquetteer would think you Perfectly Proper in disregarding an anonymous invitation.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What’s the best way for me to tip my hairdresser? Should I just hand her the tip or give it to her in a little envelope? Does it matter if she’

 s with another client or should I wait until I can get her alone?

Dear Cut and Colored:

The best way to tip never calls attention to the act of tipping. So if you can discreetly slip your tip to her while shaking hands, preferably before you’ve left her to settle with the cashier, that’

 s best. Under the circumstances, Etiquetteer would say that the little envelope is a too fancy for everyday tipping at a salon. For your hairdresser, save the envelope for your holiday tip, which would be the equivalent or a regular cut.

Now of course this means arriving at the salon with enough small bills to tip without having to get change from the cashier. Does Etiquetteer remember to do this? Almost never! And by the time Etiquetteer has gotten enough change to tip, his barber usually has another client in the chair. When that happens, Etiquetteer usually slips his tip under something on the barber’

 s stand (like his schedule or a bottle of Clubman Talc or something), says "Thanks, [Insert Name of Barber Here]," and leaves. Etiquetteer enjoys the undivided attention of his barber too much to deprive others of that same attention.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Someone in my office just received an invitation to a book launch that’

 s being held in Singapore. The invitation specifies "Smart Casual" as the dress code. What does this mean?Dear Smarting:In the old days, for which Etiquetteer does pine on occasion, "Informal" would have been most Perfectly Proper. On the other hand, that distinction involved jackets and ties for the gentlemen. "Casual" was supposed to get around that, but then too many people started using "Casual" as an excuse for "sloppy."

While not pretending to know much about dress codes in Singapore, Etiquetteer will put forward that "smart casual" is likely to mean that ties are not required and that everything one wears be very pressed (even denim) or highly polished. No holes, patches, spots, please, and no scuffed shoes!

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’m planning to get married later this year. Do I have to have a maid of honor? I’

 m afraid of offending any of my close friends by choosing one over the others.

Dear Bride to Be:

You may be surprised to hear this, but you don’t have to have ANY attendants at all, not even bridesmaids. All you really need is a groom, an officiant, and a couple witnesses to make sure it’

 s legal.

Seriously, no maid or matron of honor is required for a wedding. When Etiquetteer’s parents got married at First Methodist Church all those years ago, Etiquetteer’s mother selected two close friends for her bridesmaids, and neither was singled out as maid of honor. And this in spite of the fact that Etiquetteer’s father had a best man and around eight ushers. Invite those close to you to attend you, and don’t worry about what to call them or whether you have equal numbers or not. It’s not nearly as important as knowing that you’

 ve picked the right spouse.

 

Random Issues and Comments, Vol. 6, Issue 22

This column appeared in the June 15 issue of The Times of Southwest Louisiana.

The death last month of Etiquetteer’s dear friend, Keith Gates, saddened all true lovers of Music and of Perfect Propriety in the Imperial Calcasieu area. At such times it is right and good to think about the influence our friends have on us, and Etiquetteer has been drawn to consider many people from Earlier Life who guided Etiquetteer in the ways of Perfect Propriety, including Keith.

These days the definition of "informal" seems to be "no visible tattoos or underwear," but it was Keith Gates Himself who taught a Teenage Etiquetteer its true definition, which for gentlemen is "coat and tie." Long ago in 1983, when Teenage Etiquetteer was briefly one of Keith’s students, Keith and the Perfectly Poised Christa kindly accepted an invitation to an "informal" dinner. Etiquetteer, not yet wise in the ways of the world, answered the door in shirtsleeves and couldn’t quite conceal his astonishment to see dinner guests dressed as though for church. Keith’s quiet example, underlined only by an arched eyebrow and his usual smile, could not have been more effective in getting across Who Was Correct and Who Was Not.

Keith’s examples of how to respond to a question with silence and how to make impromptu guests feel welcome and not in the way will long shine for Etiquetteer and, hopefully, all those who care about compassion. He was not only a Great Artist, but a true Christian Gentleman.

It’s often been said that "It takes a village to raise a child." Aside from Etiquetteer’s parents – who know all about Perfect Propriety – many villagers invested their time in Etiquetteer’s manners. From the neighbor across the street who explained that you don’t just walk into people’s houses without knocking to the many bad examples in the schoolyard, Etiquetteer learned a lot. From the late Rev. James Ailor, Etiquetteer learned that you never ever scream in pain during the benediction, no matter how hard the person next to you is maliciously squeezing the blister on your finger. Etiquetteer’s redoubtable grand-aunt, Kate Thompson, would sternly admonish "Ladies!" if ever Young Etiquetteer’s enthusiasm caused him to dash for the front of the line.

And since it’s just past Father’s Day, it’s appropriate to recall one of the many lessons Etiquetteer’s own father taught him: don’t buy gaudy jewelry for a girl you’re not really dating yet, and really, don’t buy gaudy jewelry at all. (Etiquetteer still remembers those earrings . . . and tastes do change, thank goodness.)

On a completely different note, Etiquetteer has to lash out at Andrew Speaker, the Atlanta lawyer who flew to Europe knowing he had tuberculosis and was exposing this disease to others around him. Ayn Rand may have written about "The Virtue of Selfishness," but Etiquetteer can find no virtue here! Hasn’t he ever seen "La Boheme?" Modern medicine aside, people still die of tuberculosis. Etiquetteer is appalled that he and his wife would travel across the world with that knowledge. This gives not only lawyers, but destination weddings, a bad name.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I was raised to write thank-you notes. I do enjoy getting thank-you notes in return when I give time and effort to picking out a gift or for donating time to a special cause. Recently, I took special effort in picking out the perfect baby gift for a co-worker and was promptly surprised by a thank-you email with an attached thank-you Powerpoint presentation. I will say that I believe this was a first for me. Has the computer age taken over so much that people should not put pen to paper in appreciation?

Dear Thanked:

Certainly not! While appreciating your co-worker’s eagerness to thank you right away for your generosity, it certainly doesn’t excuse her from actually writing a Lovely Note on Actual Stationery to you.

 

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.

Random Issues, Vol. 6, Issue 14

This column also appeared in the March 21 issue of The Times of Southwest Louisiana.

Dear Etiquetteer:We recently went on a vacation with friends and I offered to charge the house rental to my credit card. This was done under the mutual understanding that the other couple would reimburse me for their half of the bill. They have yet to cut me a check and I'm sure it's just an oversight on their part. Still, I feel very awkward mentioning it to them. I don't want to seem miserly but it's about $400. Is there a graceful way to broach the subject or should I just wait for them to remember?

Dear Billing:

First of all, you're taking the right approach to assume there's no malice on their part. It probably really is just an oversight that they'll be happy to correct. On the other hand, if you wait for them to "remember" it might not take place until it's time to plan your next vacation. Your awkwardness is not uncommon, especially with the amount in question; Etiquetteer encourages you to use that to your advantage. With an air of Infinite Reluctance, call your friend and mention that, in reviewing your trip expenses, you don't record their reimbursement and ask if you could get it right away.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What is a tactful way to communicate the dress code to a wedding? Although our wedding will take place in a garden, it's formal and we would like all the men to wear a suit. At the bottom of our invitations can we say "formal attire?"

Dear Bride to Be:

What time of day is the wedding to take place? If it's in the evening, say "black tie" and everyone will know you mean evening clothes. If daytime, once you could have gotten away with "informal," but no one understands that it means "coat and tie" any more. Etiquetteer would suggest "Formal;" in the USA, for a daytime wedding, that should be understood as meaning dark suits for the men.

Of course, since it's a garden wedding, Etiquetteer hopes you'll encourage all your lady friends to wear picture hats and crisp white kid gloves! Etiquetteer remembers as a Very Little Boy attending a family wedding at one of those large old Southern houses complete with white columns and veranda. It was an afternoon reception with a lot of cookies and punch, and Etiquetteer still vividly remembers the young teenage bridesmaids walking on the lawn carrying huge silver trays of rice bags to offer the guests.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What do you think about saying grace in a restaurant? We always begin family meals with a prayer. Our children are getting to an age when we can take them out to restaurants now and then, but we want to keep this tradition with us wherever we go, because it’s part of our family life.

Dear Praying:

Etiquetteer adores the Freedom to Worship, both the Bedrock of our Great Nation and the famous painting of the same name by Norman Rockwell. Now you’ll recall that the painting is of a sweet old lady and a young boy saying grace before their meal in a diner. (Actually, Etiquetteer just looked it up and it’s called "Saying Grace;" "Freedom to Worship" is one of Rockwell’s "Four Freedoms.") You’ll also remember that everyone else in the restaurant has stopped everything they’re doing to watch them. Now while Etiquetteer knows this isn’t the intent, this little family group has made themselves rather conspicuous, and it is never Perfectly Proper to attract attention to oneself. (Etiquetteer certainly wishes someone would tell Britney Spears this.)

In the Holy Bible, Matthew 6:5-6 comes to mind: "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray . . . at the street corners, that they may be seen by men . . . But when you pray, enter into your closet and shut the door . . . " So Etiquetteer doesn’t question your intention to continue a stable, meaningful ritual for your children, that they might be brought up to be Perfectly Proper. But Etiquetteer thinks that its effect – undue attention to your family in public – is not what you really want. You might instead say grace before you leave home, or even in the car before entering the restaurant.

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.

 

Random Questions, Vol. 5, Issue 6

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

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

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

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.