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

Online Discretion Offline, Vol. 14, Issue 32

Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently on vacation with my husband. We were at a local bar in [Insert Name of Resort Town Popular With Those Who Have Achieved Equal Marriage Here] when a guy walked by, turned around, looked at me and said "[Insert Name of Social Media Platform* Here]!" I was quite uncomfortable. While my husband knows I'm using this social media, he assumes the worst about being on it. For social media etiquette when recognizing someone from here, I would assume it would be alright to say hello to someone if they were by themselves, but if not, you may not want to bring something up about their online life. Your thoughts?

Dear Online:

Oddly enough, Etiquetteer had a somewhat similar experience earlier this year while rushing through an art exhibition to be Perfectly Punctual for a friend's presentation. In Etiquetteer's path appeared a handsome, vaguely familiar man. Only later did Etiquetteer recognize him as an online contact. The response Etiquetteer received to a private message apologizing for any perception of a snub reinforced how wise it was not to have approached him, because he wasn't alone and claimed Social Awkwardness when Caught Off Guard.

Etiquetteer is fond of quoting "Discretion is the better part of valor," and it really is a pity that your Social Media Contact  didn't consider that. At the very least he could've said "Excuse me, but haven't I seen your photo on [Insert Name of Social Media Platform Here]?" But a discreet bow or nod is best, or even no contact at all. Etiquetteer is reminded that, in the days before World War I when mistresses were much more established in the daily life of France, no man stepping out with his demimondaine would be acknowledged by his friends, and certainly not by the friends of his wife.

Still, in a barroom, where one's Internal Monologue may have escaped with the help of Spiritous Liquors, that is a risk. Etiquetteer rather wonders if, when your online "friend" hailed with the name of your Shared Social Media, you responded "No, I pronounce my name Smith."

Etiquetteer hopes that you experience no recurrence of this exposure of your Inner Life. But you may wish to make such a recurrence less embarrassing by reassuring your husband about the best aspects of being part of this Social Media Platform.

*Etiquetteer must hasten to add that this Social Media Platform in question was not - how shall Etiquetteer say this? - created for facilitating the most casual of encounters.

Reference to Bodily Function in the Political Arena, Vol. 14, Issue 29

"Cousin Marie says politicians aren't gentlemen."

- Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile

A line has been crossed, and Etiquetteer is very unhappy about it.

Reference to Bodily Function, outside one's doctor's office, is not Perfectly Proper. Etiquetteer has said this before, and sadly will have to go on saying it. Don't think for a moment that this pleases Etiquetteer.

In the aftermath of last week's debate of Republican presidential candidates hosted by Fox News, popular (populist?) candidate Donald Trump abandoned forever any possible illusion anyone, no matter how deluded, might still cling to that he was still a viable candidate or a gentleman. Readers probably already know how he did this: by explaining that Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly was suffering from what used to be known as "female complaint" during the debate. Etiquetteer believes he made this suggestion because Ms. Kelly held him to account about previous, and very public, disparaging comments about women who had criticized him, nor would she accept his attempt to suggest that he only criticized one particular woman.

How might one feel if Mr. Trump had suggested this about Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany? How might one feel if Mr. Trump had suggested this about Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil? How might one feel if Mr. Trump had suggested this about one's mother?

Mr. Trump's behavior has always been the antithesis of presidential, and this incident confirms it for anyone who might wish to think otherwise. It is the antithesis of Perfect Propriety. It is the antithesis of Chivalry. Any man who could make such a suggestion, petty and vulgar, makes clear that he is not fit for public office, or any role in public life, and should slink in shame to his (in this case, gilded onyx) corner. Etiquetteer calls on those who might continue to support Mr. Trump as a candidate to condemn this behavior publicly.

The Best Advice Is Simplest, Vol. 14, Issue 12

Really, the best etiquette advice is the simplest. Etiquetteer has Ten Pieces of Simplest Advice for you: Get out of the way.

Hang up and drive.

Get out and vote.

Shut up and eat.

Show up on time.

Say "Please" and "Thank you."

Be nice to the staff.

Don't make a fuss.

If you said you'd be there, be there.

When in doubt, send a Lovely Note of Thanks.

 smalletiquetteer

The Etiquette of Prohibition, Vol. 13, Issue 57

Etiquetteer delivered these remarks at the 2013 Repeal Day Celebration at the Gibson House Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Among other things, the madness of Prohibition created a Culture of Alcohol Concealment, leading people to find ingenious ways to secrete liquor in their homes or on their persons. Images survive of hollow canes, fake books, and even shot vials concealed in high-heeled shoes so that people could travel with their tipple unrevealed. In the 21st century, already awash with alcohol, similar devices are used to get around outrageous liquor prices at sports and concert venues. These include hollow flip flops, a necktie flask, and even a “wine rack,” which is a sports bra with tubing.

Prohibition left a permanent mark on American manners, illustrated uncompromisingly in a little etiquette book called No Nice Girl Swears by Alice-Leone Moats, first published in 1933, the final year of Prohibition. The last chapter, headed "Our Plastered Friends," begins "When our mothers came out, learning to handle a drunk was not an essential part of a debutante's education. Now every girl has to be capable not only of shifting for herself, but, more often than not, of looking out for her escort as well." Can you imagine?! This is not the way Best Society is supposed to conduct itself. But Miss Moats goes on to detail the ten different types of drunks and how to make the best of their bad situations (often using one's mad money to abandon them and take a taxi home. Miss Moats paints a worst-case scenario from the beginning. "If you're going out very often, you might as well be prepared to think quickly and be ready to exercise your ingenuity at any time. You may be called upon to do anything form catching the bottles that your escort, in his exuberance, may chance to throw, to burrowing in the sawdust for him." (You must remember that often the floors of gin joints and other dives were sprinkled with sawdust.)

And going out was what people did. Prohibition saw entertaining at home decline (though of course it still went on) in favor of the jazzy rise of café society. Willa Cather famously described the phenomenon in 1924, saying "Nobody stays at home any more." And that meant men and women drinking together in public, whereas before Prohibition, saloons were for men only. At home, one was less likely to be entertained at a traditional seated dinner of several courses as at that brand-new gathering, the cocktail party. Ladies and gentlemen just standing around drinking liquor without a meal, or perhaps any food at all, being offered -- revolutionary!

Miss Moats makes it sound easy: "Cocktail parties have become the line of least resistance in entertaining. They are convenient for the person who must get 50 or 60 people off the list of obligations and prefers to do it at one fell swoop, saving money at the same time. It certainly isn't much trouble; all you need is a case of synthetic gin and a tin of anchovy paste. The greater the number of the guests, the smaller and more airless the room, the stronger the gin, the more successful the party. But if you give one, you must be prepared to have your friends on your hands until two in the morning, as they will invariably forget their dinner engagements and stay on until the last shakerful is emptied."

One of the places they went in Boston was the famous Cocoanut Grove on Piedmont Street, which opened in October, 1927. But in spite of some shady connections, the Grove was on the up and up. They didn't serve hard liquor, but would provide setups, trays of siphons and glasses, so you could discreetly add your own booze from your flask under the table. It was often better to bring your own to some places. In The Greeks Had a Word For Them, a gentleman at a speak asks "Well, what do you have that won't kill us, blind us, or burn holes in our clothes?" The brutal Dinah Brand in Dashiell Hammett's equally brutal Red Harvest said that someone's liquor tasted like it was drained off a corpse. Other places would get around the law by serving booze in teacups.

Tolerance for drunken behavior became more accepted, too. Again, we hear from Miss Moats: "There was once a time when a man who got drunk in a lady's drawing room was never invited to that house again. If he showed the same lack of control in another home, he ran the risk of having every door closed to him. Now a hostess who insists that all her guests remain sober would find that she was giving parties to a chosen few, and very dull ones at that. She takes it for granted that the majority of her guests will be wavering before the evening is over." A Paul Cadmus painting of 1939, “Seeing the New Year In,” shows just such an occasion, with drunken, careless intellectuals coming apart at the seams. It’s a mean and tawdry descent.

One of the most astonishing ways that Prohibition changed America was the sudden appearance and acceptance of young women drinking in public. And it was this that led Pauline Morton Sabin, an aristocratic heiress to the Morton Salt fortune, to begin to campaign for Repeal. She said "Girls of a generation ago would not have ventured into a saloon. Girls did not drink; it was not considered 'nice.' But today girls and boys drink, at parties and everywhere, then stop casually at a speakeasy on the way home." And indeed, a Topeka police chief observed "The girls simply won't go out with the boys who haven't got flasks to offer." But a girl still had to hang on to her reputation, as Miss Moats makes clear in No Nice Girl Swears. "A great many people have come to believe in the single moral standard, but few have been converted to a single drinking standard. A drunken woman is still looked upon with disgust and she is certainly more objectionable than a drunken man. Liquor generally hits her in one of three ways: she gets boisterous and wants to play games, or she gets maudlin, or, more often, she grows desperately amorous. Whatever the effect, she is dangerous."

To which Etiquetteer can only conclude, "Hotcha!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Not to Tip, Vol. 13, Issue 36

First of all, Etiquetteer is writing about restaurant tipping only, and not the myriad of other service industries in which tipping is conducted. Let's establish that Etiquetteer has never been a fan of tipping. It is, however, the prevailing system in the restaurant industry, and regardless of how widely it's disliked, it isn't going away anytime soon. This means adapting to the prevailing tipping system of 15-20% of the total bill, depending on who you talk to. (Etiquetteer says 15%; other writers, and almost all restaurant server blogs, say 20%.) This also means tipping on the full amount of the bill if you are using a discount, coupon, or gift card. It is considered a kindness, when paying by credit card, to tip in cash so that the staff don't have to claim it separately when their shifts are over.

Bad service is the most legitimate reason not to tip fully, or not to tip at all. Etiquetteer encourages you not to be petty over brief delays in service - well, really, Etiquetteer encourages you not to be petty. Now if a waiter forgets an entire order for a member of your party (and this has happened to Etiquetteer), if a waiter spills a strawberry margarita on your head, etc., then you have sufficient grounds. Etiquetteer acknowledges that bad service happens, and that there are waiters and waitresses (Etiquetteer dislikes the term "server," but recognizes that that is an individual choice) who consistently perform poorly. Before tipping less than the standard percentage, consider also the circumstances. If the restaurant is full to bursting (think New York Saturday nights before the theatre, or Sunday anywhere after church - see below), delays in service are understandable; allowances must be made.

Quite possibly the worst, and certainly the most offensive, excuse not to leave a tip is proselytizing. Recently Etiquetteer discovered Sundays Are the Worst, a heart-breaking and angering blog about how poorly a segment of those who profess Christianity treat those who serve them. Pastor Chad Roberts and his congregation have created what might be the most innovative way ever to minister to a community in need; read how it came about here. Etiquetteer could spit tacks at some of the behavior exhibited - so much so that readers will have to peruse for themselves rather than read examples here. The Word of God may feed the soul, but it doesn't sustain our bodies as well as those who leave tracts instead of tips might light to think.

It's also worth pointing out that in a nation in which All Are Created Equal, it ill becomes anyone of any religion to behave as though they are "better" than anyone serving them. This doesn't mean that we all have become Best Friends Forever with those serving us, but it does mean acknowledging our Common Humanity.

Etiquetteer Muses on the Oscars, Vol. 13, Issue 29

The Academy Awards take place tonight, one of the great televised rituals of the American year (the others being the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Super Bowl, of course). The grandfather of all televised award shows, Americans love it - and love to hate it - for its red carpet parade of fashions, its cheesy dancer numbers, snappy (and sometimes abusive) patter from a host comedian, and its creaking length. What was once an industry dinner dance with cameras changed over the decades into a full-blown production. The show's length is now due less to rambling acceptance speeches than it used to be (Etiquetteer vaguely remembers that Greer Garson's clocked in at something like 22 minutes!), but there was a time when it was sadly fashionable to use the Oscar podium for political statements. Oscar-winning actress Joan Crawford was interviewed at Town Hall on April 8, 1973, and criticized the change in the demeanor of the Oscars thus (beginning at 3:40):

"Let's talk about the Academy Awards. I think everyone tried to have the cutes, and each one who came after the couple before tried to be funnier. The dignity and the beauty of the Academy Awards, I must say, has been lost without the Gregory Pecks and the Charlton Hestons. The Gregory Pecks come on, the Frank Sinatras come on . . . they come on with dignity and they set the stage, really, for what everyone else should do. Some don't. And this year I was appalled at the behavior of everyone, including Mr. Brando."

What did Marlon Brando do that was so appalling? It wasn't that he didn't attend when he was nominated for his performance in The Godfather (nor could Joan Crawford have Wagged an Admonitory Digit at him for that, as she was famously home in bed the year she won Best Actress for Mildred Pierce). Brando found a young Apache woman names Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on his behalf in case he won. Etiquetteer doesn't say "accept," because Mr. Brando didn't intend to accept the Oscar, but to decline it in an ostentatious way to call attention to the way Native Americans were treated by the film industry:

Needless to say, this provoked outrage in Hollywood and beyond, as did Vanessa Redgrave's acceptance speech a few years later, when she won Best Supporting Actress for Julia. Note her reference to "Zionist hoodlums" at 2:54:

Now, back to Joan Crawford at Town Hall. Later in that wonderful interview, she really summed up well Perfect Propriety for Oscar winners (beginning at 6:41):

"I think people who go on the Academy Awards and . . . oh brother! Just accept and be grateful for the honor, and don't try and get on national television and make your pleas, and never discuss politics or religion."

For those viewing tonight, Etiquetteer wishes you a Perfectly Proper Oscarthon!

Etiquetteer Succumbs to Temptation and Gets His Comeuppance, Vol. 12, Issue 18

The late Mae West famously said "I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it." Today, unfortunately, Etiquetteer couldn't resist it, and paid the price. This morning Etiquetteer stopped by the library at a time when one of those special movie screenings for children was taking place (arranged, perhaps, for children to enjoy the library without actually having to pick up a book). Outside the screening room a table of little snacks had been set up: cups of snack mix, little trays and baskets of cookies, etc. Etiquetteer, from either peckishness or annoyance (though there is no excuse for Imperfect Propriety), casually helped himself to a large biscuit while passing the table.

With the first bite Etiquetteer sensed something wrong. Not that his Improper Grazing had been observed, but with the biscuit itself. Had some health faddist concocted it out of sawdust? Turning back to the table, Etiquetteer observed for the first time the box from whence the biscuits came. They were organic dog biscuits!

"Keep cool," Etiquetteer's beloved Ellen Maury Slayden once observed. "This is a test of breeding." And of course when one has something in one's mouth that shouldn't be there, one removes it as unobtrusively as possible. Without attracting attention, Etiquetteer silently made his way to the restroom, where the remains of the dog biscuit were disposed of without incident.

And what do we learn from this little incident?

  1. Don't help yourself unless invited to do so.
  2. Segregate refreshments by their consuming species.
  3. Even Etiquetteer can make mistakes.

Tipping and Panhandling, Vol. 12, Issue 16

Dear Etiquetteer: I had an ethical quandary today. I was hawking programs at Fenway Park. A man was begging for money next to me. He was in a wheelchair. He was conversant and friendly with people. He offered to buy a program from me for $2. I obliged.

When I finished my shift, I gave him a dollar. It was actually a dollar I had received as a tip.

Was this right? Was this ethical?

PS. I'm submitting this to the NY Times Magazine as a question, too.

Dear Hawking:

Etiquetteer considers that you were acting in two capacities, professional and personal. Had you not waited until the end of your shift to assist this man, it would have given the appearance that your largesse was, in fact, that of your employer.

The purchase of a $2 baseball program by a panhandler might be considered extravagant on his part, but he may have considered it expedient to ensure your goodwill during your time together outside the ballpark. (Etiquetteer can only imagine the difficulties he and others face.) Was it right/ethical of you to sell him that program? Absolutely! That's the job your employer has hired you to do, and it isn't Perfectly Proper to inquire into the circumstances of your customers - even when they're paraded in front of you. In other words, they aren't your programs to give away.

But your tips are your own to dispose of as you wish, on yourself, or to share with others.

Etiquetteer will be interested to read what the Times has to say, too!

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.

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.

Father’s Day, Vol. 5, Issue 22

Infant Etiquetteer with Dear Father, January, 1964

Not too long ago, Etiquetteer was sitting near a young white man on a city bus. He was wearing a black T-shirt with a black design on it of a huge stereo speaker containing the words "****ing champs." One might not think that profane apparel would spark memories of one’s father, but then one wouldn’t be bargaining on Etiquetteer.

The late Governor Earl Long of Louisiana was not a man known for his erudition or refinement . . . and that’s an understatement. But he did say something memorable about the state of the arts in Louisiana: ‘If you ain’t got culture, you ain’t got s**t." When Etiquetteer was a callow youth flirting with rebellion, he had a T-shirt with this "witty" quotation on it. Etiquetteer happily wore it down to breakfast one morning, expecting to wear it for a day of toil in the family business. But Etiquetteer’s dear father was having none of it . . . oh no! Etiquetteer was given the option of either changing clothes, and at once, or of wearing the T-shirt inside-out all day. And this is how Etiquetteer learned about how a gentleman presents himself in public, a very valuable lesson.

Of course Dear Father taught all the lessons one expects from a father trying to raise a gentleman: how to shine shoes, the value of a handkerchief ("one to show and one to blow"), proper evening clothes ("a bow tie or no tie"), respect for one’s elders, and courtesy to the ladies, especially when in a bad mood. A cranky Young Etiquetteer once asked his mother what was for dinner and got a jovial "Roast boy!" in response. Etiquetteer’s less-than-appreciative comeback was overheard and corrected by Dear Father in no uncertain terms.

Undoubtedly Dear Father felt that the world could be as beautiful as we choose to make it ourselves. We can only do this if we keep from putting ugliness into it. Etiquetteer did not always share Dear Father’s idealism. "We must concentrate on lovely, pure, and virtuous things," Dear Father wrote in a letter about 25 years ago. Etiquetteer, then a cynical teen, hooted with derision getting that letter. "Oh, this is not what the real world is!" Etiquetteer remembers saying. Now, with the passing of years, the decline of public discourse and the white middle class’s embrace of ghetto culture, Etiquetteer knows just how right Dear Father was to keep his focus on that ideal. Etiquetteer hereby offers a humble apology for not getting it right until now.

Nowadays we are used to seeing zealots wield Christianity as a bludgeon to direct the behavior of others rather than themselves. Etiquetteer’s Dear Father never fell into that trap, thankfully, and provided the best lesson any father, any parent, could: teaching by example. Once when a supermarket cashier gave us change without actually taking our money, Dear Father led the way back to the supermarket as soon as he realized what happened. How many people would be bothered to be so honest now? And this is only one instance of many Etiquetteer could relate.

In conclusion, Etiquetteer could offer no better summary than "Every day he did his best whatever the task." There could be no better example of Perfect Propriety than that.

 

 

Weddings and Whistleblowers, Vol. 5, Issue 5

Dear Etiquetteer:Do I have to invite someone to my wedding if I was invited to theirs?Dear Engaged:Etiquetteer suggests you consider your relationship to the couple in question before using attendance at their wedding as a factor. If it’s your sister, yes, you should probably invite her and her spouse. If it’s the brother of a colleague you see at quarterly meetings, probably not.Long story short, invite the people you want to be with you, and the people your parents want to be with them. Then plan the reception based on that number of people. Yes, this might mean you can’t offer more than a thin slice of cake and thimble of champagne to each of your guests, but so be it.

Speaking of weddings, Etiquetteer found himself getting mighty annoyed reading a discussion about pregnant brides over as Smart & Sassy. (Special to Etiquetteer's mother: there's a lot of profanity, so you probably won't want to read it.) This led Etiquetteer to create a wedding survey, which you are cordially invited to take here. This does involve controversial questions about bridal pregnancy, wedding clothes, and catering, so be prepared.

Dear Etiquetteer:Do you stand by a whistleblower who is a friend? Not necessarily a friend but an honest person?Dear Ethically Challenged:Your question reminded Etiquetteer of Little Mary Haines in TheWomen asking her mother "Which is more important, Truth or Honor?" "They are equally important, darling" coldly responded her glamorous mother, played by Norma Shearer in the most memorable role of her career.If you believe the whistleblower to be not only an honest person but also accurate in the accusations, then YES, by all means, back up that person in the face of all adversity! How else are we to have a Perfectly Proper society unless innocent bystanders like yourself stand up for what is Right and True to defeat the Wicked and Evil?

EXAMPLES FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF ETIQUETTEER: Etiquetteer had occasion recently to begin a journey to a Distant City by train. One of the most distressing experiences was trying to purchase two magazines at a magazine stand from a Woman For Whom English Was Not the First Language who was much more absorbed in talking with her friend on her cell phone than in conducting any business! Transacting business in these circumstances is difficult at best, but with someone whose attention is actively engaged elsewhere . . . well, it didn’t make Etiquetteer feel like a valued customer, to say the least! A brisk "Excuse me, would you please finish your conversation later?" was definitely in order.

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