Hugging, Vol. 15, Issue 7

Dear Etiquetteer: I just read your piece on the etiquette of shaking hands. It's an issue for not only shaking hands, but hugging. I am a "hugger" and receive great satisfaction from a hug from friends and relatives, but I wonder about your thoughts on the subject. Some people are put off by it and others feel quite natural with it. What do you think?

Dear Hugging:

Etiquetteer has to agree with you: some people are put off by hugging, and others, ahem, embrace it. Successful Huggers have the knack of knowing their Intended Targets - uh, Recipients - well enough to know if a hug will be received in the spirit intended. If you're approaching from six feet or more away with arms outstretched and your Intended Recipient doesn't look quite as eager, you may need to curb your enthusiasm. Making eye contact before a hug will also help you gauge how to continue. A hug in greeting is more a brief clinch. It isn't a "With my body I thee worship" Expression of Affection, with Full Body Contact from neck to knees, which could go on long enough to Excite Comment . . . and possibly much else that is Not Perfectly Proper in a Social Setting.

Huggers also need to be aware of their own hygiene so that hugging doesn't linger unpleasantly. Etiquetteer wrote once about the aftereffects of a sweaty hug. Social Kissing can be just as fraught with peril, too; Etiquetteer's also provided guidance on that topic.

Etiquetteer wishes you Happy Hugging with Equally Enthusiastic Family, Friends, and Acquaintances!

smalletiquetteer

Next week Etiquetteer will celebrate 15 years of writing about Perfect Propriety. What issues would you, Dear Readers, like to see Etiquetteer cover in the next 15 years? What do you consider the most challenging issues of Perfect Propriety? Etiquetteer is waiting to hear from you at queries <at> etiquetteer.com.

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.

Modern Technology, Vol. 13, Issue 28

Dear Etiquetteer: If Etiquetteer would do away with one aspect of modern technology, what would it be?

Dear Teched:

It would be the way people give precedence to people interacting with them via modern technology over people interacting with them in person. (Etiquetteer supposes this is really an aspect of the usage of modern technology rather than an aspect of technology itself, but will leave that to the hair-splitters.)

How many times have any of us been out and about with others only to have them actively engaged on their devices communicating with Those Dear and Far Away as opposed to us, the Near and Dear?

How many friends have we tried to talk with while they fail at surreptitiously glancing in their laps to read and send text messages?

How many dinner companions have we watched not just photograph their dinner (a relatively harmless trend borne of digital photography), but then post the photo to social media, and then wait for and interact with those commenting on the photo?

How many dinner parties have been derailed by focusing on a "phonestack" while everyone waits for (and perhaps bets on) a guest to weaken and respond to one's device?

How many quiet moments on public transportation have been shattered by fellow passengers with Music Loud Enough to Distinguish Lyrics blasting from earbuds firmly lodged in their ears?

How many times has one's view been blocked at a concert or performance by someone holding up their smartphone to record the whole thing, regardless of those seated in back?

How many checkout lines have been delayed by a customer calling a friend or family member to confirm something hasn't been forgotten - or just by being on the phone?

To all this, Etiquetteer can only say, stop it at once! Be with the people you're with! Show them the consideration of your attention and engagement. Not just your friends, family, and companions, but also the working people you interact with during the day: bus drivers, waiters and waitresses, cashiers, receptionists, ushers, bakers, clerks, salespeople, missionaries, tourists, law enforcement, house cleaners - everyone!

In other words, HANG UP AND LIVE! And don't make Etiquetteer come after you . . .

Moving Beyond Constant Criticism, Vol. 13, Issue 25

Dear Etiquetteer: How do you deal with a co-worker who constantly berates and criticizes everyone? She is the epitome of "lipstick on a pig" so there would be room to retaliate but none of us feel it is the right thing to do. We want it to stop but we have no idea how to deal with it.

Dear Berated:

Sometimes Euphemism is insufficient to solve a problem. In such cases, a direct statement needs to be made, as gently but directly as possible, to state that there's a problem, and that a solution needs to be found. Here is just such a situation.

Etiquetteer once had to work with a Perpetual Complainer, a lady whose high standards could only be achieved by herself, and who always verbalized her dissatisfaction in the most uncomfortably specific ways. Finally having had enough, Etiquetteer said to her one day "Madam, tell me something good! You may say whatever you wish about this topic, but you must start with at least one good thing about it." And that exercise for her, while it didn't color her overall opinion, tempered her general unhappiness. It also proved to others that she was capable of seeing at least a little good in the matter at hand.

Etiquetteer encourages you to guide Madam Lypsticka into beginning her criticisms with some sort of kind observation, and to do so with candor. "Madam Lypsticka," you might say, "everyone knows that you prefer to express negative opinions, and we don't want to take that away from you. But we do think your opinions might carry more weight if you could balance your criticism with a couple good points about [Insert Name of Person or Topic Here]."

Converting Perpetual Complainers takes time, and Etiquetteer wishes you and your colleagues well as you begin this endeavor.

How an Introvert May Party, Vol. 13, Issue 24

Dear Etiquetteer: What's you best advice for introverts at parties?

Dear Introvert:

First of all, don't stay away from the party! This is doubly true when your host is a close friend or relative, who may well understand that large gatherings make you uncomfortable at times. If the invitation is for something small, like a dinner party for eight people, the degree of comfort might be greater.

Before the party, there are a couple things you can do to make yourself feel more prepared. Usually it isn't Perfectly Proper to ask who the other guests are going to be; this is because the pleasure of the host's company is supposed to be a sufficient reason to accept the invitation. But under these circumstances, Etiquetteer will allow you to ask, at the time you accept the invitation, if mutual friends will also be there. Knowing that there will be at least one or two people there that you already know can help a lot.

You may also catch up on the news of the day before the party by reading that day's newspaper or one of the news websites. This will give you a knowledge base to contribute to the conversation. If you and the hosts share a common interest, it's likely that others at the party will, too.

If you're really feeling anxious, ask how you can help. Passing hors d'oeuvres, for instance, still requires you to move throughout the room, but doesn't really require a lot of small talk. But even helping to gather dirty glasses or discarded paper napkins gives you something to do and helps out the host. But do ask first; hosts can be fussy about how they like things done.

For large parties, roaming does help relieve the pressure of introversion. Tour the public rooms of the house. Etiquetteer, who occasionally suffers spasms of Party Overwhelm, particularly enjoys being entertained by friends who have a library to which retreat is possible during open houses. This is such a relief when the well of small talk has run dry, or when it just isn't possible to stand up one more moment.

Do NOT bring a good book or spend all night on your smartphone texting (or pretending to text) people who aren't there. That's insulting to the host.

Finally, another introvert might also be there who needs reassurance that they aren't the Only Introvert at the Ball. Here you have a common bond for conversation!

Now go forth and party, and be sure to send a Lovely Note the next day.

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

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

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

Cruel Reality shows a different outcome:

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledging Acknowledgment of a Sneeze, Vol. 12, Issue 19

Dear Etiquetteer: If I sneeze while wearing earphones, should I remove at least one bud to accept and show gratitude for a "bless you" or is it OK to keep listening to my NPR podcast?

Likewise, if I am on the opposite side of that scenario is it rude NOT to say "bless you" to the sneezer should they not shed a bud, assuming that they will not hear it anyway or should I throw it out there regardless?

Dear Budded:

If a sneeze is sneezed in the forest with no one to hear it, is it blessed?

It is one of etiquette's eccentricities that sneezing is the only Bodily Function acknowledged in public. One does not comment on, or even acknowledge, coughing, nose-blowing, yawning, belching, snoring, and especially flatulence - no matter how obvious any of those Bodily Functions might be. Etiquetteer has always understood that this began in Days of Yore ("when knighthood was in flower") because the soul was thought to leave the body with the sneeze; a blessing would protect or restore it.

To answer your second question first, a Perfectly Proper "God bless you!" can't go wrong, even if the sneezer is wearing earbuds or earphones. (Etiquetteer does prefer "God bless you" to "Bless you." The Fiercely Secular may always use "Gesundheit," which is the German for "health." Etiquetteer must caution you to avoid translating this into French. Answering a sneeze with "A votre santé!" will only lead people to wonder where the champagne is*.)

If you sneeze without sufficient power to dislodge your earbuds, Etiquetteer does not think it necessary for you to remove either or both of them to acknowledge a "God bless you." This does not, however, excuse you from acknowledging it. Make eye contact with your blesser and nod - kindly or briskly, depending on your degree of acquaintance - and then go about your business. If you're one of those people who are going along with the Medical Establishment and sneezing into your elbow instead of your hand, Etiquetteer hopes this won't involve removing, um, Nasal Effluvia from your sleeve. While hesitating to question the wisdom of the Medical Establishment, Etiquetteer continues to advocate the use of a Perfectly Proper handkerchief.

*Or whether or not you are Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas.

Introductions for the Absent-Minded, Vol. 11, Issue 15

Awhile back, on Etiquetteer's Facebook page (did you know Etiquetteer had a presence on Facebook? Etiquetteer uses it mostly to post relevant media articles about manners, or the lack of them, and the occasional one-line etiquette tip. Please stop by.) Etiquetteer posted a handy tip on social introductions: "When out in public with friends or acquaintances and encountering other friends or acquaintances, always introduce everyone to everyone else. No one likes to be overlooked." To which a reader replied "I would love a suggestion on what to do when I can't recall someone's name and I need to introduce them." And which led another reader to query "A problem arises when the friends you meet know you and you cannot remember ever having seen them before! Etiquetteer, what does one do then? I am quite serious."

This column endeavors to answer these questions. As Ellen Maury Slayden once said (about another situation entirely, but it still applies here): "Keep cool. This is a test of breeding."

Naturally it's very embarrassing to realize that you can't remember someone's name, or even whether or not you know them, or how. Three courses are open to you, once the flames of panic have been suppressed: introduce the other person first (though this may be out of precedence*, Etiquetteer will give you a dispensation), buy time by drawing the out the conversation hoping that a clue will jog your memory, or frankly admit that your memory has failed you. Believe it or not, the latter course is often the better one. A simple "My goodness, this is so embarrassing. I have completely forgotten your name! Please forgive me." ought to win everyone over to your side. It's such a direct appeal for sympathy, and you'll underscore it by maintaining eye contact with that person, and not looking away shamefacedly. You must then, if you can, follow it up with the memory of some kindness that person did for you, to prove that your temporary mental lapse was only the person's name, and not their value to you.

On a more comic note, you could also try the Scarlett O'Hara Approach -- "Every time I have on a new bonnet all the names I ever knew go right slap out of my head!" -- or the Tallulah Bankhead Approach -- "I don't really care what your name is, I just want to call you all Dahling, especially when you come to make love to me at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me." The latter should startle everyone enough that you can make a clean getaway swooping off to the bar.

Whatever you do, don't try to con them into saying their own names by saying "And I've had so much trouble pronouncing your name you'd better introduce yourself." The name you've had "so much trouble pronouncing" might be "Joe Smith."

When you can't even remember who those people are, much less their names, often the best course is to ask "My goodness, I can't even remember the last time I saw you! Where was it? And what have you been up to since?" This puts the onus of the conversation on them, which should lead to many clues.

The real test of breeding is, when you discover that your own name has been forgotten by someone else, passing it off lightly and not taking it to heart. This sort of lapse happens to everyone.

*Precedence for social introductions used to be much more complicated than it is today. Etiquetteer boils it down to these:

  • Gentlemen are introduced to ladies. "Mrs. Oldwitch, may I present Mr. Randy Wicket."
  • Younger people are introduced to older people. "Miss Dewy Freshness, may I introduce you to Mrs. Raddled Oldwitch?"
  • Junior employees are introduced to senior employees or executives, regardless of gender. "Mr. Chairman, I'd like you to meet Jeremy Filing, from the Accounting Department. Jeremy, this is Gerald Chairman."
  • Everyone is introduced to elected officials, regardless of gender, age, or rank. "Mr. President, may I present Mrs. Raddled Oldwitch."

It's almost October, which means that the Perfectly Proper are already thinking about their address lists for Christmas, New Year's, or other seasonal greeting cards. Should you have queries on this or other subjects, don't hesitate to reach out to Etiquetteer at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com!

Customer Service, Vol. 4, Issue 37

Dear Etiquetteer: What does one say to the proprietor of a faraway lodge (that I really want to visit) when queried about reservations and his response is "Go online and make your reservations yourself." Twelve hours later, when I had time to get to a computer, the reservation took about 20 minutes to make. The online, impersonal response only reserved one night of my five-day request. Back online, I made reservations at the same place in a different room, surmising that the problem was that the room that I wanted wasn't available for the entire week, so I volunteered to change rooms, ergo making a reservation for the remainder of the five days.The response was favorable but the main lodge, all the other facilities and the dining room are closed for three of the five days. And by the way, once the reservation is made online, there is a no refund cancellation policy. Poor business tactics.And I remain very interested in going there: the dining room is closed, but the lodge is a refuge and CULINARY SCHOOL! Dear Frustrated Foodie: Etiquetteer feels compelled to ask if this lodge is also a refuge from basic customer service. To quote the late Mamie Eisenhower, "Never mess around with some clerk. Always go straight to the top."But with sinking heart, Etiquetteer now observes that you are already negotiating with the proprietor, and not just some reservations agent. How very vexing!  So, what do you say to the proprietor? Tell this person exactly what you told Etiquetteer: that you were disappointed to be directed from a person to a website to make your reservations, and then angry and frustrated when the website made a bad, evil reservation for you that was not what you wanted. You then need to insist – nicely at first, then more forcefully if you don’t get results – that the proprietor take your reservation by phone at once.

Dear Etiquetteer: Don’t you think people should make eye contact with people they do business with? By this I mean that I am disturbed by fellow shoppers/customers who make no human acknowledgement of cashiers and other service people and the disappearing custom of thanking customers. I am so tired of "Here you go" or "You're all set buh-bye," when I want to hear "Thank you!" Dear Eyed: Etiquetteer would add to that litany of apathy the desultory "No problem" that comes from cashiers and waiters. It always suggests to Etiquetteer that they might, in fact, have a problem with doing part of their job.The Declaration of Independence offers some of the best etiquette advice one could use in the United States: " . . . that all men are created equal . . . " This suggests that both customer and employee are fully engaged in the transaction, and not talking on cell phones (you would be amazed at how often Etiquetteer sees this on both sides of the counter), watching television, or talking to friends to the point that the customer/employee is ignored. It also suggests that customer should refrain from condescending to the employee because they (the customer) are so much more superior. You are quite correct that a professionally cheerful "Thank you!" should be the last words from a customer service employee. And it should be acknowledged by the customer with a smile and a nod to conclude the transaction before the customer has started to walk away.Let Etiquetteer add, too, that customer service shouldn’t ostentatiously call attention to itself. Etiquetteer will confess to impatience with hotel operators who say, "It’s my pleasure to connect you" when all they really need to say is "One moment please."

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