Gift-Giving to Unresponsive Relatives, Vol. 14, Issue 26

Dear Etiquetteer: When I sent my nephew his Christmas gift of cash, I told him that I knew he would be turning 18 in summer and graduating high school soon before. I told him his combined gift for these special occasions was a plane ticket to my city so that we could attend a Major League Baseball game together. However, because I know he's busy, he had to plan in advance. I never (uncharacteristically) got a thank-you for the Christmas gift. And he got in touch with me only after I told his father about the gift last month. I received neither an invitation nor an announcement of the graduation. However, two days before, my sister-in-law asked my sister for my e-mail address so that she could send me the live link to watch the event. My brother has since told me that nephew is too busy this summer to come to Boston. So this is my question: Do I send him a different gift for this birthday, or just a card reminding him of the previous gift. And what should I do about the graduation?

Dear Avuncular:

One of the responsibilities that comes with adulthood is conducting your own relationships with your relations, and not relying on your parents to take care of them. Your Neglectful Nephew appears not to have learned this. Etiquetteer does not care how busy his senior year of high school might have been. He should have been in touch with you directly, either to set a date, or to decline graciously.

Etiquetteer has to agree with you that receipt of a graduation invitation goes a long way to making one feel invested in a young person's future, and the gift one selects. Etiquetteer does have to wonder if your nephew sent them out at all, as it's simply too far-fetched to think that you were omitted from a family list.

Your account of the situation certainly doesn't display any enthusiasm on his part in your gift. Etiquetteer certainly sees no point in reiterating it. For his birthday, you might send him a bit of memorabilia from his favorite baseball team, along with a Lovely Note of Infinite Regret that you weren't able to tempt him sufficiently to join you. Etiquetteer would advise caution about suggesting another trip again.

As for a graduation gift, this young man clearly needs to learn the value of Prompt and Gracious Communication. A box of custom-made notecards with his monogram would make the point nicely, and you could underscore it by addressing the first envelope in the box to you. If you prefer not to make the point so baldly, an engraved pen or pen/pencil set makes a useful and traditional graduation gift.

invite

Dear Etiquetteer:

When my niece gets married this summer, I plan to give her a restored and nicely presented hymnal that was brought to the United States by our first ancestor to immigrate here. My niece has shown no interest in this side of the family, but I consider the book an heirloom that should go to her. I anticipate blowback from my sister about an insufficient gift. Would that characterization be appropriate, and should it be made, how would I respond? I am not close to either of them.

 Dear Heirlooming:

Heirlooms and other Items of Family Significance get short shrift from today's bridal couples, a fact which never ceases to depress Etiquetteer. Given that your niece has not shown any interest in your shared family history, may not belong to or actively practice the religion advocated in the hymnal, and also that the two of you are not close, she's apt to feel you're getting off cheaply in the Wedding Gift Sweepstakes. In the interest of family harmony, Etiquetteer would suggest selecting an additional gift from her bridal registry to give along with the hymnal. Conversely, you could also save the hymnal to present to her and her husband on their Leather Anniversary, which is the third anniversary. (Etiquetteer is, of course, assuming that it's a leather-bound hymnal.)

When you do give your niece the hymnal, Etiquetteer hopes you'll choose to include an image of your Immigrant Ancestor along with any family stories that have been handed down. Even if your niece doesn't care, one day her children may.

Penpoint

 

The Price of Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 3

It's one thing to dream idly of exacting vengeance on Those Who Have Wronged One, but it is never Perfectly Proper to follow through, as Julie Lawrence of Cornwall is discovering, Etiquetteer hopes to her sorrow. Ms. Lawrence held a birthday party for her child. And just as at parties for grownups, someone who said he was coming didn't come after all. In this case it was five-year-old Alex Nash, who was already scheduled to spend time with his grandparents that day. Now double bookings happen, and when discovered they involve a certain amount of groveling from the Absentee Guest and tolerant understanding from the Neglected Host (who may choose to use caution when issuing any future invitations), if the social relationship is to continue.

Ms. Lawrence, for whatever reason, chose instead of send an invoice for the cost of entertaining Young Master Nash to his parents. You will not be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer has a Big Problem with this, for a few reasons. First of all, how on earth is this going to affect the ongoing social relationship of Young Master Nash and the Unnamed Birthday Child? How embarrassing for both of them, especially since they will continue to have to see each other at school whether or not their friendship has survived this Social Mishap. For Heaven's sake, won't someone think of the children?!

Second, hospitality is supposed to be freely given, without expectation of reciprocity. Though recipients of hospitality are moved by Perfect Propriety to reciprocate, this should not be expected. For hospitality to be freely given, in this case, means accepting the expense of Absent Guests with Good Humor. Etiquetteer understands how frustrating it is spending money on guests who don't show up, but if one is not willing and able to suffer absentees more gracefully, one should not be entertaining socially. And to describe oneself as "out of pocket" suggests that one is Entertaining Beyond One's Means.

And lastly, for this to be paraded so publicly - well, Etiquetteer can see the entire community questioning Ms. Lawrence's judgement and ability to raise a child by behaving this way.

The Nash family, however, comes in for its share of disapproval, since it appears they didn't try to contact Ms. Lawrence before the party to say that Young Master Nash would be unable to attend.

Under the circumstances, it doesn't look like these families have any interest in Social Reconciliation, but if they do it will involve Lovely Notes of Contrition on both sides.

Long story short, don't make a scene.

Lovely Notes of Thanks, Vol. 13, Issue 62

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

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

A Loss of Temper, Vol. 13, Issue 42

Etiquetteer, of course, is the soul of Perfect Propriety, but it comes at a price: daily battle with That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, who carries on either like a Rank Parvenu or the most Impatient Curmudgeon. Recently Etiquetteer lost a battle, and That Mr. Dimmick is still paying the price. Etiquetteer is now breaking out of the prison into which That Mr. Dimmick has cast him to tell the story. "Hell," as Sartre famously observed in his play No Exit, "is other people." Perfect Propriety is either the key to the exit or a useful blindfold. It is an essential tool in daily life, because there will always be people who don't care at all about how they impact others. Always. This is why we have etiquette, to make dealing with Those People easier and less demeaning for ourselves.

It brings us to a bus with two loud children and an angry mother. While That Mr. Dimmick was speaking quietly with a friend near the back of the bus, two little girls and two adult women with them boarded at the next stop. The little girls ran to the back row, immediately behind That Mr. Dimmick, and continued their conversation VERY loudly, with what one would call Outside Voices. Really, it became nearly impossible to hear one's own conversation. And after a few minutes of this, in a fit of impatience, That Mr. Dimmick burst out with "Young ladies, ENOUGH!" There was no thought about results or consequences, just a complete inability to bear one more moment.

Etiquetteer's Dear Mother has always said "When you lose your temper, you lose your point." And alas for That Mr. Dimmick, Dear Mother was once again correct. That Outburst of Temper roused the Maternal Wrath of the mother sitting closest, who immediately challenged any interference. She actually said "This is not a library!" and suggested that we move! She should have been apologizing for the fact that those children were making a public nuisance. (That Mr. Dimmick was so astonished by her that he was unable to respond "It's not a playground either! Why aren't you teaching those girls to use their inside voices?! You're a bad mother if you don't care!")

Of course Etiquetteer understood why she reacted that way; no one likes to be called out publicly. Etiquetteer would never have addressed misbehaving children directly. One speaks to the parents or guardians. Etiquetteer would have turned to the mother and asked "Would you please ask the young ladies to use their inside voices? They probably aren't considering how loud they are inside." That mother probably would still have suggested Etiquetteer move to another seat, but at least Etiquetteer would be able to sleep nights, secure in the knowledge of having acted with Perfect Propriety. Because That Mr. Dimmick no longer had a leg to stand on. You can't go about complaining about the behavior of others if your own behavior is cause for concern.

Long story short, the bad behavior of others never excuses one's own bad behavior. But this story does raise other questions:

Why are we not all of us taught about consideration for others? Why are so many people standing in the doorway of the subway or bus, blocking the people who need to get by them? Why are so many people talking or texting (or eating!) through live performances in theatres, cinemas, and concert halls? Why are so many people blasting music so loudly through their headphones and earbuds that the lyrics are distinctly heard outside? Why are so many people standing two abreast on the escalator, preventing others from moving past them? Why are so many people eager to tell their friends how to spend their money on them with elaborate gift registries, or even bald requests for cash instead?

Why have we stopped caring about the impact that we have on others in daily life, whether friends or strangers?

That's the question that keeps Etiquetteer awake at night, and there just doesn't seem to be a Perfectly Proper answer.

Entertaining with Autism, Vol. 13, Issue 35

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a very new friend who has a son with severe autism. I don't have much experience with this, but would like to invite the family to the same family-friendly gatherings that I invite all of my friends who have children to (I do not have children, but love them and love to include them). What is the kindest way of approaching my friend about anything their child might need that might be different from what I'm used to? I want everyone (parents and children) to feel cared for, nurtured and relaxed at my gatherings.

Dear Hostess:

Etiquetteer applauds your Hospitable Impulse. Frequently the families of children with special needs want nothing more than to be included along with everyone else, and Etiquetteer suspects your New Friend will be grateful for your hospitality and consideration. A candid but sensitive conversation with your New Friend should come first.

Confirmed Bachelor Etiquetteer, with no direct experience raising children with or without autism, felt the need to consult a friend with an autistic child. Her words tell much of which Etiquetteer was not aware. Etiquetteer has chosen to emphasize some of his friend's word in italics.

"The best thing for a hostess to do is find out ahead of time what special accommodations might be needed. Parents of autistic kids need to plan ahead as well. For example, having food that would appeal to your autistic guest. Autistic kids have trouble tolerating loud noises or bright lights. They often cannot control making noises so activities that require quiet are difficult. Open spaces or a pool or bodies of water maybe problematic due to elopement issues. My child jumped in a host's pool in the middle of winter because he is attracted to water. Having a quiet room where a parent can take their child if he melts down is helpful.

"Preparing children who will be present is helpful. Children, God love them, say whatever is on their minds which can be hurtful. When it comes down to it just being flexible to the needs of your autistic guest and their family even if they have to leave early. As a guest I call ahead to see if the activities are appropriate for my child. I want my host's party to be successful. If the activity is not a good match then I decline the invitation. A kind hostess will not take offense. It is always nice to be asked even if it isn't a good match.

"Parents of autistic children need good manners as well. If a child will disrupt a party, or ruin a special activity, or cannot tolerate the host's environment then they should decline the invitation or leave the party early. It is important to respect the host's generosity and personal possessions.

"And finally, it is sometimes easier for the family of an autistic child if they have small gatherings at their own home where the autistic child is most comfortable and has all of his accommodations already in place. This is the most relaxed entertaining we can do."

The number of people with autism, and therefore the number of people who know someone with autism, seems only to be growing, and Etiquetteer predicts that more and more people will be seeking advice about the best way to include this portion of our community. Etiquetteer wishes you well as you incorporate your new friend and her family into your social circle.

Know Your Brahmins, Vol. 13, Issue 18

What used to be known as Good Family, unfortunately, ceased to matter a long time ago, as that venerable social historian Cleveland Amory demonstrated in his delicious indictment Who Killed Society? But it helps to know Who Was Who, as it were, so Etiquetteer was delighted to be directed to this quiz of "Name the Boston Brahmins." The Brahmins are the highest of the priestly classes in the Hindu religion. Some wag, recognizing the aloof qualities of Boston's first families, used "apt alliteration's artful aid" to bestow this Perfectly Proper nickname. You may be interested to know that Etiquetteer scored 25 out of a possible 30, and was greatly helped by having read another essential Cleveland Amory history, The Proper Bostonians.

What is interesting to note is that few of these families remain visible in public life in the 21st century. And that indeed, the traditional Yankee qualities of simplicity and thrift are being displaced in Boston. The Boston Globe reports that "In just the past seven years, the number of millionaires in Massachusetts has grown by 33,000." Etiquetteer can just see Cleveland Amory shaking his head and muttering "New money."

No One Cares About Your Children in Public, Vol. 13, Issue 10

Since there seems to be some doubt on the subject, Etiquetteer would like to clarify that no one cares about your children. Especially when they are misbehaving out in public. No one cares! And no one cares especially if you, as a parent, do not care about the impact your children have on other people and/or their belongings. What, you are probably asking yourself, launched Etiquetteer into this tiny tirade? The answer, dear readers, is this article, with photos, of parents blissfully unconcerned about their child climbing all over what is apparently a multi-million dollar work of art at the Tate Modern. One of the parents responded, "You obviously don't understand kids." To which Etiquetteer protests that the parents don't understand them. Children want a place to play! This is why there are places for children to play that are specifically for playing. This is why we have parks with jungle gyms. This is why we have playgrounds with swings. This is why we have traffic with . . . wait, no . . . no, that's not helping. Don't send the children to play in traffic.

Parents who fail to set boundaries for their children outside the home fail to teach them respect for other people. This is most often seen in restaurants, where parents of Children Too Young to Know Better are allowed to get away with terrible behavior, which usually has to be cleaned up by a long-suffering waiter or waitress who is insufficiently tipped. Parents, think honestly about the impression your family makes when you're out and about. It takes a village to raise a child, the old saying goes, and you want to be sure the villagers aren't coming after your Precious Snowflakes with tar, torches, and pitchforks.

Of course, when you look at the artwork on which the child was climbing, an obvious solution presents itself. A reasonable facsimile can be purchased from West Elm or some other stark and severe home furnishings catalog and installed in the nursery at home. Problem solved.

Baby Gifts and Baby Names, Vol 12, Issue 14

This week's birth of the Prince of Cambridge has afflicted monarchists and royal-watchers with a bad case of the Goo-Goo Gagas. As Etiquetteer pointed out on his Facebook page, there are an awful lot of people who want to know what to do to celebrate the Royal Birth in terms of gift-giving, celebrating, etc. While Etiquetteer is rarely averse to lifting a glass of Champagne (the most Perfectly Proper beverage with which to celebrate a birth), Etiquetteer is obliged to remind you all that, unless you're already personally acquainted with the Royal Family, and as lovely and kind a family as they are supposed to be, they don't know you and probably won't be paying any attention to anything you happen to send their way, whether a tangible gift or a Lovely Note.

Etiquetteer would like to suggest that those who are not personal friends of the Family, or current Heads of State, acknowledge the Prince of Cambridge's birth by doing something for a newborn in their own community. Plenty of babies come into this world with nothing, including responsible parents. Whether making a donation of money, handmade Little Garments, or other Things Infants Need, you'll make a greater difference where it counts. And you may always send with your donation a Little Note indicating that your gift is made "in honor of the birth of the Prince of Cambridge." Search the Web or call your local hospital for specific organizations and guidelines.

You may then reward yourself with a glass of Champagne (use your nicest crystal) and a slice of white cake iced in white with the royal monogram.

Some expectant parents are a little too eager to suggest gifts for Baby, but Etiquetteer always believes that a copy of that essential volume Pat the Bunny is appropriate. (Come to think of it, Etiquetteer still has the two-volume Winnie-the-Pooh he received at birth from an uncle.) There are many novelty onesies in the shops; choose wisely and tastefully from among them. Pride in schools and sports teams rates high, and you would not, for instance, send a Yale onesie to a Harvard family, or Boston Red Sox booties to those who hold season tickets to Yankee Stadium. Godparents should give a piece of sterling silver engraved with Baby's initials. No, not an epergne or candelabra! (One Liberace was enough, thank you.) A sterling silver rattle or teething ring is most Perfectly Proper, and practical, too. When teething, chilled silver is soothing to Baby's hot gums.

Perhaps motivated by the birth of the Prince, GQ has joined the fun with this list of rules for how not to name a baby. Etiquetteer has deplored the vogue in recent years to alter the spelling of established names, which will only condemn the Poor Child to endless spellings and reminders of "No, it's with a Y" or something of that sort. The GQ rule #7 is well taken. It would be interesting to hear from the many men and women born in the mid-1970s named "Kunta Kinte" or "Kizzy" after Alex Haley's blockbuster Roots was published and televised. How have they used, adapted, or rejected their names that were fashionable when they were born but almost unfamiliar now?

And yet Fashion has affected the naming of babies as it affects everything, and the popularity of certain names comes and goes. In the 17th and 18th centuries Biblical and allegorical names were popular. Indeed, Etiquetteer can count four Obadiahs, three Shubaels, two Pentecosts, a Freedom, and a Desire in his own family tree. But the best advice is the simplest, and comes from the world of clothes shopping: you can never go wrong with a classic.

Dining in Public, Vol. 12, Issue 4

From Etiquetteer's Facebook page comes this query: Dear Etiquetteer:

Last night my family, including my husband's parents and sister (who were visiting from out of state) had the pleasure of attending dinner service on the Napa Valley Wine Train. All the lady seated behind my sister-in-law could do was complain, loudly. We didn't allow her to ruin our good time, but felt trapped! As did the lovely couple seated across from the bitter bitter woman. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of the right way to handle the situation and would like never to find myself lacking the Perfectly Proper way to handle the very uncomfortable situation she was causing. How would you recommend handling this situation, should it present itself during another evening?

Dear Entrained and Entrapped:

Etiquetteer's guiding precept has always been that No One Cares How You Feel or What You Want. Etiquetteer thinks it's a pity this Dining Virago was not so educated. One wonders why such people ever leave home, since they are so clearly unhappy away from it. Etiquetteer's beloved Ellen Maury Slayden joined her Congressman husband on an official delegation to Mexico in 1910. Commenting on one Senator and his wife, she wrote "I wonder why they come on a trip like this, all made up of scenery and adventure, when they could get so much better pie and cereal at home."*

You and your family, however, were clearly brought up on the maxim "Don't borrow trouble," for which Etiquetteer commends you. Because let's face it, in Real Life, confrontations such as these are always messier than they are in TV sitcoms. For instance, had you leaned over and asked "Excuse me, I hate to interrupt your diatribe, but did you happen to bring any earplugs we could borrow?" you would not have been saved by a commercial break. The Fantasy of the One-Line Putdown That Works is just that, a fantasy.

The first and best recourse is to speak (quietly) to the waiter or the manager and ask if anything can be done. It's in their best interest to be sure that all their diners are enjoying themselves, not only the Dining Virago but also you and your party. They can take what action they feel is necessary to get her to pipe down, whether it's a complimentary dessert, picking up her entire check, or promising her that she'll never have the chance to complain about their service again after she's banned from returning.

Etiquetteer thinks you and your family might have put a more positive spin on the situation by sending a bottle of wine to "the lovely couple seated across from the bitter bitter woman," creating a secret community able to smile over a special bond: Endurance. Etiquetteer can just see you all toasting each other silently across the aisle while the Dining Virago obliviously keeps on ranting.

Etiquetteer wishes you and your family well on future dining excursions!

Have you had a difficult experience dining out? Etiquetteer would love to accept your queries at <queries _at_ etiquetteer dot com>.

*It should surprise no one that Etiquetteer is quoting from Washington Wife: Journal of Ellen Maury Slayden from 1897 - 1919.

Returning Wedding Gifts, Vol. 11, Issue 13

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

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

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

Dear Unregifted:

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

The wedding between

Miss Dewy Freshness

and

Mr. Manley Firmness

will not take place.

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

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

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

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

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.>

Destination Weddings, Vol. 11, Issue 9

Dear Etiquetteer: My gay husband and I have been invited to the wedding of a very close straight family member and his bride. While the destination has not been officially decided, they are seriously contemplating booking it in a Caribbean country that is extremely unwelcoming, inhospitable, and anti-gay toward gays (to the senseless point of beatings, harassment, castrations, and even death). In fact it is the number one homophobic nation in the western hemisphere, with numerous organizations putting out dire travel warnings and advisories to the gay community.

While we wish to attend this family wedding, we have hinted to them about the extreme anti-gay nature of the country, and that we were worried a bit for our safety.

The dilemma also comes with the fact that my husband is upset with me, in that I am willing to boycott the trip to not-quite-Kokomo and miss the wedding of a family member, if it were in the destination being considered. To tell the truth, I am saddened by the prospect of not going to the wedding, but there are not enough fences around any gated beach resort community to provide me with a sense of protection, and let alone a piece of mind for what should be a joyous and relaxing day for all.

While their decision process is still going on, my fear is that, in further stating that I might not be going, that it might take away from the couples' intended destination, and I really don’t want to be responsible for them changing the destination of their dreams (and my potential nightmare).

What would be your suggestion for approaching this situation, and the proper response, for when the invitation arrives? Are there any other subtle ways of directing the destination, in their decision-making process, but still save myself from angst and fear?

Dear Wedding Guest:

Etiquetteer has never really cottoned on to the idea of the Destination Wedding. Their chief purpose sometimes seems to be to gratify the whims of the Happy Couple at the greatest expense and inconvenience possible for the largest number of people. Etiquetteer takes a dim view of Happy Couples who care more about the setting of their weddings than they do about their guests.

Many factors are considered when choosing a "resort" destination for a wedding: location, availability, weather at the time of year considered, facilities and amenities offered, and of course cost. Safety for all attendees should be at the top of the list, though it's not something often thought necessary to consider. Your valid concerns about your safety underscore its necessity in the planning.

A frank but kind conversation between you, your husband, and the Happy Couple needs to take place. Without hinting, explain that you don't in the least want to take away from the special joy of their nuptials, but that the public record shows that you and your husband would become targets of harrassment. And any harrassment of any wedding guests would certainly put a damper on the joy of the wedding, which you do not want to compromise. Explain that, should they choose to hold the wedding in this Homophobic Nation, that you feel the best way to preserve that good time would be not to go.

While Etiquetteer does understand why your husband is upset with you - to miss a wedding has become open to all sorts of interpretations - Etiquetteer hopes and expects that he will support you in this discussion. Etiquetteer also hopes that the Happy Couple will understand how sensitive you are to making sure that they have a positive experience for their wedding. Deciding not to go to the Homophobic Nation will be the Best Possible Decision; to do otherwise will merely peg them as Selfish.

Lessons from Childhood, Vol. 10, Issue 7

Truly it has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Children learn about Perfect Propriety from many other people besides their parents: teachers, neighbors, friends, and other family members. Etiquetteer recently had cause to contemplate this idea with the death of his Lovely Aunt Joan. Because while Etiquetteer promotes Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer was not born Perfectly Proper. Lovely Aunt Joan once took an opportunity to teach Young Etiquetteer a gentle lesson in Paying a Compliment. As in many families, children's clothes are passed from one child to another, and Lovely Aunt Joan's daughter, Little Cousin, was just the right age to receive things from Etiquetteer's Little Sister. During one large family gathering, Young Etiquetteer artlessly paid a compliment by saying "Cousin, don't you look lovely in Little Sister's old dress!" "No," interrupted Lovely Aunt Joan, who was sitting with us. "The best thing to say is 'Don't you look lovely in your new dress!' That's nicer." And she said it nicely, without making Young Etiquetteer feel unwholesomely small.

The point, of course, is that it's unkind to underscore the perception of charity in public. (Indeed, one thinks of Meg March in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" dressed up in another girl's ball dress at a house party.)

You see how the Innocence of Childhood needs to be refined to become Perfect Propriety. Thank you, Lovely Aunt Joan, for your Gentle Correction, and so much else.

Family Occasions/Deterring Signage, Vol. 10, Issue 6

Dear Etiquetteer: I'm not even the one being slighted and I don't know how to act.

My paternal grandmother is nearing a milestone birthday, and my parents have organized a party for her at their home. This party is in less than two weeks, and original invitees included friends and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Over the past week, my father's brother has been telling-- not asking-- my father to invite my grandmother's siblings' children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He lives out of town and has offered no help whatsoever in the planning or execution of the party. My father has not invited any more people, explaining on the one hand that he's not even sure that he saw some of them at the last funeral, and on the other that he doesn't want to have to rent more tables and chairs and buy more food. Today, my father received an RSVP in the positive via text message from one of these suggested invitees.

I am grown and live with my own family, and so in that sense I am every bit as much an invitee as my uncle. In that respect, I have no grounds for indignation. That said, these are my parents and I am very protective. Is there anything at all I can do to make this miserable situation less so for them?

Dear Daughter:

Family Occasions are incomplete without Family, but it appears that your uncle's definition of Family includes more branches of the Family Tree than your father's. While Etiquetteer does have to fault your father on one tiny thing -- family is still family whether or not they came to the last funeral -- it's his party and he therefore has the Unquestioned Right to invite (or not) whoever he pleases. Uncle Trouble is officially Out of Line by inviting other family members without the permission of your father (and presumably without even his knowledge).

This matter concerns your father and his brother, and it's up to your father to decide how he wants to address these issues. (For all Etiquetteer knows, they've been treating each other like this since childhood.) Unless you want to look like a real Madame Buttinsky, you'll stay in the background. But since your uncle is telling, not asking, your father who to invite, Etiquetteer thinks your father should tell, not ask, his brother how he is going to contribute to the success of the party through ordering extra furniture, food, etc. And for you to protect your parents, this may mean that you need to fulfill this function by actively getting involved in the preparations before, keeping these disagreements from your grandmother, and seeing that everything goes smoothly at the party, no matter how many "extra" family show up. Because above all, no one should be turned away once they show up! Whether their invitation came from your father or not, it will only reflect badly on him if they're told "Oh sorry, Uncle Trouble wasn't supposed to invite you."

And if things go well, perhaps Uncle Trouble will get his comeuppance when someone announces that he'll be hosting the next family reunion . . .

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have the problem that professional sex workers are using my backyard to entertain their clients. Is there a Perfectly Proper sign for my gate to gently dissuade them from doing so?

Dear Trespassed:

Your query reminds Etiquetteer of the story of the Boston theatre with the perpetually leaky roof. It was replaced and replaced, and kept leaking and leaking, until the building management threatened to sue the roofers. Someone got the idea to put up a videocamera to see what might be happening. To general surprise, it was discovered that Ladies of the Evening were bringing their Gentlemen Clients up to the roof via the fire escape, undoubtedly to Admire the View. Their spike heels were puncturing the rubber roof.

Etiquetteer is at least relieved that your neighborhood's Ladies of the Evening have not yet mounted your roof. Etiquetteer can suggest Perfectly Proper signage that might be found at the local hardware store: "No Loitering/Police Take Notice" and "Premises Under Surveillance" (with a small graphic of a camera). While Etiquetteer is unacquainted with your views on gun control, you would not be best served by posting "Proud Member of the National Rifle Association." Heaven forbid some Fatal Accident take place, your entire household would be put under suspicion.

It might be more effective to invest in a motion-detecting light that will turn on whenever anyone enters your backyard. While such solutions have their drawbacks, the last thing any of These People want is to attract attention. In the meantime, Etiquetteer hopes that you have notified your local police force about these occurrences.

Please do send Etiquetteer all your queries about Perfect Propriety to queries <at> etiquetteer dot com.

Hacked Hand-Me-Downs, Vol. 10, Issue 5

Dear Etiqueteer: I have a question about hand-me-downs - a particularly thorny issue to begin with.

In my family, infant clothing is passed down. It is commonly understood and practiced without discussion. My daughter, Effie, is currently in line between two of my cousins who are sisters. We will call them Abby and BeBe. Their daughters are Cici and Deedee, respectively. Cici is a year old, Effie is four months old, and Deedee is currently wearing newborn sizes. In theory, this works very well.

In practice, to be short, it does not. Cici's clothing is generally off-season. Whether the print is sunflowers or snowmen matters less than whether it is a sundress or snowsuit. More importantly, the clothing is not wearable. It is stained, tattered, threadbare, and paint is peeling off of snaps. Goodwill and Salvation Army would not sell clothing so worn. I do not use this clothing. Currently, everything Abby has given me is in a box in the closet.

On one occasion, Abby borrowed a bib from me. She had it for only a few hours and returned it stained.

To further complicate things, Abby is pregnant. This child would very reasonably follow Deedee. The clothing that I pass on to BeBe would be passed on to Abby again within a matter of months.

BeBe and I take very good care of our things. The clothing that I pass on to BeBe is nearly new. When I see Deedee, I can tell that BeBe is treating these hand-me-downs as well as if they were freshly store-bought. We have also both received very nice gifts, and so our daughters each have beautiful clothing.

I get rags from Abby. Because the only hand-me-downs Effie gets are those previously worn by Cici, she effectively does not have hand-me-downs. Therefore, everything passed from Effie to Deedee is new. Everything BeBe passes down after Deedee has outgrown it, I'm sure, will still be in very good condition.

There is a social issue with Abby as well, in that she constantly requests my professional services without hesitating to point out that they are not worth what I am asking. When I stopped discounting, she stopped patronizing- but not requesting.

I am not at all comfortable with that clothing being passed on to Abby, who clearly lacks appreciation for a variety of things. I am also sad to know that anything she gets will be ruined.

I have another friend who is pregnant, but passing clothing to her would mean that BeBe would not get my hand-me-downs. Deedee would instead only get Cici's clothing. I would not wish on BeBe what I am I trying to escape.

It is important to note that my husband and I have decided that Effie will be our only child.

Question One: What to do with the box.

Question Two: How to avoid receiving more.

Question Three: What to do with my hand-me-downs.

I have been struggling with this for weeks now. Thank you.

Dear Gigi:

Let's see if Etiquetteer can untangle the path of the baby clothes through your Family of Alphabetical Pseudonyms. Three cousins share hand-me-downs as needed. Currently they begin with Abby, for her year-old daughter Cici; then to you, Gigi, for your four-month-old daughter Effie; and then to BeBe for her newborn daughter Deedee. They will then return to Abby for her expected newborn (probably Heeheeheeheehee).

Because the hand-me-downs you're receiving from Abby are no longer fit to wear, Etiquetteer assumes that you are having to buy new baby clothes and/or acquire hand-me-downs from another source which will then go into the family's collective bassinet. You resent the expense and the necessity for this, and would like to spare BeBe your troubles by eliminating Abby from this silently operating Family Tradition.

Etiquetteer suggests ending this Family Tradition because it is not equally respected by all the participants. Since you and your husband are not planning to have any more children, pass on the box to BeBe (Question One) and declare to all that you are Out of the Loop (Question Two). This then becomes BeBe's problem, to manage with her sister Abby in any way she sees fit. Which means that you should say nothing about it evermore unless BeBe asks you.

As for your own hand-me-downs (Question Three), since they're yours, direct them where you think they will be most appreciated and cared for: either to BeBe or to your friend, or divide the lot and send some to each.

And should you and your husband end up having another child - which has been known to happen - make it clear from the beginning that you won't resume the Family Tradition.

Unwanted In-Laws and Current Events, Vol. 8, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer: We live near my husband's brother, who is constantly inviting or letting my mother- and father-in-law invite themselves.  We (my husband, two kids, and I) are always faced with the "threat" of their every other month visits.  These visits usually last at least five days.  The events involved are excruciating to me.

What should I or my husband tell my brother-in-law and his parents to make them understand this is totally inappropriate?

We have invited them one time in seven years.  All the other visits, which have been every other month for the last seven years, have been them inviting themselves and no one saying anything.  Or my brother and sister-in-law inviting them for some reason.

Bear in mind that I have a special needs son who is 11 and my daughter is very active; she is six.  I home school my son as of about two weeks ago.  We live in the country and my husband could be losing his job.   Things are not perfect right now but it doesn't help to have people in your face that you would rather not see at all - ever!

Dear Daughter-in-Law:

You are correct to note that someone has to say something about this situation to solve it. Nearly everyone thinks that etiquette has a way to make problems disappear without them having to say or do anything. Unfortunately, since humans are involved, that's not possible. And Etiquetteer knows, to his sorrow, that the longer one seethes silently, the worse a problem becomes.

First of all, and this is true in any marriage, if it's his family, he does the talking, not you, and vice versa. On the other hand, you may find out that your husband isn't as opposed to these frequent visits as you are. Etiquetteer can't assume that he shares your revulsion for his family, although he may. Etiquetteer predicts a frank conversation between the two of you. Whatever the result, it's his family, and he has to deal with them. 

Etiquetteer hopes that your brother-in-law is not actually inviting people for multi-day visits into your own home! Only you and your husband have that privilege. 

All you have the power to change is your own participation and, in consultation with your husband, the participation of your children in these visits. If members of your husband's family want to get together outside your house, that's not your business. But Etiquetteer sees no reason for you to join them more than once over the course of five days. 

Now, how are you going to change the expectations of your in-laws, who are used to seeing you and your children a great deal after seven years? Etiquetteer recommends that you start not being available. Oscar Wilde created "Bunburying" in The Importance of Being Earnest, the subterfuge of leaving town to visit a fictional sick friend (in this case named Bunbury.) Etiquetteer doesn't think you need to go to those lengths, but you can create special activities with one or both of your children, or your own friends, that keeps you from joining your in-laws. Send your husband alone with the excuse that you'd already made other plans, or he can bring the kids and say you "need some time alone being worn out taking care of the children." If he doesn't want to go either, he can tell his brother that all of you have other plans, every night of the week, if necessary. 

You have probably already figured out that your in-laws are with you for life, until death or divorce severs your relationship with them. Rather than rely on those two courses (the first immoral and illegal if you arrange it, the second painful for your children), Etiquetteer very much hopes that you can stake out your own territory in your family life.

 

Etiquetteer has seen a lot in the news over the last week worthy of notice and comment:

Etiquetteer has seen a lot in the news over the last week worthy of notice and comment:

Etiquetteer applauds the Bill Duncan Opportunity School of Lakeland, Florida, for suspending Jonathan Locked, Jr. for deliberately disruptive flatulence. Unfortunately Young Master Locked's father is appealing the suspension, apparently believing that the punishment went too far. Etiquetteer cannot agree, and regrets that Mr. Locked isn't using this suspension to teach his son to respect the authority of teachers and school principals, respect for education and his classmates, and of course Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer can only hope that the Locked family eats fewer beans after this unfortunate, um, outburst.

In Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, a pastor and a congregant got in trouble with the law for shooting an arrow in church during a service. Reading the article Etiquetteer certainly got the impression that the pastor is more devoted to using props to illustrate the Word than the Word itself. This sort of sensationalism, plus the way the pastor evicted an objecting congregant, violates every sense of Perfect Propriety to Etiquetteer.

Also in church news, Etiquetteer was very interested to read about the innovations of Rev. Anne Gardner's iSermon Sundays at Phillips Academy. Certainly technology and References to Popular Culture will follow us everywhere, and Etiquetteer really has no objection. What raised Etiquetteer's hackles was the fact that Academy students were eating breakfast in the pews during church! Forgive Etiquetteer for sounding just a bit old-fashioned, but eating in church is NOT approaching worship of the Deity of One's Choice with Perfectly Proper undivided attention. Stop it at once!

Etiquetteer could not but agree with the Daily Telegraph's list of ten first date faux pas

Finally, Etiquetteer was both touched and amused to read the obituary of Stella Trafford last week. "The Grande Dame of Boston Parks," who was unafraid to wield a hoe or take on City Hall, received from her stepdaughter what Etiquetteer thinks is the ideal epitaph for a Working Lady to the Manner Born: "She died with her pearls on."

Etiquetteer has a new address for all your etiquette questions, queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

Belching, Vol. 8, Issue 7

Dear Etiquetteer: My sister, who is a beautiful, intelligent, and accomplished young woman, burps. She burps loudly, often, and without covering her mouth. She doesn't say, "excuse me," after the fact. She doesn't excuse herself to the restroom (or another private place) beforehand. In response, my family and I have said things starting at, "Your doctor could probably get something to help with your digestion," to, "That is rude. Please don't burp at the table."

Her response to the former is that she doesn't have any health problem that causes the burps, and to the latter, "I do what I want!"

Again, she is a young woman who has enough background to appreciate just how rude her actions are. She is highly educated and reasonably cultured. We don't understand where her dismissive attitude regarding eructation. Privately, it is uncomfortable. Around company and in public, it is mortifying. How can we address the seriousness of our concern and inappropriateness of her dismissive response?

Dear Digesting in Silence:

Your sister seems to have taken as her role model Princess Fiona in Shrek, which is most unfortunate. Etiquetteer has said often that "No one cares what you want or how you feel," and this certainly applies to your sister! Her willful eructation will surely obscure the beauty, intelligence, and accomplishments you mention, while also making her the darling of eleven-year-old boys everywhere. (But Etiquetteer must question how Reasonably Cultured a woman can be if she behaves this way. Certainly no woman willfully belching like that could be called a lady.)

Etiquetteer fears nothing will curb her evil behavior until she loses a job or a lover over it. Etiquetteer can just imagine her ripping out a large BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAPP while interviewing for a job she wants, and then being shown the door. 

Etiquetteer has also heard much of the rivalry of sisters, both in life and in film. Possibly you are not the best person to give your sister direction. That said, there isn't any reason for you to accept her deliberately rude behavior. If you're in public with others and she belches in your presence, just leave the area as unostentatiously as you can. If she continues to burp at your own table, stop inviting her. Yes, even for functions at which all the family is present. Or, and here you will see Etiquetteer's Dark Side, set a place for her in the kitchen while everyone else dines in the dining room. Undoubtedly she'll take exception to this, and you can gently explain that the dining room is only for those who know how to behave like grown-ups at the table. 

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

Random Correspondence Issues, Vol. 7, Issue 22

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

Dear Bride to Be: 

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

 Mr. John Smith and Ms. Mary Smith

request the honour of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter

Miss Perfectly Proper Smith

to Mr. Manley Firmness

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

 invite.jpg

Dear Etiquetteer:

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

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

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

invite.jpg

Electronic Thanksgiving Invitations, Vol. 7, Issue 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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