How Young Etiquetteer Was Embarrassed, Vol. 14, Issue 36

You may have heard Etiquetteer tell this story before, but it came to mind vividly again, and Etiquetteer must tell (or retell) it now for the record. Etiquetteer has always had an interest in seeing things done with Perfect Propriety and with people Behaving Well. And as a college student, Young Etiquetteer had an equal and abiding interest in Free Food. So one day many years ago Young Etiquetteer received with pleasure an invitation from an elderly lady to a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton. What could be more Perfectly Proper than a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton? Young Etiquetteer accepted the invitation with alacrity and brushed off his best suit in preparation.

Now this elderly lady - let's refer to her as Madame - who Young Etiquetteer had never really met, was a friend of Young Etiquetteer's Stern Grandmother, but there was no reason to suspect she might be any different from the legions of elderly ladies Young Etiquetteer had been entertaining since birth: full of indulgent smiles, Christian rectitude, canasta, and a dash of genealogy. Young Etiquetteer's eyes were to be opened, as Madame's principal focus was Herself and Her Reactions, as we shall see.

In those days*, the Ritz-Carlton dining room was described by many as the most beautiful room in Boston, and to a young man who hoped to be Perfectly Proper it was considered a crucible of Perfectly Propriety. From its snowy napery to its brocade draperies to its famous cobalt glass chandeliers and goblets, the room represented what Americans used to aspire to (and should continue aspire to today) as the Good Life. But almost from the beginning, Madame set a very different tone.

She was first nonplussed (but quietly) about an odd feature of 1980s restaurant etiquette: maitre d's who kissed on the mouth. Next, loudly exclaiming over the beauty of the china, Madame picked up the service plate like the latest bestseller to read the trademark. Young Etiquetteer, who had not only been taught that the first thing you did at table was put your napkin in your lap but also that you never did anything so gauche as to examine the provenance of the china, was nearly demolished by this. But more was still to come.

This occasion proved to be Young Etiquetteer's first encounter with service à la russe, which requires one to serve oneself each course from large platters offered by the waiter. Negotiating salmon with asparagus and hollandaise sauce is difficult enough for the uninitiated, but made even more so with Ceaseless Commentary on the novelty of the service from Madame, who thought it was different and charming, and didn't fail to mention this at top volume anytime a waiter - any waiter - appeared within two feet of us. She was having a wonderful time, and wanted everyone to know it!

This luncheon was not an ordinary luncheon, but a fashion luncheon featuring beautiful models in exquisite clothes (day and evening) languidly strolling among the tables. The place Young Etiquetteer was filling was originally intended for a Female Relation of Madame's who was unable to attend. Young Etiquetteer was one of perhaps three men present, somewhat ambivalently relishing the Walter Mitty role, but enjoying the setting, the (free) luncheon, and indeed the couture promenade. Madame was enjoying it, too, and assailed each model with Expressions of Delight, and also some Embarrassing Questions. She asked one model for her phone number to share with her son! Etiquetteer did not know quite where to look.

But the most embarrassing moment came after dessert. With the conclusion of the luncheon, the models were circulating with little lipsticks as favors for the ladies. Madame dearly wanted one to share with her Female Relation, but she wanted one for herself more. And when a beautiful model presented her with a lipstick, Young Etiquetteer froze in fright to hear Madame respond with Six Horrifying Words:

"Aren't you gonna give him one?"

Young Etiquetteer withered under the icy stare of the model, who asked "Do you need one?" in such a way as to question Young Etiquetteer's masculinity, upbringing, and right to exist - none of which seemed to matter to Madame, so intently was she focused on a free lipstick. "Certainly not!" replied Young Etiquetteer, whose limit had been reached, and the model passed on. Words were passed, but the mood restored, and of course Young Etiquetteer omitted any reference in the Lovely Note mailed the next day.

The morals of this tale, if there are any, would be that a) consideration of the feelings of others is an important part of daily life, b) to be distracted by trinkets indicates a lack of breeding**, and c) that there is no such thing as a free luncheon.

*The mid-1980s.

**The lyric from Chess comes to mind: "Trinkets in airports sufficient to lead them astray."

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.

You Can (or Cannot) Leave Your Hat On, Vol. 14, Issue 30

Even Etiquetteer needs to check on what is Perfectly Proper or not, and one mystifyingly foggy aspect of etiquette has always been when and where a gentleman may wear his hat indoors. Movies are never really a reliable guide to How to Behave Properly, and yet there are so many old films in which men are seen wearing hats indoors (around poker tables, in hotel lobbies, etc.) that the practice must have had some wider acceptance. But one gag in Auntie Mame (1958) is about a man with his hands full needing to take his hat off in an elevator. What is the final word on this? To Etiquetteer's delight, the key to unlock the mystery was found in a gem of a book called Male Manners: The Young Man's Guide to: dating, good looks, making friends, getting into schools, clubs, activities, talking easily, job hunting, traveling, cars, and more, by Kay Corinth and Mary Sargent (1969). The key is whether or not a space is public or private. In someone's home or office, hats are removed when you enter. If it's an office building, and therefore public, your hat may remain on. If you're riding on a public bus, subway, or streetcar, it's Perfectly Proper to remain hatted. Gentlemen may leave their hats on in a public elevator (for instance, in an office building or a college campus), but not if it's an elevator for a residence (like one of those tall residential towers so fashionable in New York and elsewhere these days). This was Etiquetteer's big surprise, having always thought that a gentleman removed his hat in any elevator.

Two important exceptions exist where hats are always removed on entry: churches and restaurants. Of course this relates only to secular headgear.* Etiquetteer gets enraged when seeing hipsters or other men wearing those fashionable narrow-brimmed hats - or worse, baseball caps - inside churches. Stop it at once! Several years ago, Etiquetteer joined the audience of a New Year's Eve evening concert in a church and was put off by the usher barking "Hats off!" as soon as the door opened, not even giving Etiquetteer a chance to take it off first before being disciplined. Later, seeing the rest of the audience, Etiquetteer understood, but still felt rather abused.

To summarize, a gentleman may wear his hat inside in these places: public buildings (e.g. hotel lobbies, office buildings, and their elevators). A gentleman removes his hat when he enters these places: private homes (and their elevators), restaurants, churches and other houses of worship (unless religious headgear).

Etiquetteer is relieved that the "Bad Hair Day" excuse to remain hatted seems to have been capped. After all, if people think you can't manage your hair, do you think they'll think you can manage something more important, like your career?

smalletiquetteer

* Once upon a time, it would not be necessary to state this, but with wider, and Perfectly Proper, acceptance of other cultures, it's important to specify.

Man-spreading *shudder*, Vol. 13, Issue 61

A reader has encouraged Etiquetteer to speak out on the issue of men sprawling beyond the limits of their seats on public transporation, which has been given the Vulgar Appellation of "man-spreading." Indeed, this issue has become such a Menace to Public Decency that the MTA has inaugurated a campaign to curb it. A gentleman does not take up someone else's space. And that should be quite sufficient.

Really, Etiquetteer compares this Ostentatious Behavior to blaring one's car radio (or do we have to call it "sound system" now?) outside the limits of one's car, or revving one's motor to call attention.

In short, Etiquetteer considers Excessive Sprawl advertising one's shortcomings.

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.

Deflecting Intrusive Questions, Vol. 13, Issue 31

Dear Etiquetteer:

How does one handle politely one who blurts out to you in front of others in the middle of a dinner party: "So I hear your father died?" I thought it was inappropriate; did my best to change the subject - it was an awkward, and painful, moment.

Dear Bereaved:

Please accept Etiquetteer's condolences at your bereavement. During a time of so many emotions, Etiquetteer imagines that you found it comforting to join groups of friends for intimate gatherings - until questions like this came up.

Etiquetteer remains astonished at the Blind Idiocy of Some People, who never seem to understand that some matters are more delicate than others. It's one thing to be asked "How is your father?" but quite another to be asked "So I hear your father died?" The use of the word "died" automatically indicates that Mr. Nosey expects that something with a Strong Emotional Impact happened to you and your family, and is too curious about the specifics to consider what impact that Sad Event had on you. Certainly it's an inappropriate question to ask at the dinner table as part of general conversation! At least at a cocktail party you could have changed the subject by moving away. That's difficult to do at the dinner table without Making a Scene, which Etiquetteer knows you didn't want to do.

In situations such as this (awkward questions at the dinner table, when everyone around the table is bound together by Appetite if nothing else for the foreseeable future), what's most important is to maintain the atmosphere of general and pleasant conversation; this will reassure the other guests that they are not about to witness a Dramatic Scene. The polite way for you to handle this is to acknowledge how awkward and painful the question is, but with Great Calmness, and then introduce another topic. "Yes, Father died [Insert Distance of Time Here], and it feels really awkward to be asked about something so painful at the dinner table. I'll give you the particulars later, but now I'd much rather talk about [Insert Diversion Here]." The Diversion might even be the specialty of Mr. Nosey, which will get him thinking about something else.

Should questions persist - because Some People are too ill bred to Take a Hint - your Last Resort is to excuse yourself and head to the bathroom. Whether you need a good cry or not, hopefully your absence from the table will lead someone else to tell Mr. Nosey to be quiet.

Special Advice to Those Who Want to Know: If you really must ask someone about a death in their circle, do so privately and not in such a way that they feel a spotlight is shone on their private grief. It's natural to want to know, but selfish to call it out.

Long story short, Sensitivity trumps Curiosity.

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.

When Hospitalized Overseas, Vol. 13, Issue 1

Dear Etiquetteer: You are such a well-traveled and well-mannered person, I write you to seek your wise guidance as to how to respond correctly to unexpected situations.

1) Imagine Madame in an overseas hospital operating room. She is lying on her right side with her left arm held up out of the way by a restraint, and anesthetized from the chest down, but wide awake and conversing with the surgeon during the operation.

The surgeon, while cutting into Madame, informs her of his progress, to wit: “I am now cutting through all the fat in your butt.” What, pray tell, is the appropriate repartee?

2) Madame brought along with her to the hospital her extendable “grabber/reacher” thing. It's called a PikStik, and the name is on it. There followed some smirks from the nurses.

Upon inquiry, one of the male nurses, blushing, informed Madame that “Pik” was the local dialect word for “external male genitalia”, and that the idea that such equipment could be doubled in length upon command was a concept that was appealing to many. The blushing and snickering persisted with each new staff member to see Madame’s reacher.

Any thoughts as to the proper response?

Dear Patient:

Indeed, one must be patient in a Country Other Than One's Own when interacting within its healthcare system. And it is most important to the retain the sympathies of the healthcare personnel with whom one interacts. That need not come at the expense of one's dignity.

Humor, however, relieves many an awkward situation, and each of these might benefit from a bit of levity. While under the knife, Madame might have responded to the doctor, "I guess it's too late to go on that diet now." In the second, a Victorian etiquette manual (Etiquetteer is gnashing his teeth to remember which one) said that "a lady does not even recognize a double entendre." Alas, we are none of us Victorians . . . still, one can do more with a pointed or coy glance and a raised eyebrow than with any words. But truly, as a hospital patient, one is excused from conversation on the grounds that one just isn't in the best of health and needs to catch up on one's sleep.

Allow Etiquetteer to wish Madame a Swift and Perfectly Proper recovery!

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.

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.

Houseguests/Current Events, Vol. 7, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer:

On a recent vacation trip to a far away place, I stayed in the home of a good friend and colleague.  While I was there, another professional colleague called my host and insisted on knowing with whom I was traveling and what the sleeping arrangements were.  My host was, of course, perfectly proper, and we all had a good laugh about it.  My question is, am I entitled to include this story when recounting my travels either to friends or to colleagues?  May I tell the story in the inquiring colleague's presence if I don't actually name him?

 

Dear Traveling Man: 

 

Etiquetteer commends the discretion of your host in not divulging any of his domestic details; clearly it was None of a Busybody’s Business. 

 

No one loves a good story more than Etiquetteer, and this does indeed sound like a very good one! But even so, it’s more Perfectly Proper to keep this one to yourself. Good stories have a way of traveling on their own, picking up extra embellishments along the way. Should the original Busybody ever hear of it, which is more of a Possibility than most people care to consider, it would only reflect badly on your host having divulged a confidential conversation.

 

Stories of This Sort are best Filed for Future Reference. Thanks to your host, you’ve just learned an important characteristic of your Busybody professional colleague that can help you evaluate his reactions in professional settings. 

 

invite.jpg

Etiquetteer has been doing his best not to get too involved in the 2008 political campaigns and resulting candidate faux pas. Etiquetteer feels sure that Barack Obama hasn’t done much to court the Militant Feminist Vote, but he made a SERIOUS misstep last week by referring to WXYZ-TV reporter Peggy Agar as “sweetie.” Terms of Endearment are, by definition, those we use with people who are close to us. And while we all know how close politicians like to be to the press during campaigns, “sweetie” is TOO close. Another way for men to gauge their behavior: if you wouldn’t say it to a man, you cannot say it to a woman. 

 

gloves.jpg

Etiquetteer was horrified to read in the Duluth News Tribune on May 10 about an insensitive lawsuit. Jeffery Ely hit a dog with his car, killing it. He then sued the dog’s owners, Niki and Daniel Munthe, for damages to his car. No matter how wronged one feels in such a situation, no matter how justified, one’s own sense of Perfect Propriety should prevent one from filing such a lawsuit. Honestly! What was he thinking? “Your dog dented my car as I was running it over so you should pay to fix my car?” Clearly Mr. Ely cares more about money than his reputation OR the feelings of others.

 

lorgnette.jpg

From the “Children Must Be Seen and Not Heard” Department, Etiquetteer was delighted to hear that the Red Thai Restaurant of Portland, Oregon, has begun banning children younger than six years of age from its establishment. If more parents knew how to control their “precious snowflakes” in public such a ban might not be necessary. After hearing from a colleague that she saw a woman breast-feeding* her infant at a theatre performance (!) Etiquettteer understands that parents don’t understand where their children are welcome and where they are not. It is insensitive to others in the audience to bring a babe in arms to a live concert or performance where they could start howling any moment. It is equally rude to dine at a “grown-up” restaurant with young children who haven’t yet been taught to use inside voices, silverware, or to keep their seats. Parents of Young Children, take note! 

 

*You may be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer has no trouble at all with breastfeeding in public. This necessary function can be handled discreetly and modestly in restaurants, vehicles, and other public places. But in places of assembly, such as theatres, concert halls, or churches, it distracts too much from the program one is supposed to be watching.

Gallantry and Tipping, Vol. 4, Issue 24

Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently in a situation where my sister, a married lady, was at a family event in a club and was unaccompanied by her husband. My mother came up to me and asked me to buy my sister a soft drink from the bar. It was not a problem and I was happy to do this; I get on well with my mom and sister. But it was an odd request. My mother later related that it is inappropriate for a married woman to approach a bar and buy a drink sans husband. Have I missed the memo? Haven't we progressed to the 21st century? This reeks of all those bad Taliban stories we read about in the papers with women embargoed from all aspects of life. I just don't get it. Perhaps I should keep a cape handy in case a woman needs to perambulate over some mud. Dear Gallant Family Man: Perhaps you should just get over it and listen to your mother. Etiquetteer adores your mother and can’t wait to take her to lunch. She understands that we have progressed into the 21st century in every way but gossip, and that a matron has to protect her reputation. Etiquetteer thanks you for accommodating her request, even while doubting the reasoning behind it. You have helped to prove that Chivalry isn’t dead yet. By the way, Etiquetteer has always been fond of big Inverness capes and opera cloaks, but alas, they look out of place unless you’re tramping the moors or taking in La Traviata.

Dear Etiquetteer: Do you tip your housecleaner? Is there a certain percentage that one tips each time? or at holiday time? Do you know anything about the etiquette of this?OK, so that was four questions. I would have answered: no, I don't tip the housecleaner. She's doing a job, she's getting paid cash. I figure that's tip in and of itself, since she's not claiming it on her taxes! As for holidays, I would consider the equivalent of a weekly fee as "tip". But, I'd much rather get the most proper response from dear Etiquetteer! Dear Lady Bountiful: Etiquetteer has said before that one’s housemaid or housekeeper (the term "housecleaner" sounds like a detergent to Etiquetteer: "New and Improved Housecleaner, now with Scrubbing Acid for those Tough Stains"), along with any other domestic staff, should be tipped at the end of the year (you can go back here for all the details). It’s certainly not necessary to tip her each week, but if some special, extra service is performed (cleaning up after a party of marauding yaks or frat boys, for instance) an additional gratuity is Perfectly Proper.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify@etiquetteer.com.