Etiquetteer's 2015 Holiday Gift Guide for Perfect Propriety, Vol. 14, Issue 42

It’s been a few years since Etiquetteer attempted to recommend Perfect Propriety in holiday gifts, but the time has come to make a few deft suggestions. CLOTHES

A gentleman needs to keep things pointing in the right direction, not least his collar, and the folks at Würkin Stiffs have come up with a way to do so involving magnets. They also involve "airport-friendly metal alloy," so there should be no need to fiddle with your collar before approaching the Security Theatre of the airport.

We’ve all heard that a man has two handkerchiefs: “one to show and one to blow.” How would it be if that “one to show” had another purpose that mere display? Across the pond, Pocket and Fold have created a line of pocket squares made of microfiber, ideal for polishing eyeglasses and the screens of personal devices. 15£.

Yimps are blazing the trail for the comeback of men’s short shorts with a vintage flair,” and Etiquetteer couldn’t think of anything more Perfectly Proper, especially for the beachgoer in your life. $43-48.50.

Since the hostess aprons of the 1950s, things have only gotten worse for the middle class hostess, who has even less help in the kitchen than before. Indeed, so often the whole party ends up in the kitchen rather than anyplace else. To help retain some Perfectly Proper glamor, Etiquetteer recommends the Bombshell Apron from Jessie Steele, which would be gorgeous over a short-sleeved white blouse and velvet hostess pants. $35.

Speaking of aprons, there’s no reason not to design one of your own at Zazzle.

Big scarves are in this year, but scarves have always been Perfectly Proper. Fraser Knitwear offers some stunning wool scarves. Prices vary.

Your favorite traveler may enjoy the new Geography bow tie from Beau Ties Ltd., long Etiquetteer's preferred vendor. Beau Ties Ltd. has a colorful and Perfectly Proper selection of other new designs, too.

BOOKS

Amy Alkon is an etiquette writer who takes no prisoners, and her Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck answers the cries of many. Paperback, $10.80. Read Etiquetteer's review here.

For the literate gardener in your life, Etiquetteer highly recommends Henry Beston’s magically evocative little book about growing herbs, Herbs and the Earth. $16.95.

For the young man who needs Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer suggests Becoming the Perfect Gentleman, by Zach Falconer-Barfield and Nic Wing. Paperback $18.95.

Fans of the British monarchy may also enjoy a little-known Christmas story, here beautifully realized by Jacob Gariepy at Dapper and Dreamy, A Christmas with Queen Mary. paperback, $10.00.

STATIONERY

Dapper and Dreamy cards, illustrated by Jacob Gariepy, include not only traditional Christmas themes, but also the wardrobe of Jacqueline Kennedy, White House windows, and the brides of Downton Abbey. Prices vary; $10 minimum order required.

Crane, of course, remains the most deluxe Perfectly Proper American stationer. Boxed note cards make a Perfectly Proper gift, especially for children in whom you wish to inculcate the practice of handwritten gratitude. Prices vary.

For those who know that "high tea" really means it's high time for a big feed, consider these teakettle notecards from Mercantile for invitations. $16 for a pack of five. They have many other delightful cards, too.

OTHER

Alfred Lane has been producing some fine solid colognes for men. A great stocking stuffer, and much easier to tote about day to day than a bottle cologne. Choose from Bravado or Brio ($17.95) and limited-edition Enigma ($29.95). Alfred Lane's Vanguard is available at Fine and Dandy.

While Etiquetteer can't ever be said to be a fan of gift certificates - they sometimes give the impression that one has given up - Etiquetteer does know that ladies like to be pampered. (So do some gentlemen.) Consider a gift certificate to a spa or salon in your community for a day of beauty, massage, or a special beauty treatment. The resulting good feelings can only enhance the Perfect Propriety in the world.

For the stylish card player in your life, Misc. Goods offers stylishly redesigned decks of playing cards. Choose black, red, ivory, green, or blue. $15.

Etiquetteer has always had a weakness for paper lanterns, once so indispensible to the al fresco entertainments of the upper classes. Blue Q offers some charming - and some not quite Perfectly Proper - versions. $9.99 each

For those who don’t want an app for everything, Thinkgeek offers a 50-Year Calendar Keyring that Etiquetteer finds charming.

For those you know you like a bit of honey in their tea - or who don't yet know that it's not Perfectly Proper to have a jar on the table - one can find a lovely ceramic honey pot at Sur le Table. $9.56.

smalletiquetteer

Repeal Day at the Gibson House Museum is coming soon! Get your tickets for Friday, December 4. Hotcha!

Gift Giving for Assisted Living, Vol. 14, Issue 31

Dear Etiquetteer: My supervisor is entering a new stage of her life, namely moving from independent living to assisted living. Her husband’s health has progressed to needing additional care. On the occasion of previous moves, I have sent a small (work-appropriate) housewarming gift. With such sadness around the move, is it appropriate to send a gift? If so, what would be appropriate? Previous housewarming gifts have typically been a bottle of each of their favorite adult beverages.

I am quite close to my supervisor and she has recently been exceedingly generous towards me personally since the birth of my daughter. What is my best course of action?

Dear Presenting:

Moves of Necessity are often accompanied by sadness for the Moved, which creates an opportunity for loved ones to support them with Good Cheer. The way you refer to previous gifts of spirits sounds as if their presentation on moving could be considered a tradition, and Tradition is a terrible thing to break.

But perhaps the health of the gentleman in question no longer permits imbibing? As you and your supervisor know each other so well, Etiquetteer sees no difficulty in a discreet inquiry along the lines of “And do you and Ethelred still enjoy your highball before dinner?” The answer to that will guide you.

Otherwise, moves to assisted living often entail reducing the number of one’s possessions. Under these circumstances, useful gifts are most Perfectly Proper: foodstuffs, stationery, laprobes, etc. One item unique to assisted living facilities is decorations for one’s door. A gift of an all-seasonal wreath or something similar could help make the transition more homelike.

smalletiquetteer

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

 

More on Hostess Gifts, Vol. 13, Issue 3

Readers over at Etiquetteer's Facebook page have more questions about hostess gifts: Dear Etiquetteer:

Is the gift to the hostess given to the hostess for her use only, or is it usually to be shared with the entire party? I've heard that gifts of food and/or wine are quietly given to the hostess with the idea being that the food or wine may not suit the evening's menu but enjoyed later after the guests have left. What do you think?

Dear Gifting:

Etiquetteer thinks discerning guests give hostess gifts as actual gifts, to be used at the discretion of the host or hostess. Reasons abound for this:

  • The guest may actually have chosen the gift for the private enjoyment of the host or hostess.
  • The gift might not actually fit in with the refreshments already planned.
  • The host or hostess might want to spare the feelings of other guests who did not bring a gift.

If the hosts included in the invitation "Please bring a bottle of wine," however, Etiquetteer will bet they intend to serve it at the party.

Etiquetteer would suggest one exception. Should a child appear with a gift of food or drink to your party, be sure to share it and exclaim over it, no matter what it is. It's not always easy for children at a party of (perhaps) mostly grownups, and your attention and gratitude to them will make them feel more at ease. Which is really what Perfectly Proper hosts and hostesses do for guests of all ages.

Dear Etiquetteer:

And I would further suggest that if you're bringing flowers, bring a flowering plant, an arrangement, or cut flowers already in some kind of vase. The last thing I as a host want to be doing is searching out an appropriate vase, cutting the stems, arranging the flowers, and so on, when I want to be greeting guests and/or putting the finishing touches on the meal. (Or quietly having a nervous breakdown in the next room.)

Dear Flora: The great Miss Manners herself, Judith Martin, covered this exact issue in her marvelous Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, and recommended keeping a vase full of water in the pantry just in case. But Etiquetteer will confess to loving a Floral Tribute, even if it does create some additional hustle-bustle at a party. The hustle-bustle that gets Etiquetteer is the guests who call (or even worse, text message) at exactly the time the party is supposed to begin with requests for directions or an update on why they aren't there yet.

Hostess Gifts, Vol. 13, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer: What is the proper etiquette for what to bring to a dinner party?  Does one always simply ask what to bring or perhaps just a nice bottle of wine? Does one ask what one can bring if it is not mentioned in the invitation?

Dear Invited:

Call Etiquetteer old-fashioned, but Etiquetteer prefers to maintain that a Lovely Note of Thanks after a dinner party is much more essential, and Perfectly Proper, than a hostess gift. That said, flowers are the safest choice for a gift, with wine running a close second. Etiquetteer ranks them in this order because the number of people who are allergic to flowers is less than the number of people who don't drink wine.

As you point out, sometimes hosts will specify what they would like to guests to bring; honor that as closely as possible. If hosts don't include a preference in their invitation, by all means ask if you're so inclined. But be warned: you might get more of an assignment than you bargained for. Etiquetteer vividly remembers asking one hostess "What may I bring?" to be given the reply "Oh, the dessert!" This was more work than Etiquetteer wanted to do, but having asked in the first place, Etiquetteer gritted his teeth and baked a cake. Etiquetteer still thinks of this as a bait-and-switch invitation; having been invited to a dinner party, it actually turned out to be a potluck.

Hosts should also be prepared for this question, and Etiquetteer encourages general instructions rather than specifics, e.g. "Oh, just a bottle of red you like that will go with roast" rather than "a couple bottles of Chateau de la Tour de Bleah 2008." This gives the guests the opportunity to stay within whatever budget they have.

But Etiquetteer really thinks the best response to that query is "Please bring a smile and a couple good stories!" A dinner guests "sings for his supper" best with a contribution not of a bottle, but of one's camaraderie and good humor.

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.

Invitations and Wedding Matters, Vol. 7, Issue 10

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve been invited to a brunch from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM. What’s an appropriate time to arrive? Dear Invited:When to arrive at any type of party seems to baffle many people, so Etiquetteer thanks you for the opportunity to present a few examples:

  • When you’re invited to a brunch that goes from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, arrive at 11:00 AM. 
  • When you’re invited to a dinner party for 8:00 PM, arrive at 8:00 PM. 
  • When you’re invited to an evening party and the invitation says 9:00 PM, arrive at 9:00 PM.
  • If you and a friend decide to meet for drinks at 6:00 PM, meet at 6:00 PM.

Are you picking up a trend here? Etiquetteer certainly hopes so, because it should be perfectly obvious that you arrive at a party when the party starts. “Fashionable lateness” is a fraud perpetuated by the Lazy and the Perpetually Tardy. Etiquetteer has long said that “For Maximum Fun Potential, arrive punctually.”This also keeps your hosts from fretting that no one will ever get there.Every rule has its exceptions, of course:

  • When you are invited to a church wedding, you may arrive up to half an hour early for the music. Do NOT expect to be seated after the procession has started! 
  • Any time “ish” is added to an invitation, add 15 minutes. If a friend says “Let’s get together about six-ish,” you can show up any time between 6:00 and 6:15. 6:30 is pushing it, and 6:45 is downright rude. 
  • “Open house” invitations mean you can arrive any time during the party and remain Perfectly Proper. Indeed, Etiquetteer just attended a lovely open house that went from 2:00 – 9:00 PM one Saturday. People came and went throughout and the hosts received them happily whenever they appeared. (Etiquetteer cannot assume that you brunch invitation was an “open house” since you don’t use those words.) 

Oddly enough, the occasion when promptness is most important is not for a party at someone’s home, but when one is dining with a large party in a restaurant that will only seat complete parties. Dear Etiquetteer:I’m getting married soon, and want to know if it’s OK to include a link to our gift registry on our wedding website. So many people ask it seems like it will be easier. Dear Bride to Be:It depends on how greedy you want to appear. If you don’t mind at all that people will think you are a grasping, selfish young lady who is only inviting people to her wedding because of the gifts she expects to receive, then by all means, post a link.Please forgive Etiquetteer’s Moment of Temper. You are very correct that a large number of guests at any wedding will ask about what a couple might want as a gift. But not everyone does, far from it. Create a registry page, by all means, but don’t provide a link to it from your wedding home page. When your guests ask you or your mother (these questions still frequently come to the bride’s mother), e-mail them the link to the registry. In this way, Perfect Propriety is preserved.And if your mother doesn’t have e-mail (still a possibility) she can go back to the old-fashioned way and tell the querents “Oh, they’re registered at [Insert Name of Retailer Here]. Just ask for the list.” Dear Etiquetteer:What should I wear to a wedding in April?Dear Guest Appearance:Regardless of the time of year, take your cues from the invitation. For an evening wedding, if it says “black tie” or one of its many tiresome variations such as “festive black tie” or “creative black tie,” then a tuxedo for the gentleman and a long gown for the lady is most Perfectly Proper.Assuming that you are invited to a wedding that begins before 5:00 PM, gentlemen would wear dark business suits and ladies could wear day dresses or suits. Etiquetteer immediately thinks of those nubbly wool Chanel suits of the early 1960s. Add a hat, and Etiquetteer will love you forever. If April in your region is cold, this is also the time to get out your fur piece. Etiquetteer remembers Edith Wharton’s amusing description of “all the old ladies of both families” at Newland Archer’s wedding to May Welland. The wedding was in earliest April, and the ladies in question had all dug out their grandmother’s fur pelisses, scarves, tippets, and muffs for the occasion . . . so much so that Newland Archer noticed the smell of camphor over the wedding flowers.

Christmas Gifts, Vol. 6, Issue 38

This column has already appeared in The Times of Southwest Louisiana for October, 2007. Etiquetteer was told on submission that a column on preparations for Christmas was the scariest type of Hallowe'en column!

Dear Etiquetteer:

As a newlywed this is the first Christmas when I face the issue of holiday giving that is truly from "both of us." My beloved isn't known for his fanciness in gift giving. He sincerely tells me that it’

s a tradition in his family to present gifts without a card and unwrapped, just tossed in the bag from the store in which it was purchased. I certainly don't want to show up my spouse or his family by violating a longstanding family tradition, but I would like to extend to my new in-laws thoughtful gifts in decorative wrapping that reflect well on "both of us." Any advice?

Dear Bride:

Eleanor Roosevelt used to say "The box is half the gift."* Somebody else said "Don’t monkey with tradition." And a second somebody else probably said something like "Hell hath no fury like a mother-in-law." On the other hand, your husband’

s family tradition of "wrapping" Christmas presents in the bags they came in just sucks the Spirit of Giving right out of Christmas for Etiquetteer.

Etiquetteer must now make a confession: Etiquetteer just can’t wrap a Christmas present and make it look perfect. Somehow the corners of the wrapping paper get bunched up, or it isn’t cut evenly, or the bow is crooked. But Etiquetteer doesn’t let that stop him from actually wrapping gifts! An unwrapped gift just doesn’t feel a special to the recipient as does something wrapped. If one can see what one’s present is when one gets it, where’

s the excitement of guessing?

For this first Christmas with your husband’s family, Etiquetteer would advise against a whole lot of fancy wrapping. Whatever gifts you choose, substitute some of those excellent Christmas gift bags you can find almost anywhere. You’re still within your new family’s tradition of giving gifts in bags, but it’

s at least one cut above the store bag.

Dear Etiquetteer:

With the holiday season nearly upon us and my coffers not what they once were, I'm thinking about doing some bulk cooking this season. Perhaps lots of cookies or candies or some other tasty morsels. My idea is that this would be my one-size-fits-all gift for party hosts, office assistants, landlady, cousins, etc. I do feel a bit guilty though about the mass production of the presents. Yes, they're not turned out by faceless workers in China but by my own sugared hands, yet it does feel a tad in its nature "impersonal". Am I being excessively concerned?

Dear Simmering:

Yes, very excessively concerned! You yourself may feel like a "faceless worker in China" by the time you get through baking a dozen dozen cookies, but the recipients will still enjoy them. To create some variety for yourself, use different types of containers and ribbons and cards for each recipient.

Henrietta Nesbitt, Eleanor Roosevelt’

s housekeeper through all four Roosevelt administrations, was not much of a housekeeper (Bess Truman fired her) but an excellent baker. Every year she routinely baked 200 pounds or more of fruitcake for the Roosevelts to send to friends, employees, and the needy. Listing all the fruits that needed to be prepared, Mrs. Nesbitt concluded "I defy any woman to chop up fruits like these, all pungent and sugary, and keep up any personal brooding. Fruitcake mixing can be heartily recommended as a cure-all for grouches and blues."

So as you commence your holiday baking, Etiquetteer hopes you will look upon the handiwork issuing from your kitchen as an agent of Joy that you have prepared specifically for a certain individual.

* Quotations cited in this column come from "White House Diary," by Henrietta Nesbitt, "F.D.R.’

s Housekeeper," Doubleday, 1948.

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Invitation vs. Invoice, Vol. 6, Issue 20

 

Dear Etiquetteer:

I am planning a Bat mitzvah, and I already know that some people are unable to attend due to other social obligations. Is it appropriate or inappropriate to send an invitation? I was told since I know that a person cannot come it obligates him/her to a gift. Yet, she already knows about the party and not to receive an invitation despite the fact that she cannot attend seems wrong. Please advise.

Dear Hostess:

Thank you for an excellent question! Etiquetteer tends to agree with you that those you've already told about the party (with the intention of inviting them) should get an invitation even if they've told you they can't come. You can always superscribe it (or enclose a note) saying, "In case your plans change we'd love to have you." Regarding your concern about the expectation of gift-giving: No matter how many people try, an invitation is not an invoice.

The mother of "Hostess" had her own response when she saw what Etiquetteer had to say:

I totally disagree with [Etiquetteer] regarding "an invitation is not an invoice." I don't think this person is very knowledgeable regarding Jewish people and Jewish affairs. In our world, an invitation is an invoice! Perfect example that just happened: [Insert Name of Friend here] was sent an invitation, couldn't come, knew she couldn't come, but sent a note and a check! That's how Jewish people were brought up. In fact, we were even given a second option: if you don't want to send money, make a donation to some organization, plant a tree in Israel, etc., etc., but we always do something if we receive an invitation and cannot attend.

Not, in fact, being Jewish, Etiquetteer certainly wasn’t going to try to pretend some insider status. Etiquetteer is privileged to know many Jews who are Paragons of Perfect Propriety, however, and turned to three of them for the Insider’s View to refute this woman’s claim that an Invitation is an Invoice:

First response: This is not a "Jewish" question. An invitation is not an invoice. However, it is true that some people, Jews and non-Jews, are rude enough essentially to demand gifts with their invitations. And many people, again Jews and non-Jews, send gifts (selectively) even when they can't attend. The flip side is that a gift is not being bartered for a meal and some drinks.

Second response: I'm so astonished (well, I suppose I shouldn't be) that I can barely formulate my reply. There is perversion and abomination in saying that the expectation of gifts in response to an invitation is something Jewish. Then again, there is perversion and abomination in the entire Bar/Bas Mitzvah/Wedding Industry. Proof of this was recently delivered to us when a young and fabulous colleague announced that he was planning a Bar Mitzvah for himself because he'd never had one -- because he isn't Jewish -- and he was still envious of all his friends who'd had these huge parties. I wish that I was making this up. On one level, these people seem to be confusing gifts in commemoration of a milestone event with the response to a charitable solicitation. In the case of the latter, I'd say that, yes, there is an understanding of obligation in Jewish law and custom. But that should not be conflated with some latter 20th-century notion of how some expect us to respond to a social invitation. As a final note, I'm deeply chagrined that these ladies would impugn Etiquetteer's sense of propriety based on his lack of Tribal Membership.

Third response: I think invitations to family and friends are appropriate even if you know they will not be able to attend. The decision about whether to send a gift and if so how generous a gift is up to them but presumably family and friends would want to send a gift anyway. I think it is inappropriate to send an invitation to people who are not family or friends, e.g. business associates of the parents, if you know that they will not be able to attend.

In rereading this correspondence, which was initiated about a month ago, Etiquetteer is inclined to rethink what the Mother in Question actually meant. It may be that, when this woman said "In our world, an invitation is an invoice!" she was not referring to the spirit in which the invitation was sent (the expectation of a gift, which would be greedy), but the impulse of the recipient to show support in spite of one’s absence from the celebration (which would be generous). Let us hope that this was the case, anyway, and that no one sending out invitations for anything, of whatever Religious Persuasion, expects any Material Return beyond a Lovely Note.

 

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Random Issues, Vol. 5, Issue 29

Dear Etiquetteer:

Do you think the term "Lezbollah" will ever take off as a way to describe lesbian activists?

Dear Tiresome:

Oh please. "Lezbollah" is rather like one of those words from the David Letterman Top Ten List of Words That Never Caught On, "Hitleriffic:" it sounds really catchy and upbeat, but it’s Wildly Inappropriate. Etiquetteer recommends another semester of PC 101 for you.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve just had the terrible experience of cleaning out my closet and finding a Christmas gift I was supposed to give to one of my neighbors last Christmas. She must think I’ve snubbed her! How can I correct this now?

Dear Absentminded:

Clearly you must invite your neighbor over for "Christmas in August" one evening. Serve Christmas cookies on red and green napkins, pour a glass of cold eggnog, and give her her present. You could even put on a Santa hat and those annoying Christmas light bulb earrings that blink on and off. Just think of this as an opportunity to grovel in a reallyspectacular way. Remember what they say in real estate: if you can’

t hide it, paint it red!

Dear Etiquetteer:

Do you think you can handle another wedding question? My fiancé and I are getting married later this year and are working out what we want the attendants to wear. The women aren’t a problem; we’ve already told them to wear black (you’ll probably get us in trouble for that). We’ve come to a disagreement about the men, though. Both of us will have on tuxedos, but the guests are just being told to come in jackets and ties. We think that asking the men to wear a dark gray suit would be OK, but we feel bad about asking them to buy a suit. And they’d all have to be the same suit, so they’d look uniform in the photos. On the other hand, there aren’t a lot of rental places that will rent suits. What would you advise us to do?

Dear Grooming:

Elope, just to keep those poor ladies from having to wear black to a wedding!

No, no, seriously, let’s look at this from the beginning. Etiquetteer feels compelled to remind you that this is the sacrament of Marriage, not a summer stock production number. Etiquetteer has some grave concerns about the ideas you’ve suggested. First and foremost, what’s all this about you being in black tie and your attendants in suits? One is evening clothes and the other is day clothes; to combine them as you suggest will look tacky. While Etiquetteer is not fond of combining a formally dressed wedding party with casually dressed wedding guests – a particularly American custom –

Etiquetteer would rather see you and your men attendants all in tuxedos or all in dark suits (that need not match). That will certainly promote the uniformity you claim to seek. You can provide different boutonnieres for yourselves to shake up the mix.

 

Reader Response: Holiday Gift Guide, Vol. 6, Issue 40

Dear Etiquetteer:

I've read your gift guide for this year and I have a few comments/suggests. Your gift guide is great for those who are not on a very limited budget. If you are, or if you are shopping for that special person who has everything, I have a few suggestions:

1) I know you are not a big fan of the gift card. I, however, love them because I take the time to find out if there might be a remodeling project the recipient might be planning yet just has saved the money to complete it. A gift card to their local home improvement center can be just the thing to complete that project or get that project started.

2) For the couple on a very limited budget and very little time, a gift card to a favorite restaurant and a night of your time to babysit if needed. Sometime that is their only night out whether or not they have kids the couple can afford.

3) There may be that special someone who has almost everything. Get them a gift card for a good bottle of wine or liquor of their choosing if they enjoy such things. Use your imagination.

4) For that elderly person on a limited budget, a gift card to [Insert Names of Big-Box Store Here] can be used for everyday items they may need. A gift card to their pharmacy to assist with their medications can be a blessing. Even a gift card for their local grocery store is greatly appreciated.

5) For children, savings bonds are great. It teaches them to save and invest wisely and it can grow along with them. Also stick in a dollar or more just to give them a little money in their pocket. Gift cards to [Insert Name of Big-Box Store Here] makes those kids feel like they are big.

6) For the elderly that want to remain at home, pay some on their caregiver services if they require them or even yard maintenance services for during the summer. This can give them that feeling of independence.

Just think outside the box. The more creative and individualized the gift, the more meaningful and appreciated. Ask people what they want. If they won't tell you, ask their family, friends, neighbors, or caregivers. Even making some cookies or candy for your shut-in neighbor or just spending a little time with them or those in the nursing homes that their families live away and can't be with them for the holidays. With the economic times like they are, the least gesture of kindness can make this the best holiday season ever.

Dear Giving Lovingly:

Well, Etiquetteer has had to rub his chin thoughtfully contemplating what you suggest. Your heart is so very much in the right place, and if you know Etiquetteer doesn’t really like gift cards, then you know Etiquetteer well!

And why is that? Because gift cards set an expectation that one deserves to get a gift that one wants, when in fact all one might deserve is a lump of coal. And really, Etiquetteer doesn’t think a gift card is that imaginative; in effect, it’s like giving in and saying, "I have no idea what to get you, so here’s some money that just isn’t cash." One also wants to avoid making the recipient feel like he or she is receiving charity. A gift should make one feel special; not that one looks like one needs help paying the bills.

Some of the other situations you describe could be addressed more imaginatively with a gift basket rather than a gift card. For the elderly, why not fill a beautiful basket with everyday necessities and a few gourmet treats and wrap it all up with a big shiny bow? Or for the person who has everything, a basket of holiday greens or other plants?

But for the family on a limited budget or undergoing a home renovation, a gift card to dinner and or the cinema (plus babysitting services) or a home improvement shop could be the perfect gift to give. And as an early recipient of savings bonds, Etiquetteer can vouch for their resulting long-lasting gratitude.

Etiquetteer was so glad to see you mention homemade holiday treats. Tins of cookies and other goodies should always be welcome in season. Really, Etiquetteer doesn’t know how he’ll face Christmas without Mrs. Keith’sincomparable shortbread hearts!

You may be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer isn’t a fan of asking people what they want for presents. It can lead to disappointment if you can’t find what they ask for, if it’s more than you want to spend, or if you just plain decide to get them something else. But detective work with mutual friends and relatives is fair game and very instructive.

Etiquetteer wants to thank you for your generous and well-meant thoughts. Would that everyone could be so Perfectly Proper!

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

 

Christmas Fallout, Vol. 4, Issue 1

Dear Etiquetteer: Is it OK to use a gift card someone gave you for Christmas to get him or her a gift? Dear Clueless Christmas Shopper: Well duh, were you going to march right up to them with the gift and tell them that’s how you bought it?! Just as guests at a restaurant party have no business knowing how their host pays for the dinner, so too should recipients of any sort of present have no interest in how their gift was paid for. Honestly . . .

Dear Etiquetteer: I want some clarification of your holiday tipping advice. My hair stylist’s salon closed down a year ago, due to the rising cost of real estate in the city. He retreated to his apartment, which he vacated as a residence and is now fitted with a hairdresser’s chair. The prices stayed the same and I continued to tip him, which I realized later was probably not the best thing to have done; I’ve always heard you don’t tip the owner of a shop, and now he’s the owner. He is the only person who cuts, but he does employ an assistant. I’m loath to stop tipping him now, because he expects it and I do like his work. But I balk at the suggestion that I have to pony up with a 100% tip at the holidays, when I’ve been gratuitously gratuitying him all year round. The base cut is $50.00; would I be considered a grinch if I give him half or a little more than that? Do I have to tip him at all if he is the owner? Dear Coiffed: Oh good gracious, this blasted tipping thing just will not go away! Can you all see why Etiquetteer abhors tipping so much?! Oh dear, please forgive Etiquetteer’s fit of pique. Not the most Perfectly Proper way to begin the New Year, is it? Under these new circumstances – now that your hairdresser has become the owner and you’ve been tipping him at each appointment – Etiquetteer thinks you can forego a holiday tip. But the next time you find yourself looking for a new coiffeur, permit Etiquetteer to suggest that you do your research in advance so that you don’t start tipping an owner from the beginning.

Dear Etiquetteer: This Christmas I feel like I committed the ultimate faux pas. While we were exchanging gifts this year I realized that I’d given a gift that still had the price tag on it! Rather than let [Insert Name of Recipient Here] see the tag, I snatched the gift away to remove it, but of course I felt very awkward. I felt really embarrassed! Dear Tagged: Your letter brought Etiquetteer back to a wedding party many years ago when Etiquetteer was honored to serve as an usher for two dear friends. Etiquetteer had found a lovely and appropriate gift at [Insert Name of High-End Purveyor of De Luxe Wedding Gifts Here], where the well-dressed saleslady arranged for it to be beautifully wrapped. Imagine Etiquetteer’s terror when, seeing the bride lift the lid off the box, the receipt was the first item to come into view! Two phrases rang simultaneously in Etiquetteer’s head: Ellen Maury Slayden’s "This is a test of breeding; keep calm" and the more general advice from the real estate world "If you can’t hide it, paint it red." Hoping for a panther’s grace and daring, Etiquetteer swiftly approached the table and grabbed the errant receipt, chuckling, "Oh dear, they weren’t supposed to wrap this!" Etiquetteer can only thank God (the Deity of Etiquetteer’s Choice) that Etiquetteer was present when the gift was unwrapped. So you see that keeping your cool is half the battle. Etiquetteer applauds your presence of mind in this situation – often discovery is so startling one becomes a deer in the headlights – but hopes that you were able to inject some humor to gloss over the awkwardness.This is where the recipient of the gift has the chance to help you out by making conversation on unrelated topics while you scrape away at those annoying adhesive tags that shred on contact. Etiquetteer once had to do this for 20 minutes while a dear friend took pricetags off every piece of a china service for six. This was, of course, mitigated by the delightful circumstance of having friends who give one china services for six . . . Of course Etiquetteer knows that you’re going to use this experience to wrap your gifts more carefully next year and include "price tag removal" as a specific step in your gift-wrapping assembly line.

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

 

Reader Response, Vol. 2, Issue 2

On Holiday Gift-Giving: I am writing to request a clarification on the "money-as-gift" issue. Are gift certificates acceptable gifts, and, if so, under what circumstances? A certificate is not quite money and, in the case of a mall-wide certificate, ensures that the recipient gets whatever s/he wants. I admit it is not the most creative gift, but avoids the unwelcome gift scenario (especially in the case of out-of-state teenaged nieces and nephews) and is at least one step removed from cash. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer will condone, reluctantly, the giving of gift certificates. Heavens, they are so popular whether Etiquetteer does or not! But so often it looks like one didn’t care to make the effort to find a real gift.  Odd answer on tipping the personal trainer. He's not an employee but a self-employed professional. Outside a narrow range of traditional professional service occupations (like hairdressers, etc.), professionals are distinguished by NOT being tipped; it actually contradicts the nature of being a professional and in certain circumstances can be sort of insulting (for example, in not-so-olden days, when it was the height of rudeness to tip the owner of a hairdressing shop). I am surprised you fell for the American habit of metastasizing the sphere of tipped occupations. I used to tip my body worker regularly, until I discovered it was very unusual, and only normal if extra time was devoted or an unusually difficult therapy was required (in other words, the session went beyond the normal work associated with the normal compensation -- in which case, it's not really a tip but adjusted compensation). Etiquetteer responds: As Etiquetteer said the first time around, “Etiquetteer prefers to think of it as a holiday bonus rather than a tip.” And for personal trainers it is hardly required. Your comments to the man who got the birdhouse are so-o-o right on! Until her death, I used to get gifts from a cousin who chose everything with jewels on it. Have you ever seen a calculator with jewel buttons? An umbrella with a jeweled handle and ruffled to boot? Then there was the problem of industrial strength perfume! But they were gifts of love so your advice had I had it would have been perfect then as today. 

On Lovely Notes of Thanks: Lovely Note Roulette is going to be a lifesaver. My parents taught me to write thank-you notes. In fact, I often didn't even get to enjoy -looking- at the gift before paper and pen were thrust under my little hands. But after decades of notes, I feel mine have become, as you so aptly put it, dorkily inadequate. Now I am confident that my notes, as heartfelt as ever, will be all the lovelier for your help.  Are you saying, then, that it would be appropriate for me to send your response to all those deadbeats out there as a not so subtle hint that I am awaiting a suitable arrangement of responses generated by Lovely Note Roulette? Etiquetteer responds: No, but you could forward that column saying that you’ve been getting this terribly amusing etiquette column and perhaps they’d enjoy receiving it every week as much as you do . . . ;-)

On Etiquetteer: Thanks so much for you thoughtful reminders about the real meaning of the holidays. I, for one, appreciate that you take the time to reflect and shareyour thoughts on matters of such importance, which often are ignored in therush of the holidays.

Etiquetteer is the first e-mail I read on Monday morning!

 

 

Certainly you don't lay awake at night conjuring up these atrocities ofetiquette misdemeanors? The language is great; the messages are well-taken, and the references are scholarly.

Etiquetteer responds: Thank you for your kind words! As others have asked as well, Etiquetteer will admit that every question published in the column has come from a reader. Except one, the question about singing the National Anthem in church, which is one of Etiquetteer’s hot-button issues (and Etiquetteer knows that the church in question has blithely continued to ignore it, leaving Etiquetteer to praise Freedom of Speech as well as Freedom of Religion.)

On the Things on Dining Room Tables: Actually, the faint presence of slightly (emphasis on faint and slightly) pinkish marks on fine linen is a hallmark of long and loving use, like the patina on sterling flatware and the stains on chargers; the petty bourgeois thing is to try to keep these things ever-new . . .

Etiquetteer responds: Then Etiquetteer will have to admit to enough petty bourgeoiserie not to want to air his dirty laundry before guests . . .

***

Where, for heavens sake, does one find a replacement service for ancient glassware?

Etiquetteer responds: Not to get into the whole product endorsement thing,but www.replacements.com has gotten Etiquetteer out of a couple scrapes in the past.

***

I have just been gifted with a wonderful hostess gift that I have never thought about giving: a dozen very nice, cream-colored tapers. They were not gift wrapped, though tied with a lovely satin ribbon so I could see what was inside and not be obligated to open, ooh, and ahh. Since I adore lighting tall candles, this is a most welcome present as they are, of course, of the highest quality.

Etiquetteer responds: How delightful that you, like Etiquetteer, know only the very best people! Your guest obviously discerned your personal preference and acted accordingly.

On Politically Correct Speech: Ye gads, Etiquetteer, how dast you refer to a sightless person as "that poor miserable blind wretch" who was brave enough to attend the theatre? You surely must flinch as you re-read that reply. Or you should. I'm not objecting to the word “blind.” It's the poor, miserable wretch, terms that I save for l8th-Century references.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer is sufficiently chastened to hang his head for a moment, even though “poor miserable blind wretch" was an accurate description of the theatergoer. Perhaps it would have been more sensitive to describe him as “wretched” instead of call him a wretch.

That said, Etiquetteer adores the 18th Century, except for the plumbing, sexism, religious intolerance, health care, economic injustice, and corsets. Language was certainly more colorful then, and one does get mighty frustrated with the sanctimonious ostentation of bloodless "correct" terms like "visually-impaired" or "mobility-impaired.”

ETIQUETTEER, Encouraging Perfect Propriety in an Imperfect WorldTo subscribe: rbdimmick@earthlink.netTo unsubscribe: rbdimmick@earthlink.netTo submit questions: rbdimmick@earthlink.netCopyright 2002, 2003 by Robert B. Dimmick

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