When Thanks Are Implied But Not Delivered, Vol. 15, Issue 12

Dear Etiquetteer: I did a favor for someone which involved some effort on my part, but which I did willingly and with no thought of any repayment or gift.  I received an e-mail from this person a few weeks ago saying he wanted to send me something and asking for my home address.  Now, several weeks later, nothing has arrived.  I don't care about the gift (in fact, I'm embarrassed by it), and I don't care if the person has procrastinated (my own failing) or forgotten.  But I'd feel bad if something was lost in the mail.  My inclination is to not say anything, but then the person might be waiting for some thanks from me or comment on the gift (if in fact it was a gift and not just a thank you card).  Should I say anything?

Dear Expectant:

A specific query could inspire Wholesome Feelings of Guilt in your Debtor in Favors, resulting in Glorious Tribute or at least a Lovely Note. But Etiquetteer is inclined, as the old saying goes, to "let sleeping dogs lie." Procrastinators* often continue procrastinating regardless of the clues and hints lobbed at them. While sensitive to your own wish not to appear ungrateful or neglectful, Etiquetteer advises that you continue to interact with this person just a bit more than you usually do, but without mentioning this issue. For instance, if you talk on the phone once a month, you might now talk on the phone every three weeks; if you email once daily, you might email twice daily. This will give your Debtor in Favors more opportunities either to ask you if you received your Glorious Tribute, or foster Wholesome Feelings of Guilt about not having done anything for you yet - which Etiquetteer hopes will result in Action.

smalletiquetteer

*Etiquetteer is constantly Wagging an Admonitory Digit at That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much.

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!

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

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

 

Broken Gifts, Vol. 13, Issue 48

Dear Etiquetteer: A wedding gift arrived in the mail today from a seller on [Insert Name of Popular Craft Website Here], a charming vintage martini set. One of the martini glasses arrived broken. Do I tell the gift giver that this happened, do I contact the seller with this information, or do I just write a lovely thank you note and forget about it. One pitcher and two glasses, so the set is mostly useless. Unless one is making martinis for oneself only.

Dear Shaken and Shattered:

Etiquetteer certainly hopes that your fledgling marriage hasn't already arrived at the state where you find it necessary to make martinis for one! Usually it takes a few years to get to that unhappy state of affairs . . . and often it's an unhappy affair that gets one to that state.

Receiving a gift that's broken is different from receiving a gift that's unwanted. In the latter case, as Etiquetteer has said so often, no one cares what you want or how you feel. Send a Lovely Note anyway and then put it in your next yard sale, regift outside your Circle of Mutual Acquaintance, or contribute it to a Worthy Tax-Deductible Cause.

But surely it was not the intention of your Benefactor to send you a broken gift to celebrate your wedding. In this case Etiquetteer recommends that you contact your Benefactor with this information right away so that he or she may resolve the situation; this means by phone or email, not a Lovely Note. You should not be asked to do more than repackage the gift to be returned and to receive the apologies of your Benefactor for the inconvenience. Etiquetteer recommends this approach since your Benefactor already has a customer/vendor relationship with the Online Vendor. For all Etiquetteer knows, your Benefactor orders frequently from this Online Vendor. News of deficient service (as well as how satisfactorily the Online Vendor responds) could impact that relationship. Indeed, you may be sufficiently satisfied to become a customer yourself.

At all times you should reassure your Benefactor of how much you appreciate his or her thoughtfulness and generosity, and then send a Lovely Note as soon as an (unbroken) substitute gift is received.

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.

Holiday Gift-Giving and Money, Vol. 12, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: I take my god daughter and her brother to [Insert Large Traditional Holiday Entertainment Here] every year. Their parents come, but their tickets are not part of my gift. Last year they gave me a check for their own tickets. This year they did not. Is there a polite way to ask for the check, or am I [Insert Euphemism Here]?

Dear Godfather:

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year always reveals that Absentmindedness is the true Gift That Keeps on Giving. It's always more Perfectly Proper to assume Absentmindedness in such cases, rather than Malice or Cheapness. It's possible that you could introduce the topic with the parents by claiming the absentmindedness was yours rather than theirs, such as "In the excitement of taking Ethelred and Ethelredina to [Insert Large Traditional Holiday Entertainment Here] I did not remember to get your check. Would you mind awfully sending it to me? I do enjoy making this possible for the children!"

Etiquetteer must caution against the Worst-Case Scenario, in which the parents respond that they had no idea they had to pay for their tickets this year. Etiquetteer hopes you specified that in the invitation, but no one wants Max Fabyan hollering "Dees ees for lawyers to talk about!" as part of what is supposed to be a Happy Time. If they do, in the interests of Harmony, it might be best to drop it - but to be careful to specify it in invitations for all subsequent years.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I usually tip my cleaning lady the amount of a regular cleaning at Christmas. This year she will be cleaning the week after Thanksgiving and just before New Year. So, do I give it to her on early or late December. I am FIRMLY opposed to holiday creep, but . . .

Dear Householder:

Tip on your regular schedule. While the holiday cleaning is beginning earlier in your household this year, it's still ending at the same time.

Tomorrow night, Monday, December 9, Etiquetteer will a festive celebration of the anniversary of Prohibition's Repeal at The Gibson House Museum in Boston, including a few brief remarks on the Culture of Alcohol Concealment that Prohibition helped foster. It will be an amusing time!

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.

Reflections on Wedding Invitations, Gifts, and Attitudes, Vol. 12, Issue 13

Etiquetteer has been relieved of the burden of wedding invitations this summer. Consider that sentence for a moment. Isn't it a pity that so many people consider an invitation to a wedding a burden, rather than a Happy Occasion to celebrate a Joyous Marriage with friends and relations? Etiquetteer is of the completely subjective and entirely unresearched opinion that there are two causes: the expense of attending a wedding for a guest (especially travel, which is not only expensive but inconvenient) and the selfish behavior of brides that led to the coining of the term "bridezilla" several years ago. These two causes combine in the selection of a gift for the Happy Couple. Etiquetteer was deeply sorry to read last week about a bride who was sufficiently unbalanced to call out her friends on social media for what she perceived as their inadequate generosity. First of all it's vulgar in the extreme to mention how much money was spent to entertain your guests. You invite friends (or the friends of your parents) to a wedding for the pleasure of their company, not because you expect them to cover the costs of their own entertainment*. Second, your wedding is not as important to your friends as it is to you; no doubt there are other, more important claims on their resources than your Gaping Maw of Bridal Need. And third, criticizing someone so bluntly on social media about their behavior is just as bad as, if not worse than, doing so to their faces. Brides who follow this example deserve to lose a lot of friends.

With the advent of social media, some confusion has also spread over how to interpret how one receives knowledge of a wedding -- or, to be completely candid, when to suspect that the only reason you're hearing is that the Happy Couple expects a gift. Over at Etiquetteer's Facebook page (speaking of social media), Etiquetteer recalled learning of the wedding of a Friend of Etiquetteer's Youth from Dear Mother; the invitation had been addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. [Parents of Etiquetteer] and Etiquetteer," which is far from Perfectly Proper. Why, you ask? Because at the time the invitation was sent, Etiquetteer was not only well over the Age of Consent, but also not living under the parental roof. Anyone over the age of 21 deserves his or her own engraved invitation sent to his or her own address; attempting to economize by doubling up invitations to parents and grown children makes you look shabby. Saying you can't find that person's address no longer serves as an excuse, thanks to the Internet.

This led to the question of how to respond to wedding invitations from Long Unheard-of Schoolfellows who haven't been heard from in so long that their motives are suspect. Back before the Internet (and before brides expected everyone to Travel the Earth on Command), wedding announcements were sent instead of invitations, something along the lines of

Mr. and Mrs. Fairleigh Freshness

announce the marriage of their daughter

Miss Dewy Freshness

to Mr. Manley Firmness

on [Insert Date Here].

Frequently a little address card would be included so that recipients would know where the Happy Couple would be living. You must remember that this was before the days of "Live Together First:"

Mr. and Mrs. Manley Firmness

After [Insert Date After Honeymoon Here]

5456 Cottage Lane, Apartment Six

Verdant Greens, New Jersey

Receipt of a wedding announcement was taken as information that the Happy Couple felt you should know, but not with the expectation of a gift. As much as Etiquetteer enjoys social media and other electronic communications, Etiquetteer would rather like to see engraved wedding announcements come back.

Should you receive a wedding invitation from someone you haven't heard of in many years, put pen to paper at once and send a Lovely Note of Congratulations along with your Infinite Regret that you cannot attend in person. And that concludes your obligation.

*If the costs are really bothering you, have a simpler wedding and invite fewer people.

Seven Actions for Perfect Propriety in Public Life in the New Year, Vol. 12, Issue 2

Here we are, embarked on a New Year, and Etiquetteer is working hard to maintain a Feeling of Hope for increasing Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer has identified seven areas -- some simple, some quixotic -- where action should be taken. At once. 1. Homeowner associations (HOAs) need to write exceptions into their governing documents allowing homeowners to display the American flag on or from their properties without being fined or censured. Every year an HOA makes the news when it sues or fines a homeowner who displays an American flag on his or her property against the HOA rules about decorations and displays. These stories are even more poignant when the flag is tattered or in otherwise less-than-perfect condition, usually because of its association with a family member who died in service to this nation. If you live in an HOA, take the initiative now to modify your bylaws to permit display of the American flag on one's property.

2. Anyone who has charge of an escalator, whether it's in a shopping mall, transportation hub, government or office building, or any other public place, needs to be sure that every rider knows that standing is on the right, and passing is on the left. This can be achieved with signage or a painted line down the center.

3. Retailers need to stop colonizing private life and pandering to our baser instincts by scheduling outrageous sales events on holidays - and we need to stop letting them do it by buying into this manufactured "excitement." Etiquetteer was outraged that some retailers actually scheduled some sales to begin on Thanksgiving Day Itself, and appalled viewing some of the video footage of the Black Friday mélee. Etiquetteer has extreme difficulty reconciling this with the True Spirit of Christmas. If it was up to Etiquetteer -- which, of course, it ought to be -- Black Friday sales would not be allowed to begin until 10:00 AM on Friday. Even if the retailers don't, Etiquetteer wants you to make the commitment to refrain from shopping on holidays.

4. Unfortunately, Western civilization has reached such a low level of sloth, selfishness, or contempt that more and more people don't care about being properly dressed in public. Indeed, many don't even know what proper dress is. With great reluctance, Etiquetteer must endorse the use of instructional signage, such as "No Visible Undergarments" and "No Sleepwear" so that standards can be reinforced.

5. Theatres and concert halls need to enforce more vigorously the rule not to use recording devices of any kind (cameras, recorders, smartphones, etc.) during concerts. Anyone who has ever had their view of a performance blocked by rows of upraised arms with iPhones will appreciate this. Etiquetteer believes that violators should be evicted, which means that ushers will need to be more vigilant and prowl the aisles during performances more often. (It is interesting to muse on how differently Woodstock might have affected Western culture if everyone there had had a smartphone or videocamera. Etiquetteer is mighty relieved they didn't.)

6. The battle between drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians must stop. To quote Stu Ackerman, "There is only 'we.' 'Them' is a hallucination born of fear." Everyone has the same goal: to get wherever they're going as quickly as possible. Etiquetteer would like them to get there as safely as possible, too. And this means being aware of one's own situation and of other travelers around one. For pedestrians, it means looking left, right, and left again before walking across the street -- and only at intersections. For drivers, it means knowing where one is going before getting in the car and relying on an often-faulty GPS. For cyclists, it means awareness that both pedestrians and drivers, through no fault of their own, will have to cross the bike lane. For all it means putting away one's electronic devices so that one can travel with full concentration and without distraction! Etiquetteer's heart has leapt into his mouth more than once seeing a pedestrian blithely walk into an intersection while staring intently at a smartphone screen, or a driver making a sharp left turn with one hand on the wheel and cellphone held to the ear. In summary, no one group of travelers is evil, as many would like to think. Rather, there are impatient and inattentive travelers in each group. Etiquetteer urges you to represent the best aspects of your particular Mode of Travel.

7. If parents are not going to enforce Perfect Propriety in their children when dining out, restaurants are going to start having to do it for them by either asking them to leave, being sure they know not to come back until the children can behave, or banning children altogether. While hastily acknowledging the very many good and attentive parents who understand and train their children well, Etiquetteer must note that the legions of oblivious and ineffective parents make dining out difficult for everyone.* The stories from waiters and waitresses (one need only search the Web) can curl one's hair.

And that, as they say, is that. Etiquetteer welcomes your Perfectly Proper queries resulting from these recommendations at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

*It's worth noting, too, that every time Etiquetteer sees a news story about Chuck E. Cheese, it's because grownups started a brawl there.

Returning Wedding Gifts, Vol. 11, Issue 13

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

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

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

Dear Unregifted:

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

The wedding between

Miss Dewy Freshness

and

Mr. Manley Firmness

will not take place.

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

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

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

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

Lessons from Childhood, Vol. 10, Issue 7

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

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

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

Random Issues, Vol. 9, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:
Last night, I took a dear friend as my guest to an expensive art gallery dinner, held in honor of a newly opened show. It was meant to be a special treat for us, as my friend is just emerging into social life again, after a devastating divorce.
Unfortunately, we were seated at a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious. After attempting polite introductions and brief small talk with our fellow diners, we two girlfriends tried to converse quietly together. But conversation was rendered impossible by the group's rude comments, and shenanigans such as dinner rolls being thrown across the table.
The room was otherwise full, and no alternative seats were available. The gallery owner ignored the situation. I was mortified to subject my friend to such obnoxious buffoonery. She is not native to the US, and the group even mocked the pronunciation of her name. We left as soon as the dessert had been served.
What on earth can one do to rescue such an evening, short of leaving as soon as possible? I apologized to my friend for the disastrous experience. As her her host, what else should I have done?
Dear Subjected:
Etiquetteer can only respond to you with the deepest compassion. The only thing worse than dining with "a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious" is dining with "a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious" who are your closest friends of whom you expected better.
The best way to guarantee your enjoyment at the sort of dinner you describe, which sounds suspiciously like a fund-raiser, is to round up enough friends and acquaintances to fill a table. As you have sadly learned, when Money is the only criterion for entrée, ladies and gentlemen are not safe from Bad Manners. (The roll-throwing tempted Etiquetteer to hope that perhaps these drunken bawds had once read P.G. Wodehouse, but this does not really seem likely. There are restaurants that cater to the roll-throwing crowd, like Lambert's Café, a more likely influence.)
It seems that you did everything possible at the time to salvage the evening, except speaking directly with the gallery owner. You indicate that s/he was ignoring the situation; you had the power to call it to his/her attention in no uncertain terms, by beckoning, or at worst, leaving your table and going to him/her. Another temporary solution might have been to take your dessert into the lobby.
Now that this ghastly dinner is behind you, Etiquetteer encourages you to create a new social opportunity for your newly-divorced friend: a dinner party in your own home given in her honor, with your own friends whose Perfect Propriety you know well enough in advance. You may also correspond with the gallery owner and sever any possible future connection with that organization.

Dear Etiquetteer:
I am a new, part-time teacher at my school.  I teach music in a building that is away from the main building and I very rarely socialize with other teachers; I'm just not around them much and don't eat lunch with them or chat in the teacher's lounge.  I received an invitation to a bridal shower for one of my coworkers.  He is getting married soon and I only know him by his last name.  I met his wife at the Christmas staff party, but can't remember her name.

What should I do about this shower?  I don't want to go, because I don't know the groom at all, and I know the bride even less.  Do I have to send a gift if I wimp out on attending?

Dear Teaching:
Undoubtedly this invitation was sent to all school faculty as a courtesy, and the groom didn't want you (or others) to feel left out. At least, that's how Etiquetteer could explain this situation charitably. (Whoever heard of a groom inviting professional colleagues to his fiancée's bridal shower?!) You need not attend, or send a gift, but please do send a Lovely Note of Congratulations to the Happy Couple on your most Perfectly Proper stationery.

Weighty Questions, Vol. 7, Issue 18

Dear Etiquetteer:I have lost a ****load (literally) of weight. I have 5 large black garbage bags full of too-big clothes, and I have a friend I know can wear them and really needs them. Would it be crass of me to offer them to her - "Here are my fat clothes, I thought you could wear them", or should I discreetly donate them to a charity? They are all top brands and clean.   Dear Svelter: No reference to avoirdupois need come into your offer to your friend. Say something like "I'm getting rid of a lot of things and wanted to offer you first pick before I take them too [Insert Charity of Your Choice Here]." In subsequent conversations don't even make a reference to her current, and your former, size. It can be the . . . forgive me the pun . . . "the elephant in the room."

Another Broke Bridesmaid, Vol. 7 Issue 17

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a bit of a dilemma! I am a bridesmaid in a coworker's wedding. This makes me infinitely happy as I adore her. Her maid of honor, not so much. I understand and appreciate her stress in aiding the bride, but I am starting to get frustrated. I have spent over $1,000 on this wedding buying a dress and two round-trip plane tickets to attend the bridal shower and wedding. Despite this great expense I am being asked for even more money for "expenses" that I do not understand. These requests range from $50 to $200. I am planning on opting out of the combined bridesmaid's gift and instead am buying a gift with my other coworkers that better fits my budget.

Is it appropriate to politely refuse to fork over any more money? I am a poor college student with little disposable income. I'm starting to think I'll have to sacrifice buying books to keep up! Help! 

Dear Broke Bridesmaid: 

Etiquetteer has heard of Bridezilla - he has even met her a few times - but never Maidzilla. Etiquetteer declares that you, and other Beleaguered Bridesmaids, need not contribute to "expenses" in which you have had no selection or decision. And really, Etiquetteer would have excused you from attending the bridal shower in person due to the distance and expense involved. Someday American women will realize that the fantasy of having a Great Big Wedding need not be based on the outmoded stereotype of a clique of 19-year-old high school graduates who all live in the same neighborhood and can band together easily for wedding activities.

When Maidzilla solicits or invoices you again, you must tell her - with Perfect Propriety and Complete Calm - that you're unable to contribute any more money to the wedding effort since funding your education is now in jeopardy, which you KNOW is not what the bride wants for you. Maidzilla may toss a little tantrum at you; while it may be tempting to respond in kind, use all your control to Remain Calm. Taking the high road will only make her look even more petty and grasping. 

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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Random Issues and Comments, Vol. 6, Issue 22

This column appeared in the June 15 issue of The Times of Southwest Louisiana.

The death last month of Etiquetteer’s dear friend, Keith Gates, saddened all true lovers of Music and of Perfect Propriety in the Imperial Calcasieu area. At such times it is right and good to think about the influence our friends have on us, and Etiquetteer has been drawn to consider many people from Earlier Life who guided Etiquetteer in the ways of Perfect Propriety, including Keith.

These days the definition of "informal" seems to be "no visible tattoos or underwear," but it was Keith Gates Himself who taught a Teenage Etiquetteer its true definition, which for gentlemen is "coat and tie." Long ago in 1983, when Teenage Etiquetteer was briefly one of Keith’s students, Keith and the Perfectly Poised Christa kindly accepted an invitation to an "informal" dinner. Etiquetteer, not yet wise in the ways of the world, answered the door in shirtsleeves and couldn’t quite conceal his astonishment to see dinner guests dressed as though for church. Keith’s quiet example, underlined only by an arched eyebrow and his usual smile, could not have been more effective in getting across Who Was Correct and Who Was Not.

Keith’s examples of how to respond to a question with silence and how to make impromptu guests feel welcome and not in the way will long shine for Etiquetteer and, hopefully, all those who care about compassion. He was not only a Great Artist, but a true Christian Gentleman.

It’s often been said that "It takes a village to raise a child." Aside from Etiquetteer’s parents – who know all about Perfect Propriety – many villagers invested their time in Etiquetteer’s manners. From the neighbor across the street who explained that you don’t just walk into people’s houses without knocking to the many bad examples in the schoolyard, Etiquetteer learned a lot. From the late Rev. James Ailor, Etiquetteer learned that you never ever scream in pain during the benediction, no matter how hard the person next to you is maliciously squeezing the blister on your finger. Etiquetteer’s redoubtable grand-aunt, Kate Thompson, would sternly admonish "Ladies!" if ever Young Etiquetteer’s enthusiasm caused him to dash for the front of the line.

And since it’s just past Father’s Day, it’s appropriate to recall one of the many lessons Etiquetteer’s own father taught him: don’t buy gaudy jewelry for a girl you’re not really dating yet, and really, don’t buy gaudy jewelry at all. (Etiquetteer still remembers those earrings . . . and tastes do change, thank goodness.)

On a completely different note, Etiquetteer has to lash out at Andrew Speaker, the Atlanta lawyer who flew to Europe knowing he had tuberculosis and was exposing this disease to others around him. Ayn Rand may have written about "The Virtue of Selfishness," but Etiquetteer can find no virtue here! Hasn’t he ever seen "La Boheme?" Modern medicine aside, people still die of tuberculosis. Etiquetteer is appalled that he and his wife would travel across the world with that knowledge. This gives not only lawyers, but destination weddings, a bad name.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I was raised to write thank-you notes. I do enjoy getting thank-you notes in return when I give time and effort to picking out a gift or for donating time to a special cause. Recently, I took special effort in picking out the perfect baby gift for a co-worker and was promptly surprised by a thank-you email with an attached thank-you Powerpoint presentation. I will say that I believe this was a first for me. Has the computer age taken over so much that people should not put pen to paper in appreciation?

Dear Thanked:

Certainly not! While appreciating your co-worker’s eagerness to thank you right away for your generosity, it certainly doesn’t excuse her from actually writing a Lovely Note on Actual Stationery to you.

 

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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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