2015: A Year in Review, Vol. 14, Issue 47

Like any other year, 2015 held its share of Issues of Perfect Propriety - or the lack of it - in the news. Yes, people are still behaving badly everywhere, sometime astonishly so. ENTERTAINING AT HOME

January saw one British family invoice another when their child failed to attend a birthday party. Etiquetteer wrote about this issue here, but the most Perfectly Proper way to deal with no-shows is to stop sending them invitations. Certainly one doesn't make a scene involving one's children, or the children of others. A wedding guest in Minnesota also got a bill from a Bridal Couple when they failed to attend the wedding. As frustrating and expensive as no-shows are, it's not Perfectly Proper to bill them.

THE WEATHER

New England was hammered with record-shattering blizzards in winter, which led one sexagenarian female to attack another with a snow blower. As the police chief involved said, “Emotions may run high during a historic weather event like the Blizzard we just endured, but that is no excuse for violence.” Etiquetteer couldn't agree more. Indeed, it inspired Etiquetteer to write on blizzard etiquette. And conditions deteriorated so much that later on Etiquetteer had to write even more.

RESTAURANTS AND FOOD

This year also saw the rise of a terrible practice, that of making multiple dinner reservations at different restaurants for the same time. While this increases one individual's options, it's discourteous to other diners, and disastrous to restaurants, who count on filling every seat to pay their bills. Stop it at once! Another restaurant issue to hit the news was the number of people claiming "allergies" for preferential treatment. And speaking of people who are precious about their food, even the Thanksgiving table is a battleground now. Etiquetteer rather wishes people would just be grateful there's something to eat . . .

TOURISTS

The behavior of tourists made the news this year. American tourists were caught carving their names into the Colosseum in Rome. The twenty-something California women managed one initial each before getting caught. Remember, take only photos, leave only footprints. But don't take photos of someone's bedrooms. Harvard University had to issue new rules for tourists to protect the privacy of their students. And you might want to think about taking photos at the 9/11 Memorial in New York. One writer called out tourist behavior there, especially around selfie sticks.

CLOTHING AND FASHION

Anno Domini 2015 saw the rise of "athleisure wear" - shudder - which has led children to reject denim for public wear in favor of sweatpants.  There was also the Suitsy, the business suit onesie. This article explains, rather fascinatingly, why we're dressing so casually now.

Also, musicians are taking a stand about their standard uniforms of white-tie or black-tie formal attire. In another direction, see-through wedding dresses are being promoted by designers. Of course Etiquetteer thinks they're Perfectly Proper - if you're getting married at the Folies Bergere. Another fashion trend that needs to end is the sloppy manbun, now also available as a hairpiece. Sadly.

First Lady Michelle Obama made the news when she didn't cover her hair on a brief visit to Riyadh to meet King Salman of Saudi Arabia. Her allegedly bold and courageous stance in not wearing a headscarf was, in fact, Perfectly Proper diplomatic protocol, as was shown by photographs of previous First Ladies and Female World Leaders like Angela Merkel, also without headscarves while meeting Saudi dignitaries. The Duchess of Cambridge made a fashion choice that brought coverage for a different reason: wearing a bright red gown for a state dinner in honor of China. Since red is the national color of China, that was not just Perfectly Proper, but also Deftly Diplomatic.

Higher Education is supposed to teach students about making Appropriate Life Choices, such as wearing shoes that will not make you fall over. Etiquetteer felt alternately sorry and embarrassed for this young woman who floundered through her graduation because of her shoes. Conversely, ladies in flats were turned away from screenings at the Cannes Film Festival. Please, ladies and film festivals, safety first!

EXHIBITIONISM

Under the guise of asking a question of Senator Rick Santorum, Virginia Eleasor let out an incoherent rant against President Obama, accusing him of nuking Charleston. This led Etiquetteer to ask questioners at public events whether they really want to ask questions or make their own speeches.

AIR TRAVEL

Regarding air travel, The Boston Globe reported on the rising phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who, when flying, refuse to sit next to women not their wives on religious grounds. Later in the year The New York Times wrote about the increasingly fraught sport of seat-swapping on airplanes. One man no doubt wanted to switch seats after his seatmate repeatedly stabbed him with a pen because he was snoring. Violence against fellow passengers is never Perfectly Proper. Etiquetteer would have put that seatmate on a no-fly list.

THE THEATRE

Stories about bad behavior in theatres continued to make the news in 2015, including Madonna Herself, who was not invited backstage after a performance of Hamilton because the cast saw her texting throughout Act II. But even Madonna was upstaged by the young man who went onstage before a performance to recharge his cellphone on the set! And even that Astonishing Event was eclipsed by the woman who went backstage to ask the actors where the restroom was during a performance.

Benedict Cumberbatch, a True Gentleman, appealed to his fans in a Most Perfectly Proper Way not to use devices during performances.

CHILDREN

This year Etiquetteer tried out a March Madness-style survey of Pet Peeves. The winner, from the Table Manners/Dining Out category: Ill-Mannered Children of Complacent Parents. And in fact, there were some related news stories. A little girl's meltdown at a White House function led Etiquetteer to wish more parents used babysitters, for instance. But the champion news story on this topic - and perhaps for the entire year - has to go to the incident at Marcy's Diner, when the owner yelled at a crying toddler who wouldn't shut up.

GENERALLY IMPROPER BEHAVIOR

Anno Domini 2015 began with a story about a woman in Florida shaving her - ahem - "bikini area" while operating a motor vehicle. While Etiquetteer understand the desire to be completely groomed before arriving at one's destination, Etiquetteer longs for the day when it was understood that ladies and gentlemen were completely groomed before they left the house.

Both Vice President Joe Biden and actor John Travolta came in for criticism for getting too "up close and personal" for greetings with Ladies Not Their Wives.

A Florida fraternity got itself into a colossal amount of trouble at its spring formal when drunk fraternity boys spit on wounded veterans, stole their American flags, and urinated on them. It should be needless to say that these aren't the values any fraternity is supposed to inculcate into its members.

Thirty people got in a fight over whether or not someone cut in line to use a waffle maker. Sometimes it's best not to escalate the situation. Sometimes it's best to stay in a hotel with a proper restaurant with a proper cook to make the waffles.

Perfect Propriety and pets moved uneasily in a Brooklyn building where dog waste in stairwell and elevators was becoming an issue.

And finally, a South Carolina politician used his holiday greetings to express his unhappiness over a vote on displaying the Confederate flag by enclosing this message: “May you take this joyous time as an opportunity to ask forgiveness of all your sins, such as betrayal.” Rather like getting a lump of coal in the mail.

And with that, allow Etiquetteer to wish you a Happy and Perfectly Proper New Year in 2016!

smalletiquetteer

A Gentleman's Suits, Vol. 15, Issue 45

Dear Etiquetteer: I have found myself in the thick of the holiday suit season. I have noticed many more suits on the loose these days. With this I have also noticed many men have decided not to (or didn't know to) pull the stitch in back of the suit that keeps the fabric "split" or "box" in prime rack display. Is one supposed to always pull that stitch? Does this apply to all pockets on the blazer suit jacket as well? How would one tell a stranger that this should be fixed, so the rest of the world may not judge them on their wrinkly butt? Holiday suits abound!

Dear Suitably Suited:

Good heavens! A gentleman always cuts the large X stitch that anchors the suit vent closed before wearing. One doesn't want to walk about as though "X marks the spot." This applies whether the suit has one center vent or two side vents. Were one to leave the stitches in, one might reasonably be asked why one wanted vents in one's suit coat at all.

gloves

As we're talking about the winter holidays and suits, Etiquetteer should add that some Deft Seasonal Touches are always Perfectly Proper with a suit. By Deft Seasonal Touches, Etiquetteer means incorporating holiday motifs into one's outfit. For instance, ties, pocket squares, and socks with holiday motifs or colors add something special to a gentleman's look. For instance, this red-and-green bow tie with crawfish pattern reflects not only Christmas colors but also Etiquetteer's Southern heritage.

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But a gentleman needs to keep from overdoing it. While Holiday Excess is favored with home exterior and interior decoration, it isn't for the clothes of a gentleman. And the Ugly Christmas Sweater Suits being offered online are really more appropriate for a costume party rather than daily wear or, more portentously, the Office Holiday Party at which professional reputations are undone. As Auntie Mame said to Agnes Gooch, "Put down that lime green at once. You're supposed to dominate it!"

Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus! Etiquetteer's Position on Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," Vol. 14, Issue 43

The first Sunday of Advent launches non-retail activities celebrated as part of the Christmas Season*, including many many performances of Handel's most famous oratorio, The Messiah. At least part of it is famous, the "Hallelujah Chorus," an indispensable part of Christmas for hundreds of thousands who don't otherwise care a rap for choral music. Aside from its Joyous Blasts of Righteous Celebration, this chorus includes one of the most anachronistic holiday traditions, that of the audience standing during its performance. To Etiquetteer's surprise, the origin of this custom has become lost in the mists of time. Etiquetteer always believed the story of George II being so moved by Handel's music that he stood and moved to the front of the royal box, and we all know that no one remains seated when a ruler is standing. Apparently, this charming story can't be substantiated, according to this thorough Boston Globe article from 2009. Frankly, Etiquetteer doesn't understand how anyone could be against this Rather Charming Tradition. After all, if Charles Ives can compose something like his Yale-Princeton Football Game** that often requires audience participation (playing kazoos and cheering), then how can one object to audience participation that involves less effort?

Etiquetteer's purpose is less establishing What Really Happened than advising present-day Messiah concertgoers what to do. First, decide before you go whether or not you intend to stand. If you are attending with others, solicit their opinions (but keep from having a Tedious Discussion of Disagreement.) Prepare to stand silently - this Rather Charming Tradition is sometimes marred by a loud clattering of seats - by securing your belongings that might fall when you rise, like a program, a coat, a handbag, or an open bag of cough drops.  And when the conductor has called forward the Familiar First Blast from the orchestra, rise calmly and remain standing until the last hallelujah. There are those conductors, aware of the tradition, who will turn and cue the audience. Etiquetteer supposes that this eliminates some confusion, but wishes that it wasn't considered necessary.

One thing you must NOT do is Glare Menacingly at those who are standing (if you remain seated) or seated (if you stand up). And most important, don't stand up smugly with an air being better than everyone seated around you who can't figure out what to do.

And if you prefer not to stand, Etiquetteer does not condemn you, but encourages you to close your eyes and think of England. Do not complain about your view being blocked; on this one occasion it's a risk that must be taken.

Etiquetteer should add that this Rather Charming Tradition applies no matter what arrangement of the Messiah is being performed, the more austere and Perfectly Proper arrangement prepared by Handel Himself, or the Ostentatiously Exuberant Cacophany put forward by Sir Thomas Beecham, sadly favored by That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much. (While he weeps with Tender Appreciation over every extra phalanx of brass and percussion instruments, Etiquetteer can distinctly hear in the background the kitchen sink that was thrown in. All that seems to be missing are gongs and bagpipes.)

Now run along and have a nice time, and be grateful you don't have to worry about leaving your sword or hoopskirt at home "to make room for more company," as those attending the Messiah premiere did.

gloves

Etiquetteer's 2015 Holiday Gift Guide is out if you require some assistance in finding a Perfectly Proper Present this year. And if you have concerns about difficulties over the holidays, please drop Etiquetteer a line at queries_@_etiquetteer_dot_com. Etiquetteer wants to help.

smalletiquetteer

*Theologians may point out that the Christmas Season begins liturgically on Christmas Eve, and they are entirely correct. Secular practice, however, points to the day after Thanksgiving, known popularly by its ominous title Black Friday.

**How annoying not to find a recording of this interesting piece of music that does include audience participation. This link seems representative of what's available.

Lovely Notes of Thanks, Vol. 13, Issue 62

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

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

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.

The War on Christmas, Vol. 11, Issue 19

For some time Etiquetteer has had a presence on Facebook, which is the source of today's query: Dear Etiquetteer:

What does Etiquetteer think of the people who are griping about being told "Happy Holidays" instead of Merry Christmas? I think people should just take the salutation at face value, and not get ornery about how it's given!

Dear Greeted:

Etiquetteer, with increasing dismay, has seen something that is really quite trivial become a flashpoint for annoyance. Really, some people take offense at any other holiday greeting but the one that they celebrate themselves. And yet in a democratic society which enjoys Freedom of Religion, it's inevitable that one will encounter at least 12 people who Choose Another Holiday Than One's Own.

You may not be responsible for the behavior of other people, but you are certainly responsible for your own. There's nothing to stop you from replying "And a Merry Christmas to you!" What Etiquetteer finds tedious is lengthening what is supposed to be a brief greeting -- "Merry Christmas!" "And a happy holiday to you, too!" --  into a drawn-out discussion about what holidays one does or does not celebrate and why. It doesn't matter! Can't you all just wish each other well without getting lost in a Quagmire of Specificity?

Actually, for social and professional acquaintances, Etiquetteer does understand. Knowing what holidays a person celebrates helps others to understand that person. Responding to "Happy Holidays!" with "Thank you, I'm looking forward to a beautiful Christmas this year" establishes oneself as a Christmas celebrant* without offering offense. Nor should offense be taken. Further discussion, however, easily becomes unctuous and should be avoided.

Those who truly wish, as the saying goes, "to keep the Christ in Christmas," do so best by receiving greetings other than "Merry Christmas," with Christlike forbearance, in the spirit in which they were intended.

Another issue which Etiquetteer has watched with increasing dismay is the bitter battle between those advocating for and against the display of nativity scenes on public property throughout the United States. This honest disagreement has led many Christians to behave in ways other than what is espoused in Christian doctrine. What is the best way to display Christian values or virtues? Is it insisting on Christian precedence in a nation that enjoys Freedom of Religion? Is it by emphasizing the display aspects of an important holiday over its intended message? Opinions vary widely.

Etiquetteer has come to believe that the best way to display a nativity scene in public is in one's behavior. This is done by treating all one encounters, regardless of sameness to or difference from oneself, with kindness and forgiveness. It also means obeying established rules of behavior, both written and unwritten. For instance, the able-bodied should not be parking in places reserved for the handicapped, bargain hunters should not be switching price tags, and no one should be cutting in line.

Now, let's get on with everyone celebrating the Holidays of Their Choice!

*So many non-Christians celebrate Christmas, Etiquetteer can't really assume that saying you celebrate Christmas establishes you as a Christian.

Holiday Fallout, Vol. 8, Issue 1

Dear Etiquetteer: About a month before the holidays I moved into a roommate situation with a social friend. We have known each other for years and it is a great living situation. I have enjoyed getting to know him better. I was raised Catholic, but now view myself as a more spiritual person, and my roommate is Jewish and about as devout as I am to his roots.

I was unsure how I might have approached him on the subject of a small Christmas tree somewhere in the apartment. Unfortunately my room is too small to put up a tree there.

How do you suggest that I approach my roommate on the mixing of our respective religious backgrounds when the holidays come again next winter?

Dear Respectful Roommate:

Etiquetteer must commend your sensitivity in considering the effect your choices might have upon your roommate. Battles royal have been waged over the most minuscule things, even how the toilet paper is placed on the roll. (Etiquetteer never ceases to be amazed at the fierceness of those defending either having the paper fall in the front or the back. The most Perfectly Proper solution to this dilemma is to have two rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom. Why no one else has thought of this mystifies Etiquetteer.)

While roommates share many things, they don't always share holidays. But the simplest solutions are best. Ask your roommate how he would feel about having a Christmas tree, even a small one, to broach the idea. If he likes it, obviously go ahead with a tree. If you detect resistance, confine yourself to decorating your own room. It's amazing what one can do with garlands, lights, and ribbon without even having a tree!

Etiquetteer wishes you and your roommate well as your shared living arrangements evolve in cordiality, courtesy, and Perfect Propriety.

Dear Etiquetteer:

As a frequent reader of your column I am well aware that you generally deal with matters appropriate for company. That said, I hope you can asisst me with an issue of a more delicate nature, "nature" being the operative word.

My loving husband -- especially after consuming foods such as raw onions, Indian food, and Brussels sprouts but, it seems, just about any food -- has a tendency to, let us say, "toot." Sometimes these gaseous emissions are accompanies by an audible announcement, sometimes by just a tell-tale odor.

I've asked him to please give a simple "pardon me" to apologize to whatever companions may be nearby and forced to participate in a not Perfectly Proper environment. As we cozy on the couch after dinner, for example, I do appreciate a polite acknowledgement when it's not the creaking of our old house that's disturbing the romantic moment.

There are times, however, when he chooses to ignore the whole situation, telling me this is the more polite thing to do For example, at his weekly poker game, following a silent attack his fellow players are well aware of an offense while my husband sheepishly seeks to avoid a tell of his cards as well as the ownership of this atmospheric intrusion. These gentlemen have been polite enough not to fall prey to childish behavior. They do not interrogate one another followed by claims of "He who denied it supplied it" and like nonsense. It does seem ill-advised to call more attention to the situation but to say nothing seems like a case of ignoring a foul elephant in the room. If one were to cause some other offense, from arriving late to tipping a chair to a coughing gag, I'd expect a simple apology for disturbing the peace. Is this any different?

Can you please advise?

Dear Aware:

Etiquetteer has written on this olfactory subject before, and must commend your husband for knowing that Acknowledgement of Flatulence is never Perfectly Proper. It remains one of etiquette's pecularities not to acknowledge this Bodily Function while offering an "excuse me" for coughs, sneezes, and even yawns. (It differs completely from your other examples, late arrival and chair-tipping, which are not Bodily Functions.) But flatulence, never!

Indeed, Etiquetteer wishes everyone would stop asking those "What's that?!" type of question when they encounter palpable flatulence. Etiquetteer still shudders with embarrassment over an occasion several years ago. Having been the cause of a sulfurous aroma, Etiquetteer's shame was compounded when the insistent bewilderment of an idiot acquaintance could only be stopped by having to say "I farted. Would you please shut up now?!"

Etiquetteer does have to Wag an Admonitory Digit at your husband for not altering his diet. Since he knows that raw onions, Brussels sprouts, and Indian food affect him adversely, he should stop eating them! And really, if all food puts him in a State of Perpetual Indigestion, he ought to see his doctor.

Electronic Thanksgiving Invitations, Vol. 7, Issue 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Fallout, Vol. 5, Issue 3

Dear Etiquetteer:

As has become my tradition, I made a charitable donation at Christmas in the names of several loved ones in lieu of sending paper greetings. I have chosen to support [insert Name of Appropriately Altruistic Non-Profit Institution Here]. So, Etiquetteer, what say you about this effort? I’ve done this now for several years. Some love it — others, I fear, are silent, finding it in bad taste expecting that I donate AND send paper greetings. In other words, I wonder if they consider me cheap and/or lazy and using it as an excuse not to send cards.

Dear Lazy:

Etiquetteer cannot call you Cheap, since you’ve generously supported the Non-Profit of Your Choice. Forgive Etiquetteer’s bluntness, but you’d be writing the check anyway, right? So what’s in it for the "honoree:" the knowledge that you were thinking of them when you wrote a check? Etiquetteer could see people thinking that wasn’t much of a holiday greeting for them. Perhaps they aren’t even particularly interested in the mission of the Non-Profit of Your Choice!

Now Etiquetteer does know of people who make donations to organizations their friends support in honor of their friends; that’s more like it. But those people make those donations instead of gifts, not Christmas cards. If your loved ones mean enough, you can at least send a Christmas card.

Etiquetteer received quite a few responses from a recent column about Christmas cards vs. holiday cards, two of which Etiquetteer shares with you now:

From an Orthodox matron: To your response on the subject of which holiday cards to send to whom, I must add that the whole issue of non-Christians who celebrate "with trees and presents" is a matter that tests my own capacity for Perfect Propriety. During all the December holidays I was asked by a colleague whether or not we celebrate Christmas. This is someone I've known for years and who knows my persuasion. Just after I'd said "No," the phone rang -- saved! But if the conversation had continued, I'm sure this person would have cited the example of so-and-so who was Jewish but . . you know. Between the "J's with trees" and the people who know "J's with trees," this season is simply fraught with occasions requiring the obligatory exhibition of The Indulgent Smile.

From a doyenne: I am no heathen and I was one who sent the Happy Holiday cards to people of faiths other than Christian. Having time restraints I couldn't go shopping to select cards for every faith even if I'd know which was proper. I'm lucky enough to have Christian, Jewish, African-American, African-African, Chinese and a couple from India on my list! The Christians got a Merry Christmas and the others got a Happy Holiday (no red or green ... it was white with gold) with a hand written note mentioning "what kind" of holiday if I knew it or could spell it!

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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!