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!

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.

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.

Holiday Fallout, Vol. 7, Issue 1

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Etiquetteer finally finished writing his Christmas and New Year’s cards. Since today, January 6, is Twelfth Night, it’

 s the last possible time for you to mail Christmas cards and have them sent during Christmas. If you miss anyone on your list, by all means send him or her a valentine for February 14.

As usual, the Christmas season was filled with Perfect Impropriety, some of it actually starting with Etiquetteer himself. Only this morning, over a strong cup of coffee, did Etiquetteer realize with horror that he completely forgot to attend a brunch party on December 31. Do you know that feeling of horror, that begins with the flushing of the face and then the cold clammy chill of the hands and feet with a racing heart? Etiquetteer hopes you never have to experience it.

So Etiquetteer has committed two enormous errors here: forgetting to attend a party to which an affirmative response had been given, and then not apologizing right away. The only possible thing to do under the circumstances is to send flowers with a hand-written Lovely Note of Self-Abasement. That means visiting the florist personally and not phoning in the order; a computer-printed message will not do!

Dear Etiquetteer:In December I hosted a holiday brunch to which my partner and I invited approximately 60 people. The brunch has been a long-standing tradition and few people ever R.s.v.p., but most people usually come. As "luck" would have it, there was a pretty bad storm the day of the brunch, resulting in 15 people actually making it. Of the 45 or so that didn’t make it, only nine let me know that they weren’t coming in advance or subsequently explained that they could not. About another ten or so would have had to drive or travel a considerable distance by public transport, so I do understand (thought it would have been nice if they let me know). However, for the remaining folks who live in the neighborhood, including those who called/e-mailed the day or two before to say they were coming, I’ve heard nothing about why they were unable to come. Oh, except one individual who told me he "forgot – hee, hee."Generally, I have pretty low expectations regarding R.s.v.p.’

 s and understand that most people today treat party invitations very casually. But I have to confess that I am a bit miffed at the seeming unconcern of a large percentage of my guest list.What do you think? Am I being too harsh? What might I do in the future?

Dear Left Over:

Every host is different. Etiquetteer, who has no domestic staff, will confess to getting annoyed at having to answer the phone for a string of regrets while simultaneously vacuuming, juggling hot trays of hors d'oeuvres, greeting guests, and finding and filling vases for the lovely flowers they sometimes bring. On the other hand, severe weather can leave a Perfectly Proper host anxious about the safety and well-being of his guests. Under these circumstances, those who'd told you they were coming owed you a call to let you know their plans.

The solution to this problem is actually very easy, though some might think it ruthless. Next year, don't invite those people who have abused your hospitality. All invitations have value; your uncommunicative guests clearly don't value this one enough.

Those on an unlimited budget could send beautiful arrangements with "Get well soon!" cards to make the point. (And Etiquetteer feels quite fortunate not to have received one himself this year (see above)). Actually, that’s not such a good idea. You could find out that they’ve actually been in the emergency room or, worse, the funeral parlor, and weren’

 t able to contact you.

Other People’

 s Christmas Decorations incited ire throughout the season. Etiquetteer will cite only two stories:

In Boston, Dominic Luberto defiantly continued to aggravate his neighbors and worsen traffic concerns by enlarging his Christmas display to 500,000 lights AND a 650-pound crown of lights, lamé, and wood. Already elaborate beyond belief, pieces of his display get lit up as early as Columbus Day. Mr. Luberto disingenuously insists "Whoever comes against me - listen - goes against the kids. That's it. That's all I can tell you."

This ostentatious display seems less to please "the kids" than it does to slake Mr. Luberto’

  s overweening ego. Etiquetteer, while not disputing his right to decorate his home in any way he chooses, wishes he would show more consideration to his neighbors. Etiquetteer must now ask, what embodies most the True Spirit of Christmas: inconveniencing others to provide a moment of pleasure for children, or allowing the Birth of Christ to remind us of our common humanity and showing kindness to all?

Thank goodness no one has come to blows over Mr. Luberto’

 s decorations yet! Ethel McKinney of Baton Rouge, on the other hand, got out a gun and shot two men whose dog damaged her outdoor Christmas decorations. Etiquetteer can only remind Ms. McKinney that a) Christmas is still a Christian holiday, b) Christ forgave, and c) guns are never Perfectly Proper.

 

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!

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

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!