The Price of Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 3

It's one thing to dream idly of exacting vengeance on Those Who Have Wronged One, but it is never Perfectly Proper to follow through, as Julie Lawrence of Cornwall is discovering, Etiquetteer hopes to her sorrow. Ms. Lawrence held a birthday party for her child. And just as at parties for grownups, someone who said he was coming didn't come after all. In this case it was five-year-old Alex Nash, who was already scheduled to spend time with his grandparents that day. Now double bookings happen, and when discovered they involve a certain amount of groveling from the Absentee Guest and tolerant understanding from the Neglected Host (who may choose to use caution when issuing any future invitations), if the social relationship is to continue.

Ms. Lawrence, for whatever reason, chose instead of send an invoice for the cost of entertaining Young Master Nash to his parents. You will not be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer has a Big Problem with this, for a few reasons. First of all, how on earth is this going to affect the ongoing social relationship of Young Master Nash and the Unnamed Birthday Child? How embarrassing for both of them, especially since they will continue to have to see each other at school whether or not their friendship has survived this Social Mishap. For Heaven's sake, won't someone think of the children?!

Second, hospitality is supposed to be freely given, without expectation of reciprocity. Though recipients of hospitality are moved by Perfect Propriety to reciprocate, this should not be expected. For hospitality to be freely given, in this case, means accepting the expense of Absent Guests with Good Humor. Etiquetteer understands how frustrating it is spending money on guests who don't show up, but if one is not willing and able to suffer absentees more gracefully, one should not be entertaining socially. And to describe oneself as "out of pocket" suggests that one is Entertaining Beyond One's Means.

And lastly, for this to be paraded so publicly - well, Etiquetteer can see the entire community questioning Ms. Lawrence's judgement and ability to raise a child by behaving this way.

The Nash family, however, comes in for its share of disapproval, since it appears they didn't try to contact Ms. Lawrence before the party to say that Young Master Nash would be unable to attend.

Under the circumstances, it doesn't look like these families have any interest in Social Reconciliation, but if they do it will involve Lovely Notes of Contrition on both sides.

Long story short, don't make a scene.

A Loss of Temper, Vol. 13, Issue 42

Etiquetteer, of course, is the soul of Perfect Propriety, but it comes at a price: daily battle with That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, who carries on either like a Rank Parvenu or the most Impatient Curmudgeon. Recently Etiquetteer lost a battle, and That Mr. Dimmick is still paying the price. Etiquetteer is now breaking out of the prison into which That Mr. Dimmick has cast him to tell the story. "Hell," as Sartre famously observed in his play No Exit, "is other people." Perfect Propriety is either the key to the exit or a useful blindfold. It is an essential tool in daily life, because there will always be people who don't care at all about how they impact others. Always. This is why we have etiquette, to make dealing with Those People easier and less demeaning for ourselves.

It brings us to a bus with two loud children and an angry mother. While That Mr. Dimmick was speaking quietly with a friend near the back of the bus, two little girls and two adult women with them boarded at the next stop. The little girls ran to the back row, immediately behind That Mr. Dimmick, and continued their conversation VERY loudly, with what one would call Outside Voices. Really, it became nearly impossible to hear one's own conversation. And after a few minutes of this, in a fit of impatience, That Mr. Dimmick burst out with "Young ladies, ENOUGH!" There was no thought about results or consequences, just a complete inability to bear one more moment.

Etiquetteer's Dear Mother has always said "When you lose your temper, you lose your point." And alas for That Mr. Dimmick, Dear Mother was once again correct. That Outburst of Temper roused the Maternal Wrath of the mother sitting closest, who immediately challenged any interference. She actually said "This is not a library!" and suggested that we move! She should have been apologizing for the fact that those children were making a public nuisance. (That Mr. Dimmick was so astonished by her that he was unable to respond "It's not a playground either! Why aren't you teaching those girls to use their inside voices?! You're a bad mother if you don't care!")

Of course Etiquetteer understood why she reacted that way; no one likes to be called out publicly. Etiquetteer would never have addressed misbehaving children directly. One speaks to the parents or guardians. Etiquetteer would have turned to the mother and asked "Would you please ask the young ladies to use their inside voices? They probably aren't considering how loud they are inside." That mother probably would still have suggested Etiquetteer move to another seat, but at least Etiquetteer would be able to sleep nights, secure in the knowledge of having acted with Perfect Propriety. Because That Mr. Dimmick no longer had a leg to stand on. You can't go about complaining about the behavior of others if your own behavior is cause for concern.

Long story short, the bad behavior of others never excuses one's own bad behavior. But this story does raise other questions:

Why are we not all of us taught about consideration for others? Why are so many people standing in the doorway of the subway or bus, blocking the people who need to get by them? Why are so many people talking or texting (or eating!) through live performances in theatres, cinemas, and concert halls? Why are so many people blasting music so loudly through their headphones and earbuds that the lyrics are distinctly heard outside? Why are so many people standing two abreast on the escalator, preventing others from moving past them? Why are so many people eager to tell their friends how to spend their money on them with elaborate gift registries, or even bald requests for cash instead?

Why have we stopped caring about the impact that we have on others in daily life, whether friends or strangers?

That's the question that keeps Etiquetteer awake at night, and there just doesn't seem to be a Perfectly Proper answer.

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.

Wedding Invitations, Vol. 8, Issue 9

Dear Etiquetteer: My daughter plans to send formal invitations to her wedding and reception. My husband and I have received calls from people who cannot attend. (The save-the-date cards were sent out several weeks ago.) I think her plan is horrendous and simply looks like a ploy for more gifts. She assures me that all of her friends say it's "nice" and "people will be grateful to have them as lovely remembrances." She says people will like to see their names in calligraphy on the envelopes!

I say, "Balderdash." Can you back me up on this? My husband and I are hosting her rather wedding and reception, but she's got the stamped, sealed, invitations in her hot little hands.

Dear Mother of the Bride:

Deep in Etiquetteer's Perfectly Proper heart, Etiquetteer knows you are right. Why people would be "grateful to have a lovely remembrance" of a function they cannot attend mystifies Etiquetteer. And Etiquetteer can assure you that any pleasure at seeing one's name in elegant calligraphy is quickly shadowed by the suspicion that a wedding gift is expected. 

Two paths remain open. A veneer, however thin, of Perfect Propriety can be maintained by including hand-written notes on these invitations to the effect that "Should your plans change, I would so much like to see you at the wedding." This puts the focus squarely on the presence of the guest in person, and not the guest's presents.

A compromise between you and your daughter may also be drawn. She knows her own friends as well as you know yours, and seems to think that her friends would want to see her wedding invitation. You and Etiquetteer agree entirely that your own friends would interpret it differently. Tell your daughter to go ahead and send out wedding invitations to her own friends who can't attend, but not yours. If your daughter later finds out that her friends all think she's a greedy bridezilla, that's her funeral.

In general, Etiquetteer is not a fan of sending out invitations to those who can't make a party. Many years ago Etiquetteer used throw a large party annually that included an involved, very funny invitation. After a few years Etiquetteer got weary of hearing "Sorry I can't come, but please keep me on the list. I love getting the invitation!" You can see how this might become tiresome. Etiquetteer lives to entertain his guests, but in person, not through the mails.

Wedding Invitations and Clothes, Vol. 8, Issue 2

Etiquetteer would really rather talk about weddings today instead of the fact that Michelle Obama didn't wear a hat to the inauguration or how thankful Etiquetteer is that Jill Biden didn't display the leather merry widow she obviously had made to match her dominatrix boots, so here we go:  

 

Dear Etiquetteer:

I am putting together my wedding invitation wording and have hit a road block. As the bride, my parents are hosting the wedding. My mom, being the closet feminist that she is, does not want me to address them as Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. I find this rather archaic myself, but what is the alternative while still using honorifics and not offending any one else?

These are the options I have come up with:

 

  • Mr. and Mrs. Smith
  • Mrs. Mary and Mr. John Smith
  • Mr. and Mrs. John and Mary Smith

Which one would be the most proper etiquette? Please help me!

 

Dear Untitled:

Permit Etiquetteer to invite your mother out of the closet. Closet feminism is nothing but passive aggression that manifests itself in petty ways like this. It's cowardly, and it's annoying.

Getting her to be upfront about her feminism will also allow you to name your parents on your wedding invitation as "Mr. John Smith and Ms. Mary Smith." Under the circumstances, Etiquetteer can't think of a more Perfectly Proper way to include honorifics and keep from adding "Mrs." What a pity she doesn't have a graduate or medical degree that would allow you to list her as "Dr."!

Dear Etiquetteer:

I recently received a wedding invitation that indicated the attire to be "Black Tie Optional.”  I was planning on wearing a black silk charmeuse dress with champagne satin accents. The dress, however, is not floor length, but mid-calf. Is this acceptable for an evening, "Black Tie Optional" wedding? And further, should my husband wear a tuxedo, or will a dark grey pinstriped suit suffice? Any guidance on being Perfectly Proper would be appreciated!

Dear Charmeuse:

Etiquetteer deplores the designation “black tie optional.” It’s neither fish nor fowl. One should either dress all the way or not. Since it is always a greater sin to be overdressed than underdressed, Etiquetteer must insist that your husband wear a dark suit and NOT a tuxedo.

As for you, Etiquetteer warns that these days if you wear black to a wedding you’re likely to be mistaken for one of the bridesmaids. Nevertheless, a mid-calf or “tea length” dress is Perfectly Proper for such a wedding as you describe.

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.

 

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

 

 

Social Kissing, Vol. 6, Issue 18

Dear Etiquetteer:

I was taught that when social greeting includes kisses, one starts right to right cheek, not brushing skin, and makes a soft kissy sound or perhaps murmurs something about being delighted. Should the kiss fest continue, both participants then kissed left, and if again, then right to right. This rule as I learned it pertained to any combination of sexes.

At times, the traffic jam can be a bit distressing and can injure maquillage or nose. So, upon what side does the kissing properly commence and how many times are appropriate for whom?

Your response is eagerly anticipated.Dear Blunderbussing:

You have certainly touched on a thorny issue, one in which it’s easy to hurt someone’s feelings, makeup, or nose job. And Etiquetteer knows, having damaged them all at one time or another.

Social kissing, especially for acquaintances, should not involve mouth-to-mouth interaction. You correctly identify the right cheek as the Perfectly Proper place for each person to start. Not everyone is ambidextrous, however (cheekbidextrous?), and it helps not to commit yourself to leaning in too quickly. On the other hand, if you see someone aiming for your lips and you don’t want to get that close to them, most people already know quite well to turn one’s cheek to them.

Errant lip prints lead to misunderstanding, especially between married couples. Ladies with lipstick especially should adopt the "air kiss," when the lips come close to, but don’t touch, the cheek. Indeed, Etiquetteer remembers walking by an Orthodox Church years ago and being tickled by a sign in the doorway that read "Ladies With Lipstick Please Do Not Venerate Icons."

It’s always important to emphasize that social kissing is most Perfectly Proper with dry lips. Those who don’t "air kiss" often forget that no one wants a slug’s trail on their cheek after an Introductory Osculation. And gentlemen most certainly don’t want a big smack of flavored lip gloss on their cheek.

Gentlemen show respect to ladies by not forcing their attentions upon them. Really we all ought to take a lesson from the Viennese, who have developed the handkuss since the end of the 16th century. There it is understood that one does not kiss a lady (or her hand) unless she first offers it. Enthusiastic gentlemen (like That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much) would do well to remember this and not get caught up in the excitement of the moment. Indeed, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much got himself into quite a bind once by practically lunging at a Female Acquaintance Old Enough to Be His Mother. Mere millimeters away from Epidermal Contact, the lady cried, "Don’t kiss me! I have a cold!" His embarrassment was exceeded only by his inability to stop in time . . . which of course led to sniffles four days later. Gentlemen, let this be a lesson to you.

Another big don’t, having mentioned the handkuss, is that True Gentlemen never behave like Cartoon French Lovers and make those little mwah sounds while kissing up someone’s arm from hand to neck.

Americans seem to kiss only once, as a rule. The French, and those in the arts (dancers, especially, and Those Who Love Them), no matter their nationality, kiss at least twice, once on each cheek. Italians, on the other hand (as explained to Etiquetteer by an Italian-American balletomane) kiss three times in rapid succession, right-left-right.

So, happy kissing! Etiquetteer hopes that you now have enough ammunition to preserve your maquillage, your dignity, and your good humor. Just don’t forget to carry a handkerchief with you in case you have to blot up a mess.

Today is Mother's Day, and Etiquetteer would like to offer deepest sympathy to the family of Peg O'Dowd, who died yesterday after a long illness. One of the brassier proponents of Perfect Propriety, "The Glamorous Peg" had a real knack for the Warm Welcome and for Telling It Like It Is While Remaining a True Lady. Those of us who eagerly anticipated her visits will miss her.

 

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

 

Mother’s Day, Vol. 5, Issue 18

Baby Etiquetteer with Dear Mother, 1964

 Etiquetteer came to a much better understanding of his own dear mother when chancing upon Miss Behavior: Popularity, Poise and Personality for the Teenage Girl. This peppy little volume, alternating between wisdom and naivete while attempting to sound "hep," was published right around the time Etiquetteer’s dear mother graduated from high school. Let’s just say it was after the war . . . and no, Etiquetteer does not mean the War of Northern Aggression!Miss Behavior takes us back to a time when teenage girls made their own clothes and wore suits to school, when fathers worked outside the home and mothers kept it, and when people of all ages still listened to the same music. This was a time before Elvis Presley and rock music, and LONG before fashions like extreme body piercings, tattoos, and "grunge" would ever have been permitted in the middle class. This was a time, in other words, when teenagers were expected to behave like adults.Indeed, the idea of being "respectable" was even more important thanappearing respectable, but both clearly went hand in hand. Wholesomeness was seen not only as desirable in itself, but also as attractive to boys . . . and of course nothing could be more important than that! Today’s role models like Lady Guy Ritchie and Mrs. Kevin Federline just don’t project wholesomeness. And indeed, with slang like "ho" and "beeyatch" making their way into white middle-class culture, one can only wonder when being respectable will again be fashionable.Hilarious anecdotes illustrate these points. One teenage femme fatale from the Big City visits rural relatives complete with off-the-shoulder lounge pajamas and foot-long cigarette holder. All that put-on sophistication loses her a date with the star quarterback from her own high school, visiting her cousin’s boyfriend that same weekend! Another girl, a forward flirt, gets saved from date rape by the "warden of the woods" after her date drives her into a local forest. Of course the situation is all her own fault for not behaving herself in the first place . . .Girls were exhorted to bypass bottled shampoos with harmful chemicals in favor of grated Castile soap melted over the stove in a saucepan, or warm olive oil to get rid of dandruff. Girls were to spend every Saturday morning going over their wardrobes and mending underwear, darning stockings, and replacing buttons. Spending time every night in a quiet space for homework was essential. And of course one must save time for eight hours of restful sleep! Now that teenage girls are getting their tongues pierced and having babies out of wedlock, wouldn’t you agree this seems quaint?Into this atmosphere Etiquetteer’s dear mother came of age, and she exemplifies all its best qualities. Mother is a mistress of the bread-and-butter letter, a talented seamstress, and superior cook, and a welcoming hostess. Throughout her history – Vietnam, Watergate, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, September 11, and the rise of hoydens like Courtney Love – Mother has retained her wholesomeness, her integrity, her belief that the world is and can continue to be a good place. What better qualities could a mother need today?

Etiquetteer and Dear Mother, Mother's Day, 2006

 And speaking of the kind of advice only a mother can give: Dear Etiquetteer: My most recent etiquette challenge was sitting outside on the benches in front of a college student center and noticing a young lady who was wearing wide-legged shorts. Her knees were folded up towards her chest and she was giving more of a view than she realized. I did not want to know that she was not wearing underwear and since my companion was male I did not mention it to anyone at the time. In what circumstances and how could I have told her what was happening? Dear Viewing:This is the first time Etiquetteer has ever heard about this particular problem with a female; Etiquetteer thought only men "went commando!" Now do you all know why your mothers told you not to leave the house without clean underwear on?Once upon a time, before ladies wore shorts at all, if a lady saw another lady's slip showing she'd discreetly whisper to her "It's snowing down south." Etiquetteer can only imagine what the equivalent could be in THIS situation; reader suggestions are welcome! You were discreet and wise not to mention anything to this unwitting exhibitionist in front of your male friend, especially since she was a total stranger to you. Had you been on your own, however, you might have approached her quietly and said "Excuse me, you'd probably better put your knees down. You don't realize how much people can see." Etiquetteer thinks these sorts of things are best left between ladies.

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.

 

Divorced Parents of the Bride

Dear Etiquetteer: My brother is in hell because of things going on with his kids. I don't think etiquette has changed that much in the last 50 years. Please help. HERE IS THE SHORT HISTORY: Mr. and Mrs. Original get married and have three children. Mr. Original works and Mrs. Original stays home but both basically raise the children. The oldest son completes college and gets married in a very traditional way. All is well.The next two girls complete college and move out on their own. Several years pass. Mrs. Original gets a job and is caught at work having an affair with her boss. Mr. & Mrs. Original get a divorce and Mrs. Original marries her boss (now she is Mrs. Boss). NOW THE PROBLEM: The youngest girl, living on her own for years, announces she is getting married. Mrs. Boss (formerly Mrs. Original) wants the invitations to read:

Mr. and Mrs. Boss

and

Mr. Original

Announce the marriage of their daughter, etc.

Mr. Original wants the invitation to read:

Mrs. Boss

and

Mr. Original

Announce the marriage of their daughter, etc.

The marrying daughter wants whatever her parents can agree on (or can't agree on); the fighting is ruining her wedding plans. Now the already married son is referring to Mr. Boss as his STEPFATHER. Mr. Original feels that he was the one who raised the children from birth until they moved out on their own and he is the ONLY father to these children. Mrs. Boss (formerly Mrs. Original) has, shall we say, a very "strong" personality and the children are caught between the birth parents fighting; the children don't want to upset either birth parent. QUESTIONS:

  1. What is the proper way to address wedding invitations? Does the new husband (Mr. Boss) get in on the Father-Daughter dance at the reception? Does it make a difference accordingly to who pays how much for the wedding?
  2. Should the already married son (he's over 30) refer to his mother's new husband as his "stepfather?" Am I old-fashioned, as I have always called the newer husbands by their first name?
  3. The son now has two children and is teaching them to refer to Mr. Boss as "Popsi" or something close that means grandfather. Don't the children have only two grandfathers? Isn't it an insult to the grandparent who actually raised the parent? My paternal grandfather died young, my paternal grandmother remarried, and we never called her newer husbands anything resembling grandfather.

Dear Caught in the Crossfire: Reading this sad tale, Etiquetteer’s heart goes out to the daughter’s fiancé. Poor thing, he’s now seeing a preview of what all the major holidays will be like for the rest of his life! Perhaps they can refugee to his family instead and leave the minor holidays (like Arbor Day) for her family. Weddings are supposed to be times of joy and gladness, not platforms for publicly slighting your enemies, especially enemies with whom you’ve produced children. Mrs. Boss needs to understand that stridently insisting on putting her second husband in the spotlight takes it away from her own daughter . . . and it is always a grievous offense to upstage the bride! Mr. Original needs to get used to the fact, no matter how odious it is to him, that Mr. Boss has a place in the lives of his children and grandchildren since he’s now married to their mother and grandmother. The more he can behave civilly to Mr. and Mrs. Boss in public and refrain from griping about them behind their backs, the better the impression he makes on his children and grandchildren will be. And, one hopes, the more they will want to be with him! Etiquetteer has to Wag an Admonitory Digit at both of them for causing their daughter such a lot of grief. If neither of them love their Little Girl enough to work together at burying the hatchet, then neither of them deserves to attend the wedding in the first place. Now, to answer your questions:

  1. When the birth parents of the bride have divorced and both will attend the wedding, whether either has remarried or not, the invitations correctly read:

Mrs. Ethelred Boss

And

Mr. Adelbert Original

request the honor of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter

Prunaprismia Original to

Mr. Reginald Romantic

The son of Mr. and Mrs. Beloved Romantic, etc,

Please observe that this is the language of the invitation, not a wedding announcement, sent to those out of state or uninvited, which would read ". . . announce the marriage of their daughter . . . "Now if this isn’t good enough for the Mother of the Bride, you can eliminate all the names of all the parents by substituting:

The honor of your presence is requested

at the marriage of

Prunaprismia Original

to

Mr. Reginald Romantic, etc.

And frankly, if they are all going to squabble about where they come on the bill, that’s just what they deserve. This is the bride’s day, and Etiquetteer already knows the whole town must be talking about the ugly feud between her parents instead of what people usually talk about before weddings: whether the bride is entitled to a white wedding dress.As for the dancing, oh honestly. Etiquetteer would consider if the height of rudeness of anyone, stepfather or no, to cut in on a father dancing with his daughter at her wedding. Etiquetteer finds absurd the growing list of "duty dances" announced by slick deejays at wedding banquets, and would discourage putting the bride and her stepfather in the spotlight this way. If, however, they are each willing to be seen on the dance floor with each other, there is no reason she could not accept his invitation to dance when everyone else is.Now, about the money: funny how everybody thinks that makes a difference. These days so many people contribute to the cost of so many weddings it’s like a limited corporation. Whoever pays is whoever pays, and the living birth parents of the bride are the hosts.2. Well, it’s certainly more polite to refer to him as "stepfather" than it is "that skunk who made an adulterous whore out of my mother," wouldn’t you say? If invited to call Mr. Boss by his first name, the son could do so, introducing him to others as "my stepfather, Ethelred Boss." He could say with Equal Propriety "This is my mother’s husband Ethelred Boss." Referring to Mr. Boss as "stepfather" does not imply that he had anything to do with raising him, nor does it usurp Mr. Original’s fatherhood. Etiquetteer understands completely why Mr. Original would be sensitive to this, but he should not look for offense where none is intended. 3. No, Etiquetteer can’t see an insult in referring to the spouse of one’s grandmother as something like "Grandfather." "Popsi" seems neutral enough, though Etiquetteer would prefer the 19th-century use of the prefix "Uncle," as in "Uncle Ethelred, tell us how you met Grandma!" Believe it or not, Mr. Boss gets to decide what he should be called – his wife does not – even if he’d rather have the children call him "Mr. Boss." Etiquetteer devoutly hopes that Peace and Harmony will reign supreme again before long in the extended Original family. Please write again and let Etiquetteer know what happens.

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