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

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.

Perfect Propriety on Public Transportation, Vol. 14, Issue 38

Doesn't it seem to be the common refrain of etiquette columnists - and, sometimes, the elderly, who have seen so much already - that things are just getting worse and worse? Well, in the words of the late Sylvia Fowler, "Here I am, girls! Move over." Etiquetteer needs to sound off about how things are just getting worse and worse, this time on public transportation. Etiquetteer has noticed a degeneration of courtesy, and can't really blame it all on last winter's dreadful weather. Once upon a time, passengers standing in the door would step out of the way to allow other passengers to exit. And by "step out of the way," Etiquetteer means "step completely outside the car and to the side so that the doorway was entirely open to exiting passengers." Within the last year, Etiquetteer has observed with frustration the growing number of Passengers In the Way Who Won't Move at All. At best they'll compress themselves against the side - not too helpful if they're wearing a backpack - but more often they just stand there, placid as bulls, leaving exiting passengers to squeeze between them to Freedom. Even worse are those passengers who walk into the train and stop right there in the entrance, regardless of the number of people behind them who want to get in, too, and of available space further inside the car.

Now of course Etiquetteer understands why everyone wants to stand near the door: because they can disembark at their stop without anyone blocking their way. What frustrates Etiquetteer is the number of passengers traveling more than, say, four stops who defiantly stand in the door, forcing everyone to squeeze by them. Etiquetteer encourages Public Transportation Entities to mark out floor space in its vehicles as Space to Clear for Exiting Passengers.

The only tool of Perfect Propriety that Etiquetteer can offer is a brisk, crisp "Excuse me, please" or "Comin' out, please!" when moving about the vehicle. It's admittedly passive-aggressive to put more force than necessary getting past Passengers In the Way, so Etiquetteer can't endorse it, no matter how satisfying it may feel.

And another thing. Once upon a time it used to be such an intrusion when the audio leaking from a fellow passenger's earbuds disrupted the relative silence of public transport.* Now, alas, our civilization has reached a place where passengers aren't even bothering with earbuds and openly - loudly - watching videos or playing children's games on their smartphones regardless of anyone else's comfort. Was no one else taught what Etiquetteer learned at Dear Mother's knee, "Your right to listen stops where my ears begin?" Passengers using devices to entertain themselves on the Long Commute Home must use earbuds or earphones. How you choose to entertain yourself can be torture to those who cannot escape your presence.

Public transportation passengers will go far toward furthering World Peace by considering more the impact they have on fellow passengers with their voices, devices, and baggage.

smalletiquetteer

Are you taken about by public manners? Please drop Etiquetteer a line at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

*Once upon a time, you weren't supposed to talk at all in order not to disturb others.

How Young Etiquetteer Was Embarrassed, Vol. 14, Issue 36

You may have heard Etiquetteer tell this story before, but it came to mind vividly again, and Etiquetteer must tell (or retell) it now for the record. Etiquetteer has always had an interest in seeing things done with Perfect Propriety and with people Behaving Well. And as a college student, Young Etiquetteer had an equal and abiding interest in Free Food. So one day many years ago Young Etiquetteer received with pleasure an invitation from an elderly lady to a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton. What could be more Perfectly Proper than a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton? Young Etiquetteer accepted the invitation with alacrity and brushed off his best suit in preparation.

Now this elderly lady - let's refer to her as Madame - who Young Etiquetteer had never really met, was a friend of Young Etiquetteer's Stern Grandmother, but there was no reason to suspect she might be any different from the legions of elderly ladies Young Etiquetteer had been entertaining since birth: full of indulgent smiles, Christian rectitude, canasta, and a dash of genealogy. Young Etiquetteer's eyes were to be opened, as Madame's principal focus was Herself and Her Reactions, as we shall see.

In those days*, the Ritz-Carlton dining room was described by many as the most beautiful room in Boston, and to a young man who hoped to be Perfectly Proper it was considered a crucible of Perfectly Propriety. From its snowy napery to its brocade draperies to its famous cobalt glass chandeliers and goblets, the room represented what Americans used to aspire to (and should continue aspire to today) as the Good Life. But almost from the beginning, Madame set a very different tone.

She was first nonplussed (but quietly) about an odd feature of 1980s restaurant etiquette: maitre d's who kissed on the mouth. Next, loudly exclaiming over the beauty of the china, Madame picked up the service plate like the latest bestseller to read the trademark. Young Etiquetteer, who had not only been taught that the first thing you did at table was put your napkin in your lap but also that you never did anything so gauche as to examine the provenance of the china, was nearly demolished by this. But more was still to come.

This occasion proved to be Young Etiquetteer's first encounter with service à la russe, which requires one to serve oneself each course from large platters offered by the waiter. Negotiating salmon with asparagus and hollandaise sauce is difficult enough for the uninitiated, but made even more so with Ceaseless Commentary on the novelty of the service from Madame, who thought it was different and charming, and didn't fail to mention this at top volume anytime a waiter - any waiter - appeared within two feet of us. She was having a wonderful time, and wanted everyone to know it!

This luncheon was not an ordinary luncheon, but a fashion luncheon featuring beautiful models in exquisite clothes (day and evening) languidly strolling among the tables. The place Young Etiquetteer was filling was originally intended for a Female Relation of Madame's who was unable to attend. Young Etiquetteer was one of perhaps three men present, somewhat ambivalently relishing the Walter Mitty role, but enjoying the setting, the (free) luncheon, and indeed the couture promenade. Madame was enjoying it, too, and assailed each model with Expressions of Delight, and also some Embarrassing Questions. She asked one model for her phone number to share with her son! Etiquetteer did not know quite where to look.

But the most embarrassing moment came after dessert. With the conclusion of the luncheon, the models were circulating with little lipsticks as favors for the ladies. Madame dearly wanted one to share with her Female Relation, but she wanted one for herself more. And when a beautiful model presented her with a lipstick, Young Etiquetteer froze in fright to hear Madame respond with Six Horrifying Words:

"Aren't you gonna give him one?"

Young Etiquetteer withered under the icy stare of the model, who asked "Do you need one?" in such a way as to question Young Etiquetteer's masculinity, upbringing, and right to exist - none of which seemed to matter to Madame, so intently was she focused on a free lipstick. "Certainly not!" replied Young Etiquetteer, whose limit had been reached, and the model passed on. Words were passed, but the mood restored, and of course Young Etiquetteer omitted any reference in the Lovely Note mailed the next day.

The morals of this tale, if there are any, would be that a) consideration of the feelings of others is an important part of daily life, b) to be distracted by trinkets indicates a lack of breeding**, and c) that there is no such thing as a free luncheon.

*The mid-1980s.

**The lyric from Chess comes to mind: "Trinkets in airports sufficient to lead them astray."

smalletiquetteer

Online Discretion Offline, Vol. 14, Issue 32

Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently on vacation with my husband. We were at a local bar in [Insert Name of Resort Town Popular With Those Who Have Achieved Equal Marriage Here] when a guy walked by, turned around, looked at me and said "[Insert Name of Social Media Platform* Here]!" I was quite uncomfortable. While my husband knows I'm using this social media, he assumes the worst about being on it. For social media etiquette when recognizing someone from here, I would assume it would be alright to say hello to someone if they were by themselves, but if not, you may not want to bring something up about their online life. Your thoughts?

Dear Online:

Oddly enough, Etiquetteer had a somewhat similar experience earlier this year while rushing through an art exhibition to be Perfectly Punctual for a friend's presentation. In Etiquetteer's path appeared a handsome, vaguely familiar man. Only later did Etiquetteer recognize him as an online contact. The response Etiquetteer received to a private message apologizing for any perception of a snub reinforced how wise it was not to have approached him, because he wasn't alone and claimed Social Awkwardness when Caught Off Guard.

Etiquetteer is fond of quoting "Discretion is the better part of valor," and it really is a pity that your Social Media Contact  didn't consider that. At the very least he could've said "Excuse me, but haven't I seen your photo on [Insert Name of Social Media Platform Here]?" But a discreet bow or nod is best, or even no contact at all. Etiquetteer is reminded that, in the days before World War I when mistresses were much more established in the daily life of France, no man stepping out with his demimondaine would be acknowledged by his friends, and certainly not by the friends of his wife.

Still, in a barroom, where one's Internal Monologue may have escaped with the help of Spiritous Liquors, that is a risk. Etiquetteer rather wonders if, when your online "friend" hailed with the name of your Shared Social Media, you responded "No, I pronounce my name Smith."

Etiquetteer hopes that you experience no recurrence of this exposure of your Inner Life. But you may wish to make such a recurrence less embarrassing by reassuring your husband about the best aspects of being part of this Social Media Platform.

*Etiquetteer must hasten to add that this Social Media Platform in question was not - how shall Etiquetteer say this? - created for facilitating the most casual of encounters.

How to Respond to Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 25

Dear Etiquetteer: Can you tell me whether you think people who have been good guests at a dinner party or cocktail party (separate answers I think) - brought a hostess gift, behaved well, etc. - should also email or call the next day to say thanks? If they don't, were they unhappy with the party?

Dear Hosting:

When a Lovely Note of Thanks has not been received, it's always more charitable to assume Incompetence rather than Malice. Possibly your guests were taken ill, swept up in current events, anxious at the thought of finding something original to say about your party (which is completely unnecessary), or just too lazy to find your zip code. Regardless, their failure to express gratitude for your hospitality is no reflection on the hospitality you provided.

Etiquetteer may be the Lone Holdout in considering the Lovely Note more important than the hostess gift, but the expression of thanks afterward means ten times as much as the "payment for services rendered" sometimes implied by that bottle of wine. Few things reassure a host or hostess as much as the confirmation from guests of a "job well done," that one's efforts have not only been recognized, but appreciated. Too many people, Etiquetteer would suggest, feel daunted by the need to express themselves originally. But writing a Lovely Note certainly doesn't take as much effort as picking out a bottle of wine. (Etiquetteer can just hear the oenophiles shuddering as they read this.)

You are more accommodating than Etiquetteer is in terms of how you'd allow these Lovely Notes to be delivered, suggesting email and telephone as options without even considering a handwritten note - which even today Etiquetteer is loath to refer to as "old-fashioned." Communications unavoidably evolve with technology; this is not necessarily bad, but it's made many people careless. While it was once the only way to communicate at all, now - with the near-universal adoption of the Internet - handwritten correspondence now signifies a special effort to express sincerity and appreciation. This is why Etiquetteer continues to think it's the best way to convey thanks for hospitality received.

Etiquetteer hopes that you will not let the neglect of your guests cause you further anxiety, and that you'll set them a good example with your own Lovely Notes after they entertain you in turn.

Penpoint

Introductions and Smoking, Vol. 8, Issue 11

Dear Etiquetteer: Please advise the correct way to introduce a mentor to a friend or a spouse. Who gets introduced first, especially if you want to pay a significant honor to one of the people?

Dear Mentored:

One of the few areas where precedence or rank matter any more, the formula for introductions is really very easy to handle: less important people are introduced to more important people. So:

  • Junior employees are introduced to senior employees.
  • Young people are introduced to older people.
  • Congregants are introduced to the minister.
  • Gentlemen are introduced to ladies.
  • Everyone is introduced to an internationally recognized diva (e.g. Renée Fleming, Bette Midler, but not that snobbish woman in Accounts Payable who just behaves like a diva.)*
  • Everyone, including internationally recognized divas, is introduced to world leaders.
The key difference is how you craft the Phrase of Introduction, either "introduce you to" or "introduce to you." In your case, your mentor is due more honor, so you introduce him/her to your spouse: "Dr. Obtuse, I would like to introduce to you my spouse, Pat Mentored." In the same situation, if you were speaking to your spouse, you'd say, "Pat, I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Obtuse, an important mentor for me in college." Since it's dangerous to assume that married couples share a last name now, you would be more Perfectly Proper to include your spouse's last name in that last sentence.
Dear Etiquetteer:
This isn't really a question, but perhaps you can make me feel better and less angry.  I am in a consistent state of wonderment over why it seems socially acceptable for smokers to litter with their cigarette butts.  If I ate a candy bar and then just dropped the wrapper on the sidewalk or someone's lawn, my companion would be horrified (and justifiably so).  But cigarette butts seem to not count as littering.  I have seen people of all ages, genders and races commit this.  I have even been behind a police cruiser and seen the officer throw a cigarette butt out his window.  When I asked a good friend who had just done this why he thought it was OK, he had no answer, but admitted that he will probably continue to do so.  Any thoughts?
Dear Butted:
Etiquetteer deplores this habit, too, but especially at the beach. Few things can bring down one's beach experience more than finding out you've spread your towel over a nicotine graveyard. Just because one can bury one's butt in the sand doesn't mean it can't be uncovered later.
The only answer Etiquetteer can give to your query is that this custom ensures, believe it or not, public safety. Your theoretical candy wrapper was not on fire before you threw it away, and a carelessly disposed cigarette butt could start a fire in a trashcan. (Indeed, many years ago Etiquetteer had to put out just such a fire.) Etiquetteer has seen many a careless smoker drop his or her flaming butt unconcernedly on the sidewalk without even troubling to grind it out underfoot, but also knows some Perfectly Proper smokers who take the trouble to extinguish their cigarettes completely before throwing them away in a receptacle.
Etiquetteer makes no secret of preferring a non-smoking environment. Having worked one summer in an office the size of a large dining room table with two chain smokers deprived Etiquetteer of any tolerance for cigarette smoke. And yet Etiquetteer cannot help but deplore the near criminalization of smoking and the almost complete expulsion of smokers from interior spaces. From the days when etiquette writer Lillian Eichler recommended placing a container with three cigarettes between every two diners at a formal dinner party, Society has now condemned smokers to sidewalks. Where possible, Etiquetteer would like to see the return of the smoking room, or at least a dedicated interior space for smokers.
Write Etiquetteer today with your own etiquette queries at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com!

Blizzard Etiquette, Vol. 14, Issue 4

With the latest blizzard having ravaged the Northeast, Etiquetteer thinks it's time for a few tips on Perfect Propriety during Heavily Inclement Weather:

  • Don't dramatize the situation with all these mashup words* like "stormaggedon" and "snowpocalypse," etc. It's a blizzard. Blizzards happen. Heaven forbid Etiquetteer restrict anyone's Freedom of Speech, but really. Blizzards also don't have names assigned to them by television networks. Just run along to the National Weather Service and see what they have to say. Incidentally, they'd do well to dramatize the weather less by not typing their bulletins in ALL CAPS.
  • Don't rush. Allow yourself a lot of extra time to and from your destination, whether you're traveling on foot, on skis, or by auto. Be patient; there will be delays, no matter how you're traveling.
  • Drive carefully. You never know when someone will have to walk in the street because the sidewalks haven't been shoveled. Etiquetteer will only allow you to honk at them if they're texting at the same time.
  • It will happen that a shoveled sidewalk is not wide enough for two people to pass, regardless of any local ordinance. Etiquetteer awards precedence to the party closest to exiting the Narrows, or to the person who is not texting at the same time. Those who are unaware of what's going on around them deserve what they get.
  • If someone stands aside for you to pass, thank them kindly. Otherwise you increase the bitterness and resentment already caused by the weather. That old saw about Good Behavior being its own reward is highly overrated.
  • It is not uncommon - though it is illegal, and therefore not Perfectly Proper - for drivers who park on the street to "mark" or "save" a parking space they've cleared of snow - admittedly a vigorous undertaking - with some sort of street refuse like a trash barrel or an old chair. While deploring the practice, Etiquetteer refrains from getting involved by removing those markers. Remember, safety first! No one wants to lose teeth to some Vindictive Motorist.
  • Wear something simple and straightforward for winter work and sports. Etiquetteer was for some reason reminded of Gloria Upson's description of her newlywed apartment in Auntie Mame: " . . . I don't mean just some little hole-in-the-wall, but a really nice place with some style to it . . . " Consider Etiquetteer's interpretation above: vintage snowsuit, white scarf, and gray stocking cap with white leather work gloves. No fuss, no frills, nor rips and tears either. This is certainly one of those occasions when a bow tie is not Perfectly Proper. No one wants to be thought a parvenu while wielding a snow shovel . . .

Etiquetteer will conclude that, at times of Heavy Weather like this, Safety and Perfect Propriety go hand in hand.

*Actually, the best mashup word to come out of this blizzard is "snowmanhattan." Etiquetteer takes his on the rocks.

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.

Grieving Online, Vol. 13, Issue 58

Dear Etiquetteer: Recently a friend of mine passed away unexpectedly at a young age (under 50). You can imagine people’s shock and distress and sorrow. What are the rules for posting about one’s grief over the passing of a loved one in the era of social media? It seems that letting the family announce the death first on social media would be important. Also, it seems that many people had to outdo each other with stories of how horrible it was to them that this person passed away. Also there were speculations and rumors about the cause of death and all sorts of gossip out in the public. What advice could Etiquetteer provide?

Dear Bereaved:

First, let Etiquetteer offer condolences on the death of your friend. It's expected that the death of a friend, regardless of age or circumstances, will bring up many memories along with feelings of sadness - indeed, many emotions. And it's understandable that the bereaved will be drawn closer to others who knew the deceased to grieve together. But how we express ourselves in person doesn't always translate the same way online, especially when grieving.

The ways we communicate in the 21st century haven't necessarily adapted well to Perfect Propriety. For instance, social media now creates a public (or at least highly visible) record of information that used to be shared by whispering behind one's fan or privately in a letter to only one person. (Do you remember letters? While Etiquetteer does enjoy the convenience of email, the intimacy of letters is missed. Etiquetteer misses them even more than he misses fans for those gossiping old biddies . . . um, Great Ladies.)

It is understandable that people want to share their grief, but many don't always understand that respecting the feelings of others, especially the family, is even more important. It's necessarily thoughtful to wait until the family has made a death announcement before sharing the news (and one's reactions to it) oneself online. Imagine learning about the death of your son or daughter from Facebook! Etiquetteer would like to see everyone spared this sort of shock. One complication is that the family can't always be assumed to be using the same social media. Before expressing one's grief publicly in a social media post, it's best to confirm the news with the family or someone closer to the family than oneself.

Freedom of Speech is the most valuable American freedom, and as such, it needs to be used responsibly. Etiquetteer deplores the Grief Sweepstakes you describe - "I'm the most grief-stricken!" "No, I'M the most grief-stricken!" - which is the mark of a Vulgar Exhibitionist. While not wishing to pooh-pooh anyone's grief at the death of a friend or family member, Etiquetteer must gently remind everyone that it's the deceased that is the proper focus of attention, not one's own emotions at the death of the deceased.

Etiquetteer would vastly prefer to see dialogue about the deceased focus on personal acts of kindness and happy memories rather than (most vulgar of all) speculation on the cause of death. Nothing that might damage the reputation of the deceased should be shared so publicly, online or in person. Etiquetteer still hasn't forgotten attending a small funeral several years ago during which one of the mourners shared many Jolly Recollections of illegal activities committed by the deceased.

In short, "Least said, soonest mended" is the best advice. And don't let the immediacy of the Internet keep you from writing a Lovely Note of Condolence by hand and mailing it to the family.

Would you rather Etiquetteer discuss something more pleasant during the holiday season? It's up to you! Send Etiquetteer a query at <queries> at etiquetteer.com.

What a Gentleman Does, Vol. 13, Issue 55

It takes courage to own up to a mistake, especially one that has had a negative impact on others, and very especially one that has exploded on social media to mark one a Very Bad Person. But that's what a gentleman is, someone who has the courage to admit a mistake and to do what's possible to make up for it. So Etiquetteer has to salute Jeff Conklin, the resident of the South End of Boston who parked his BMW next to a fire hydrant last week, rendering it useless in fighting a house fire. Unlike the generally accepted stereotype of BMW owners as simply not caring about the consequences to others of their actions, Mr. Conklin has taken the trouble to visit the neighborhood firehouse to apologize personally to the firefighters whose essential work was jeopardized. Etiquetteer can only imagine the strength of character that took, and can only express admiration.

Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham writes "The social media that connect us also make it distressingly easy to be vicious. Emboldened by anonymity, we pounce on people, convicting them with scant evidence." Mr. Conklin may now have to find within himself the strength to forgive hundreds of complete strangers who convicted, tarred, and feathered him before. And you may be sure that Etiquetteer shared that column with That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, well known for his bitter tongue on many subjects.

In short, Mr. Conklin, through a grievous error, has proved what a gentleman he really is through his response to it - and many others have proved what ladies and gentlemen they are not.

Table Manners: "You just put your lips together and . . . or don't you?" Vol. 13, Issue 52

Dear Etiquetteer: At a brunch, is it improper when out at a restaurant or such to blow on your food to cool it?

Dear Brunched:

Reading your query, Etiquetteer was reminded first that the reason Chinese teacups have no handles is because, if the cup is too hot to pick up, the tea is too hot to drink. So a certain amount of Restraint is involved is consuming hot food. It's what separates us from the animals.

It's generally accepted that blowing on hot food to cool it is less than Perfectly Proper. Cutting small bites of solid food allows it to cool faster. Not filling your soup spoon all the way, Etiquetteer considers, would act on the same principle.

What's worse than blowing on one's food, in a private home, restaurant, "or such," is calling attention to someone else's doing so. Few topics of discussion are as tedious at the table as table manners, not least because it promotes performance anxiety, which detracts from the real purposes of a shared meal, Camaraderie and Conversation. And yet there are those, doubtless plagued by little Imps of Satan, who are eager to point out each and every mistake that someone makes, either because they think it's funny, or deliberately to make trouble. Etiquetteer needs them to stop it at once.

Etiquetteer will conclude by sharing that the late Emily Post took vigorous exception to the word "brunch," describing it as "that singled-headed double-bodied deformity of language." Mrs. Post vastly preferred "breakfast," because it "has a break-of-day friendliness that brings to mind every degree of hospitality from country breakfasts to hunt-meets and weddings. 'Brunch' suggests 'standees' at a lunch counter but not the beauty of hospitable living."* To which Etiquetteer, who has attended many lovely and hospitable brunches, can only respond Autre temps, autre moeurs.

* From Etiquette, by Emily Post, page 497, copyright 1937. Used without permission.

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.

How Not to Tip, Vol. 13, Issue 36

First of all, Etiquetteer is writing about restaurant tipping only, and not the myriad of other service industries in which tipping is conducted. Let's establish that Etiquetteer has never been a fan of tipping. It is, however, the prevailing system in the restaurant industry, and regardless of how widely it's disliked, it isn't going away anytime soon. This means adapting to the prevailing tipping system of 15-20% of the total bill, depending on who you talk to. (Etiquetteer says 15%; other writers, and almost all restaurant server blogs, say 20%.) This also means tipping on the full amount of the bill if you are using a discount, coupon, or gift card. It is considered a kindness, when paying by credit card, to tip in cash so that the staff don't have to claim it separately when their shifts are over.

Bad service is the most legitimate reason not to tip fully, or not to tip at all. Etiquetteer encourages you not to be petty over brief delays in service - well, really, Etiquetteer encourages you not to be petty. Now if a waiter forgets an entire order for a member of your party (and this has happened to Etiquetteer), if a waiter spills a strawberry margarita on your head, etc., then you have sufficient grounds. Etiquetteer acknowledges that bad service happens, and that there are waiters and waitresses (Etiquetteer dislikes the term "server," but recognizes that that is an individual choice) who consistently perform poorly. Before tipping less than the standard percentage, consider also the circumstances. If the restaurant is full to bursting (think New York Saturday nights before the theatre, or Sunday anywhere after church - see below), delays in service are understandable; allowances must be made.

Quite possibly the worst, and certainly the most offensive, excuse not to leave a tip is proselytizing. Recently Etiquetteer discovered Sundays Are the Worst, a heart-breaking and angering blog about how poorly a segment of those who profess Christianity treat those who serve them. Pastor Chad Roberts and his congregation have created what might be the most innovative way ever to minister to a community in need; read how it came about here. Etiquetteer could spit tacks at some of the behavior exhibited - so much so that readers will have to peruse for themselves rather than read examples here. The Word of God may feed the soul, but it doesn't sustain our bodies as well as those who leave tracts instead of tips might light to think.

It's also worth pointing out that in a nation in which All Are Created Equal, it ill becomes anyone of any religion to behave as though they are "better" than anyone serving them. This doesn't mean that we all have become Best Friends Forever with those serving us, but it does mean acknowledging our Common Humanity.

Modern Technology, Vol. 13, Issue 28

Dear Etiquetteer: If Etiquetteer would do away with one aspect of modern technology, what would it be?

Dear Teched:

It would be the way people give precedence to people interacting with them via modern technology over people interacting with them in person. (Etiquetteer supposes this is really an aspect of the usage of modern technology rather than an aspect of technology itself, but will leave that to the hair-splitters.)

How many times have any of us been out and about with others only to have them actively engaged on their devices communicating with Those Dear and Far Away as opposed to us, the Near and Dear?

How many friends have we tried to talk with while they fail at surreptitiously glancing in their laps to read and send text messages?

How many dinner companions have we watched not just photograph their dinner (a relatively harmless trend borne of digital photography), but then post the photo to social media, and then wait for and interact with those commenting on the photo?

How many dinner parties have been derailed by focusing on a "phonestack" while everyone waits for (and perhaps bets on) a guest to weaken and respond to one's device?

How many quiet moments on public transportation have been shattered by fellow passengers with Music Loud Enough to Distinguish Lyrics blasting from earbuds firmly lodged in their ears?

How many times has one's view been blocked at a concert or performance by someone holding up their smartphone to record the whole thing, regardless of those seated in back?

How many checkout lines have been delayed by a customer calling a friend or family member to confirm something hasn't been forgotten - or just by being on the phone?

To all this, Etiquetteer can only say, stop it at once! Be with the people you're with! Show them the consideration of your attention and engagement. Not just your friends, family, and companions, but also the working people you interact with during the day: bus drivers, waiters and waitresses, cashiers, receptionists, ushers, bakers, clerks, salespeople, missionaries, tourists, law enforcement, house cleaners - everyone!

In other words, HANG UP AND LIVE! And don't make Etiquetteer come after you . . .

No One Cares About Your Children in Public, Vol. 13, Issue 10

Since there seems to be some doubt on the subject, Etiquetteer would like to clarify that no one cares about your children. Especially when they are misbehaving out in public. No one cares! And no one cares especially if you, as a parent, do not care about the impact your children have on other people and/or their belongings. What, you are probably asking yourself, launched Etiquetteer into this tiny tirade? The answer, dear readers, is this article, with photos, of parents blissfully unconcerned about their child climbing all over what is apparently a multi-million dollar work of art at the Tate Modern. One of the parents responded, "You obviously don't understand kids." To which Etiquetteer protests that the parents don't understand them. Children want a place to play! This is why there are places for children to play that are specifically for playing. This is why we have parks with jungle gyms. This is why we have playgrounds with swings. This is why we have traffic with . . . wait, no . . . no, that's not helping. Don't send the children to play in traffic.

Parents who fail to set boundaries for their children outside the home fail to teach them respect for other people. This is most often seen in restaurants, where parents of Children Too Young to Know Better are allowed to get away with terrible behavior, which usually has to be cleaned up by a long-suffering waiter or waitress who is insufficiently tipped. Parents, think honestly about the impression your family makes when you're out and about. It takes a village to raise a child, the old saying goes, and you want to be sure the villagers aren't coming after your Precious Snowflakes with tar, torches, and pitchforks.

Of course, when you look at the artwork on which the child was climbing, an obvious solution presents itself. A reasonable facsimile can be purchased from West Elm or some other stark and severe home furnishings catalog and installed in the nursery at home. Problem solved.

Suburban Drag Racing, Vol. 13, Issue 7

Dear Etiquetteer: Justin Bieber has gotten himself into trouble drag racing in Florida. I feel sure he could have managed this better if you provided a few pointers on how to behave correctly in these circumstances. Just how DOES one drag race correctly in suburbia?

Dear Provocateur:

First of all before you get started, permission from the homeowner's association (HOA) is absolutely essential if you're in one of those gated communities. If no HOA is involved, be sure to get a racing permit from City Hall or the local Department of Motor Vehicles. Omitting these important steps could get one into a lot of trouble, as Mr. Bieber has discovered.

Next, some concern should be given to one's wardrobe. Perfectly Proper racing apparel absolutely includes a helmet with goggles, brown leather jacket, leather driving gloves, and white silk scarf. Etiquetteer very much recommends not wearing anything that could be mistaken for a prison jumpsuit. Orange may be the new black, but not for Best Society.

Even with a permit and everything, local laws about driving under the influence will still apply; when you go back and look at that permit, Etiquetteer'll bet there's no checkbox for "waiver of Driving While Impaired laws." So Neely O'Hara-style consumption for drag racing just is NOT Perfectly Proper.

Drag racing attracts attention, so it's important not to be surprised if local law enforcement suddenly appears to take an interest - especially if one hasn't already gotten permission (see above). Once THEY appear, only your Best Behavior will do. The police expect complete obedience, if not respect, but they will certainly not be inclined to assist you if you use Bad Language and fail to cooperate.

Last but not least, foreign nationals should be absolutely sure that their paperwork is in perfect order. One never knows when deportation might become an issue.*

The discerning among you will have understood by this time that Etiquetteer takes a dim view of this particular situation.

* If Mr. Bieber is, in fact, deported over this Unfortunate Incident, Etiquetteer can envision phalanxes of Beliebers descending on the White House in protest. Since most of them aren't yet of voting age, it will likely make no difference.

When Hospitalized Overseas, Vol. 13, Issue 1

Dear Etiquetteer: You are such a well-traveled and well-mannered person, I write you to seek your wise guidance as to how to respond correctly to unexpected situations.

1) Imagine Madame in an overseas hospital operating room. She is lying on her right side with her left arm held up out of the way by a restraint, and anesthetized from the chest down, but wide awake and conversing with the surgeon during the operation.

The surgeon, while cutting into Madame, informs her of his progress, to wit: “I am now cutting through all the fat in your butt.” What, pray tell, is the appropriate repartee?

2) Madame brought along with her to the hospital her extendable “grabber/reacher” thing. It's called a PikStik, and the name is on it. There followed some smirks from the nurses.

Upon inquiry, one of the male nurses, blushing, informed Madame that “Pik” was the local dialect word for “external male genitalia”, and that the idea that such equipment could be doubled in length upon command was a concept that was appealing to many. The blushing and snickering persisted with each new staff member to see Madame’s reacher.

Any thoughts as to the proper response?

Dear Patient:

Indeed, one must be patient in a Country Other Than One's Own when interacting within its healthcare system. And it is most important to the retain the sympathies of the healthcare personnel with whom one interacts. That need not come at the expense of one's dignity.

Humor, however, relieves many an awkward situation, and each of these might benefit from a bit of levity. While under the knife, Madame might have responded to the doctor, "I guess it's too late to go on that diet now." In the second, a Victorian etiquette manual (Etiquetteer is gnashing his teeth to remember which one) said that "a lady does not even recognize a double entendre." Alas, we are none of us Victorians . . . still, one can do more with a pointed or coy glance and a raised eyebrow than with any words. But truly, as a hospital patient, one is excused from conversation on the grounds that one just isn't in the best of health and needs to catch up on one's sleep.

Allow Etiquetteer to wish Madame a Swift and Perfectly Proper recovery!

Acknowledging Acknowledgment of a Sneeze, Vol. 12, Issue 19

Dear Etiquetteer: If I sneeze while wearing earphones, should I remove at least one bud to accept and show gratitude for a "bless you" or is it OK to keep listening to my NPR podcast?

Likewise, if I am on the opposite side of that scenario is it rude NOT to say "bless you" to the sneezer should they not shed a bud, assuming that they will not hear it anyway or should I throw it out there regardless?

Dear Budded:

If a sneeze is sneezed in the forest with no one to hear it, is it blessed?

It is one of etiquette's eccentricities that sneezing is the only Bodily Function acknowledged in public. One does not comment on, or even acknowledge, coughing, nose-blowing, yawning, belching, snoring, and especially flatulence - no matter how obvious any of those Bodily Functions might be. Etiquetteer has always understood that this began in Days of Yore ("when knighthood was in flower") because the soul was thought to leave the body with the sneeze; a blessing would protect or restore it.

To answer your second question first, a Perfectly Proper "God bless you!" can't go wrong, even if the sneezer is wearing earbuds or earphones. (Etiquetteer does prefer "God bless you" to "Bless you." The Fiercely Secular may always use "Gesundheit," which is the German for "health." Etiquetteer must caution you to avoid translating this into French. Answering a sneeze with "A votre santé!" will only lead people to wonder where the champagne is*.)

If you sneeze without sufficient power to dislodge your earbuds, Etiquetteer does not think it necessary for you to remove either or both of them to acknowledge a "God bless you." This does not, however, excuse you from acknowledging it. Make eye contact with your blesser and nod - kindly or briskly, depending on your degree of acquaintance - and then go about your business. If you're one of those people who are going along with the Medical Establishment and sneezing into your elbow instead of your hand, Etiquetteer hopes this won't involve removing, um, Nasal Effluvia from your sleeve. While hesitating to question the wisdom of the Medical Establishment, Etiquetteer continues to advocate the use of a Perfectly Proper handkerchief.

*Or whether or not you are Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas.

Out-of-the-Ordinary Workplace Issues, Vol. 12, Issue 12

Dear Etiquetteer: This question pertains to appropriate workplace behavior, and I can’t tell if I’m being too stuffy or not.

I work in a medium-sized office building (~200 employees), which provides several picnic tables for use in nice weather. Lately, a handful of employees have taken to bringing a picnic blanket and sitting under a shady tree. This involves some state of disrobing (shoes, perhaps an outer shirt) and decided lounging (one employee was lying on her stomach). While not a common occurrence, VIPs do come and go from our building, often parking just feet from this “picnic site.”

When I heard of such plans, I enthusiastically suggested the lovely shady park just a five-minute walk from the office to avoid the slippery slope to sunbathing, naps, etc. The response was not received well. So, the question is: despite the fact that it is indeed their lunch break/free time, is it appropriate for employees to be picnicking, lounging, and shoeless on company grounds during office hours where VIPs may be parking and entering the building?

Dear Stick in the Mud:

A picnic table outside the office is like open bar at the office holiday party. It’s best not to take full advantage of it, because the results may make the wrong impression. Of course this kind of slackening of behavior in the workplace got started because many employees no longer dress professionally. “Casual Friday” at many workplaces has been replaced by “Casual Everyday,” which VIPs of another generation might not think is a great idea, whether it's at a picnic table or a boardroom table. Etiquetteer would rather stick in the mud with you . . . but not so enjoyably that it might be considered wallowing.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I am working as an artist in a Well-Appointed Home, and have a number of people on my own staff that come in during the day to help me. My question is: how should my staff address the butler? The complicating factor is that the butler's full name is John James. Two of the children in the household are John and James. The household gets around this by addressing the butler by a nick name, but that seems too familiar for my staff to use. I asked my hosts, but got two different answers. I asked the butler what he prefers, but of course, he won't express an opinion, and I am unable to read any subtle clues he may be giving me. He has been invaluable so far, and the project will run for several months, so I'm anxious to do the right thing.

Dear Buttled:

Invaluable as this butler may be, he does you no favor by not stating unequivocally precisely how he prefers to be addressed. This rather annoys Etiquetteer, as it's not a very helpful attitude! Without specific direction, your staff could call him "Hey, you!" and it would be Legitimate (if not Perfectly Proper) simply because he has not stated a preference when asked. Etiquetteer has encountered this before, when asking people how to pronounce their names and being told either "Oh, anything" or "Either one." Neither answer is helpful! Etiquetteer has finally decided that the best question to ask in that circumstance is "How do you pronounce your own name?"

But to return to your own query, butlers are always addressed by what used to be called visiting staff or "inferiors" as "Mr. [Insert Last Name Here]." If, after a week of this, he finally tells members of your staff, "Oh, just call me Honey," then you might have a workplace harassment issue.

Etiquetteer suspect you must have a summer-related etiquette question about seersucker, gin and tonics, or vacation behavior. Do send it along to <queries_at_etiquetteer.com.>