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

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.

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.

Suggested New Year's Resolutions, Vol. 13, Issue 63

"Fast away the Old Year passes," as the carol goes, and let Etiquetteer be the first to speed its passing! It's a time-honored custom to make resolutions to improve oneself in the New Year, usually with diet and exercise. Etiquetteer would like to suggest some resolutions to improve the Perfect Propriety of the nation:

  1. Resolve not to forward articles from satire news websites as though they were real news*. Etiquetteer is getting mighty tired of pieces from the Daily Currant, Empire News, the Borowitz Report over at the New Yorker, and the grandfather of them all, the Onion, being sent about with Righteous Outrage or Fierce Glee as the Gospel Truth, when they're just an elaborate joke. This concerns Etiquetteer most because of the damage it does to public figures. Public figures are already judged harshly enough - and deservedly - on what they have actually said. Let's not obscure the Truth with this patina of Satire any longer.
  2. Resolve to disconnect at the table. When you sit down to share a meal with a group of people, especially in a private home, you have a sacred obligation to to be fully present and contribute to the general merriment. It is not possible for you to do this if you're always glancing into your lap, and it is hurtful to your companions because you give the impression that you would rather be someplace else. Turn your device gently but firmly OFF before you get to the table, and don't make Etiquetteer come after you.
  3. Resolve to give a dinner party. These days the phrase "dinner party" sounds much more intimidating than it really is, which is having a total of four to 12 people around your table for an evening meal. Start with a maximum of four, which is easier to prepare for, and design a menu in which one course may be prepared a day or so ahead. The hospitality of the home is too little celebrated these days, but it remains a cornerstone of Perfect Propriety. Please join Etiquetteer in bringing it back.
  4. Resolve not to be so insistent about your diet when you're away from home. Etiquetteer suspects one reason for the decline of the dinner party is the ever-increasing number of people who insist on their food preferences wherever they go, as if they were more important that the spirit of Hospitality. No one has the right to expect their friends and relatives to be professional-grade chefs who can keep straight the infinite, and infinitely changing, diets of so many people all at once. The best illustration is what has happened to coffee service in the last 20 years. Once one only had to serve coffee, cream, and sugar. Now one must offer coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea, cream, skim milk, 2% milk, soy milk, powdered creamer, sugar, at least three kinds of artificial sweetener, honey, and agave nectar just to keep everyone happy. This is ridiculous!** When someone invites you into their home, it doesn't make them a slave to your preferences. Be kind to your hosts and just say "No, thank you" if offered something you can't eat.***
  5. Resolve to correspond more by hand. Yes, Etiquetteer remains a devotée of the Lovely Note of Thanks, not only because it is more Perfectly Proper than any electronic communication, but also because it makes the recipient feel special. Also, in our Society of Increasing Surveillance, fewer eyes can intercept a handwritten letter than an email or text message. (And how sad it is that Etiquetteer even has to mention that.) Do it!
  6. Resolve to R.s.v.p. on time, honor your original response, and arrive on time. If someone invites you to something, whether it's in their home or not, they need time to prepare to entertain you. A prompt and definite response from you is essential to this. "I'll have to see how I feel" is never Perfectly Proper! And if someone has invited you to the theatre and you suddenly decide on the day that you can't go, your host is left scrambling to use your ticket. Cancelling is only Perfectly Proper in circumstances of death or illness, but professional crisis is becoming more accepted as a valid excuse. If you pull a Bunbury too often, you'll find that invitations come to you less frequently.
  7. Resolve not to monopolize reservations. Etiquetteer deplores the growing practice of making multiple restaurant reservations for the same time to keep one's options open depending on one's whim. This is not only rude to other diners, but fatal to the restaurant's bottom line. Stop it at once!

For tonight, of course Etiquetteer exhorts you to celebrate responsibly by not drinking to riotous excess and not drinking and driving - and by remembering a Lovely Note to your hosts.

Etiquetteer wishes you a Perfectly Proper New Year!

*Etiquetteer will provide an exemption from this on April Fool's Day.

**And please get off Etiquetteer's lawn, too!

***Of course those with fatal allergies need to be vigilant at all times, and wise hosts remember these and take them into account.

A Perfectly Proper Announcement, Vol. 13, Issue 51

Etiquetteer nodded with approval over the announcement today of actor Benedict Cumberbatch's engagement to director Sophie Hunter. The traditional method of printing a notice in The Times could not be more Perfectly Proper, as it eliminates all the unnecessary vaporings about True Love. Announcement of an engagement in itself illustrates the depths of one's emotion to one's Beloved; no further explanation is necessary . . . nor is a link to a gift registry. Couples without Celebrity Status should consider this as an example of how Restraint illustrates Good Taste. Etiquetteer wishes the Happy Couple long life and Happiness!

The Common Core of Etiquette, Vol. 13, Issue 40

Last week Etiquetteer was pleased to speak to a group of MIT student ambassadors, and among the many questions afterward came one from a student who had read a manners manual from the late 1890s. "What of that etiquette is still relevant today?" Etiquetteer's reply could be distilled to "Consideration of others." The etiquette of calling cards, for instance, is all but irrelevant now, but it's still necessary to know how to respond to a kindness (with a Lovely Note), an invitation (with a Timely and Definite Response), and to tragedy (with a Sincere Offer of Assistance). Coincidentally, not long after this pleasant interchange, Etiquetteer stumbled upon Emily Post's chapter on "The Fundamentals of Good Behavior" from her 1922 edition of Etiquette. The core values of this document - Financial Honor, Consistency in Behavior, and above all Discretion - should remain guides for all of us. Rereading it, Etiquetteer was by turns relieved, alarmed, and saddened by how far we've come as a civilization since 1922.

For instance, "A gentleman never takes advantage of a woman in a business dealing . . . " does not take into account the exponential rise of women in business, nor their considerable abilities, like many male counterparts, to seize the advantage when offered. In other words, while Chivalry may have retired from the board room, the merger of Gender Equity and Mutual Respect is supposed to have taken its place.

In these days of social media and the sometimes aggressive assembly of "connections," it is worth revisiting Mrs. Post's injunction "The born gentleman avoids the mention of names exactly as he avoids the mention of what things cost; both are an abomination to his soul." That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much should probably stop tagging so many people in social media status updates . . .

Mrs. Post writes "A man is a cad who tells anyone, no matter who, what his wife told him in confidence, or describes what she looks like in her bedroom. To impart details of her beauty is scarcely better than to publish her blemishes; to do either is unspeakable." Nowadays, alas! This sentence could be rewritten "A man is a cad who takes advantage of a lady by creating revenge porn with her nude images and ruining her reputation."

Another area where Mrs. Post gets it right and we frequently don't is in the way we treat service personnel. "When you see a woman in silks and sables and diamonds speak to a little errand girl or a footman or a scullery maid as though they were the dirt under her feet, you may be sure of one thing; she hasn’t come a very long way from the ground herself." And as Etiquetteer pointed out earlier in a column on restaurant tipping, Americans are known to treat service personnel poorly. Etiquetteer is still angered and heartbroken by the stories from waiters and waitresses in Sundays Are the Worst, and needs this Bad Behavior to stop.

Thinking about what makes Perfectly Proper Conversation, Mrs. Post admonished "Notwithstanding the advertisements in the most dignified magazines, a discussion of underwear and toilet articles and their merit or their use, is unpleasant in polite conversation." Think of nowadays, when Reference to Bodily Function is bandied about so casually! Etiquetteer does not need to know why you're going to the restroom. The only Perfectly Proper reason would be to wash your hands. (And you'd better, too, whatever else you're doing in there that you shouldn't be talking about.)

On the other hand, it's important to remember that etiquette books get written, and etiquette advisors like Etiquetteer have vocations, because people have always, and will always, behave thoughtlessly and without a care for how their actions affect others. The common core of Mrs. Post's guidelines is awareness of the impact our behavior has on other people. That remains even truer today, when fewer people have been taught consideration for others from the beginning.

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 . . .

A Pre-Valentine's Warning from Etiquetteer, Vol. 13, Issue 19

With St. Valentine's Day on its way tomorrow, Etiquetteer feels it necessary - strictly in the name of Perfect Propriety - to advise you against Popping the Question Publicly. Fictionally we have the example of Vicki Lester and Norman Maine, seen here in the George Cukor film of A Star Is Born:

Now you'll notice that the situation was saved beautifully by Our Heroine who, seeing the embarrassment of her beloved, called out "Oh no, that's much too public a proposal to say no to! I accept!" And those who know the story know exactly what that got her . . .

Cruel Reality shows a different outcome:

But if you are really intent on doing this, Etiquetteer has some questions to ask first:

  • How comfortable is your beloved in the spotlight? Are you choosing to propose in public because she likes having attention called to herself, or because you want to call attention to yourself?
  • Are the manner and location of your proposal what you think she might expect of a marriage proposal? (Reviewing that compilation, and recognizing that Etiquetteer might be succumbing to stereotypes, Etiquetteer finds it hard to believe that most women want to entertain proposals of marriage at sporting events or the mall.)
  • Are you 110% sure that your beloved will say yes? And even then, Etiquetteer thinks you should reconsider.
  • Do you have a Graceful Exit planned in the (to you unlikely) event that your proposal is declined? Even if you're 110% sure your beloved will accept, plan one.

Etiquetteer asks these questions not only for your benefit and that of your beloved, but also for the Embarrassed Spectators who, if they don't want to laugh in your face, will want to turn their backs. Please, Etiquetteer begs you, consider your plans very carefully.

Now of course Etiquetteer expects to hear from several people who did witness Successful Public Proposals of Marriage, and that's just wonderful. Etiquetteer is delighted that you had that experience. Etiquetteer rather hopes that Those Who Popped the Question evaluated their situations intelligently.

You may be sure that Etiquetteer will have Shields Up on St. Valentine's Day, and if one of Cupid's little arrows gets in the way, Etiquetteer will use it as a swizzle stick for a martini.

Layoffs and Colleagues, Vol. 11, Issue 10

Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently catching up with an acquaintance and asked “How’s work?” and got the reply “Well, I was laid off.” I’m not sure what to say beyond “I’m so sorry to hear this.” How does one respond supportively, but not obtrusively? It’s a little easier with a closer friend as you can be a bit more intimate.  If it’s someone you don’t know so well, it can be tricky.

Dear Properly Concerned:

How Very Delicate of you to consider how best to respond without Unnecessary Prying. More often than not those in Unwilling Professional Transition are pestered with coded queries such as:

Question: "What happened?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "Were you downsized?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "Did they let a lot of other people go, too?"  (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "What are you doing?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "Are you OK?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")

Question: "I suppose you'll take some time to yourself now." (Meaning: "Did you get a good severance package when they fired you?")

People react differently to being unemployed. Some go into complete tailspins. Others express anger, take a philosophical attitude, proactively begin networking by making the job search their Topic Number One, or decline to talk about it altogether. Gauge your response by that of your acquaintance. For the reluctant, drop the topic. For the angry and the depressed, listen and make Noncommittal Sounds of Sympathy. For the philosophical, speculate with them on ideal or fantasy careers.

The sentence "I'm so sorry this happened to you" is often the best response. Etiquetteer advises care with "If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know." Only say this if you truly intend to help out when asked! Few things are as embarrassing for those in Unwilling Professional Transition than asking for help from those who have said  "If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know" -- whether it's for a professional introduction, review of a resume or correspondence, or even grocery money -- and then not getting it.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I need your help. My male colleague in the next cubicle wears the most annoying cologne. I think this is a fairly new habit because I have never noticed it until today. I have been sitting next to him for the last five months but we have never really talked so I can't just tell him "whatever you're wearing must stop". But I guess I have to. Is there a kind way to do this?

Dear Asphyxiated:

Someone once decreed that one's perfume should not be noticed in a room where one is not, in fact, present. Which is the problem with cubicles -- they're all in the same room!

Questions of Hygiene in the Workplace must be approached sensitively. And questions of cologne are especially sensitive, since scent is used to enhance one's Personal Appeal. (Please note: Etiquetteer did not say Sex Appeal since the setting for this query is the workplace. Those looking to enhance their Sex Appeal in the workplace . . . well, all Etiquetteer can say is, they'd better watch out, or they could find themselves laid off [see above].) It must be a jolt to find out that something one thought of as a positive has turned out to be such a negative that it's created a problem for a colleague.

Your concerns must be approached with sensitivity, too. Many people have olfactory health issues that are exacerbated by heavy or pungent scent, leading them to lobby for Fragrance Free Zones in their workplaces. Whether or not your own reaction to this is medical or just annoyed, Etiquetteer imagines it impacts your productivity. No one can type well while holding a handkerchief to one's nose.

Etiquetteer believes most people who apply their scent heavily don't realize the impact it has. You can bring up the topic casually ("Did you just get some new cologne?") and then segue into the heart of the matter ("Actually, it's quite overpowering.") If the idea of raising this issue creates too much anxiety, talk to your supervisor about it. That's what supervisors are for, after all! Your supervisor can address this issue anonymously on your behalf with your Highly Scented Colleague, or can arrange for a Fragrance Free Zone for you by moving your cubicle.

Random Issues, Vol. 6, Issue 23

Dear Etiquetteer:

So, where are you really supposed to put your napkin after dinner? Do you put it on the table or on your seat? We got into this discussion after dinner one night ‘cause we were all using paper napkins and they looked gross.

Dear Dabbing:

This is why Etiquetteer really doesn’t like paper napkins. Not only do they fall on the floor, they do not hold up well if the meal is, uh, moist. One of Etiquetteer’s favorite pub foods is buffalo wings. Most of us know how easy it is to use an entire stack of paper napkins going through a plate of those!

No matter the material of the napkin, its Perfectly Proper place at the end of the meal is to the left of your plate, not on your seat. When paper napkins get particularly messy, Etiquetteer is sometimes driven to slipping them into his pants pockets, but this is really a Desperate Measure . . . and not an option for a lady in a skirt.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What is the proper way to deal with friends who blog with wild abandon, and include one's private matters in their online diaries? If one highly values one's privacy, is the only solution to curtail social contact with the blogging folks? How does one make it clear to cyber-exhibitionists that one does not wish to be the subject of their reporting?

Dear Exposed:

Your life doesn't become a blogger's property, even the parts of it you choose to spend with and/or in confide in him or her. As soon as you read or become aware of references to yourself in someone's blog, you should contact the blogger and request that those references be removed immediately. Repeat as necessary until the appropriate action has been taken, up to and including legal assistance. (Indeed, Etiquetteer became aware of an amateur photographer who had been threatened with a lawsuit if he didn't remove photos of a former friend from his blog.)

If you feel, after repeated instances of this behavior, that your private life is no longer truly private, Etiquetteer can only recommend that you no longer communicate with this person without witnesses.

Dear Etiquetteer:

A few months ago, we were talking about mailing a letter to a lawyer and his wife who's a doctor and you said the names should always be alphabetical, not Mr. first and Ms. second. But now we're down to the nitty gritty of wedding invitations and I have a few questions. I normally start with Mr. and Mrs., but here are the questions:

Mr. Arturo Swisserswatter and Ms. Igotta Cacciabutti (married couple -- should Mrs. come first?)

Mr. Galahad Familyman and Ms. Prunaprismia Amanuensis (not married, living together, one address, one invitation, but should our son Galahad come first?)

Ms. Antoinette Outlier and Mr. Lancelot Britlington (my married niece and her husband -- again, with different names, but I feel that my niece should come first).

I admit to different rules (in one case husband first, in another case the relative first). But what is the perfectly proper way to handle it? Or does it really matter?

Dear Familyman Patriarch:

Taking your examples one by one:

Ms. Igotta Cacciabutti

Mr. Arturo Swisserswatter

Yes, this is in fact correct, even though you and I were always taught that the gentleman comes first.

Mr. Galahad Familyman

Ms. Prunaprismia Amanuensis

Etiquetteer admits that ordinarily they should be listed alphabetically, but since this is a family wedding invitation and Galahad is the family member . . . well, Etiquetteer thinks that's a good enough reason to list him first. Etiquetteer has seen some universities list the name of the alumnus first and then the spouse, whether or not the last names are in alphabetical order. This seems a universal enough precedent to Etiquetteer to apply here.

Ms. Antoinette Outlier

Mr. Lancelot Britlington

Again, family may come first for a family wedding.

To answer your last question, you'd be surprised to whom it matters! People will interpret slights over the least little thing, especially at weddings.

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.