Shaking Hands, Vol. 15, Issue 6

Dear Etiquetteer: Does Perfect Propriety require one to remove one's glove when shaking hands with another? It is my practice, but it seems inconsistent among the public at large. Also, is gender a consideration here?

Dear Shaking:

In the play Divine Sister, the Mother Superior reportedly said "We must never forget that we are on the brink of a period of great social change - and we must do everything in our power to stop it." Public health is playing a role in how people shake hands - or don't - and Etiquetteer is still trying to consider the most Perfectly Proper Compromise.

Traditionally, a gentleman removes his glove to shake hands, but a lady does not. A lady also has the privilege of not shaking hands if she doesn't choose to. Why? Etiquetteer suspects this comes from the long-standing belief that a gentleman doesn't force his attentions on a lady. So a gentleman doesn't offer his hand to a lady first; she offers hers, or doesn't.

The Book of Good Manners: A Guide to Polite Usage for All Social Functions, by Walter Cox Green (1922), elaborates a bit on ladies and gentlemen shaking hands with gloves: "A man with hands gloved should never shake hands with a woman without an apology for so doing, unless she likewise wears gloves. A sudden meeting, etc., may make a hand-shaking in gloves unavoidable. Unless the other party is also gloved, a man should say 'Please excuse my glove.'" No wonder people gave up on gloves - which is very sad indeed.

By 1953, however, Esquire Etiquette: A Guide to Business, Sports, and Social Conduct, by the "Editors of Esquire Magazine," advised that "Excuse my glove" had become old-fashioned. "That one belongs with 'After you, Alphonse,' and there is no comfortable response to it." [Emphasis Etiquetteer's.] Etiquetteer asks now, can't we just have our manners and use them without calling attention to them while in action? Besides the fact that there are more interesting things to talk about, there is always the likelihood that someone will then be made uncomfortable by suspecting that they are behaving incorrectly.

In this century, there seems to be no "comfortable response" to the phrase "I don't shake hands." Universally accepted as a greeting of acceptance and friendliness for centuries, the relatively recent incursion from Those Who Fear Germs still leaves a lingering Aura of Rejection. Once, not accepting a hand offered by one man to another would give offense*, or at least give the impression that one's further acquaintance was not sought. When meeting strangers for the first time, it leaves an unwelcoming impression.

Etiquetteer has to wonder if the time has come for Westerners to adopt the Far Eastern custom of bowing instead of shaking hands to accommodate (Etiquetteer does not say appease) Those Who Fear Germs. Bowing is quite dignified, does not need to appear subservient, shows respect to the other party, and does not require either to touch at any point. Indeed, not long ago Etiquetteer was obliged to dine out with a group of close friends while very clearly in the early stages of a Head Cold. Fearing undue exposure of others, Etiquetteer did what was possible to limit physical contact by bowing over a martini . . .

Debate over this issue - how to show respect and not give offense while also maintaining one's microbial integrity - will surely continue, just as scientific research does about what, exactly, we communicate when shaking hands.

 

gloves

*Sometimes, of course, offense is exactly what someone wants to convey by refusing to shake hands. Etiquetteer could show you some scars from such encounters . . .

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.

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.

You Can (or Cannot) Leave Your Hat On, Vol. 14, Issue 30

Even Etiquetteer needs to check on what is Perfectly Proper or not, and one mystifyingly foggy aspect of etiquette has always been when and where a gentleman may wear his hat indoors. Movies are never really a reliable guide to How to Behave Properly, and yet there are so many old films in which men are seen wearing hats indoors (around poker tables, in hotel lobbies, etc.) that the practice must have had some wider acceptance. But one gag in Auntie Mame (1958) is about a man with his hands full needing to take his hat off in an elevator. What is the final word on this? To Etiquetteer's delight, the key to unlock the mystery was found in a gem of a book called Male Manners: The Young Man's Guide to: dating, good looks, making friends, getting into schools, clubs, activities, talking easily, job hunting, traveling, cars, and more, by Kay Corinth and Mary Sargent (1969). The key is whether or not a space is public or private. In someone's home or office, hats are removed when you enter. If it's an office building, and therefore public, your hat may remain on. If you're riding on a public bus, subway, or streetcar, it's Perfectly Proper to remain hatted. Gentlemen may leave their hats on in a public elevator (for instance, in an office building or a college campus), but not if it's an elevator for a residence (like one of those tall residential towers so fashionable in New York and elsewhere these days). This was Etiquetteer's big surprise, having always thought that a gentleman removed his hat in any elevator.

Two important exceptions exist where hats are always removed on entry: churches and restaurants. Of course this relates only to secular headgear.* Etiquetteer gets enraged when seeing hipsters or other men wearing those fashionable narrow-brimmed hats - or worse, baseball caps - inside churches. Stop it at once! Several years ago, Etiquetteer joined the audience of a New Year's Eve evening concert in a church and was put off by the usher barking "Hats off!" as soon as the door opened, not even giving Etiquetteer a chance to take it off first before being disciplined. Later, seeing the rest of the audience, Etiquetteer understood, but still felt rather abused.

To summarize, a gentleman may wear his hat inside in these places: public buildings (e.g. hotel lobbies, office buildings, and their elevators). A gentleman removes his hat when he enters these places: private homes (and their elevators), restaurants, churches and other houses of worship (unless religious headgear).

Etiquetteer is relieved that the "Bad Hair Day" excuse to remain hatted seems to have been capped. After all, if people think you can't manage your hair, do you think they'll think you can manage something more important, like your career?

smalletiquetteer

* Once upon a time, it would not be necessary to state this, but with wider, and Perfectly Proper, acceptance of other cultures, it's important to specify.

How Not to Celebrate National Underwear Day, Vol. 14, Issue 28

Good underwear, like good housekeeping, is what you don't notice . . . at least not out in the streets, where it could frighten the horses. Etiquetteer only just learned that August 5 is National Underwear Day, yet another of the Hallmark Holidays brought to us by Retail and the Internet. Through an unhappy coincidence, today Etiquetteer also witnessed two examples of How Not to Celebrate National Underwear Day (should you choose to do so):

EXHIBIT A: In the morning Etiquetteer observed a young woman wearing a red-and-white print shirtwaist dress walking through a train station. As it happened, the dress was less than opaque. An unnaturally wide dark line spoiled the print of her dress. On closer observation, Etiquetteer was horrified to discover that the wide dark line was, in fact, the waistband of a pair of thong underwear, and that this young woman's buttocks were clearly visible through her dress. The one point Etiquetteer could award her for Perfect Propriety was that at least it appeared her brassiere was the same color!

But first, a thong is always wrong, and even more important, underwear should not be visible through one's outer clothing. Otherwise one might be branded a slattern or worse. (Etiquetteer is frantic with frustration at not being able to find an illustrative clip from the Jean Harlow film Red-Headed Woman, in which she tries on a dress. JH: "Can you see through this?" Saleslady: "I'm afraid you can." JH: "Then I'll wear it!" She proceeds to break up a marriage.) Clearly it's time for the slip, once an essential undergarment for ladies, to make a comeback.

EXHIBIT B: Later in the day Etiquetteer saw a Young Man greet his Lady Fair on the public street. He wore a pair of white athletic shorts over a quite obvious pair of briefs with a bold black and white print shining through. They reminded Etiquetteer of hotel curtains, and for a while Etiquetteer wondered if Fraulein Maria had made them for him. White is always Perfectly Proper for summer, as the world knows. But if you're going to wear white, wear it on the inside and the outside.

Let's recap, then, some Rules for Wearing Underwear:

  • No one should know if you are, or are not, wearing underwear. It's no one's business. Don't make it their business.
  • Underwear should not be visible through outer clothing. If you're wearing white outside, wear plain white underneath.
  • Underwear should not be visible around outer clothing. Waistbands should be concealed by tucked-in shirts at the very least. Bra straps should not protrude from necklines.
  • If you're wearing more than one piece of underwear, such as a bra and panties, they should be the same color.
  • A thong is always wrong.

Really, the best way to celebrate National Underwear Day is probably just to buy, without fanfare, one or more pairs of underwear. Etiquetteer feels sure that's why Retail and the Internet gave us this holiday in the first place.

no-nogloves

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!

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.

Perfect Propriety at a Time of Tragedy, Vol. 12, Issue 10

The City of Boston, Massachusetts, has just undergone one of the worst weeks in its almost-400-year history, the bombing of the Boston Marathon and subsequent manhunt for its two suspects. Five people, including one of the suspects, were killed, and dozens more injured, some grievously. The bravery of many men and women has led Etiquetteer to reflect on how best to react in such situations:

  • Aid the wounded or get out of the way. Etiquetteer admires the unbounded courage of the first responders who rushed into the smoke not knowing what they would find, or even able to see where they were going. Those unable to follow their example, for whatever reason, do best to clear the way for first responders. The standard fire-escape announcement in theatres comes to mind: "Exit the building from the nearest available exit and move away from the building quickly."
  • Comfort the afflicted. Everyone reacts to tragedy differently. Some internalize their reactions and manifest them later; others exhibit emotions right away. Etiquetteer was deeply moved by the generosity of Brent Cunningham, who gave his medal to another runner, Laura Wellington. Ms. Wellington, a runner who was deeply distressed at not being able to find her family after the bombing, was discovered weeping by Mr. Cunningham and his wife. He gave her his medal - what magnificent sportsmanship! - and has now received hers, since she was able to receive her own only a few hours later. Boston saw many such encounters throughout the week. They are an example to all of us.
  • Be patient with the network, however frustrating. Telecommunications went haywire after the bombing, leaving many people unable to connect reliably with loved ones. This underscores the need to select a meeting place in advance, as many runners did with their families, perhaps even an alternate location in case the first is inaccessible. It's also a good reminder to stay calm enough to speak slowly and distinctly with good diction, so that you'll definitely be understood over static and background noise on the line.
  • Reach out to those you love. Everyone knows Etiquetteer's fondness for Lovely Notes, and those may come later. But telephone and electronic communications - brief, concise, and specific - mean a great deal. Etiquetteer, though never in danger, greatly appreciated expressions of concern via text message, email, and voicemail.
  • Use the arts to heal. Etiquetteer took heart reading that several museums and other arts organizations in Boston waived their admission fees in the days after the tragedy. In the words of MFA director Malcolm Rogers, “It’s doing something positive. You’ve just seen a horrible example of what a perverted human mind can do. What the works of art in our care show is what the human mind and the human hands can do at their greatest and their most inspired.” In the days after the bombing, people came together to sing - not only the National Anthem, from which many draw comfort at such times, at the Boston Red Sox game - but also in the streets to sing hymns, and to raise money for the victims. And let us not forget those who came prepared to sing hymns over picketers from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (who, to the relief of all, did not appear). All these expressions of Beauty are necessary for healing.
  • Restrain your greed. Etiquetteer was incensed to read that not long after the tragedy, 2013 Boston Marathon medals appeared for sale on eBay. Etiquetteer is not going to speculate on whether or not those medals were obtained ethically in the first place. But even if they were, this is too soon.
  • Think before you speak. Etiquetteer was deeply disappointed when the FBI had to chastise the media about its inaccurate reporting that a suspect was in custody and en route to the Moakley Courthouse. This led not only to a convergence of the curious on the courthouse, but also its evacuation. Nor was the situation helped by individuals spreading rumors or incorrectly reported facts via the many forms of social media. "Least said, soonest mended" and "Loose lips sink ships" are still good maxims. Get your facts straight and, if you can't, pipe down until someone else does.
  • Or don't speak at all. Unfortunately several people tried to take political advantage of the tragedy to further their own particular views, which is cynical at best and downright offensive at worst. The instance that seems to have provoked the most backlash was undoubtedly Arkansas state representative Nate Bell's comments via Twitter to work in the national debate on gun control. To which Etiquetteer can only quote the character Cornelia Robson in Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, who says "Cousin Marie says politicians aren't gentlemen."
Now that the surviving suspect is in custody and daily life in the city returns to its expected rhythms, Etiquetteer encourages everyone to use Patience and Kindness with those you meet, both in person and online.

The War on Christmas, Vol. 11, Issue 19

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

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

Dear Greeted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introductions for the Absent-Minded, Vol. 11, Issue 15

Awhile back, on Etiquetteer's Facebook page (did you know Etiquetteer had a presence on Facebook? Etiquetteer uses it mostly to post relevant media articles about manners, or the lack of them, and the occasional one-line etiquette tip. Please stop by.) Etiquetteer posted a handy tip on social introductions: "When out in public with friends or acquaintances and encountering other friends or acquaintances, always introduce everyone to everyone else. No one likes to be overlooked." To which a reader replied "I would love a suggestion on what to do when I can't recall someone's name and I need to introduce them." And which led another reader to query "A problem arises when the friends you meet know you and you cannot remember ever having seen them before! Etiquetteer, what does one do then? I am quite serious."

This column endeavors to answer these questions. As Ellen Maury Slayden once said (about another situation entirely, but it still applies here): "Keep cool. This is a test of breeding."

Naturally it's very embarrassing to realize that you can't remember someone's name, or even whether or not you know them, or how. Three courses are open to you, once the flames of panic have been suppressed: introduce the other person first (though this may be out of precedence*, Etiquetteer will give you a dispensation), buy time by drawing the out the conversation hoping that a clue will jog your memory, or frankly admit that your memory has failed you. Believe it or not, the latter course is often the better one. A simple "My goodness, this is so embarrassing. I have completely forgotten your name! Please forgive me." ought to win everyone over to your side. It's such a direct appeal for sympathy, and you'll underscore it by maintaining eye contact with that person, and not looking away shamefacedly. You must then, if you can, follow it up with the memory of some kindness that person did for you, to prove that your temporary mental lapse was only the person's name, and not their value to you.

On a more comic note, you could also try the Scarlett O'Hara Approach -- "Every time I have on a new bonnet all the names I ever knew go right slap out of my head!" -- or the Tallulah Bankhead Approach -- "I don't really care what your name is, I just want to call you all Dahling, especially when you come to make love to me at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me." The latter should startle everyone enough that you can make a clean getaway swooping off to the bar.

Whatever you do, don't try to con them into saying their own names by saying "And I've had so much trouble pronouncing your name you'd better introduce yourself." The name you've had "so much trouble pronouncing" might be "Joe Smith."

When you can't even remember who those people are, much less their names, often the best course is to ask "My goodness, I can't even remember the last time I saw you! Where was it? And what have you been up to since?" This puts the onus of the conversation on them, which should lead to many clues.

The real test of breeding is, when you discover that your own name has been forgotten by someone else, passing it off lightly and not taking it to heart. This sort of lapse happens to everyone.

*Precedence for social introductions used to be much more complicated than it is today. Etiquetteer boils it down to these:

  • Gentlemen are introduced to ladies. "Mrs. Oldwitch, may I present Mr. Randy Wicket."
  • Younger people are introduced to older people. "Miss Dewy Freshness, may I introduce you to Mrs. Raddled Oldwitch?"
  • Junior employees are introduced to senior employees or executives, regardless of gender. "Mr. Chairman, I'd like you to meet Jeremy Filing, from the Accounting Department. Jeremy, this is Gerald Chairman."
  • Everyone is introduced to elected officials, regardless of gender, age, or rank. "Mr. President, may I present Mrs. Raddled Oldwitch."

It's almost October, which means that the Perfectly Proper are already thinking about their address lists for Christmas, New Year's, or other seasonal greeting cards. Should you have queries on this or other subjects, don't hesitate to reach out to Etiquetteer at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com!

St. Patrick's Day, Vol 11, Issue 7

Today is St. Patrick's Day, when everyone can claim to be Irish. Perfect Propriety takes a bigger hit on St. Patrick's Day than any other day in the American calendar, what with so many people using its parades and whatnot as a cover for Excess Alcohol Consumption. Etiquetteer has a few observations to make:

  • Mixed greens are suitable for a salad, but not your St. Patrick's Day "Wearin' of the Green." Please don't wear clashing shades of green. Kelly, olive, chartreuse, and day-glo look vile together. Remember, only blue-greens with blue-greens, and yellow-greens with yellow-greens.
  • In the last 30 years St. Patrick's Day has become a forum for homophobia in some communities. So let us not forget that it was the late Oscar Wilde who made the green carnation boutonniere a symbol for men of "the Wilde sort." "That sort" can now wear their carnations with a difference.
  • As the child of a Southern community with no Irish heritage, Etiquetteer grew up with only two St. Patrick's Day traditions: 1) wear green, and 2) pinch people who are not wearing green. And yet the tradition of pinching is unknown in certain Irish-American communities. If you're determined to go around pinching the greenless on St. Patrick's Day, remember that it's all in fun! Don't inflict pain, and don't let that be your purpose.
  • It's been suggested that the Irish should be exempt from pinching. Etiquetteer suggests that Irish who forget to wear green on St. Patrick's Day should be pinched twice.
  • If you're not wearing green, do not claim that you have on green undergarments. This is only an invitation for Rude Questions to prove your honesty, and quite possibly an Indecent Assault. (Of course, if that's what you really want, Etiquetteer has to wonder why you're even reading an etiquette column in the first place.)
  • Etiquetteer was taught early on, once moving North, that the only thing one must not do on St. Patrick's Day is wear orange. In some communities such attire is an invitation to violence. Etiquetteer hopes all the Syracuse University alumni will be safe today.
Finally, Public Drunkenness is overrated, and it is certainly not Perfectly Proper. Please drink with Perfect Propriety this St. Patrick's Day by obeying all local laws and law enforcement.
Etiquetteer will be delighted to take your questions about all Problems of Manners at queries <at> etiquetteer dot com.

George Washington 2.0, Vol. 11, Issue 5

In honor of Presidents Day, and the Father of our Country's birthday on February 22, Etiquetteer is going to update parts of George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. Etiquetteer bets you didn't even know George Washington wrote an etiquette book! He copied 110 maxims when he was only 14. Several of these have to do with precedence and are, shall we say, overly exaggerated for the 21st century. But others remain classic at the core, and need to be restated. For instance:

GW 1.0: "7th, Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half-dressed.

GW 2.0: The idea is, you show respect for others by looking put together in public. Don't leave the house until you're completely dressed; for ladies this means completely made up, too. No one should have to see these things in action: mascara wands, buttons, belts, and especially underwear. Say no to the fashion of sagging! Say no to gaposis! And, as Etiquetteer mentioned earlier this year, don't wear your pajamas in public!

GW 1.0: "18th, Read no letters, books, or papers in company; but when there is necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave."

GW 2.0: George's essential truth is still sound, that the person with you in person is more important than the person with you through another medium. Do not text or take or make phone calls in the presence of others, especially at the table, unless you ask permission first. This is especially difficult at table, or in a car, when your prisoners - um, Etiquetteer means companions - might be unable to continue talking themselves while waiting on you.

GW 1.0: "22nd, Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy" and "23rd, When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased, but always show pity to the suffering offender."

GW 2.0: Refrain from flaming on online comment boards, especially anonymously. It's no surprise that people give in to their baser instincts when their identities are concealed. Such behavior does, however, brand one a coward.This is only one reason you'll never see a comment board here at etiquetteer.com (not that readers of Etiquetteer behave that way, of course.)

GW 1.0: "48th, Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precept."

GW 2.0: Simply put, "Practice what you preach." It is very bad form, for instance, to advocate for the sanctity of marriage when one has been divorced, and certainly when one has been divorced more than once.

GW 1.0: "50th, Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any" and "79th, Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof."

GW 2.0: Don't trust what you read on the Internet and do your own research. Sad to say, partisans on every side of the political spectrum, in their eagerness to paint as dark a picture as possible of their opponents, do not adhere as zealously to Truth as they ought. Inflammatory email that gets circulated and recirculated, charts and graphs that appear on social media such as Facebook, more often than not contain errors of fact, bald or nuanced. All this has led Etiquetteer to take refuge in the pages of The Economist.

GW 1.0: "110th, Labour to keep alive in your breast the little celestial fire called conscience."

GW 2.0: No change needed for GW 2.0. This little phrase still summarizes the entire book perfectly.

Declining an Invitation to the White House, Vol. 11, Issue 2

Suddenly many people are upset because Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, the team that just won the Stanley Cup, declined an invitation to the White House to be received by the President of the United States. To hear some of the carry-on you'd think Mr. Thomas had flouted a Divine Command of the Deity of Your Choice! So you may be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer fully supports Mr. Thomas's decision not to attend this event (although he could have done so without making a statement to the press about it). The United States of America remains a democracy. Its founding cornerstone has been Liberty. Citizens have the right to accept or decline invitations from anyone as they choose, including invitations from the Chief Executive. Such invitations are not Royal Commands! Etiquetteer is fond of historical precedent in such cases, and indeed, Etiquetteer's beloved Ellen Maury Slayden supplies it. In 1902 she wrote "That snobbish twaddle about invitations to the White House and elsewhere being 'virtually commands' is having quite a vogue lately, chiefly, of course, among those just 'arriving' socially. I wish I could reproduce the savage humor with which Senator Vest treated the subject when we discussed it before him. He said he had been declining invitations to the White House for fifteen years because he didn't want to go and had not been threatened with impeachment yet."*

Of course Senator Vest was able to decline an invitation without making a sweeping statement to the press criticizing the Nation's government as a whole. While Mr. Thomas may exercise his Freedom of Speech to say whatever he pleases, and while the press may exercise its own essential Freedom to report what Mr. Thomas says, Etiquetteer can't find it Perfectly Proper for them to have gone to all this fuss.

To conclude, Etiquetteer thinks complaints about Mr. Thomas "insulting the President" by turning down this invitation are unjustified. If one is going to complain about Mr. Thomas, one is more justified complaining about the manner in which he did so, not the mere fact that he did.

* From Washington Wife: Journal of Ellen Maury Slayden from 1897-1919, page 41, copyright 1963. Used without permission.

Etiquetteer very much hopes to see you on Wednesday, February 1, for Good Manners at the Gibson House with Etiquetteer! Please contact the House today to reserve your tickets!

Two Current Events, Vol. 11, Issue 1

Two items in the news recently came to Etiquetteer's attention, each disturbing in its own way, and each worthy of comment. First, let's turn attention to Patron X, the gentleman whose smartphone stopped the New York Philharmonic mid-Mahler and enraged both the audience and the conductor. First, Etiquetteer has only praise for conductor Alan Gilbert. Not only did he sensibly stop the performance, later in the week he graciously accepted the personal apology of Patron X. Other artists of a more, shall we say, "artistic" temperament might have swooped down like a flock of harpies and banned the offender forever from concerts. It is to Mr. Gilbert's credit that he has accepted this man's sincere apology, and even to express sympathy for his predicament.

The situation could not have been more humiliating. Patron X was sitting in the front row of the concert hall with a new iPhone (received the day before from his company) that he only partly knew how to work. When the iPhone alarm clock went off, Patron X was near powerless to stop the noise. Etiquetteer believes that the contrition of Patron X is genuine and forgives him for this horrifying lapse of Perfect Propriety. But the entire experience boldly underscores the unquestioned necessity of powering off all personal electronic devices during a live performance of any kind. Not just to "silent" mode or "vibrate," but OFF. There is nothing so urgent that you need to know about it in the middle of a performance, and if it IS that urgent, maybe you shouldn't even be there. Power off completely and experience the performance completely! Dividing your attention will diminish your pleasure, and could eliminate the pleasure of others distracted by you.

When speaking in public, Etiquetteer begins with a "ritual power-down," so that everyone in the audience can switch off their cell phones and other paraphernalia together, making a group commitment to Perfect Propriety and Mutual Respect.

Then there's the Caddo Parish official trying to ban the wearing of pajamas in public:

Etiquetteer cannot claim to have seen people (of any age) cavorting about in their nightclothes, so perhaps this Lapse of Decency is only a local problem. What bothers Etiquetteer more is the careless attitude of offenders. Shreveport resident Khiry Tisdern is quoted saying "I'm an American, and I can wear my clothes anywhere I want. I'm a grown man. I pay my own bills, so I can wear my clothes the way I want." Mr. Tisdern may be a grown man, but he's not a grown-up. Grown-ups don't wear their pajamas in public.*

Even worse is the slovenly attitude of mother-of-three Tracy Carter, who says "... they're covering everything. I've got a three-year-old, a five-year-old and a 12-year-old to deal with." Her implication that Motherhood is so difficult that her family should be excused from putting on street clothes is an insult to parents everywhere who work hard to raise their children to behave and be strong, contributing members of Society. Etiquetteer's contempt for Ms. Carter cannot be stated too clearly.

This proves, too, that Perfect Propriety cannot be legislated. But because one has the Freedom to do something does not mean that one should do something.

*Some wag will certainly ask "Well, what about a pajama brunch?" And Etiquetteer will Heave a Weary Sigh and explain what is Perfectly Obvious: "If one is attending a pajama brunch in a private home, that falls under the definition of a costume party. If one is attending a pajama brunch in a restaurant, one attends in street clothes to avoid appearing like one is Trying Too Hard. If one is waiting tables at a restaurant's pajama brunch and one has to wear pajamas, they become one's uniform for the shift."

Etiquetteer hopes to greet you in person on February 1, 2012, at the Gibson House Museum for "Good Manners at the Gibson House with Etiquetteer."

Lessons from Childhood, Vol. 10, Issue 7

Truly it has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Children learn about Perfect Propriety from many other people besides their parents: teachers, neighbors, friends, and other family members. Etiquetteer recently had cause to contemplate this idea with the death of his Lovely Aunt Joan. Because while Etiquetteer promotes Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer was not born Perfectly Proper. Lovely Aunt Joan once took an opportunity to teach Young Etiquetteer a gentle lesson in Paying a Compliment. As in many families, children's clothes are passed from one child to another, and Lovely Aunt Joan's daughter, Little Cousin, was just the right age to receive things from Etiquetteer's Little Sister. During one large family gathering, Young Etiquetteer artlessly paid a compliment by saying "Cousin, don't you look lovely in Little Sister's old dress!" "No," interrupted Lovely Aunt Joan, who was sitting with us. "The best thing to say is 'Don't you look lovely in your new dress!' That's nicer." And she said it nicely, without making Young Etiquetteer feel unwholesomely small.

The point, of course, is that it's unkind to underscore the perception of charity in public. (Indeed, one thinks of Meg March in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" dressed up in another girl's ball dress at a house party.)

You see how the Innocence of Childhood needs to be refined to become Perfect Propriety. Thank you, Lovely Aunt Joan, for your Gentle Correction, and so much else.

Electronic Thanksgiving Invitations, Vol. 7, Issue 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invitations and Wedding Matters, Vol. 7, Issue 10

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve been invited to a brunch from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM. What’s an appropriate time to arrive? Dear Invited:When to arrive at any type of party seems to baffle many people, so Etiquetteer thanks you for the opportunity to present a few examples:

  • When you’re invited to a brunch that goes from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, arrive at 11:00 AM. 
  • When you’re invited to a dinner party for 8:00 PM, arrive at 8:00 PM. 
  • When you’re invited to an evening party and the invitation says 9:00 PM, arrive at 9:00 PM.
  • If you and a friend decide to meet for drinks at 6:00 PM, meet at 6:00 PM.

Are you picking up a trend here? Etiquetteer certainly hopes so, because it should be perfectly obvious that you arrive at a party when the party starts. “Fashionable lateness” is a fraud perpetuated by the Lazy and the Perpetually Tardy. Etiquetteer has long said that “For Maximum Fun Potential, arrive punctually.”This also keeps your hosts from fretting that no one will ever get there.Every rule has its exceptions, of course:

  • When you are invited to a church wedding, you may arrive up to half an hour early for the music. Do NOT expect to be seated after the procession has started! 
  • Any time “ish” is added to an invitation, add 15 minutes. If a friend says “Let’s get together about six-ish,” you can show up any time between 6:00 and 6:15. 6:30 is pushing it, and 6:45 is downright rude. 
  • “Open house” invitations mean you can arrive any time during the party and remain Perfectly Proper. Indeed, Etiquetteer just attended a lovely open house that went from 2:00 – 9:00 PM one Saturday. People came and went throughout and the hosts received them happily whenever they appeared. (Etiquetteer cannot assume that you brunch invitation was an “open house” since you don’t use those words.) 

Oddly enough, the occasion when promptness is most important is not for a party at someone’s home, but when one is dining with a large party in a restaurant that will only seat complete parties. Dear Etiquetteer:I’m getting married soon, and want to know if it’s OK to include a link to our gift registry on our wedding website. So many people ask it seems like it will be easier. Dear Bride to Be:It depends on how greedy you want to appear. If you don’t mind at all that people will think you are a grasping, selfish young lady who is only inviting people to her wedding because of the gifts she expects to receive, then by all means, post a link.Please forgive Etiquetteer’s Moment of Temper. You are very correct that a large number of guests at any wedding will ask about what a couple might want as a gift. But not everyone does, far from it. Create a registry page, by all means, but don’t provide a link to it from your wedding home page. When your guests ask you or your mother (these questions still frequently come to the bride’s mother), e-mail them the link to the registry. In this way, Perfect Propriety is preserved.And if your mother doesn’t have e-mail (still a possibility) she can go back to the old-fashioned way and tell the querents “Oh, they’re registered at [Insert Name of Retailer Here]. Just ask for the list.” Dear Etiquetteer:What should I wear to a wedding in April?Dear Guest Appearance:Regardless of the time of year, take your cues from the invitation. For an evening wedding, if it says “black tie” or one of its many tiresome variations such as “festive black tie” or “creative black tie,” then a tuxedo for the gentleman and a long gown for the lady is most Perfectly Proper.Assuming that you are invited to a wedding that begins before 5:00 PM, gentlemen would wear dark business suits and ladies could wear day dresses or suits. Etiquetteer immediately thinks of those nubbly wool Chanel suits of the early 1960s. Add a hat, and Etiquetteer will love you forever. If April in your region is cold, this is also the time to get out your fur piece. Etiquetteer remembers Edith Wharton’s amusing description of “all the old ladies of both families” at Newland Archer’s wedding to May Welland. The wedding was in earliest April, and the ladies in question had all dug out their grandmother’s fur pelisses, scarves, tippets, and muffs for the occasion . . . so much so that Newland Archer noticed the smell of camphor over the wedding flowers.

Mourning Clothes, Vol. 7, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer:

I am puzzled at funeral fashions these days. Whatever happened to tasteful subdued dignified attire for funerals? I behold now the advent of funeral “flair” with a combination of puzzlement and dread.

Dear Mourning:

Like you, Etiquetteer is sometimes puzzled by what passes at funerals and memorial services these days. Unfortunately most people are too stupid to understand the original color code of mourning clothes, from deep mourning (all black with no ornamentation) to half mourning (black, white, gray, purple, brown, and sometimes green). These days a lady wearing black is more likely to be mistaken for a bridesmaid than a widow! Appearing all in black now is more likely to initiate the Question of Humorous Intent “Who died?” Humor is seen fleeing the room when the deceased is identified. Etiquetteer’s point is that mourning clothes are supposed to prevent stupid questions, not prompt them.Etiquetteer blames this Sad State of Affairs on Sally Kellerman, whose character in the 1980 sex comedy Serial wore white, with ostentatious spirituality, to a memorial service. (Actually, Etiquetteer really blames Coco Chanel, who famously designed the Little Black Dress after her lover Boy Capel was killed in a plane crash).These days Etiquetteer feels fortunate if everyone attending a funeral shows up neatly dressed without athletic shoes/clothes and without denim. One should be somberly dressed: no skin visible from neck to knees, no ostentatious bling (that’s redundant but Etiquetteer really wanted to make the point), nothing that looks fussy. And it seems necessary now to point out that one's shoes should be CLEAN!What one does see more of these days is mourning buttons or T shirts with the picture of the deceased on them. You may be surprised to find out that Etiquettteer rather likes this custom. It hearkens to the mourning ribbons and badges that used to be handed out when presidents were assassinated. Some beautiful examples from Abraham Lincoln’s funeral observances may be found at the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History at http://www.gilderlehrman.org/collection/docs_archive/docs_archive_lincoln.html Last week Etiquetteer saw in the press a bolder example of the memorial T-shirt. At the sentencing of convicted murderer Daniel Tavares, the families of his victims, Beverly and Brian Mauck, all wore T-shirts with pictures of the deceased underneath the legend “Among the Angels.”

Obviously this was not a funeral, but Etiquetteer was moved by this visible call for justice. To some, however, such attire might not be appropriate in a court of law. What do you think, readers? Please share your opinion at query (at) etiquetteer.com.In case you needed more proof that “low riders” are not Perfectly Proper, seacoastonline.com reported February 21 that a young woman was tossed off a bus because the driver could see her, ahem, rear cleavage – enough of it that he was offended. The young woman in question gave her address as a homeless shelter, and appears to have been in and out of trouble with the law over the last few months. Now if Etiquetteer was going to be flippant (which is easy to do) he would declare that it’s a good thing the look of the early 1960s is coming back and why isn’t Grace Kelly her role model anyway. But it seems clear that this young woman is what is called “acting out,” seeking negative attention. Apparently she is being helped by a mental health center in her area. So without flippancy, Etiquetteer can only turn to the title of that Victorian tearjerker “She Is More to Be Pitied Than Censured,” and hope that she will choose Perfect Propriety for her lot in the future. Have you had enough of that revolting troll checking you out in the locker room? Feel like a prude but just don’t want someone’s, uh, business in your face while you’re dressing? Sick and tired of workout benches glistening with the sweat of another? Etiquetteer is preparing a simple guideline for a future issue on Perfect Propriety at the Gym and is eager to hear from you at query (at) etiquetteer.com.

How to Approach a Celebrity, Vol. 6, Issue 36

Dear Etiquetteer:

What is the most proper way to approach a celebrity?

I have a colleague who recently ran into Bruce Willis in a hotel lobby in Paris while on a business trip. She babbled to him, and apparently he was very kind to her as she was blathering on. It got me thinking - what is the most proper way to approach a celebrity that one encounters unexpectedly? Respect their privacy? Sneak a glance at them, but no more? Approach them respectfully? The paparazzi approach? I'm sure that Etiquetteer may have some gracious pointers in this regard.

Dear Starstruck:

Etiquetteer has had to think very carefully about this, and has come up with two Truths About Celebrity Interaction: a) celebrities are people, too; b) no matter what their publicists would have you believe, celebrities do not care about you. So the short answer to your query is not to make a fuss.

A Celebrity Who Will Not Be Named, after an outstanding career in notorious movies, finally decided not to go out to bars any longer. He got tired of being recognized as a celebrity and was quoted as saying "I just want to be myself." Etiquetteer thinks just about any celebrity feels the same way. One has only to look at the extraordinary lengths to which certain superstars have gone to avoid dealing with fans. Quite possibly the most famous example is the late Greta Garbo. Before she became a recluse, she used all sorts of subterfuges to escape notice; once she even had the studio makeup artist disguise her as an Asian woman so she could dine in a restaurant with her lover of the moment. These days the likes of Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor travel with bodyguards.

Some celebrities might even make fun of you behind your back. When mistaken for Edna St. Vincent Millay by an old man in a diner, famously irreverent Tallulah Bankhead convinced him that she was really the inspirational poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox.*

When accidentally thrown together with a celebrity, the best thing to do is not to mention their celebrity status at all. Etiquetteer wishes he could remember who recently told him the story of a friend who met Michelle Pfeiffer at a wedding. Both friends of the couple, they met while signing the guest book and passed the time talking the Happy Couple. Noreference was made to La Pfeiffer’s film career. But when you see someone on the street or in a hotel lobby, like your friend and Bruce Willis, the most respectful approach is to say simply "I just had to tell you I love your work" and then leave. Don’t ask inappropriate questions, don’t ask for an autograph, and don’

t take photos.

These situations are quite different from when you are invited to meet a celebrity, for instance backstage at a theatre or at an event where the celebrity is featured. Such occasions are established around the celebrity’s, uh, celebrity; in other words, they expect it and aren’t caught off guard. Etiquetteer vividly remembers being taken as a young boy to meet the legendary singer Roberta Peters in her dressing room after a recital. More than any other space, the dressing room is the celebrity’s own territory; to be willing to admit a stranger signifies that a celebrity wants to spend time with one. Many years later Etiquetteer was privileged to meet (on different occasions) Jeff Bridges, Judith Martin, Liv Ullmann, and the legendary Celeste Holm, among others. All of them were Perfectly Gracious, no doubt in part because they knew why they’

d been invited.

*This lovely anecdote from Eugenia Rawls’

book Tallulah: A Memory.

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.

 

Past Imperfect, Vol. 6, Issue 11


PAST IMPERFECT

Vol. 6, Issue 11, March 18, 2007

 

Many people assume that etiquette writers, not just Etiquetteer, believe that everything was better in the past than it is today. Etiquetteer is here to tell you "Not so!" Many old customs have fallen out of fashion because they became overdone and not particularly conducive to good human relations. Etiquetteer would now like to look at some of the "vices and virtues" of the past, both things that we can do without and those we would do well to bring back.

MOURNING AND MOURNING CLOTHES

Grief and sadness are common emotions when a loved one dies. Society has developed traditions and rituals to comfort the bereaved: letters of sympathy, offerings of food or flowers brought to the home, funerals and memorial services, and even mourning clothes. The latter, including armbands, memorial buttons or badges, black-bordered handkerchiefs, and of course the famous mourning veil, served two purposes: to show respect to the dead and also to warn others not to bring up sensitive subjects.

But the idea of having to wear all black for at least three years after the death of a spouse or be thought not to have loved him or her . . . well, it’s just silly. Enough people in the mental health profession have already shown how excessive mourning prevents people from resuming their daily lives. The sort-of cult of mourning in the 19th Century, complete with memorial illustrations, restrictions on where one might go and to whom one might speak there, could lead one to Distraction, and probably did.

Now Society has moved to the opposite end of the spectrum by denying grief altogether. We "celebrate the life" of the deceased instead of mourning the death, wear colors to actual funerals if we attend at all, and use the convenience of e-mail when the special effort of writing a letter is so much more appreciated by the bereaved. And black, now so fashionable, is no longer a signal of mourning. Etiquetteer has witnessed on more than one occasion one person joke with another "Wow, black! Who died?" only to hearexactly who the deceased was.

One of the innovations of which Etiquetteer heartily approves is the mourning button with the picture of the deceased on it. Frequently made in the 19th Century for public figures (Presidents Lincoln and Garfield come to mind), they are now more widely seen and more easily made than they were 150 years ago.

Etiquetteer would like to see a middle ground between these extremes: a service where one could acknowledge one’s sadness by mourning the death as well as "celebrating the life," wear mourning colors at least through the funeral (but not for an extended period unless the bereaved chooses to do so), and yet not be thought insensitive when one feels the need no longer to demonstrate mourning.

CALLING AND CALLING CARDS

"The old arbitrary Washington custom of calling has lapsed entirely, and I lay a wreath on its grave without regret . . . " said Ellen Maury Slayden as far back as 1918. The rules and regulations governing calling and leaving calling cards in the homes of friends and associates must have collapsed under their own complexity and inconvenience. Rules about who called on whom first, the time in which those calls had to be returned, members of the household for whom one (and/or one’s spouse) left cards and how many, even different messages to send by folding certain corners of the card, had to be rigidly obeyed or interpreted as slights or insults. Mrs. Slayden recorded in her journal getting a cold shoulder from someone new in town whose call she couldn’t return because she lived too far away. Not a satisfactory system at all, and rife with misunderstandings. At least it kept the engravers in business.

Now we have the Internet, which solves some of these problems, but creates new ones.

RECEIVING LINES

Etiquetteer loves a receiving line, let’s not be mistaken about that. But too much of a good thing can implode, and it’s no wonder to see this useful custom kicked to the curb. The first problem with a receiving line is having too many people in it. Etiquetteer’s beloved Ellen Maury Slayden recorded attending an afternoon reception in Washington where "there were twenty women in the receiving party ‘bunched,’ as we say in Texas, on one side of the room . . . " And many of us remember weddings with a receiving line of twelve or more people: bride, groom, four parents, and eight or so bridesmaids. This is overkill, to say the least!

The second, and perhaps more noticeable problem, is that they take a long time. And the only reason for this is the garrulousness of the people in it. A receiving line is no place for a conversation! You are not rude if you say only "How do you do," "Congratulations!" or "It’s so nice to see you again" and then pass to the next person. Really, it’s rude if you say more and hold up everyone behind you. The time for conversation is during the party. Thoughtful brides and grooms (or other guests of honor) circulate among the guests during the reception in order to talk more.

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