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 . . .

Blizzard Etiquette, Vol. 14, Issue 4

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

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

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

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

Reacting to Offensive Comments, Vol. 13, Issue 39

Dear Etiquetteer: What do you say when someone makes inappropriate comments without creating a scene?

Dear Etiquetteer:

How does one politely yet emphatically interrupt conversation to deal with other participants who have dropped rude, crass, ignorant, racist or homophobic remarks?

Dear Offended Auditor(s):

We are blessed to live in a land that affords Freedom of Speech. The surprising advantage to this is learning how hateful people can be through what they say, which gives you the freedom to avoid them ever afterward. Etiquetteer wishes dearly that the memory of who said "I think if a man has opinions like that he should keep them to himself" in what movie would come back, but it is nevertheless good advice when one has Controversial Opinions about Other People, Beliefs, Practices, Behaviors, or Places.

Before getting involved, it's very important that you ask yourself honestly what outcome you expect. Do you expect to change this person's point of view? Do you want to warn them that someone who belongs to one of the groups being disparaged is nearby and could be offended? Do you want merely to change the topic? Do you just want to explain why your beliefs are different? Do you want to be sure they know that you think they are a Bad Person Unfit for Polite Society? Because let Etiquetteer tell you, if the answer to that last question is Yes, the most Perfectly Proper thing for you to do is to Remove Yourself from that person at once. Etiquetteer's Dear Mother wisely said "When you lose your temper, you lose your point." If you let anger overmaster you, you defend your point of view poorly.

As a general rule, it is safest not to respond to total strangers. With acquaintances and friends, there is slightly more leeway to offer Gentle Correction. With family . . . well, family dynamics are most challenging. While bound together by blood, differences in generation, region, and education do make themselves felt. Proceed with caution.

Let's establish the situation, which affects in part if and how you should react:

  • Are you in public, and are the offenders total strangers? If so, say nothing. That will surely create a scene.
  • Is this person just a Provocative Contrarian waving a red cape at a bull for his or her own entertainment? Stay away. You will always lose an argument with such people, who live only to humiliate others.
  • Are you a guest at a party overhearing a stranger? Say nothing, or speak to your host or hostess quietly.
  • Are you in a group of friends or acquaintances enjoying conversation? If it's necessary to prevent a scene, take the person aside - "Adolf, there's something I particularly want to ask you about" - and suggest Ever So Gently that they're making a bad impression and that more neutral topics are better for the occasion.
  • Are you in your own home or are you the host of a gathering at which these remarks are made? If so, it may be necessary for you to say a Quiet Word that the topic in question is forbidden in your house.

Irrepressible Elsa Maxwell recorded a Perfectly Proper example of the latter in her book I Married the World when the woman most known to History as Consuelo Vanderbilt had to react to an insult at her dinner table. It seems that the Earl of Carnarvon, her houseguest along with La Maxwell, suddenly popped out with "the French were a lot of frogs, anyway" in a discussion about postwar Europe. Alas for him, he had forgotten that his hostess was no longer Duchess of Marlborough but had been Madame Jacques Balsan for several years! La Maxwell related: "As Madame Balsan is married to a Frenchman and devoted to France the fat was in the fire. Icily, firmly and irrevocably the ultimatum was delivered to [the Earl]: 'Will you kindly leave my table and my house this instant,' Mme. Balsan demanded. Whereupon, his dinner half eaten, he left the room, went upstairs and had his bags packed and left the house.'"* Which just goes to show that it isn't Perfectly Proper to bite the hand that feeds you. Etiquetteer at least gives the Earl credit for recognizing his Stupendous Blunder and actually leaving the house without trying to have a Tedious Discussion about Feelings.

Etiquetteer will conclude by observing that sometimes Icy Silence communicates more effectively than any words.

Dear Etiquetteer:

When a friends posts something on a social network that you find offensive, is it proper to say anything? Is it simply proper to tell them they have offended you and why?

Dear Internetworked:

It is astonishing how people will toss off the most offensive comments online that they'd at least think twice about before uttering in person. To avoid making a scene (see above), Etiquetteer prefers sending a private message via the Social Media Being Used to explain, in as neutral and brief a way as possible, how what was communicated offended you. Depending on the Offensive Comment, you might include the possibility that they weren't aware their comment could be intepreted in an offensive way. You might also encourage them to delete it. But a flame war should be avoided.

Etiquetteer recommends NOT leaving a comment under the offensive post, which would be likely to prompt a public Airing of Dirty Laundry. Your goal is not to embarrass the other person (Etiquetteer hopes) but to express your own offense.

* Elsa Maxwell, quoted in Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt, but Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, p. 479.

When Hospitalized Overseas, Vol. 13, Issue 1

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

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

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

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

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

Any thoughts as to the proper response?

Dear Patient:

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

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

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

Random Issues and Commentary, Vol. 12, Issue 5

Dear Etiquetteer: When someone sees a bit of food on your face, or a smudge or something else that shouldn't be there, should they tell you about it? Even if it's small?

Dear Smudged:

The question isn't the size of the apparent Impediment to Perfection, but the ability to do something about it. For instance, Etiquetteer has on more than one occasion come home from a party with a dark green bit of spanikopita on his teeth, which would have been easy to remove had someone quietly said, "Etiquetteer, you have a bit of spinach in your teeth." On the other hand, Etiquetteer, like many men, occasionally cuts himself shaving. When the answer to "You have something on your chin" is "It's a scab; I cut myself shaving," you've overstepped.

Etiquetteer should hasten to add that it's impertinent of a gentleman to inform a lady who is a stranger to him of anything out of place about her. These days such "helpfulness" is too easily misconstrued as harrassment.

Unfortunately, the threat of being expelled from Best Society no longer deters people from behaving badly in public. Several instances have appeared in the news today:

  • Students at Tufts University were reprimanded for excessive drunkenness and public urination at the Tufts Winter Bash at a Boston hotel. Do you know why Emily Post, Lillian Eichler, Amy Vanderbilt, and other 20th-century etiquette writers never had to specify that ladies and gentlemen never urinated in plain view? BECAUSE PEOPLE KNEW BETTER. Etiquetteer blames Woodstock. If it were up to Etiquetteer, these students would be expelled. In the meantime, Etiquetteer hopes that Tufts will choose a less violent name for their winter dance than "bash."
  • Some good clean fraternity fun veered into Imperfect Propriety when a University of Michigan fraternity was suspended indefinitely for using a semi-nude photo in a party invitation. The photo features a row of ten Pi Kappa Alpha brothers wearing only a very thin American flag. While Etiquetteer chooses not to doubt the intentions of these young men - although one of them does appear to be enjoying himself a bit too much - Etiquetteer does have to disapprove. You see, the photo was used in a party invitation to a sorority, and this Image of Implied Nudity can easily be construed as Forcing One's Attention on a Lady, which as we know is Simply Not Done. A photograph of the brothers fully dressed would not have been offensive. Etiquetteer hopes this Error in Judgment will be rectified soon.
  • The Black Mental Health Alliance has launched an ad campaign emphasizing the legal penalties of sagging. For those who might be unaware, sagging is the practice of wearing one's pants below the waist, often to such a degree that they are completely below the buttocks - exposing undergarments, and often more. Etiquetteer agrees with rapper Tamara Bubble, quoted as saying "Sagging should stop now. Girls don’t like it and people don’t take you seriously in general. You can’t get job with it. If you go to court with it, you’re probably going to lose your case. In all aspects of life, it’s not healthy." But even Etiquetteer questions the penalties mentioned: a $300 fine and up to three years in jail. Etiquetteer can only imagine the hue and cry there would be if such a campaign was put into place for those who wear pajamas in public* - a practice that is carried out by too many people of all races.
  • Then there's the report of Judy H. Viger, the 33-year-old mother who hired strippers for her son's sixteenth birthday party. CAUTION: The linked article includes what most people would call a "Not Safe For Work image" and what Etiquetteer calls Most Indelicate. From the article: "The dancers stripped to thong underwear and bras and gave lap dances to some of the teenagers." The article also mentions that this party was held at a bowling alley, and it isn't clear that it was in a private lane. Ms. Viger has been arrested, and Etiquetteer would like to see her sentenced to public service working with victims of sexual abuse.

And that should be Quite Enough from Etiquetteer tonight! Now go forward and sin no more.

*Of course Etiquetteer exempts those going to or from a pajama brunch, but it is advisable not to run errands along the way.

Random Issues, Vol. 9, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:
Last night, I took a dear friend as my guest to an expensive art gallery dinner, held in honor of a newly opened show. It was meant to be a special treat for us, as my friend is just emerging into social life again, after a devastating divorce.
Unfortunately, we were seated at a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious. After attempting polite introductions and brief small talk with our fellow diners, we two girlfriends tried to converse quietly together. But conversation was rendered impossible by the group's rude comments, and shenanigans such as dinner rolls being thrown across the table.
The room was otherwise full, and no alternative seats were available. The gallery owner ignored the situation. I was mortified to subject my friend to such obnoxious buffoonery. She is not native to the US, and the group even mocked the pronunciation of her name. We left as soon as the dessert had been served.
What on earth can one do to rescue such an evening, short of leaving as soon as possible? I apologized to my friend for the disastrous experience. As her her host, what else should I have done?
Dear Subjected:
Etiquetteer can only respond to you with the deepest compassion. The only thing worse than dining with "a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious" is dining with "a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious" who are your closest friends of whom you expected better.
The best way to guarantee your enjoyment at the sort of dinner you describe, which sounds suspiciously like a fund-raiser, is to round up enough friends and acquaintances to fill a table. As you have sadly learned, when Money is the only criterion for entrée, ladies and gentlemen are not safe from Bad Manners. (The roll-throwing tempted Etiquetteer to hope that perhaps these drunken bawds had once read P.G. Wodehouse, but this does not really seem likely. There are restaurants that cater to the roll-throwing crowd, like Lambert's Café, a more likely influence.)
It seems that you did everything possible at the time to salvage the evening, except speaking directly with the gallery owner. You indicate that s/he was ignoring the situation; you had the power to call it to his/her attention in no uncertain terms, by beckoning, or at worst, leaving your table and going to him/her. Another temporary solution might have been to take your dessert into the lobby.
Now that this ghastly dinner is behind you, Etiquetteer encourages you to create a new social opportunity for your newly-divorced friend: a dinner party in your own home given in her honor, with your own friends whose Perfect Propriety you know well enough in advance. You may also correspond with the gallery owner and sever any possible future connection with that organization.

Dear Etiquetteer:
I am a new, part-time teacher at my school.  I teach music in a building that is away from the main building and I very rarely socialize with other teachers; I'm just not around them much and don't eat lunch with them or chat in the teacher's lounge.  I received an invitation to a bridal shower for one of my coworkers.  He is getting married soon and I only know him by his last name.  I met his wife at the Christmas staff party, but can't remember her name.

What should I do about this shower?  I don't want to go, because I don't know the groom at all, and I know the bride even less.  Do I have to send a gift if I wimp out on attending?

Dear Teaching:
Undoubtedly this invitation was sent to all school faculty as a courtesy, and the groom didn't want you (or others) to feel left out. At least, that's how Etiquetteer could explain this situation charitably. (Whoever heard of a groom inviting professional colleagues to his fiancée's bridal shower?!) You need not attend, or send a gift, but please do send a Lovely Note of Congratulations to the Happy Couple on your most Perfectly Proper stationery.

Current Events, Vol. 6, Issue 17

Celebrities only seem to get into the news when they are behaving badly. Two recent mini-dramas have captured Etiquetteer’s attention.

You will be surprised – very surprised, Etiquetteer suspects – to find Etiquetteer defending Karl Rove about anything. But after the White House Correspondents Dinner last week, Etiquetteer must Wag an Admonitory Digit at Sheryl Crow and her dinner companion Laurie David for initiating a nasty little contretemps about global warming. Crow and David, whose self-serving account of the incident appears on Arianna Huffington’s blog, certainly make themselves out to be the Calm Crusaders. From ingenuous comments like "How excited were we to have our first opportunity ever to talk directly to the Bush Administration about global warming" to glossy acccounts of their own part in the barney ("We felt compelled to remind him that the research is done and the results are in"), they present themselves as Earnest Little Girls nicely asking the Big Man about a Bad Decision. Etiquetteer finds abhorrent their idea that Sheryl Crow’s beauty alone should compel Rove to speak with them ("How hardened and removed from reality must a person be to refuse to be touched by Sheryl Crow?"). Feminists everywhere should be offended with this 19th century notion.

If they really wanted to have a meaningful dialogue about climate change with Rove, they would have used this opportunity to schedule an appointment. Indeed, courtiers of Louis XIV were always advised not to surrender petitions to him during particular audiences because the Sun King was likely to lose them while changing clothes. Instead, it just looks like they wanted to get in the paper themselves.

Not that Rove comes out smelling like a rose. Eyewitnesses indicate that he gave as good as he got, whereas a change of topic or a cold "This is not the time or place to discuss it" would have been Perfectly Proper. The truth, as is so frequently the case, is someplace in the middle.

Moving right along, we find that actress Kim Basinger has released to the press an abusive voicemail message from her ex-husband, Alec Baldwin, to their daughter Ireland. While hardly excusing Baldwin’s vicious telephone tantrum – did he miss that day in anger management class? – Etiquetteer is outraged that La Basinger and her attorneys leaked the voicemail to the press. Can you think of anything that would be more embarrassing to eleven-year-old Ireland? All this dirty laundry could have been kept right where it belonged – in the family – without the vengefulness of a celebrity divorcée selfishly shaming the father of her child, and her child as well.

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Reader Response, Vol. 5, Issue 21

Finally we are passed Memorial Day, and Etiquetteer knows you are all happily wearing white with Perfect Propriety. As you see, Etiquetteer has made the switch, too!

Etiquetteer has taken a bit of flak over a recent column about how to deal with talkative strangers:

Shame on you! Old people rarely get the company they deserve. I remember meeting an elderly gentleman on a streetcar in San Francisco. He said he rode it all day just to have something to do and if anybody talked to him, that just made it a great day. That man next to you was probably talking about your salad because that was all he knew the two of you had in common. Isn't there a compromise somewhere where you could eat and this man could get a little human communication?

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer is not questioning why that nice old man was talking about the Cobb salad, or indeed the issue of lonely old people wandering cities across our nation looking for human interaction. But do you have any understanding of how difficult it is to eat food while people are talking about it? While wishing this old gentleman no ill will, Etiquetteer must sympathize with those who have only a limited time for lunch to get away from the stresses of the workday. And if this means you class Etiquetteer along with murderously self-absorbed Waldo Lydecker, well, so be it.

Do you have any suggestions for how one might extricate oneself from such a chatterbox before reaching the point of rudeness? Something along the lines of “I’ve enjoyed listening to you. I’m going to return to my book now; this is one of the few times that I get the chance to read, and I do so enjoy it.” I recognize that chatters exist (my honey is one, and being a non-chatter myself, I appreciate the pressure it takes off me at parties to be verbal) but in my experience, many chatters chat because they are lonely and looking for any sort of human connection. In your examples the train platform lady is probably the latter. I ran into a lot of lonely people (mostly senior citizens) in my first job as a high school student, working in a pharmacy and occasionally delivering prescriptions. I was not very good at tearing myself away, and frequently had to explain to my boss why I'd been gone so long. A good method for extricating oneself from these situations is appreciated.

Etiquetteer responds: Really, you just provided it. Your little speech suits the purpose almost to the point of courtliness. Etiquetteer could only add “Won’t you excuse me please?” to make it Perfectly Proper. As a delivery boy you can always say “Sorry, they keep me on a tight schedule and I can’t get in trouble.”


 

Talkative Strangers and Wedding Gifts, Vol. 5, Issue 17

EXAMPLES FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF ETIQUETTEER: Many people in the world have a need to talk. But Etiquetteer has no need to listen. Two recent experiences reminded Etiquetteer that, frequently, silence is golden.On Easter Sunday Etiquetteer found himself traveling by subway to an afternoon party. While innocently standing on the platform reading American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, an urgent young woman asked Etiquettteer the time. The time Etiquetteer gave her, however, was insufficient to send her away. "Oh my goodness, I’m late for church! And not that I go every Sunday, but the music is so good at the beginning of the service . . . " You can probably see where this is leading, but not the references to her boyfriend and her inability to pay her mortgage, which came about ten minutes later. Etiquetteer tried doggedly to continue reading, but concentration on the printed page was near impossible with this persistent flow of personal information. At the suggestion of a question, Etiquetteer saw an opening: "Oh I’m sorry, I’ve been reading my book and I wasn’t paying attention." Alas, this didn’t stop her, but the train did. (No, Etiquetteer didn't throw her under it.)Not long after that, Etiquetteer was enjoying the daily newspaper and a Cobb salad at the bar of a popular restaurant. Anyone who lunches at a restaurant bar knows that a certain amount of camaraderie between other diners is unavoidable, even welcome. But Etiquetteer finds it too much to ask to have to give up both paper and salad to focus fully on a total stranger. You see, an elderly man sitting next to Etiquetteer found his conversational opening with Etiquetteer’s lunch. "Say, that’s some salad!" he said. "Yes, it’s very good." Etiquetteer replied. "Now what all do they put in there?" he persisted. "Tomatoes, cheese – I’ll bet that’s bleu cheese – and turkey . . . " "No, it’s chicken." "OH, chicken! Oh, that’s good." Good heavens, Etiquetteer thought, must we discuss all the ingredients of this salad while I’m trying to eat it? This continued for no little time, until "Boy, the sandwiches we used to get at the [insert name of Defunct Cafeteria here]. Gosh . . . " and he just kept going on and on. Etiquetteer, exasperated, finally had to turn fully back to the newspaper and simply not respond. It was the only way to finish lunch without indigestion and still get back to the office on time.Heaven knows both of these people were harmless, but also clueless. A person with his nose in a book or newspaper should not look as though they are ready to strike up a conversation, and yet how often do we hear stories of just that happening? This may lead Etiquetteer to get an iPod . . .

Dear Etiquetteer:My husband and I found ourselves with opposing thoughts. (This rarely happens, so it's headline news around here.) One of us says that a wedding invitation can be answered with the regrets card plus a lovely congratulatory (or cute, depending on the couple) greeting card. The other one of us says no, that's what you do when an announcement is sent; an invitation obligates you to send a gift whether you're attending the wedding or not. If it makes any difference, one of us works at the same place (we couldn't even say "works with") the groom and we have never met the bride. What's correct?Dear Gifting:Now let Etiquetteer make this perfectly clear: a wedding invitation is not an invoice. If you and your husband feel you are close enough to his colleague, then by all means get the Happy Couple a gift. But only if you feel moved to do so. Otherwise send the reply card and a heartfelt message of congratulations.

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