You're Cordially Invited to Celebrate Repeal!

Etiquetteer is delighted to be hosting for the third year the Repeal Day Celebration at the Gibson House Museum in Boston, on Wednesday, December 3, from 6:30 - 8:30 PM. Sponsored by Ryan and Wood Distilleries, famous for their "bright and flexible" Knockabout Gin, and with a bar staffed by Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, this year Etiquetteer and the Gibson House are delighted to welcome Boston author Stephanie Schorow, who will share some entertaining passages from her book Drinking Boston: A History of the City and its Spirits.

Space is limited, so please do reserve your tickets ($125 patron; $200 sponsor) by contacting the Gibson House at Sponsors will receive a personally autographed copy of Drinking Boston.

If you enjoy drinking gin in historic homes with convivial company, and all in a state of Perfect Propriety, this is not a night to miss! Etiquetteer looks forward to greeting you.

A Perfectly Proper Announcement, Vol. 13, Issue 51

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

Table Manners: Soup Neck, Vol. 13, Issue 50

Recently Etiquetteer had the pleasure of dining at Gurmansky Grob, in a suburb of Bratislava, Slovakia, a home restaurant renowned for its preparation of duck. And indeed, it's worth traveling to Slovakia to enjoy it! Their excellent dinner included enormous tureens of soup, which contained duck necks. Now, the neck of just about any bird is the most difficult part of a bird to eat with Perfect Propriety. They're often more trouble than they're worth, and consuming a neck in a bowl of soup seemed just about impossible, if not unthinkable.

Etiquetteer's hostess taught the assembly how to do so the Slovakian way. Use the spoon in your right hand to lift the neck to your mouth. Then, keeping the neck in or just above the bowl of the spoon grasp one end of the neck with your left hand and nibble away. It is important to perform this operation over the soup bowl, in case there should be any inadvertent dripping. Etiquetteer should not have to point out that this sort of operation doesn't belong at a formal dinner, but this knowledge may come in handy the next time you encounter a hearty, rustic menu.

Lauren Bacall and Gold Lamé, Vol. 13, Issue 45

Etiquetteer was saddened to hear yesterday of the the death of Lauren Bacall, an enduring talent from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Years ago, Etiquetteer was asked about how Perfectly Proper it might be to wear gold lamé out in public, to which Etiquetteer responded "The only Perfectly Proper way to wear gold lamé publicly is if you're Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep, and you aren't." This is the scene that inspired Etiquetteer to make that comment:

So while Etiquetteer continues to object to the vulgar use of gold lamé, Etiquetteer salutes Ms. Bacall as the one woman who could pull it off.

A Perfectly Proper Summer Cocktail

To slake your summer thirst, and cool the poignancy of the remaining weeks in which white shoes may be worn with Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer offers you the Etiquetteer Pink Gin:

  • In a tall glass over ice, pour one part Ryan and Wood Knockabout Gin and three parts tonic water.
  • Add 1/4 tsp. yellow chartreuse.
  • Add enough cranberry juice to tint a pale flamingo pink.
  • Garnish with lime round.
  • Serve with crisp linen cocktail napkin.

Meeting for Drinks, Vol. 13, Issue 43

Dear Etiquetteer: Often I like to meet a friend or a co-worker after work for a drink at a bar someplace. I think of meeting someone "for a drink" as just that, a drink, and then we move on to whatever other evening commitments we have. But I seem to be the only one who thinks this. Invariably the other person will suggest that we "get something," and what usually happens is dinner, either burgers at the bar or getting a table for a full meal. I love spending time with these people - otherwise I wouldn't ask them or go with them - but the time, and sometimes the money, is more than I have to invest. How can I set the expectation that dinner isn't in my plans, but a drink is? I don't want to seem unfriendly.

Dear Drinking:

As is often the case in barrooms, 50% of the solution is recognizing the problem. For this particular problem, however, the other 50% of the solution is outside the barroom. Set the expectation when you invite your friend or colleague, before you are anywhere near the Bar of Your Choice, that really, this is just for a drink because you can only stay for an hour. Really. Because of the "other evening commitments" to which you refer. And if you don't have any, make some or fake some. It's not necessary to say what your plans are, even when pressed. Cultivate an air of mystery, rather like that of Madame Heloise d'Arcy Beaumont in O. Henry's delightful "Transients in Arcadia," of whom it was said "There was an untraceable rumor in the Hotel Lotus that Madame was a cosmopolite, and that she was pulling with her slender white hands certain strings between the nations in the favor of Russia."

You'll also have to keep from caving into your buddy's suggestion for refreshments. "No, thank you" is more powerful than you know - and if it's more powerful than you are, you can add "I already have plans for dinner." Do not respond, as Ina Claire did in The Greeks Had a Word for Them, "Don't speak of food while I'm drinking my dinner!"

Houseguests vs. Children, Vol. 13, Issue 34

Dear Etiquetteer: We enjoy hosting our friends in our home. However, with the advent of children in our life, our duties and responsibilities have obviously changed. Most of our guests behave with Perfect Propriety, but sadly, some feel that late nights and late wakings are not an issue. I can keep the offspring relatively quiet in consideration of our guests (who may not have kept their late night volumes low) but at what point may I allow the children to enjoy their own home when guests are slumbering?

Dear Hotelier:

It sounds to Etiquetteer as though you really need to communicate your Domestic Rhythm more effectively to your overnight houseguests. You can be both Hospitable and Forthright when you say "The children usually go to bed at [Insert Time Here]. We hope you'll join us for breakfast at [Insert Time Here], otherwise the percolator will be going in the kitchen all morning." Not everyone is a Morning Person, but the days have long passed when one could avoid seeing one's hosts until noon, as the late Joan Crawford was said to have suggested.

On the other side of the coin, teaching your children courtesy to houseguests is an important part of their training in Perfect Propriety. Little Adelbert and Gruach need to know how they can make a guest feel welcome. Etiquetteer recalls reading Nancy Cunard's biography and how she was allowed to help the staff prepare for house parties by putting flowers in the guest rooms and checking that all the writing tables had plenty of stationery, pens, and ink.*

One of the most important ways to be quiet while the guest is asleep, as you already know. Surely there are some quiet morning activities to which they can turn their little hands, yes? Painting pictures, reading, learning sign language . . . the possibilities are myriad. Or just turn them out in the yard to play, but far away from the windows of the guest room.

*Nancy Cunard, by Annie Chisholm, page 32.

Etiquetteer Muses on the Oscars, Vol. 13, Issue 29

The Academy Awards take place tonight, one of the great televised rituals of the American year (the others being the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Super Bowl, of course). The grandfather of all televised award shows, Americans love it - and love to hate it - for its red carpet parade of fashions, its cheesy dancer numbers, snappy (and sometimes abusive) patter from a host comedian, and its creaking length. What was once an industry dinner dance with cameras changed over the decades into a full-blown production. The show's length is now due less to rambling acceptance speeches than it used to be (Etiquetteer vaguely remembers that Greer Garson's clocked in at something like 22 minutes!), but there was a time when it was sadly fashionable to use the Oscar podium for political statements. Oscar-winning actress Joan Crawford was interviewed at Town Hall on April 8, 1973, and criticized the change in the demeanor of the Oscars thus (beginning at 3:40):

"Let's talk about the Academy Awards. I think everyone tried to have the cutes, and each one who came after the couple before tried to be funnier. The dignity and the beauty of the Academy Awards, I must say, has been lost without the Gregory Pecks and the Charlton Hestons. The Gregory Pecks come on, the Frank Sinatras come on . . . they come on with dignity and they set the stage, really, for what everyone else should do. Some don't. And this year I was appalled at the behavior of everyone, including Mr. Brando."

What did Marlon Brando do that was so appalling? It wasn't that he didn't attend when he was nominated for his performance in The Godfather (nor could Joan Crawford have Wagged an Admonitory Digit at him for that, as she was famously home in bed the year she won Best Actress for Mildred Pierce). Brando found a young Apache woman names Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on his behalf in case he won. Etiquetteer doesn't say "accept," because Mr. Brando didn't intend to accept the Oscar, but to decline it in an ostentatious way to call attention to the way Native Americans were treated by the film industry:

Needless to say, this provoked outrage in Hollywood and beyond, as did Vanessa Redgrave's acceptance speech a few years later, when she won Best Supporting Actress for Julia. Note her reference to "Zionist hoodlums" at 2:54:

Now, back to Joan Crawford at Town Hall. Later in that wonderful interview, she really summed up well Perfect Propriety for Oscar winners (beginning at 6:41):

"I think people who go on the Academy Awards and . . . oh brother! Just accept and be grateful for the honor, and don't try and get on national television and make your pleas, and never discuss politics or religion."

For those viewing tonight, Etiquetteer wishes you a Perfectly Proper Oscarthon!

When Not to Sympathize, Vol. 13, Issue 26

Dear Etiquetteer: True story: An family relative recently lost her husband. She sent me a few pictures of him as a young boy, and a copy of the obituary and a card with a personal note. I have not written her back anything yet, as terrible as that sounds. You see, she's been a complete narcissistic maniac to my parents in the years before her husband's death, calling them at all hours, asking for large sums of money, screaming that they wouldn't miss the money, waking them up in the middle of the night with hysterical phone calls screeching at them about how mistreated she has been because they won't send her money. My parents have cut her off and tragically had to sever the family relationship. I know what a basket case she can be and I don't want to open that can of worms by being in contact with her, for fear she'll begin to call me. In solidarity with my parent's, I've not written her back anything. What is the proper thing to do? Send a sympathy card, or remain silent?

Dear Contacted:

Under the circumstances, and as callous as this may sound to some, Etiquetteer believes you did the right thing in declining to respond to your Virago Relative's obituary correspondence. Loyalty to your parents should take precedence, and Virago's previous behavior speaks for itself.

Every family has its Eccentric - indeed, Etiquetteer might be considered the eccentric in his family - but there are Eccentrics and there are Eccentrics. Reading your letter, Etiquetteer immediately called to mind the late Paul Swan, known during his lifetime as "the most beautiful man in the world," who lived as an artist creating in many media: paint, sculpture, and dance. Offspring of a Nebraska farm family, he lived his entire life expecting his family to support him whether he was successful or not. Naturally, this led to some Difficult Family Dynamics. Etiquetteer encourages you to read his interesting biography.

Another madcap was the late Marion Tanner, immortalized by her more famous nephew Patrick Dennis as America's Favorite Relative, Auntie Mame. Aunt and nephew eventually fell out over her behavior, specifically turning her New York home into a "boarding house" for derelicts and countercultural types - to the extent that she lost the house when she couldn't pay the mortgage.

Etiquetteer wishes you well in future dealings with your Virago Relative.

Etiquette of the Presidency, or How to Shake Hands, Vol. 13, Issue 21

Presidents of the United States have to face different, and more difficult, etiquette challenges than the rest of the Nation's citizens. For instance, shaking hands and smiling during functions for thousands of people, some significant percentage of which are likely to disagree with your policies or person, could wear down even the healthiest of men. (First Ladies could cleverly get out of this by holding a bouquet firmly with both hands, at least back before Eleanor Roosevelt.) An American President with the least robust constitution, however, figured out some good tips for shaking hands with large numbers of people, mainly men who were larger and stronger than he, and eager to prove it. In his diary, Polk revealed his secret:  "I told them that I foudn that there was great art in shaking hands, and that I could shake hands during the whole day without suffering any bad effects from it. they were curious to know what this art was. I told them that if a man surrendered his arm to be shaken, by some horizontally, by others perpendicularly, and by others again with a strong grip, he could not fail to suffer severely from it, but that if he would shaked and not be shaken, grip and not be gripped, taking care always to squeeze the hand of his adversary as hard as he squeezed him, that he suffered no inconvenience form it. I told them also that I could generally anticipate when I was to have a stron ggrip, and that when I observed a strong man approaching I generally took advantage of him by being a little quicker than he was and seizing him by the tips of his giners, giving him a hearty shake, and thus preventing him from getting a full grip on me." Read the full account here.

Etiquette's Black Hole, Vol. 13, Issue 20

Dear Etiquetteer: My wife and I often discuss "the black hole." You may be familiar with this particular one. It's the one that has proven to be eminently adept at attracting/pulverizing/vaporizing every last shred of etiquette left in our fair planet's social consciousness.

My mother didn't make a move without referencing Emily's Etiquette book (that currently sits on our bookshelf).  My wife's family was etiquette-aware as well.  We are constantly floored at the lack of "Thank yous" following gifts we give for weddings, showers, etc.  Also, in her recent attempt to host a party for one of our friends, my wife received a number of "I'll say maybe, but cannot say for sure until the day of the party, in case there is another party that comes up, or there's a good snowfall and I want to go skiing," and other responses like, "I can't possibly attend your party for three hours, but I may drop by on my walk."  If my mom were still alive, she would not believe it.  And these responses are from people (family, friends, etc.) that adore my wife.  My sister-in-law even said that she doesn't believe in "thank yous!"

Dear Concerned:

With friends like these, as the saying goes, who needs relatives? Oh wait . . . um, Etiquetteer may have bungled that.

The cornerstone of Perfect Propriety, of the most basic good manners, is consideration of others. That means consideration of the time and effort taken to entertain one, to give one gifts, to show consideration of one in the first place. So, what is the consideration one shows?

  • One understands that when an invitation is given for a dinner, a party, a theatre outing, for any kind of entertainment, that the hosts need good data to make their plans. That means responding as quickly as possible with a definite Yes or No. No prevaricating, no waiting for a better offer, and absolutely no "I'll have to see how I feel." Let Etiquetteer tell you in no uncertain terms, NO ONE cares how you feel. What they do care about is making sure they're prepared for you if you condescend to accept an invitation . . . or just show up after saying no (it's happened).
  • Really, Etiquetteer takes particular offense to someone saying "Oh, I'll have to see if there's another party that day." What an insult! If these people can't appreciate the Value and the Beauty of an invitation to one's home, they should be crossed off the guest list permanently.
  • One understands that, when one is given a gift, one must take the time to express thanks in writing with a pen on paper. (Our changing means of communications over the last 20 years and how that has changed how thanks are delivered is engaging enough to warrant a separate column.) If someone has troubled to spend money (though how Vulgar even to have to refer to it) and effort, and considered one's taste to boot (which might conflict with their own), sitting down with a pen for five minutes is little trouble enough to take.
  • When one has been entertained, one reciprocates with one's own invitations. That's how social discourse  - what is now ostentatiously referred to as "community" - is furthered.
Etiquetteer is appalled to hear about your sister-in-law who "doesn't believe" in thanks. That would be quite enough for Etiquetteer to tell her Etiquetteer doesn't believe in giving her gifts at all if they can't prompt gratitude! That is even worse than the Happy Couple who sent out alleged thank-you notes following their honeymoon that were completely generic advertisements for their happiness, lacking any reference to the specific recipient or the gift given.
Long story short, our fellow citizens need to be more cognizant of how their bland devotion to their own whims hurts those who love and care for them. Some will say it sounds like work. Well, Etiquetteer agrees. It is work to maintain friendships and relationships! And far more often than not, it's worth the effort.

The Trappings of Courteous Correspondence, Vol. 13, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: After how many email exchanges is it OK to drop the "Dear John" at the beginning and "Sincerely" or "Best" at the end?

Dear Mailing:

In what might seem an unorthodox response, Etiquetteer thinks salutations and closings may courteously be dropped after three or four rapid-fire exchanges, depending on the circumstances. For instance, when corresponding with one's boss or a client, let that person drop these things first.

Etiquetteer finds it interesting to reflect on how Perfect Propriety in communications has evolved with the advent of electronic mail 20 years ago. Methods of communication have evolved along with civilization. People have always sought - and continue to seek - faster and more convenient ways to communicate when unable to do so face to face. (And thank goodness! Etiquetteer doesn't fancy having to scratch a tablet with a stylus to send a letter.)

In modern civilization, the telegraph and telephone brought enormous change, especially the former. With a charge for every letter, the niceties of everyday speech were necessarily clipped. The advent of text messaging in the 21st century brought that to a different level, with more acronyms and abbreviations than it was sometimes possible to understand. Increasingly, and perhaps expensively, the elaborations of written correspondence are creeping back into texting, where they don't really belong. Etiquetteer thinks this has to do with not being billed by the message (as Western Union did with telegrams) but by being billed monthly by the Phone Company of Your Choice. But salutations and long words are out of place in this medium.

Technological methods of communications didn't really eliminate written correspondence, which had been the principal means of communications for centuries. Then along came email, and everyone began communicating faster and more conveniently - but with less Perfect Propriety, and with less specialness. The conventions of written correspondence - salutation beginning with "Dear," body, and closing such as "Love," "Sincerely," or "Yours truly" - somehow didn't translate to email because email felt more casual. "Dear" was dropped in favor of "Hi," "Hey there," or "Greetings." "Sincerely" was replaced by "Cheers," "Best," or by nothing at all. This has been going on so long that an entire generation has grown up without necessarily being taught how best to correspond - in whatever medium - and our national quotient of Perfect Propriety, not to mention Basic Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation, has suffered for it. And Etiquetteer thinks it's still vitally important to know. When all your batteries go out and all the power fails, it could just be you left with pen, paper, and a candle to get your word out.

The domination of email has repositioned the Lovely Note as something exceptionally special - and just as necessary to express extra-important thanks. Etiquetteer cannot pretend to explain why receiving a Lovely Note in the post box feels so much nicer than receiving a Lovely Email in the inbox, but it does. And in some fields, a thank-you email is considered Perfectly Improper. Only written thanks will do. Etiquetteer continues to believe that Lovely Notes are still the most beautiful and necessary way to convey sincere thanks. They may not be as swift as email, but they are certainly received with extra delight.

Etiquetteer hopes you'll write a few today!

Politicians and the Press, Vol. 13, Issue 11

To get right to the point, all a politician needs to say to a reporter, when not wishing to respond directly to the reporter's questions, is "No comment." Only "no comment." No matter how tedious and repetitive it gets. One does not threaten a reporter with physical violence, as United States Representative Michael Grimm (R - NY) did following the State of the Union address. First of all, reporters may ask any questions they want about any subject. That's good journalism. While Rep. Grimm infers that he only agreed to be interviewed about the State of the Union speech, Etiquetteer thinks it rather disingenuous for anyone, much less a politician, to expect a member of the Fourth Estate not to ask questions about any burning and controversial topic - such as Rep. Grimm's fund-raising practices detailed in a Federal complaint. Frankly, he should have expected it. And while Etiquetteer can certainly understand why the Congressman would consider it an unwelcome question, that doesn't excuse violence or the threat of violence. Don't let it happen again.

No Cellphones in Planes! Vol. 12, Issue 12

Etiquetteer was thrilled with horror earlier this week to read that the Federal Aviation Administration was actually considering allowing the use of cellphones on airplanes after reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet. As if Airborne Perfect Propriety were not under threat enough already, now we may have to contend with the loud, indiscreet yakking of selfish, indifferent fellow passengers whose limited imaginations keep them from thinking of other ways to respond to boredom than calling absent friends. "It's the social stigma of people having loud public conversations in a public space," said Steve Nolan, a Gogo spokesman, quoted in the Wall Street Journal article linked above. Except that's not quite what the FAA has in mind, so it's a good thing Etiquetteer didn't tear off in high dudgeon* to protest. At least not yet. According to its press release, "The FAA did not consider changing the regulations regarding the use of cell phones for voice communications during flight because the issue is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission.  The ARC did recommend that the FAA consult with the FCC to review its current rules. Cell phones differ from most personal electronic devices in that they are designed to send out signals strong enough to be received at great distances."

The FCC, at least the way Etiquetteer interprets their blog entry, sounds just a wee bit like they're punting the issue to the airlines. "In this case we have an outdated rule on our books that has been overtaken by advances in technology. If the technological justification for our existing prohibition is no longer valid, then it is our responsibility to examine ways to update and modernize the rules through an open and transparent rulemaking process. But it is the responsibility of the airlines, in response to their customers, to determine how to apply that rule change to their in-flight services."

That may be, but this "outdated" rule has helped keep the peace on many a flight. Others have already commented that 21st-century air travel is 20th-century bus travel. From outrageously large carry-on bags (both quantity and size) to narrower seats to the invasion of privacy for security, from overbooked flights to fellow passengers who believe the world is their bedroom, Perfect Propriety has never been more at risk. If airlines do not have the opportunity to offer cellphone service to their passengers, then they won't be tempted to do so.

Of course there are legitimate reasons for people to want cellphone access while flying, the most obvious being the need to communicate with others about last-minute changes to one's itinerary. But these situations have been solved already for generations without that opportunity to communicate, and Etiquetteer fears that such calls would only end up a very small percentage of those actually made.

This issue bears watching, and Etiquetteer encourages you to contact the airlines you patronize most frequently to urge them not to allow voice calls in flight.

* Etiquetteer suspects that somewhere in the north of England there is a village called High Dudgeon.

Perfectly Proper Parenting - or Not, Vol. 12, Issue 17

Like many, Etiquetteer has watched with appalled dismay the unfolding story from Stephentown, New York, of the untenanted house of former NFL player Brian Holloway trashed by a party of hundreds of teenagers. Unfortunately no one comes out of this story blameless. The Marauding Teens, of course, come in for a hefty share of blame. At a bare minimum they're guilty of trespassing, and who knows what else. The petting party in Peyton Place looks so innocent by comparison!

Mr. Holloway Himself, though Etiquetteer does not question his motives, should not have posted names and photos on the Internet. Anytime you get involved with something like that involving a minor, it gets ugly. Etiquetteer rather wishes Mr. Holloway had spoken to his lawyer first.

But the parents of these marauding teenagers certainly come out the worst! Etiquetteer does not really think it matters that the house was untenanted and in foreclosure. One of the central tenets of Perfect Propriety is that, if something doesn't belong to one, one doesn't use it without permission. And no one is pretending that anyone but Holloway owns the house! Etiquetteer's ears are deaf to their Outraged Whining about the alleged actual condition of the house and its furnishings, and even about their concerns for Mr. Holloway republishing the names and images of their children (using information already posted by the Marauding Teens). What their children did was indefensible, plain and simple! Instead of threatening Mr. Holloway with lawsuits, they should absolutely be leading their children - dragging them by the hand in necessary - to apologize for trespassing on his property and leaving it in a worse condition than that in which they found it. Why they are not doing this is a mystery to Etiquetteer. And their apparent acquiescence in the behavior of their children sure does send a message that it's Perfectly Proper to destroy someone's home for a party, whether someone lives there or not. And since there seems to be doubt in the matter, let Etiquetteer assure you that it is NOT!

Think for a moment: would your parents have let you get away with something like this? One looks with pride on the Australian father who sold his daughter's concert tickets after he discovered she was on a sleepover at the home of an older man (though Etiquetteer's hair curled at his candor.)

When people gas on about "family values," they forget that the most basic is raising children to be good citizens. One should not have to ask if this kind of behavior is good citizenship. One should not!

Etiquetteer rather hopes these parents do pursue their lawsuit against Mr. Holloway, so that the judge can school them on what really is Perfectly Proper. In the meantime, you may be sure that Etiquetteer will be staying far away from Stephentown, where one's rights are not respected.

Reflections on Wedding Invitations, Gifts, and Attitudes, Vol. 12, Issue 13

Etiquetteer has been relieved of the burden of wedding invitations this summer. Consider that sentence for a moment. Isn't it a pity that so many people consider an invitation to a wedding a burden, rather than a Happy Occasion to celebrate a Joyous Marriage with friends and relations? Etiquetteer is of the completely subjective and entirely unresearched opinion that there are two causes: the expense of attending a wedding for a guest (especially travel, which is not only expensive but inconvenient) and the selfish behavior of brides that led to the coining of the term "bridezilla" several years ago. These two causes combine in the selection of a gift for the Happy Couple. Etiquetteer was deeply sorry to read last week about a bride who was sufficiently unbalanced to call out her friends on social media for what she perceived as their inadequate generosity. First of all it's vulgar in the extreme to mention how much money was spent to entertain your guests. You invite friends (or the friends of your parents) to a wedding for the pleasure of their company, not because you expect them to cover the costs of their own entertainment*. Second, your wedding is not as important to your friends as it is to you; no doubt there are other, more important claims on their resources than your Gaping Maw of Bridal Need. And third, criticizing someone so bluntly on social media about their behavior is just as bad as, if not worse than, doing so to their faces. Brides who follow this example deserve to lose a lot of friends.

With the advent of social media, some confusion has also spread over how to interpret how one receives knowledge of a wedding -- or, to be completely candid, when to suspect that the only reason you're hearing is that the Happy Couple expects a gift. Over at Etiquetteer's Facebook page (speaking of social media), Etiquetteer recalled learning of the wedding of a Friend of Etiquetteer's Youth from Dear Mother; the invitation had been addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. [Parents of Etiquetteer] and Etiquetteer," which is far from Perfectly Proper. Why, you ask? Because at the time the invitation was sent, Etiquetteer was not only well over the Age of Consent, but also not living under the parental roof. Anyone over the age of 21 deserves his or her own engraved invitation sent to his or her own address; attempting to economize by doubling up invitations to parents and grown children makes you look shabby. Saying you can't find that person's address no longer serves as an excuse, thanks to the Internet.

This led to the question of how to respond to wedding invitations from Long Unheard-of Schoolfellows who haven't been heard from in so long that their motives are suspect. Back before the Internet (and before brides expected everyone to Travel the Earth on Command), wedding announcements were sent instead of invitations, something along the lines of

Mr. and Mrs. Fairleigh Freshness

announce the marriage of their daughter

Miss Dewy Freshness

to Mr. Manley Firmness

on [Insert Date Here].

Frequently a little address card would be included so that recipients would know where the Happy Couple would be living. You must remember that this was before the days of "Live Together First:"

Mr. and Mrs. Manley Firmness

After [Insert Date After Honeymoon Here]

5456 Cottage Lane, Apartment Six

Verdant Greens, New Jersey

Receipt of a wedding announcement was taken as information that the Happy Couple felt you should know, but not with the expectation of a gift. As much as Etiquetteer enjoys social media and other electronic communications, Etiquetteer would rather like to see engraved wedding announcements come back.

Should you receive a wedding invitation from someone you haven't heard of in many years, put pen to paper at once and send a Lovely Note of Congratulations along with your Infinite Regret that you cannot attend in person. And that concludes your obligation.

*If the costs are really bothering you, have a simpler wedding and invite fewer people.

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

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

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

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

Dear Stick in the Mud:

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

Dear Etiquetteer:

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

Dear Buttled:

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

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

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

Etiquetteer at Random, Vol. 12, Issue 9

Without anything thematic or cohesive to offer today, Etiquetteer holds forth on what is random and current: Last week Etiquetteer was delighted to speak to a group of college event planners, who raised the issue of what to do about uninvited guests (read: students) wandering in and helping themselves to refreshments. Let's face it: students may be brilliant and think fine thoughts and hold and develop solutions to all our most pressing societal problems, but they are also - depending on your Point of View - either Hungry and Impoverished or Thoughtless, Selfish, and Arrogant. This sort of Intrepid Grazing is most often seen at events that need to be held in big public spaces. Etiquetteer recommends keeping the refreshment tables covered with clean tablecloths until the start of the event and roping off the event space to keep Interlopers at bay. If you catch someone in the act, greet them heartily and offer to escort them to the registration table for their nametag, ask for an email address to add them to the list for the next event, or even scare the bejeebers out of them by mistaking them for the guest speaker.

Over the last month or so a couple news articles about public shaming attracted Etiquetteer's attention enough to be posted at Etiquetteer's presence on Facebook. The Internet has made it possible to shame someone globally in real time, which has already been seen with the posting of abusive voicemail messages, restaurant receipts with insensitive messages for waiters, and other such items. Etiquetteer deplores this use of the Internet, mostly because there's always a margin for error. For instance, the Los Angeles restaurant Red Medicine is tweeting the names of no-shows who didn't honor their reservations. Etiquetteer absolutely understands the frustration of the restaurateurs; no-show diners have a negative impact on revenue, always razor thin in the restaurant world. But there is always the possibility that a death or a medical emergency kept them from honoring the reservation. (Etiquetteer has been tempted, when party guests fail to attend a party, to send a funeral wreath the next day with the message "So sorry your untimely death kept you from joining the fun," but has been kept from such by actual knowledge of legitimate emergencies in the past.) A more Perfectly Proper policy for restaurants to implement would be to maintain a Do Not Reserve list of Diners Who Have Failed to Appear.

Etiquetteer would love to see more people do something for the economy by supporting their local stationers and increasing, resuming, or beginning their handwritten correspondence. Heaven knows that etiquette must change with the times. When customs become outworn, they must adapt or disappear. How many of you, for instance, still have "at home" days during the week or make "party calls" the day after a party? What handwritten letters and cards lack in speed and timeliness, they make up in thoughtfulness and the perception that one has made a special effort. And from a strictly nostalgic point of view, it is much more fun to go through a shoebox of old letters than it is to scan a computer screen of old email messages. While acknowledging the convenience of electronic communication, Etiquetteer dearly hopes that what is special and individual about handwritten correspondence will remain.

Should you have queries about any of these topics, or others, Etiquetteer welcomes your (electronic) query at <queries <at>>. You may also follow Etiquetteer on Facebook!

Tip Jars/Easter Parade, Vol. 12, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer: I completely am in favor of tipping for good service in a restaurant. My husband and I consider 20% of our check the standard; if we had good service we will tip above that. However, waiters/waitresses run back and forth filling water, fetching extra sauce, relaying specific instructions to the kitchen, etc. Tip jar personnel, on the other hand, walk two feet to fill my coffee that is worth 50 cents. I am then  charged over three dollars for the coffee. What is the protocol here?

Dear Tipping Pointed:

Etiquetteer feels no obligation to contribute to a tip jar; it's put on the counter as an opportunity rather than a mandate. (Restaurant tipping, however, often feels mandated regardless of the quality of service received.)

But Etiquetteer would encourage you to think a little more broadly about a the duties of someone at the counter. One must not only serve the coffee, but make it in those gigantic coffeemakers (which might also involve grinding the beans), filling and refilling the multitude of dairy pitchers (because no coffee place can just offer cream any longer), washing and drying dishes (or monitoring inventory of paper goods), stocking the bakery cases, mopping and cleaning so the place doesn't violate a health inspection, and last but far from least, putting up with customers to can't make of their minds, ask silly questions, or (the worst) approach the counter talking on their cell phones or texting. In that light, a casual gratuity for pleasant and prompt service is not really so out of place.

Easter Sunday will be upon us soon, and of course Etiquetteer longs for the Easter parades of the last century. But rather than harken back to images of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire and Ann Miller and Peter Lawford, Etiquetteer considers the remarkable efforts of the late Julia O'Neil to present her ten daughters and two sons with Perfect Propriety each Easter. Mrs. O'Neil went to extraordinary lengths to dress her daughters in identical outfits she made herself, buying bolts of cloth and purchasing hats wholesale. And each of her daughters, and herself, too, looked as beautiful as an Easter nosegay. As Boston Globe columnist Jack Thomas wrote when Mrs. O'Neil died in 1978, "They were a photographer's delight, a charming, irresistible Easter Sunday sign of spring and a symbol of the best of Irish Catholic life in Boston."

Americans, as a rule, have not yet figured out how to reconcile their own personal comfort, which must of course come before all things*, with Perfect Propriety. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. The O'Neil family, like many middle class families of yore, understood that one's appearance indicated one's self-respect. Etiquetteer hopes to see yours in evidence, which would put Etiquetteer "all in clover when they look you over."

*You did hear the sarcasm dripping from Etiquetteer's pen, didn't you? Good.

Reflections on Entertaining, Vol. 12, Issue 7

Last week Boston was treated to the spectacle of a huge party faux pas when the grand opening of the new RH (née Restoration Hardware) had to be shut down by the police due to overcrowding. Etiquetteer is familiar with the "It doesn't feel like a party if it isn't crowded" theory, but is much more comfortable with the "Safety First" theory. According to the Boston Herald, party organizers hoped that "steady turnaround would prevent overcrowding," but one need look no further than the Lincoln Inaugural Ball of 1865 to see how assumptions of crowd circulation go wrong. With 4,000 people in attendance, the ball organizers expected to accommodate everyone in the supper room 400 at a time, with the Lincolns among the first 400. "Unfortunately, their plans went awry. When the doors were opened to the guests just before the Lincolns left, the sudden rush of people flooding from the ballroom quickly reduced the supper room to shambles . . . there was no way the Lincolns could get through the mob and out the front door, so they left by a side door . . . Reporter Noah Brooks thought the 'wildness' of the crowd that night was 'similar to some of the antics of the Paris Commune.'"* But the thing that really raised Etiquetteer's hackles was the tweet "Wait, the hottest party in town . . . was an opening for a (expletive) RETAIL STORE? The Onion pegged us today for sure." The tweeter (Twitterer?) was referring to a story in everyone's favorite parody news source The Onion, suggesting that Boston is really just a game of "Big City." While Etiquetteer isn't acquainted with this person, who might be the most sought-after host/hostess, Etiquetteer was tempted to ask "Well, why aren't you giving the hottest party in town?" Because a "hot" party doesn't have to be large, expensive, or pocked with celebrities. A "hot" party simply has to be perceived as desirable, and one does that by providing the best conversation along with reassuring quantities of the best food and drink. And by "best" Etiquetteer does not mean "expensive." You could be hosting a brunch and have the best coffee and scrambled eggs ever. In fact, why don't you host a brunch with the best coffee and scrambled eggs? Why don't you host a little dinner for four with the best gumbo or pasta or Russian cream? Why don't you host an open house with the best chocolate chip cookies and mimosas?

In fact, why don't you send Etiquetteer a message at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com right now and say why you aren't entertaining at home. Etiquetteer fears more and more people are abandoning this essential part of creating community out of sloth, stress, and boredom - what the late Dorothy Draper called the "Will to be Dreary" in her amusing and fanciful book Entertaining Is Fun! Everyone should be giving a party at home seven times a year, roughly once every seven weeks. Etiquetteer can think of a few different ways to do it - which should be the subject of a future column - from dinner for four to an open house for dozens. It doesn't have to be difficult! If everyone in town started to do this, Boston (or your own town) would be full of the "hottest" parties, and no one would have to rely on storekeepers for their entertaining excitement.

*Quoted in Presidential Inaugurations: Behind the Scenes - An Informal, Anecdotal History from Washington's Election to George W. Bush's Gala," by Paul F. Boller, Jr., page 207.