The Last Dinner at Brasserie JO, Vol. 17, Issue 48

“We can never go back to Manderley. But sometimes, in my dreams, I do go back.”

— the second Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier

Etiquetteer, arriving in late afternoon, enjoyed an Aperol spritz while it was still Perfectly Proper to do so. It is  not  a beverage for after 5:00 PM.

Etiquetteer, arriving in late afternoon, enjoyed an Aperol spritz while it was still Perfectly Proper to do so. It is not a beverage for after 5:00 PM.

The hearts of diners-out in Boston have been sorely tried since the closing of Brasserie JO after 20 years (!) was announced some weeks ago. Etiquetteer, drowning an eye unus’d to flow, enjoyed one final dinner there last night on its last night*. (Brunchgoers have another final chance on Sunday, as the last service will be Sunday at midday.)

The final night of a beloved restaurant certainly brings on reflection. Over 20 years Etiquetteer enjoyed many fine occasions at B-JO. From the simplicity of steak frites at brunch to an elaborate morning-after wedding breakfast, from a special birthday gathering for a friend in one of the salons privés to a French 75 cocktail after the symphony . . . so many memories of Happy Times With Our Friends, and of new discoveries. It was here that Etiquetteer discovered the delights of oysters Rockefeller and crispy pork shanks. (Not together, of course!) And it was here that Etiquetteer entertained the friends of parents when they passed through town.

B-JO’s unique pickled carrots.

B-JO’s unique pickled carrots.

This dinner was entirely a whim of Etiquetteer’s. Alone in town late in the afternoon, Etiquetteer stopped at the bar for one final drink, then dashed across the street to the closest bookstore for an engaging tome (Victoria, the Queen, as it turns out), and returned to snag a table shortly after the dining room opened for its final dinner service. There’s a school of thought that it’s not Perfectly Proper to read at the table even when dining alone, and there’s another school of thought that you don’t have any business telling someone not to read at the table if you aren’t at the table with them. You can guess where Etiquetteer comes down on that issue.

And it was an exquisite little dinner, as always: port manhattan, their signature onion tart Uncle Hansi, and pork chops. It would have been impossible at this final dinner to have neglected to order one of their famous, very popular profiteroles.

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Now the problem with profiteroles is precisely what makes them so wonderful: all that gooey warm chocolate sauce mingling with all that slowly melting vanilla ice cream. Keeping dark drops from a white shirtfront involves almost as much attention as keeping a moustache out of the soup. Alas, Etiquetteer failed in this important test on this sad occasion. (Don’t make a fuss about any efforts to remove the spot, and remember: a bit of ice water will be more effective than tears.)

What is so very sad about this closure is that Brasserie JO filled a need: a need for an elegant but somewhat relaxed dining room with a superb standard of service and presentation convenient to cultural venues for pre- and post-performance dining and libations. Perhaps not enough people recognized this need? Perhaps not enough people recognize a need for elegance in daily life?

And - and very few people seem to acknowledge this - with lighting that flattered everyone. Once upon a time pink silk candleshades protected us; remember Mrs. Erlynne in Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan saying “Oh, I never confessed to more than 30. Twenty-nine if there were pink shades, 30 if there were not.” Brasserie JO’s illuminated bar and clock made everyone look 30.

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So often things end because their time has passed, or because transformation is necessary for a changing time. In the former case one has only to think of the traditional London debutante season, now as dead as the dodo. The latter makes Etiquetteer think of the move of the Metropolitan Opera in the 1950s to Lincoln Center from its original home - and before that, the fall of the old Academy of Music under the hot breath of the New Money who built the “old” Metropolitan Opera House.

A more apt comparison would be the closure in the 1990s of the Ritz-Carlton dining room (stil the most beautiful room in Boston) for luncheon. Etiquetteer will never forget how the newspaper described how the management made the final decision. They asked both patrons who lunched there every day whether they would prefer to lunch in the dining room with a reduced level of service, or to receive the same level of service in the café. Both preferred the latter. And that was the end of luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton.

But Etiquetteer still thinks there is a need for dining rooms with white tablecloths, soft lighting, superb French food, and artfully mixed drinks. While the closing of a beloved restaurant “doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world,” Etiquetteer very much hopes that another such restaurant will open soon and - before we know it - become just as much an institution as Brasserie JO was.

When the waiter asked if he could bring another drink, Etiquetteer had to reply “Not just yet. The memory of this one is too beautiful to drown.”

When the waiter asked if he could bring another drink, Etiquetteer had to reply “Not just yet. The memory of this one is too beautiful to drown.”

* It’s worth noting that That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much had already had three farewell dinners at Brasserie JO with different friends, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that he’s more gourmand than gourmet. Etiquetteer barely stood a chance. #glutton

Professional Networking Online, Vol. 17, Issue 47

Dear Etiquetteer:

When it comes to Human Resources and networking in the digital age, decorum has certainly appeared to go by the wayside. Here are two questions for you:

(1) When it comes to applying for jobs, my resumes, CVs, and cover letters that I've carefully crafted and sent seem to go into some sort of black hole — with neither a reply, nor even a boiler-plate rejection notice that seemed commonplace in the past.

Plus, on more than one occasion, I’ve encountered “ghosting” - where interviewers don’t bother to reply. At one company, after a successful phone interview I was told that they’d like to bring me in for an in-person interview the following week. Never heard back from them. After repeated follow-ups, the interviewer said that they put the position on hold and I’d be welcome to check back at the end of the summer. A few months later I followed up. No reply.

At a different company, I successfully navigated a difficult application progress with a phone call from the CEO that they’d like to make me an offer, and he said that he’d follow up in a few days with details. No reply despite repeated follow-ups.

Asking my peers, one person suggested that it’s safer for companies not to reply to avoid liability issues. Another said that taking the time to reply costs money, and that’s why people don’t bother anymore. What’s going on here? What do HR people think?

(2) In an effort to get a job application in front of a particular recruiter at a company, I recently beat the bushes and contacted about ten of my friends and colleagues on LinkedIn who had direct connections at this company. Years ago, people seemed to be willing to quickly pass along my information without issue. However, in this case, nearly all of my contacts were uncomfortable doing so as the connections there were so tenuous; a few people didn’t even bother to reply to my email request. Maybe I’m being naive, and it’s difficult not to take it personally, but I thought LinkedIn exists to network (connecting a friend of a friend…) and reaching out to their networks to forward a resume/cover letter shouldn’t be a big deal. What’s going on here?

Dear Networking:

The standard cop-out line when romantic relationships break up is “It’s not you, it’s me.” In this case, Etiquetteer would have to say it’s not you, it’s the culture. This piece from Flexjobs enumerates quite a few reasons why this happens, and it happens universally. And it’s been happening for a long time, in the mythical past when you thought responses were “commonplace.” But Etiquetteer would add another people don’t respond: people just don’t like saying no. It’s uncomfortable to have to turn someone down*. Having that breakup conversation is tough, but that doesn’t mean it should be put off indefinitely. While some HR professionals have legitimate reasons for delaying a response, Etiquetteer would urge them all to leave no applicant untended.

The key word in your second question is “tenuous.” It’s not unusual for people to feel uncomfortable recommending someone for a position in their company solely because they’re the friend of a friend who they haven’t met in person. If that person gets hired, and then doesn’t work out, it can reflect badly on those who recommended them. (Professional discretion prohibits Etiquetteer from sharing some examples after 30 years in the work force.) And it may be that their own connections to that company are more tenuous than they care to admit. They may not be as sure of their standing there, and would certainly not want to admit that to you.

As tough as it can be not to take it personally when you don’t even get an echo back from professional inquiries - and it can be - do your best not to take it personally. Set a good example yourself by responding in a timely way when you get inquiries. It’s not just Perfectly Proper, it will help establish your reputation as a good colleague.

* It should be uncomfortable to turn someone down, somewhat. Those who take pleasure in it should not be in human resources, in Etiquetteer’s opinion.

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Signs of the Times, Vol. 17, Issue 44

One of an occasional series of photo essays of instructional signs in public, usually designed to encourage humorously Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer admires the creativity!

In a Washington, DC, coffee shop.

In a Washington, DC, coffee shop.

In a Washington, DC, used bookstore.

In a Washington, DC, used bookstore.

Outside a well-known Provincetown used bookstore.

Outside a well-known Provincetown used bookstore.

Seen in Ogunquit, Maine.

Seen in Ogunquit, Maine.

In a well-known gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In a well-known gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In a shop in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In a shop in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Back-to-School Questions for Grownups, Vol. 17, Issue 43

Etiquetteer found a couple questions in the mail bag than can loosely be filed together under "Back to School." Please contact Etiquetteer with your own back-to-school queries!

Dear Etiquetteer:

I recently got married, and have decided to hyphenate my last name (until my kids are 18 anyway.... easier to deal with if my last name matches the kiddos for school purposes). So, I am going to be (after I get my card) Ashton MacDonald Islesworth-Min. (It's a mouthful, isn't it?) My question is.... what are my initials? AMI? AMIM? AMI-M? How does one initial documents with a hyphenated last name?

Dear Monogrammed:

Congratulations on your recent marriage! Etiquettteer wishes you and your family long life and happiness.

These days monograms are very much a personal choice, so you can do almost anything you prefer. It's so rare for Etiquetteer to say anything like that that we should pause for a moment to take that in. Your initials may be whatever you choose.

With four initials, a block monogram - a simple row of all four initials from first to last names - seems to be the standard. But even before you, many ladies drop a name to keep their total initials down to three. For instance, you likely have a middle name, and dropped it when you married your first husband to keep your monogram to three: AMI. Of course with that MacDonald, could it also be AMacII?

You might now wish to drop your maiden name to keep your monogram to three: AIM. But if you keep all four, just keep it simple: AMIM.

When you initial your documents, no need to include the hyphen. When monogramming your lingerie, keep it small!

Dear Etiquetteer:

My son is looking to buy some new shoes. Most of his work dress is casual as with everyone else these days, but he does own two suits, one grey and one navy blue.  He's wondering if black shoes go with a navy blue suit? (I hope so, since that's what I always wore/wear.) Does brown go with either? And cordovan? We look forward to hearing what you think.

Dear Well Shod:

Etiquetteer's first reaction to your query was to remember Michael in The Boys in the Band complaining about "those ten pound cordovan loafers and those constipated Ivy League clothes," and then having to pause as he realizes that one of his guests, Hank, is wearing ten pound cordovan loafers with a classic Ivy League ensemble. You can never go wrong with a classic, but it's how you wear it that makes you stand out.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, Etiquetteer turned to Business Insider for a fairly comprehensive guide to pair suits and shoes. You'll see that they allow brown shoes with navy blue and medium or light gray, but they don't allow it with charcoal gray. Cordovan, it seems, goes with anything but black.

Etiquetteer would be rather more traditional (unsurprisingly) and prohibit brown shoes with navy blue. Indeed, once upon a time Etiquetteer vaguely remembers reading someone's memoir's story about Alfred Hitchcock advising Gregory Peck "No brown in town." Of course that might reflect the Sort of People Who Don't Weekend in Town . . .

In your son's case, investing in two pairs of good black shoes would be the conservative path, but he may want to shake up the mix with a pair of cordovan. It's interesting to note that only lace-up shoes were once thought proper in an office environment. Loafers and slip-ons were thought of as casual shoes, and of course sneakers, tennis shoes, and other athletic shoes were considered only for the activities for which they were designed and not everyday wear. But those footwear distinctions were eroded decades ago, first by airport security measures and then by St. Elsewhere.

The Meltdown of Bridezilla, Vol. 17, Issue 40

Just in case you were wondering, no one owes you a wedding - except possibly your parents. Etiquetteer isn't going to inquire into your private life. But no one owes you a wedding, and you shouldn't expect everyone you've ever met in your entire life to pay for it, and you should certainly not charge a four-figure "entrance fee" to attend your wedding.

Have you seen the story making the rounds, about a bride's internet meltdown while cancelling her wedding only four days away because none of her friends or family would pay $1,500 each (!) to come to her wedding? Etiquetteer even heard two women talking about it on the subway this evening. (Read the Fox News coverage or the Bored Panda article for details.) Etiquetteer isn't entirely sure this isn't a hoax, but it does prompt some commentary about the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need.

First of all, it's never Perfectly Proper to stage a wedding so very out of keeping with one's own social status, precisely because it creates such surreal stress about finances. It's also tacky. Etiquetteer has never seen A Catered Affair, but that's the same situation: a cab driver's family pressures themselves to give their daughter a fancy wedding they can't afford (and which she doesn't really want), sacrificing a business opportunity that could make a profound difference for all of them. In this case, Bridezilla - who was raised on a farm and met her fiancé there well before high school - wanted a dream wedding inspired by the Kardashians (!) and including a honeymoon in Aruba. And now let Etiquetteer say it: America is a land of freedom, but Jackie Kennedy is an inspiration; the Kardashians are an abomination.

Second, what are we really celebrating about a wedding that makes it so particularly about the bride only and what she wants? That a man chose her above all others? No, that's patriarchial. That she "snared," "trapped," or "used her wiles to get" him? Etiquetteer hopes not; that only makes Bridezilla look like an insincere Conniving Temptress*. You see where Etiquetteer is going, yes? There is no reason to focus exclusively on the bride and everything she particularly wants. As has been said before, no one cares about the bride! Let's focus on the Happy Couple as a couple instead, and bypass completely the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need.

Lastly, a wedding is not about a blow-out "once in a lifetime" party; it's about two people committing to each other for life, and the families and friends of this Happy Couple assembling to wish them well - often with a meal, and especially so if you're making people fly in from hither and yon. How many "once in a lifetime" weddings ended in divorce? (If you have that datum, please share.) Much better to simplify arrangements and guest lists rather than generate so much wedding angst that the marriage doesn't have a chance (as in the current case).

This young woman (if this is a true story) has jeopardized her relationships with the love of her life (who is also the father of their child), her family, her best friend, and pretty much everyone she's ever met in her entire life. Was the vision of a Kardashian-inspired wedding worth all that destruction? Bridezilla, beware!

*If Etiquetteer has to hear from one more married woman (or divorcée) that she "earned" her wedding and/or engagement rings . . . once they had a name for women who "earned" their jewels, and it was something no Nice Woman wanted to be called.

Snark vs. Sarcasm, Vol. 17, Issue 39

The clever insult replaced the gallant compliment.

- Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, from their excellent Misia: The Life of Misia Sert

Dear Etiquetteer:

Can you explain to me if there's a difference between snark and sarcasm? Maybe I've lived overseas too long and dislike sarcasm as a result, which to me is an excuse to say something nasty to or about someone or something masked as humor, but snark seems to be acceptable by many around me as sharp wit with city edge humor.

Dear Snarked:

Your query had more than a whiff of hair-splitting about it, so Etiquetteer felt the need to define exactly the terms "snark" and “sarcasm” as well as “snide." Amusingly, Dictionary provided only the original definition of “snark:" "a mysterious, imaginary animal." How often we forget that it was the late Lewis Carroll who created this term in his nonsense poem “The Hunting of the Snark!”* Urban Dictionary provides the definition "Combination of “snide" and "remark". Sarcastic comment(s),” and defines snide as "a mean, snobbish, or spiteful remark." So at least according to Urban Dictionary, snark contains sarcasm.

Sarcasm, according to Dictionary, is “harsh or bitter derision or irony” or “a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark.” Urban Dictionary is franker: “The ability to insult idiots without them realizing it.”

So, tossing all these definitions together, Etiquetteer discerns the difference between snark and sarcasm thus. If sarcasm is the ability to insult idiots without them realizing it, snark is the ability to insult others who will realize it and will a) appreciate the effort made and/or b) respond in kind in a perpetual snarkfest, making them a worthy opponent in a battle no one should have to fight.

Long story short, Etiquetteer sees both terms as insults delivered with irony, which often leads them to be mistaken for wit, which is defined as “clever or apt humor.” So Etiquetteer would encourage aspiring snarkers to give up now. Because let's face it, if you're not the late Dorothy Parker, you'll never get it right.

Etiquetteer pines for the days when the well-turned compliment was more common, and more valued, than the snappy comeback. For instance, Etiquetteer was recently asked by an old friend’s new lover what his favorite flower was. Not knowing, Etiquetteer responded “You are always his favorite flower!” We don’t have nearly enough of This Sort of Thing these days.

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*Decades later this was surrealistically translated into French by the Last of the Bright Young Things, Nancy Cunard, as “La Chasse au Snark."

Reader Response, Vol. 17, Issue 36

Etiquetteer is always pleased to hear from readers, and has a couple items to share from the mailbag:

In response to a recent column on Sarah Huckabee Sanders vs. the Red Hen, a Facebook follower commented: "I'm curious how Etiquetteer would have counseled Ms. Huckabee Sanders in light of the widespread social media attention engendered by the restaurant staff posting about the incident. Does Perfect Propriety require one to stay silent in the face of Social Obloquy, or may one offer, as Ms. Huckabee Sanders did, one's own, respectful (in the opinion of this Humble Commenter), take on one's experience?"

And Etiquetteer replies: Dignified Silence is always preferable, but even Etiquetteer understands how difficult that can be to maintain in the face of worldwide Twitter-shaming. Ms. Huckabee Sanders' tweet, for the record, said: "Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so." Ms. Huckabee Sanders could have omitted that comment about the behavior of the restaurant owner and focused instead on the good behavior of herself and her party in leaving the restaurant without making a scene. Otherwise, Etiquetteer does have to give Ms. Huckabee Sanders credit for bringing less heat to the discussion of this topic than her boss.

Thank you also for your use of "obloquy." Etiquetteer is fond of quoting the late Mame Dennis Burnside, who memorably said "An extensive vocabulary is the hallmark of every truly intellectual person."

Another reader responded to Etiquetteer's column on how Wimbledon is using honorifics for married ladies competing in its tournament: "Thank you for another very well written article! I remember when I married my husband back in 1989, when I was young, I decided not to take my husband's last name. He had even thoughtfully asked me first what I would prefer to do. Having recently graduated from college, I decided to keep my maiden name. We didn’t really discuss it again for almost ten years when our son was about to be born. How was his name to end? I helped us decide this by giving my maiden name as a second middle name. My husband's last name is the name passed down to our son. This has proven to work for all three of us."

And Etiquetteer replies: Thank you very much for sharing your family's choices. The use of family names as middle names is not unknown - indeed, the New York families of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence seem only to have family names! Your solution seems a particularly elegant one, since it doesn't involve you assuming a hyphenated name at marriage and then changing it later once the children are born (as has happened).

While there is greater acceptance today of brides retaining their maiden names after marriage, Etiquetteer hears tell that those who have the most trouble with this practice are the mothers of the groom . . . readers, is this what you've witnessed?

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Honorifics, Vol. 17, Issue 34

Since Etiquetteer couldn't possible be considered one of Those Sporty Types, it takes a matter of manners to draw Etiquetteer's attention to the athletic arena. So how convenient, now that Wimbledon is well and truly launched for the season, for The New York Times to run a piece about how the All England Club uses honorifics for married female competitors. Forms of address are most decidedly a matter of manners!

The Club continues to use what Etiquetteer calls the Pre-Ms. Practice of referring to married ladies as Mrs. Husband's Name. This hearkens back to the era when ladies had no choice in what they were called. Once a lady married, she took her husband's name, and that was that. Then came the 1970s, and not only did Gloria Steinem give the world the new honorific Ms., but more and more ladies decided to retain their own names after marriage. Now, almost 50 years later, ladies most definitely have a choice in how they are addressed, and Etiquetteer thinks those choices should be honored. All England Club . . . get with it! Protocol author Robert Hickey best explains the current state of feminine honorifics on his Honor & Respect website.

The situation at the Club is made a shade more complicated by the fact that, although it is a private club for members (and can therefore establish its own rules), it's hosting an event with unrelenting television coverage and everyone competing in it is already a worldwide celebrity. Very, very few people are going to recognize that "Mrs. L.W. King" is really Billie Jean King, for instance. Expecting the rest of the world to understand a private club's rules is not, perhaps, very realistic.

All that said, Etiquetteer must betray some impatience with Serena Williams, who has said she is "still figuring out how she wants to be addressed." Good gracious, that is something that should have been "figured out" before the wedding took place to prevent just this sort of confusion! Having expressed that Fit of Pique, Etiquetteer recalls that this Change of Status does present unique challenges for Prominent Women. The great Letitia Baldrige Herself, after her marriage to Bob Hollensteiner, went through a brief period of being known professionally as Letitia Hollensteiner. But then several people begged her to go back to her maiden name in professional life. Not only was that how everyone knew her, "Letitia Hollensteiner" was a real mouthful to get out over the phone!*

So ladies must be addressed as they wish to be, but Etiquetteer draws the line at Royalty. "Her Royal Highness, Megan Markle" is not Perfectly Proper. She is now properly addressed as Her Royal Highness Princess Henry of Wales, Duchess of Sussex.**

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*This charming story from Baldrige's wonderful memoir A Lady, First, page 222.

** Etiquetteer absolutely expects to hear from a few Devoted Royal Watchers who will take issue with this one way or another.