Ending Gift-Giving for Children, Vol. 17, Issue 59

Dear Etiquetteer:

Many years ago my siblings and I mutually decided to stop exchanging gifts with one another and only give to the children. The oldest of these children is now married with children of his own and the youngest is in her mid-teens. It has been quite some time since I’ve been able to find gifts that amuse or delight them. I see them five or six times a year and they are only interested in electronic gizmos. They are not at all interested in books, which is my moderately priced gift of choice. So I have fallen into giving them some candy and money, which they thank me for but don’t really seem to care about.

When and how do I end gift giving? Do I discuss it with my nephews and nieces or with their parents? It seems a much more awkward conversation than when my siblings discontinued gift giving, because here the giving is only going in one direction.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter. I wish you a most happy Thanksgiving Day!

Dear Auntie:

Every family needs to handle gift-giving in the way that works for that particular family. Since your family has focused gift-giving on children, and adulthood in the United States is conferred with the right to vote at at age 18, why not present a final gift at the holiday before the child’s 18th birthday? As long as you can do this without a “This is your very last Christmas gift for me!” kind of message, it should be fine.

For your teen nephews and nieces, you need to consult with your siblings about what their children do and don’t like. Etiquetteer feels sure there’s something more to their desires than electronics. You may also want to consider the gift of an experience with you, whether that’s a live performance, a museum visit, a sports outing, or something similar.

So much of this depends on the kind of relationship you want to have with your nieces and nephews beyond the mere giving of gifts. Eventually they will be adults, and you’ll be able to maintain relationships with them without having to go through their parents. This could turn out to be rich and rewarding for both of you, especially as interests in the wider world become more prominent after puberty. Etiquetteer believes that attention given to children and teens is appreciated, even if they don’t express obvious gratitude. (Nieces and nephews of the world - is this true? Let Etiquetteer know what you think with a quick message.) While one-sided relationships often feel unrewarding, in this case Etiquetteer encourages you not to throw in the towel just yet.

When Etiquetteer first read your query the first thing to spring to mind was the Christmas card of the little Edwardian girl praying by her stocking “Dear God, Please no more educational toys!" One gift (whether they care for it or not) to consider is stationery. (Etiquetteer can just see his own nephews and niece reacting to this . . .)

Etiquetteer wishes you confidence and contentment as you approach the Holiday of Your Choice. Please do write back to let Etiquetteer know what happened.


If you’re casting around for some good gift-giving ideas that will promote Perfect Propriety, check out Etiquetteer’s 2018 holiday gift guide. If drinking gin is more your style, then reserve your tickets now for Etiquetteer’s Repeal Day Celebration at the Gibson House Museum on Friday, December 7!

A Special Thanksgiving Message for the Readers of Etiquetteer

Dear Readers:

This Thanksgiving, Etiquetteer wants to express gratitude to you, not just for your interest in what Etiquetteer has to say, but in Perfect Propriety in general and in a world in which good manners don’t just make a difference, but are valued.

Hard to believe, but Etiquetteer will be 18 years old in less than three months! This journey would not have been possible without your engagement. After, all, what good is an advice columnist if no one is asking for advice? Thank you for your thoughtful questions, interesting insights, and sometimes absorbing commentary on social media. Thank you, too, for introducing other friends to Etiquetteer! There’s infinite space at the Etiquetteer party for more seekers of Perfect Propriety.

For this Thanksgiving, Etiquetteer wishes you joy gathering with those you love around a festive table with enough forks, your favorite recipes, successful avoidance of hot-button topics, jokes that make it hurt to laugh, and affection given and received.

Yours gratefully,



Etiquetteer's 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Etiquetteer always likes to cast about for a few gift suggestions that will promote Perfect Propriety in one form or another. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this year’s gift guide is weighted heavily toward books and stationery. But you’ll find other items of interest in the And More! section at the bottom.



Who doesn’t love Jacqueline Kennedy, one of America’s most iconic First Ladies? Jake Gariepy at Dapper and Dreamy is a big fan, and he’s created beautiful notecards featuring ensembles from her official wardrobe. Set of eight different notecards for $20. Be sure to check out his other Jackie and White House designs, too!


For the horticulturalist in your life, or just your favorite flower child, consider this boxed set of four wildflower notecards from photographer Thomas S. Robinson at Zoomdak. $14.99 per box.


Good design marries vintage in these severely beautiful notecards from Crane featuring the famous Airstream camper. $24 per box of ten.


Place cards help with every dinner - people really do want to know there’s a place for them - and Etiquetteer finds these Audubon flamingo place cards from Caspari quite charming. $4.50 per set of eight.



One of the best reads this year for Perfect Propriety is Joseph Esposito’s Dinner in Camelot. His account of President and Mrs. Kennedy’s unprecedented (and Perfectly Proper) 1962 dinner for Nobel laureates recaptures an historic moment to which we must find a way to return. Read Etiquetteer’s review here.


Etiquetteer has admired the no-holds-barred work of Amy Alkon ever since her book Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck. Her newest book, UnF*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence, promises to be a breathtaking followup as she drives the self-help car through the intersection of etiquette and science.


Etiquetteer loved the rowdiness of Brunch Is Hell by Brendan Newnam and Rico Gagliano (read Etiquetteer’s review here), and it will make a wonderful gift for those who want to dip their toes into the waters of home entertaining but may be hung up on Perfection. (Please note: Perfection is different from Perfect Propriety.)


Of course the big event in the etiquette world is the release of the 19th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, lovingly updated by her great-great-grandchildren Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. There’s no more Perfectly Proper gift for Those Who Are Getting Started as Grownups (e.g. graduates, newlyweds, and first-time home buyers). Check out their Awesome Etiquette podcast, too.


James Sherwood’s new book Jewelry for Gentlemen promises to please your peacocky pals. Read an excellent interview with the author by The Jewellery Editor. But remember the famous advice of the late Coco Chanel: put on everything you think is right, and then take one piece off.


For fans of Golden Age Hollywood, the hot new read is Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood by renowned “You Must Remember This” podcaster Karina Longworth. Etiquetteer is more than a little in love with the podcast, so of course the book will be riveting. We already know that Howard Hughes was NOT so Perfectly Proper with the ladies . . .


And for those who love to celebrate bad behavior - and you know who you are - there’s Ruth Goodman’s How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England: A Guide for Knaves, Fools, Harlots, Cuckolds, Drunkards, Liars, Thieves, and Braggarts. What a romp! “The author has a wicked taste for the objectionable and the wit to deliver it in a wholly enjoyable, even educational way,” according to Kirkus. Readers will enjoy finding 21st-century parallels and Tudor and Stuart English (bad) manners.


Last but far from least in the book category we have Drinking Like Ladies, a must-have for mixologists and those who love them. Misty Kalkofen and Kirsten Amann have assembled a mouth-watering lineup of drinks for that special hour between 5 and 7 PM. Just remember to keep your pinkies in.


house portrait dapper and dreamy.jpg

For something unique, especially for those who have recently purchased a new home, consider a custom house portrait by Jake Gariepy over at Dapper and Dreamy. You can be sure that no one else will have thought of it!


If you know someone who likes novelty and is also so stressed they’re clawing the ceiling, consider Honor Bath Tea from Sand Creek Restoratives. Etiquetteer, who still hasn’t scheduled that tour of Japenese onsen, was fascinated to see how Sand Creek has taken the traditional basic salt-and-soda bath to another level by adding a combination of herbs to it. $8 per sachet, and Sand Creek gladly donates 20% of all profits from this product to Project K-9 Hero.


In great-grandma’s day, a lady’s evening bag didn’t need to have anything in it but a hankie, a housekey, and “mad money” for a taxi (if needed). These days a smartphone serves for the latter, but too many ladies don’t consider the former. Bumblebee Linens offers a charming selection of handkerchiefs for ladies, and Etiquetteer is especially charmed by those embroidered in color. Prices vary.


Certainly we hear a lot more about politics than hitherto, so for the political gentleman in your life, consider the Preambler Bow Tie from Etiquetteer’s beloved Beau Ties Ltd. $55.

The holidays bring out sweets almost as much as Hallowe’en does, including some delicious old-fashioned favorites. Coconut bonbons from the Vermont Country Store may be enjoyed not only between the courses of a dinner party, but also in bed while wearing your favorite marabou-trimmed peignoir. $15.90.


Finally, because so many good things conclude with chocolate, Etiquetteer feels compelled to recommend the chocolate snowmen of Burdick’s Chocolates. A luxurious grace note for any holiday function! Box of nine for $40.

What to Wear to the Polls in 2018, Vol. 17, Issue 55

Election Day is tomorrow, and Etiquetteer had occasion to go back to advice offered in 2008 after a Pennsylvania court case involving whether or not T-shirts with political messages were appropriate free speech in a polling place. Ten years later, it turns out that the Supreme Court struck down a related Minnesota law (which, it’s worth noting, had never been challenged in the century it was on the books). But here’s the thing: the opinion of the Court issued by Chief Justice John Roberts “[called] the state's effort to make polling places less clamorous admirable.” [Emphasis Etiquetteer’s.]

Yes, we need less clamor and more focus at the polls! Keep all the messaging and electioneering outside the polling place within that legally mandated radius, and let the atmosphere around the voting booths be as conducive to calm, decisive reflection as possible.

It will not surprise you that Etiquetteer thinks more respect could be shown for the voting process, and for the right to vote in the first place, by dressing in one’s best. Etiquetteer’s advice from 2008 still stands: by all means express your beliefs and preferences in what you wear, but keep it to accessories like buttons and ribbons rather than clothing like T-shirts and caps. And if you choose, dress in all the national colors of red, white, and blue!

"Smile!" or Not, Vol. 17, Issue 51

Dear Etiquetteer:

I need to find a way for people to stop telling me to smile in pictures. This is especially useless if it’s a picture I've already posted. It's rude. I think it's mostly about why we do or do not smile and having some degree of autonomy over our feelings and moods.

Dear Smiley:

Once upon a time no one smiled. Improvements in both photography and dentistry in the last 125 years or so have made smiling in photographs the undisputed fashion. It’s quite a contrast from previous centuries, when it took so long to record a daguerreotype. A smile could not be held that long a time.

Sometimes smiling seems insincere, but Etiquetteer doesn’t consider that anyone wants “autonomy over your feelings and moods.” They just want a photo that conforms to the Smiling Norm, irritating as that can feel.

You sometimes cannot get out of being in a photo. For instance, if one of your children is getting married, it would look really really bad if you showed up at the wedding and then refused to be in the family photographs - or appeared scowling or “looking daggers.” In those situations it’s not just Perfectly Proper but Absolutely Necessary to “put on your happy face.”

In the future, when you’re encouraged to smile in a photo, consider cultivating a Mona Lisa smile, which can convey a certain amount of pleasant mystery without baring your teeth. As to the occasional “Oh, I wish you’d smiled in that picture!” Etiquetteer encourages you to ignore it, or pass it off with a light witticism such as “I have my reputation as a misanthrope to consider” or “If I’m not careful they’ll cast me as Pollyanna.”

Queen Victoria as we are used to seeing her.

Queen Victoria as we are used to seeing her.

You might consider the example of three 19th-century ladies and how they handled photographers. Queen Victoria, famously “not amused,” never smiled in photographs because her children didn’t consider it dignified in her position. There are, however, a few photographs of her smiling - which proves to Etiquetteer that it made the Queen more special because of its rarity.

Queen Victoria sporting a smile at a great-grandchild. Too bad she couldn’t keep her eyes open at the same time.

Queen Victoria sporting a smile at a great-grandchild. Too bad she couldn’t keep her eyes open at the same time.

The second, First Lady Julia Grant, would only allow herself to be photographed in profile because she had crossed eyes. Of course, profile portraits are not so fashionable now . . .


Finally, there’s Isabella Stewart Gardner, a wealthy and eccentric art collector whose wealth and eccentricity couldn’t mask her homely looks.


“Mrs. Jack” did what she could with veils, but was also known to cover her face with a fan or just a piece of paper if she didn’t feel like being photographed. Her friends understood and accommodated, even to the extent of photographing her from behind at dinner parties. There’s a marvelous photo on page 15 of Beauport: The Sleeper-McCann House of a costume dinner party. Mrs. Gardner, facing resolutely away, is only identified by the big Y on the back of her chair.

So you could, perhaps, carry a fan around in case you’re not willing to “turn that frown upside down.” That would certainly make a memorable photo!