National Common Courtesy Day, Vol. 18, Issue 11

Yes, it’s another one of those National Days. This time it’s National Common Courtesy Day. Common courtesy must be in danger if we need to have a day for it! Practice these Perfectly Proper Acts of Common Courtesy today, and every day.

  • Hold the door for someone else.

  • Be quiet: no one needs to know what’s emitting from your earphones/earbuds.

  • Be quiet: that crinkly candy wrapper is disturbing everyone!

  • Get out of the way.

  • Be on time.

  • Use exact change, without taking too much time about it.

  • Offer your seat to someone who needs it.

  • Say the magic words! “Please” and “thank you” are far more effective than “Abracadabra.”

  • Never ever ask “Don’t you know who I am?”

  • Brush your teeth.

  • Be good to Norah and Ito after I’m gone.

  • And don’t forget to smile.


Signs of the Times, Vol. 18, Issue 9

Occasionally Etiquetteer likes to post etiquette signs seen in the wider world.

This apartment does not wish to welcome proselytizers, but “No soliciting, no proselytizing” would communicate the message more simply and elegantly.


One trembles to think of the experiences that required this notice to be posted!


In an Italian restaurant, an attempt to embrace Perfect Propriety with history and humor:


The message is expressed more discreetly at another restaurant.


Notice the trouble the residents have taken to cease the flow of unwanted literature: a laminated and printed sign carefully attached to the front stairwell.


Finally, a museum warning that keeps from being alarming.


Winter White, Vol. 18, Issue 7

Etiquetteer’s opinion about white after Labor Day has been pretty well established, so you can imagine the consternation when That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much came home from an impromptu shopping expedition with a new winter overcoat . . . in white! Etiquetteer and That Mr. Dimmick have disagreed before, but you can imagine the shock . . .

Still, what about winter white? Is winter white the same thing as white after Labor Day? The what-aboutists are always eager to ask! And actually, it isn’t. The kind of white known as “winter white” differs from summer white in that it is Never Actually White, but cream or ivory or bone. You can see the difference between That Mr. Dimmick’s overcoat and shirt collar.

How does one wear winter white with Perfect Propriety? Just about anything in a thick wool should do: gigantic sweaters, scarves, knitted caps, and of course gloves. Especially for the ladies, who always seem to have more leeway that gentlemen. But while many would disagree, Etiquetteer doesn’t really think that white jeans in winter are Perfectly Proper, nor white athletic shoes. But this is perhaps more a choice of Style than Etiquette.

Etiquetteer would exempt, of course, the basic white dress shirts and blouses that are the staples of a Perfectly Proper wardrobe. They look correct all the year round. Even white-based T-shirts. if you’re going someplace where you’d ordinarily wear a T-shirt, white is OK.

But if you’re going to wear more than one piece of winter white at a time, make sure they match! You don’t want to look all tuppence ha’penny and have people saying “Oh, she’s trying to make everything match.”

So . . . what about this overcoat, readers? Etiquetteer thinks it a bit too showy and ostentatious, but clearly That Mr. Dimmick just loves it, while Etiquetteer is a bit aghast. What do you think? Just right, or too flashy? Use Common Courtesy to share your opinion yea or nay on Etiquetteer’s Facebook page, or on Twitter.


Peach Melba and a Clean Desk, Vol. 18, Issue 3

Really, Etiquetteer should have remembered to wish you a Perfectly Proper National Peach Melba Day yesterday, but peach Melba was never on the menu at Durgin-Park in the first place, and why on earth would peach melba be celebrated in January when peaches are not in season? Probably to emphasize its upper-class origin. Traditionally the rich enjoy all the culinary delicacies out of season just because they can*.

We must never forget that no less a chef than the Great Escoffier Himself created this deliciously simple (and simply delicious) dessert in homage to the great singer Dame Nellie Melba Herself following her performance in Lohengrin. (Granted, it’s much simpler when not served in an ice swan, as originally done.) So of course that would be much too grand for Durgin-Park, the last home of Indian pudding.

Owing to an unfortunate allergy to peaches, Etiquetteer is no longer able to enjoy this Exquisite Pleasure of the Table. But if served it, you may be sure that Etiquetteer would just pick wistfully at the ice cream without making a fuss. Let’s not make a fuss about our dietary issues, shall we?

So that was all supposed to be yesterday. Today, the second Monday of January, is National Clean Off Your Desk Day, a handy reminder for anyone who made New Year’s resolutions to Get On With It in a non-threatening manner. That said, you may be sure that Etiquetteer is casting a Most Threatening Glance in the direction of That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much. Just think (oh, the shame of it!), he has not even begun his Lovely Notes from Christmas. Let’s get on with it, people! We all have bits of the Old Year still clinging to us: unanswered letters and bills, Lovely Notes unwritten and unsent, reports to file, etc. Take some time today to Clear the Deck, and if so inclined, post a photo of your clean desktop to Etiquetteer’s Facebook page. If it helps, pretend you’re the Second Mrs. DeWinter getting rid of all Rebecca’s things. Perhaps Mrs. Danvers will give you a gold star for tidiness . . .


*Readers of Edith Wharton will immediately recall her short story After Holbein.

Durgin-Park, Rest in Peace, Vol. 18, Issue 1

Welcome to the New Year, and to a new volume of Etiquetteer! Alas, this volume begins with an ending, the surprise news yesterday evening that the storied restaurant Durgin-Park, '“established before you were born,” will close January 12, 2019. Its “market dining rooms,” originally serving workers of all shifts as well as sailors from Boston Harbor, were gleefully absorbed into the “festival marketplace” that Faneuil Hall became in the 1970s. Over the years Etiquetteer has also met many men of the Greatest Generation who, as college students, would flock to D-P on the weekends for its economical steak special. The restaurant is a Bostonian touchstone for older generations and for those who love traditional New England foods.

Mark White, the son of Boston Mayor Kevin White who led that transformation, was quoted saying that Durgin-Park is “part of the soul of the city.” Etiquetteer must respectfully disagree. In the last 50 years it may have been so for visitors to the city, but for the locals - not so much. Indeed, many have suggested that D-P was “cooking for the tourists” for years.

Part of the restaurant’s fame came from the deliberately crabby attitude of its waitresses - and Etiquetteer has met many men of the Greatest Generation who, returning after long years away, discovered that the memory of a crabby waitress is better than her reappearance with bad service. Etiquetteer has never been a fan of the rudeness schtick anywhere, but still raises a glass in grateful memory to the crabby D-P waitress who taught him how to eat king crab legs. Many years ago in the 1980s, Collegiate Etiquetteer celebrated a professional milestone with The Boss over dinner at D-P and ordered the surf and turf - which that night happened to be king crab legs. For those unfamiliar, this is a collection of hard shell tubes with a sharp point at one end and an opening at the other. Etiquetteer, completely at a loss, was picking away at the opening with a fork as a crabby waitress came by. “Ya nevah gonna get much that way, deah!” she cried. Almost seizing the crab leg and the fork, she fit one tine down one side of the shell and, using the fork as a can opener, deftly cracked open the entire leg. Thank ya, deah!

Those crabby waitresses also knew how to turn on the charm for a rowdy version of “Happy Birthday!” of which Collegiate Etiquetteer was once the focus long ago. They were not going to let the occasion go unobserved!

The city of Boston has undergone several restaurant closings lately. L’Espalier just announced that it’s closing, a blow for those who love fine French cuisine. Jacob Wirth announced last year it was up for sale, a threat to those who love good beer and German food (and for the theatre people who find it convenient to the stage door). And of course Etiquetteer is still mourning the closing last autumn of Brasserie JO, that beloved bistro, and a tear still falls when remembering when the Ritz-Carlton dining room closed (in the 1990s) for luncheon. Whether fine dining or market dining, restaurants help define our public lives and our Perfect Propriety. Indeed, it could be said that the community table that’s so popular in so many restaurants now got its start at Durgin-Park, where all individual diners were served at long tables in the market dining rooms - and you didn’t get to choose your seat either.

And the only way to keep the restaurants we value part of our communities is not to expect other people to keep them in business until we “feel like going.” Put your table manners to the test in public and head out to your favorite restaurant soon. You may not know it’s endangered until it’s too late!

Durgin-Park is a storied part of Boston, to be sure. But just as New York is getting along fine now with a Mrs. Astor, Boston will survive quite well without Durgin-Park. But perhaps we’d all better make reservations at the Union Oyster House . . .

A Toast for New Year's Eve 2018

It’s almost midnight! And Etiquetteer offers, once again, Noel Coward’s famous toast from Cavalcade.

Allow Etiquetteer to wish all of you a New Year of Perfect Propriety.

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!