Other People’s Behavior: Two Different Situations, Vol. 4, Issue 12

Dear Etiquetteer: I, like you, am someone who has a public website. On a number of occasions, people have written to me about my site, and I have responded with what you call a Lovely Note. However, this has occasionally been seen by the reader as in invitation to become Best Friends Forever, and I always reply to their e-mails, because I think it's horribly rude to go without responding.How do I word my replies to these lovely but misguided folks who think that, due to the fact that I write about my life on-line, they are candidates for my new buddy? Do I give them the cold shoulder (seems rude)? Write shorter e-mails with little to no actual content (a "wingnut form e-mail," if you will), or be direct? I'm unsure as to what is Perfectly Proper. Dear Webbed: Just like celebrities, "celwebrities" also have their, ahem, devoted fans. That sounds so much more polite than "lunatic fringe," don’t you think? As with most human relationships, balance must be used, in your case to express gratitude for interest in your website while also maintaining your privacy. And this balance is nowhere better expressed than in Max Ehrmann’s famous poem "Desiderata" Not only must one " . . . listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their stories," but even more important one must "Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection." You see how difficult this is, ‘cause let Etiquetteer tell you, give the dull and ignorant an inch and they’ll take 45 minutes. Using these guidelines, Etiquetteer suggests brief, pleasant, but neutral e-mail responses with only a minimum of specific content, such as:
  • "Thank you! It’s been interesting to hear from so many people about [Insert Topic at Hand Here]."
  • "Thank you for those comments. A different point of view!"
  • "Your support is really appreciated. Thanks for writing."

Etiquetteer encourages you to remember that there is a difference between a cold shoulder and appropriate reserve. While tempted by guilt or pity to respond more effusively, remember that only courtesy is required. Best of luck as you continue your e-fan-mail.

Dear Etiquetteer: So many times I want to write you with the thousands of scenarios that run through my head. This time I really need some help. It seems that nearly every time my husband and I go out with a group of people he picks up the check, bar tab, whatever the bill may be. This drives me crazy! I spoke to him about this and he agrees that I'm correct but does not know what to do. I think he is uncomfortable discussing the bill so he just avoids the situation by paying for it! It's very sweet and if we had all the money in the world I would not mind. Since that's not the case, what are some tools we could use to avoid the embarrassing "bill moment?" I hate to sound so frugal but it’s a habit that needs to be broken. Dear Mrs. Check Grabber: The stereotype of "the American who pays" went the way of café society and transatlantic crossings (as opposed to cruises), but even if your husband were to bring it back, he’d need fabulous wealth or possibly ill-gotten gains to do it. Etiquetteer really encourages neither approach.The danger of always paying the check is that one day, perhaps, that will be the only reason your friends want you there. Etiquetteer knows that your husband has more interesting qualities than this. We must now devise a way to put them into the foreground, which means eliminating his icky feelings about settling the check.First, your husband needs to give others at the table the chance to pick up the check first. Even if he has to sit on his hands (or if you have to sit on them) Hubby should restrain his Hospitable Impulse and let someone else take the initiative. (And Etiquetteer thinks that, after all his largesse, some of these friends ought to be taking him out.) It is not bad for people to pay their own bills when dining together in a restaurant. Hubby must understand this.Now if this doesn’t work and Hubby actually has the check in hand, you may need to take it from him deftly and either pass it to someone else ("Hubert darling, since you’re the accountant in the group and you ordered the extra appetizer, would you please go over the bill?") or figure out yourself what you and your husband owe (including tax and tip), add it to the check, and pass it to the person next to you who is furthest from your husband. Of course, this also assumes you’re sitting next to him, which is not Perfectly Proper when dining away from one’s home . . . let’s hope you’re sitting not-too-far away.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify@etiquetteer.com.