Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 38

After Etiquetteer’s column on personal solicitation two weeks ago, some readers responded with thoughtful solutions: Dear Etiquetteer: I have a budget for charitable donations and part of it is to support my friends in their choices. Some friends agree that they do not want more stuff (two days of being hosts of a yard sale convinced them) and so I make donations in their honor to charities I know they support. I give money to a local university to help students perform public service, and to the charity that any friend or acquaintance supports through marathons, bikeathons, etc. I find that being able to thank my coworkers, friends and acquaintances for the opportunity is a much better solution than having to decline gracefully. Etiquetteer responds: Your generosity and prudence are to be commended. Etiquetteer has noticed for years that knowing one’s friend’s likes and dislikes goes far in selecting gifts. You are to be commended for observing that some of your friends actually prefer what might be called a non-gift and acting accordingly. Dear Etiquetteer: I have some standard responses memorized for those seeking money for causes:
  • UNKNOWN TELEPHONE CALLLERS: As this is no doubt a telemarketing firm, offer nothing more than a curt interruption of "I do not respond to telephone solicitations. Please add this number to your Do Not Call List. Goodbye."
  • PEOPLE WHO HAVE FOUND YOU AN EASY TOUCH: "My financial advisor has put me on a strict budget since the market has gone down. At the first of the year, he allows a certain amount that I must not go over; and right now, that amount is spent. I hope you'll call me when times are better."
  • FRIENDS AND FAMILY WHO HINT FOR MONEY: Go overboard in agreeing with them about how difficult "things" have become. For example, one person might hear your thoughts on the utility bills: "Isn't it awful? How do they expect those of us in reduced circumstances to pay all that? I, myself, have been thinking of calling the Relief Agency and asking for help." You might end with ... "I hope you haven't had to cut your pledge to the Church, but of course that's between you and God."

If you remember that nobody likes to be grouped with the indigents, it's easy to respond. As for the dolt who puts linen napkins in dirty plates, there's no need to be polite. Unless this idiot is blind and cannot see what other guests are doing with their napkins, simply watch Cousin Zebulon and when he starts his act, speak in a loud voice, "Cousin Zebulon! Please don't do that! I have to wash that napkin." There is absolutely no need to spare the feelings of people like Zebulon if he has had the opportunity to learn better.Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer could not agree more with the way you nip solicitations in the bud, but must remind you of the age-old dictum that a guest can do no wrong. Publicly humiliating one's errant cousin at the dinner table -- tempting though it seems! -- would embarrass everyone there, not just Zebulon himself. Etiquetteer continues to believe that finding a quiet way to keep him from soiling the linens unnecessarily remains the best way.

EXAMPLES FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF ETIQUETTEERFrom the Department of Shut Up and Eat, Etiquetteer lashes out at two old men who darn near ruined a beautiful dinner dance the other night. Guests ordered tickets and indicated their meal choices six weeks in advance for this private club event. Many, Etiquetteer included, selected "Filet Mignon with Bearnaise Sauce." You wouldn’t think this would be a problem, would you? As Etiquetteer’s table was being served (ladies first, in Perfect Propriety) some faces began to fall. Murmurs of concern were exchanged between couples. "It isn’t rare," Etiquetteer heard one lady tell her husband. This did not prepare Etiquetteer for the vehemence of this man’s response when the waitress came to serve him. Before his plate even touched the table he boomed at her "I want RARE!" Didn’t his poor sainted mother ever teach him to say "please"?The poor waitress fled like a startled rabbit in the face of that, but worse was to come. Another poisonous octogenarian loudly declared "I want rare without the sauce!" as soon as a waitress came within earshot. When a sauceless filet was produced he cut into it and then vigorously protested that it was not rare. Later still, when the waitress returned with the last steak available and the information that the kitchen never cooked meat rare, the diatribe REALLY began, cowing the rest of the table to silence. "This is the worst damn food," etc. etc. Etiquetteer was mighty tempted to tell him that a lot of hurricane victims would be mighty glad to have a filet on their plate, even if they did think it overdone.So, long story short, a lovely evening reduced to a shambles by two dietary divos. Enough! If you’re going to be that fussy about your food you might as well stay home.

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