Dear Etiquetteer: About a month before the holidays I moved into a roommate situation with a social friend. We have known each other for years and it is a great living situation. I have enjoyed getting to know him better. I was raised Catholic, but now view myself as a more spiritual person, and my roommate is Jewish and about as devout as I am to his roots.
I was unsure how I might have approached him on the subject of a small Christmas tree somewhere in the apartment. Unfortunately my room is too small to put up a tree there.
How do you suggest that I approach my roommate on the mixing of our respective religious backgrounds when the holidays come again next winter?
Dear Respectful Roommate:
Etiquetteer must commend your sensitivity in considering the effect your choices might have upon your roommate. Battles royal have been waged over the most minuscule things, even how the toilet paper is placed on the roll. (Etiquetteer never ceases to be amazed at the fierceness of those defending either having the paper fall in the front or the back. The most Perfectly Proper solution to this dilemma is to have two rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom. Why no one else has thought of this mystifies Etiquetteer.)
While roommates share many things, they don't always share holidays. But the simplest solutions are best. Ask your roommate how he would feel about having a Christmas tree, even a small one, to broach the idea. If he likes it, obviously go ahead with a tree. If you detect resistance, confine yourself to decorating your own room. It's amazing what one can do with garlands, lights, and ribbon without even having a tree!
Etiquetteer wishes you and your roommate well as your shared living arrangements evolve in cordiality, courtesy, and Perfect Propriety.
As a frequent reader of your column I am well aware that you generally deal with matters appropriate for company. That said, I hope you can asisst me with an issue of a more delicate nature, "nature" being the operative word.
My loving husband -- especially after consuming foods such as raw onions, Indian food, and Brussels sprouts but, it seems, just about any food -- has a tendency to, let us say, "toot." Sometimes these gaseous emissions are accompanies by an audible announcement, sometimes by just a tell-tale odor.
I've asked him to please give a simple "pardon me" to apologize to whatever companions may be nearby and forced to participate in a not Perfectly Proper environment. As we cozy on the couch after dinner, for example, I do appreciate a polite acknowledgement when it's not the creaking of our old house that's disturbing the romantic moment.
There are times, however, when he chooses to ignore the whole situation, telling me this is the more polite thing to do For example, at his weekly poker game, following a silent attack his fellow players are well aware of an offense while my husband sheepishly seeks to avoid a tell of his cards as well as the ownership of this atmospheric intrusion. These gentlemen have been polite enough not to fall prey to childish behavior. They do not interrogate one another followed by claims of "He who denied it supplied it" and like nonsense. It does seem ill-advised to call more attention to the situation but to say nothing seems like a case of ignoring a foul elephant in the room. If one were to cause some other offense, from arriving late to tipping a chair to a coughing gag, I'd expect a simple apology for disturbing the peace. Is this any different?
Can you please advise?
Etiquetteer has written on this olfactory subject before, and must commend your husband for knowing that Acknowledgement of Flatulence is never Perfectly Proper. It remains one of etiquette's pecularities not to acknowledge this Bodily Function while offering an "excuse me" for coughs, sneezes, and even yawns. (It differs completely from your other examples, late arrival and chair-tipping, which are not Bodily Functions.) But flatulence, never!
Indeed, Etiquetteer wishes everyone would stop asking those "What's that?!" type of question when they encounter palpable flatulence. Etiquetteer still shudders with embarrassment over an occasion several years ago. Having been the cause of a sulfurous aroma, Etiquetteer's shame was compounded when the insistent bewilderment of an idiot acquaintance could only be stopped by having to say "I farted. Would you please shut up now?!"
Etiquetteer does have to Wag an Admonitory Digit at your husband for not altering his diet. Since he knows that raw onions, Brussels sprouts, and Indian food affect him adversely, he should stop eating them! And really, if all food puts him in a State of Perpetual Indigestion, he ought to see his doctor.