Random Issues, Vol. 17, Issue 22

Etiquetteer has been clapping his little hands with delight over some interesting queries that have popped into the inbox. Won't you warm the cockles of Etiquetteer's heart by sending your own query?

Dear Etiquetteer:

Might there be a polite way to tell/ask a guest to sleep between THE SHEETS and not between the top sheet and the comforter? That requires that I wash said duvet, a much more involved procedure that washing the sheets.

Dear Hostly:

According to Sally Quinn's delightful memoir of Washington entertaining The Party: A Guide to Adventurous Entertaining, "A guest can do no wrong." So once a guest has slept between your top sheet and your duvet, Expressions of Reproach, no matter how justified, are not particularly hostly.

But you already know this. What you want to do is to encourage Perfect Propriety by making compliance easy. And you can do that by turning down the sheets before your guests even arrive, with the top sheet and duvet folded back and the bottom sheet unquestioningly the place to slide into bed. You might event toss a mint on the pillow, but it's no fair clipping the top sheet to the duvet.


Dear Etiquetteer:

I was at a party recently and someone asked me what my cologne was. I didn’t think it was proper to tell. Isn’t there some sort of tradition around that?

Dear Subtly Scented:

Once upon a time a lady never revealed her dressmaker or especially her perfume. Perhaps one's scent was considered too much a part of one's person? Certainly a bewitching, tantalizing perfume was thought to contribute to a lady's mystique, and to reveal its source would be to undercut its magic. Nowadays the tradition is made fun of, but Etiquetteer believes a little Perfectly Proper mystique lends some (aromatic) spice to Life. If you'd rather not reveal, you might say "It's called 'My Secret,'" look knowingly at the questioner, and slink away like a femme fatale. (When people ask about cocktails, Etiquetteer is fond of responding "Oh, just the essence of a few woodland herbs and flowers," and that would work for a perfume response, too.)

Interestingly, perfume gets mentioned most in etiquette books to advise against wearing too much. "Also hold back on the perfume and cologne," [emphasis author's] says Bernice Bryant in Miss Behavior: Popularity, Poise and Personality for the Teen-Age Girl, "would you be the lass with a delicate air." Sometimes ladies would only put scent on their handkerchiefs and not on their persons. Charlotte Vale, when given her first bottle of perfume in the novel Now, Voyager, becomes acutely embarrassed when its giver, Jerry, recognizes that she's wearing it; she's afraid she's put on too much. 


Dear Etiquetteer:

Oh no! I was stamping a thank-you note and I accidentally put on the stamp upside-down! Will my friend now think I’m insincere?

Dear Stamping:

Only if it was a Richard Nixon stamp. Etiquetteer had always assumed that a stamp placed upside-down expressed insincerity, but apparently this is not so. An upside-down stamp really means "I miss you," and it's especially popular to place stamps upside-down on correspondence with loved ones in the armed forces. Other meanings of stamps in different positions may be found here.

By the way, thanks for sending this query during National Card and Letter Writing Month! Etiquetteer hopes you're putting lots of stamps on lots of cards and letters.