Reader Questions, Vol. 18, Issue 15

Etiquetteer sent out a reader survey a few days ago (it’s still open; if you’d like to contribute, too, here’s the link) which has yielded some interesting questions. As it happens, Etiquetteer has already answered some of them.

Dear Etiquetteer:

These days, I'm mainly concerned about the rules of etiquette governing messages of condolence.

Dear Etiquetteer:

When to send condolence notes—immediately upon learning of the death, within a month, or at any time?

Dear Etiquetteer:

What is the best way to write notes, especially condolences?

Dear Correspondents:

Etiquetteer put together a fairly comprehensive guide to condolence correspondence in Volume 16 which includes guidelines for sending, and replying to, condolence messages by post, email, and social media.

The best way to write notes, of any kind, is to sit down and write them. That may sound flippant, but believe it or not, that’s often the biggest stumbling block.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What Is a nice, quick way to sincerely respond with appreciation to a compliment in conversation?

Dear Complimented:

Truly, nothing more than “Thank you” is needed, though you may add “That’s very kind of you” if that feels too brief. Not everyone is comfortable receiving compliments. If that’s you, changing the subject will steer focus away from you.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Is it ever too late to write a thank-you note?

Dear Thanking:

Not really, but the longer you put it off, the more sweetness you need to slop into it. (And what a timely reminder; That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much has more than a few Lovely Notes waiting to be written!)

Dear Etiquetteer:

You notice that someone has food on their face, or something in their hair. Should you say something?

Dear Observant:

You may, but quietly, so as not to call attention from anyone nearby. Often they’ll be grateful. Etiquetteer has come home from parties only to find a dark, malevolent piece of spanikopita stuck in his teeth, leading Etiquetteer to stamp his little foot in a rage and cry out “Why didn’t someone tell me?!”

All that said, gentlemen never approach ladies with concerns about their clothes (for instance, visible underwear), especially if they are strangers. Regardless of the purity of his intent, more often than not it will be interpreted differently. That’s the sort of thing where only ladies can help each other out (and should). Etiquetteer has always loved the euphemism “It’s snowing down south” when a lady’s slip is showing beneath her hem - but that’s only for the Sisterhood. In the same vein, gentlemen have a range of euphemisms for an open fly to share with each other. “XYZ” for “Examine your zipper” is the briefest.

Dear Etiquetteer:

After getting a nice invitation, what should I wear? This goes for both women and men.

Dear Invited:

A Perfectly Proper invitation would provide a dress code. Etiquetteer has written before about the ambiguity of novelty dress codes. (The one in the news most now is the dress code for the just-held Met Gala: “studied triviality.”) Truman Capote did it best for his famous Black and White Ball in 1966. The short answer is, when in doubt, check with your hosts. You may also browse through Etiquetteer’s index for some helpful columns.

Etiquetteer would like to thank all the anonymous readers who responded to this survey. Etiquetteer loves to hear from readers!