Is it polite to compliment someone on their good manners? Or does it age you or make you look like a parent?
There’s a Whiff of Dangerous Condescension about complimenting an adult on behaving well, since adults are expected to behave well. (Never mind that many don’t; we are expected to.) Once adulthood has been achieved, we are supposed to be Perfectly Proper because it’s the right thing to do, not because we’ll be acknowledged for it.
Etiquetteer will allow a few Words of Gratitude if you focus less on the person’s behavior and more on the impact that behavior has. For instance, “Your note made me feel so good when I opened my mailbox yesterday,” or “Thanks for holding the door. You made things so much easier for me!”
What can I do when the hostess serves food that is problematic, such as white rice and white rolls to a diabetic, lamb to someone who doesn't eat meat, etc.?
Etiquetteer’s view is not necessarily a popular one, but the traditional etiquette is simply to leave unwelcome food on the plate untouched. “Take what you get and like it” was how many mothers used to teach their children in the last century, and that school of table manners has much to commend it.
Modern Medicine, however, has taught us that some people simply cannot eat certain foods without threatening their lives. There’s no reason a diabetic should compromise himself or herself in the name of Perfect Propriety by trying to eat the white rice and rolls you mention. Nor should that person call attention to the situation with a demand for a fresh plate of something different. What many dinner guests forget is that a private home is not a restaurant and that their hostess is not a servant.
It’s become common practice, when invited to dinner, for guests to tip off hosts and hostesses discreetly about medical dietary needs (e.g. “You know, I’m diabetic, and the doctor has forbidden me things like white rice” or “Just so you know, I have a fatal allergy to fennel or onions.”)
Etiquetteer absolutely draws the line at dietary preferences. Just because you don’t like someting doesn’t mean a thing. Suck it up, Buttercup!
You notice that someone has food on their face, or something in their hair. Should you say something?
In general, yes, especially if it’s something that can be fixed easily. Etiquetteer has been horrified on more than one occasion to arrive home after a cocktail party to see an enormous dark bit of spinach glaring like a malignant searchlight between his teeth. Why on earth didn’t someone say something?! (You would think this happening even once would curb Etiquetteer’s enthusiasm for spanikopita, but oh no! Some hors d’oeuvres are simply too good to resist.)
The simplest approach is best. All you need to say is “Excuse me, but you have some food between your teeth/on your left cheek/on your lapel.”
I need help with Fashion! I never know what the appropriate attire is. After getting a nice invitation, what should I wear? This goes for both women and men.
This is a difficult question to answer, for a couple different reasons. Fashion and Perfect Propriety are not sisters who always walk hand in hand down the garden path. Often they are at odds. We should turn to their more discerning sister Style, who more often makes a more confident and Perfectly Proper impression.
Appropriate attire is governed by the purpose of the occasion. What one wears in the board room is different from what one wears at the beach. What one wears to a wedding is as much governed by the time of day it’s held as by whatever cryptic theme is provided on the invitations (e.g. “smart and spiffy”). When in doubt, always begin by asking your host and/or hostess. Some people are fearful of actually asking, but there is no need to be. And if they punt with “Oh, whatever you feel like,” ask them point blank what they plan to wear, and base your outfit on that.