Random Issues, Vol. 15, Issue 10

It's been a long time since Etiquetteer did a column on Random Issues, and some readers have, with Delicious Irreverence, provided some interesting queries: Dear Etiquetteer:

Could you please address adopting local customs when traveling. When in New Orleans, how proper is it to return your breakfast diner waitress's greeting of "Hey, baby" in kind?

Dear Baby:

After the second coffee refill seems safest.

Dear Etiquetteer:

How do you handle office mates asking for donations?

Dear Unmoved:

With kid gloves that come nowhere near Etiquetteer's wallet, if you're really asking how to decline colleagues asking for donations. It's always possible to say, with a tone of Infinite Regret, "And it's such a good cause, too, but I have other charitable priorities right now." They don't need to know what that other priority is - indeed, it could be You Yourself - so don't volunteer the information.


Dear Etiquetteer: When the real estate agent arrives to show your house two hours late, and you've already scheduled the rest of your afternoon, what is best to do: order him off the stoop, or bow to his and his client's inability to pace their time properly?

Dear Intruded Upon:

Etiquetteer knows some lovely realtors, and has heard stories about the rest. Long story short, your time is just as valuable as theirs, and if they aren't able to adjust to your schedule, then they need to go back to the drawing board. Gently but firmly explain that visiting hours were determined in advance for a reason, and that no accommodation can be made at the last minute.

Dear Etiquetteer:

How about rainy day etiquette? Where to stash the umbrella, boots, and what-not.

Dear Rained Upon:

Umbrellas and boots go in the places provided for them, which one hopes are close to the entrance where one removes them. It's not always possible to unfurl an umbrella indoors to dry it, so it's especially thoughtful of homeowners to provide one of those marvelous umbrella stands that can hold about a quart of water if necessary.

Victorians always kept their whatnots in the corner, which is really the best place for them.

Dear Etiquetteer:

When one runs over a tourist during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, is it permissible to leave the dried tourist on the car until you can get to a car wash, or should it be washed away at once to prevent damage to the paint of one's car? I realize that this is more of a practical question, rather than an etiquette question, but I have always wondered . . .

Dear Laissez Les Autos Roulez:

It's queries like this that make Etiquetteer glad that New Orleans doesn't have an open carry law. But seriously . . .

Unless you want to be mistaken for a float in the parade representing Cemetery No. One, Etiquetteer advises immediate, respectful removal.


Happy 15th Anniversary, Etiquetteer! Volume 15, Issue 9

January 31 is the official anniversary of etiquetteer.com, so today Etiquetteer is celebrating 15 years of Perfect Propriety with a special innovation, video:

The Start of Etiquetteer from Etiquetteer on Vimeo.

Etiquetteer would like to thank each and all of you for being part of this Adventure in Perfect Propriety, and looks forward to more years of advising and pronouncing on same. Indeed, look for more video columns in the future.

Thank you, and happy anniversary to us!

In Which Etiquetteer Splits His Pants, Vol. 15, Issue 5

The true test of etiquette is how well one reacts to the unexpected. When Life throws a curve ball, one must think both of the motto of the Boy Scouts, "Be prepared," and the words of Etiquetteer's beloved Congressional wife, Ellen Maury Slayden: "This is a test of breeding; keep cool." The other day Etiquetteer boarded the train home and took a vacant seat. First Etiquetteer heard a soft sound, rather difficult to describe, and then felt the train seat become a shade more comfortable. It was then that Etiquetteer came to the awful realization that that soft sound was really Etiquetteer's khakis giving way where they would create the most comic disadvantage: the seat.

The horror of the situation gave way to a rapid succession of thoughts: first, that Etiquetteer's stop on the train was not for some time, providing an opportunity for quiet contemplation of a solution; then, that Etiquetteer's short winter jacket would not conceal the damage done; gratitude for the daily habit of clean undergarments; and last, vain regret at not having begun a Post-Holiday Diet Regime.

Etiquetteer did at least Keep Calm and a Stiff Upper Lip, which helped provide enough clarity to, at last, identify a solution. Happily, Etiquetteer had some shopping in a paper shopping bag with some handles and, by holding it with both hands at the small of the back, could walk forward briskly and still conceal the Inappropriate Ventilation. While not unknown, that's still a Rare Posture, and Etiquetteer hoped to get home without exciting Unwelcome Attention. And nearly did, except for practically being tailed by a trolley of tourists for half a block, and the presence of neighbors in the foyer. But at least no one saw Anything They Oughtn't.

While the movies aren't a reliable source of etiquette advice, Etiquetteer must conclude this instructive story with the words of Igor in Young Frankenstein. When trouble comes, "Say nothing. Act casual."


Etiquetteer Takes the Proust Questionnaire, Vol. 15, Issue 4

Apparently the late David Bowie once took the Proust Questionnaire, which inspired Etiquetteer to do the same, although Etiquetteer used the version that's on Wikipedia: Your favorite virtue: Situational awareness.

Your favorite qualities in a man: discretion, penmanship, pocket squares.

Your favorite qualities in a woman: elegance, "a soft, low voice as clear as silver and as perfect in articulation as the notes of a thrush" in the words of O. Henry, and the ability to freeze unwanted attention.

Your chief characteristic: Being a character.

What you appreciate the most in your friends: Promptness.

Your main fault: Finding fault.

Your favorite occupation: Conversation at table that doesn't concern table manners.

Your idea of happiness: A world in which everyone is properly dressed.

Your idea of misery: Walmart.

If not yourself, who would you be? J. B. West, Chief Usher of the White House; or Robert de Montesquiou, or Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough.

Where would you like to live? Paris, Venice, and/or Budapest.

Your favorite color and flower: Blue/Jacqueminot roses and Malmaison carnations.

Your favorite prose authors: Edith Wharton, Emily Post, and Patrick Dennis.

Your favorite poets: William Shakespeare, Dorothy Parker, and Ogden Nash.

Your favorite heroes in fiction: Newland Archer, Dorian Gray, Paul in Willa Cather’s “Paul’s Case."

Your favorite heroines in fiction: Marmee in Little Women and the Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons.

Your favorite painters and composers: Painters: William Paxton, John Singer Sargent; Composers: Johann Strauss and Franz Lehar.

Your heroes in real life: my father.

Your favorite heroines in real life: my mother.

What characters in history do you most dislike: invading armies, whether military or shopping.

Your heroines in world history: Misia Sert, Dolley Madison, Dorothy Draper, and Eleanor of Acquitaine, who gave civilization the tablecloth.

Your favorite food and drink: macarons and champagne.

Your favorite names: Etiquetteer. Just Etiquetteer, not "The Etiquetteer."

What I hate the most: those who reject Perfect Propriety in the name of Personal Choice; they neglect the feelings of others.

World history characters I hate the most: Stalin.

The military event I admire the most: The Peace of Westphalia.

The reform(s) I admire the most: the defeat of the corset, the Repeal of Prohibition, and the demise of the formal leaving of calling cards.

The natural talent I’d like to be gifted with: the ability to snap my fingers (and be obeyed when doing so).

How I wish to die: punctually.

What is your present state of mind: cautiously optimistic.

For what fault have you most toleration: being called “The Etiquetteer.” One does not say, for instance, “The Cher,” or “The Beyoncé."

Your favorite motto: "I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." - Etienne de Grellet

A Brief Meditation on How Etiquette Has Changed, Vol. 15, Issue 3

In Baby Face, one of the greatest films of her career, Barbara Stanwyck plays a beautiful blonde from the wrong side of the tracks who uses her Frankly Feminine Charms to Get to the Top of the Ladder, engorging male passions and breaking male hearts with every rung. About halfway up, she is shown reading a copy of Emily Post's Etiquette and quoting a bit to the mail boy about how butlers are supposed to hold out the chairs of ladies at a formal dinner.


Once upon a time, to Get to the Top meant behaving the way the Upper Half did, which is why etiquette books of the period focused so heavily on exactly how the Upper Half did what they did: communicate, entertain, travel, attend church, wear clothes, court, engage, marry, bear and raise children, and, yes, divorce. Emulating Perfect Propriety was seen as the path to Upward Mobility. Etiquette books - especially those by Mrs. Post and Lilian Eichler, but also Amy Vanderbilt and Millicent Fenwick - showed the way, Gospel and road map to success.

In the intervening 80 or so years since Baby Face, what has changed? Well, Etiquetteer certainly thinks that far fewer people care about Perfect Propriety any longer, or at least about how the Upper Half Lives. (Indeed, even the Upper Half don't care to live they way they traditionally did; one has only to look at Paris Hilton to know.) Though it pains Etiquetteer to admit this, sometimes the weight of etiquette grows so great that a generation will cast it off. Louis XIV set up such rigid codes of dress and behavior at Versailles that a revolution was necessary, so everyone could start over. The custom of calling cards and weekly "at home days" grew so elaborate that, starting after World War I, people slowly stopped bothering with it. So to did the custom of delivering a calling card in person the day after a party. As early as 1948 Millicent Fenwick noted in The Vogue Book of Etiquette that the custom of the formal dinner, or "dinner of ceremony," was fading out, too.

So has, in Etiquetteer's opinion, the upper class. In its place we have the celebrity class, and with very few exceptions, celebrities are not good exemplars of Perfect Propriety. Benedict Cumberbatch is without question the Celebrity Gentleman of the 21st century. Would that others would follow suit.


Photo of Etiquetteer by JWLenswerk.

But if Society at Large isn't taking its etiquette cues from the Upper Half, what kind of guidance is being sought? Etiquetteer thinks it's less about Form and Style, and more about Respect, Sincerity, and, alas, how to deal respectfully with Those Who Have No Manners. Instead of worrying about how many forks belong on the table for a multi-course dinner, we want to know how many smartphones can be kept off it without turning off the guests. One may be sure that Mrs. Post never had to write about how to get someone to turn down their iTunes on the subway!

Etiquetteer supposes this is all more helpful and refreshing, but it's decidedly less beautiful. It's so difficult to dress for dinner when one must cook it and clean up after it, too. On the other hand, extending a warm welcome to guests remains just as important as it did years before, whether you're in the drawing room in "full canonicals" or the kitchen in a novelty apron. And expressing thanks is just as important as it was before, though you'll still hear Etiquetteer sounding the call for Lovely Note over a Lovely Email or Text.*

*It should be noted that That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much hasn't even sent out his Christmas Lovely Notes of Thanks yet . . .

Teleconference and Webinar Etiquette, Vol. 15, Issue 2

Almost without exception, anyone in the professional world now needs to be adept at participating in Virtual Meetings Made Possible by Technology, usually in the form of a teleconference or a webinar. Teleconferences, of course, take place via a telephone. Webinars, a comparatively new phenomenon, utilize both telephones and the computers of participants. Webinars allow video of participants in front of their computers, and also the ability to share documents and images on one's computer screen. These are very useful and helpful tools to have when everyone can't be around the same conference table - but only so long as a participant's inability doesn't jeopardize the time, resources (and hearing) of the others. So Etiquetteer wants to put forward some Gentle Suggestions about participating with Perfect Propriety in a teleconference or webinar:

  • R.s.v.p. promptly. Login information may only be sent to those who respond that they are going to participate.
  • Verify the arrangements. The day before the call, check that you have the correct dial-in/login information. Yes, the day before. the organizer certainly can't respond to your email or voicemail after the call has begun, and may not be able to even five minutes beforehand.
  • Schedule yourself honestly. If you're with your children at the zoo, in a bar waiting for a birthday party to start, in the doctor's waiting room, or - worst of all - operating a motor vehicle, you shouldn't be on a conference call. Not only is the background noise where you are impeding the acoustics of the call for everyone, your vocal participation is disturbing those around you. You show respect for other participants and for the agenda by being sure you're in a quiet space where you can participate fully without disturbing others.
  • Arrive early. Everyone's been on a call where the leader has had to repeat the first five or ten minutes for late arrivals. Plan to call in two minutes before the designated start time so that the content of the meeting can begin promptly. That makes a more efficient use of the time of all participants.
  • Know the technology. If you're unfamiliar with the technology being used - and Etiquetteer knows you don't when you call to ask for parking at the meeting - become familiar with it before the day of the call. Ask the organizer whether or not your available technology can accommodate the technology being used, and find out specifically what you need to do to get on the call with no disruption. (Good webinar organizers send instructions in advance, but not all participants make a point of reviewing beforehand.)
  • Know your mute button. Background noise where you are is magnified on a conference call, and has the power to drown out the words of other participants. If you aren't speaking, mute your phone. Unmute when you wish to speak.
  • Start every sentence with your name. Not everyone will recognize your voice.
  • At the end of the call, if you want to have a private conversation with another participant, hang up and call that person. The organizer can't be expected to keep the line open for you.


Today is Twelfth Night, the final day of Christmas, and therefore the last day on which Etiquetteer will allow Christmas to be sent with Perfect Propriety. Imagine how delighted Etiquetteer was to receive in the mail today a Christmas card from friends with the inscription "You said this would not be too late!" Indeed, it was not, and Etiquetteer was deeply touched to have been so remembered.

Starting the New Year/French/Save the Date, Vol. 15, Issue 1

Happy New Year, readers! Allow Etiquetteer to wish you a most Perfectly Proper New Year for 2016. Alas, Etiquetteer began 2016 inauspiciously with a faux pas - at least That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much did. Sunday began with the horrifying discovery that a party invitation was not, in fact, for Sunday, but for the day before. On the other hand, it could have been the week before. Etiquetteer remembers many many years ago getting a phone call from a party guest excited about the next evening's party; Etiquetteer felt badly having to explain that the party had already taken place the previous weekend. Etiquetteer is going to have to put That Mr. Dimmick through another course of Grovelling Abjectly. In the meantime, many of us could benefit from a New Year's resolution to check and double check our calendars.


And speaking of faux pas, it is interesting to note how fashions in manners and language come and go. Once upon a time the crème de la crème moving around in the beau monde would sprinkle their speech and correspondence with bits of French, but these days it really isn't considered le dernier cri of the bon ton. Malhereusement, it's more likely to make an unfavorable impression, as though one was too cultured, as though one was not comme il faut. (Can one be too cultured? One has only to look at Ashley Wilkes to learn the answer to that question.)

Although it might be malentendu or passé to resume the practice now, some phrases in French get bandied around enough that those who wish to appear au fait should be aware. Etiquetteer stumbled on many of these in The Book of Good Manners, by Frederick H. Martens (1923, published by Social Culture Publications):

  • À la mode: in the fashion. Pie served à la mode means served with ice cream. To be dressed à la mode means to be dressed fashionably, not to be covered with ice cream (unless that becomes the fashion).
  • Au contraire: on the contrary.
  • Au fait: expert.
  • Au naturel: in the natural state. Now used specifically to mean going without clothes. Please do not make the blunder of using au natural.
  • Avec plaisir: with pleasure.
  • À votre santé!: to your health, a popular toast.
  • Beau monde: the world of fashion and its inhabitants.
  • Bon ton: the fashion, or fashionable.
  • Comme il faut: as it should be. Etiquetteer would say Perfectly Proper.
  • Crème de la crème: the very best people.
  • De rigeur: something not to be done without. Not to be confused with bon ton.
  • Dernier cri: the last word.
  • Divertissement: amusement or sport, something to divert one's attention. Not to be confused with a liaison.
  • Double entendre: A naughty interpretation of an otherwise innocent word or phrase. Some 19th century etiquette books suggested that ladies did not even recognize double entendres.
  • En déshabille or en petite tenue: in undress. Today this would be a grand way to say "bathrobe" or "pajamas." Not to be confused with au naturel, though Etiquetteer imagines that one might follow the other at a liaison.
  • En route: on the way.
  • Esprit de corps: team spirit.
  • Faux pas: A mistake or error.
  • Fille de joie: a courtesan or a "lady of easy virtue," or, really, not a lady.
  • Flaneur: lounger.
  • Gauche: awkward. Usually applied to someone's manners in public if they appear uncertain what to do.
  • Grande dame: great society lady.
  • Homme du monde: a man of fashion.
  • Hors de combat: not in a condition to fight. Not to be confused with fille de joie.
  • Je ne sais quoi: something indefinite that makes a difference.
  • Laissez-faire: let things take their course.
  • Les enfants terribles: misbehaving children, or those who always manage to do the wrong thing at the wrong time.
  • Liaison: an alliance or an illicit connection, possibly with a fille de joie or an homme du monde, but most unlikely with a grande dame.
  • L'inconnu: the unknown, possibly fatal after a liaison. Check with your doctor.
  • Mal de mer: seasickness. Wags will sometimes refer to mal de belle-mère for mother-in-law trouble.
  • Malentendu: a mistake.
  • Malheureusement: unhappily.
  • Passé: out of style.


Etiquetteer encourages you to save March 31, 2016, for the annual benefit of The Gibson House Museum, at which William Clendaniel will be honored for his work with Mount Auburn Cemetery, Massachusetts Historical Society, Friends of the Boston Public Garden, and the Trustees of Reservations. Etiquetteer is delighted to be serving as master of ceremonies for this occasion. More details to come, but some information may be found on the Gibson House event page.


Etiquetteer Tours the White House, Vol. 14, Issue 41


Last week Etiquetteer had the great good fortune to tour the White House, and would like to recommend that you do so as well. Requests for White House tours are handled through the offices of your elected representatives to Congress, so find out who yours is and follow the directions. Etiquetteer will admit to having been drawn to the House to tour after a summer announcement from the Obama White House that the tour format had changed to a self-guided tour, and that tourists would now be allowed to take photographs. From the White House website, "As of July 1, 2015, Smartphones and compact cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches (stills only) are permitted on the public tour route as long as their use does not interfere with other guests’ enjoyment of the tour" [emphasis Etiquetteer's.] Etiquetteer wants to offer a few tips to make your White House tour both enjoyable and Perfectly Proper.

It's very important not to bring much of anything with you. Aside from the list of prohibited items*, there is no place to check anything belonging to you so you can retrieve it later, including your coat. This is because tourists enter the House through one entrance and exit through another; there's no backtracking. Etiquetteer's concession to this was to forego wearing a hat, which would of course be removed instantly on entering someone's home. Etiquetteer rather regrets that Misbehaving Very Young Children are not included on the prohibited list, but to suggest such a thing would seem to some an Assault on American Motherhood. If Very Young Children must be brought, their parents should be mindful not only of keeping them out of the way of others - and there's a lot of movement with so many people self-guiding about the House - but also of the historic importance of the rooms one is privileged to tour.

The tour begins outside, rain or shine, so dress accordingly for the weather. Etiquetteer also thinks you should dress for Perfect Propriety - one never knows when a Very Important Person might appear - but most tourists appeared in tourist clothes: cargo pants, jeans, sweaters, etc. Etiquetteer observed one large group of chaperoned high school students all wearing identical hoodies with their school logo, which has the advantage of being Perfectly Practical.


The line forms here, in front of the building next door to the White House.

Etiquetteer was fortunate enough to enjoy bright and brisk autumn sunshine while waiting in line with other citizens, chatting with the family from Alabama directly ahead. At the appointed time, National Park Service rangers admit those in line with tickets and government-issued identification. The line curves past a large equestrian statue, and then divides in two, where reservation forms and ID are checked by agents. Tourists then walk past another ranger who distributes small tour guides to an interior space where everyone is briefly checked and goes through a metal detector. It is very important to pay attention before to items not allowed on the tour; Etiquetteer witnessed a tourist have to give up some sort of prohibited item or be turned away.

Tourists then walk outside and approach the entrance to the East Wing. Etiquetteer remembers touring the White House in 1980 and entering directly from this entrance without the intervening security. One proceeds up the stairs and down the East Colonnade overlooking the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, and through a square room containing large portraits of former presidents and a small gift shop. (Etiquetteer thinks Millard Fillmore deserves better than to be hung over the cash register.)


President Fillmore surrounded by cashiers.

From here one enters the Ground Floor of the White House, where the China and Vermeil Rooms and the Library may be viewed. At least on the day Etiquetteer was there, the Diplomatic Reception Room and the other half of the floor were screened off. The rooms on this floor are not suitable for large crowds of tourists, as they have only one door. Ropes across the door keep tourists from entering. Etiquetteer recommends showing courtesy to fellow tourists by not spending too much time in the doorways; have a look and then pass on. Don't become an obstruction for others.

Etiquetteer does not advise making political commentary on current or former occupants of the House to the Secret Service agents on duty. Staff of the House are loyal to the Presidency, and Etiquetteer thinks it courteous not to put any of them into a position of saying "No comment" to an Impertinent Question, no matter how humorously or mock-humorously intended.

From the Ground Floor one ascends a staircase and suddenly enters the East Room from a corner entrance.


The East Room

Mostly roped off so that one can appreciate the true scope of the room, the Obamas have added a few items created by groups they have visited or who have visited the White House.

From the East Room, tourists may proceed at their own pace through the Green, Blue, and Red Rooms to the State Dining Room. Throughout the State Floor rugs have been rolled back to preserve them from extensive tourist foot traffic, but this does not mar the beauty of the rooms, nor much disarrange the furniture.


Notice how the beauty of the Blue Room is retained even with the carpets rolled up.

Each room has two doors. For parties of two or more, Etiquetteer recommends splitting in half so that one half can photograph the other in each room. A uniformed Secret Service agent is present in each room to answer questions and share information. They are also there to keep tourists from sitting on the furniture, even if it isn't behind a rope. Etiquetteer witnessed a Secret Service agent politely directly a young woman not to sit in a Red Room chair, even though it was not behind the ropes.


The deceptively available Red Room chair.

From the Red Room, the tour continues through the State Dining Room (with a peek into the smaller Family Dining Room), through the other half of the Cross Hall, and then out the Entrance Hall through the North Portico. This portion of the tour contains the location where most tourists want to get their pictures taken: the Blue Room entrance flanked by the flags and surmounted by the Seal of the President of the United States.


The most popular selfie backdrop in the White House.

Under the circumstances, waiting for the Perfect Photo Opportunity could take so long that the Secret Service might get overly interested. Etiquetteer considers that "making do" is the best strategy.


Etiquetteer could not avoid being photobombed.

It might seem odd to some that the grand piano has been placed in the Entrance Hall instead of the East Room, but one must remember that it is often used when there is dancing in the Entrance Hall, and that the East Room is used for many types of functions when a piano might be in the way.


And so the White House tour ends with an exit to the North Portico. Tourists want to linger on the steps, but the Secret Service firmly and courteously keep everyone moving down the stairs. Many continue taking photographs down the drive, and in the street outside the gates, and across the street in Lafayette Square. The entire tour was a worthwhile experience, not only to view the rooms which have witnessed so much History, but to see how valuable Fellow Citizens feel it is to tour. Etiquetteer encourages you to do so.

*Items prohibited on White House tours: video recorders, video cameras including any action camcorders, cameras with detachable lenses, tablets, tripods, monopods, camera sticks (the increasingly popular and menacing “selfie stick”), handbags, bookbags, backpacks, purses, food or beverages, tobacco products, personal grooming items (i.e. makeup, lotion, etc.), strollers, any pointed objects (which Etiquetteer took to include pens or pencils), aerosol containers, guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size.

Online Discretion Offline, Vol. 14, Issue 32

Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently on vacation with my husband. We were at a local bar in [Insert Name of Resort Town Popular With Those Who Have Achieved Equal Marriage Here] when a guy walked by, turned around, looked at me and said "[Insert Name of Social Media Platform* Here]!" I was quite uncomfortable. While my husband knows I'm using this social media, he assumes the worst about being on it. For social media etiquette when recognizing someone from here, I would assume it would be alright to say hello to someone if they were by themselves, but if not, you may not want to bring something up about their online life. Your thoughts?

Dear Online:

Oddly enough, Etiquetteer had a somewhat similar experience earlier this year while rushing through an art exhibition to be Perfectly Punctual for a friend's presentation. In Etiquetteer's path appeared a handsome, vaguely familiar man. Only later did Etiquetteer recognize him as an online contact. The response Etiquetteer received to a private message apologizing for any perception of a snub reinforced how wise it was not to have approached him, because he wasn't alone and claimed Social Awkwardness when Caught Off Guard.

Etiquetteer is fond of quoting "Discretion is the better part of valor," and it really is a pity that your Social Media Contact  didn't consider that. At the very least he could've said "Excuse me, but haven't I seen your photo on [Insert Name of Social Media Platform Here]?" But a discreet bow or nod is best, or even no contact at all. Etiquetteer is reminded that, in the days before World War I when mistresses were much more established in the daily life of France, no man stepping out with his demimondaine would be acknowledged by his friends, and certainly not by the friends of his wife.

Still, in a barroom, where one's Internal Monologue may have escaped with the help of Spiritous Liquors, that is a risk. Etiquetteer rather wonders if, when your online "friend" hailed with the name of your Shared Social Media, you responded "No, I pronounce my name Smith."

Etiquetteer hopes that you experience no recurrence of this exposure of your Inner Life. But you may wish to make such a recurrence less embarrassing by reassuring your husband about the best aspects of being part of this Social Media Platform.

*Etiquetteer must hasten to add that this Social Media Platform in question was not - how shall Etiquetteer say this? - created for facilitating the most casual of encounters.

Round II Results, Etiquetteer's Spring Madness of Pet Peeves, Vol. 14, Issue 17

Last week's voting in Etiquetteer's Spring Madness of Pet Peeves have led to some exciting pairings for next week's competition, which will determine the Champion Pet Peeve in each of the divisions! Etiquetteer would like to thank everyone to voted, and encourage you all to cast your votes again this week. WEDDINGS

First off, and without surprise, "Guests who don't R.s.v.p." handily overtook "Lack of information about time, directions, etc." at 57% to 43%. As a result, this week "Guests who don't R.s.v.p." will have to compete with "Couples who don't send thank-you notes," which squeaked ahead of "Weddings as fund-raisers for the honeymoon" 52% to 48%. In some ways, Etiquetteer thinks this might be the bloodiest of competitions; each pet peeve involves the lack of a response. But which leaves Etiquetteer readers feeling more disrespected?


It's interesting to observe that any pet peeve not relating to driving has not advanced in this category. "Drivers who ignore red lights" trounced "Drivers blocking bike lanes" 82% to 18%. "Cell phone use while operating a vehicle" had a less easy time getting ahead of "Illegally parking in handicapped spaces, " 65% to 35%. And a part of Etiquetteer is disappointed in that, because those who require handicapped parking already have a lot to deal with, and deserve better than to be inconvenienced. But choosing between "Drivers who ignore red lights" and "Cell phone use while operating a vehicle" will surely be a tough call for many.


Here, behaviors that have been pet peeves for centuries won out. The comparatively recent "Texting at the table," to Etiquetteer's surprise, didn't stand a chance against "Chewing with mouth open," 59% to 41%. It just proves that Etiquetteer really does know only the Very Best People, since it's been a very long time since anyone's been witnessed chewing with his or her mouth open. And texting at the table is such a deliberate ignoring of one's physical companions! Ah well, "Chewing with mouth open" must now fight a steamroller of a pet peeve "Ill-mannered children with complacent parents," which topped "Cheap tippers" 75% to 25%! "Ill-mannered children with complacent parents" has consistently performed well in Spring Madness, and may well defeat all the competition.


In our last category, the victors came out as Etiquetteer predicted. "Confusing customer service menus" was no match for "Door-to-door solicitors of any kind," going down 42% to 58%. Then "Loud public cellphone conversations" easily bested "Oversufficient cologne" 64% to 36%. This week's pairing pits one century against the other, in a way, as the door-to-door thing was so 20th century, and the cellphone thing is, well, so omnipresent.

So keep voting! It will take half as much time every week. And of course if you discover something you think is missing, you may always share it with Etiquetteer at queries@etiquetteer.com.


Spring Madness of Pet Peeves! Vol. 14, Issue 13

Voting ends tonight in Round I of Etiquetteer's Spring Madness of Pet Peeves, and it's been interesting to see what peeves Etiquetteer's readers - and what doesn't. Please vote now! Look out tomorrow for which pet peeves advance to the next round; the competitions will be even more interesting! Readers have also submitted pet peeves they didn't see in the competition, and the list is growing engrossing:

  • Clicking on a link to respond to something and my computer opens up a mail program I never use. Etiquetteer hopes that this is something that can be easily resolved by tech support.
  • Stupid pet videos taking over my Facebook newsfeed. Indeed! Etiquetteer has found some assistance by clicking "I don't want to see this" or simply hiding posts from pet-centric friends.
  • Gum-cracking. "A word to the wise is sufficient," as Etiquetteer's Dear Mother says. Although, would the wise be cracking gum in the first place? Etiquetteer trembles to think of the first verse of "He Had It Comin'" from Chicago . . .
  • Not deciding what to order until you get to the front of the long line. This is especially aggravating when there have been so many opportunities to consider the menu on the wall first. One can only hope that counter staff will occasionally call out "Please be ready with your order when you approach the counter!"
  • Responding to a long, thought-out email, with "K." True, but that's better than "TLDR."
  • Fiddling with the radio/air conditioning on someone else's car when they are driving. As the driver, one has the opportunity to say "Stop that!"
  • Making fun of gifts given to you, with the giver in the room. Callous in the extreme! Recipients who behave that way should be stricken permanently from your gift list.
  • Asking a question and then interrupting before they finish answering. Not a defensible habit, but Etiquetteer cannot Wag an Admonitory Digit too vigorously over it, since this is a Bad Habit of That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much (and certainly, in this case, knows better).
  • Talking in theaters, especially live performances. Sometimes even the Icy Glare is insufficient - too many people suffer from a lack of Guilt and Shame at inconveniencing others. Time to call the usher.
  • Taking the last of a communal good such as office coffee, and not making more. Indeed, it's frustrating when one's need for caffeine cannot be gratified immediately! The gravity of this offense lessens the further one gets away from the Hours of Greatest Consumption. For instance, it's wasteful to make a fresh pot of coffee two hours before closing time, when it couldn't all possibly be drunk.

As we advance to Round II tomorrow, Etiquetteer thinks you surely must have a pet peeve that isn't on the competition grid. Won't you please send it along to queries@etiquetteer.com?


The Best Advice Is Simplest, Vol. 14, Issue 12

Really, the best etiquette advice is the simplest. Etiquetteer has Ten Pieces of Simplest Advice for you: Get out of the way.

Hang up and drive.

Get out and vote.

Shut up and eat.

Show up on time.

Say "Please" and "Thank you."

Be nice to the staff.

Don't make a fuss.

If you said you'd be there, be there.

When in doubt, send a Lovely Note of Thanks.


The Etiquette of Prohibition, Vol. 13, Issue 57

Etiquetteer delivered these remarks at the 2013 Repeal Day Celebration at the Gibson House Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Among other things, the madness of Prohibition created a Culture of Alcohol Concealment, leading people to find ingenious ways to secrete liquor in their homes or on their persons. Images survive of hollow canes, fake books, and even shot vials concealed in high-heeled shoes so that people could travel with their tipple unrevealed. In the 21st century, already awash with alcohol, similar devices are used to get around outrageous liquor prices at sports and concert venues. These include hollow flip flops, a necktie flask, and even a “wine rack,” which is a sports bra with tubing.

Prohibition left a permanent mark on American manners, illustrated uncompromisingly in a little etiquette book called No Nice Girl Swears by Alice-Leone Moats, first published in 1933, the final year of Prohibition. The last chapter, headed "Our Plastered Friends," begins "When our mothers came out, learning to handle a drunk was not an essential part of a debutante's education. Now every girl has to be capable not only of shifting for herself, but, more often than not, of looking out for her escort as well." Can you imagine?! This is not the way Best Society is supposed to conduct itself. But Miss Moats goes on to detail the ten different types of drunks and how to make the best of their bad situations (often using one's mad money to abandon them and take a taxi home. Miss Moats paints a worst-case scenario from the beginning. "If you're going out very often, you might as well be prepared to think quickly and be ready to exercise your ingenuity at any time. You may be called upon to do anything form catching the bottles that your escort, in his exuberance, may chance to throw, to burrowing in the sawdust for him." (You must remember that often the floors of gin joints and other dives were sprinkled with sawdust.)

And going out was what people did. Prohibition saw entertaining at home decline (though of course it still went on) in favor of the jazzy rise of café society. Willa Cather famously described the phenomenon in 1924, saying "Nobody stays at home any more." And that meant men and women drinking together in public, whereas before Prohibition, saloons were for men only. At home, one was less likely to be entertained at a traditional seated dinner of several courses as at that brand-new gathering, the cocktail party. Ladies and gentlemen just standing around drinking liquor without a meal, or perhaps any food at all, being offered -- revolutionary!

Miss Moats makes it sound easy: "Cocktail parties have become the line of least resistance in entertaining. They are convenient for the person who must get 50 or 60 people off the list of obligations and prefers to do it at one fell swoop, saving money at the same time. It certainly isn't much trouble; all you need is a case of synthetic gin and a tin of anchovy paste. The greater the number of the guests, the smaller and more airless the room, the stronger the gin, the more successful the party. But if you give one, you must be prepared to have your friends on your hands until two in the morning, as they will invariably forget their dinner engagements and stay on until the last shakerful is emptied."

One of the places they went in Boston was the famous Cocoanut Grove on Piedmont Street, which opened in October, 1927. But in spite of some shady connections, the Grove was on the up and up. They didn't serve hard liquor, but would provide setups, trays of siphons and glasses, so you could discreetly add your own booze from your flask under the table. It was often better to bring your own to some places. In The Greeks Had a Word For Them, a gentleman at a speak asks "Well, what do you have that won't kill us, blind us, or burn holes in our clothes?" The brutal Dinah Brand in Dashiell Hammett's equally brutal Red Harvest said that someone's liquor tasted like it was drained off a corpse. Other places would get around the law by serving booze in teacups.

Tolerance for drunken behavior became more accepted, too. Again, we hear from Miss Moats: "There was once a time when a man who got drunk in a lady's drawing room was never invited to that house again. If he showed the same lack of control in another home, he ran the risk of having every door closed to him. Now a hostess who insists that all her guests remain sober would find that she was giving parties to a chosen few, and very dull ones at that. She takes it for granted that the majority of her guests will be wavering before the evening is over." A Paul Cadmus painting of 1939, “Seeing the New Year In,” shows just such an occasion, with drunken, careless intellectuals coming apart at the seams. It’s a mean and tawdry descent.

One of the most astonishing ways that Prohibition changed America was the sudden appearance and acceptance of young women drinking in public. And it was this that led Pauline Morton Sabin, an aristocratic heiress to the Morton Salt fortune, to begin to campaign for Repeal. She said "Girls of a generation ago would not have ventured into a saloon. Girls did not drink; it was not considered 'nice.' But today girls and boys drink, at parties and everywhere, then stop casually at a speakeasy on the way home." And indeed, a Topeka police chief observed "The girls simply won't go out with the boys who haven't got flasks to offer." But a girl still had to hang on to her reputation, as Miss Moats makes clear in No Nice Girl Swears. "A great many people have come to believe in the single moral standard, but few have been converted to a single drinking standard. A drunken woman is still looked upon with disgust and she is certainly more objectionable than a drunken man. Liquor generally hits her in one of three ways: she gets boisterous and wants to play games, or she gets maudlin, or, more often, she grows desperately amorous. Whatever the effect, she is dangerous."

To which Etiquetteer can only conclude, "Hotcha!"

Etiquetteer at Random, Vol. 13, Issue 56

Inspired by an interview with Bill Nye the Science Guy, today Etiquetteer divulges a little about himself: My uniform: A crisply-pressed double-breasted suit, white shirt with French cuffs, a bright bow tie, polished leather shoes (wingtips unless traveling, then slip-ons). That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much is rather fond of garishly bright socks. I have to remonstrate with him constantly about it.

One thing that few people understand about etiquette is: that it's less about accessories (place cards, etc.) and more about the impact you have on other people, how respect for others - or at least acknowledgement of our common humanity - is displayed. On the other hand, one shows respect for others by taking the trouble to appear well dressed, which some would say is all about accessories.

The most overrated etiquette trend is: the phonestack. It maintains the focus on the phone, and not on the group or its conversation. Everyone needs to power down and enjoy each other's company without distraction from outside.

I stay in shape by: that's a dangerous assumption to make. I don't stay in shape.

One of my favorite gadgets is: A card case with two compartments that I got in New York for $12 at some little shop. I use one compartment for my cards, and the other for those I receive.

My preferred mode of transportation is: Any car someone else is driving!

My drink of choice is: during the summer, an Etiquetteer pink gin. Otherwise, a Charlie's Beacon, as will be served at Repeal Day. During the holidays, champagne with a bit of something like Aperol or St. Germain or Chambord added.

My most recent obsession is: Eric Helgar, a Polish singer of the interwar years.

One book everyone must read is: The Art of Worldly Wisdom, by Baltasar Gracian.

The world would not be the same without: air conditioning and refrigeration.

An etiquette rule that amazes me is: how it's all right for certain professional classes - doctors, politicians, and the clergy come to mind - to address everyone else by their first names, while we all need to address them by their titles. It can, and often does, appear condescending, especially when politicians do it. I would much rather see everyone addressed by their titles since we live in a Land where All are Created Equal.

One thing everyone should do more of is: reconsider how much stuff you carry around on your commute and eliminate everything you don't use that day. I've stopped toting a bag every day and it makes a great difference.

Another thing everyone should do more of is: enjoy a meal at home by candlelight, even if it's a pre-dawn winter breakfast.

The best toy for a child is: Hmm, what is a toy that will instill Perfect Propriety? And of course different children react differently to all toys. Rather than mention a specific toy, I'll say that the best toy for a child is something simple that doesn't throw everything at them, that allows them, encourages them to use their imaginations.

My favorite kitchen gadget is: Most people will expect me to say "the cook," but I live in what used to be called a "servantless household." The best answer is probably a garishly decorated stopper for a wine bottle.

My favorite pastime is: reading.

Another book everyone must read is: Entertaining Is Fun! by Dorothy Draper. This book captures the joie de vivre of the suburban postwar years, as well as a look at how etiquette was changing. Formal seated dinners were giving way to buffets, but Americans weren't yet ready to give up on black tie for evening events. And there are some frankly far-fetched, but nonetheless delightful, ideas for having a party at home.

A Loss of Temper, Vol. 13, Issue 42

Etiquetteer, of course, is the soul of Perfect Propriety, but it comes at a price: daily battle with That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, who carries on either like a Rank Parvenu or the most Impatient Curmudgeon. Recently Etiquetteer lost a battle, and That Mr. Dimmick is still paying the price. Etiquetteer is now breaking out of the prison into which That Mr. Dimmick has cast him to tell the story. "Hell," as Sartre famously observed in his play No Exit, "is other people." Perfect Propriety is either the key to the exit or a useful blindfold. It is an essential tool in daily life, because there will always be people who don't care at all about how they impact others. Always. This is why we have etiquette, to make dealing with Those People easier and less demeaning for ourselves.

It brings us to a bus with two loud children and an angry mother. While That Mr. Dimmick was speaking quietly with a friend near the back of the bus, two little girls and two adult women with them boarded at the next stop. The little girls ran to the back row, immediately behind That Mr. Dimmick, and continued their conversation VERY loudly, with what one would call Outside Voices. Really, it became nearly impossible to hear one's own conversation. And after a few minutes of this, in a fit of impatience, That Mr. Dimmick burst out with "Young ladies, ENOUGH!" There was no thought about results or consequences, just a complete inability to bear one more moment.

Etiquetteer's Dear Mother has always said "When you lose your temper, you lose your point." And alas for That Mr. Dimmick, Dear Mother was once again correct. That Outburst of Temper roused the Maternal Wrath of the mother sitting closest, who immediately challenged any interference. She actually said "This is not a library!" and suggested that we move! She should have been apologizing for the fact that those children were making a public nuisance. (That Mr. Dimmick was so astonished by her that he was unable to respond "It's not a playground either! Why aren't you teaching those girls to use their inside voices?! You're a bad mother if you don't care!")

Of course Etiquetteer understood why she reacted that way; no one likes to be called out publicly. Etiquetteer would never have addressed misbehaving children directly. One speaks to the parents or guardians. Etiquetteer would have turned to the mother and asked "Would you please ask the young ladies to use their inside voices? They probably aren't considering how loud they are inside." That mother probably would still have suggested Etiquetteer move to another seat, but at least Etiquetteer would be able to sleep nights, secure in the knowledge of having acted with Perfect Propriety. Because That Mr. Dimmick no longer had a leg to stand on. You can't go about complaining about the behavior of others if your own behavior is cause for concern.

Long story short, the bad behavior of others never excuses one's own bad behavior. But this story does raise other questions:

Why are we not all of us taught about consideration for others? Why are so many people standing in the doorway of the subway or bus, blocking the people who need to get by them? Why are so many people talking or texting (or eating!) through live performances in theatres, cinemas, and concert halls? Why are so many people blasting music so loudly through their headphones and earbuds that the lyrics are distinctly heard outside? Why are so many people standing two abreast on the escalator, preventing others from moving past them? Why are so many people eager to tell their friends how to spend their money on them with elaborate gift registries, or even bald requests for cash instead?

Why have we stopped caring about the impact that we have on others in daily life, whether friends or strangers?

That's the question that keeps Etiquetteer awake at night, and there just doesn't seem to be a Perfectly Proper answer.

SURVEY: Who's Reading Etiquetteer?

Dear Readers: The renaissance of Etiquetteer has gone on for a couple weeks now, with much more frequent content and queries on the Perfect Propriety of the day - or lack thereof. So of course Etiquetteer is just a bit curious to know who's following along and what their interests are. If so inclined, won't you please take this brief, anonymous reader survey? It will hardly take any time at all, and Etiquetteer would be so very grateful.

With thanks for your kind consideration,


Punctuality, Vol. 13, Issue 8

"Punctuality is the politeness of kings," often attributed to Louis XVIII*, really lays out the most basic Perfect Propriety for kings and commoners. Arriving on time and prepared, whether it's for a party or a meeting, shows respect to the other participants (whose productivity may depend on one's punctuality) - and also for one's hostess's soufflé, which could be ruined for all. So Etiquetteer read with interest this article about the four habits of punctual people. It really is astonishing how many people don't allow themselves enough time to get from one place to another, allow for delays, or, new to this century, rely on a Global Positioning System that is not 100% accurate en route without checking a map first.

This story also vividly brought to mind an incident from Etiquetteer's early life in the work world, which Etiquetteer has told so often you may have heard it before. A weekly management meeting would routinely begin up to 20 minutes late in this company because managers (who perhaps just didn't want to attend the meeting anyway) couldn't remember the time. Eager Young Etiquetteer, taught courtesy at his mother's knee, was assigned to record the minutes to these meetings, and began listing in the attendance at the top those who had been tardy. Within two weeks, everyone appeared promptly and the productivity and brevity of the meetings improved. But Eager Young Etiquetteer continued to list the tardies, who would occasionally appear for one reason or another.

And then the day came for which, apparently, many people had been waiting. Eager Young Etiquetteer Himself was tardy. It happened very innocently! At lunch with a colleague at a restaurant perhaps too distant from the office, the waitress was too slow with the check, and traffic was encountered returning to the office. Eager Young Etiquetteer and the colleague rushed to the conference room, only to discover that the door was locked! There was nothing to do but knock on the door. And much merriment ensued when Shamefaced Young Etiquetteer had to mark himself down as a tardy.

And the moral is this: good punctuality, like good housekeeping, is what goes unnoticed.

*Etiquetteer somehow prefers to remember him as the Comte de Provence, the younger brother and sometime Dauphin to Louis XVI.

Lessons from Childhood, Vol. 10, Issue 7

Truly it has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Children learn about Perfect Propriety from many other people besides their parents: teachers, neighbors, friends, and other family members. Etiquetteer recently had cause to contemplate this idea with the death of his Lovely Aunt Joan. Because while Etiquetteer promotes Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer was not born Perfectly Proper. Lovely Aunt Joan once took an opportunity to teach Young Etiquetteer a gentle lesson in Paying a Compliment. As in many families, children's clothes are passed from one child to another, and Lovely Aunt Joan's daughter, Little Cousin, was just the right age to receive things from Etiquetteer's Little Sister. During one large family gathering, Young Etiquetteer artlessly paid a compliment by saying "Cousin, don't you look lovely in Little Sister's old dress!" "No," interrupted Lovely Aunt Joan, who was sitting with us. "The best thing to say is 'Don't you look lovely in your new dress!' That's nicer." And she said it nicely, without making Young Etiquetteer feel unwholesomely small.

The point, of course, is that it's unkind to underscore the perception of charity in public. (Indeed, one thinks of Meg March in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" dressed up in another girl's ball dress at a house party.)

You see how the Innocence of Childhood needs to be refined to become Perfect Propriety. Thank you, Lovely Aunt Joan, for your Gentle Correction, and so much else.