Etiquetteer’s recent advice to the victims of the noisy neighbors generated quite a bit of feedback from readers, offering as alternatives everything from musical hints to respectful tolerance: From a realtor: You can't be serious! Having a burly husband bang and shout "Shut up"? I am no expert, but I fear this is neither good manners nor particularly effective. Responses like these feel good to do, but they typically annoy the other party (not unlike flipping the bird on city streets, which is about as common here as using your arm in the summer to indicate a turn -- actually, far more common that that). Instead, the couple should buy the Avenue Q soundtrack and leave it for their neighbors, pointing to the one song titled "You can be as loud as the hell you want when you are making love" (which, like the whole show, is truly hilarious). Perhaps they could include a note such as "This is all fine and good for a Broadway show, but in real life it's a problem." If it persists, they should engage the two condo associations to look into sound proofing. That, or move. Etiquetteer comments: Or perhaps a rousing chorus of "Ah Sweet Mystery of Life" as a tribute to the late Madeline Kahn . . . From a sorority house mother: Some communities have a noise ordinance which kicks in at or about 10:00 -12:00 PM depending on the community. If the noise is consistently disturbing it is perfectly proper to call the local gendarmes and report the disturbance. If there are three or more calls about the same noisemaker(s) they may be in danger of losing their lease. I know this from experience in San Diego. From an architect: After reading the letter from the people in the noisy apartment, I did have some comments related to the construction of their abode. The letter did not say if they rent or own the unit. If they are renting, then I would recommend that they seek out quieter quarters. If they own the unit, then there are things that they could do to their unit and/or the unit next door to reduce the noise. They could ask the neighbor to contribute to the cost, since it would benefit him also. They could also ask for help from the condo association since it is a defect in the building shell. If building such units from scratch or renovating existing buildings, it is preferable to construct a double stud wall between living units with insulation. Electrical outlets, medicine cabinets (remember that old TV commercial with the see-through medicine cabinet?), etc. should never be placed back-to-back between two units. Plumbing pipes feeding two adjacent units can also transmit sound. If feasible, a second wall could be built between the units, on whichever side would be the least disruptive. Less drastic measures would include adding sound absorptive material to the noisy side, or a white noise device on the quiet side. Hope the neighbors can co-exist without incident. From an investment banker: You had suggested a strong rap on the door and a command to silence the noise. I think that women have so little joy and so much struggle in their lives, that we should let this woman enjoy the few minutes of bliss that she has. Just turn up the radio in respect, so that she can enjoy it to her heart's content without everyone eavesdropping. Maybe an anonymous note under the door reminding them that the walls and ceilings are very thin would encourage them to be quieter (or to turn up their own radio).I say this because I can remember when we lived in an apartment, and I had to occasionally drop a shoe on the floor to quiet the couple below us. I still feel bad about that when I think about it 30 years later. Who are we to rain on someone else's parade? Etiquetteer responds: One might also ask who are they to rain on ours? Just because a dinner party doesn't always produce the ecstasy of, ahem, the other activity in question, doesn't mean it isn't deserving of the same respect. But Etiquetteer does want to acknowledge the compassion that prompted you to respond, which is downright noble, and what a pity that more of us don't have it.
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||On Condolences: Maybe my upbringing was rigid, but I was always trained that one never, ever sent a commercial sympathy card; the handwritten letter was mandatory. As you know, people think they need to be creative, and this need really needs to be extirpated when it comes to this arena. Personal anecdotes aside -- which are wonderful if you have them, but often are unavailable because you are comforting someone you know over a loss of someone you don't know -- there is a good reason why expressions of sympathy in writing and in person are ritualistic and formulaic: because it is all really quite beyond words. That is precisely why rituals and formulas were invented: as code to express the inexpressible, the unfathomable. Now, if we could only bring back some form of mourning clothing to warn innocents that someone in grief is in their midst. Since black is the new black, and is politically incorrect as mourning, I nominate good old gray, white and lavender/dull purple. Once indicating half mourning, it’s now a color combination one rarely sees (therefore hard to be confused with anything else) and actually looks good on most people, regardless of their "season."
On Call Waiting: I take exception to the your answer regarding Call Waiting. Although I agree that one must do one’s best not to interrupt the conversation at hand, there are always exceptions. As the mother of small children I occasionally need medical advice. Call Waiting allows me to rest assured that the return call from their pediatrician is not missed. That said, when awaiting such a call, I always preface any personal conversation with the caveat that another call may come in and I will have to take it. I also never initiate a call. So I suppose I both agree and disagree with you!
On Bad Toys for Good Children: My husband adamantly disagrees with your advice! He thinks since our child is only four, if we don't want a certain toy, we should go ahead and say so! We kind of did when he was a baby and we have an [Evil Toy I] free home. Now if we could just get rid of [Evil Toy II]! Ugh! Even his babysitter gave him a one for Christmas. Now she is so sick of the boys fighting with them she doesn't want our son to bring his when he goes to her house. It's a fine line parents have to walk when it comes to appropriate toys! Etiquetteer responds: That’s true, but your husband needs to remember that nobody cares what you want or how you feel.
On Etiquette Books: I suppose for some of us (and I daresay we are a particular crew), one is loyal to one's "first" etiquette book. For me, Amy Vanderbilt's Etiquette will always have pride of place. (I speak only of the editions published before her death, of course.) I have read and re-read it over the years. It was my favorite high school graduation gift, though I had of course been aware of it for years as it had a prominent perch in our home library. Miss Vanderbilt had her own way of creating characters. I have never forgotten such ruffians as "the hatless and gloveless man" and "the tieless man." I must confess that Miss Manners is a siren, but in her way, Miss Vanderbilt remains my muse.
On Cummerbunds: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Heaven forfend!!!! A cummerbund’s pleats go up!!!! They are for opera tickets and as our ancestors used to say tongue-in-cheek: "Up to catch the soup."Etiquetteer responds: With a certain amount of horror, Etiquetteer is forced to concede. If our sainted ancestors were using their cummerbunds as bibs and file cabinets, one can see why the Brahmins don’t run things any more. All the more reason to forego it for a Proper Waistcoat.
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Etiquetteer's next regular column will appear on the weekend of May 3. Whether something additional appears between now and then, Etiquetteer hopes that you'll spend a Perfectly Proper Religious Holiday of Your Choice.
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||On Holiday Gift-Giving: I am writing to request a clarification on the "money-as-gift" issue. Are gift certificates acceptable gifts, and, if so, under what circumstances? A certificate is not quite money and, in the case of a mall-wide certificate, ensures that the recipient gets whatever s/he wants. I admit it is not the most creative gift, but avoids the unwelcome gift scenario (especially in the case of out-of-state teenaged nieces and nephews) and is at least one step removed from cash. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer will condone, reluctantly, the giving of gift certificates. Heavens, they are so popular whether Etiquetteer does or not! But so often it looks like one didn’t care to make the effort to find a real gift. Odd answer on tipping the personal trainer. He's not an employee but a self-employed professional. Outside a narrow range of traditional professional service occupations (like hairdressers, etc.), professionals are distinguished by NOT being tipped; it actually contradicts the nature of being a professional and in certain circumstances can be sort of insulting (for example, in not-so-olden days, when it was the height of rudeness to tip the owner of a hairdressing shop). I am surprised you fell for the American habit of metastasizing the sphere of tipped occupations. I used to tip my body worker regularly, until I discovered it was very unusual, and only normal if extra time was devoted or an unusually difficult therapy was required (in other words, the session went beyond the normal work associated with the normal compensation -- in which case, it's not really a tip but adjusted compensation). Etiquetteer responds: As Etiquetteer said the first time around, “Etiquetteer prefers to think of it as a holiday bonus rather than a tip.” And for personal trainers it is hardly required. Your comments to the man who got the birdhouse are so-o-o right on! Until her death, I used to get gifts from a cousin who chose everything with jewels on it. Have you ever seen a calculator with jewel buttons? An umbrella with a jeweled handle and ruffled to boot? Then there was the problem of industrial strength perfume! But they were gifts of love so your advice had I had it would have been perfect then as today.
On Lovely Notes of Thanks: Lovely Note Roulette is going to be a lifesaver. My parents taught me to write thank-you notes. In fact, I often didn't even get to enjoy -looking- at the gift before paper and pen were thrust under my little hands. But after decades of notes, I feel mine have become, as you so aptly put it, dorkily inadequate. Now I am confident that my notes, as heartfelt as ever, will be all the lovelier for your help. Are you saying, then, that it would be appropriate for me to send your response to all those deadbeats out there as a not so subtle hint that I am awaiting a suitable arrangement of responses generated by Lovely Note Roulette? Etiquetteer responds: No, but you could forward that column saying that you’ve been getting this terribly amusing etiquette column and perhaps they’d enjoy receiving it every week as much as you do . . . ;-)
On Etiquetteer: Thanks so much for you thoughtful reminders about the real meaning of the holidays. I, for one, appreciate that you take the time to reflect and shareyour thoughts on matters of such importance, which often are ignored in therush of the holidays.
Etiquetteer is the first e-mail I read on Monday morning!
Certainly you don't lay awake at night conjuring up these atrocities ofetiquette misdemeanors? The language is great; the messages are well-taken, and the references are scholarly.
Etiquetteer responds: Thank you for your kind words! As others have asked as well, Etiquetteer will admit that every question published in the column has come from a reader. Except one, the question about singing the National Anthem in church, which is one of Etiquetteer’s hot-button issues (and Etiquetteer knows that the church in question has blithely continued to ignore it, leaving Etiquetteer to praise Freedom of Speech as well as Freedom of Religion.)
On the Things on Dining Room Tables: Actually, the faint presence of slightly (emphasis on faint and slightly) pinkish marks on fine linen is a hallmark of long and loving use, like the patina on sterling flatware and the stains on chargers; the petty bourgeois thing is to try to keep these things ever-new . . .
Etiquetteer responds: Then Etiquetteer will have to admit to enough petty bourgeoiserie not to want to air his dirty laundry before guests . . .
Where, for heavens sake, does one find a replacement service for ancient glassware?
Etiquetteer responds: Not to get into the whole product endorsement thing,but www.replacements.com has gotten Etiquetteer out of a couple scrapes in the past.
I have just been gifted with a wonderful hostess gift that I have never thought about giving: a dozen very nice, cream-colored tapers. They were not gift wrapped, though tied with a lovely satin ribbon so I could see what was inside and not be obligated to open, ooh, and ahh. Since I adore lighting tall candles, this is a most welcome present as they are, of course, of the highest quality.
Etiquetteer responds: How delightful that you, like Etiquetteer, know only the very best people! Your guest obviously discerned your personal preference and acted accordingly.
On Politically Correct Speech: Ye gads, Etiquetteer, how dast you refer to a sightless person as "that poor miserable blind wretch" who was brave enough to attend the theatre? You surely must flinch as you re-read that reply. Or you should. I'm not objecting to the word “blind.” It's the poor, miserable wretch, terms that I save for l8th-Century references.
Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer is sufficiently chastened to hang his head for a moment, even though “poor miserable blind wretch" was an accurate description of the theatergoer. Perhaps it would have been more sensitive to describe him as “wretched” instead of call him a wretch.
That said, Etiquetteer adores the 18th Century, except for the plumbing, sexism, religious intolerance, health care, economic injustice, and corsets. Language was certainly more colorful then, and one does get mighty frustrated with the sanctimonious ostentation of bloodless "correct" terms like "visually-impaired" or "mobility-impaired.”
ETIQUETTEER, Encouraging Perfect Propriety in an Imperfect WorldTo subscribe: firstname.lastname@example.orgTo unsubscribe: email@example.comTo submit questions: firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright 2002, 2003 by Robert B. Dimmick
(c) 2002, Etiquetteer.com. All Rights Reserved