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.


Reader Response, Vol. 7, Issue 5

Etiquetteer was gratified that several readers leapt to his defense after reading about Etiquetteer's experience wearing a yarmulke at a Jewish funeral while not actually Jewish himself: 


From a child of a mixed-faith household:  It is always proper and a sign of respect to wear a kippah (yarmulke) at a Jewish funeral home, or in Temple or at a Rabbi's home even if one isn't Jewish. My dad, who converted when he was 70, always wore a kippah in Temple when we would go for a funeral or a Bat Mitzva or Bar Mitzva or wedding. It is customary to offer one to every gentleman to wear so that they can cover their head out of respect. What was out of line wasn't that you were wearing one (which was very nice of you to do) it was the disrespect of the two drug users in question who were also in attendance. That really was shameful behavior!


From a Jewish lady:  My husband and I were distressed by at the ignorance and stupidity of people who questioned your right to wear a yamulke ( kippa in Hebrew). It is considered correct religious etiquette to cover your head during a Jewish religious event, be it a Sabbath service, wedding,funeral, or Brit Milah (circumsion ceremony). As someone who is not Jewish, you would not be expected nor permitted to wear a prayer shawl, a tallit during a worship service. So please do not let the rude remarks concerning your head covering prevent you from applying the kippa to your head again if you find yourself in a Jewish religious setting.


From a well-known on-line journaller, photographer, and actress who knows Randy Newman:  I respectfully disagree with something in your last column, about non-Jews wearing yarmulkes at Jewish ceremonies.  Just as one removes one's shoes in a mosque no matter what one's religion, and women used to cover their heads in Catholic churches no matter what their religion, if you are in a temple and you are a man, you wear a yarmulke.  Now, I notice that this was not in temple but in a Jewish funeral home, but I would imagine that the rule would still apply, proper respect requires the wearing of the yarmulke.  The laughers were, of course, morons.  


After such a brisk and chivalrous response, Etiquetteer did a little checking for "chapter and verse." Happily, a wonderful resource bore out the correct instructions of Etiquetteer's readers: How to Be a Perfect Stranger: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious Ceremonies, edited by Arthur J. Magida. And indeed, the yarmulke is required of all men attending a Jewish service. 

Reader Response: Jury Duty: Vol. 6, Issue 26

Etiquetteer was delighted to hear from a few readers aboutthe most recent column:

From a Webmistress: Jury duty is one of those topics that compels me to write. It always, always distresses me when people joke about trying to skip jury duty. I have been called for jury duty more than anyone I know, and have yet actually to be a juror. The closest I ever got was I got seated once, but was thrown off the case right after the young man in leather jacket and chains. The case was too close to my only experience with the legal system, I guess, for the lawyers to think I could be impartial. I got my first summons at the age of 18, for my college dorm address!

But I want to be a juror. I would be a good juror, and pay attention. I think our legal system - flawed though it may be - is an important part of what America the nation is. So each time I go, but now I bring a good thick book with me. And if anyone around me ever speaks of trying to get off, I lecture them with every ounce of indignation I feel. Just because I was born in this country (ancestors on the Mayflower even, as well as much more recent immigrants on my family tree) doesn't mean I take being American lightly. I want to be a juror. And I will, some day, I am sure.

Etiquetteer responds: As one who has served on one civil trial jury and two criminal trial juries (once as foreman), Etiquetteer has served about 40% of the times he’s been called since becoming eligible for jury duty in the early 1980s. Etiquetteer even remembers completing Christmas cards while waiting to be summoned for jury duty one December, and heartily endorses your advice to bring a good thick book with you for the waiting period.


From a medical professional: First, the last thing I would ever want (if I found myself in that situation) is a trial by jury. I mean, to be "judged" by a random collection of 12 (possibly angry men, angry because they are serving on the jury against their will) would never work for me. I don't have that level of faith in my fellow citizen to synthesize a correct conclusion based on complicated presentations of conflicting information. I just could not consider putting the outcome of my trial in their hands.

Secondly, being a self-employed person (as I am) does not exempt one from jury duty. Employees of large corporations have their salaries paid to them for their time out of the office. Unfortunately, there is no one paying me when I am out of the office for any reason, civic responsibilities not being an exception. And as a matter of fact, I have to hire someone to be there to see my patients, at a considerable expense. One or two days of this every few years is fine. But, to be "stuck" on a trial lasting weeks or months would create a great financial hardship. Again financial hardship is not a reason to be excused from your call to duty. Serving under duress would cloud objective thinking and consideration of an evidence stream.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.

Reader Response to Past Imperfect, Vol. 6, Issue 12

Etiquetteer was quite surprised at the outpouring of reader comments after last week’s "Past Imperfect" column. A few choice responses, sometimes edited for length and to preserve anonymity, are offered today:

From a doctor: Some etiquette should be history for good reason. Thanks foran enjoyable and well-expressed column.

From a graphic designer: My husband and I thought about this, but as a wedding day flies by, and many people do not know how to keep things going, we opted out, with the exception of the informal hugs, kisses and handshakes as people exited the [Insert Name of Wedding Hall Here]. There the group of people behind exiting guests naturally impressed that a brief greeting was best.

At the calling hours following my mother’s death we did have a receiving line, which worked fairly well despite the number of people in it (6), and the many guests waiting in line. Receiving lines are formal, ritualistic things. Not without value, but no place for a heart to heart, or for two people who’ve not seen each other for years to embark upon a reunion.

My mother’s family, especially her sisters, took the clothing subject very seriously. Black dresses, stockings, gloves, hat, sweaters and coats for at least a year, whether at home or in town. I think I favor that over what one friend saw at his father’s calling hours a couple years ago. He said that nearly a dozen people all twentysomethings, showed up in nylon athletic running pants and sweatshirts. He was appalled. I agree that mourning a loss, a death, has a place.

Etiquetteer responds: Many years ago Etiquetteer attended a visitation at a funeral home. Three friends appeared wearing beach clothes: shorts and casual shirts. They’d learned of the death while returning from vacation and chose to show up in the wrong clothes rather than not pay their respects at all. Etiquetteer thinks they made the right decision. On the other hand, we could all take a lesson from the Queen of England, who always travels with something black in case she has to return home quickly due to a sudden death. (She also has someone do all the packing and dry cleaning for her . . .)

From Someone Who Would Know: One ugly feature you didn't mention, but one that can tear the heart out of family and close friends, is the "open mike." It seems to be a popular feature with some of our megachurches; however, if I hear it's to be included in a service, I don't go.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer must gently disagree with you. While the term "open mike" is better suited to a comedy club than a funeral, the custom of "bearing witness" to the life of the deceased can be a beautiful opportunity for mourners to share the good ways that their lives were affected by that person. That said, not everyone understands that There Are Limits on these occasions. Etiquetteer was once Absolutely Appalled at one memorial service to hear how a dead acquaintance had helped someone evade the law and posed for nude photographs. Really, that’s not the sort of story for Public Consumption!

From a Regular Reader: Enjoyed your article about mourning practices but you failed to mention people 'producing' the after-burial festivities before they die. I gather there are now 'funeral planners' who are similar to wedding planners except that the host pays but does not appear at the party. Videos of the departed run on a continuous loop, food, flowers, valet parking etc are over the top for those underneath the bottom. I guess we are not all equal in death. I had personal experience with about a year ago when someone in my condo building died after a long illness. She was Jewish and arranged for two evenings of a catered reception with floral arrangements (even though in traditional Judaism no flowers are present). It was held in the social room of the building and from a distance looked like a wedding reception. Moreover in discussions with friends I learned that this is now becoming common with people making videos that play continually. It is such a departure from the traditional way of mourning that are very carefully detailed down to the fact that the door of the house is left open so the mourner does not have open the door or that the mourner sits on a low stool to mark his/her status as one 'brought low' and that the food is to be brought into the house for the grieving family, not served to the guests who should be bringing the food. It has become such a party that I think it is bad taste to grieve now; might spoil the fun people are having.

From an engineer: My boss's mother died, and in the Jewish tradition, she wore a small mourning button (Keriah), which if you know what it is, is a nice signal to lay low. The button carries an attached black cloth tail, which is cut as a substitute for tearing of actual clothes. It’s worn for 30 days.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer saw two Jewish ladies (on two different occasions) wearing such a button, but didn't know its significance. But let Etiquetteer tell you, wearing that button with a loud red floral print blouse doesn't really look like mourning to Etiquetteer.

From a journalist: When my mother died we had a memorial service instead of the traditional funeral -- we couldn't have a Jewish ceremony because a) she had died out of state and a Jewish ceremony has to be done within 24-hours, and b) she was cremated. We did have a very nice Rabbi who gave us the traditional mourning ribbon. This is a small black ribbon that is cut to symbolize how family members used to tear their clothing in grief. The tradition is to cover the mirrors for a week, you light a candle that lasts a week, and you wear the ribbon for a month. Then I guess, although I never had any counseling on this, you should begin a period of healing. Better than three years of mourning.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.


Reader Response, Vol. 6, Issue 5


Vol. 6, Issue 5, February 4, 2007


Dear Etiquetteer:

You and your recent column were on my mind last night when I was at the symphony. The woman behind me rattled her bracelet through the entire evening. At the end I turned around and asked her sweetly if she had enjoyed the concert. After receiving a favorable reply, I asked her if she was aware that her bracelet jingled through the entire concert. She said that she wondered why the people around her were so agitated and she thanked me for letting her know. She was clueless! She asked her friend to remind her not to wear the bracelet to future concerts! One can only hope.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer commends you on your non-confrontational approach to addressing this problem. Turning around and snarling "Take off those **** bracelets!" would not have helped the situation. Etiquetteer’s mother was right as usual: you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Here's another take on the gift/no gift thing. My wife and I discussed this quite heavily when we were planning our wedding, and I think we came up with a fairly classy solution. Our basic premise about gifts was that giving should always be spontaneous and never expected. No one should feel bad for not giving a gift, and no one should feel bad for giving one either.

When we got married, we created a website for information for our guests. (This was in 1996, when the web was still new.) The wedding invitation included a map and schedule of events, and an invitation to visit the wedding website for more information. The website had an FAQ section that included the following, under the heading of "Gifts": You have already given us the best possible gifts: your love and kindness, as our family and friends. The nicest wedding gift you could give us is to share the day with us, either in person or in spirit. Thus, you should feel free to ignore the whole wedding gift and registry racket.

"Gift and registry" was a link to a separate page on our site. The gift and registry page started out with a restatement of the above, and was followed by: "However, because some of you have asked us whether and where we are registered, we have enlisted the help of our dear friend C****** S*****, who is helping us tremendously in coordinating the wedding. Feel free to address inquiries about gifts to her, or to [Insert Name of Bride’s Mother here]." We communicated our feelings about gifts to these allies, along with information about where we were registered for anyone who wanted it. Just as in business, reaching a human at the other end instead of a machine (or in this case, a one-liner on a wedding invitation) made for a much more pleasant experience for everyone involved.

Etiquetteer responds: It’s always refreshing to hear from a Happy Couple who are more concerned with their guests’ experience than with strong-arming them into showering them with Expensive Gifts. And certainly this is the traditional role of the Mother of the Bride (and the Mother of the Groom, too).

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have to write a condolence letter to the wife of a recently departed friend. Is she still Mrs. John Doe? Mrs. Jane Doe? Ms. Jane Doe?

Dear Condoling:

"Mrs. John Doe" is most Perfectly Proper unless she used her maiden name during married life. You would never address Ms. Jane Jehosphat as "Mrs. John Doe;" the militant feminists would mince your vitals into bits.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.


Reader Response and Lovely Notes, Vol. 6, Issue 1

Readers alternately applauded and chastised Etiquetteer for rewriting "Away in a Manger" recently. One was even inspired to reply in verse!

Now now, dear Etiquetteer, I do so believe

You've never tried to find a sitter on Christmas Eve

My cherub was quiet all the way here in the car

But the lights and the music have brought out her voice thus far


Please do forgive parents, they really do mean well

And are in emotional agony trying their babe's cries to quell

Instruct, please, the ushers for next year to gently take

Parents with crying babes to nursery as their job, and make


The parents, who are mortified that NOW their babe is loud, oh, not good

Tried so hard to make this service, so meaningful from their own childhood

Some have never stepped foot in this church, or haven't in years

And the stress of the season has the parents close to tears


All they wanted, to a person, I bet, was one peaceful hour

Full of the sounds and songs of Christmas Eve, the glory and its power

It is not our place, as adults, to turn struggling ones away

But to offer comfort, and the nursery, and a hope for a better day


Seriously Etiquetteer, lots of new parents, particularly, seem to turn up at a church on Christmas Eve, hoping for some of what they remember of the magic of Christmas. They don't know, most of them where the church nursery is - never mind that it is staffed with patient and experienced volunteers, even on Christmas Eve.

Etiquetteer responds: Your spirited defense of New Parents is most appreciated, and you are quite right to point out that ushers have a duty to "keep the peace" by directing Those With Unruly Children to the church nursery. But Etiquetteer stands fast against those who behave in church as they would at a stadium, allowing their children to caterwaul or even walk around without any restraint.

From a former altar boy: I loved the new version of the Christmas hymn! I yowled out loud when I read it.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer can only hope you weren’t in church at the time.

From a devoted son: My parents insisted on Christmas Eve services this year, and though I am far less pious in my old age than they are in theirs, I agreed.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that at [Insert Name of Church Here] holds a children's service at 4:00 PM, with children both welcomed and participating in the activities (with the requisite meltdowns and bawling), followed by several grown-up services. That struck me as a perfectly proper solution to your own Christmas Eve lament.

I'm also wondering, what is the right age for children to send Perfectly Proper notes of thanks on their own stationary for gifts received? I have several young nieces and nephews from whom I have never received a thank-you note. To me, "thank-you duties" aren't complete without the note, even though, when the family is together, verbal thanks may have been exchanged at the time the gift was bestowed. Do these on-the-spot thanks substitute for written sentiments?

Etiquetteer responds: What a wonderful idea! Etiquetteer heartily encourages other churches to adopt a children’s service and grown-up services.

As to Lovely Notes of Thanks, Etiquetteer started giving his nephews and niece boxes of appropriate stationery when they turned six. When time permitted, Etiquetteer would actually sit down with them the day after Christmas to be sure those Lovely Notes got written. Ah, happy times . . .

On the other hand, Etiquetteer was completely charmed by his niece this year, who smilingly hand-delivered a Perfectly Proper Lovely Note not half an hour after the gifts had been opened.

You are quite correct that verbal thanks do not substitute for a Lovely Note. And as Etiquetteer writes this, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much blushes with shame, since he hasn’t even started his Lovely Notes yet!

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.


Reader Response, Vol. 5, Issue 21

Finally we are passed Memorial Day, and Etiquetteer knows you are all happily wearing white with Perfect Propriety. As you see, Etiquetteer has made the switch, too!

Etiquetteer has taken a bit of flak over a recent column about how to deal with talkative strangers:

Shame on you! Old people rarely get the company they deserve. I remember meeting an elderly gentleman on a streetcar in San Francisco. He said he rode it all day just to have something to do and if anybody talked to him, that just made it a great day. That man next to you was probably talking about your salad because that was all he knew the two of you had in common. Isn't there a compromise somewhere where you could eat and this man could get a little human communication?

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer is not questioning why that nice old man was talking about the Cobb salad, or indeed the issue of lonely old people wandering cities across our nation looking for human interaction. But do you have any understanding of how difficult it is to eat food while people are talking about it? While wishing this old gentleman no ill will, Etiquetteer must sympathize with those who have only a limited time for lunch to get away from the stresses of the workday. And if this means you class Etiquetteer along with murderously self-absorbed Waldo Lydecker, well, so be it.

Do you have any suggestions for how one might extricate oneself from such a chatterbox before reaching the point of rudeness? Something along the lines of “I’ve enjoyed listening to you. I’m going to return to my book now; this is one of the few times that I get the chance to read, and I do so enjoy it.” I recognize that chatters exist (my honey is one, and being a non-chatter myself, I appreciate the pressure it takes off me at parties to be verbal) but in my experience, many chatters chat because they are lonely and looking for any sort of human connection. In your examples the train platform lady is probably the latter. I ran into a lot of lonely people (mostly senior citizens) in my first job as a high school student, working in a pharmacy and occasionally delivering prescriptions. I was not very good at tearing myself away, and frequently had to explain to my boss why I'd been gone so long. A good method for extricating oneself from these situations is appreciated.

Etiquetteer responds: Really, you just provided it. Your little speech suits the purpose almost to the point of courtliness. Etiquetteer could only add “Won’t you excuse me please?” to make it Perfectly Proper. As a delivery boy you can always say “Sorry, they keep me on a tight schedule and I can’t get in trouble.”


Reader Response, Vol. 5, Issue 15

Etiquetteer heard from a few readers after a recent column about concert hall manners and bumper stickers, some of which are worth sharing:Dear Etiquetteer:Although I have been going to concerts since I was very young (not as a babe-in-arms, though!) and learned early on to watch my parents for the signal to clap, as a professional violinist concerned about the future of classical music, I hesitate to criticize those who clap between movements. Sometimes the music is just so moving or the performance so incredible that it seems totally appropriate and wonderful that people express their appreciation with clapping. This was in fact the classical tradition until Mahler criticized it and insisted that people wait until the end of the piece. We need to break the barriers between new concert-goers and classical music and make it accessible, less like an event that might cause embarrassment if you don't know "the code." Recently, I played a concert with the Lexington Symphony to a sold-out hall, where people clapped between several of the movements, expressing sheer joy for the gifts of baritone Robert Honeysucker as he sang Copland's "Old American Songs." It was music to our ears. What a wonderful display of enthusiasm and how rewarding for all of us on stage to know that this music and its performers are held dear to many.Etiquetteer responds: Thank you for raising a different point of view. Etiquetteer certainly did not mean to criticize those genuinely moved by a performance, but those who applaud early solely to call attention to themselves. A breathtaking recording of Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, and Marilyn Horne in recital at Lincoln Center is marred only by some pretentious man honking "Bra-VEE! Bra-VEE!" at the end of several pieces. So now everyone knows he can conjugate Italian . . . and would rather not have that knowledge. Etiquetteer agrees with you wholeheartedly that new concert-goers need to be welcomed enthusiastically into the concert hall. But Etiquetteer must gently express some concern that too many people believe that making classical music "accessible" means letting people behave any way they wish with no regard for those around them. Do not underestimate the value of embarrassment. Thinking people will learn from it and thereby grow in Perfect Propriety.Dear Etiquetteer:What's worse than boors who applaud before the last note are the hordes of (I'd call them one of the names that come to mind but I hate to insult a whole group of tacky people for these are worse.) Those I speak of are the people who must rush to leave and take care of the thief making off with their car.As for bumper stickers, I once pulled behind a car with one that read "Honk if you love Jesus." I honked politely and got the well-known finger.Dear Etiquetteer:I no longer employ bumper stickers, as a result of an otherwise Perfectly Proper (and very successful) interview back in the early 1970s, followed by watercress sandwiches on the exclusive suburban lawn of my Republican hosts. I had gone to the effort of getting a short haircut, polished shoes, clean car, etc, and felt wonderful as the enthusiastic hosts walked me to my car. (You know what's coming).As I watched them cheerfully wave goodbye through my rear view mirror, I saw their hands drop abruptly as they read the message on my rear window (which I could read, because now it was reversed and read right to left), "Impeach The Cox* Sacker".Of course, I didn't get the job.*The writer is referring to Archibald Cox, who was fired by President Richard Nixon during Watergate.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify@etiquetteer.com.


Wedding Survey Comments, Vol. 5, Issue 10

Etiquetteer would like to thank everyone who responded to Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey. The survey will close Monday, March 20, at 10:00 PM EST, but Etiquetteer thought it appropriate to start addressing now some of the interesting issues raised by responding to some of the open-ended comments given at the end:Comment: Weddings are an expression of love between two individuals.Etiquetteer: Etiquetteer could not agree more, but would note that weddings are an expression of love between two people to their families and friends assembled.Comment: Make the wedding a celebration of your love of each other and those you have invited to share this momentous moment in your lives - not some nerve-wracking extravaganza where any detail that goes wrong dooms the joy of the day.Etiquetteer: Etiquetteer thanks you for including the guests in the general purpose of the wedding; Etiquetteer has long felt that the guests are often overlooked. As for the day being ruined by one detail gone wrong, Etiquetteer would like to point out that it’s the reaction to the mistake that dooms the day. So the groom forgot the ring? The flowers aren’t what you ordered? The mother of the bride secretly changed all the music in the service? The DJ ignored all your favorite songs? Laugh! Make every error a source of amusement and you will resurrect disaster into an anecdote for years to come.Comment: Formality is silly. A wedding is about commitment not etiquette.Etiquetteer: What do you think etiquette is? Talking in a fake English accent in a cathedral? A wedding is never about etiquette, but even informal weddings need a set of rules for people to follow to keep everyone from offending each other. And you would be amazed how often feelings are hurt at weddings.Comment: Weddings should be fun for the people involved. If it doesn't sound like fun, don't give one or go to one.Etiquetteer: Who said fun and etiquette don’t go together? Etiquetteer will never forget attending a family wedding with a buffet dinner reception several years ago. The Happy Couple selected a fish as their emblem. The groom made fish magnets for all the guests as souvenirs, as well as a bride fish and a groom fish for the wedding cake. They even had live goldfish instead of flowers for centerpieces. Instead of rice, everyone blew bubbles at them as they departed on their honeymoon. One of their friends even created a wedding crossword puzzle! And yet the wedding was as formal as any Perfectly Proper wedding, with a receiving line and toasts.Comment: I don't think the bride and groom or guests have any more of a right to forgo manners at a wedding. Everyone should be friendly and well-mannered even if they have been offended, left out in some way, or don't agree with the wedding choices. There is so much going on that people shouldn't take things too personally.Etiquetteer: Amen! But Etiquetteer acknowledges that this is difficult to do when you haven’t been invited and feel you should have been.Comment: I think the bride and groom should do whatever they want, but also be considerate of their guests. So, even if my groom and I want a steakhouse-themed dinner, we would make sure hearty veggie options are also available for those who don't eat meat. If we decide to get married in Europe, I would understand that my grad school friends just couldn't make it (and I wouldn't pressure them to show up knowing it was financially impossible for them). On that note, I think guests should be considerate of the bride and groom's values, etc., and what they want. So, it's very rude to criticize the wedding for not being traditional enough, nice enough, etc. If you don't agree with how a wedding is going to be held, just don't go. For example, I'm having a very low-key, nontraditional wedding (no bridal party, just cocktails and appetizers) for many reasons: it reflects my and my fiance's values, and it's cheaper that way (we're paying for it ourselves). Some people have decided not to come, because it's not worth flying cross-country for what's not a "real" wedding to them. To me, this is so insulting I no longer want to be friends with these people. My wedding is no less sacred or important just because I can't afford the traditional shebang.Etiquetteer: Etiquetteer is always amazed when brides do just what they want and don't understand why people feel unhappy about going to their weddings. Have you noticed that you’ve just ignored your own advice? You’re having a wedding that your friends disagree with, they’ve decided not to go (which is just what you’ve recommended), but now you’re insulted. If your "values" involve making people spend a lot of money to travel cross-country for a cocktail party, then it’s time to adopt some more selfless values. You are behaving like a princess bride and you had just better stop that right now. Etiquetteer thinks it would have been better for you to invite only those who live locally to attend the wedding and send wedding announcements to everyone else.

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Reader Stories of Wedding Gowns, Vol. 5, Issue 8

As you might expect, Etiquetteer has heard some interesting stories in response to last week’s rambling on the color of the bridal gown. Etiquetteer will share some of the choicest with you this week:From a wedding guest: "Those of us with friends in [Insert Flashy Industry Here] are just happy when the bride isn't - as we say - half nekkid. This year I've seen bridesmaids all wearing black, brides carrying babies, four-footed maids of honor, veils worn at a bride's fourth wedding, drunken mothers, and a preacher who got her degree via mail order. None of them told me what to wear. [Etiquetteer adds: Etiquetteer just cannot approve of including pets in the wedding party, no matter how devoted you all are to each other. Lady Bird Johnson would not even allow her daughter’s pet poodle into the wedding photographs at the White House, and Etiquetteer wouldn’t dream of arguing with her.]From a young matron: My own mother got married at age and didn't wear white. She wore a light pink, tea-length gown that went well with the roses she carried for her bouquet. But my aunt loves clothing, and vintage clothing, and used to do fashion shows with wedding dresses of different vintages.I can tell you on her authority that in Colonial times in America, the most prestigious color to wear for one's wedding was black, because it was the costliest, most difficult to get fabric, due to dye technology of the era. Other less wealthy brides usually chose a solid color, a lovely deep blue, and a slightly faded green from the 1800s, as well as a nice brown taffeta were amongst those featured in her fashion show. [Etiquetteer adds:Those who are interested should rush out and readColor: A History of the Palette, by Victoria Findlay, which explains all about how black clothes were made black in the 18th and 19th centuries.]Only into the 20th century, as you noted during Victoria's reign in England, did white become the color of choice. When my mother's mother got married, she had a white flapper-style gown, but tradition of her day dictated that one didn't save her gown. After the wedding, she dyed it yellow and wore it until it was worn out. [Etiquetteer adds:Etiquetteer’s beloved grandmother made over her orange wedding dress after the wedding and regretted it ever afterward.]My great-great-grandmother (she and her sister were ladies-in-waiting and seamstresses for Queen Victoria) came to America with my infant great-grandmother and no husband in tow. They were very fine seamstresses, and made lace by hand. One nice tradition is that a lace collar that was on my grandmother's dress was saved and used for the wedding gowns of my mother and older sister. We decided to keep it just for eldest daughters, so I chose a different piece of antique handmade lace to incorporate into my own wedding dress.From a Midwestern matron: My step-mother was very opposed to my marrying my husband in any sort of public ceremony since we had lived together for four years prior to our wedding. (My step-mother went so far as to offer us money if we would elope!) I wanted a wedding and so the compromise was a small wedding at my parent’s home on the East Coast. It was lovely. My husband and I wrote our vows and I wore an ivory tea-length dress and an ivory hat with a small veil on the rim and fresh flowers on the side.

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Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 38

After Etiquetteer’s column on personal solicitation two weeks ago, some readers responded with thoughtful solutions: Dear Etiquetteer: I have a budget for charitable donations and part of it is to support my friends in their choices. Some friends agree that they do not want more stuff (two days of being hosts of a yard sale convinced them) and so I make donations in their honor to charities I know they support. I give money to a local university to help students perform public service, and to the charity that any friend or acquaintance supports through marathons, bikeathons, etc. I find that being able to thank my coworkers, friends and acquaintances for the opportunity is a much better solution than having to decline gracefully. Etiquetteer responds: Your generosity and prudence are to be commended. Etiquetteer has noticed for years that knowing one’s friend’s likes and dislikes goes far in selecting gifts. You are to be commended for observing that some of your friends actually prefer what might be called a non-gift and acting accordingly. Dear Etiquetteer: I have some standard responses memorized for those seeking money for causes:
  • UNKNOWN TELEPHONE CALLLERS: As this is no doubt a telemarketing firm, offer nothing more than a curt interruption of "I do not respond to telephone solicitations. Please add this number to your Do Not Call List. Goodbye."
  • PEOPLE WHO HAVE FOUND YOU AN EASY TOUCH: "My financial advisor has put me on a strict budget since the market has gone down. At the first of the year, he allows a certain amount that I must not go over; and right now, that amount is spent. I hope you'll call me when times are better."
  • FRIENDS AND FAMILY WHO HINT FOR MONEY: Go overboard in agreeing with them about how difficult "things" have become. For example, one person might hear your thoughts on the utility bills: "Isn't it awful? How do they expect those of us in reduced circumstances to pay all that? I, myself, have been thinking of calling the Relief Agency and asking for help." You might end with ... "I hope you haven't had to cut your pledge to the Church, but of course that's between you and God."

If you remember that nobody likes to be grouped with the indigents, it's easy to respond. As for the dolt who puts linen napkins in dirty plates, there's no need to be polite. Unless this idiot is blind and cannot see what other guests are doing with their napkins, simply watch Cousin Zebulon and when he starts his act, speak in a loud voice, "Cousin Zebulon! Please don't do that! I have to wash that napkin." There is absolutely no need to spare the feelings of people like Zebulon if he has had the opportunity to learn better.Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer could not agree more with the way you nip solicitations in the bud, but must remind you of the age-old dictum that a guest can do no wrong. Publicly humiliating one's errant cousin at the dinner table -- tempting though it seems! -- would embarrass everyone there, not just Zebulon himself. Etiquetteer continues to believe that finding a quiet way to keep him from soiling the linens unnecessarily remains the best way.

EXAMPLES FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF ETIQUETTEERFrom the Department of Shut Up and Eat, Etiquetteer lashes out at two old men who darn near ruined a beautiful dinner dance the other night. Guests ordered tickets and indicated their meal choices six weeks in advance for this private club event. Many, Etiquetteer included, selected "Filet Mignon with Bearnaise Sauce." You wouldn’t think this would be a problem, would you? As Etiquetteer’s table was being served (ladies first, in Perfect Propriety) some faces began to fall. Murmurs of concern were exchanged between couples. "It isn’t rare," Etiquetteer heard one lady tell her husband. This did not prepare Etiquetteer for the vehemence of this man’s response when the waitress came to serve him. Before his plate even touched the table he boomed at her "I want RARE!" Didn’t his poor sainted mother ever teach him to say "please"?The poor waitress fled like a startled rabbit in the face of that, but worse was to come. Another poisonous octogenarian loudly declared "I want rare without the sauce!" as soon as a waitress came within earshot. When a sauceless filet was produced he cut into it and then vigorously protested that it was not rare. Later still, when the waitress returned with the last steak available and the information that the kitchen never cooked meat rare, the diatribe REALLY began, cowing the rest of the table to silence. "This is the worst damn food," etc. etc. Etiquetteer was mighty tempted to tell him that a lot of hurricane victims would be mighty glad to have a filet on their plate, even if they did think it overdone.So, long story short, a lovely evening reduced to a shambles by two dietary divos. Enough! If you’re going to be that fussy about your food you might as well stay home.

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Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 30

Dear Etiquetteer: I was a bit saddened to see your excessively hearty embrace of the post-interview thank you letter. Such letters are a relatively recent development in business etiquette: I remember that they were considered rather aggressively self-serving 20 years ago (and almost unheard of several years ago before that except in very personally connected business interviews), and still can be considered so in many quarters. It may depend on the field, but I know that I have more frequently received job offers from places that I did NOT send such letters, and vice versa. I know many (many) business people who loathe them as an imitation of the personal in a business context. I and many other people actually prefer not to receive them; while I rarely hold them against an applicant, there have been exceptions -- especially where the letters fake being more that perfunctory. Fakeness is a distinct negative in an applicant for most jobs, except in acting and fund-raising, where the quality is essential to flatter the audience. Business thank-you notes are to personal thank-you notes as prostitution is to love: they can be OK only so long as they are not confused. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer could not agree with you more that insincerity would sink any thank-you letter, personal or professional. And Etiquetteer would also suggest that "fakeness" doesn't really help any actor or fund-raiser. Someone once asked Spencer Tracy for advice on acting. His response: "Don't get caught." For thank-you letters in business, this translates to "Brief, concise, and specific."And let Etiquetteer add that, when you accept a job offer, it is also best accepted by letter ALONE, and completely without flowers, chocolates, or any other non-corporate trinket.

Dear Etiquetteer: This is a personal question of my own relative to the brides who were serving what sounded like wedding cake and a glass of champagne for guests who have spent time and money to honor them. Is the following not the proper formula for a destination wedding?

  • Guests are expected to pay for their transportation and hotel.
  • Once at the chosen destination, should invitees not be treated with almost the same hospitality as houseguests? That is at least two meals each day (continental breakfast and lunch or dinner, often hosted by relatives) and some sort of entertainment plan for the in-between wedding activities?
  • On arrival, welcome notes with possibly a small basket of fruit, nearby places to visit and a lineup of the wedding activities in each guest's room is not a costly thing and can be prepared well ahead.
  • Before departure, wouldn't a pre-written "thank you for coming" under their door be a nice but inexpensive gesture?

Maybe it's my Southern upbringing but darn it, if I go to the trouble of buying gifts, attending a shower, making reservations for travel and hotel, and sometimes buying a tacky bridesmaid dress, then giving up two or three days of my life, I'd like to know my efforts are appreciated. I'd also like a nice meal, even if the bride is a vegetarian and this is her day.Weddings are expensive. Plan on it or go to the city hall. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer doesn’t know about you, but you wouldn’t see Etiquetteer poking Lovely Notes under hotel room doors at 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning after a wedding. Other than that, your proposal seems appropriate, but not achievable for those on a strict budget. For instance, assuming a Saturday evening wedding, Etiquetteer would find it Perfectly Proper for the out-of-town guests to go to the rehearsal dinner and a morning-after breakfast in addition to the wedding itself.Etiquetteer loves the idea of a little giftie waiting in the hotel room, and wants EVERYONE'S suggestions! Please send them to query@etiquetteer.com. And speaking of weddings, please join Etiquetteer in wishing Maria and Seth a long and happy life together after their beautiful wedding on Saturday, July 23. Rarely has Etiquetteer seen a bridal couple so radiant!

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Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 18

Dear Etiquetteer: What has this world come to?This week's letters are the final straw for me.... not the most egregious examples, just the final straw. I'm grown horribly tired of these people who have nothing better to do than become squeamish over the passing of crumbs or the touching of fingers or being anywhere where someone's dry lips may have passed. If I see one more anti-bacterial product I think I really will become sick. Oh yes this woman at the book club used her cracker as a scoop... really, so what is quite so terrible? Nice suggestion from you to the host that she encourage use of the knife provided but all these guests grossed out? I find myself wondering what sort of plastic bubble they live within.I appreciate that our modern, polite society pays attention to hygiene and is thoughtful enough to wish to avoid passing illness onto others. Covering one's sneeze, not sniffling all day over a co-workers desk, rodent control and all -- wonderful progress. But science has shown that living in too sterile an environment is actually bad for one's health.I hear about people absolutely disgusted by people who lick their fingers in order to effectively separate stuck papers. Not the nicest thing I suppose but is that really worth getting one's knickers in a twist? Unfortunately many are responding to this sort of grousing so that at mass on Sunday some communities are no longer encouraging worshippers to exchange a handshake as a gesture of peace. The latest and most distressing are calls to no longer share the communion cup of wine -- the very symbol of the faith and commonality -- because it's "gross." Really. Good enough for our Lord Jesus Christ but we're all above it all now I guess.Just when is this going to stop? I fear we are becoming a cold people, unable to appreciate the sensuous pleasures of life and love. I appreciate concerns about passing of colds or VD or unpleasantness of any kind. I appreciate common manners and would never encourage slob-like dinner guest but really, things are going too far. Dear Forthright: Thank you for expressing your opinion so thoughtfully. Like you, Etiquetteer laments the super-fussiness of those who cannot stomach sharing a Communion chalice or even shake hands. We are losing what Nathaniel Hawthorne once called "the chain of human sympathies." If more people remembered to wear their crisp white kid gloves to church we wouldn’t have these problems . . .Now all that said, Etiquetteer needs to leap gallantly to the defense of the book club made squeamish by the pillaging of the Brie. Etiquetteer was not present at the time, but it certainly does sound as if Brie Woman’s standard of personal hygiene was not at the level of the others present, perhaps not anywhere near it. Imagine, if you will, that Brie Woman had thoughtfully covered a sneeze with her bare hand and then reached over with a small cracker to chop out more Brie, which unavoidably got all over her fingers. Anyone watching this would automatically think that the residue of her sneeze was all over the Brie. Etiquetteer would definitely passing up the cheese course under those circumstances . . .So Etiquetteer must both agree and disagree with you. Now let us join hands and pray each to the Deity of One’s Choice that our common humanity will emerge victorious in the long run.

Dear Etiquetteer: Having eased the pain of a Monday just a little by reading Etiquetteer, I want to mention, for clarity's sake, something that gave me an uncomfortable twinge while reading about doorway décor. A mezuzah is, indeed, a religious symbol, yet discreetly applied, and in a very particular way. Unlike a wreath or a celebratory banner, however, it is not an option -- it is an obligation, a commandment. It is not a statement to the world, either -- it's a reminder of personal responsibility to the inhabitant who has placed it on his/her doorpost. The idea that it is "allowed" suggests that it might be "disallowed," which suggests a misunderstanding of its presence. (I don't even want to think about the issue of Chanukah menorahs.) Dear Doorposting: Quite true, but what Etiquetteer has seen, alas, is that what is commanded by one’s religion is not always allowed by one’s condo association. Like you, Etiquetteer firmly believes that such a gesture is not an option. And this means that one must examine one’s condo documents very carefully to be sure that no such restriction is in place. Good heavens, the fondness for gated communities (talk about removing oneself from "the chain of human sympathies" . . . ) with restrictions of yard display has kept patriotic Americans from flying the flag on their own property, which certainly can’t be right.

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Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 6

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.

(c) 2002, 2003 Etiquetteer.com. All Rights Reserved


Reader Response, Vol. 2, Issue 2

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: rbdimmick@earthlink.netTo unsubscribe: rbdimmick@earthlink.netTo submit questions: rbdimmick@earthlink.netCopyright 2002, 2003 by Robert B. Dimmick

(c) 2002, Etiquetteer.com. All Rights Reserved