Theatre Etiquette, Vol. 18, Issue 14

Bostonians of a certain generation may remember the late theatre critic Arthur Friedman, who Young Etiquetteer was privileged to accompany on his rounds occasionally during the 1990s. Arthur, a fierce advocate for Perfect Propriety in the theatre, also loved a good dare. Before one performance at the Boston Center for the Arts, in a theatre in the round where the floor was the stage, Arthur offered Young Etiquetteer $100 to sit in one of the chairs on the set. Scandalized, of course Young Etiquetteer did no such thing.

This memory comes vividly to mind when reading about breaches of theatre etiquette such as the theatregoer in New York who violated the Fourth Wall to attempt to recharge his phone on the set of Hand to God. There's even video of the incident, since we live in a world of Eager and Instant Surveillance.

Robert Vlagas of Playbill writes "It's nice that people feel at home at Broadway theatres — but perhaps they shouldn't feel this at home." Etiquetteer must disagree. It is not nice that theatregoers feel so at home that they behave as though they were at home. Etiquetteer needs to ask theatre- and moviegoers this question: why do you go to see a show? To experience it, to be entertained and/or informed, or as background against which you can live your online life?

There is a Fourth Wall for a reason, and the audience needs not to violate it - unless invited by the performers as part of the performance. Participatory theatre is, as the children say, “a thing,” and one sometimes has to be prepared. For a show like The Mystery of Edwin Drood or, Heaven help us, Shear Madness, audience participation is necessary, and one runs the risk of being perceived as a killjoy if one just sits there like a bump on a log. If, however, an actor is ready to grab you and bring you to the stage as part of the show, and you intend that No Such Thing Will Happen, simply remain in your seat staring fixedly ahead, ignoring completely all entreaties (including those from other audience members, including your companions) no matter how in your face they might be. After sufficient time the actor will move on, wanting to maintain the momentum of the performance.

Arthur Friedman taught Young Etiquetteer other important aspects of Perfect Propriety in the theatre, which you may read way back in Volume 6. He was a pillar of the Boston theatre, and should be obeyed to this day.


Random Queries, Vol. 17, Issue 9

Dear Etiquetteer:

How can black bridesmaids' dresses be outlawed?

Dear Outlawing:

We live in a nation of freedoms, which has many undeniable advantages. Alas, one of them is not Freedom from - well, Etiquetteer won't say Bad Taste, but Unconsidered Taste. Were Good Taste to be legislated, we would no longer be a Nation of the Free. Etiquetteer considers that a better approach is for the Perfectly Proper to set the Best Example through their own daily lives. Etiquetteer rather feels that the fashion for Bridesmaids in Black is already passing, much as other bridal fashions have. And the sooner the better.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Not long ago at a party someone became fascinated by my perfume and kept asking me what it was. Aside from feeling that the question was inappropriate, I always thought a lady never told what her perfume was. Am I right?


Dear Scented:

Before addressing your sensibly query, allow Etiquetteer to observe that the word perfume is considered "Non-U" but the word scent is "U." You may want to check out the glossary of U and Non-U words for Handy Future Reference.

Traditionally a lady never reveals her scent because it deprives her of mystery. This would also imply that one doesn't wear enough that it might be identified. A Perfectly Proper scent calls attention to its wearer, not to itself.

The question within your query, though, is whether or not someone should even ask what one's scent is. After consideration, Etiquetteer is inclined to say not. This is in no small part because it might lead one to fret that one has put on too much and smells like a House of Ill Fame. Just consider poor Charlotte Vale in the novel Now Voyager, writhing in agony when Jerry notices that she is wearing the scent he gave her. Poor, poor Charlotte . . . so no, this is not the sort of question a gentleman asks a lady, nor is it the sort that one confirmed bachelor asks another.


Etiquetteer Goes to New York, Vol. 15, Issue 38

Etiquetteer makes a foray to New York City every so often to check out conditions of Perfect Propriety. Because of its sheer size and the robust diversity of its population, Manhattan might be considered an ongoing etiquette experiment. Three observations:

WALKING: It almost doesn't matter where you are in Manhattan, you are sure to be in someone's way, and someone is sure to think that you are in their way. In fact, the sheer volume of people on city sidewalks has become so compressed that locals are risking their lives to walk in the streets in order to get anywhere. Etiquetteer thinks it's more than helpful to know where you're going and how to get there before you leave your hotel room; surprisingly few don't. Remain aware of where you are in relation to other people while you're out on the Sidewalks of New York.

STAYING WITH FRIENDS: Etiquetteer was so very blessed to have a Hospitable Friend in New York who offered accommodations. The Hospitable Friend arranged many comforts for Etiquetteer, from chocolate scones, computer and wireless access (how marvelous, and how essential in this century!), wooden hangers, retail and other recommendations, freedom for Etiquetteer to pursue the city at leisure, and (in a city of one million sounds) privacy. Etiquetteer could not have been more fortunate.

"Such hospitality deserves my thanks!" as Hercule Poirot says in Murder on the Orient Express, but many houseguests are not sure what to do or how far to go. Hosting one's host to a meal is (or should be) an inviolate custom, and "a good time was had by all" at a mighty fine Restaurant Celebrating Regional Cuisine Other Than That of Manhattan. The question of the traditional "hostess gift" was a little more challenging, and where Etiquetteer relied on conversational clues. Hospitable Friend, not knowing Etiquetteer was looking for hints, spoke about having a Christmas tree for the first time in a new home. Etiquetteer's light bulb went off, and two lovely ornaments were received happily. Flowers, of course, are traditional -- and easy to find all over New York -- but don't last as long as friendships.

ATTENDING THE THEATRE: Forget what you heard about New York audiences being more stylish and sophisticated. Middle-class America no longer cares to keep up appearances here, either. The age of evening clothes in the theatre has irrevocably ended, but Etiquetteer would think that gentlemen would at least present themselves in a suit and tie, and ladies in something equally dressy. And indeed, the number of people attending the theatre with huge luggage, especially backpacks, continues to mystify Etiquetteer. (Of course, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much sat through a performance of Sweeney Todd some years ago with a huge backpack jammed under his seat and a gigantic valise in his lap since he had to catch a train immediately after the matinée.) All of us ought to examine the amount of stuff we tote about with us daily, and make reductions. For ladies especially, a handbag of moderate size is much more elegant than a backpack, or even one of those fashionable but unwieldy satchels called a "purse."

At least New Yorkers are fiercely punctual, management taking an appropriately dim view of late arrivals. Latecomers know in advance that if they arrive after the curtain has risen, they can't be seated. Bostonian audiences are notoriously tardy, and Etiquetteer, who is notoriously not, is getting mighty tired of hearing the usual excuses about traffic, parking, and subway delays. Etiquetteer will always side with those who came on time, and whose enjoyment of the performance is marred by late arrivals.


Perfect Propriety in Summer, Vol. 15, Issue 27

Once upon a summer day Etiquetteer observed (discreetly -  it's not polite to stare) a family of four on the subway during the morning rush hour. The father wore a khaki-colored twill suit with a shirt and necktie; the mother, a two-piece navy suit with simple silk blouse, unobtrusive hose, and appropriate flat shoes (read: not athletic shoes). Their little girl, who must have been four or five, had on a clean and simple playdress. Etiquetteer can't really remember what their infant wore in his or her stroller, alas. And the thought suddenly came to Etiquetteer that, only a generation ago, that young family wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. Now, they're considered "all dressed up."

Don't fret! Etiquetteer is not about to make everyone climb back into layers and layers of clothing during the long hot summer. (Though it is interesting to observe how many people, especially ladies, carry sweaters with them in summer because of the arctic air-conditioning of so many public buildings.) Etiquetteer always remembers the words of Ellen Maury Slayden, who wrote in her diary August 3, 1914: "Last Friday the mercury went to 106 degrees ... When I was married [in 1883], returning to Texas early in September, I wore a suit of golden brown camel's hair buttoned up to my chin and finished with a stiff linen collar. I wonder I didn't go mad and run amuck."*

Etiquetteer certainly doesn't want anyone going mad and running amuck, but Etiquetteer does wish more people would consider how they present themselves with today's layers. How much skin is too much? When does "casual" turn into "sloppy?" The question of how much exposure is too much is a legitimate question, one that American tourists abroad have to take into account when visiting churches. During the summer, especially, there's such a temptation to fling on a T-shirt and pair of shorts with a pair of flip flops without caring what impression it makes. The impression it makes in churches overseas is one of Flagrant Disrespect, and tourists will be prohibited if they expose too much of their persons.

Etiquetteer observed this admonition against Sartorial Brevity at the Church of the Gesuiti in Venice in 2013.

Etiquetteer observed this admonition against Sartorial Brevity at the Church of the Gesuiti in Venice in 2013.

That said, Etiquetteer is at least glad that the trend for men is finally away from the Dreadful Knee-Eclipsing Cargo Shorts and more toward Crisp Tailored Shorts with a four- or six-inch hem. This has much less to do with showing more leg than it does with the fact that no matter how one took care of cargo shorts, they never looked pressed.

Ladies with long hair, too, are so tempted with the quick convenience of a scrunchie, not realizing or caring that the backs of their heads may look like cow patties garnished with straw.

So, what are Etiquetteer's guidelines for Perfect Propriety in Summer?

  • Prepare for perspiration. Aside from your usual toiletries, talcum powder makes this more endurable, and preserves the appearance of you and your clothes for longer in the day.
  • Your summer clothes should show no rips or tears, spots or stains. Favorite clothes that have decayed to rags Etiquetteer will permit only at the beach.** And clothes that have been fashionably cut into rags, such as T-shirts sliced into fringe and beaded, are never Perfectly Proper.
  • For the most part, your body and your undergarments (if any; don't call attention to their presence or absence) should not be visible between neckline and hemline. There's a greater risk for what is vulgarly termed "plumber's crack" during the summer; guard against this! You don't want to hear someone break into Blue Moon behind your back. The shirt you choose, whether T-shirt, polo, or buttondown, should be able to tuck securely into your trousers - whether you tuck it or not. (You should tuck it.) Ladies have a bit more leeway with halter tops and such like, of course, but bikini tops are a big no-no in the city.
  • Etiquetteer doesn't find tank tops or cami tops Perfectly Proper for town and city wear. Certainly they make an impression, but is it the one you want to make? Take a long honest look in the mirror.
  • If there are belt loops, wear a belt.
  • Linen remains a favored summer fabric. Yes, it wrinkles like the very Devil, but keep ironing. Nothing makes such a beautiful impression as a crisp white linen ensemble.

While the Official Start of the Summer Season on Memorial Day is not yet here, it never hurts to Start Preparing Early. Etiquetteer hopes that you'll enjoy contemplating the Joys of Summer - and what to wear to enjoy them - in the intervening weeks.

*From Washington Wife, Journal of Ellen Maury Slayden from 1897 - 1919.

**Indeed, Etiquetteer's very favorite old panama sustained a gash down the front of the crown, so it's only fit for the beach. But it feels like an old friend coming to visit when Etiquetteer puts it on.

George Washington's "Rules of Civility," Vol. 15, Issue 14

Tomorrow, February 22, is the birthday of the Father of Our Country. To celebrate, Etiquetteer refreshes some of the maxims he put forward in George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Etiquetteer made many of these points way back in Volume 11.

Etiquetteer Refreshes George Washington's "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior" from Etiquetteer on Vimeo.

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

Forms of Address/Addressing Difficulty, Vol. 14, Issue 40

Dear Etiquetteer: My question is about the appropriate way to address letters and invitations to former government officials.  For example, my business is extending invitations to former governors, senators, and legislators to a formal event to honor an outgoing leader.  This leader formerly worked with and on behalf of these former government figures.

I learned that once an elected official, always an elected official. Once President of the United States, always President of the United States. Ergo, letters to a former senator are addressed as follows:

Senator John Doe home address city state zip

Dear Sen. Doe:

However, recent inquiries yielded the following:

The Honorable John Doe Dear Mr. Doe


Mr. John Doe Dear Mr. Doe

Which is it?  Or, are the rules different for each station?

Dear Addressing:

The folks over at the Protocol School of Washington back up Etiquetteer’s dimly-remembered reading from Emily Post decades ago. Here they explain that, when one no longer holds a position that only one person can hold at a time, such as President of the United States, one reverts to one’s most recent title that is also not a position that only one person can hold at a time. For instance, Hillary Rodham Clinton should no longer be addressed as “Secretary Clinton” because only one person can serve as Secretary of State. The proper address would be “Senator Clinton.” Bill Clinton, to Etiquetteer’s surprise, is now properly addressed as “Mr. Clinton.” His title before his presidency, Governor, is another of those one-at-a-time jobs.


Dear Etiquetteer:

I've recently had a very unhappy encounters with a friend and am unsure how best to handle.

"Friend" has had some very troubling family dynamics over the last couple of years, of which we've discussed in great detail and for which I have both similar history and deep sympathy. Like many close friends, we’ve shared many personal matters and have, respectively, offered feedback or suggestions.  I know the issues "Friend" has been dealing with lately have been very hard and emotionally exhausting and I feel it's my duty, as her friend, to listen and be a comfort if not try to help without interfering. However, when we last met for our sporadic weekend coffee, as she went on about the latest chapter, she flipped when I tried to offer a perspective from my own personal history.  I wasn't telling her what to do - just offering a perspective.  She got enraged, told me I had no idea what she was going through (which is untrue - I lived through her experience in more ways than one), started jabbing her finger at me, accusing me of crazy stuff that actually had nothing to do with what we were talking about, and went on in a rage until she finally realized I had my hands up saying, "Stop."  I calmly told her what she was saying wasn't true and that I'm not the enemy.  We quickly ended our visit.

This wasn't the first time she’s flipped out with wild, crazy stuff that has nothing to do with the topic at hand.  She's done this in the company of others, at my home with other guests, in front of her kids and mine.

I realize she has serious matters that truly need the help of a professional.  And, I feel it is my duty, as one who knows she's on a precipice, to offer compassion.  But do I have to be a doormat and take abuse?  Is it valid for me to say I feel for you but it's not OK to abuse me?  I realize you're an etiquette professional, not a psychologist, but I think my question falls within the parameters of etiquette, yes?

Thank you for any advice you may have!

Dear Helping:

How well Etiquetteer remembers the political wife in Advise and Consent, who cried to her senator husband “All I want to do is stand beside you and you give me no place to stand!” Etiquetteer commends your courage in wishing to continue to be of help to someone you hold dear, but whose behavior, at least, doesn’t reciprocate those feelings.

According to your query, “Friend” has a habit of lashing out, in situations when you’re alone with her or with others. What seems to set her off is when you “share your own perspective,” thereby, in  her mind, taking the attention away from her. “Friend” may in fact prefer an audience and platitudes to friendship, good advice, and genuine concern. This does not make her behavior toward you Perfectly Proper (nothing could) or even acceptable. You have the power not to accept being treated that way. When “Friend” launches another Finger-Jabbing Tirade, tell her calmly how sorry you are that you can’t be of help, that it’s not OK to speak so violently to you, and that you’ll speak to her again when she can do so calmly. And then leave. While some might disagree, Etiquetteer would not remain should an instant apology be launched. immediate departure emphasizes one’s self-respect, and that there are limits to what can be endured. Maintaining your own composure is essential to conveying this.

As One Who Knows Etiquette and Is Not a Mental Health Professional, “Friend” appears to need some professional assistance managing the experiences with which she must deal at this time in her life. While this might risk another Tirade, if you feel particularly courageous, you may broach the subject with her. Etiquetteer wishes both you and your friend calmer seas ahead.


Crying Children, and What to Do About Them, Vol. 14, Issue 27

Remember how "Ill-Mannered Children with Complacent Parents" was the Champion Pet Peeve of Etiquetteer's Spring Madness of Pet Peeves? Remember that whole "Children must be seen and not heard" thing? It is time for parents to start leading us back there. Since most aren't, other impacted people are, and not always with Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer sometimes has to specify that No One Cares About Your Loud Child. You, as a parent of a Loud Child, have an obligation to Maintain the Peace by keeping that child quiet. Yes, Etiquetteer recognizes that often that's easier said than done. Too many parents don't even make an attempt now, which is what leads to today's news story.

Darla Neugebauer, the owner of Marcy's Diner in Portland, Maine, yelled at a crying toddler in her diner to get her to be quiet, this after the crying had gone on for no little time. Buzzfeed has posted a more thorough account of the story. [NB: There's an awful lot of profanity being slung around by Ms. Neugebauer and others, which doesn't help. People ought to have their mouths washed out with soap.] Some people have a problem with this, starting with the toddler's mother, Tara Carson. Etiquetteer has a problem with Ms. Carson and her husband for not having taken the toddler outside for Quiet Time much earlier. It appears that she didn't consider, or care, about the impact all that caterwauling was having on anyone else in the room. To repeat, No One Cares About Your Loud Child. Etiquetteer is not making this up, you know.

But Etiquetteer, who knows from Bitter Personal Experience not to discipline the children of others, could only wish that Ms. Neugebauer had directed her ire at Ms. Carson and her husband more effectively, not the child. Here, she overstepped, and she is feeling the fury of the Internet as a result. No matter how provoked, no matter how justified one might feel, screaming at a child will more often than not make one appear in the wrong.

But no one comes out of this well, least of all the Carson family, and Etiquetteer sympathizes most of all with the other diners, who first had to endure the Loud Child, and then the altercation. The parents should have been more attentive to their child and more sensitive to its impact on others. Ms. Neugebauer should have taken a stand earlier, before losing her temper, and suggested to the parents that they take Loud Child outside until their order was ready. (Although according to accounts in the Buzzfeed post, she did.)

It seems that many people are insistently saying that they'll never patronize Marcy's Diner because of this, but Etiquetteer is not one of them. While Etiquetteer would have preferred to see this situation handled differently, it seems highly unlikely that any meal there in the future will be interrupted by a Loud Child.Teacup

Returning to the Spring Madness of Pet Peeves, Vol. 14, Issue 20

There's no doubt about it, alas: Etiquetteer has been asleep at the wheel of his Hispano-Suiza for the last two weeks and was just about to drive off the most Perfectly Proper cliff you can imagine. Fate, however, had other plans, and steered Etiquetteer into a convenient field of poppies, from which Etiquetteer is now somewhat sleepily recovering thanks to the Good Witch of the North. So, where were we? Aha, just about to enter the Final Four Round of Etiquetteer's Spring Madness of Pet Peeves! And how exciting it is to find out what the top Pet Peeve is in each division:

WEDDINGS: Guests who don't R.s.v.p.

DRIVING AND TRAFFIC: Cell phone use while operating a vehicle.

TABLE MANNERS/DINING OUT: Ill-mannered children and complacent parents.

GENERAL PEEVES: Loud public cellphone conversations.

Vote now and help determine what the final Devilish Duo of Pet Peeves will be!

Etiquetteer is interested to learn your pet peeves, and was so pleased to receive this peeve from a reader, who sent it to

You ask for my pet peeve not on the list, and it's overt judginess.  This obviously doesn't mean you!  Or etiquette!  But the trend now to believe that everything that you believe is the only right thing and anyone who isn't voting/raising their children/protecting the environment/whatever in exactly the way that you are, needs to be set straight.  For instance, you have on the list, "parking illegally in handicapped spaces," which I actually voted for, but a bigger pet peeve would be feeling that you get to decide exactly who is handicapped enough to park in the space and leaving a note on the windshield of someone without a visible handicap saying that they should leave these spaces for real handicapped people.  People who don't mind their own business and feel that they should be able to tell everyone exactly how to live their lives, that is my pet peeve. Which is of course the whole marriage equality issue.  Do you want to get married to a person of your own gender?  No?  Then the normal thing to do would be to say, "Well, it doesn't affect me in any way, so those people can do what they like," not, "Well, it doesn't affect me in any way, so I will try to stop it with all of my power because EVERYONE MUST LIVE AND THINK EXACTLY AS I DO!"

This is my pet peeve.  I think it's too long for a survey question, though!

And really, Etiquetteer need not try to say it better than that.


Texting at Cash Registers, Vol. 14, Issue 16

Dear Etiquetteer: I’m here to register another contemporary lack of manners - texting at the cash register. As a preamble, I’m usually pretty chill about navigating public space but several days after this happened, I’m still steamed about it. Here’s what happened:

The day before Passover, I was at a bakery to buy hot cross buns at a popular local food market. There are two lines leading to two cash registers where there’s limited counter space. The woman in front of me was picking up a couple of special order cakes that required special wrapping and bagging. After she received her cakes, she made no effort to leave the counter or even to clear some space for the other people lined up - and she started texting, obviously oblivious to everyone around her. It was not a short text. I was so stunned by her rudeness that I was (perhaps fortunately) speechless. Any words of advice on how to handle this type of situation in the future?

Dear Text-Blocked:

Etiquetteer has often found that a brisk "Excuse me, please!" can be effective in clearing the way. The cashier should have taken the matter in hand by calling out "Next, please!" and waved over the next customer. Should this Oblivious Texter remain just as insulated from the situation as before, you might have approached and said - kindly, without possible annoyance - "Excuse me, but there's a rather long line behind us." Saying it kindly is important, as otherwise you might have to have a big discussion about Feelings, which would hold up the line even more. And, as Etiquetteer has said so often before, no one cares How You Feel; you are still expected to behave with Perfect Propriety.

These situations occur more and more frequently as Consideration for Others is no longer thought as important as Personal Convenience. More and more the Perfectly Proper are having to Speak Up to prod the Uncaring into behaving well. Etiquetteer can't help but be saddened by this state of affairs.


Today is the last day to vote in Round II of Etiquetteer's Spring Madness of Pet Peeves! It is interesting to note that in Round II, the narrowest splits in the voting have to do with Weddings, while the greatest divide has to do with driving-related peeves. Please vote today! And should you have a pet peeve you need to share with Etiquetteer, send it to

Wedding Gift of Money, Vol. 14, Issue 15

Dear Etiquetteer: If we are going to give the bride and groom money for a wedding present, is it best to send it to them before the wedding, send it to them after the wedding, or give it to the bride or groom or bride’s father at the wedding?

Dear Moneyed:

Logistically, the most Perfectly Proper thing to do is to mail your gift before the wedding to the member of the Happy Couple you know best. Considering how busy the week before the wedding is, especially for the bride, Etiquetteer thinks it should arrive no later than eight to ten days before the wedding. This shows thoughtfulness to those recipients who take the trouble to send Lovely Notes of Thanks - which all Happy Couples should but don't - when gifts arrive.

Etiquetteer was just about to remonstrate with you for suggesting slipping a check in care of one of the fathers. After all, these days most Happy Couples are no longer teenagers fresh out of high school; they're fully functioning adults who ought to be responsible for their own affairs. But then Etiquetteer stopped, remembering that on the Great Day one's attention is taken up by so many things that it is very easy to forget just about everything one is supposed to do, such as remembering to bring the rings. So if one must bring a gift of money to the wedding itself, entrusting it to a Reliable Parent is better than slipping it into the groom's jacket pocket, where it might easily remain when returned to the tuxedo rental.

Your query reminded Etiquetteer of the Old Days when wedding gifts used to be displayed at the reception, a custom that happily has faded away. Etiquette writers of yore would advise on how to display checks given as wedding gifts so that the name of the giver was visible, but not the amount. Which just goes to show how manners continue to evolve, and not always for the worse.


Round II of Etiquetteer's Spring Madness of Pet Peeves remains open for voting! Go here to pick out what peeves you most about weddings, driving and traffic, table manners/dining out, and just in general.

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

The results are in, the votes tabulated, and different pairs of Victorious Pet Peeves will now compete in Round II! Etiquetteer was surprised, delighted, and disappointed with some of the results. Let's go through them division by division. WEDDINGS

Unfortunately, Etiquetteer was not exactly surprised to see "Lack of information about time, directions, etc." win out over "No indication of dress code," 75% to 25%. Etiquetteer attributes this to two things: 1) too few people caring about what they wear in the first place - remember, the opposite of Formal is Informal, not Casual! - and 2) the growing number of wedding guests that need to get on a plane to attend. "Lack of information" will now face off with "Guests who don't R.s.v.p.", which beat out "Bridal registry information on the invitation" 79% to 21%. While Etiquetteer has certainly had to smoke out enough unresponsive guests, it seems an even greater offense to make an invoice of an invitation.

"Weddings as fund-raisers for the honeymoon" triumphed over "Cash bar for wedding guests who have traveled across the country," 69% to 31%. One can only direct the largesse of one's friends and family so much! Unsurprisingly, "Couples who do not send thank-you notes" won out over "Destination weddings," 63% to 37%. There are those who don't really consider destination weddings a pet peeve. Etiquetteer has to wonder if they are, in fact, brides. So few brides understand that their wedding just isn't as important to everyone else as it is to them. But having gone to the trouble of selecting a wedding gift and bringing or sending it, and perhaps even going to the expense of attending a wedding far away, and then not even the courtesy of a Lovely Note -- indeed, that's an offense! Let's see how that does against "Weddings as fund-raisers for the honeymoon" in Round II.


"Drivers who ignore red lights" peeves readers much more than "Pedestrians texting while walking in traffic," 69% to 31%, though Etiquetteer confesses that he is more peeved by texting pedestrians. The gap was narrower in the next pair: "Drivers blocking bike lanes" overrode "Cyclists wearing earphones" 52% to 48%. So we'll have two driver pet peeves facing each other in Round II. One wonders if there weren't more pedestrians taking this survey  . . .

Etiquetteer thinks that "Cell phone use while operating a vehicle" should have beat out "Double parking on narrow streets" by a larger margin. It was closer than Etiquetteer expected, 54% to 46%. Yes, double parking is annoying, but the former pet peeve is much more fatal in the long run. "Cell phone use" will face "Illegally parking in handicapped spaces" now, which triumphed over "Relying solely on GPS and getting lost" 73% to 27%. This does seem like an emotional vote. Depriving the handicapped of their convenient and legally protected parking is not just Perfectly Improper, it's Wicked. But Etiquetteer could shred road maps with his teeth in anxiety of the number of drivers who haven't the barest idea of where they're going until they get hopelessly lost - and then have to drive around in traffic using their cell phones.


"Chewing with mouth open" - disgusting throughout the ages, much more so than "Check-splitting for more than four diners," 83% to 17%! Next week we'll see if it's more disgusting than "Texting at the table," which is definitely one of Etiquetteer's pet peeves. "Texting" beat out "Last minute cancellations" by a significant margin, 62% to 38%. One doesn't attend a dinner party to interact with people who are elsewhere. It's that simple!

"Diners who photograph their food" got off easy this time, as "Ill-mannered children and complacent parents" just destroyed them 82% to 11%. Photographing one's food is certainly a phenomenon of the Digital Age, but at least that's silent. Children have been shrieking and carrying on at dinner tables ever since the extinction of nannies.

But how well will those ill-mannered kids and their parents deal in the next round against "Cheap Tippers?" To Etiquetteer's surprise, "Cheap Tippers" came out the winner over "Slow service," 64% to 36%.


It's probably a sign that our civilization is doing more online, but "Confusing customer service menus" garnered more votes than "Scratchy recorded music on call waiting," 80% to 20%. On the other hand, the former could apply to online transactions as well as the telephone. But the Big Communications Companies would go far to clean up their call waiting music. It's also a sign we're doing more online that "Door-to-door solicitors of any kind" won over "Being interrupted," 71% to 29%. Having to answer the doorbell certainly takes one away from the computer! But being interrupted is enormously aggravating. Sometimes the best way to deal is to stop communicating and give your Alleged Partner in Conversation a Blank Stare. When they notice, simply ask "May I continue?"

"Loud public cellphone conversations" easily bested "Visible undergarments," 85% to 14%. Etiquetteer, who is mighty tired of seeing bra straps and elastic waistbands, wished that had shown better in the polls.

Our final pair of pet peeves, "Insufficient deodorant" vs. "Oversufficient cologne," was the one Etiquetteer watched the most. For much of the voting, this pair was tied! The final result: "Insufficient deodorant" at 45% and "Oversufficient cologne" at 55%. Etiquetteer really thought it would go the other way. The solution is the same for both: bathe more. And here's some simple advice for those ladies and gentlemen who use scent. Your scent is supposed to attract others to you, but that's very difficult to do when it takes up all the air around you. Don't use enough that anyone can identify what it is. Your scent should be subtle and intriguing. Kidnapping with cologne will only get you under an oxygen tent.

Thanks for joining the fun! Now it's on to Round II here!


Six Pieces of Perfect Propriety to Bring Back, Vol. 14, Issue 10

Etiquetteer can think of six pieces of Perfect Propriety that we might bring back for more Gracious Living:

  1. The term and function of "collation." A collation is a light, informal meal, such as a continental breakfast or after-theatre supper. Etiquetteer supposes that an afternoon tea could be considered a form of collation. Perhaps Etiquetteer just likes the idea of a big percolator in the dining room with a tray of delicious pastries.
  2. General understanding of table stationery for formal functions. Etiquetteer gnashes his teeth in frustration to see people look at a placecard and have no idea what it's for. A table card is what is received on arrival at a formal dinner, and it includes one's name and table number on a tiny card in a tiny, unsealed envelope. A place card is a card with one's name on it used to mark one's chair at one's table. At less formal function for which designated seating is necessary, often place cards are presented on arrival so that guests may choose their own seats. Etiquetteer always hopes this will keep diners from tipping their chairs forward or covering them with bits of clothing to mark their places - so inelegant.
  3. Egg cups, and not just for the traditional service of soft-boiled eggs at breakfast. With the proliferation of artificial sweeteners, Etiquetteer uses some beautiful old transfer-ware egg cups from a family service to provide those essential packets. But some mornings there's nothing like a good three-minute egg in an egg cup.
  4. Boutonnieres, real ones. Especially with the spring coming on after this Historic Winter, it might be considered groundbreaking for lapel florals to break out in spring. Remember, a Perfectly Proper boutonniere is only the flower; no backing of ferns or other greenery is needed.
  5. Cups and saucers instead of mugs. At different times Etiquetteer has contemplated starting a Campaign to Bring Back the Saucer. In the hurly burly of the workplace, that's probably too fragile-appearing to sustain, but at home, how restful. And one never has to worry about where to put the spoon when one has a saucer.
  6. Candlelight, flattering to all, and creates an atmosphere of both mystery and coziness.


More Blizzard Etiquette, Vol. 14, Issue 5

The recent record-setting snowfall in New England has tested the Daily Dignity, as well as the Perfect Propriety, of everyone in the region - not least That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much. Is it Etiquetteer's imagination, or were American better able to take things in stride a 30 years ago? Alas, Etiquetteer feels the need to share a few more tips to Get Through This:

  1. Recognize when a situation can't be helped, and calm down. No one is to blame for the volume of snow that has fallen, or for the absence of someplace to put it. If you keep carrying on like that, Etiquetteer guarantees that someone will make a Splendid Suggestion about Where You Can Put It.
  2. Verbal complaining might or might not make you feel better, but it only raises the stress level for others present. Consider carefully whether or not your interjections help.
  3. Do your best not to inconvenience anyone else. If you move more slowly through the slippery sidewalks, step aside so others more fleet of foot may pass. If you're standing in the subway door that opens, for heaven's sake, step out onto the platform and allow others to leave. If you're shoveling out, don't fill up a neighbor's freshly cleared property.
  4. Travel light. At times when the public transportation system is strained to ridiculous levels, going anywhere without a backpack is more than thoughtful. And if you must travel with hand luggage, its Perfectly Proper place is on the floor or your lap, not in a seat.
  5. As you continue to shovel now, as a reader helpfully pointed out, be sure to clear the fire hydrant nearest to your property. The home you save may be your own.
  6. Make light of your troubles where you can. Etiquetteer was deeply impressed by a pair of cheerful women, perhaps strangers until that moment, who managed to keep fellow subway travelers in their vicinity from going mad in the sardine-like crush by imagining the entire adventure was like taking a huge group portrait at a wedding.

In short, Etiquetteer asks you to remember the famous words "This too shall pass."

What a Lady Wears: Tiaras in the Workplace, Vol. 13, Issue 60

Last week Etiquetteer and That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much had a bit of a disagreement about ladies wearing tiaras in the workplace. That Mr. Dimmick, of course, thinks it’s outrageous and Improper to wear a tiara in the workplace and that it’s the result of the Disney Princess culture. Lorelei Lee was always looking for new places to wear diamonds, but the office wasn't one of them. Etiquetteer is ambivalent, since hair ornaments have a more varied history, but of course would rather see these ladies turn their attention to Perfectly Proper kid gloves and Mainbocher two-piece suits. Or even Hillary Clinton's "velvet arc of control" from the 1992 presidential campaign, which has the advantage of not glittering before 5:00 PM. Since neither Etiquetteer nor That Mr. Dimmick is a Powerful Woman in the Workplace, Etiquetteer turned to a genuine Powerful Woman in the Workplace, Christina Wallace, Founding Director of BridgeUp: STEM, who had this to say:

"I can see your point that an actual tiara in the workplace is entirely inappropriate and juvenile, but the photographs in the New York Times piece (ignoring Lady Gaga and the Kardashian, as I tend to do in general*) show not a crown but simply a jeweled headband, which I find polished and lovely. I actually agree with some of the women quoted that the jeweled headband (or diadem as one woman referred to it) increases the sophistication of a ponytail or bun. So while there is likely a fine line between appropriate and over-the-top (I would refrain from wearing anything that could double as a wedding-day headpiece), I think jeweled headpieces are welcome in the boardroom. Just don't call them a tiara (indeed, I might venture that labeling a headband a "tiara" is bordering on sexism)."

With this endorsement of the practice, Etiquetteer will now set down some ground rules:

  • Your Daytime Diadem should not detract from you. Come evaluation time, you'll be judged on how well you met your goals, not how much Faceted Radiance you shed in the board room. As Auntie Mame famously said to Agnes Gooch about an evening dress, "You're supposed to dominate it!" And while we really shouldn't be looking to the movies for etiquette advice, Etiquetteer can't help remembering David Brian advising Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry, "A beautiful woman never wears anything that detracts attention from her face."
  • Your Daytime Diadem should not increase your height appreciably.
  • Your Daytime Diadem should not look like you could wear it to the senior prom.
  • Your every hair should be in place and not blowing about all tangled and casual. This kind of jewelry is only going to attract more attention to your head, so there will be more opportunity for co-workers to notice Tonsorial Neglect or Error.

Now, let's all get back to work!

Issue 60 of Volume 13 of Etiquetteer marks a milestone, the largest number of columns published yet in a single volume. Thank you, readers!

*Etiquetteer adds: As all Perfectly Proper People should.

What a Lady Wears to a Ball, Vol. 13, Issue 59

Dear Etiquetteer: I have been invited to attend the Governor's Inaugural Ball in January, a black tie event. My escort is an older widowed gentleman who is a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company (and will be part of the inauguration). I'm a woman of a certain older age and have never been asked to such a thing before! Can you advise me, in a general way, what to wear? I'm a nervous wreck!

Dear Invited:

What an honor to be invited to such an august occasion! While this may be a novel experience for you, ladies have been agonizing about what to wear for millennia, and what you see as a predicament will actually be a lot of fun.

A black-tie ball calls for a long gown with matching shoes. This may be why so many ladies choose black, which Etiquetteer finds rather overdone. But it is said that plain satin shoes may be dyed to match; Etiquetteer encourages you to inquire at your local shoe store. A ball is also a wonderful excuse to bring out any real jewelry you have. Diamonds are a girl's best friend, as the song goes, and a girl should be able to give her friends a good time every once in awhile.

Regardless of your politics, Conservative Good Taste should guide you in your selection of gown. Don't go to extremes. In other words, don't let your decolletage plunge too low, nor your hemline too high, nor your sparkle too blinding. This is even more important since you identify yourself as Woman of a Certain Age, and it is more Perfectly Proper to present oneself with dignity and style rather than boldness and fads. Because this is your first ball and you want to attract attention for the right reasons - which means blending in, not standing out - Etiquetteer would suggest that you stay away from gowns with hoops or enormous puffy petticoats.

While not as popular in America as they ought to be, Etiquetteer encourages you to consider Perfectly Proper white gloves to wear with your gown. You'll find a link to a glover on Etiquetteer's links page.

Grieving Online, Vol. 13, Issue 58

Dear Etiquetteer: Recently a friend of mine passed away unexpectedly at a young age (under 50). You can imagine people’s shock and distress and sorrow. What are the rules for posting about one’s grief over the passing of a loved one in the era of social media? It seems that letting the family announce the death first on social media would be important. Also, it seems that many people had to outdo each other with stories of how horrible it was to them that this person passed away. Also there were speculations and rumors about the cause of death and all sorts of gossip out in the public. What advice could Etiquetteer provide?

Dear Bereaved:

First, let Etiquetteer offer condolences on the death of your friend. It's expected that the death of a friend, regardless of age or circumstances, will bring up many memories along with feelings of sadness - indeed, many emotions. And it's understandable that the bereaved will be drawn closer to others who knew the deceased to grieve together. But how we express ourselves in person doesn't always translate the same way online, especially when grieving.

The ways we communicate in the 21st century haven't necessarily adapted well to Perfect Propriety. For instance, social media now creates a public (or at least highly visible) record of information that used to be shared by whispering behind one's fan or privately in a letter to only one person. (Do you remember letters? While Etiquetteer does enjoy the convenience of email, the intimacy of letters is missed. Etiquetteer misses them even more than he misses fans for those gossiping old biddies . . . um, Great Ladies.)

It is understandable that people want to share their grief, but many don't always understand that respecting the feelings of others, especially the family, is even more important. It's necessarily thoughtful to wait until the family has made a death announcement before sharing the news (and one's reactions to it) oneself online. Imagine learning about the death of your son or daughter from Facebook! Etiquetteer would like to see everyone spared this sort of shock. One complication is that the family can't always be assumed to be using the same social media. Before expressing one's grief publicly in a social media post, it's best to confirm the news with the family or someone closer to the family than oneself.

Freedom of Speech is the most valuable American freedom, and as such, it needs to be used responsibly. Etiquetteer deplores the Grief Sweepstakes you describe - "I'm the most grief-stricken!" "No, I'M the most grief-stricken!" - which is the mark of a Vulgar Exhibitionist. While not wishing to pooh-pooh anyone's grief at the death of a friend or family member, Etiquetteer must gently remind everyone that it's the deceased that is the proper focus of attention, not one's own emotions at the death of the deceased.

Etiquetteer would vastly prefer to see dialogue about the deceased focus on personal acts of kindness and happy memories rather than (most vulgar of all) speculation on the cause of death. Nothing that might damage the reputation of the deceased should be shared so publicly, online or in person. Etiquetteer still hasn't forgotten attending a small funeral several years ago during which one of the mourners shared many Jolly Recollections of illegal activities committed by the deceased.

In short, "Least said, soonest mended" is the best advice. And don't let the immediacy of the Internet keep you from writing a Lovely Note of Condolence by hand and mailing it to the family.

Would you rather Etiquetteer discuss something more pleasant during the holiday season? It's up to you! Send Etiquetteer a query at <queries> at

Table Manners: "You just put your lips together and . . . or don't you?" Vol. 13, Issue 52

Dear Etiquetteer: At a brunch, is it improper when out at a restaurant or such to blow on your food to cool it?

Dear Brunched:

Reading your query, Etiquetteer was reminded first that the reason Chinese teacups have no handles is because, if the cup is too hot to pick up, the tea is too hot to drink. So a certain amount of Restraint is involved is consuming hot food. It's what separates us from the animals.

It's generally accepted that blowing on hot food to cool it is less than Perfectly Proper. Cutting small bites of solid food allows it to cool faster. Not filling your soup spoon all the way, Etiquetteer considers, would act on the same principle.

What's worse than blowing on one's food, in a private home, restaurant, "or such," is calling attention to someone else's doing so. Few topics of discussion are as tedious at the table as table manners, not least because it promotes performance anxiety, which detracts from the real purposes of a shared meal, Camaraderie and Conversation. And yet there are those, doubtless plagued by little Imps of Satan, who are eager to point out each and every mistake that someone makes, either because they think it's funny, or deliberately to make trouble. Etiquetteer needs them to stop it at once.

Etiquetteer will conclude by sharing that the late Emily Post took vigorous exception to the word "brunch," describing it as "that singled-headed double-bodied deformity of language." Mrs. Post vastly preferred "breakfast," because it "has a break-of-day friendliness that brings to mind every degree of hospitality from country breakfasts to hunt-meets and weddings. 'Brunch' suggests 'standees' at a lunch counter but not the beauty of hospitable living."* To which Etiquetteer, who has attended many lovely and hospitable brunches, can only respond Autre temps, autre moeurs.

* From Etiquette, by Emily Post, page 497, copyright 1937. Used without permission.