Suggested New Year's Resolutions, Vol. 13, Issue 63

"Fast away the Old Year passes," as the carol goes, and let Etiquetteer be the first to speed its passing! It's a time-honored custom to make resolutions to improve oneself in the New Year, usually with diet and exercise. Etiquetteer would like to suggest some resolutions to improve the Perfect Propriety of the nation:

  1. Resolve not to forward articles from satire news websites as though they were real news*. Etiquetteer is getting mighty tired of pieces from the Daily Currant, Empire News, the Borowitz Report over at the New Yorker, and the grandfather of them all, the Onion, being sent about with Righteous Outrage or Fierce Glee as the Gospel Truth, when they're just an elaborate joke. This concerns Etiquetteer most because of the damage it does to public figures. Public figures are already judged harshly enough - and deservedly - on what they have actually said. Let's not obscure the Truth with this patina of Satire any longer.
  2. Resolve to disconnect at the table. When you sit down to share a meal with a group of people, especially in a private home, you have a sacred obligation to to be fully present and contribute to the general merriment. It is not possible for you to do this if you're always glancing into your lap, and it is hurtful to your companions because you give the impression that you would rather be someplace else. Turn your device gently but firmly OFF before you get to the table, and don't make Etiquetteer come after you.
  3. Resolve to give a dinner party. These days the phrase "dinner party" sounds much more intimidating than it really is, which is having a total of four to 12 people around your table for an evening meal. Start with a maximum of four, which is easier to prepare for, and design a menu in which one course may be prepared a day or so ahead. The hospitality of the home is too little celebrated these days, but it remains a cornerstone of Perfect Propriety. Please join Etiquetteer in bringing it back.
  4. Resolve not to be so insistent about your diet when you're away from home. Etiquetteer suspects one reason for the decline of the dinner party is the ever-increasing number of people who insist on their food preferences wherever they go, as if they were more important that the spirit of Hospitality. No one has the right to expect their friends and relatives to be professional-grade chefs who can keep straight the infinite, and infinitely changing, diets of so many people all at once. The best illustration is what has happened to coffee service in the last 20 years. Once one only had to serve coffee, cream, and sugar. Now one must offer coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea, cream, skim milk, 2% milk, soy milk, powdered creamer, sugar, at least three kinds of artificial sweetener, honey, and agave nectar just to keep everyone happy. This is ridiculous!** When someone invites you into their home, it doesn't make them a slave to your preferences. Be kind to your hosts and just say "No, thank you" if offered something you can't eat.***
  5. Resolve to correspond more by hand. Yes, Etiquetteer remains a devotée of the Lovely Note of Thanks, not only because it is more Perfectly Proper than any electronic communication, but also because it makes the recipient feel special. Also, in our Society of Increasing Surveillance, fewer eyes can intercept a handwritten letter than an email or text message. (And how sad it is that Etiquetteer even has to mention that.) Do it!
  6. Resolve to R.s.v.p. on time, honor your original response, and arrive on time. If someone invites you to something, whether it's in their home or not, they need time to prepare to entertain you. A prompt and definite response from you is essential to this. "I'll have to see how I feel" is never Perfectly Proper! And if someone has invited you to the theatre and you suddenly decide on the day that you can't go, your host is left scrambling to use your ticket. Cancelling is only Perfectly Proper in circumstances of death or illness, but professional crisis is becoming more accepted as a valid excuse. If you pull a Bunbury too often, you'll find that invitations come to you less frequently.
  7. Resolve not to monopolize reservations. Etiquetteer deplores the growing practice of making multiple restaurant reservations for the same time to keep one's options open depending on one's whim. This is not only rude to other diners, but fatal to the restaurant's bottom line. Stop it at once!

For tonight, of course Etiquetteer exhorts you to celebrate responsibly by not drinking to riotous excess and not drinking and driving - and by remembering a Lovely Note to your hosts.

Etiquetteer wishes you a Perfectly Proper New Year!

*Etiquetteer will provide an exemption from this on April Fool's Day.

**And please get off Etiquetteer's lawn, too!

***Of course those with fatal allergies need to be vigilant at all times, and wise hosts remember these and take them into account.

Reader Response to Coffee Service, Vol. 4, Issue 24

A couple readers have already made memorable responses to Etiquetteer's column on Perfectly Proper coffee service in an era with too many kinds of coffee, sweeteners, and dairy products:

From a Southern development professional: I will try to follow your advice and "make do" without my preferred non-dairy creamer (either powdered or liquid) even though I am lactose intolerant and any dairy creamer causes me some, er, discomfort later on. I will take it black instead I think.

Etiquetteer responds: Really, you ought to start traveling with your own supply of non-dairy creamer. Like those who have to take pills at mealtime, your non-dairy creamer keeps your health in check and, significantly, keeps you and those around you from experiencing your "discomfort."

From a distinguished Southern matron: I hate to ruin your day but this is the year 2006 and the coffee ritual has changed in the last hundred years! I must admit to being a bit put off when one of my house guests pulled a bottle of "creamer" from her suitcase since she didn't want to inconvenience me with buying a special hazelnut fakery. You've already shown us ways to offer sweetener packets at home and I really like them better.

Also you failed to note that clear glass containers sized for this purpose and used in restaurants are available everywhere.

As to the disposal of the paper packets, I fold the empty packet so the server can see it's empty, then place it on the saucer or on the table beside the mug. Bye the bye, you'll be happy to know that should I come to your house for coffee I drink it black, as Nature intended it to be drunk.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer is really going to have to Wag an Admonitory Digit at your house guest. Contrary to the reader above, whose special stash is used to manage a medical condition, your house guest dishonors your preparations for her enjoyment by indulging in personal preference. The message she’s sending is that anything you do for her will not be good enough. Some people may think Etiquetteer is being harsh here, but Etiquetteer remains firm that bringing one’s own refreshments to a party looks like one cares more about one’s own desires than about the feelings of others.

And as to those little glass containers, may the Deity of Your Choice protect us from the day when we all have to decorate our homes just like restaurants. Etiquetteer would rather see something more harmonious to achieve true Perfect Propriety.

Dear Etiquetteer: 

A very dear friend just announced her engagement, and I have a two-part inquiry for you:

Part 1: Is it true that the location and wedding dress should achieve some kind of harmony and set a tone for the event? For example, an afternoon garden wedding for 60 people might not warrant the donning of a bejeweled gown complete with train and ballgown skirt?

Part 2: What is the most Perfectly Proper way to indicate the above to a dear friend?

Dear Meddling:

Etiquetteer must agree with you that a wedding dress should be appropriate for the time and place of the wedding. American brides, however, have been flouting this Pillar of Perfect Propriety for decades. Somehow they believe that just because some man offered his hand in marriage they have the Divine Right to wear the Biggest Dress in the World anywhere they want.

Before you say anything to your friend, Etiquetteer wants you to think very carefully about whether or not it’s any of your business to comment on her wedding plans. It might not be.



Coffee Service, Vol. 5, Issue 23

Once upon a time it was so easy to offer someone a cup of coffee, but science got in the way. All one needed was coffee, cream, and sugar. Everyone understood this and took as much or as little coffee as they wished. The implements of a Perfectly Proper coffee service became enshrined over time: cup and saucer, spoon, sugar bowl, cream pitcher, and coffee pot. This simple arrangement got complicated by scientific progress and, as always, personal preference. Never mind that personal preference would be used to trump courtesy . . .

First science brought us decaffeinated coffee, then artificial sweetener, then a rainbow of artificial sweeteners. Dieters went one step further and began putting milk in their coffee instead of cream; Science accommodated them by creating fat free milk, 1%, 2%, and the Deity of Your Choice only know how many other kinds of milk different from whole milk. Etiquetteer even knows people who prefer powdered milk substitute to real milk. Woe betide anyone offering the simple hospitality of their home who forgets any of these items! Their guests will transform themselves into pursuing Furies, following them from dining room to kitchen to larder looking for the perfect combination of ingredients without which they could not possibly consume a cup of coffee.

Engineers, however, have come to the rescue, at least partly. The invention of the two-part percolator saved a great deal of trouble; one can serve fully-leaded coffee on one side and decaf on the other. Etiquetteer's only gripe is that they forgot how to do so in sterling silver. Percolating coffee urns of the 1930s and 1940s were made in silver or chromium to resemble antique coffee urns. The invention of plastic ended that product line, alas, and we are faced with really casual-looking coffee pots drafted into formal service.

The service of artificial sweeteners, however, has required more ingenuity on the part of hosts and hostesses. Obviously another serving piece is required, but what to add? Etiquetteer saw a particularly elegant solution at a formal dinner recently. The coffee tray was passed with a silver sugar and creamer and the addition of a small silver urn stuffed with Familiar Pink Packets. This urn was in a different pattern from the other pieces, but it was so clearly Perfectly Proper that Etiquetteer could not endorse it more highly. For everyday service at Etiquetteer’

s house, the china sugar and creamer have been supplemented with a pewter sugar bowl perfectly suited to the size of the Famliar Pink Packets.

Etiquetteer finds the remaining solution in guest behavior modification. Please, if you aren’t offered the dairy or sweetener choices you prefer, make do with what you’re offered! One cup of coffee with cream instead of milk, or Sweet ‘n’

Low instead of Splenda, is not going to wreak your diet.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What on earth am I supposed to do with the sugar packet after I’ve emptied it into my coffee? Shouldn’

t we have a little glass or something on the table for that?

Dear Sweetened:

Etiquetteer never thought he’d pine for the days of rampant indoor smoking, but the fact is that when ashtrays were still standard features on dining tables, that’s where everyone put their used packets. Nowadays, in the absence of a saucer, people put them almost anywhere unobtrusive: bread plates, under the rim of service plates, even folded neatly and put back in the bowl from which it came. Clever hosts and hostesses draft the slops bowl from their tea service for this purpose, since it has a cover. But Etiquetteer can’t see restaurants doing this across the board. When it’

s just you faced with a bare table, Etiquetteer suggests you roll up the packet into a small ball and slip it into your purse or pocket.