2015: A Year in Review, Vol. 14, Issue 47

Like any other year, 2015 held its share of Issues of Perfect Propriety - or the lack of it - in the news. Yes, people are still behaving badly everywhere, sometime astonishly so. ENTERTAINING AT HOME

January saw one British family invoice another when their child failed to attend a birthday party. Etiquetteer wrote about this issue here, but the most Perfectly Proper way to deal with no-shows is to stop sending them invitations. Certainly one doesn't make a scene involving one's children, or the children of others. A wedding guest in Minnesota also got a bill from a Bridal Couple when they failed to attend the wedding. As frustrating and expensive as no-shows are, it's not Perfectly Proper to bill them.


New England was hammered with record-shattering blizzards in winter, which led one sexagenarian female to attack another with a snow blower. As the police chief involved said, “Emotions may run high during a historic weather event like the Blizzard we just endured, but that is no excuse for violence.” Etiquetteer couldn't agree more. Indeed, it inspired Etiquetteer to write on blizzard etiquette. And conditions deteriorated so much that later on Etiquetteer had to write even more.


This year also saw the rise of a terrible practice, that of making multiple dinner reservations at different restaurants for the same time. While this increases one individual's options, it's discourteous to other diners, and disastrous to restaurants, who count on filling every seat to pay their bills. Stop it at once! Another restaurant issue to hit the news was the number of people claiming "allergies" for preferential treatment. And speaking of people who are precious about their food, even the Thanksgiving table is a battleground now. Etiquetteer rather wishes people would just be grateful there's something to eat . . .


The behavior of tourists made the news this year. American tourists were caught carving their names into the Colosseum in Rome. The twenty-something California women managed one initial each before getting caught. Remember, take only photos, leave only footprints. But don't take photos of someone's bedrooms. Harvard University had to issue new rules for tourists to protect the privacy of their students. And you might want to think about taking photos at the 9/11 Memorial in New York. One writer called out tourist behavior there, especially around selfie sticks.


Anno Domini 2015 saw the rise of "athleisure wear" - shudder - which has led children to reject denim for public wear in favor of sweatpants.  There was also the Suitsy, the business suit onesie. This article explains, rather fascinatingly, why we're dressing so casually now.

Also, musicians are taking a stand about their standard uniforms of white-tie or black-tie formal attire. In another direction, see-through wedding dresses are being promoted by designers. Of course Etiquetteer thinks they're Perfectly Proper - if you're getting married at the Folies Bergere. Another fashion trend that needs to end is the sloppy manbun, now also available as a hairpiece. Sadly.

First Lady Michelle Obama made the news when she didn't cover her hair on a brief visit to Riyadh to meet King Salman of Saudi Arabia. Her allegedly bold and courageous stance in not wearing a headscarf was, in fact, Perfectly Proper diplomatic protocol, as was shown by photographs of previous First Ladies and Female World Leaders like Angela Merkel, also without headscarves while meeting Saudi dignitaries. The Duchess of Cambridge made a fashion choice that brought coverage for a different reason: wearing a bright red gown for a state dinner in honor of China. Since red is the national color of China, that was not just Perfectly Proper, but also Deftly Diplomatic.

Higher Education is supposed to teach students about making Appropriate Life Choices, such as wearing shoes that will not make you fall over. Etiquetteer felt alternately sorry and embarrassed for this young woman who floundered through her graduation because of her shoes. Conversely, ladies in flats were turned away from screenings at the Cannes Film Festival. Please, ladies and film festivals, safety first!


Under the guise of asking a question of Senator Rick Santorum, Virginia Eleasor let out an incoherent rant against President Obama, accusing him of nuking Charleston. This led Etiquetteer to ask questioners at public events whether they really want to ask questions or make their own speeches.


Regarding air travel, The Boston Globe reported on the rising phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who, when flying, refuse to sit next to women not their wives on religious grounds. Later in the year The New York Times wrote about the increasingly fraught sport of seat-swapping on airplanes. One man no doubt wanted to switch seats after his seatmate repeatedly stabbed him with a pen because he was snoring. Violence against fellow passengers is never Perfectly Proper. Etiquetteer would have put that seatmate on a no-fly list.


Stories about bad behavior in theatres continued to make the news in 2015, including Madonna Herself, who was not invited backstage after a performance of Hamilton because the cast saw her texting throughout Act II. But even Madonna was upstaged by the young man who went onstage before a performance to recharge his cellphone on the set! And even that Astonishing Event was eclipsed by the woman who went backstage to ask the actors where the restroom was during a performance.

Benedict Cumberbatch, a True Gentleman, appealed to his fans in a Most Perfectly Proper Way not to use devices during performances.


This year Etiquetteer tried out a March Madness-style survey of Pet Peeves. The winner, from the Table Manners/Dining Out category: Ill-Mannered Children of Complacent Parents. And in fact, there were some related news stories. A little girl's meltdown at a White House function led Etiquetteer to wish more parents used babysitters, for instance. But the champion news story on this topic - and perhaps for the entire year - has to go to the incident at Marcy's Diner, when the owner yelled at a crying toddler who wouldn't shut up.


Anno Domini 2015 began with a story about a woman in Florida shaving her - ahem - "bikini area" while operating a motor vehicle. While Etiquetteer understand the desire to be completely groomed before arriving at one's destination, Etiquetteer longs for the day when it was understood that ladies and gentlemen were completely groomed before they left the house.

Both Vice President Joe Biden and actor John Travolta came in for criticism for getting too "up close and personal" for greetings with Ladies Not Their Wives.

A Florida fraternity got itself into a colossal amount of trouble at its spring formal when drunk fraternity boys spit on wounded veterans, stole their American flags, and urinated on them. It should be needless to say that these aren't the values any fraternity is supposed to inculcate into its members.

Thirty people got in a fight over whether or not someone cut in line to use a waffle maker. Sometimes it's best not to escalate the situation. Sometimes it's best to stay in a hotel with a proper restaurant with a proper cook to make the waffles.

Perfect Propriety and pets moved uneasily in a Brooklyn building where dog waste in stairwell and elevators was becoming an issue.

And finally, a South Carolina politician used his holiday greetings to express his unhappiness over a vote on displaying the Confederate flag by enclosing this message: “May you take this joyous time as an opportunity to ask forgiveness of all your sins, such as betrayal.” Rather like getting a lump of coal in the mail.

And with that, allow Etiquetteer to wish you a Happy and Perfectly Proper New Year in 2016!


Blizzard Etiquette, Vol. 14, Issue 4

With the latest blizzard having ravaged the Northeast, Etiquetteer thinks it's time for a few tips on Perfect Propriety during Heavily Inclement Weather:

  • Don't dramatize the situation with all these mashup words* like "stormaggedon" and "snowpocalypse," etc. It's a blizzard. Blizzards happen. Heaven forbid Etiquetteer restrict anyone's Freedom of Speech, but really. Blizzards also don't have names assigned to them by television networks. Just run along to the National Weather Service and see what they have to say. Incidentally, they'd do well to dramatize the weather less by not typing their bulletins in ALL CAPS.
  • Don't rush. Allow yourself a lot of extra time to and from your destination, whether you're traveling on foot, on skis, or by auto. Be patient; there will be delays, no matter how you're traveling.
  • Drive carefully. You never know when someone will have to walk in the street because the sidewalks haven't been shoveled. Etiquetteer will only allow you to honk at them if they're texting at the same time.
  • It will happen that a shoveled sidewalk is not wide enough for two people to pass, regardless of any local ordinance. Etiquetteer awards precedence to the party closest to exiting the Narrows, or to the person who is not texting at the same time. Those who are unaware of what's going on around them deserve what they get.
  • If someone stands aside for you to pass, thank them kindly. Otherwise you increase the bitterness and resentment already caused by the weather. That old saw about Good Behavior being its own reward is highly overrated.
  • It is not uncommon - though it is illegal, and therefore not Perfectly Proper - for drivers who park on the street to "mark" or "save" a parking space they've cleared of snow - admittedly a vigorous undertaking - with some sort of street refuse like a trash barrel or an old chair. While deploring the practice, Etiquetteer refrains from getting involved by removing those markers. Remember, safety first! No one wants to lose teeth to some Vindictive Motorist.
  • Wear something simple and straightforward for winter work and sports. Etiquetteer was for some reason reminded of Gloria Upson's description of her newlywed apartment in Auntie Mame: " . . . I don't mean just some little hole-in-the-wall, but a really nice place with some style to it . . . " Consider Etiquetteer's interpretation above: vintage snowsuit, white scarf, and gray stocking cap with white leather work gloves. No fuss, no frills, nor rips and tears either. This is certainly one of those occasions when a bow tie is not Perfectly Proper. No one wants to be thought a parvenu while wielding a snow shovel . . .

Etiquetteer will conclude that, at times of Heavy Weather like this, Safety and Perfect Propriety go hand in hand.

*Actually, the best mashup word to come out of this blizzard is "snowmanhattan." Etiquetteer takes his on the rocks.

Seven Actions for Perfect Propriety in Public Life in the New Year, Vol. 12, Issue 2

Here we are, embarked on a New Year, and Etiquetteer is working hard to maintain a Feeling of Hope for increasing Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer has identified seven areas -- some simple, some quixotic -- where action should be taken. At once. 1. Homeowner associations (HOAs) need to write exceptions into their governing documents allowing homeowners to display the American flag on or from their properties without being fined or censured. Every year an HOA makes the news when it sues or fines a homeowner who displays an American flag on his or her property against the HOA rules about decorations and displays. These stories are even more poignant when the flag is tattered or in otherwise less-than-perfect condition, usually because of its association with a family member who died in service to this nation. If you live in an HOA, take the initiative now to modify your bylaws to permit display of the American flag on one's property.

2. Anyone who has charge of an escalator, whether it's in a shopping mall, transportation hub, government or office building, or any other public place, needs to be sure that every rider knows that standing is on the right, and passing is on the left. This can be achieved with signage or a painted line down the center.

3. Retailers need to stop colonizing private life and pandering to our baser instincts by scheduling outrageous sales events on holidays - and we need to stop letting them do it by buying into this manufactured "excitement." Etiquetteer was outraged that some retailers actually scheduled some sales to begin on Thanksgiving Day Itself, and appalled viewing some of the video footage of the Black Friday mélee. Etiquetteer has extreme difficulty reconciling this with the True Spirit of Christmas. If it was up to Etiquetteer -- which, of course, it ought to be -- Black Friday sales would not be allowed to begin until 10:00 AM on Friday. Even if the retailers don't, Etiquetteer wants you to make the commitment to refrain from shopping on holidays.

4. Unfortunately, Western civilization has reached such a low level of sloth, selfishness, or contempt that more and more people don't care about being properly dressed in public. Indeed, many don't even know what proper dress is. With great reluctance, Etiquetteer must endorse the use of instructional signage, such as "No Visible Undergarments" and "No Sleepwear" so that standards can be reinforced.

5. Theatres and concert halls need to enforce more vigorously the rule not to use recording devices of any kind (cameras, recorders, smartphones, etc.) during concerts. Anyone who has ever had their view of a performance blocked by rows of upraised arms with iPhones will appreciate this. Etiquetteer believes that violators should be evicted, which means that ushers will need to be more vigilant and prowl the aisles during performances more often. (It is interesting to muse on how differently Woodstock might have affected Western culture if everyone there had had a smartphone or videocamera. Etiquetteer is mighty relieved they didn't.)

6. The battle between drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians must stop. To quote Stu Ackerman, "There is only 'we.' 'Them' is a hallucination born of fear." Everyone has the same goal: to get wherever they're going as quickly as possible. Etiquetteer would like them to get there as safely as possible, too. And this means being aware of one's own situation and of other travelers around one. For pedestrians, it means looking left, right, and left again before walking across the street -- and only at intersections. For drivers, it means knowing where one is going before getting in the car and relying on an often-faulty GPS. For cyclists, it means awareness that both pedestrians and drivers, through no fault of their own, will have to cross the bike lane. For all it means putting away one's electronic devices so that one can travel with full concentration and without distraction! Etiquetteer's heart has leapt into his mouth more than once seeing a pedestrian blithely walk into an intersection while staring intently at a smartphone screen, or a driver making a sharp left turn with one hand on the wheel and cellphone held to the ear. In summary, no one group of travelers is evil, as many would like to think. Rather, there are impatient and inattentive travelers in each group. Etiquetteer urges you to represent the best aspects of your particular Mode of Travel.

7. If parents are not going to enforce Perfect Propriety in their children when dining out, restaurants are going to start having to do it for them by either asking them to leave, being sure they know not to come back until the children can behave, or banning children altogether. While hastily acknowledging the very many good and attentive parents who understand and train their children well, Etiquetteer must note that the legions of oblivious and ineffective parents make dining out difficult for everyone.* The stories from waiters and waitresses (one need only search the Web) can curl one's hair.

And that, as they say, is that. Etiquetteer welcomes your Perfectly Proper queries resulting from these recommendations at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

*It's worth noting, too, that every time Etiquetteer sees a news story about Chuck E. Cheese, it's because grownups started a brawl there.

Laundry Room Rules, Vol. 4, Issue 27

Dear Etiquetteer:We seem to be having some troubles in our community laundry room and I’m writing for advice. This is a condo association of four units, all owner-occupied but with some roommates renting second bedrooms. For the most part everyone gets along day to day, and those of us on the condo board have been able to manage our affairs pleasantly.Of course everyone does things differently, and the only place this turns out to be a problem is with the laundry. For instance, I think it’s very important to clean out the lint tray before each load goes into the dryer, but the lint is usually so thick I think I’m the only one doing it.Even worse, some people will leave their laundry in the machines (there is one washer and one dryer) for as long as two days! This is a real inconvenience, and not just because I don’t want to get that close to my neighbor’s underwear. How can I approach this problem without looking too stuffy?Dear Steamed and Pressed:Etiquetteer suspects that you are not the only person who feels inconvenienced (though you may be the only person who cares about the lint trap.) At your next condo board meeting you will need to present for approval Etiquetteer’s Laundry Room Rules and Regulations, as listed below, and then post them in the laundry room:

Etiquetteer’s Laundry Room Rules and Regulations

Laundry facilities are provided by the condo association for all residents. Please be considerate of your neighbors by remembering that other people are using the same facilities as yourself.

  1. Please check the lint trap before each load that goes into the dryer, remove all lint, and throw away in the trashcan provided. This will reduce the risk of fire.
  2. If you wish, you may leave your detergent and other laundry equipment on the shelves provided. DO NOT use anyone else’s detergent/equipment without first asking permission. Wickedly using other people’s belongings will result in reducing the trust and neighborliness needed for a successful condo association.
  3. Please show courtesy to your neighbors by removing your clothes from the machines as soon as possible. Leaving clothes overnight in either machine is just plain rude anyway.
  4. Other residents have permission to remove your clothes from the machines if they are in the way. If you do not like having other people handling your clothes, it is your responsibility to be sure that they aren’t in someone else’s way.
  5. Please don’t forget to remove fabric softener sheets from the dryer with your clothes.
  6. If you make a mess, please clean it up yourself as quickly as possible.
  7. We do not have room in the laundry room for you to flat-dry sweaters, etc. Please do so in your unit.
  8. This is not a dormitory. While laundry day tends to be casual for most people, please don’t get so casual that anyone walking in might be embarrassed.

Your condo association should definitely be providing (as space permits) the trashcan and shelves mentioned. It’s also a very good idea to provide at least one table for folding clothes, ironing board, and hanging rack with hangers for shirts.Etiquetteer hopes this is enough starch to keep everything smooth without being too stiff.

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Condo Living, Part Two, Vol. 4, Issue 9

Dear Etiquetteer: In our condo association we are having some serious differences about how to decorate our common areas. Some want painfully traditional furniture and artwork (wing chairs, a Hepplewhite breakfront, Audobon prints) in a contemporary building. Others would like something a bit hipper (Corbusier chairs and contemporary photography). Contemporary furniture won out but some of the photography is of period architecture and botanical subjects.There have been strenuous discussions over silk vs. fresh flowers in the lobby (fresh won out, but only for the moment), whether to allow personal belongings to accumulate in the parking garage and bike room (we opted against this). Light levels in the lobby and corridors have been an issue, too. When our building first opened the common areas were over illuminated, almost to the point of feeling like you were either in an operating room or interrogation chamber. Lowering of the light levels was followed by complaints, primarily from elderly owners, that it now "seemed dangerous." So, a compromise, boosting each fixture by 25 watts seemed to please everyone. On a more individual front, sundry rag tag doormats have appeared in front of unit doors even when the condo rules prohibit them. Personal decoration of unit doors is limited to Christmas wreaths December through January 15, and our Jewish neighbors are allowed the traditional mezuzah year-round, but we have had children's drawings, flags, photos, etc. almost like a refrigerator door! We banished everything but the mezuzahs and Christmas wreaths. Dear Decorated: The thing about a big condominium, Etiquetteer has discovered, is that people don’t want to feel like they’re living in a hotel. The desire to make personal that which is impersonal – the long bland corridors and rows of identical doorways – comes from a need to humanize one’s environment. Oh the other hand, one doesn’t want to feel like one is living in a dormitory, either. You could also say it’s like wolves marking their territory, and having heard some horrifying stories about condo board meetings, that’s not always far from the truth. A condominium puts one closer to the personal taste of one’s neighbors than one would be in a subdivision. Driving past a snowman banner every day in your car is very different from having to walk past it inches away in the hallway. And it is too much to expect for everyone in a condo association to share identical tastes! So Etiquetteer cannot say too much that people buying a condo need to examine their condo documents very carefully for things like personal display. Etiquetteer remembers one socialite who was outraged that her condo association made her get rid of her new draperies because they didn’t face white to the street. And yet the condo documents specifically stated that all window coverings be white on the side facing out. Had she condescended to read the regulations first, she wouldn’t have had the problem. While always making exceptions for the American flag and a not excessive amount of religious symbols (such as a mezuzah, cross, or wreath), Etiquetteer would encourage the trustees of your condo association to enforce the rules. The compromise you mention of contemporary furniture with more traditional artwork sounds both appropriate and kind of fun, sort of like Pottery Barn, actually. Compromise in a situation like this, where everyone needs to leave the table with something, is the most important and delicate part of condo living. Best of luck in your continued day-to-day living.

Dear Etiquetteer: I think a point that can be made is that a condo building is often like a small neighborhood unto itself. And here too, or maybe especially, friendliness and good manners go a very long way. For our part we twice a year invite the entire building for a drop in cocktail party over a three-hour period. We do one in the summer when our terrace is full of plants, and one right after Thanksgiving before the holidays have really kicked into high gear. Much goodwill comes of these informal get-togethers. Sometimes getting people who might be opposite each other on one issue aligned on another issue is very good. Our building has agreed to provide a meal one Tuesday a month to a homeless shelter not far from our building. Over half of our residents sign up to cook or help deliver the meal. In this situation two neighbors who are on opposite sides about several condo issues come together to cook and deliver the food. It seems to have broken the ice and humanized the other party for both sides. At meetings they are much less argumentative and seem now to listen to the other party. My wife and I are Midwesterners and the thought of seeing a neighbor in the morning and not greeting them seems very unfriendly. But we are in Boston, and this custom of good morning or hello is not universal; in fact one woman on our floor barely would reply with a grunt. My wife continued to greet her, and now we find her to be among our friendliest neighbors. An important point here is that in owning a portion of a building with your neighbors you are to a point intertwined financially. The continued positive perception of your building as attractive in the larger community does affect property values. Your co-owners need not be your best friends but they should be people you can feel neighborly with. Dear Midwestern Guy: Really, Etiquetteer could not have said it better. Etiquetteer commends you and your wife for investing the time, energy, and patience into cultivating neighborly relations with your, shall we say, more reserved Bostonian neighbors.

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Condo Living, Part One, Vol. 4, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer:

I live in a condominium building. I am blessed with very considerate and quiet next door neighbors, our building is extremely happy for its diversity, a mini United Nations. We have people of every race, a dozen countries, every creed and no creed at all, gay, straight, and a lovely range of ages from newborn to retiree. And even here in blue state Massachusetts we find two Republican neighbors living amongst us, who are included in parties and dinners! Imagine what a happy lot we have mostly been.

So, wherein lays the problem, you might ask? It seems to be the under-disciplined and often unaccompanied five- and seven-year-old grandchildren who frequently visit one of our retired couples. The chief complaint is not noise but the physical damage they are allowed to make to our recently redecorated common areas. Once in an elevator I saw the indulgent grandpa look the other way when the youngsters dropped candy wrappers on the floor, and wiped their sticky hands on the walls. Yesterday the two of them dragged their feet along freshly painted walls leaving black sole marks that we could not remove.

My husband spoke to the grandparents, who we are usually quite friendly with. The grandmother responded in a quite wounding manner, "Well, since the two of you have no children, it's no wonder they bother you." To another couple who nicely asked the grandfather if he could keep an eye on the boys while they are in the lobby and corridors, he just chuckled "You know, you were a kid once yourself, too!"

Many of us are at our wit’s end. A recent $50,000 freshening up of our five-year-old building already shows great wear and tear thanks to these undisciplined little guys. While our building has been among the happiest (and loveliest) places we have lived, it is turning into a nerve-wracking experience. Your advice is eagerly awaited. Thanks.

Dear Scuffed and Blackened:

Oh, those jolly old people who like to say, "Well, we all used to be children." One could so easily retort, "Yes, but we lived to be adults! Will your grandchildren have the chance?" Etiquetteer does not encourage such a response, of course . . . but it’s so satisfying to think of it.

Respect for one’s neighbors and their comfort remains an essential part of any neighborhood, especially when the neighborhood exists within one building. The neighbor underneath who has to listen to your step-aerobics every day may be the closest person on hand when you break your arm.

It sounds as though you have tried to handle this in a neighborly way that didn’t take. Next time you have to bring the children’s behavior to the attention of their grandparents, emphasize the depreciation of your common investment in the property that could only increase condo fees or require an assessment. 

And if that doesn’t work, Etiquetteer will allow you, always with a tone of Infinite Regret, your sorrow that they respect you so little that they don’t care what impact they have on you or the others in the building. Then walk away.

But if "many of us" in the building are complaining, as you say, then "many of us" in the building needs to tell these neglectful grandparents exactly where they stand. The time for talking amongst yourselves is over!



, Etiquetteer is compelled to ask, are the trustees of your condo association? You are going to have to bring out the big guns if the grandparents won’t listen. Complaints to a condo association of your size ought to be submitted in writing and documented with evidence (e.g. a list of the damage). Enough of these from more than one source ought to convince the trustees that they themselves will need to take action.

Of course Etiquetteer hopes it won’t come to that. Condo associations can make rules and regulations, and they can enforce them. But they cannot legislate the heart, and that is where neighborliness grows and flourishes.


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