Holiday Gift-Giving and Wardrobe, Vol. 4, Issue 46

Dear Etiquetteer:What is the proper monetary range for a gift to a 12-13 year old making either a Roman Catholic confirmation or a Jewish bar or bat mitzvah?Dear Villager:Etiquetteer really dislikes assigning a specific dollar amount to occasions such as these. It makes them seem so much more like a business transaction and so much less like a gesture of goodwill from the heart.Etiquetteer encourages you to consider a gift appropriate to a young man or woman, and NOT a boy or girl. That excludes toys and games of all types and technologies, and let’s be very clear about this. The Jewish rite of bar mitzvah is all about becoming a man. A gift of video games, to Etiquetteer, just isn’t the right message to send at that moment.So, what are good gifts? Etiquetteer always likes the idea of an Important Pen, the kind that can be an heirloom through daily use in one’s future career. If you’re feeling VERY extravagant, you could even have it engraved with the recipient’s name or initials. A briefcase would be overdoing it, however; and besides, when did you last see a young executive carrying a briefcase? You could also select a book of "inspirational literature;" Etiquetteer’s dear mother gave him a paperback copy of "The Pilgrim’s Progress" when he turned 13. For a young lady, a gift of grown-up jewelry might be well received.The point is, no matter the cost, your gift should reflect grown-up tastes.

Dear Etiquetteer:It looks as if I might be moving to another city at the end of the year -- contingent, of course, on selling my house. My problem is Christmas. With a move likely, the last thing I need is more stuff coming in. I plan to shop for friends and family as usual, but would prefer to receive no gifts, at least this year. Is there a proper way to let my traditional gift-list people know of my preference?Dear Holiday Elf:Etiquetteer’s answer, invariably in such situations, is that you can never tell people how to spend money on you, unless they ask. That said, Etiquetteer couldn’t possible stop you from the occasional "Oh, I just don’t know how I’m ever going to get everything packed. I have so much stuff!" in your conversations. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get all sorts of useful gifts for your move, like decorative storage boxes, trunks, or exotic foodstuffs for your new pantry. Etiquetteer also has to confess to some discomfort to the phrase "gift-list people." Wouldn’t "friends and family" be just as accurate and less businesslike?

Dear Etiquetteer: My husband and I have been invited to a Debutante Ball. The invitation does not specify a dress code. Will a black tuxedo be acceptable? Or is it assumed "white tie"? And is it acceptable for me a wear a simple floor length gown, or is black a reserved color?Dear Invited:What a delicious opportunity! Etiquetteer hopes that you and your husband will enjoy yourselves watching the young debutantes make their bow to Society. Still, Etiquetteer must admit surprise hearing that no dress code was specified on the invitation; that sounds awfully sloppy for a debutante organization . . .Never assume "white tie" for anything. Let’s face it, the only folks whom we see in white tie these days are magicians, conductors, and community theatre types who have just appeared in My Fair Lady. Without any clue from the inviting organization, Etiquetteer thinks black tie most appropriate. Thank you for specifying a BLACK tuxedo. This is not the occasion for one of those plaid dinner jackets, or a white dinner jacket (summer only), and definitely not one of those pastel numbers we used to see in the late 1970s. As for you, a simple floor length gown should be Perfectly Proper as long as it isn’t white – obviously that’s reserved for the debutantes – scarlet, or "Yale blue," according to the late Emily Post. Etiquetteer will also profess a preference for any color BUT black. Knowing you as Etiquetteer does, a wine red or lustrous deep grey would become you tremendously. Remember, Anna Karenina wore black to a ball and look what happened to her . . .Etiquetteer vigorously suggests you contact the debutante organization that invited you and find out exactly what they have in mind, especially for your husband.

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Reader Response, Vol. 3, Issue 8

On Pregnancy: Great advice. When my wife was pregnant, and feeling ugly and fat, she once asked me: "Did I always look this fat?" I am still, 30 years later, wondering how I could respond to that without getting in trouble. Either "yes" or "no" was wrong. "You look mah-vah-lous" probably would have worked, if I had thought of it. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer recently spoke with a lady whose pregnancy was just beginning to show. When she expressed concern that she just looked fat and not pregnant, Etiquetteer told her "You look just the way you ought to look." In response to "Lil Mama," I can only say that her griping is insufferable. Having recently given birth myself, I know what it was like to hear all kinds of comments, including those expressing surprise that I was even pregnant. Frankly, I had bigger things to worry about -- would this, my fourth pregnancy, really go to term? Would this baby, unlike the others, be healthy? -- and was grateful for any kind comment or kindly-intended comment that came my way. The worries that Lil Mama detailed, such as, "Did I eat the wrong thing?" or, "Shouldn't my baby be kicking by now?" are universal worries, no matter if the pregnancy is the first or tenth. Having a baby is purely miraculous, even though it happens thousands of times every day. Even for women who suffer terribly to even survive the process of pregnancy and birth. Lil Mama should simply be thankful that she was able to get pregnant, carry full term, and will give birth to a baby confirmed to be in good health. Etiquetteer responds: Your letter provides proof that many ladies react to their own pregnancies with emotion, in greater or lesser degree. Etiquetteer thanks you for recognizing the good intent behind comments that came your way. 

On Private Situations: So bizarre to read about that person who is undergoing the "embarrassing surgery" as I am sure I know what it is. Well, okay, I guess it's also that I do call people to offer support (it's my other business) when they undergo surgery for colon cancer, etc., that renders them with an -ostomy of some kind. I know, it's a bit of a focused hobby, but I love it! Anyway, I recognize that sound in that person's letters, and heck, even if I'm wrong, you gave the right advice. It truly is none of their co-workers’ business, and only those you choose to tell should be the ones to know. They're obviously having a surgery that will leave them feeling more conspicuous than it really is, but to them, "whoa!" I like what you said. There are also websites to suggest for people with just about any ailment, illness, or surgery when they write with that sound of "feeling alone in the world", which of course, they never are.Just a suggestion that you tell people to search for such supporting websites under the illness or procedure they are going to have. It can save a "depressed" person's life, in many, many ways, to post a question to a message board and receive dozens of supportive, non-biased, open, responses.

On Debutante Balls: My sainted mother would muse..."Whatever happened to the days when it was not necessary to post the dress code on an invitation? People just knew what to wear." Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer could not agree more, but now hostesses run the danger of ignorant free spirits showing up in track suits instead of black tie. What’s even worse are those folks who know better but decide that they "don’t want to take the trouble" and show up in less than their best. And what’s even worse than that – the lowest of the low – are those who show up in proper dress and gradually strip off during the evening. Etiquetteer remembers being thrilled with horror to see a photo of Julian Schnabel in the once great SPY magazine at some enormous charity hoo-hah, jacket on one chair, cummerbund and tie on another, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, deep in conversation with another guest. Thank goodness he didn’t take off his shoes and put them up on the table . . .

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