Holiday Gift-Giving and Money, Vol. 12, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: I take my god daughter and her brother to [Insert Large Traditional Holiday Entertainment Here] every year. Their parents come, but their tickets are not part of my gift. Last year they gave me a check for their own tickets. This year they did not. Is there a polite way to ask for the check, or am I [Insert Euphemism Here]?

Dear Godfather:

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year always reveals that Absentmindedness is the true Gift That Keeps on Giving. It's always more Perfectly Proper to assume Absentmindedness in such cases, rather than Malice or Cheapness. It's possible that you could introduce the topic with the parents by claiming the absentmindedness was yours rather than theirs, such as "In the excitement of taking Ethelred and Ethelredina to [Insert Large Traditional Holiday Entertainment Here] I did not remember to get your check. Would you mind awfully sending it to me? I do enjoy making this possible for the children!"

Etiquetteer must caution against the Worst-Case Scenario, in which the parents respond that they had no idea they had to pay for their tickets this year. Etiquetteer hopes you specified that in the invitation, but no one wants Max Fabyan hollering "Dees ees for lawyers to talk about!" as part of what is supposed to be a Happy Time. If they do, in the interests of Harmony, it might be best to drop it - but to be careful to specify it in invitations for all subsequent years.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I usually tip my cleaning lady the amount of a regular cleaning at Christmas. This year she will be cleaning the week after Thanksgiving and just before New Year. So, do I give it to her on early or late December. I am FIRMLY opposed to holiday creep, but . . .

Dear Householder:

Tip on your regular schedule. While the holiday cleaning is beginning earlier in your household this year, it's still ending at the same time.

Tomorrow night, Monday, December 9, Etiquetteer will a festive celebration of the anniversary of Prohibition's Repeal at The Gibson House Museum in Boston, including a few brief remarks on the Culture of Alcohol Concealment that Prohibition helped foster. It will be an amusing time!

Elbow, Vol. 10, Issue 1

Dear Etiquetteer:
Recently at lunch, a friend described his Thankgiving dinner where a 22-year-old guest (his gardener!) put his elbows on the table during the meal.  My friend, wishing to Socially Educate the young man, informed him that one may never put one's elbows on the table until after the meal.  I told my friend that I think it may be all right in these modern times to put elbows on the table between courses (i.e., while awaiting service of dessert).  I have searched your Wonderful Website, but I do not find an answer to my question.
Please enlighten us.
Dear Elbowed:
This is what comes from entertaining one's servants at one's own table. Once upon a time, everyone Knew Their Place.
The more important etiquette lesson here is how to make one's guests feel at ease, and Etiquetteer cannot think the best way to do that is to correct their table manners before others. Sally Quinn, in her book "The Party," tells an anecdote of her father being corrected by his host, something along the lines of "In my house, we don't do that." Her father's response was "In my house, a guest can do no wrong." The late Melville Bell Grosvenor (editor and Guiding Light of National Geographic for decades) took this above and beyond. As reported in a National Geographic piece after this death, at a party in his Florida home, he went upstairs to change into a pair of black shoes when he witnessed a young man who was visibly uncomfortable at not having worn white bucks, like all the other male guests.
Which brings us back to elbows. The best way to teach (especially in the presence of others) is by example. Your friend should be absolutely sure he keeps his own elbows off the table while carrying on a conversation. And if he is intent on tutoring this Young Person in Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer would suggest saying a quiet word when they are unobserved -- or even tutoring him privately over a meal as Aunt Alycia does for her great-niece Gigi, though without the ultimate intent of Gigi's aunts to prepare her as a demimondaine . . .

Gallantry and Tipping, Vol. 4, Issue 24

Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently in a situation where my sister, a married lady, was at a family event in a club and was unaccompanied by her husband. My mother came up to me and asked me to buy my sister a soft drink from the bar. It was not a problem and I was happy to do this; I get on well with my mom and sister. But it was an odd request. My mother later related that it is inappropriate for a married woman to approach a bar and buy a drink sans husband. Have I missed the memo? Haven't we progressed to the 21st century? This reeks of all those bad Taliban stories we read about in the papers with women embargoed from all aspects of life. I just don't get it. Perhaps I should keep a cape handy in case a woman needs to perambulate over some mud. Dear Gallant Family Man: Perhaps you should just get over it and listen to your mother. Etiquetteer adores your mother and can’t wait to take her to lunch. She understands that we have progressed into the 21st century in every way but gossip, and that a matron has to protect her reputation. Etiquetteer thanks you for accommodating her request, even while doubting the reasoning behind it. You have helped to prove that Chivalry isn’t dead yet. By the way, Etiquetteer has always been fond of big Inverness capes and opera cloaks, but alas, they look out of place unless you’re tramping the moors or taking in La Traviata.

Dear Etiquetteer: Do you tip your housecleaner? Is there a certain percentage that one tips each time? or at holiday time? Do you know anything about the etiquette of this?OK, so that was four questions. I would have answered: no, I don't tip the housecleaner. She's doing a job, she's getting paid cash. I figure that's tip in and of itself, since she's not claiming it on her taxes! As for holidays, I would consider the equivalent of a weekly fee as "tip". But, I'd much rather get the most proper response from dear Etiquetteer! Dear Lady Bountiful: Etiquetteer has said before that one’s housemaid or housekeeper (the term "housecleaner" sounds like a detergent to Etiquetteer: "New and Improved Housecleaner, now with Scrubbing Acid for those Tough Stains"), along with any other domestic staff, should be tipped at the end of the year (you can go back here for all the details). It’s certainly not necessary to tip her each week, but if some special, extra service is performed (cleaning up after a party of marauding yaks or frat boys, for instance) an additional gratuity is Perfectly Proper.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at!

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