Gift Giving for Assisted Living, Vol. 14, Issue 31

Dear Etiquetteer: My supervisor is entering a new stage of her life, namely moving from independent living to assisted living. Her husband’s health has progressed to needing additional care. On the occasion of previous moves, I have sent a small (work-appropriate) housewarming gift. With such sadness around the move, is it appropriate to send a gift? If so, what would be appropriate? Previous housewarming gifts have typically been a bottle of each of their favorite adult beverages.

I am quite close to my supervisor and she has recently been exceedingly generous towards me personally since the birth of my daughter. What is my best course of action?

Dear Presenting:

Moves of Necessity are often accompanied by sadness for the Moved, which creates an opportunity for loved ones to support them with Good Cheer. The way you refer to previous gifts of spirits sounds as if their presentation on moving could be considered a tradition, and Tradition is a terrible thing to break.

But perhaps the health of the gentleman in question no longer permits imbibing? As you and your supervisor know each other so well, Etiquetteer sees no difficulty in a discreet inquiry along the lines of “And do you and Ethelred still enjoy your highball before dinner?” The answer to that will guide you.

Otherwise, moves to assisted living often entail reducing the number of one’s possessions. Under these circumstances, useful gifts are most Perfectly Proper: foodstuffs, stationery, laprobes, etc. One item unique to assisted living facilities is decorations for one’s door. A gift of an all-seasonal wreath or something similar could help make the transition more homelike.


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.

Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 18

Dear Etiquetteer: What has this world come to?This week's letters are the final straw for me.... not the most egregious examples, just the final straw. I'm grown horribly tired of these people who have nothing better to do than become squeamish over the passing of crumbs or the touching of fingers or being anywhere where someone's dry lips may have passed. If I see one more anti-bacterial product I think I really will become sick. Oh yes this woman at the book club used her cracker as a scoop... really, so what is quite so terrible? Nice suggestion from you to the host that she encourage use of the knife provided but all these guests grossed out? I find myself wondering what sort of plastic bubble they live within.I appreciate that our modern, polite society pays attention to hygiene and is thoughtful enough to wish to avoid passing illness onto others. Covering one's sneeze, not sniffling all day over a co-workers desk, rodent control and all -- wonderful progress. But science has shown that living in too sterile an environment is actually bad for one's health.I hear about people absolutely disgusted by people who lick their fingers in order to effectively separate stuck papers. Not the nicest thing I suppose but is that really worth getting one's knickers in a twist? Unfortunately many are responding to this sort of grousing so that at mass on Sunday some communities are no longer encouraging worshippers to exchange a handshake as a gesture of peace. The latest and most distressing are calls to no longer share the communion cup of wine -- the very symbol of the faith and commonality -- because it's "gross." Really. Good enough for our Lord Jesus Christ but we're all above it all now I guess.Just when is this going to stop? I fear we are becoming a cold people, unable to appreciate the sensuous pleasures of life and love. I appreciate concerns about passing of colds or VD or unpleasantness of any kind. I appreciate common manners and would never encourage slob-like dinner guest but really, things are going too far. Dear Forthright: Thank you for expressing your opinion so thoughtfully. Like you, Etiquetteer laments the super-fussiness of those who cannot stomach sharing a Communion chalice or even shake hands. We are losing what Nathaniel Hawthorne once called "the chain of human sympathies." If more people remembered to wear their crisp white kid gloves to church we wouldn’t have these problems . . .Now all that said, Etiquetteer needs to leap gallantly to the defense of the book club made squeamish by the pillaging of the Brie. Etiquetteer was not present at the time, but it certainly does sound as if Brie Woman’s standard of personal hygiene was not at the level of the others present, perhaps not anywhere near it. Imagine, if you will, that Brie Woman had thoughtfully covered a sneeze with her bare hand and then reached over with a small cracker to chop out more Brie, which unavoidably got all over her fingers. Anyone watching this would automatically think that the residue of her sneeze was all over the Brie. Etiquetteer would definitely passing up the cheese course under those circumstances . . .So Etiquetteer must both agree and disagree with you. Now let us join hands and pray each to the Deity of One’s Choice that our common humanity will emerge victorious in the long run.

Dear Etiquetteer: Having eased the pain of a Monday just a little by reading Etiquetteer, I want to mention, for clarity's sake, something that gave me an uncomfortable twinge while reading about doorway décor. A mezuzah is, indeed, a religious symbol, yet discreetly applied, and in a very particular way. Unlike a wreath or a celebratory banner, however, it is not an option -- it is an obligation, a commandment. It is not a statement to the world, either -- it's a reminder of personal responsibility to the inhabitant who has placed it on his/her doorpost. The idea that it is "allowed" suggests that it might be "disallowed," which suggests a misunderstanding of its presence. (I don't even want to think about the issue of Chanukah menorahs.) Dear Doorposting: Quite true, but what Etiquetteer has seen, alas, is that what is commanded by one’s religion is not always allowed by one’s condo association. Like you, Etiquetteer firmly believes that such a gesture is not an option. And this means that one must examine one’s condo documents very carefully to be sure that no such restriction is in place. Good heavens, the fondness for gated communities (talk about removing oneself from "the chain of human sympathies" . . . ) with restrictions of yard display has kept patriotic Americans from flying the flag on their own property, which certainly can’t be right.

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

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