Family Occasions/Deterring Signage, Vol. 10, Issue 6

Dear Etiquetteer: I'm not even the one being slighted and I don't know how to act.

My paternal grandmother is nearing a milestone birthday, and my parents have organized a party for her at their home. This party is in less than two weeks, and original invitees included friends and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Over the past week, my father's brother has been telling-- not asking-- my father to invite my grandmother's siblings' children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He lives out of town and has offered no help whatsoever in the planning or execution of the party. My father has not invited any more people, explaining on the one hand that he's not even sure that he saw some of them at the last funeral, and on the other that he doesn't want to have to rent more tables and chairs and buy more food. Today, my father received an RSVP in the positive via text message from one of these suggested invitees.

I am grown and live with my own family, and so in that sense I am every bit as much an invitee as my uncle. In that respect, I have no grounds for indignation. That said, these are my parents and I am very protective. Is there anything at all I can do to make this miserable situation less so for them?

Dear Daughter:

Family Occasions are incomplete without Family, but it appears that your uncle's definition of Family includes more branches of the Family Tree than your father's. While Etiquetteer does have to fault your father on one tiny thing -- family is still family whether or not they came to the last funeral -- it's his party and he therefore has the Unquestioned Right to invite (or not) whoever he pleases. Uncle Trouble is officially Out of Line by inviting other family members without the permission of your father (and presumably without even his knowledge).

This matter concerns your father and his brother, and it's up to your father to decide how he wants to address these issues. (For all Etiquetteer knows, they've been treating each other like this since childhood.) Unless you want to look like a real Madame Buttinsky, you'll stay in the background. But since your uncle is telling, not asking, your father who to invite, Etiquetteer thinks your father should tell, not ask, his brother how he is going to contribute to the success of the party through ordering extra furniture, food, etc. And for you to protect your parents, this may mean that you need to fulfill this function by actively getting involved in the preparations before, keeping these disagreements from your grandmother, and seeing that everything goes smoothly at the party, no matter how many "extra" family show up. Because above all, no one should be turned away once they show up! Whether their invitation came from your father or not, it will only reflect badly on him if they're told "Oh sorry, Uncle Trouble wasn't supposed to invite you."

And if things go well, perhaps Uncle Trouble will get his comeuppance when someone announces that he'll be hosting the next family reunion . . .

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have the problem that professional sex workers are using my backyard to entertain their clients. Is there a Perfectly Proper sign for my gate to gently dissuade them from doing so?

Dear Trespassed:

Your query reminds Etiquetteer of the story of the Boston theatre with the perpetually leaky roof. It was replaced and replaced, and kept leaking and leaking, until the building management threatened to sue the roofers. Someone got the idea to put up a videocamera to see what might be happening. To general surprise, it was discovered that Ladies of the Evening were bringing their Gentlemen Clients up to the roof via the fire escape, undoubtedly to Admire the View. Their spike heels were puncturing the rubber roof.

Etiquetteer is at least relieved that your neighborhood's Ladies of the Evening have not yet mounted your roof. Etiquetteer can suggest Perfectly Proper signage that might be found at the local hardware store: "No Loitering/Police Take Notice" and "Premises Under Surveillance" (with a small graphic of a camera). While Etiquetteer is unacquainted with your views on gun control, you would not be best served by posting "Proud Member of the National Rifle Association." Heaven forbid some Fatal Accident take place, your entire household would be put under suspicion.

It might be more effective to invest in a motion-detecting light that will turn on whenever anyone enters your backyard. While such solutions have their drawbacks, the last thing any of These People want is to attract attention. In the meantime, Etiquetteer hopes that you have notified your local police force about these occurrences.

Please do send Etiquetteer all your queries about Perfect Propriety to queries <at> etiquetteer dot com.

Father’s Day, Vol. 5, Issue 22

Infant Etiquetteer with Dear Father, January, 1964

Not too long ago, Etiquetteer was sitting near a young white man on a city bus. He was wearing a black T-shirt with a black design on it of a huge stereo speaker containing the words "****ing champs." One might not think that profane apparel would spark memories of one’s father, but then one wouldn’t be bargaining on Etiquetteer.

The late Governor Earl Long of Louisiana was not a man known for his erudition or refinement . . . and that’s an understatement. But he did say something memorable about the state of the arts in Louisiana: ‘If you ain’t got culture, you ain’t got s**t." When Etiquetteer was a callow youth flirting with rebellion, he had a T-shirt with this "witty" quotation on it. Etiquetteer happily wore it down to breakfast one morning, expecting to wear it for a day of toil in the family business. But Etiquetteer’s dear father was having none of it . . . oh no! Etiquetteer was given the option of either changing clothes, and at once, or of wearing the T-shirt inside-out all day. And this is how Etiquetteer learned about how a gentleman presents himself in public, a very valuable lesson.

Of course Dear Father taught all the lessons one expects from a father trying to raise a gentleman: how to shine shoes, the value of a handkerchief ("one to show and one to blow"), proper evening clothes ("a bow tie or no tie"), respect for one’s elders, and courtesy to the ladies, especially when in a bad mood. A cranky Young Etiquetteer once asked his mother what was for dinner and got a jovial "Roast boy!" in response. Etiquetteer’s less-than-appreciative comeback was overheard and corrected by Dear Father in no uncertain terms.

Undoubtedly Dear Father felt that the world could be as beautiful as we choose to make it ourselves. We can only do this if we keep from putting ugliness into it. Etiquetteer did not always share Dear Father’s idealism. "We must concentrate on lovely, pure, and virtuous things," Dear Father wrote in a letter about 25 years ago. Etiquetteer, then a cynical teen, hooted with derision getting that letter. "Oh, this is not what the real world is!" Etiquetteer remembers saying. Now, with the passing of years, the decline of public discourse and the white middle class’s embrace of ghetto culture, Etiquetteer knows just how right Dear Father was to keep his focus on that ideal. Etiquetteer hereby offers a humble apology for not getting it right until now.

Nowadays we are used to seeing zealots wield Christianity as a bludgeon to direct the behavior of others rather than themselves. Etiquetteer’s Dear Father never fell into that trap, thankfully, and provided the best lesson any father, any parent, could: teaching by example. Once when a supermarket cashier gave us change without actually taking our money, Dear Father led the way back to the supermarket as soon as he realized what happened. How many people would be bothered to be so honest now? And this is only one instance of many Etiquetteer could relate.

In conclusion, Etiquetteer could offer no better summary than "Every day he did his best whatever the task." There could be no better example of Perfect Propriety than that.