Current Events, Vol. 6, Issue 17

Celebrities only seem to get into the news when they are behaving badly. Two recent mini-dramas have captured Etiquetteer’s attention.

You will be surprised – very surprised, Etiquetteer suspects – to find Etiquetteer defending Karl Rove about anything. But after the White House Correspondents Dinner last week, Etiquetteer must Wag an Admonitory Digit at Sheryl Crow and her dinner companion Laurie David for initiating a nasty little contretemps about global warming. Crow and David, whose self-serving account of the incident appears on Arianna Huffington’s blog, certainly make themselves out to be the Calm Crusaders. From ingenuous comments like "How excited were we to have our first opportunity ever to talk directly to the Bush Administration about global warming" to glossy acccounts of their own part in the barney ("We felt compelled to remind him that the research is done and the results are in"), they present themselves as Earnest Little Girls nicely asking the Big Man about a Bad Decision. Etiquetteer finds abhorrent their idea that Sheryl Crow’s beauty alone should compel Rove to speak with them ("How hardened and removed from reality must a person be to refuse to be touched by Sheryl Crow?"). Feminists everywhere should be offended with this 19th century notion.

If they really wanted to have a meaningful dialogue about climate change with Rove, they would have used this opportunity to schedule an appointment. Indeed, courtiers of Louis XIV were always advised not to surrender petitions to him during particular audiences because the Sun King was likely to lose them while changing clothes. Instead, it just looks like they wanted to get in the paper themselves.

Not that Rove comes out smelling like a rose. Eyewitnesses indicate that he gave as good as he got, whereas a change of topic or a cold "This is not the time or place to discuss it" would have been Perfectly Proper. The truth, as is so frequently the case, is someplace in the middle.

Moving right along, we find that actress Kim Basinger has released to the press an abusive voicemail message from her ex-husband, Alec Baldwin, to their daughter Ireland. While hardly excusing Baldwin’s vicious telephone tantrum – did he miss that day in anger management class? – Etiquetteer is outraged that La Basinger and her attorneys leaked the voicemail to the press. Can you think of anything that would be more embarrassing to eleven-year-old Ireland? All this dirty laundry could have been kept right where it belonged – in the family – without the vengefulness of a celebrity divorcée selfishly shaming the father of her child, and her child as well.

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Feminine Honorifics and Feminism at the Door, Vol. 4, Issue 21

Dear Etiquetteer: What is one to do nowadays with the titles Miss, Ms. and Mrs.? As a married professional in my late twenties, I prefer "Ms." (although I’m technically a "Mrs"). My single friends prefer "Ms." as well, and feel that being addressed as "Miss" places them among the ranks of 8-yr old Girl Scouts. My elderly great-aunt, however, would be offended by "Ms." and prefers "Miss" over all else.Your recommendation, kind sir? Dear Madam: As always, Etiquetteer recommends that you use Perfect Propriety when continuing to address friends and colleagues. Continue to refer to your Great-Aunt Agatha as "Miss Agatha Auntie" and to your professional friends as "Ms. Prunaprismia Professional." Either is correct, and therefore Perfectly Proper.As for you, madam, Etiquetteer feels bound to inform you that the honorific "Mrs." is really only used with Perfect Propriety with one’s husband’s name. If you took your husband’s name at your marriage, you would be correctly known as "Mrs. John Husband." If you hyphenated, "Mrs. John Maiden-Husband" or "Ms. Wifey Maiden-Husband" would be equally correct. If you kept your own name without making any concession to your husband, you could not then change your honorific; only "Ms. Wifey Maiden" would be correct.

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a problem now that same-sex couples can get married and some are switching to the same last name. Ho do you address women in formal correspondence? When men are a couple -- married or not, same last name or not -- you can address them in the plural as "Messrs," as in "Messrs. Smith" or "Messrs. Smith and Jones." When women are a couple with different names you can address them as Ms. Smith and Ms. Jones, but is there a plural when they take the same last name? What is the proper way in formal correspondence to address a female couple with the same last name? Thank you.Dear Correspondent:As "Messrs." abbreviates the French "Messieurs," so does "Mmes." abbreviate the French "Mesdames." So you may begin formal correspondence as "Dear Mmes. Smith" or "Dear Mmes. Smith and Jones." Really, Etiquetteer does not see why not. Of course, this all falls to the ground if the ladies in question have political or academic titles. Then you would use "Dear Senator Smith and Ms. Jones" or "Dear Senator Smith and Dr. Jones."

Dear Etiquetteer: Regarding the act of holding open doors: did a memo go out saying this is passé? I can't count how often people let doors slam in my face, yet I'm just a step or two behind them. But I digress . . . My real question is a matter of distance. Have you ever gotten caught in that time warp of holding open a door for a person who is further away than they might have initially appeared, only to have them either apologetically run up to you or continue to dilly-dally? Or, ever let the door close behind you, only to feel somewhat guilty that you didn't hold it for the person trailing behind you? Is five feet far enough? Ten feet? At which point can you feel no remorse in not holding the door?Dear Floored and Ignored at the Doorway:Chivalry is not dead, rumors to the contrary, but the feminism of the mid-century has altered it significantly. These days Chivalry honors seniority (either professional or chronological) rather than gender. It's more usual now for someone to hold the door for the boss, or for younger people to offer this courtesy to the elderly. (But be careful; you remember what happened to Edna Ferber when she held the door for Dorothy Parker? As she opened it she said "Age before Beauty." Miss Parker sailed right past her muttering "Pearls before Swine" in her usual self-satisfied way.)Now that we've each had our digression, let's continue . . . Etiquetteer absolves you from any remorse in letting the door shut if the people for whom you are holding it are in no hurry to get there. To rephrase your question, Etiquetteer would advise you not to start holding the door if someone is more than 15 feet away. And if someone lets the door bang you in the face again, Etiquetteer gives you permission to launch into full Marcia Brady mode: "Oh my nose! Oh my nose!"

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

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