Condo Living, Part One, Vol. 4, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer:

I live in a condominium building. I am blessed with very considerate and quiet next door neighbors, our building is extremely happy for its diversity, a mini United Nations. We have people of every race, a dozen countries, every creed and no creed at all, gay, straight, and a lovely range of ages from newborn to retiree. And even here in blue state Massachusetts we find two Republican neighbors living amongst us, who are included in parties and dinners! Imagine what a happy lot we have mostly been.

So, wherein lays the problem, you might ask? It seems to be the under-disciplined and often unaccompanied five- and seven-year-old grandchildren who frequently visit one of our retired couples. The chief complaint is not noise but the physical damage they are allowed to make to our recently redecorated common areas. Once in an elevator I saw the indulgent grandpa look the other way when the youngsters dropped candy wrappers on the floor, and wiped their sticky hands on the walls. Yesterday the two of them dragged their feet along freshly painted walls leaving black sole marks that we could not remove.

My husband spoke to the grandparents, who we are usually quite friendly with. The grandmother responded in a quite wounding manner, "Well, since the two of you have no children, it's no wonder they bother you." To another couple who nicely asked the grandfather if he could keep an eye on the boys while they are in the lobby and corridors, he just chuckled "You know, you were a kid once yourself, too!"

Many of us are at our wit’s end. A recent $50,000 freshening up of our five-year-old building already shows great wear and tear thanks to these undisciplined little guys. While our building has been among the happiest (and loveliest) places we have lived, it is turning into a nerve-wracking experience. Your advice is eagerly awaited. Thanks.

Dear Scuffed and Blackened:

Oh, those jolly old people who like to say, "Well, we all used to be children." One could so easily retort, "Yes, but we lived to be adults! Will your grandchildren have the chance?" Etiquetteer does not encourage such a response, of course . . . but it’s so satisfying to think of it.

Respect for one’s neighbors and their comfort remains an essential part of any neighborhood, especially when the neighborhood exists within one building. The neighbor underneath who has to listen to your step-aerobics every day may be the closest person on hand when you break your arm.

It sounds as though you have tried to handle this in a neighborly way that didn’t take. Next time you have to bring the children’s behavior to the attention of their grandparents, emphasize the depreciation of your common investment in the property that could only increase condo fees or require an assessment. 

And if that doesn’t work, Etiquetteer will allow you, always with a tone of Infinite Regret, your sorrow that they respect you so little that they don’t care what impact they have on you or the others in the building. Then walk away.

But if "many of us" in the building are complaining, as you say, then "many of us" in the building needs to tell these neglectful grandparents exactly where they stand. The time for talking amongst yourselves is over!



, Etiquetteer is compelled to ask, are the trustees of your condo association? You are going to have to bring out the big guns if the grandparents won’t listen. Complaints to a condo association of your size ought to be submitted in writing and documented with evidence (e.g. a list of the damage). Enough of these from more than one source ought to convince the trustees that they themselves will need to take action.

Of course Etiquetteer hopes it won’t come to that. Condo associations can make rules and regulations, and they can enforce them. But they cannot legislate the heart, and that is where neighborliness grows and flourishes.


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Divorced Parents of the Bride

Dear Etiquetteer: My brother is in hell because of things going on with his kids. I don't think etiquette has changed that much in the last 50 years. Please help. HERE IS THE SHORT HISTORY: Mr. and Mrs. Original get married and have three children. Mr. Original works and Mrs. Original stays home but both basically raise the children. The oldest son completes college and gets married in a very traditional way. All is well.The next two girls complete college and move out on their own. Several years pass. Mrs. Original gets a job and is caught at work having an affair with her boss. Mr. & Mrs. Original get a divorce and Mrs. Original marries her boss (now she is Mrs. Boss). NOW THE PROBLEM: The youngest girl, living on her own for years, announces she is getting married. Mrs. Boss (formerly Mrs. Original) wants the invitations to read:

Mr. and Mrs. Boss


Mr. Original

Announce the marriage of their daughter, etc.

Mr. Original wants the invitation to read:

Mrs. Boss


Mr. Original

Announce the marriage of their daughter, etc.

The marrying daughter wants whatever her parents can agree on (or can't agree on); the fighting is ruining her wedding plans. Now the already married son is referring to Mr. Boss as his STEPFATHER. Mr. Original feels that he was the one who raised the children from birth until they moved out on their own and he is the ONLY father to these children. Mrs. Boss (formerly Mrs. Original) has, shall we say, a very "strong" personality and the children are caught between the birth parents fighting; the children don't want to upset either birth parent. QUESTIONS:

  1. What is the proper way to address wedding invitations? Does the new husband (Mr. Boss) get in on the Father-Daughter dance at the reception? Does it make a difference accordingly to who pays how much for the wedding?
  2. Should the already married son (he's over 30) refer to his mother's new husband as his "stepfather?" Am I old-fashioned, as I have always called the newer husbands by their first name?
  3. The son now has two children and is teaching them to refer to Mr. Boss as "Popsi" or something close that means grandfather. Don't the children have only two grandfathers? Isn't it an insult to the grandparent who actually raised the parent? My paternal grandfather died young, my paternal grandmother remarried, and we never called her newer husbands anything resembling grandfather.

Dear Caught in the Crossfire: Reading this sad tale, Etiquetteer’s heart goes out to the daughter’s fiancé. Poor thing, he’s now seeing a preview of what all the major holidays will be like for the rest of his life! Perhaps they can refugee to his family instead and leave the minor holidays (like Arbor Day) for her family. Weddings are supposed to be times of joy and gladness, not platforms for publicly slighting your enemies, especially enemies with whom you’ve produced children. Mrs. Boss needs to understand that stridently insisting on putting her second husband in the spotlight takes it away from her own daughter . . . and it is always a grievous offense to upstage the bride! Mr. Original needs to get used to the fact, no matter how odious it is to him, that Mr. Boss has a place in the lives of his children and grandchildren since he’s now married to their mother and grandmother. The more he can behave civilly to Mr. and Mrs. Boss in public and refrain from griping about them behind their backs, the better the impression he makes on his children and grandchildren will be. And, one hopes, the more they will want to be with him! Etiquetteer has to Wag an Admonitory Digit at both of them for causing their daughter such a lot of grief. If neither of them love their Little Girl enough to work together at burying the hatchet, then neither of them deserves to attend the wedding in the first place. Now, to answer your questions:

  1. When the birth parents of the bride have divorced and both will attend the wedding, whether either has remarried or not, the invitations correctly read:

Mrs. Ethelred Boss


Mr. Adelbert Original

request the honor of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter

Prunaprismia Original to

Mr. Reginald Romantic

The son of Mr. and Mrs. Beloved Romantic, etc,

Please observe that this is the language of the invitation, not a wedding announcement, sent to those out of state or uninvited, which would read ". . . announce the marriage of their daughter . . . "Now if this isn’t good enough for the Mother of the Bride, you can eliminate all the names of all the parents by substituting:

The honor of your presence is requested

at the marriage of

Prunaprismia Original


Mr. Reginald Romantic, etc.

And frankly, if they are all going to squabble about where they come on the bill, that’s just what they deserve. This is the bride’s day, and Etiquetteer already knows the whole town must be talking about the ugly feud between her parents instead of what people usually talk about before weddings: whether the bride is entitled to a white wedding dress.As for the dancing, oh honestly. Etiquetteer would consider if the height of rudeness of anyone, stepfather or no, to cut in on a father dancing with his daughter at her wedding. Etiquetteer finds absurd the growing list of "duty dances" announced by slick deejays at wedding banquets, and would discourage putting the bride and her stepfather in the spotlight this way. If, however, they are each willing to be seen on the dance floor with each other, there is no reason she could not accept his invitation to dance when everyone else is.Now, about the money: funny how everybody thinks that makes a difference. These days so many people contribute to the cost of so many weddings it’s like a limited corporation. Whoever pays is whoever pays, and the living birth parents of the bride are the hosts.2. Well, it’s certainly more polite to refer to him as "stepfather" than it is "that skunk who made an adulterous whore out of my mother," wouldn’t you say? If invited to call Mr. Boss by his first name, the son could do so, introducing him to others as "my stepfather, Ethelred Boss." He could say with Equal Propriety "This is my mother’s husband Ethelred Boss." Referring to Mr. Boss as "stepfather" does not imply that he had anything to do with raising him, nor does it usurp Mr. Original’s fatherhood. Etiquetteer understands completely why Mr. Original would be sensitive to this, but he should not look for offense where none is intended. 3. No, Etiquetteer can’t see an insult in referring to the spouse of one’s grandmother as something like "Grandfather." "Popsi" seems neutral enough, though Etiquetteer would prefer the 19th-century use of the prefix "Uncle," as in "Uncle Ethelred, tell us how you met Grandma!" Believe it or not, Mr. Boss gets to decide what he should be called – his wife does not – even if he’d rather have the children call him "Mr. Boss." Etiquetteer devoutly hopes that Peace and Harmony will reign supreme again before long in the extended Original family. Please write again and let Etiquetteer know what happens.

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