A Perfectly Proper Announcement, Vol. 13, Issue 51

Etiquetteer nodded with approval over the announcement today of actor Benedict Cumberbatch's engagement to director Sophie Hunter. The traditional method of printing a notice in The Times could not be more Perfectly Proper, as it eliminates all the unnecessary vaporings about True Love. Announcement of an engagement in itself illustrates the depths of one's emotion to one's Beloved; no further explanation is necessary . . . nor is a link to a gift registry. Couples without Celebrity Status should consider this as an example of how Restraint illustrates Good Taste. Etiquetteer wishes the Happy Couple long life and Happiness!

A Pre-Valentine's Warning from Etiquetteer, Vol. 13, Issue 19

With St. Valentine's Day on its way tomorrow, Etiquetteer feels it necessary - strictly in the name of Perfect Propriety - to advise you against Popping the Question Publicly. Fictionally we have the example of Vicki Lester and Norman Maine, seen here in the George Cukor film of A Star Is Born:

Now you'll notice that the situation was saved beautifully by Our Heroine who, seeing the embarrassment of her beloved, called out "Oh no, that's much too public a proposal to say no to! I accept!" And those who know the story know exactly what that got her . . .

Cruel Reality shows a different outcome:

But if you are really intent on doing this, Etiquetteer has some questions to ask first:

  • How comfortable is your beloved in the spotlight? Are you choosing to propose in public because she likes having attention called to herself, or because you want to call attention to yourself?
  • Are the manner and location of your proposal what you think she might expect of a marriage proposal? (Reviewing that compilation, and recognizing that Etiquetteer might be succumbing to stereotypes, Etiquetteer finds it hard to believe that most women want to entertain proposals of marriage at sporting events or the mall.)
  • Are you 110% sure that your beloved will say yes? And even then, Etiquetteer thinks you should reconsider.
  • Do you have a Graceful Exit planned in the (to you unlikely) event that your proposal is declined? Even if you're 110% sure your beloved will accept, plan one.

Etiquetteer asks these questions not only for your benefit and that of your beloved, but also for the Embarrassed Spectators who, if they don't want to laugh in your face, will want to turn their backs. Please, Etiquetteer begs you, consider your plans very carefully.

Now of course Etiquetteer expects to hear from several people who did witness Successful Public Proposals of Marriage, and that's just wonderful. Etiquetteer is delighted that you had that experience. Etiquetteer rather hopes that Those Who Popped the Question evaluated their situations intelligently.

You may be sure that Etiquetteer will have Shields Up on St. Valentine's Day, and if one of Cupid's little arrows gets in the way, Etiquetteer will use it as a swizzle stick for a martini.

Returning Wedding Gifts, Vol. 11, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: I recently sent a very nice gift for my niece's bridal shower. Unfortunately, the wedding was called off shortly thereafter.

A few weeks later, the mother of the groom sent me a gift card to "compensate" me for my gift and my inconvenience. I am the only one in my extended family who received such "compensation." I suspect she sent it because we occasionally run into each other in the same social circles. Although I don't care about the money, the gift card is actually for much less than the cost of the gift.

I was offended that the groom's mother sent me the gift card because I do not feel it was her place to step in. My niece should have been the one to communicate with her own family. I would have preferred not to hear at all from the groom's mother. My current concern is what to do with the gift card. Should I keep it or return it to the groom's mother? I really don't want her gift card, so if I return it, what should I say?

Dear Unregifted:

A few years ago Etiquetteer was invited to a wedding. About three weeks before the wedding day Etiquetteer received a card in the mail that matched the wedding stationery with the announcement that

The wedding between

Miss Dewy Freshness

and

Mr. Manley Firmness

will not take place.

Underneath and to the left one found the sentence "All gifts will be returned."  Because let's face it, the first thought one has when learning of such a thing is "Am I going to get back that gift on which I spent so much money?"

It appears that your niece and her family have observed neither of these necessary social niceties, something you may want to take up with whichever Parent of the Bride is your Sibling. In the event that your niece does marry, Etiquetteer would absolve you from giving another shower gift -- but acknowledges that other etiquette writers may differ.

The involvement of the groom's mother certainly muddies the water. It's really not her business, but Etiquetteer has some sympathy with her, having been put in an awkward position (the cancellation of her son's wedding) through no fault of her own. And for all Etiquetteer knows, this lady has already raised the issue of returning gifts with the former bride-to-be and her family. Since you haven't yet received your gift back, the results may not have been satisfactory to her, prompting her to send gift cards to all her relatives and friends who sent gifts as well as to you. Etiquetteer does wish, however, that the lady hadn't used the term "compensation," which suggests that you needed to be paid for your troubles.

By all means return the gift card, but cut the lady some slack. Send the card back with a Lovely Note thanking her for thinking of you, but suggesting that you don't feel quite right keeping and using this gift card since your bridal shower gift to your niece was freely given. It's also Perfectly Proper to express sympathy with this lady over the cancellation of the wedding, and best wishes for the future happiness of her son.

Random Issues, Vol. 9, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:
Last night, I took a dear friend as my guest to an expensive art gallery dinner, held in honor of a newly opened show. It was meant to be a special treat for us, as my friend is just emerging into social life again, after a devastating divorce.
Unfortunately, we were seated at a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious. After attempting polite introductions and brief small talk with our fellow diners, we two girlfriends tried to converse quietly together. But conversation was rendered impossible by the group's rude comments, and shenanigans such as dinner rolls being thrown across the table.
The room was otherwise full, and no alternative seats were available. The gallery owner ignored the situation. I was mortified to subject my friend to such obnoxious buffoonery. She is not native to the US, and the group even mocked the pronunciation of her name. We left as soon as the dessert had been served.
What on earth can one do to rescue such an evening, short of leaving as soon as possible? I apologized to my friend for the disastrous experience. As her her host, what else should I have done?
Dear Subjected:
Etiquetteer can only respond to you with the deepest compassion. The only thing worse than dining with "a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious" is dining with "a table of loud, bawdy drunks, who had come as a group, and found each other hilarious" who are your closest friends of whom you expected better.
The best way to guarantee your enjoyment at the sort of dinner you describe, which sounds suspiciously like a fund-raiser, is to round up enough friends and acquaintances to fill a table. As you have sadly learned, when Money is the only criterion for entrée, ladies and gentlemen are not safe from Bad Manners. (The roll-throwing tempted Etiquetteer to hope that perhaps these drunken bawds had once read P.G. Wodehouse, but this does not really seem likely. There are restaurants that cater to the roll-throwing crowd, like Lambert's Café, a more likely influence.)
It seems that you did everything possible at the time to salvage the evening, except speaking directly with the gallery owner. You indicate that s/he was ignoring the situation; you had the power to call it to his/her attention in no uncertain terms, by beckoning, or at worst, leaving your table and going to him/her. Another temporary solution might have been to take your dessert into the lobby.
Now that this ghastly dinner is behind you, Etiquetteer encourages you to create a new social opportunity for your newly-divorced friend: a dinner party in your own home given in her honor, with your own friends whose Perfect Propriety you know well enough in advance. You may also correspond with the gallery owner and sever any possible future connection with that organization.

Dear Etiquetteer:
I am a new, part-time teacher at my school.  I teach music in a building that is away from the main building and I very rarely socialize with other teachers; I'm just not around them much and don't eat lunch with them or chat in the teacher's lounge.  I received an invitation to a bridal shower for one of my coworkers.  He is getting married soon and I only know him by his last name.  I met his wife at the Christmas staff party, but can't remember her name.

What should I do about this shower?  I don't want to go, because I don't know the groom at all, and I know the bride even less.  Do I have to send a gift if I wimp out on attending?

Dear Teaching:
Undoubtedly this invitation was sent to all school faculty as a courtesy, and the groom didn't want you (or others) to feel left out. At least, that's how Etiquetteer could explain this situation charitably. (Whoever heard of a groom inviting professional colleagues to his fiancée's bridal shower?!) You need not attend, or send a gift, but please do send a Lovely Note of Congratulations to the Happy Couple on your most Perfectly Proper stationery.

Random Issues, Vol. 5, Issue 29

Dear Etiquetteer:

Do you think the term "Lezbollah" will ever take off as a way to describe lesbian activists?

Dear Tiresome:

Oh please. "Lezbollah" is rather like one of those words from the David Letterman Top Ten List of Words That Never Caught On, "Hitleriffic:" it sounds really catchy and upbeat, but it’s Wildly Inappropriate. Etiquetteer recommends another semester of PC 101 for you.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve just had the terrible experience of cleaning out my closet and finding a Christmas gift I was supposed to give to one of my neighbors last Christmas. She must think I’ve snubbed her! How can I correct this now?

Dear Absentminded:

Clearly you must invite your neighbor over for "Christmas in August" one evening. Serve Christmas cookies on red and green napkins, pour a glass of cold eggnog, and give her her present. You could even put on a Santa hat and those annoying Christmas light bulb earrings that blink on and off. Just think of this as an opportunity to grovel in a reallyspectacular way. Remember what they say in real estate: if you can’

t hide it, paint it red!

Dear Etiquetteer:

Do you think you can handle another wedding question? My fiancé and I are getting married later this year and are working out what we want the attendants to wear. The women aren’t a problem; we’ve already told them to wear black (you’ll probably get us in trouble for that). We’ve come to a disagreement about the men, though. Both of us will have on tuxedos, but the guests are just being told to come in jackets and ties. We think that asking the men to wear a dark gray suit would be OK, but we feel bad about asking them to buy a suit. And they’d all have to be the same suit, so they’d look uniform in the photos. On the other hand, there aren’t a lot of rental places that will rent suits. What would you advise us to do?

Dear Grooming:

Elope, just to keep those poor ladies from having to wear black to a wedding!

No, no, seriously, let’s look at this from the beginning. Etiquetteer feels compelled to remind you that this is the sacrament of Marriage, not a summer stock production number. Etiquetteer has some grave concerns about the ideas you’ve suggested. First and foremost, what’s all this about you being in black tie and your attendants in suits? One is evening clothes and the other is day clothes; to combine them as you suggest will look tacky. While Etiquetteer is not fond of combining a formally dressed wedding party with casually dressed wedding guests – a particularly American custom –

Etiquetteer would rather see you and your men attendants all in tuxedos or all in dark suits (that need not match). That will certainly promote the uniformity you claim to seek. You can provide different boutonnieres for yourselves to shake up the mix.