Entertaining with Autism, Vol. 13, Issue 35

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a very new friend who has a son with severe autism. I don't have much experience with this, but would like to invite the family to the same family-friendly gatherings that I invite all of my friends who have children to (I do not have children, but love them and love to include them). What is the kindest way of approaching my friend about anything their child might need that might be different from what I'm used to? I want everyone (parents and children) to feel cared for, nurtured and relaxed at my gatherings.

Dear Hostess:

Etiquetteer applauds your Hospitable Impulse. Frequently the families of children with special needs want nothing more than to be included along with everyone else, and Etiquetteer suspects your New Friend will be grateful for your hospitality and consideration. A candid but sensitive conversation with your New Friend should come first.

Confirmed Bachelor Etiquetteer, with no direct experience raising children with or without autism, felt the need to consult a friend with an autistic child. Her words tell much of which Etiquetteer was not aware. Etiquetteer has chosen to emphasize some of his friend's word in italics.

"The best thing for a hostess to do is find out ahead of time what special accommodations might be needed. Parents of autistic kids need to plan ahead as well. For example, having food that would appeal to your autistic guest. Autistic kids have trouble tolerating loud noises or bright lights. They often cannot control making noises so activities that require quiet are difficult. Open spaces or a pool or bodies of water maybe problematic due to elopement issues. My child jumped in a host's pool in the middle of winter because he is attracted to water. Having a quiet room where a parent can take their child if he melts down is helpful.

"Preparing children who will be present is helpful. Children, God love them, say whatever is on their minds which can be hurtful. When it comes down to it just being flexible to the needs of your autistic guest and their family even if they have to leave early. As a guest I call ahead to see if the activities are appropriate for my child. I want my host's party to be successful. If the activity is not a good match then I decline the invitation. A kind hostess will not take offense. It is always nice to be asked even if it isn't a good match.

"Parents of autistic children need good manners as well. If a child will disrupt a party, or ruin a special activity, or cannot tolerate the host's environment then they should decline the invitation or leave the party early. It is important to respect the host's generosity and personal possessions.

"And finally, it is sometimes easier for the family of an autistic child if they have small gatherings at their own home where the autistic child is most comfortable and has all of his accommodations already in place. This is the most relaxed entertaining we can do."

The number of people with autism, and therefore the number of people who know someone with autism, seems only to be growing, and Etiquetteer predicts that more and more people will be seeking advice about the best way to include this portion of our community. Etiquetteer wishes you well as you incorporate your new friend and her family into your social circle.

Possibly Contradictory Issues About Dieting and Hospitality, Vol. 13, Issue 9

When is one's Diet more important than Offered Hospitality? When is Hospitality more important than Diet? Sometimes the issues are clear, and sometimes they are not. Religious Diets and Fatal Allergies usually trump Hospitality, Personal Preference usually shouldn't, with just about everything else, including Weight Loss and Doctor's Directive, wandering in the middle ground. Etiquetteer didn't get very far in this article about the dangers of artificial sweetener because of the story that began it. A grandmother, who just happens to be a researcher of food sweeteners, told a hostess not to serve her little granddaughter any birthday cake at a birthday party because it was made with an artificial sweetener. Let's leave aside the food safety issues for a moment and consider the etiquette of the situation. You've been invited into someone's home for a party, which automatically means that some trouble has been taken to entertain you, and questioning the trouble your hostess has taken for you enough to suggest that it's unsafe to eat. And on top of that, you're telling a hostess not to serve a little girl a slice of birthday cake at a birthday party when everyone else is going to have cake?! This is where Etiquetteer would like to serve up a heaping helping of Shut Up and Eat! Only that wouldn't be very Perfectly Proper, now would it?

A private home is not a restaurant, and it is not realistic for 21st-century hosts and hostesses (the overwhelming majority of whom haven't hired a cook) to cater as specifically as some guests require. You can eat what you want at home. Adhere as closely as you can to your diet when you're dining out, but please keep from overemphasizing it. Very many hosts make a point of accommodating vegetarians, which is a generous and gracious thing for them to do, by soliciting that information from their guests in advance.

Some related stories: the late Letitia Baldrige, in her diamonds-and-bruises memoir A Lady, First, told the story of one Kennedy White House state dinner when President Kennedy noticed a couple sitting near him weren't eating anything? "Is the dinner all right?" he asked, to be greeted cheerfully by the reply "We're Mormons, so we can't take alcohol." It turned out that every dish on the menu had alcohol in it! But this Mormon couple were clearly going to make the best of it with rolls and mints, and wouldn't have said anything if the President hadn't asked.

The late Gloria Swanson, famous in her later years as a vegetarian, would bring her own sandwich to dinner parties when invited out (whether to a home or a restaurant). Of course this works best on occasions when there's a staff to slip it to on arrival with the instructions "When you bring the entree, just slip this on a plate for me. I'm on a diet." The point is that Gloria knew enough not to inconvenience her hosts with her dietary needs and came prepared. She also didn't make a big fuss about it.

And then there's the late Ethel Merman, who brought a ham sandwich to Jule Styne's Passover Seder, as recounted in Arthur Laurents's wonderful memoir Original Story By Arthur Laurents. Jule Styne threw it on the floor and said "Ethel, you're offending the waiters!" Which just goes to show that there are limits. Indeed, Etiquetteer has written before about how it's not a good idea, even with a spirit of compassion and multiculturalism, to invite Orthodox Jews to Easter dinner and serve them a ham.

So . . . back to the children's birthday party with the Artificially Sweetened Cake. In this case, Etiquetteer thinks Hospitality trumps Diet. At a children's party Etiquetteer is most concerned about the children, and children, especially young ones, are eager to fit in. What needs to be saved in this situation? Three things: the little girl's experience as a guest, the dignity of the hostess, and the responsibilities of the little girl's grandmother, who, although Etiquetteer can't really approve of what was reported, is doing her job as a Protective Grandparent. Rather than say anything to the hostess, Etiquetteer could almost wish that the grandmother had simply told her granddaughter that she couldn't have any cake, even if it was served to her, and to make do with other refreshments. That way the little girl is still included as an equal with the other children, the hostess's feelings have been spared, and the grandmother's role as guardian is maintained. And if the grandmother is committed to eradicating Artificially Sweetened Cakes, she can always reciprocate with an invitation to her own home and serve a cake made with the Sweetener of Her Choice and nonchalantly raise the issue of what her research is uncovering about artificial sweeteners.

Etiquetteer feels sure you've encountered such an issue before, and would love to hear about it at queries <at> etiquetteer dot com.

Houseguests/Current Events, Vol. 7, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer:

On a recent vacation trip to a far away place, I stayed in the home of a good friend and colleague.  While I was there, another professional colleague called my host and insisted on knowing with whom I was traveling and what the sleeping arrangements were.  My host was, of course, perfectly proper, and we all had a good laugh about it.  My question is, am I entitled to include this story when recounting my travels either to friends or to colleagues?  May I tell the story in the inquiring colleague's presence if I don't actually name him?


Dear Traveling Man: 


Etiquetteer commends the discretion of your host in not divulging any of his domestic details; clearly it was None of a Busybody’s Business. 


No one loves a good story more than Etiquetteer, and this does indeed sound like a very good one! But even so, it’s more Perfectly Proper to keep this one to yourself. Good stories have a way of traveling on their own, picking up extra embellishments along the way. Should the original Busybody ever hear of it, which is more of a Possibility than most people care to consider, it would only reflect badly on your host having divulged a confidential conversation.


Stories of This Sort are best Filed for Future Reference. Thanks to your host, you’ve just learned an important characteristic of your Busybody professional colleague that can help you evaluate his reactions in professional settings. 



Etiquetteer has been doing his best not to get too involved in the 2008 political campaigns and resulting candidate faux pas. Etiquetteer feels sure that Barack Obama hasn’t done much to court the Militant Feminist Vote, but he made a SERIOUS misstep last week by referring to WXYZ-TV reporter Peggy Agar as “sweetie.” Terms of Endearment are, by definition, those we use with people who are close to us. And while we all know how close politicians like to be to the press during campaigns, “sweetie” is TOO close. Another way for men to gauge their behavior: if you wouldn’t say it to a man, you cannot say it to a woman. 



Etiquetteer was horrified to read in the Duluth News Tribune on May 10 about an insensitive lawsuit. Jeffery Ely hit a dog with his car, killing it. He then sued the dog’s owners, Niki and Daniel Munthe, for damages to his car. No matter how wronged one feels in such a situation, no matter how justified, one’s own sense of Perfect Propriety should prevent one from filing such a lawsuit. Honestly! What was he thinking? “Your dog dented my car as I was running it over so you should pay to fix my car?” Clearly Mr. Ely cares more about money than his reputation OR the feelings of others.



From the “Children Must Be Seen and Not Heard” Department, Etiquetteer was delighted to hear that the Red Thai Restaurant of Portland, Oregon, has begun banning children younger than six years of age from its establishment. If more parents knew how to control their “precious snowflakes” in public such a ban might not be necessary. After hearing from a colleague that she saw a woman breast-feeding* her infant at a theatre performance (!) Etiquettteer understands that parents don’t understand where their children are welcome and where they are not. It is insensitive to others in the audience to bring a babe in arms to a live concert or performance where they could start howling any moment. It is equally rude to dine at a “grown-up” restaurant with young children who haven’t yet been taught to use inside voices, silverware, or to keep their seats. Parents of Young Children, take note! 


*You may be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer has no trouble at all with breastfeeding in public. This necessary function can be handled discreetly and modestly in restaurants, vehicles, and other public places. But in places of assembly, such as theatres, concert halls, or churches, it distracts too much from the program one is supposed to be watching.

Reader Response to Coffee Service, Vol. 4, Issue 24

A couple readers have already made memorable responses to Etiquetteer's column on Perfectly Proper coffee service in an era with too many kinds of coffee, sweeteners, and dairy products:

From a Southern development professional: I will try to follow your advice and "make do" without my preferred non-dairy creamer (either powdered or liquid) even though I am lactose intolerant and any dairy creamer causes me some, er, discomfort later on. I will take it black instead I think.

Etiquetteer responds: Really, you ought to start traveling with your own supply of non-dairy creamer. Like those who have to take pills at mealtime, your non-dairy creamer keeps your health in check and, significantly, keeps you and those around you from experiencing your "discomfort."

From a distinguished Southern matron: I hate to ruin your day but this is the year 2006 and the coffee ritual has changed in the last hundred years! I must admit to being a bit put off when one of my house guests pulled a bottle of "creamer" from her suitcase since she didn't want to inconvenience me with buying a special hazelnut fakery. You've already shown us ways to offer sweetener packets at home and I really like them better.

Also you failed to note that clear glass containers sized for this purpose and used in restaurants are available everywhere.

As to the disposal of the paper packets, I fold the empty packet so the server can see it's empty, then place it on the saucer or on the table beside the mug. Bye the bye, you'll be happy to know that should I come to your house for coffee I drink it black, as Nature intended it to be drunk.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer is really going to have to Wag an Admonitory Digit at your house guest. Contrary to the reader above, whose special stash is used to manage a medical condition, your house guest dishonors your preparations for her enjoyment by indulging in personal preference. The message she’s sending is that anything you do for her will not be good enough. Some people may think Etiquetteer is being harsh here, but Etiquetteer remains firm that bringing one’s own refreshments to a party looks like one cares more about one’s own desires than about the feelings of others.

And as to those little glass containers, may the Deity of Your Choice protect us from the day when we all have to decorate our homes just like restaurants. Etiquetteer would rather see something more harmonious to achieve true Perfect Propriety.

Dear Etiquetteer: 

A very dear friend just announced her engagement, and I have a two-part inquiry for you:

Part 1: Is it true that the location and wedding dress should achieve some kind of harmony and set a tone for the event? For example, an afternoon garden wedding for 60 people might not warrant the donning of a bejeweled gown complete with train and ballgown skirt?

Part 2: What is the most Perfectly Proper way to indicate the above to a dear friend?

Dear Meddling:

Etiquetteer must agree with you that a wedding dress should be appropriate for the time and place of the wedding. American brides, however, have been flouting this Pillar of Perfect Propriety for decades. Somehow they believe that just because some man offered his hand in marriage they have the Divine Right to wear the Biggest Dress in the World anywhere they want.

Before you say anything to your friend, Etiquetteer wants you to think very carefully about whether or not it’s any of your business to comment on her wedding plans. It might not be.



An Unwanted Houseguest, Vol. 5, Issue 12

Dear Etiquetteer:Twenty years ago, the man in my life was named in a paternity suit and couldn't deny the possibility. I threw him out, and we have had limited social contact since then (once every six or seven years). Not too long ago he showed up at my front door because he was 'in town and looked me up,' apparently hoping for a place to stay. This would have been awkward enough if I had been home, but I was traveling on business, and the door was answered by my housemates. They felt obliged to extend hospitality to this man on my behalf, but fortunately called me first. I explained to him, very apologetically, that it would be a terrible imposition for me to ask my housemates to put aside their plans for the night, and that he would simply have to make other arrangements. He did, and I have not heard from him since.While I have no reason to believe he was in physical or financial distress, was it rude to turn him out like that without making sure? Should I call him to find out if he is OK? If I had been home, how much hospitality would I be obliged to provide? I am curious to hear how he is doing, but I think I would prefer some advance notice to prepare myself, and perhaps explain things to the current man in my life. These spontaneous sorts of things always seem to work out well in the movies, but my life is more complicated than that. What should I do?Dear Survivor:"When you assume," as one of Etiquetteer’s best friends is tiresomely fond of pointing out, "you make an ass of you and me." Your Former Love showed bad planning and poor taste by showing up at your door, suitcase in hand, without warning of any kind. Etiquetteer cannot fault you for declining to offer him overnight hospitality. Had you answered the door to him yourself, you could have said "Oh, I’m sorry, but it won’t be possible for you to stay tonight" and nothing more. If he’s so ill-bred as to ask why it’s not possible, add no more than "Well, I have plans that make it impossible." They could be nothing more than a pedicure, but he doesn’t need to know that.If you felt safe with him, you could have invited him inside for a beverage and brief conversation, but only if you felt safe. Etiquetteer still has visions of Ike Turner molesting Tina in that parking lot in What’s Love Got to Do With It? And please fight down the urge to call and check up on this guy. The whole thing sounds like you’re well rid of him.

Dear Readers: Etiquetteer made a trip to Manhattan not too long ago and was amused to see this sign outside a synagogue. Etiquetteer couldn’t agree more!



Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify@etiquetteer.com.