Fruitcake, Vol. 14, Issue 44

Dear Etiquetteer: I have bought two fruitcakes for a residential building party and am horrified to discover that both may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil. The third fruitcake source charges $57 for express delivery on top of $100 for two cakes, so that is not an option. My question is do I bring these cakes to the party? If I do, should I tell people that they may contain trans fat?  Should I bring an alternative dessert which is trans fat free.  I am sure that others will be bringing desserts as well.

Dear Fruitcaked:

The type of party you describe sounds an awful lot like a neighborhood potluck. The whole point of a potluck is that the assembly "takes pot luck:" whatever is brought is there to be enjoyed, whether plain or fancy, kosher, vegan, halal, paleo, macrobiotic, artificially sweetened, lactose intolerant, pre-processed, or partially hydrogenated. So Etiquetteer thinks it Perfectly Proper to bring those Possibly Trans Fat Enhanced Fruitcakes.

A year ago one of Etiquetteer's suggested New Year's Resolutions was "Resolve not to be so insistent about your diet when you’re away from home." A holiday party is the perfect time not to be insistent. Etiquetteer also covered the topic of Diet vs. Hospitality, which could apply here.

Etiquetteer wishes you and your fellow partygoers a Perfectly Proper Time.


Blizzard Etiquette, Vol. 14, Issue 4

With the latest blizzard having ravaged the Northeast, Etiquetteer thinks it's time for a few tips on Perfect Propriety during Heavily Inclement Weather:

  • Don't dramatize the situation with all these mashup words* like "stormaggedon" and "snowpocalypse," etc. It's a blizzard. Blizzards happen. Heaven forbid Etiquetteer restrict anyone's Freedom of Speech, but really. Blizzards also don't have names assigned to them by television networks. Just run along to the National Weather Service and see what they have to say. Incidentally, they'd do well to dramatize the weather less by not typing their bulletins in ALL CAPS.
  • Don't rush. Allow yourself a lot of extra time to and from your destination, whether you're traveling on foot, on skis, or by auto. Be patient; there will be delays, no matter how you're traveling.
  • Drive carefully. You never know when someone will have to walk in the street because the sidewalks haven't been shoveled. Etiquetteer will only allow you to honk at them if they're texting at the same time.
  • It will happen that a shoveled sidewalk is not wide enough for two people to pass, regardless of any local ordinance. Etiquetteer awards precedence to the party closest to exiting the Narrows, or to the person who is not texting at the same time. Those who are unaware of what's going on around them deserve what they get.
  • If someone stands aside for you to pass, thank them kindly. Otherwise you increase the bitterness and resentment already caused by the weather. That old saw about Good Behavior being its own reward is highly overrated.
  • It is not uncommon - though it is illegal, and therefore not Perfectly Proper - for drivers who park on the street to "mark" or "save" a parking space they've cleared of snow - admittedly a vigorous undertaking - with some sort of street refuse like a trash barrel or an old chair. While deploring the practice, Etiquetteer refrains from getting involved by removing those markers. Remember, safety first! No one wants to lose teeth to some Vindictive Motorist.
  • Wear something simple and straightforward for winter work and sports. Etiquetteer was for some reason reminded of Gloria Upson's description of her newlywed apartment in Auntie Mame: " . . . I don't mean just some little hole-in-the-wall, but a really nice place with some style to it . . . " Consider Etiquetteer's interpretation above: vintage snowsuit, white scarf, and gray stocking cap with white leather work gloves. No fuss, no frills, nor rips and tears either. This is certainly one of those occasions when a bow tie is not Perfectly Proper. No one wants to be thought a parvenu while wielding a snow shovel . . .

Etiquetteer will conclude that, at times of Heavy Weather like this, Safety and Perfect Propriety go hand in hand.

*Actually, the best mashup word to come out of this blizzard is "snowmanhattan." Etiquetteer takes his on the rocks.

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.


Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 6

Etiquetteer’s recent advice to the victims of the noisy neighbors generated quite a bit of feedback from readers, offering as alternatives everything from musical hints to respectful tolerance: From a realtor: You can't be serious! Having a burly husband bang and shout "Shut up"? I am no expert, but I fear this is neither good manners nor particularly effective. Responses like these feel good to do, but they typically annoy the other party (not unlike flipping the bird on city streets, which is about as common here as using your arm in the summer to indicate a turn -- actually, far more common that that). Instead, the couple should buy the Avenue Q soundtrack and leave it for their neighbors, pointing to the one song titled "You can be as loud as the hell you want when you are making love" (which, like the whole show, is truly hilarious). Perhaps they could include a note such as "This is all fine and good for a Broadway show, but in real life it's a problem." If it persists, they should engage the two condo associations to look into sound proofing. That, or move. Etiquetteer comments: Or perhaps a rousing chorus of "Ah Sweet Mystery of Life" as a tribute to the late Madeline Kahn . . . From a sorority house mother:  Some communities have a noise ordinance which kicks in at or about 10:00 -12:00 PM depending on the community. If the noise is consistently disturbing it is perfectly proper to call the local gendarmes and report the disturbance. If there are three or more calls about the same noisemaker(s) they may be in danger of losing their lease. I know this from experience in San Diego. From an architect:  After reading the letter from the people in the noisy apartment, I did have some comments related to the construction of their abode. The letter did not say if they rent or own the unit. If they are renting, then I would recommend that they seek out quieter quarters. If they own the unit, then there are things that they could do to their unit and/or the unit next door to reduce the noise. They could ask the neighbor to contribute to the cost, since it would benefit him also. They could also ask for help from the condo association since it is a defect in the building shell. If building such units from scratch or renovating existing buildings, it is preferable to construct a double stud wall between living units with insulation. Electrical outlets, medicine cabinets (remember that old TV commercial with the see-through medicine cabinet?), etc. should never be placed back-to-back between two units. Plumbing pipes feeding two adjacent units can also transmit sound. If feasible, a second wall could be built between the units, on whichever side would be the least disruptive. Less drastic measures would include adding sound absorptive material to the noisy side, or a white noise device on the quiet side. Hope the neighbors can co-exist without incident. From an investment banker:  You had suggested a strong rap on the door and a command to silence the noise. I think that women have so little joy and so much struggle in their lives, that we should let this woman enjoy the few minutes of bliss that she has. Just turn up the radio in respect, so that she can enjoy it to her heart's content without everyone eavesdropping. Maybe an anonymous note under the door reminding them that the walls and ceilings are very thin would encourage them to be quieter (or to turn up their own radio).I say this because I can remember when we lived in an apartment, and I had to occasionally drop a shoe on the floor to quiet the couple below us. I still feel bad about that when I think about it 30 years later. Who are we to rain on someone else's parade? Etiquetteer responds: One might also ask who are they to rain on ours? Just because a dinner party doesn't always produce the ecstasy of, ahem, the other activity in question, doesn't mean it isn't deserving of the same respect. But Etiquetteer does want to acknowledge the compassion that prompted you to respond, which is downright noble, and what a pity that more of us don't have it.

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

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