Online Discretion Offline, Vol. 14, Issue 32

Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently on vacation with my husband. We were at a local bar in [Insert Name of Resort Town Popular With Those Who Have Achieved Equal Marriage Here] when a guy walked by, turned around, looked at me and said "[Insert Name of Social Media Platform* Here]!" I was quite uncomfortable. While my husband knows I'm using this social media, he assumes the worst about being on it. For social media etiquette when recognizing someone from here, I would assume it would be alright to say hello to someone if they were by themselves, but if not, you may not want to bring something up about their online life. Your thoughts?

Dear Online:

Oddly enough, Etiquetteer had a somewhat similar experience earlier this year while rushing through an art exhibition to be Perfectly Punctual for a friend's presentation. In Etiquetteer's path appeared a handsome, vaguely familiar man. Only later did Etiquetteer recognize him as an online contact. The response Etiquetteer received to a private message apologizing for any perception of a snub reinforced how wise it was not to have approached him, because he wasn't alone and claimed Social Awkwardness when Caught Off Guard.

Etiquetteer is fond of quoting "Discretion is the better part of valor," and it really is a pity that your Social Media Contact  didn't consider that. At the very least he could've said "Excuse me, but haven't I seen your photo on [Insert Name of Social Media Platform Here]?" But a discreet bow or nod is best, or even no contact at all. Etiquetteer is reminded that, in the days before World War I when mistresses were much more established in the daily life of France, no man stepping out with his demimondaine would be acknowledged by his friends, and certainly not by the friends of his wife.

Still, in a barroom, where one's Internal Monologue may have escaped with the help of Spiritous Liquors, that is a risk. Etiquetteer rather wonders if, when your online "friend" hailed with the name of your Shared Social Media, you responded "No, I pronounce my name Smith."

Etiquetteer hopes that you experience no recurrence of this exposure of your Inner Life. But you may wish to make such a recurrence less embarrassing by reassuring your husband about the best aspects of being part of this Social Media Platform.

*Etiquetteer must hasten to add that this Social Media Platform in question was not - how shall Etiquetteer say this? - created for facilitating the most casual of encounters.

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.

Netiquette: Invitations, Vol. 5, Issue 30

Dear Etiquetteer:

In the age of e-mail invitations for dinners and barbecues I submit to you the following situation. Recently a friend of mine invited a group of us to his house for dinner. He apparently used an old e-mail list so that he could contact a large group of us all at the same time. He did not, however, take into account that he had included an e-mail address for a woman that one of our friends broke up with over a year ago. That friend has since moved on to date a very nice (very sane) woman and the two are currently living together. The other woman (let's just call her the crazy one to be clear) does not assume that she was invited by mistake and hits the dreaded reply to all button to say that she misses us all terribly and that she had recently had a dream about our friend.

How does one now uninvite the crazy one to the barbecue without being outright mean (I personally don't care since I never liked this person to begin with, but most people would be afraid of hurting her feelings)?

Dear Invited and Appalled:

Here we see the disadvantages of the cut and paste commands. The three extra minutes the host saved not typing in each individual address are more than lost now that he’s invited someone he didn’t want to see ever again (and which it seems few of his other guests would either). Etiquetteer cannot stress enough that reviewing the To: field before hitting Send on any e-mail, not just invitations, will save a multitude of anxiety later.

It’s quite natural to assume that when one receives a party invitation one is actually being invited to a party. Etiquetteer cannot fault the Ex-Girlfriend in Question for that. But Etiquetteer still has to Wag an Admonitory Digit at her anyway for sending her reply to the entire guest list (never Perfectly Proper for large gatherings) and even more for including a personal message to her ex-boyfriend. Personal correspondence should be just that: personal. And let’s face it, telling your ex-boyfriend (and all his friends) that you just had a dream about him a year after the break-up conjures up images of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. (On the other hand, if they’re serving rabbit at the barbecue, that might come in handy . . .)

The Host, if he’s not willing to let the invitation stand and welcome the Ex-Girlfriend in Question to his barbecue, now has the embarrassing duty of rescinding his invitation. He needs to do this in person (or at the very least by phone, and Etiquetteer does not mean voicemail) and he needs to do itimmediately. He must spread the embarrassment and self-abasement over himself thickly and explain that the invitation was sent in error. He may have to put up with some tears and/or temper. Etiquetteer does not care; it’s his own fault for not checking the guest list before sending the invitation.

Many people would say it’s mean to take back an invitation like this. Etiquetteer suggests the Host needs to weigh what would be meaner for the Ex-Girlfriend in Question: hearing that she’s not really invited to a party she’s already publicly expressed excitement about attending, or actually attending the party and being snubbed by everyone there.

Or he could cancel the party altogether and then reschedule it (preferably for another day) with the correct guest list. The two e-mail messages should not go out back to back. The Ex-Girlfriend in Question will be sure to find out if she’s been snubbed.

 

Personal Relationships, Vol. 4, Issue 11

Dear Etiquetteer: I'm visiting friends overseas, a male couple I've known and loved for almost 20 years. Let's call them B and D. They have another friend, S.M., whom I've known almost as long, a vinegary, old-maidish man who can sometimes be a lot of fun. Unfortunately S.M. is also an extremely needy, hypochondriacal complainer who takes umbrage at any slight, and goes into a towering sulk whenever he feels he's being neglected, which is most of the time. At the beginning of any conversation he sails into a litany of his health problems that lasts for at least five minutes, but one can live with that. He's also hopelessly in love with D, and a couple of years ago they had a falling-out, to D's everlasting relief. I come over to visit every couple of years, and always stay with B and D. I always call S.M., too, and did so the other night. S.M. agreed to meet me away from the house, since he dreads, or affects to dread, meeting D. A few minutes later he called back and said that it would be best, since "I am not welcome at B and D's house," that we not meet. I insisted that I wanted to see him, but he went into his wounded dowager mode and refused to see me. At the end of the conversation I said, "Well, then I'll write to you, since I do want to stay in touch." But he sniffily said, "You can write if you like, but don't expect me to answer," at which point I hung up, absolutely stunned and quite hurt. B, when told about this, was incandescent with rage, and immediately called S.M. to give him a blistering dressing-down. It wasn't until later that I stopped feeling hurt and began to feel angry. I wrote S.M. a long and devastatingly frank letter which made me feel TERRIFIC, and which I knew I could not send. So I didn't. Have I exhausted my obligations to try to reconnect with this man? Dear Rebuffed: The late Coco Chanel, referring to her friend and fellow drug addict Misia Sert, famously said, "We only love our friends for their faults. Misia gave me ample reason to love her." While that dictum might generally apply to mild personal idiosyncrasies (such as consistently arriving late, never sending Lovely Notes, or rubbing a wedge of lime behind each ear when served a gin and tonic), Etiquetteer would find it a masochistic stretch to apply it to personal abuse such as you describe.You, sir, have been snubbed. Based on your description of S.M., Etiquetteer would not find his occasional bouts of fun overbalance his 24/7 impersonation of Anne Elliott’s married sister from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. In other words, you’re better off without this character.This only leaves Etiquetteer the opportunity to thank you for following the example of the late President Abraham Lincoln, by writing that angry letter and not sending it. President Lincoln was wise in many things, and this was one of the wisest.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

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