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The Etiquette Grrls' Q & A Archive: December 2002

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Thank you so much for tipping me off to Urban Decay! I'm in love with the company now, and I think every girl should wear make-up with clever names, but I digress.

My question regards attitude differences in regions of the U.S. I have an acquaintance with whom I have a disagreement over this topic. She says that my being a New Englander is not a valid excuse for my being more reserved and conservative in group conversations, even TMI conversations in public spaces (such as sexual experience, the horror!), but I say it is quite a valid excuse. I am a Rhode Islander, and she is a Minnesotan, and we go to school together in Minnesota. Under these circumstances am I obligated to oblige and participate in such conversations, or am I right to stay silent until the topic change to something more appropriate? Please settle this, as I do not want the Minnesotans to think me prudish or worse, rude (which they do, it seems my lack of participation means I'm isolating myself from the group...), but even more, I do not want worsen my behaviour to accommodate yappy college students.

Thank you girls ever so much! I look forward to every Monday, and am awaiting the publication of your second book (please don't tell me there won't be such a thing!). Have a merry holiday season!


Dear Kate,

Of course there will be a Second EGs book! The EGs have spent this Entire Weekend going through the proofreader's copy of our manuscript-- it's that far into the Production Cycle. Don't fret! We're told the book will be In Stores in the Summer.

Dear Reader, OF COURSE being From New England is a Valid Excuse not to take part in Rude, Personal Conversations!!! It is ALWAYS better to be thought of as Un Peu Reserved, even Un Peu Aloof, than to have everyone think you're the Queen of TMI Subjects! We beg of you, do not sink to Their Level! If the conversation gets too horrid, and even sitting there, in silence, gets to be Too Much, we suggest you take advantage of the opportunity to wander over to a different Conversational Circle at the Party, or to Fetch a Fresh Drink, etc. And, furthermore, we'd say that if the group has Disgusting Conversations all the time, despite the fact that you are trying to Set a Good Example For Them, perhaps you'd be better off Broadening Your Social Circle. There have got to be many Perfectly Polite, Reserved Minnesotans at your college, too! In any case, do not ever feel bad about Being A Lady!

Your Fellow New Englanders,
The Etiquette Grrls

P.S. We're glad you like the Clever Names of Urban Decay, but what, may we ask, is the deal with the New Nailpolish Bottles they're using?!? The old ones looked MUCH cooler.


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

This is my first visit to you site and I must admit, I'm hooked. Kudos!

This is a two-part question.

Thank you, in advance, for taking the time to offer your advice.

PART 1: Is it tacky to give someone a gift that is new but was purchased on eBay? I can afford to pay full price, but I live in a remote area with limited shopping (120 miles round trip is a bit much for me with my schedule). I cannot offer them a gift receipt, but do I explain why, or not mention it at all?

PART 2: What guidelines should I follow when buying gifts for casual friends, especially at Christmas? I.e. Should I spend based on MY income?

PART 3: Should I give a gift that is not returnable?

Any help would be appreciated.


Dear Lisa,

Hmmm, this seems to be a two-part question in three parts. Hee, hee! The EGs understand. We were never Ones For Math.

Part 1: In general, where you purchased something is Not Anyone Else's Concern. You may have bought it from Saks, or from eBay, or at a Tag Sale-- it doesn't matter. You don't need to give the Provenance of, say, a DVD Player-- the recipient of the gift should accept it gratefully, no matter where it came from.

However, one does want to be Thoughtful about Gift-Giving. Now, that doesn't mean that you need to Kill Yourself to get a Gift Receipt for everything you buy (the EGs understand the stores are trying to Make Things Convenient for Everyone, but arrrgh, there's just something Unfortunately Tacky about tossing a bit of dot-matrix-printed cash register receipt paper in with an otherwise Beautifully Wrapped Present). If you really think there's a chance someone will need to return something, perhaps another Internet-based retailer like or might be preferable. For example, if you're buying clothes for a Wee Child whom you haven't seen in a long time, and you're unsure of the correct size, it would be thoughtful of you to purchase the item somewhere like, where the Wee One's Mother can easily exchange it if it Ne Fits Pas.

Part 2: OF COURSE you should spend according to What You Can Afford!! Even if you're buying a gift for Your Extremely Wealthy Great-Aunt, who spends money like there's No Tomorrow, you do not need to Bankrupt Yourself and buy her a Fabergé Egg or something! We bet she'd be Absolutely Charmed to receive a Hand-Knitted Scarf that cost you Next to Nothing to make. Repeat after the EGs: Selecting a present is about Giving Someone Something They'll Appreciate, not Spending a Lot of Money on them. Or, for that matter, trying to guess, in advance of exchanging presents, how much money the other person is going to spend on YOU and then trying to Match It. That, Dear Reader, is Just Plain Nuts.

Part 3: Many truly special gifts (such as the hand-knitted scarf) are Not Returnable. So that's just fine! Obviously, common sense still applies (see the above example about Children's Clothing; also, you will want to take Special Care when packaging a One-of-a-Kind item, especially if You're Mailing It). But sure, go ahead and give a Quilt or a Scarf or a Box of Homemade Cookies. It'll be Swell!

Happy Holidays,
The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Thanks for such a fabulous (and much-needed) website!

I was curious as to what the Etiquette Grrls consider acceptable college majors to be. Thanks for the help!


Dear Katie,

Oooh! The EGs love giving our opinions about Stuff Like This! FYI, the only three Acceptable College Majors are:

1) English Literature and/or Creative Writing

2) Art History

3) Physics


Obviously, Dear Reader, we're Having a Bit of Fun with you. We think the most important thing you can do in college is Not Get Boxed In too early to a major with an Obvious Career Path. We're especially suspicious of "Pre"-Anything Majors-- what, exactly, does that mean? PLENTY of Excellent Doctors majored in something besides "Pre-Med" in College. (Plenty of Excellent Schools don't even OFFER Pre-Anything Majors. EGL couldn't have been "Pre-Law" at Princeton if she'd Tried. Which is a Good Thing.) We say look at college as a chance to get a Truly Liberal Education. Interested in, say, Philosophy? Go ahead and major in it, and then by all means apply to Law School or Med School or even (horrors) Business School if it Floats Your Boat. In our experience, having a Strong, Genuine Interest in Something, even if it's slightly unrelated to your next academic or career venture, makes you an Interesting Candidate. And of course, you should still take a Nicely Rounded courseload, to Broaden Your Mind. (Most Colleges have Distributional Requirements to Help You Along with that, but in the event you have taken 45 AP Exams and Placed Out of Them All, you should still not spend Four Years studying Nothing But German Literature.)

Finally, do not under any circumstances feel that you need to know Your Major when you arrive on Campus as a Freshman. You'll need time to get to know professors, see how you actually like a department, etc., before you Make That Decision.

The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Christmas time is rolling around again, and I have this quandary that has been bothering me for some time. My programming department at work has about 15 people in it. I of course do not want to get all of these people presents, but I have gotten my three closest friends here gifts. Is it inappropriate to give these friends the gifts in front of the others? I do plan on giving the others cards and maybe a small gift, but nothing big as they are not good friends with me.

Thank you ever so much in advance,
Puzzled Gift Giver

Dear Puzzled Gift Giver,

Work is, in many ways, Just Like Kindergarten. If you don't have enough of something to Share with the Whole Class, you shouldn't bring it to School. We would advise giving everyone the same sort of gift if you exchange gifts at the office. Plan to meet your closest friends for Cocktails after work some day, and give them their "special" gifts in Private. Or, you could Mail Them to their homes.

Merry Christmas,
The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

With the holiday season fast approaching, I know there's an impending etiquette dilemma I'm going to have to deal with, so I'm hoping the Etiquette Grrls can give me some guidance.

Our family's Christmas Eve dinner will be at my aunt's house this year. Since I stopped eating meat, this particular aunt has started preparing a certain bean dish every time I'm over at her home for a meal. Now I really do not like beans, and there are always many many things I can eat that I do like. But my aunt keeps announcing that she prepared this bean dish just for me and insisting that I have more.

If I take some, she repeatedly asks me how I like it, and when I finish she passes me the dish again and says "Have more! I made it just for you!" I've tried piling my plate full of all the other goodies so that there's simply no room for any beans, but as soon as some empty space appears on my plate the beans are being passed my way again. I tried profusely praising other dishes in the hope that she'd catch onto my what my tastes are, but her reply was "Have you tried the beans? What do you think? I made them just for you!" And then when the meal is finished, she gives me a Tupperware with the rest of the beans in it because, "No one else eats this vegetarian food." The leftovers ultimately end up in the hands of the first homeless person I see.

I've asked my mother to quietly inform my aunt at a convenient moment that she really needn't go to the trouble - I love the rest of the things she makes, and all but one or two dishes are vegetarian anyway. But my mother says it would be rude to tell her that after she goes through the effort of making a special dish for me.

What can I do to stop this onslaught of beans? I don't want to hurt my aunt's feelings or come off as a spoiled child, but I also want to enjoy the rest of her very tasty holiday dinner without having the quality and quantity of my bean consumption critiqued at every turn.

No Beans, Please

Dear No Beans,

Is Your Aunt, perchance, EGL's Mother? (Hee hee, just kidding. We know it's not EGL's Mom, or the Bean Dish would've been Good.) But seriously, some people just have a Thing About Feeding People, and we think Your Aunt is just Trying to Be Nice to You. It sounds like you know that already, though. Honestly, in this case, we'd have to say that the Polite Thing to Do would be to Deal With the Bean Dish at Dinner, and continue to Give the Leftovers Away. It's just one meal a year... and after all, it is Christmastime. Perhaps you can make it look like you've eaten more than you Actually Did, or volunteer to help with the dishes so you can dispose of what you Didn't Eat before she notices.

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

The subject of tip jars has been bothering me recently. It seems that virtually every food-related store, and some which are not, has placed a tip container on its counter with the not-so-implicit request that the employees' palms be crossed with silver. I tip waiters, I tip taxi drivers, and I tip hotel maids, but somehow tipping someone standing behind the counter who makes a coffee for me, or fills my bagel order, or puts my sandwich in a bag and takes my money seems far beyond the pale.

What guidelines do you offer for tips for non-sit-down food establishments, or non-food establishments in general.

Yours in the eternal struggle for decent manners,

Dear E.S.,

You are Entirely Correct. It's Getting Out of Hand, and it strikes us as Just Plain Greedy. The only reason we'd give a Tip at a Coffeehouse is if the service was Unusually Spectacular (e.g., the Lone Barista in a very busy café managed to get eight complicated coffee orders absolutely correct, advised us to wait five minutes before purchasing cookies because "A new batch is just coming out of the oven and they'll be much better," and pointed out that a table looked as if it would be available soon by the window if one of us wanted to grab it). A simple cup of Black Coffee? Putting a sandwich in a bag? No tip necessary. If there's a jar, and you feel like dropping your change in it rather than having it Weigh Down Your Wallet, that's fine, but you are under No Obligation to Tip.

Most sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls


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