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The Etiquette Grrls' Q & A Archive: January 2004

Many greetings from the British Isles,

This past summer, I struck up an e-mail correspondence with a lad from the United States. He is rather interested in England (where I live) and Scotland (which is the land of my birth). A distant relative of mine gave him my e-mail address because he is interested in learning the bodhran, which I teach. We have a fantastic time chatting and I enjoy receiving e-mails from him.

My longtime love and I were married last month here in London and recently purchased a new flat in Primrose Hill. My husband and I both make very good money and, with some regret; my e-mail mate figured this out when he heard the title I carry in my career. He has, as of late, been enquiring as to whether he can stay with us when he comes to London next year. According to his e-mails, he assumes because we are "sooooo rich" (his actual words), and we have a large flat with guest quarters, that this should be no problem. This could not be farther from the truth. While I enjoy this lad's e-mails, I do not know him and am not terribly keen on the idea of a stranger staying in our home. My husband, as well, does not love the idea.

Also, his correspondence has recently become more personal than I prefer, he recently suggested that he thinks my age, 23, is too young to be wed to my "much older" husband, who is all of 28. (*Gasp* 5 years? How indecent!)

How do I politely tell this gent that staying in our home would be out of the question? And how do I keep the topic of conversation more toward music, and less toward my personal life, without offending? I enjoy talking with him about our joint passion for music and would hate to give that up. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Perplexed in London

Dear Perplexed,

Ugh—nothing like Inviting Yourself to Stay With Someone AND Making Rude Assumptions About Their Income at the same time! You are under absolutely no obligation to play hostess to this American Boy. We'd send him an e-mail saying something like, "I'm really sorry, but we're not going to be able to have a houseguest. I'd be happy to recommend a few good hotels around the city, though!" Don't offer an explanation, especially if it's one that's easy to circumvent. (If you said, "Sorry, we can't have a houseguest that week—we're having work done on the flat," he'd probably be the type to say, "No problem—I'll just come the week before!") If he presses you for details as to why he can't stay with you, feel free to tell him the truth: "Sorry, but my husband and I don't feel we know you well enough to be comfortable having you stay with us." As for the comments on your Personal Life, well, we'd just Not Acknowledge them. Ignore, ignore, ignore, and turn the subject back to Music. (Although, we have to say, if the comments got too personal, we'd probably be tempted to say something like, "Thanks for sharing your thoughts on my marriage, but that's not something I care to discuss with anyone. Let's keep things to Music, shall we?")

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Hope you're having a fabulous holiday season!

I'm having a small etiquette quandary regarding a fête I am hosting (er, trying to host). My darling husband and I decided it would be splendid fun to have some friends over for a holiday bash. Now, in the hecticness of the holiday season, I'll grant that I didn't exactly get invitations out in as timely manner as I would have liked—I mailed them two weeks before the event. Grrls, I realize I *should* have mailed them much earlier to accommodate social schedules of the season....

Fast forward to today, when all but five of my guests have R.S.V.P.-ed with regrets due to other plans. The remaining five have not R.S.V.P.-ed yet. I'm at the point where I really need to know whether they'll come, but at this point, the character of the event (if there is one, sigh) will really change from what we've intended. My darling husband is at the point that he'd like to bag the whole thing. He thinks we're perfectly within our rights to tell anyone remaining who may happen to accept that "No one else is able to come so we're calling it off." I'm thinking that would be bad form and that we should just scale things, but is there a point when it's okay to cancel something? As much as I'd like to go ahead with this, if it's just us and one other friend, I think the whole thing may be a little silly.

What's a hostess to do? (Aside from the fact that it's perfectly sad that we're throwing a party and no one is coming....) By the time you're able to read and answer this, my fête will have come and gone (or not happened at all), but I'm still very curious to know what your take on all of this would be.

Hostess With the Leastest (guests, that is)

Dear Hostess With the Leastest,

Aww, that's a shame that your party didn't Come Together as Planned! What a Drag! We think that you probably could have Cancelled the Party without being Incredibly Rude, seeing as you didn't have any Acceptances, only Regrets and People Who Didn't R.S.V.P. We'd have called up the Non-R.S.V.P.ers and said something like, "We are TERRIBLY sorry, but we're going to have to reschedule our Little Fete. I didn't think you were planning on coming, since we didn't hear from you, but I wanted to let you know anyway. We'll send a new invitation for sometime in January." Now, if you did have people who R.S.V.P.ed as they should have done, and who said they'd be coming, it would be a bit trickier to Cancel the Party. At that point, those people may have turned down Other Invitations in order to be at your party, so it would be a Tad Inconsiderate to un-invite them. In that case, we'd have Scaled Back the Party, or perhaps invited a Few Other Guests to augment the crowd!

In the future, it's always a good idea when planning a party to run the date by a couple of Very Close Friends who can be relied upon to come. ("Hester, would you be free on January 17? I'm thinking of having a Wee Dinner Party and am trying to pick a date for it.") And with holiday parties, as you noted, it's really important to get the invitations out early, because people make Other Commitments.

All best,
The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I am fairly new to New York, and although I did my fair share of walking in my former (and much smaller) city, I am truly baffled by how many people here walk on the left-hand side of the sidewalk. I can totally understand dodging when someone is walking the dog or pushing a stroller through gobs of people—and, of course, every crosswalk is sheer madness. However, it usually happens when a clueless person is just strolling along while chatting on the cell phone on an empty sidewalk, with us both meeting at the wall and briefly staring at one another until the other (usually me) says "excuse me" and steps aside.

I know you are frequent visitors to NY, and I would really appreciate your letting me know if "yielding right" while walking is even on the books. I am in no way an etiquette vigilante, nor do I wish to change the habits of a huge population (I'll leave that to the gentle instruction of the pros). Honestly, I would be absolutely mortified if another pedestrian gave me the what for if I happened to be on the "wrong side" of the sidewalk!

New Kid in Town

Dear New Kid in Town,

"Yielding right" is not only ON the books, it's IN the book—MTYNTBT, to be precise. See page 22, but we'll summarize here: Yes, Pedestrians should walk on the right-hand side of the sidewalk, just as cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. In countries where everyone drives on the left-hand side of the road, pedestrians walk on the left-hand side of the sidewalk.

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I have a problem. My boyfriend and I meet up with several other couples during the year and one couple is always late. I mean really, really late. We had a dinner reservation for 9 P.M. on a particular evening and I specifically told them it was 8 P.M. in the hopes that they would arrive by 9—they strolled in at 10:10 P.M. We had asked the maitre d' to hold our table while we all waited (starving) in the lounge having cocktails. We finally decided to stop waiting and take our seats at the table. So the five couples who were on time sat and were pouring over the menu and making our wine selections when they strolled in (not very apologetically). We all wanted them to make a selection from the menu quickly because we were famished! So we started to make suggestions and informed them that the vegetables were served family style and that the selections were already made. That's when they informed us that they had already eaten dinner!!!!! They got appetizers only. Apparently he took a nap (he is famous for his napping) and didn't even wake up until 8 P.M.!!!

The following week we were invited to the tardy couple's home for a surprise party (we were on time). The gentleman was waiting for others to gather for him to blow out his candles, and he was mouthing off about having to wait for them to come into dining room to sing to him! My guy and I both darted our eyes toward him and commented in a jovial manner on how he was funny to complain when he is never on time himself. He said he was on time for work only and that he is always an hour early to have his coffee and do his crossword puzzle each day... then he said everyone else can just wait for him. He actually said the words, "To hell with everyone"... WOW! Another couple has contacted us recently on how we can exclude them or lay down the law on being timely. How can we broach this subject tactfully? Also, four of the couples at the dinner mentioned above were each paying a sitter by the hour, which would have been a lot less had they been on time. Is it arrogance, ignorance or just plain immaturity?

S. in Philadelphia

Dear S.,

He actually said, "To hell with everyone"? Well, then we would say to hell with making any Future Plans avec him and his Significant Other! It sounds like he's being either Arrogant or Immature—Ignorance can't be a factor if he said that he thinks it's fine if others have to wait for him. No one with That Sort of Attitude would be welcome at any event we planned, thank you very much! Normally, we'd say to give someone One More Chance after having a Serious Talk with him about how everyone finds His Chronic Lateness to be Extremely Inconvenient and Disrespectful… but if he actually expressed that his attitude is that he thinks it's fine if everyone else just waits, and to Hell With You All, then that's reason enough in our opinion to start making plans without him. If he asks why he's being excluded, then you can tell him directly that you'd be happy to make plans with him again if, and ONLY if, he will commit to arriving on time.

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I have a recurring problem that I'm hoping you can help me with. I keep supplies in my cubicle and my co-workers keep taking them. Often the items that "disappear" are those that I have put time into preparing, such as pre-labeled files. Signs asking that they obtain their own supplies haven't helped because no one seems to think that it applies if I don't see them do it. When I have caught co-workers taking supplies, they act as if I have some nerve to suggest that they take the time to get their own. We have the same workloads, so I don't see where they get off thinking that I should spend my time supplying them with what they need. I am at a loss as to how I can get the pilfering to stop and have no way to lock the supplies up. Any suggestions?

Thank you,
Frustrated Worker

Dear Frustrated Worker,

How annoying! Let's see... perhaps you could simply Hide Things if you don't have a drawer or cabinet that locks. Bring in a box, label it "Archive Files, 1993-94" or something Similarly Boring, and put the most frequently pilfered items in there. If someone should come up to you and ask how come you stopped making those Nice, Prelabeled Files, then you should say that too many people kept stealing them and you were tired of it. Otherwise, talk to Your Boss and ask him or her to Lay Down the Law—your point about having the same workload as everyone else is a good one, and any good boss would promptly send around an e-mail to your department informing everyone that they are responsible for Getting Their Own Damn Supplies, and that stealing them from Other People's Offices is Not Acceptable.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

This Christmas I received a fabulous gift that I actually liked from my brother's girlfriend. She knows me well, and always is very thoughtful when buying me something.

This year the gift was a watch and I promptly put it on and thanked her profusely. A thank-you note would have been on its way shortly thereafter, but due to my own carelessness or the fates, I lost the watch the very same day it was given to me. I feel incredibly silly, as I really liked the watch, but my quandary is this: Do I tell her I lost the gift the day I got it? Do I write the thank-you note and lie, saying I love my gift and wear it every day? Or do I attempt to find the same watch and pretend this never happened?

I see her often enough that she is likely to notice my not wearing the watch.

Thank you kindly,
Wandering Watchless

Dear Wandering Watchless,

Well, obviously you shouldn't lie and say you wear the watch Every Day if you are going to see the giver Rather Frequently when you are Not Sporting It! Do not breathe a word about Losing It, Dear Reader. There's no way to do this nicely in a Thank-You Note—no matter what you say, the subtext will be, "I didn't appreciate your gift enough to be careful with it." If you can find a Duplicate Watch, you can, of course, buy it and pretend it's the Watch your brother's girlfriend gave you, but unless you're Absolutely Sure what type of watch it was, we wouldn't do that, either, lest she think something is up. Simply write a thank-you note expressing your gratitude for her thoughtfulness in giving you such a pretty watch, and make no mention of how often you plan to wear it, or, indeed, Its Sorry Fate.

As ever,
The Etiquette Grrls


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I received an invitation to a bridal shower this weekend and as soon as I read it, I knew that I had to tell you about it. I don't even really know this girl, but we've gone to the same church since we were kids and she was one of those obligatory birthday party invites, so I know that I was an obligatory wedding invite. She is only 19 years old and neither she nor her fiancé went to college because it was such a hassle and since our mission in life is to get married. (Right?? Blech.) Since they met at a legal age, they have decided to do so even though neither has a real job. This is mistake number one in my humble opinion. Mistake number two is the bridal shower. It is princess-themed. She is wearing a tiara as part of her wedding veil so the women throwing her shower got the beyond brilliant idea that she should have a princess wedding shower, complete with tiara-shaped invitations. Every attendee is assigned a princess: Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella, etc. There is a list of gift ideas for each princess. If you are assigned Sleeping Beauty, you are to bring linens or lingerie. Rapunzel brings personal grooming products. Snow White takes care of kitchen needs. Cinderella must bring tickets for movies or gift certificates for restaurants or romantic CDs and candles. CAN YOU REALLY BELIEVE THIS??? My first thought after recovering from fainting was that I must tell the Etiquette Grrls. Princess-themed birthday parties were great when we were five years old, but I really feel that if you believe you're old enough to get married that you should try to move beyond Disney. I already had my doubts that this girl was mature enough to be a wife and now those doubts are confirmed. I have no real question, but I would love to get some feedback from you lovely grrls!


Dear Anti-Princess,

Holy Mary, Mother of God. There are so many things wrong with this that it's hard to tell where to start.

Could we all just get over the "Princess" stuff, RIGHT NOW? Nothing says "Spoiled and Immature, but Weirdly Proud of It" like a Glittery Pink "Princess" T-Shirt on a Grown Woman. If you are unfortunate enough to actually be spoiled and immature, you should not be buying t-shirts proclaiming this fact! We think your $14.95 would be better put toward Therapy. And it frightens us that so many Baby Clothes say "I'm a Princess" or "Mommy's Little Princess" or something on them. Way to give a little girl a Complex. And furthermore, Getting Married does not confer Royal Status on anyone, except if she is actually marrying into a Royal Family, which is Pretty Damn Rare. There's something very dangerously egomaniacal about a Bride who actually believes she can Act Like a Princess. We'd hate to be in HER wedding party. Why anyone would want to encourage a Bride to think of herself as a Princess is Beyond Us. Plus, beyond that, you're right—this sounds like a Child's Birthday Party, not a Wedding Shower! Are there going to be Pony Rides, too? If you're going to Get Married, you need to start acting like a Grown-Up.

Getting back to the etiquette of this—we think it's Rather Rude to "assign" presents to anyone. Theme showers can be okay as long as the theme is General (e.g., a Linen Shower), but guests should always have as much latitude as possible in selecting gifts. Actually listing the gifts people should bring makes shopping for them seem like a Homework Assignment.

Now, we're just wondering about a few things. Why does Cinderella need to bring Movie Tickets or Restaurant Gift Certificates? It's been a while since we've dipped into our Collection of Fairy Tales, but we thought Cinderella was, like, a Scullery Maid who rode around in Pumpkins, not a Movie Buff or The Phantom Gourmet. We think Cinderella should bring a Broom and a Large Gourd. Why not pick your own Princess? Go as Boudicca and bring a Wee Sword! (Sure, she's technically more a Warrior Queen than a Princess, but she probably was a Princess at some point, and hell, it would just be Terribly Amusing.)

Hang in there, Dear Reader. If you actually attend this shower, do send us a report…

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls


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