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The Etiquette Grrls' Q & A Archive: July 2002

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Can you please give me a snappy reply for the ever-annoying question: "So, when are YOU going to have a baby?"

Actually, my husband and I are hoping soon, but I do not care to disclose my personal business with folks. So, I usually reply with "When I plan to breed, I'll be sure to disseminate a memo!" I just feel that this is the rudest question someone can ask you.

Your thoughts?
Tongue-Tied

Dear Tongue-Tied,

"Approximately nine months after I conceive, When and If I Do So."

Love,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I loved reading your book-- I found it just as I was preparing to present information to a group of teenage girls on social graces. These girls are so precious, but are surrounded my daily breaches of all of your etiquette rules.

My most immediate concern is in addressing clothing choices and shopping. Most are very poor and not able to consistently shop at the better stores, so their wardrobes will have to consist of staples which can be purchased a the large chain discount stores. What advice should I give for putting together such a wardrobe.

My thought was to list some basic pieces, discuss fit and fabric content, then encourage them that this wardrobe should be fairly plain and neutral in color. I know, however, that they will consider this dull and boring. Any help for this particular question or the project as a whole would be appreciated.

(Aside: We plan to take a group of girls ages 12-18, on three outings each summer for exposure and discussion of etiquette. Restaurants will progress from inexpensive to very chic. We'll probably include a night at the theater.)

Karen

Dear Karen,

We think your project sounds wonderful! And we're entirely with you on your wardrobe advice. If you've got our book, you can tell what our take on fabrics and fit is (quality over quantity; classic over trendy; seasonless over seasonal, etc.), so we won't Repeat Ourselves Here. It's definitely possibly to find workable pieces at discount stores, and we would encourage you to talk about Vintage Clothing, too-- often one can find a Truly Timeless, Beautifully Made, Very Wearable Outfit at a fraction of the cost of a similar item in a Department Store. We'd also suggest discussing Accessories, if you feel the girls might think your advice is Boring-- while the EGs think, for example, that one should have a Winter Coat in a Neutral Color, we wouldn't object to a Bright Pink Scarf to liven it up! One could wisely spend one's money on a simply cut Black Sweater, too, and pick up a few Darling Print Scarves for a few dollars at a Vintage Shop to go with it! One of those magazines that sends Makeup Artists to CVS in search of Bargains ought to give the EGs a hundred bucks and watch what we could do with it... but we digress. (If such magazines are Out There, hee hee, drop us a note and we'll talk.)

Finally, we love the idea of discussing Etiquette over a few nice evenings out! Good luck with everything, and let us know how it goes!

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dearest EGs,

I love your site, of course. It has supplied me with both insightful tidbits (I no longer chew gum in public) and endless amusement. Your site is much more fun to me now than reading Letitia Baldridge's book when I was 14.

On to my question:

As a self-supported Graduate Student living in Boston, which is a rather pricey city, I am quite often down to double digits in my checking account. Penury aside, I still somehow manage to purchase Nice Products for my face, hair, and body-- Kiehl's, Fresh, Origins, Aveda, etc. I am adamant about using products that are well-made and smell like real flowers and herbs, rather than the putrid, ersatz floral and "fruity" scents, like the ones found at Bath and Body Works (I hate their gingham theme, as well). The problem: one of my roommates, a lovely and intelligent person, has been using my products WITHOUT ASKING ME. Now, it makes complete sense to ask a roommate if you could try her Fabulous Lemon Sugar Body Lotion before you drop $30 on bottle yourself at a shop on Newbury St. But not asking and using?!? Repeatedly? I'm sure that it is happening as the levels in my bottles in the bathroom lower, even if I haven't used a certain product for a while, and the scent of clove shampoo is pretty distinctive, especially on someone else's head!

Should I confront my roommate? Should I leave a Post-It on the bathroom mirror? I wouldn't be so irritated if I didn't know that she could Well Afford her own Nice Products. It's not my fault she chooses Pantene and Dove (aaack!). My Products are my one luxury (beside good cheese) and, as Ms. Summer sang, "She works hard for her money..."

I appreciate any advice you can spare--

A Devoted Fan--
Sara

Dear Sara,

Oh, you poor, poor dear! Your roommate is not, perhaps, a Certain Parisian that EGL had the Ill Luck to room avec at a Summer Program, once upon a time, is she? Just wondering. Cette Fille had a penchant for Dousing Herself with EGL's perfume (which at that time was Colors de Benetton-- remember that, Dear Readers?) sans asking. In English or French.

But we digress. You've got two options. First, you could put all of Your Beauty Products in Your Bedroom, preferably in a Closed Drawer (one that Locks, if possible). That should be Pretty Clear. Or, you could be direct and confront Your Roommate. Personally, we'd go for the latter. "Flora, could we have a conversation about what products we'll share and what we'll buy individually? I've noticed you're using my Fresh Lemon Sugar Body Lotion, and I'd like to talk about it." Just explain to her what you did to us-- that these products are your own little indulgence, and since they're meant as a personal treat, you hope she'll understand why you don't want to share them.

You're quite lucky being a Grad Student in Boston! When the EGs were Poor, Miserable Grad Students, seeking a Slight Indulgence to Get Us Through Another Day of Grading Insipid Comp Essays, we didn't have a Fresh boutique in town! And better yet, now there's a Kiehl's! JOY AND BLISS! Newbury Street is getting better all the time...

Love,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

We work with a "girl" who has just today announced her upcoming marriage on 8/9, the day before a long-anticipated cruise with long-time boyfriend of five years/live-in for six months. She also announced that she wants monetary contributions in order for them to purchase their platinum wedding bands, as well as a special "money tree" (made for a 20-year employee who just retired and left on a cruise with her new fiancé) for their cruise. This woman hardly speaks to any of us, always takes days and days off of work-- leaving others to cover for her, and is downright rude when approached with a friendly "good morning." What do we do? Just not do anything? Tell her how inappropriate her requests are in light of her behavior toward all of us??? We're depending on you for an answer to our dilemma!!! THANKS.

Carren

Dear Carren,

WHAT?!? We've got one question: Why on earth is this woman Still Employed in Your Office? We'd complain to The Management. If you are The Management, Dear Reader, then you need to get out Your Favorite Pen and fill out a Pink Slip, Stat. It's not that she's Tacky and Rude (which in the EGs' Opinion, SHOULD be cause for Getting Fired, but in practice, we know that'd be hard to Justify in Court); it's that she's making Other People do Her Job. If she wants Time Off so badly, we say give it to her! In the meantime, just ignore her Wedding Demands. Have everyone sign a card for her, and That's It. Or to make it Emphatically Clear that she's not Getting Anything Else, buy her a Punch Bowl or something and make the gift card read, "From the Entire Office."

You didn't ask, but the EGs just have to say... we're not at all keen on Money Trees, for any occasion. We'd suggest someone Stash It Away in Their Basement.

All best,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I am going to London with my parents next month, and would like some brief advice on what to pack for the visit. My main problem is that I am known for overpacking, and would like to keep it to a minimum. I was going to pack mostly basic items, blouses, a-line skirts, khakis, loafers/flats (for walking), etc., but I just wanted a second opinion. I would like to avoid looking distinctly American (no Abercrombie faux grunge). Your advice would be much appreciated. Thank you.

C.

Dear C.,

Your packing list sounds Just Smashing! We'd stick to Solid Colors (it's easier to mix pieces), and we'd throw in at least one Dressy Outfit, depending upon what you'll be doing, but we think you're off to a Good Start.

Down with Abercrombie & Fitch! The EGs have had ENOUGH of faux grunge, or, worse, Pseudo-Preppy, Ill-Fitting, Overly Revealing Apparel! The EGs would like to remind everyone that it's Just a Tad Silly to buy clothing that is manufactured to look like it's Been Through a War! If through some Unfortunate Laundry Accident, both sleeves are ripped off Your Oxford Shirt, and it shrinks Four Sizes, a Reasonable Person would Throw It Away! No one should purchase clothing that is Already In Such a State! EVER! Let's not even get started on the jeans with the "I slid down a mountain on my Rear End" Localized Fading. Not to mention their Children's Clothing, which really just Needs to Stop Right Now. Just this Friday, we heard, from a Reliable Source, that they once thought it would be a Swell Idea to sell Thongs in Girls' Sizes. Did you hear a loud "THUNK, THUNK" around noontime? Well, that was the sound of the EGs Keeling Over in a Dead Faint.

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

We know someone that upon entering at a private club she immediately rearranges chairs to suit her and anyone in her party. Usually this is by getting chairs from other tables and bringing them to our table. This also has happened at wedding receptions and birthday parties. How can we prevent this from happening and what is the rule on such? It seems so rude especially when people are seated at the tables from which she takes the chairs. She does ask them if it is okay to get the chairs and almost every time the others will say that it is all right but that most certainly seals their fate at being alone for the rest of the occasion. How can we let her know that we don't approve without being downright tacky ourselves?

Kathy

Dear Kathy,

Hee hee. We have to admit, our first ideas were along the lines of "First, buy a Wee Bottle of Superglue...," but it would be Bad Form to Affix Everyone's Chairs to the Floor just to Prove a Point. So we have been forced to consider Other Options.

Dear Reader, this is Quite Perplexing Behavior. We would probably take her aside at the next Wedding Reception or Party and say, "You know, Trixie, I know that the hostess has gone to a lot of trouble to make seating arrangements. Let's leave the chairs where they are and mingle after dinner is finished." If she says something Preposterous, like, "Well, I know the Smiths would want to sit with us," you could say, "Really, Trixie, I don't think the hostess would have bothered to make Place Cards for everyone if she didn't want people seated in Particular Spots. We have to honor that-- it'd be terribly rude of us not to." If there aren't place cards, you might simply point out that it is Rather Rude to take the chairs from the next table and leave that One Couple Sitting All Alone.

The other solution: If seats aren't assigned, Don't Sit With Her.

Yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Every Monday (most of them, anyway. Of course you have more urgent things to do than post a new Q&A at the strike of midnight Monday ONCE in a while! Shame on that rude little woman who complained! I just thank my lucky stars you do it at all! But I digress, wildly so)... well, most Mondays, I so enjoy reading your Q&A. That's really all there is to say about that, Monday being a particularly tiresome day. To summarize, you are wonderful and all-knowing and I can't wait until the sequel comes out!

My question is a simple one. I believe you answered a similar question with "a pot of marmalade" or something of the sort, but there are nuances to this:

I am going to spend a week with a friend who has a WONDERFUL summer house abroad, in a very sunny, very exclusive Unnamed Place. Actually, as we are both 18, it would be correct to say her PARENTS have this wonderful house, and they will be there. It will be a house party and probably won't have much contact with the parents more than just to be welcomed and say thank you etc. What sort of gift can I bring? As this is only their summer home, it can't be anything that will be a nuisance to pack. I think it would be strange for an 18 year old to bring them marmalade or a vase. Any suggestion that won't break the bank, but won't contend with my red glitter flip flops to be the tackiest thing in the house? Or should I just send a beautifully worded Thank You note afterwards? (I'll do that either way, sans dout!!)

Sincerely,
Mathilda

Dear Mathilda,

Thank you from the Bottom of Our Hearts for understanding that every so often, the EGs do need to Take Time Off! We've heard from many Dear Readers who have said They Understand, and we truly, truly appreciate it. We wish we could Bake Cookies for all of you!

But We Digress. Dear Reader, it wouldn't be strange at all for an 18-year-old to bring a pot of marmalade or a vase as a Hostess Gift! It might be Un Peu Etrange for a four-year-old, but Darling, You're An Adult! You absolutely need to take some sort of wee gift for Your Friend's Parents. What about a box of Good Chocolates? Or a box of Guest Soaps? Neither of these is very difficult to carry. Even if you brought a Vase or a Book or a Candle or something, if your friends' parents own the summer house, they could certainly leave the gift there to enjoy when they're In Residence. You could, we suppose, send your wee gift along after you return, but we always think it's preferable to arrive with a Hostess Gift in Hand.

You are kidding about the Red Glitter Flip-Flops, n'est-ce pas? Just checking.

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I love your site, having stumbled upon it by accident last year during my quest for proper wedding apparel. Anyway, I now have a dilemma and know I would much prefer your solution to another, less-entertaining one.

I have always been a rather small woman but had the unfortunate luck (?) to add about 50 extra pounds to my frame over the course of about the last five years or so, much to my dismay. I have, over the last eight months, lost this extra weight with careful eating and exercise and am now in very good shape. I am so thankful I was able to do it.

My question (as I am sure you have already guessed) is this: How on earth do you reply to someone who hasn't seen you in quite awhile and says, "Wow! You have lost a TON of weight! How did you do it?" Can't people realize how incredibly rude this is? I usually say, "Well, just under a TON, actually. Thanks for noticing." More often than not, the irony is lost.

Maybe I am just really touchy, but this grates on my nerves. Is there a response that will convey my displeasure without being rude? Should I just get over it? Many thanks for your advice!

A fan,
GFW

Dear GFW,

The EGs find This Sort of Comment INFURIATING! While we understand that when one has not seen a Dear Friend in a while, and her appearance has Changed Considerably during this time, one will naturally be somewhat surprised at the change, we do not understand why people can't simply Hold Their Tongues About It. It's not only Rude, it's Tedious, because you're Stating the Obvious! This is true whether the Change in Appearance is, in the viewer's opinion, a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. If you must say anything at all, for the Love of All Things Holy, leave it at, "You look great!"

So, Dear Reader, we don't think you're being Touchy at all. In fact, we think your response is Pretty Damn Funny-- it's too bad it goes over the heads of People In General (P.I.G.). Sigh. It might be fun sometime to make something up, to give people a bit of a jolt: "The food in Prison will do that to you," or "My Crack Habit helps." Or you might smile sweetly and say, "Yes... but there are about a billion More Interesting Things to Talk About in this world... excuse me, I need to replenish My Drink."

Fondly,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

First let me express my Enormous Gratitude to Your Good Selves for having the Forethought and Common Sense to establish and maintain a Website that is So Obviously a Benefit To Society in general - keep up the Good Work!!

Now, for my quandary. Being a Young, Energetic, and Socially Active Woman, I am partial to spending the evening doing one of two things, depending on my Mood - draped across the bar of a Classy, Elegant Establishment with a Good G&T in hand, or kicking up my heels at a Classy, Elegant Establishment Dancing The Night Away.

However, in both situations, I continually have men approach me and proposition me for a drink or a dance. Not just any men, but, unfortunately, Shabbily-dressed, Lewd, Inebriated suitors who, it seems, Want Nothing More than to (and please excuse my crudeness here) "Cop A Feel". I knowingly do Nothing to instigate or encourage Such Ungentlemanly Behaviour, yet no matter How Many Times I Politely Decline their invitations, it Still Continues to occur. I feel this is Rude, Unchivalrous, and just plain Awful, and it does not make for an enjoyable evening, either.

I would like your Opinions on how to handle such a Situation with Grace, Dignity and Aplomb, yet still forcefully enough Not To Encourage Future Replication of this unwanted attention. What would the Etiquette Grrls suggest?

With Much Appreciation,
Nicole

Dear Nicole,

First of all, Dear Reader, the EGs hear your complaints. The same thing happens to us, Far, Far Too Often, even in the Nicest of Bars! It is Simply Infuriating.

Several replies spring to mind...

1) "As I have told you REPEATEDLY, I am Not Interested."

2) "Sir, Please Go Away."

3) "Excuse me, Mr. Bartender? The gentleman in the Ill-Fitting Plaid Suit is Bothering Me. Is there anything you can do?" (Mr. Bartender should take care of the Idiot. If he can't or won't, this is not the type of Establishment that Deserves Your Business.)

4) "Sir, you are being Rude, Unchivalric, and Just Plain Awful. Leave me alone."

5) "Excuse me, but I am having a Private Conversation."

Any of these, accompanied avec an Icy Glare, should scare away Just About Anyone. We're serious about the Glare-- when delivered correctly, Rude People practically Curl Up and Die on the Spot.

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

You know who else can S[Y|M]IH? Thomas Kinkade. Poor Monet obviously didn't know enough to *trademark* the name "Painter of Light."

Keeping a Stiff Upper Lip,
Grad Student Proudly Serving Fine Dinners on Corelle

Dear Grad Student,

Good God, the EGs could not more heartily concur! The man is Bloody Awful! We shudder to think at the Poor, Innocent Mall-goers who shell out a substantial amount of their Hard-Earned Money to purchase some Horrid Little Woodland Scene, thinking it's Art. The Painter of Light? The EGs have never seen, and HOPE never to see, light like that. Ugh! Memo to Everyone: Just because it's painted on canvas does not mean it Qualifies As Real Art. Oh, the Horror, the Horror...

We are, even now, Reaching for The Gin Bottle,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

This may sound crazy, but what is the appropriate attire to wear in a plane trip? I am leaving for vacation tomorrow, and of course my first priority is to be fashionable, but I also value comfort. I read once that you shouldn't wear jeans on a plane. Is this true?

Please advise.

Thank you!!
Trifany

Dear Trifany,

Why yes, Dear Reader, it IS true. You may have read it here.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

First of all I love your website. Now my question, I recently returned from a trip to see family that I had not seen in three years. All of the meals that we ate at the house were served on paper plates in front of the TV on trays. They have a lively dining room and plenty of real dishes. I would have liked to sit and have a nice meal where we could talk. Do you think it was correct to serve a guest like this? What could I have said to convince them to eat at a table? Thank you for any help.

Kadie

Dear Kadie,

Why thank you, Dear Reader, for your Kind Compliments! No, the EGs do not approve AT ALL of Eating In Front of the TV. We especially do not approve if there is a Guest Present! (Now, we cheerfully make an exception for Our Dear Friends who live in the Tiniest Studio apartments, whose dining tables cannot help but be Near the TV, but rest assured, Dear Reader, the EGs' Dear Friends always turn off the TV during Dinner.)

However, that being said, you cannot Criticize Someone's Manners if you are a Guest in Their Home. You could have said something like, "In MY house we NEVER eat in front of the TV! My Mother would Keel Over Dead at the Very Thought of it!" but this would be The Height of Rudeness (THOR). In this situation, one must Grin and Bear it. The best way to convince them to eat at a table would be to invite them Chez Toi, pull out all the stops, and show them by example that it's easy and fun to have a nice meal in the Dining Room!

With best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Please settle a difference of opinion for me regarding the French term "R.S.V.P." (Répondez s'il vous plaît). I have a friend who insists that there is an "Americanized" version of R.S.V.P. consisting of four words, starting with an R, an S, a V and a P (such as "Respond So Very Promptly"). Is there such a thing?

Thanks!

Love your site!
Victoria

Dear Victoria,

Well, plenty of phrases could stand for "R.S.V.P." "Really Snazzy Vintage Purse" comes immediately to mind, and if the EGs had a bit more Time to Ponder it, we're sure we could think of many more. However, "R.S.V.P." on an Invitation, stands for the French phrase "Répondez s'il vous plaît."

Love,
The Etiquette Grrls

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Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Bonjour from Texas! I've enjoyed reading your book and website immensely, and have found them both très hilarious and helpful. You ought to commend yourselves on making such a successful, timely, and wise contribution to our society.

First, a quick background. I am a junior high school teacher in my mid-20s, and my husband will begin his third year of medical school in a few weeks (after completing his current summer classes). My husband, who is quite busy studying for his first round of Board Examinations in addition to his normal courseload, has little-to-no free time. As a teacher, once school starts again, I will be quite busy in addition to understandably having to "pick up the slack" at home, since my husband is quite overwhelmed with school.

And now, my etiquette dilemma. It seems my cousin has decided she wants to visit my husband and me. Unfortunately, she decided (via e-mail, no less! hmph!) that she and her family ought to come to visit this fall, with absolutely no regard to our schedule! I find this inviting oneself to be entertained by someone in another city, as you ladies say, to be THOR. She has stated she and her (spoiled, wild) children would stay in a hotel, but it is assumed that my husband and I would find time to entertain them, perhaps over a weekend.

In sooth, I have no desire to socialize with my cousin and her family. Not only does my cousin tend to ramble on regarding her personal (physical, mental, etc.) issues a bit much, but also her husband is rude and obnoxious. Her eldest child is, not surprisingly, frightfully ill-mannered and spends an excessive amount of time screeching to get attention, which I simply cannot tolerate (I hear enough of that from my students!).

I spent a great length of time, however, explaining in my response e-mail that we were much too busy to properly entertain anyone this fall since my husband is in medical school, taking exams, and so on which I believed was firm and polite. I believed that would be sufficient, but no! Mix yourselves up a G & T…

She immediately shot back another e-mail asking if she and her family might come to visit before school starts. Or, as she put it, "Well, how about we visit you NOW?" punctuated with an irritating "winking smiley face" emoticon. Quoi?? Since when is it acceptable, when refused a self-initiated invitation, to issue yet another invitation and force the would-be hostess to once again refuse? Doesn't it seem that these things are bit backwards?

Normally, I would simply continue providing excuses and regrets, but it seems my cousin is determined to not take "no" for an answer. I have no desire to sink to her level of rudeness, yet if a firm "no" is ineffective, what then?

Warmest regards and appreciation,
A Southern Lady

Dear Southern Lady,

Awww, thank you so much for saying such nice things about us! The EGs are blushing!

What a Horrid, Awful Woman! The EGs cannot understand why people are So Thick-Headed! Dear Reader, we think you need to Lay Down the Law with her. Call her up and say, "Cousin Carla, I just wanted to give you a quick call to explain that while Geoffrey and I would love to see you, we simply are not in a position to entertain. Geoffrey and I decided that during this very stressful time we just cannot do it. I guess my e-mail didn't make it clear enough that we're totally out of circulation from now through the fall, until Geoffrey's done with exams, and for that, I apologize. If you'd like to come to Texas and tour around on your own, I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time, but I'm sorry, at this point I can't even commit to having a cup of coffee during your visit."

Will she be offended? Perhaps. It is, admittedly, somewhat strong to say you have NO free time AT ALL for MONTHS. But if you're looking for her to Take a Hint, this should work.

Good luck,
The Etiquette Grrls

 

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