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The Etiquette Grrls' Q & A Archive: March 2003

Dear Readers,

Like everyone else, the EGs have spent many hours this week watching CNN as war began in Iraq. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the brave members of Our Military (and, indeed, with the troops from around the world who are fighting side-by-side with the American Troops), and it is our fervent wish that this action proceed as quickly and with as few casualties as possible. We are especially saddened to hear of the American servicemen and -women who are Prisoners of War—we hope that they will be liberated very, very soon, and our hearts go out to Their Families. The reports of combat casualties and deaths also aggrieve us greatly, and we remember the wounded and the fallen in our prayers.

Some Dear Readers have asked us what is Appropriate Behavior in Wartime, and our answer is first, of course and as always, one should demonstrate the Utmost Respect for Our Country, Our Leaders, and Our Military. Flying the American Flag is one way to show this. We would also recommend donating time or money to the Red Cross, which, while it is perhaps best known for providing Disaster Relief, is also a key source of Humanitarian Relief (including that which will be delivered to the People of Iraq), as well as a source of services, support, and aid to Members of the Military and Their Families. An online donation form is available here; you may also search on www.redcross.org for your local chapter. Volunteer information is available here. We also think it is entirely appropriate to scale back, or to cancel, certain events which seem too Flip, or Showy, or Glib to take place while Our Country is At War. Life is not cancelled—we have jobs, and family obligations, and all of these should continue as usual. However, we'd have a hard time watching some sort of Snide Fashion Critique of the Academy Awards right now, for example, when on CNN, we're seeing bombs exploding in Baghdad and hearing that families of POWs are still being notified. So please excuse us if we stick to a couple of very traditional etiquette questions this week focusing on kindness and gracious behavior, minus our typical flippant attitude and occasional sarcastic comment. The EGs understand that many of you come here on Mondays to read just that sort of thing, but this week, it's just not the right thing to do.

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

My family and I have just recently moved into a new neighborhood. Several of the neighbors have brought over gifts to welcome us to the neighborhood. My question is, should I send out thank-you cards and or give them a gift? I want to do the right thing because in today's time you rarely experience this thoughtfulness.

Thank you,
Susan

Dear Susan,

It sounds like you picked a Wonderful Neighborhood—we hope you and your family will be very happy there. We would write a Thank-You Note to everyone who gave you a gift, and in that note we would extend an Invitation to have Dinner at Your House. You'll be showing Your Appreciation of Their Thoughtfulness, and having the Neighbors over for dinner is a smashing way to Get to Know Them! We know it may sound a bit daunting, especially after you've just completed a Move (always exhausting), but imagine how much better you'll know Your Neighbors after a meal together than after, say, six months of waving hello across the fence.

Best regards,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I am a senior in high school and would like to give my friends a cute, personal gift at graduation. However, I do not have much money to spend and would like to make something, but I have not been an avid photographer over the years. Do you have any suggestions, beyond collages and scrapbooks, as to what I could make for them? There are many people whom I know very well so I would like to be able to make 20 or so presents for them.

Thank you,
Rachel

Dear Rachel,

It's terrific that you've decided to make gifts instead of worrying because you haven't much to spend. The EGs have always felt that Handmade Gifts are the Most Thoughtful Kind of Present! What to make, however, really depends on what you'd like to make. We think Needlepoint is lovely, but if it's not Your Cup of Tea, it's not the Best Choice. Have you any interest in Making Jewelry? With just a few supplies you can make lovely bracelets or earrings. Or, what about finding something small that speaks to a Private Joke you have with Each Person? Or, how about making CDs with songs you and your friends like? You could even make special Jewelcase Inserts with notes about each song. We think your possibilities truly are limitless... just spend a little time thinking about what you'd like to spend time making. We're sure you'll come up with something very thoughtful and personal and sweet!

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

What is the proper way to deal with someone who has gotten you a gift (for a holiday, birthday, or anything else) that you didn't expect, and you aren't prepared to reciprocate? Of course I don't want to accept gifts without giving in return, but at the same time I feel embarrassed at running out to the store to find anything for the kindhearted giver. Is there any other way to handle this situation? I'd be relieved and grateful to hear your advice! Thank you!

Cheers,
Surprised

Dear Surprised,

First, the EGs believe strongly that Gift-Giving is about doing Something Thoughtful for Someone Else, not making them feel as if they must jump to give us something In Return. We definitely wouldn't condone running out to the Closest Store and picking up something, anything, just to be able to reciprocate quickly. If we were surprised by an Unexpected Gift, we would thank the giver profusely, and follow up promptly with a Thank-You Note. If we did want to reciprocate, we would take our time finding the Right Present for that person—it would be perfectly acceptable, for example, to send a gift in January to someone who sent you a present before Christmas, with a note saying that you spotted this and immediately thought of him, so you wanted to Send It Along. Next Christmas, you can put that person on Your Gift-Giving List.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

First of all, let me compliment you on your website—I happened to stumble upon it and immediately loved what I saw! Thank you for bringing some amount of decorum to our sometimes Capital "T" Tacky world.

Now to my dilemma. I was honored to serve as a bridesmaid for a close friend in February of this year. She comes from a rather prominent family in the city, and was therefore thrown several rather large, rather expensive showers prior to the wedding, as well as an engagement party where gifts were expected (I know, I know—but this is the Midwest). As a bridesmaid, I was invited to all of these, as well as five other showers from two previous engagements (it's a rather long story). Coming from the South, I was always taught that as a bridesmaid, I was under no obligation to give gifts at every shower to which I was invited, as presumably there would be many and I'm not Made of Money. I contributed to group gifts when I could afford it, as well as contributing to the Wedding Gift (a diamond necklace) we bridesmaids gave the Bride. You should also know that the wedding was a Location Wedding in Santa Barbara with Vera Wang Gowns which ended up costing me An Arm And A Leg. Now, while my bank account is still in recovery, the Newlyweds have announced that they are coming to town to celebrate their recent nuptials with family and friends who were unable to attend the actual event. There are going to be three "showers" thrown for the couple as well as a second reception here in the Bride's hometown. Is it necessary to shell out more money for these After-Wedding Showers (I've Never Heard Of Such A Thing) and if not, what do you suggest as a tactful way to handle the situation?

Awaiting your reply,
Very Nearly Sucked Dry in the Midwest

Dear Very Nearly Sucked Dry in the Midwest,

"After-Wedding" Showers? THREE of them? Can anyone say Greedy?? We could understand a couple who married in a Small Wedding Far From Their Hometown having a small party of some sort upon return from Their Honeymoon, but there is no way in hell that should remotely resemble a Shower, and it definitely shouldn't be Called One. Furthermore, there is NO excuse to have Three Such Parties. (Attention everyone who is under the mistaken impression that being born into a Prominent Family means one Innately Understands what is Appropriate Behavior—this is Perfect Evidence that such is not the case. These Young Whippersnappers need to go to Remedial Etiquette Boot Camp.)

You are absolutely not required to give any further gifts to This Couple. You've given them enough already, we think! Heck, turn their own Terminology against them—if these Silly Parties are supposed to be Showers (which is, again, Just Ridiculous, but never mind that for the moment), well, then, as a Bridesmaid you are only responsible for One Shower Gift, no matter How Many Showers you are Invited To. Ta-da! Perfect logic. Attend, if you wish, sans gift, and don't worry about it anymore. If we were you, though, Dear Reader, we'd try Our Damnedest to find Conflicting Obligations that required us, much to Our Chagrin (wink, wink), to send our regrets to these Fêtes.

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I bought your book, which I enjoy for the humor and tips. It didn't cover one small part, though, which I was rather hoping you could help me with.

I have never been to a formal dance in my life, nor have I ever gone shopping for any dress more expensive than, say, $50, mostly because I grew up very poor in the middle of nowhere where they don't have any stores nicer than
Sears.

Now I am 28 years old and working in education, and I am being forced to attend the local Prom as a chaperone. I have no way to get out of this. While I quite enjoy dancing and don't overall mind going, I am horrified by one constant which will not escape my mind, and that's: what should I wear?

I don't have the funds to purchase an actual prom dress and I'm quite certain that as a chaperone I shouldn't be doing such a thing anyway. I was considering investing in a classy black dress, but I'm not sure that such a thing would be quite appropriate for this event. I'm afraid that, left to my own devices (or the devices of my friends), I will end up either looking like a teenager myself, looking like a dowdy 80-year-old woman, or looking like a rag bag. In addition, I can't ask my colleagues, as they suggested that I wear a $10 polyester dress from Old Navy. I am really hoping not to embarrass myself. In your opinion, what should a 28-year-old Prom chaperone wear?

New to Prom

Dear New to Prom,

Oh, You Poor Dear! The EGs think High-School Proms are ghastly enough for High-School Students—we shudder to think how horrific they must be for the Poor Adults Who Chaperone Them! The very thought of Keeping Tabs on a Ballroom Full of Teenagers gives us a serious case of The Vapors. Dear Reader, do you have Smelling Salts? You might find a wee vial of them useful to slip in Your Handbag for use during This Event.

What to wear... Well, Dear Reader, first and foremost, do not wear anything resembling a Traditional Prom Dress. No tulle, no taffeta, no crinolines, no sequins; stay Far, Far, Far Away from the Juniors Department. Don't, under any circumstances, get an Elaborate Hairstyle, have your shoes dyed to Match Your Dress, or sport any sort of Corsage. The EGs think that you should Dress Up more than you do on an everyday basis at work, but leave the Fashion Mistakes to the Teenagers, Dear Reader. We would recommend a nice, dressy-but-not-flashy dress in a Dark Color like Black or Navy. (Plus, this kind of dress will be a Very, Very Useful addition to Your Wardrobe!) Now, you will also want to err on the side of The Conservative vis-à-vis the Cut of This Dress. Don't choose anything Revealing. You'll also want to avoid anything Too Glitzy; some subtle beading around the neckline would probably be fine, but don't overdo it. A very smart investment would be a Nice Shift Dress that has a Little Jacket to go over it—you'll be able to look Dressed-Up, yet still Authoritative. And if the night is a Bit Chilly, you'll find it useful to have something with you that offers a Bit of Warmth whilst you Patrol the Parking Lot searching for Miscreants.

With best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I love your website, which has indeed answered every question about good form that has cropped up during the past few years (thank you, by the way, for steering me away from ankle bracelets). However, now I have a question of my own. I am an 18-year-old university student, and I have been seeing a certain boy for about 6 months. The relationship has been serious (in a good way) for about two months. His birthday is in April, and mine is in May, so unfortunately it has fallen on me to buy the first birthday present of our relationship (hopefully not the last!). It is his 20th. I was thinking some sensible cufflinks. I considered an engraved cigarette case, but apparently he does not approve of this unless one is European, and it takes too much effort to change a man. What do you suggest?

Yours sincerely,
Cornelia

Dear Cornelia,

Oooh, cufflinks sound smashing! We think you're on to something there. Vintage ones can be Especially Keen. Engraved gifts are also always quite nice. (So long, that is, as the engraving is something like, "To A.B.C. from X.Y.Z., March 31, 2003" and not, "2 Pooky-Wooky Snookums, *kisseskisseskisses* from Ur 'Lil Bunnykins! :+) :+) 4ever"—how obnoxious. We sincerely hope the Good People at Tiffany's have not been asked to have Emoticons Hand-Engraved upon anything, but somehow, we fear that they have.) If your beau wouldn't appreciate an Engraved Cigarette Case, what about an Engraved Business-Card Case? Going back to the Cigarette Case, why does your boyfriend think this only appropriate for Europeans? It would be a Rather Useless gift for a Non-Smoker, naturally, but we don't understand why Americans, in general, shouldn't have Engraved Cigarette Cases. Does the prohibition extend to Other Non-European Countries, such as New Zealand or Japan? Is there something similar which he believes Europeans are not supposed to have, such as Engraved Pocketwatches or Engraved Money Clips? We are Quite Perplexed.

Sincerely,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Hello!

I just found your lovely website. BRAVA! If only the poor, misguided souls who insist on wearing sequin-embellished sweatshirts in public could be encouraged en masse to find it as well!!

My question involves a disturbing trend: Allowing One's Child to do Whatever He/She Pleases in Public. I'm sure this has been going on forever, but it seems that lately, any effort at (polite) correction by the Offended Party is likely to end up in a Screaming Match with the Offensive Parent of the Child Who Can Do No Wrong. I was at a department store recently, paying for my purchase, when a nine-year-old-ish boy SHOVED me over to look at an item that was displayed on the counter. I honestly had to grab the counter to steady myself, and I am neither Old nor Infirm. After recovering my composure, I turned to the Offending Child and said "Oh! Excuse me!" just loud enough for Mom, who was standing behind me, to hear. No response. From either party. I turned to stare at Mom, wearing a Mask of Blank Hauteur, and again, NOTHING. Offensive Mom actually tried to engage me in a conversation about my purchase! Was this her way of apologizing, while not? And would it have been permissible of me to say, "Pardon me, but your delightful son nearly knocked me over, and failed to apologize. Perhaps this would be an excellent time for you to advise him on how to conduct himself in public" I can recall, as a child, being reminded constantly on proper behavior, and my mother would never have tolerated SHOVING someone. Are hospitals offering free lobotomies with every induction?? What's going on here??

Your new admirer,
Sue in Chicago

Dear Sue in Chicago,

Arrrgh! The EGs cannot believe how Oblivious some parents are to Their Children's Blatant Rudeness! We think that's bad enough, but then you also have the parents who believe Their Little Angel Can Do No Wrong, and would never barrel into a stranger / make a Rude Comment to an adult / spend five hours kicking the seat of the adult sitting in front of them on An Airplane. Worse, these parents tend to get Defensive of Their Little Brats! The EGs are sorry, but in general, if your kid does something so Out of Line that a Stranger feels necessary to comment upon it, your kid probably was, In Fact, Out of Line. It's not like Most Adults have the time or the inclination to run around Falsely Accusing Small Children of Misbehavior. But we digress.

We think that in a situation like the one you described, we would have chosen to say something a bit more pointed, like, "Ouch! My knee! That really hurt!" The mother honestly may not have seen what happened, so we wouldn't want to say anything like "Excuse me" which might make it sound like we were At Fault. Sarcasm is a Lovely Thing, but sometimes, one must be Absolutely Clear. As for whether to say something directly to the Mother, well, that always depends on the Situation, Dear Reader, not to mention whether you have the Time to put up with a Potentially Obnoxious, Argumentative Mother. The EGs realize that sometimes, one has to Cut One's Losses and Move On—if you suspect, for example, that the Clueless Mother may be Packing Heat, you'd probably be wise to wait and vent later to Sympathetic Friends over a few G&Ts. However, if you feel like you would like to Say Something, keep it simple and non-accusatory (e.g., no matter how much you want to refer to The Child as "Your Churlish Brat," you should refrain). "I'm not sure if you noticed, but your son just pushed me into this counter. If my son did that, I'd want to know, so I thought I should mention it." Then go about your business. If she gets Shrill and Defensive, well, just walk away—you know you did the Right Thing.

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

How exactly should a young lady respond to an older man who addresses her as "kid" or "kiddo"? Usually I respond with a "hello sir" of the utmost politeness, as the gentlemen in question are typically elders whom I respect. However, I am nearly 20 and feel it is inappropriate and rude to be addressed as "kid" or any variation thereof by the mayor of one's town, or the president of one's college. I have gotten some enjoyment out of being extremely polite in response, but if it happens again, I may say something equally or more rude back to them.

What would either of you do in this situation?

Any suggestions or sympathy would be greatly appreciated.

Not a "Kiddo"

Dear Not a "Kiddo,"

We like your strategy of Utter Politeness in response to Inappropriate Forms of Address, Dear Reader. We can understand why one would find this Infuriating--especially from people who Absolutely Should Know Better, such as a Mayor or a College President! However, Dear Reader, we're afraid we must counsel you not to be Rude in Return. It's just Not Worth It to retort with something like, "Hey Geezer"—even if provoked, it really would be Rather Unforgivable to say something That Rude to One's Elders. How about saying something like, "Actually, President Smith, my name is Alexandra Chilton—I'm sure you don't remember me, but I attended your seminar on Joseph Conrad and A Cappella Singing Groups and found it so intriguing," with a very polite smile? That's probably what we would do.

Best regards,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

What is the proper etiquette in regards to behavior towards pregnant women? I am a pregnant woman who feels the need to be armed at all times to fend off the rude comments, and sometimes well-meaning questions, of women. As it
happens, I am thin and athletic. I maintain my athleticism even into my sixth month and have no plans of stopping. For reasons unknown to me, my not exploding into a size 20 on learning I was pregnant is antagonizing to other women, especially to those who gained an excessive amount of weight during their pregnancy. They feel the need to ask me when I'll "pop out" or when I'll "start showing." Some even ask me to hold my shirt flush to my body as to see where I'm "hiding" the baby. I think some doubt I'm truly pregnant. They then proceed to comment that their belly is larger than mine (and they are not with child). How on Earth does one respond to that? Some have gone so far as to say that I've made them sick in how I "don't look pregnant at all." Are there polite, yet witty, comments with which to respond? Please help, as I fear my martial arts training may kick in at my next interrogation.

Also, I have a pregnant friend on the complete opposite side of this dilemma. She is months behind me and already showing. A person at work, a terribly rude and gossipy woman, has taken it upon herself to comment about
just how much my friend, with whom we both work, is already showing. Here is a sampling of her comments (made from across the room): "Wow, you've REALLY popped out there, haven't you? How far along are you again? Goodness, are you sure you're not carrying twins?" Egad! I was barely able to restrain myself.

Whew! All that being said, I would greatly appreciate your opinion on this matter. Also, I would love to hear your take on why people want to touch a pregnant woman's belly as if it were public property, a lucky rabbit's foot or genie bottle! People don't even think about asking for permission before grabbing for you. Do you think it would be terribly rude of me to put them in a wristlock upon reaching for my belly, or should I wait until after they've made contact? Truly, under what other circumstances does one just touch another in such sensitive areas? It would serve them right to be politely tossed on their bum.

Sincerely,
Going Inpregnito

Dear Going Inpregnito,

It sounds to us like people are using Pregnancy as a feeble excuse to make inappropriate comments about Someone Else's Weight. As you've pointed out, such comments are completely out of line about ANYONE, regardless of whether the target has Gained or Lost Weight or whether she is Reed-Thin or Un Peu Zaftig! Furthermore, from what we hear from Dear Friends who are Expecting, someone who has a Baby on the Way has far, far more important things to deal with than Deflecting Dumb Comments on Her Weight. We are outraged on Your (and Their) Behalf, Dear Reader!

As for what to say in response to such people, well, that depends, of course, on what effect you want to create. If it's an acquaintance whom you don't want to embarrass with a Snappy Retort, we think it would be fine to make a quick comment like, "Susie, I'm sorry, but I'm really uncomfortable with the amount of attention everyone seems to be paying to My Weight. Would you mind if we talked about something else? I don't mean to make you feel bad, but I felt you would want me to be up-front about this." If, however, you're dealing with someone who Really Needs a Wake-Up Call, a bit of Well-Chosen Sarcasm might be Just the Ticket. A few examples:

Clod: Wow, you look like you're about to Explode! Are you having Twins or Something?
You: Actually, it's Octuplets. Excuse me, that's my telephone ringing—it's probably the
National Enquirer again.

Clod: Are you SURE you're pregnant?
You: Well, the Expert Obstetrician I've been seeing every two weeks for the past six months does, so yes, I am fairly sure.

Clod: Can I pat your stomach?
You: Sure, if you don't mind being put in a Wristlock.

Or, just be direct:

Clod reaches out to pat your stomach without asking permission.
You: Excuse me [taking a step back], I really don't appreciate that. Surely you understand.

We wish you the Best of Luck, Dear Reader, in fending off the Idiotic Remarks and Inappropriate Invasions of Your Personal Space. And if anyone makes you Stand Up on a Train, let the EGs know, and trust us, those people will be Very, Very Sorry.

Most sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

My question is about receiving compliments.

I receive quite a few compliments at work, and I think it is polite to smile and say thank you, but sometimes I'm not quite sure how to reply. One of the compliments (!) that a particular colleague gives me is "Your blood is worth bottling." I'm not quite sure what to say to that! I've just been smiling back at her.

Can you think of any appropriate replies to that one?

Thank you.

K.M.

Dear K.M.,

"Your blood is worth bottling"?!?!? That is, in Our Expert Opinion, extremely bizarre. Not to mention more than Un Peu Creepy. And this is something someone says to you on a Regular Basis? Oh, Dear Reader, the EGs are very much perplexed. Of course it's polite to Smile Nicely and thank someone who has just complimented you, but honestly, Dear Reader, are you sure this is a compliment? We'd probably say something like, "Well, um, thank you ever so much, but what on earth do you mean?"

Best regards,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear EGs,

So nice to see someone giving etiquette advice, because Lord knows it is needed! Anyway, a few months ago, I purchased some nice personalized stationery, which included envelopes with my return address. Soon after, I was forced to move because my landlord sold my residence. I was looking for something recently and came across the now obsolete stationery, which is really very nice. Is it improper to put an address label over the incorrect address (which is only on the envelopes) and use the stationery? Does it matter if the stationery is ivory and the label is white?

Thanks ever so much.

S.

Dear S.,

Well... we hate to say it, but we think that would look Un Peu Odd. The label would definitely detract from the appearance of the letter. Usually you can order Plain Envelopes to match the Personalized Writing Paper, and they're far less expensive than the Engraved Ones... we'd recommend you look into that instead of putting a label over the address. The EGs have SCADS of Out-of-Date Writing Paper, Envelopes, etc., dating back to our time Away at School, and we find them Very Handy for making Grocery Lists! When one is not looking forward, to put it mildly, to facing the Screeching Children and Out-of-Control Shopping Carts at the local supermarket, the Good Quality, 100% Cotton Paper at least makes writing out the list a more enjoyable experience than using, say, college-ruled paper ripped from a spiral notebook.

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear EGs,

I would first like to commend you ladies on a lovely and wonderful website. Entertaining, witty, but also educational. Cheers to you.

My particular problem involves one young girl for whom I baby-sit fairly often. I have to admit that I don't particularly enjoy baby-sitting, but I believe that I am meticulous and responsible, because I have several regular baby-sitting jobs and I am told by all of the parents that their children enjoy me. Anyway, the mother of one girl in particular has a tendency to come home late. For instance, the last time I stayed with the girl, the mother came home an hour after she had promised, with nary a phone call! Before she left, she told me, "I'll be home at 10:30, at the latest, and I'll be sure to call if anything come up." She arrived home at 11:35, and vaguely apologized for being "a little late."

My question is: it rude of me to tell her that her lateness is a problem for me? This was a Saturday night, but I had an engagement the next day which I was required to get up early for, and an hour did make a difference. I wouldn't say that her lateness is habitual, but it happens often enough to be irritating.

Additionally, I was wondering, if she does call and ask me to stay later, is it rude to say, "I'm sorry, but that is a problem," because I have schoolwork, an early appointment, etc.? I would appreciate any wise words you, the EGs, have to say on the subject, because I trust your judgment in matters such as this. Thank you!

Sincerely,
A Grouchy Governess

Dear Grouchy Governess,

This woman sounds perfectly awful! We imagine she'd be More Than a Little Upset if you decided to show up an hour late—why should she value Your Time any less? She should consider herself lucky to have found a Good, Responsible, Available Baby-Sitter! From what the EGs hear, Really Good Baby-Sitters are Few and Far Between! We think you'd be entirely within your rights to refuse to work for her at all, if she's going to behave like that, but if you do want to keep watching her child, we recommend you level with her about her lateness. First, you need to Start Charging Overtime. If she calls and says she'll need you for an extra hour, she should pay, say, 1.5 times your normal rate. If she doesn't call, you should charge even more. Make this clear to her when she books you to baby-sit. "I'd be happy to watch little Emily, Mrs. Thornbert. But first, I need to explain a couple of new policies I've made for people who want to hire me to watch their kids. I've been encountering a lot of parents lately who think it's okay to keep me very, very late, well beyond the time they expected to be home, and this interferes with my schoolwork and commitments I have on the weekends. Therefore, I've decided that I need to charge overtime rates if parents stay out more than 30 minutes beyond the time they told me I could expect them to be back."

There's absolutely nothing wrong with Being Businesslike, Dear Reader, even if you are young! If she does call and ask if it's all right if she comes home an hour later than planned, you may of course say either yes or no... but unfortunately, if you say it's not all right, and she still doesn't get home on time, you will need to stay there anyway (no matter how rude the mother is, it wouldn't be right to leave a Small Child alone). So you'd be better off having an overtime pay schedule in place. And honestly, Dear Reader, there have got to be plenty of parents in your town who could use Your Services without being Disrespectful of You, so we wouldn't hesitate to tell her to take a Long Walk off a Short Pier (albeit in more polite terms than that, naturally).

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

O wise women who possess all knowledge of what is correct regarding weddings and engagements, please help me! I just received an odd e-mail. An acquaintance of mine recently became engaged. I was quite happy to hear the news because the couple has been happily dating for a number of years. The bride-to-be has sent out an e-mail announcing the engagement—however, the e-mail contains nothing other than a photo of the engagement ring with the couple's name written above it. I find this extremely distasteful because it gives the impression that a big, shiny ring is the best part of the process—as opposed to making the decision to commit yourself to another person for the rest of your life. Am I being oversensitive??

Disgusted Anyway

Dear Disgusted Anyway,

Nope. You're being Properly Horrified, just as the EGs are to hear of Such Tawdriness.

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Warm greetings. I have seen friends and acquaintances struggle with this issue, and now (although I thought I knew better than to bring it on myself!) I am wrestling with it myself. One of my friends, whom my husband has never met nor has ever particularly wanted to meet, has apparently decided that she and my husband are some kind of soul mates. She has been increasingly sending personal gifts just for him (she lets it be known that they are only for him).

I didn't mind this at first, but it just seems to have escalated over the years—with NO encouragement from my husband, except my dutifully thanking my friend for the gifts she sent him. I didn't mean to encourage her—which I have apparently done. Would there be a way of courteously putting a stop to this? Surely there are other men in the world she can feel close to, instead of my husband, whom she hasn't even met? (She has a live-in boyfriend, and I would consider it discourteous to repeatedly single him out for special gifts that didn't include her.) Thank you!

Sincerely,
Hurt Friend

Dear Hurt Friend,

Does this friend also tell you your blood should be bottled (see above)? Just wondering.

Seriously, Dear Reader, this is Disturbing Behavior. We shudder to think what the "personal gifts" might be, but we think this woman is Way, Way Out of Line. The next time she sends something, your husband should send it back to her with a note saying that he while appreciates her trying to be thoughtful he simply cannot accept something this personal in nature from a friend of his wife's whom he has never met. (The tone to go for is Absolutely Polite but Firm and To-The-Point.) Do this as often as necessary. And need we say, Dear Reader, that if she's doing something that makes you This Uncomfortable, she's probably someone it would Behoove You to Minimize Contact With?

Best of luck,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

My stepmother has an appalling habit. No, she does not strangle cute fuzzy bunnies—what she does is e-mail me asking for gifts. Before Father's Day I got a list of DVDs my dad wants. Before Christmas she sent me clippings from a catalogue with the presents she wanted circled. She's been in our family for almost 20 years, but since I've become an adult (with a job and money) she's been doing this.

We just got into an argument about my little brother's birthday. She invited me to dinner and suggested X Box games as a gift. I replied that I was thinking (since it is his 18th birthday) of getting him an adults' survival-guide book, and a resume and job-hunting handbook. I got a severe reply that he doesn't want them and won't use them and won't like them, and then she said my options were to get him DVDs or make it "a cash birthday."

This is appalling, no? I have to respond, and I'm not exactly sure how to proceed. I'd really rather not be asked directly for gifts because I think it's really rude. I think she was rude and I don't even want to attend the birthday celebrations now since I am feeling awfully boxed in by it.

Help? How should I respond?

Sincerely,
Boored in Bethesda

Dear Boored in Bethesda,

Pay her Absolutely No Mind. None. At all. If she tells you what to get someone, let that opinion go in one ear and out the other. If she sends you clippings of Gifts She Wants, simply Ignore Them. Just because she has apparently declared herself the Present Dictator does not mean you need to Listen to Her! If she (rudely) confronts you about how you dared Not to Heed Her Orders, simply tell her that you enjoy selecting gifts all by yourself, and that you've always felt having a checklist tends to take the fun out of it—that you've always believed that being thoughtful involves taking the time to figure out on your own what the gift recipient would enjoy.

Also, although we understand the urge not to be Anywhere in Her Vicinity, we think that avoiding your little brother's 18th birthday party isn't the right answer. We're sure your brother would be hurt if you skipped it, and you're not angry at him. Heck, we think your stepmother needs to see that you will not be bullied into buying what she says you will buy, so you should definitely show up! We'd give your brother the books right in front of her! Chances are he'll love them because you did take the time to pick out something special (as opposed to the ever-growing stack of DVDs piling up at his feet), and upon viewing his reaction, she'll realize she was wrong to behave so obnoxiously.

Sincerely,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Ladies,

Oh Dear Lord, you must include in your next publication that it is IMPERATIVE to cut the 100% cashmere, 100% wool, etc. tags off of winter coats. I have seen too many poor souls, mostly girls, walking around with those huge tags STILL ATTACHED to the arms!!!! Also please mention that the back vents on coats, skirts, and suit jackets must be cut open!!! The little stitched "X" is NOT decorative!! I feel for these people, many of whom commit both aforementioned crimes on the same items of clothing!!!!

Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,
Concerned in Chicago

Dear Concerned,

Oh, you are So Right! While we commend you for purchasing a coat made of a Good Quality Fabric, we don't need to Read About It on the sleeve! We also would think it should be obvious that the little sewn-in "X"s on pleats, jacket vents, etc., should be Snipped, but just the other day we saw a Misguided Young Lady wearing a Pleated Skirt in a Lovely Plaid Fabric... with every single damn pleat sewn down at the bottom. Dear Reader, she looked like a Bell! She was taking ridiculously tiny steps! The EGs were Seriously Tempted to jump up from our table, rush out to the sidewalk, and Free the Poor Pleats, but we were afraid the Restaurant Staff would think we were Skipping Out sans paying, and the EGs would Never, Ever Do That. But still, somewhere in Boston, there is a very Sadly Mistreated Plaid Skirt, and we deeply regret that.

Regards,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

First off, let me tell you both how lovely your new website is! I simply adore the new martini glasses in your Q&A section. I love your book and look forward to reading your advice on etiquette quandaries each week. Now I'm hoping you will help me with my own!

Recently, I had the privilege of turning 30 and celebrated with a lovely, intimate gathering of friends and family at a local supper club. While birthday presents were not expected, my thoughtful dear guest still insisted on bringing them to the restaurant. I made an especially big deal as each gift was handed to me, and thanked them with big hugs and kisses, but did not actually open any of the gifts until my husband and I returned home later that night. Of course, I immediately sat down with my Crane's stationery and wrote each a heartfelt thank you, but was wondering if I should have opened the gifts during the party? The restaurant was very crowded, and I was busy going between friends and family, but I didn't want to commit some inappropriate faux pas. What would you have done?

Sincerely Yours,
30 and Loving It!

Dear 30 and Loving It!,

Happy Belated Birthday to you, Dear Reader! We wish you Many Happy Returns. And thanks to you, and all the other Dear Readers who've e-mailed us, for your comments on the new site—we're so glad you like it!

We think it's perfectly fine, even preferable, to save opening the Gifts until After the Party. If some guests have not brought gifts (as of course they are not obliged to), they might feel Quite Embarrassed if you made a big show of Opening Presents. Plus, especially in a Restaurant, one wouldn't want to create a big, messy pile of wrapping paper and ribbons and tissue paper for the Poor Waiter to have to Clean Up! Much better to open them at home, Dear Reader, and promptly dispatch a Thank-You Note.

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I have been invited to "Cocktails" in honor of an engaged couple to be married May 31. The invitation has no information other than date, time, place, and host. Do I need to bring a present?

Etiquettely Challenged

Dear Etiquettely Challenged,

Nope. One never has to bring a present to an Engagement Party. If you want to, of course you may, but it is absolutely Not Expected of You.

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Among the first things I do each Monday upon my arrival at the office is to check your Q&A. This is done prior to checking e-mails, the headlines, etc. I consider your advice as important as it helps me both professionally and socially.

I have a question concerning my nephew's upcoming wedding Memorial Day weekend. He and his bride are getting married in Kansas City, which is the home of my long-term lady friend, Joan. Joan wishes to go there, and we will stay with her brother. We have been seeing each other for going on three years and this is a serious relationship. Is it a faux pas to ask my nephew if Joan can accompany me to the wedding? I would very much like to have her meet the rest of my family, as this may become a permanent relationship. Most of my family is unaware of the depth of our relationship, as we are scattered about the country.

Yours faithfully,
J.

Dear J.,

Aww, aren't you sweet! We've heard from so many Dear Readers that reading our Q&A is a Monday-Morning Ritual. As the EGs understand how Dreadful it is to arrive at the office on Monday, we are very flattered that our Dear Readers would come to EGs.com to soften that! We are more than happy to give you reason to postpone checking e-mail for a few minutes!

Well, Dear Reader, you know what the EGs say about Invitations: You can't ever ask for one, no matter if it's for yourself, for your children, or for your date. (Or, we suppose, for a Total Stranger, though we've not yet heard that particular situation yet.) It's absolutely the host's prerogative to decide the Guest List, and it really, truly is Bad Form to put someone in the position of either having to Cave In and extend an invitation or tell you, Flat-Out, "No." Ergo, we would definitely not recommend that you call up your nephew and ask if you may bring Your Girlfriend to his wedding.

However, Dear Reader, it's only March—you don't yet know for certain that you will not be invited to bring a guest! If you honestly think Your Family is unaware of Your Serious Relationship, and that if they knew, Your Girlfriend would definitely be invited to attend along with you, then why not make some subtle attempts to spread the word now? You would want to be VERY discreet, however, and not make any reference to Your Nephew's Wedding, or else this will look like a Blatant Attempt to finagle an invitation. The next time you speak with a relative, mention Joan. It will probably get into the Grapevine, Dear Reader. And even if she still is not invited (which, honestly, may still be the case—the wedding may be so small that the host decides it will not be possible for any Unmarried, Unengaged Guests to bring dates), this way you will at least have accomplished one of your objectives—making the rest of Your Family aware of her exisitence. If she still wishes to go to Kansas City with you, even if she will not attend the wedding, that is perfectly fine—if she has family there she will certainly have something to do whilst you attend the Ceremony and Reception, and you could always suggest that everyone meet for brunch the day after the wedding so that you can Introduce Joan to Your Relatives In Person.

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear EGs,

Kudos for the new website; I love it! And I am anxiously awaiting the debut of your new etiquette book.

My question is how to handle uninvited guests that just show up on one's doorstep. My husband's cousin and his wife do not live near us but attend a church right in our neighborhood. In the five years we have been married they have never stopped by to visit. Since we had our baby this past October, they always seem to be in the neighborhood and show up unannounced on our doorstep! This is Especially Irritating, to say the least. My husband is not close to this cousin, so it is awkward when Cousin and his family show up. We have nothing in common and there are plenty of silences. Cousin usually helps himself to our newspaper and leaves his wife to watch their two kids. It is a weird visit, to say the least.

The last straw was last week. We had just gotten home from our son's checkup/vaccinations, and we were trying to get him to sleep so we could get some dinner for ourselves. It was 6:00 p.m. and who was ringing our bell and banging on the door? Cousin, who had picked up his daughter from choir practice and "just happened to see your lights on." My husband told him it was really bad timing since we were just sitting down to eat, etc., but Cousin refused to take the hint. He kept talking for about 15 minutes or so before he left. Is there any remedy for these people? Personally I do not know anyone who just stops by unannounced at someone else's house. I was raised to believe that was very rude. Am I out of touch? Please advise how to handle such visits in the future. As working parents, any time we have with our baby before he goes to sleep for the night is precious. I do not feel we should be pressed into acting as hosts when we haven't even had a chance to change out of our work clothes or gotten something to eat.

Sincerely,
Tired of Playing Hostess

Dear Tired of Playing Hostess,

We think it's time to Level With Them. They're being Pushy, Intrusive, and Rude, and if all they're going to do is Sit Down and Read Your Newspaper and Keep an Eye on Their Kids, well, gee, they really don't need to be doing either of those things at Your House. In general, while we understand that some people Really Don't Mind when people just "Stop Over" Unannounced, we always call first. Even those people who've told us, "Really, don't bother to call! Just show up whenever!" occasionally Get Sick, have Houseguests, or simply don't feel like Having Visitors, and it's not going to kill us to phone in advance and ask if they'll be around in the Afternoon, since we're going to be in the Neighborhood and we have a Wee Birthday Gift we'd like to Drop Off. C'mon, we all have Cell 'Phones now—there's hardly any excuse not to Call! Your husband's cousin could easily take 30 seconds to telephone you from the Church Parking Lot before he and his family show up on Your Doorstep. Also, even if one has been given the Green Light to Just Stop Over, it's rather inconsiderate for one to do so at Inconvenient Hours, such as Mealtimes, Late at Night, At the Crack of Dawn, etc. And there is especially no excuse for bothering the parents of a New Baby with Spontaneous Visits!

Here's what to do: The next time they try this, say, "I'm sorry, but as you know, we have a Small Baby [hold up Small Baby], and it's not working for us to have so many Spontaneous Visitors. It's affecting his Sleep Patterns. It's great that you attend church so close to here, but we must ask that in the future, you call first before stopping over. We're asking all of our friends and family to do this, and so far everyone has completely understood, and we hope you will, too." Hopefully they will Take This Hint. If not, well, you might have to be Un Peu More Blunt: "I'm sorry, but I thought we explained that we would appreciate a call in advance before you come over. This really is a bad time; if you'd only called first we could have saved you a trip. Please excuse me, I have to go back inside to finish feeding the baby."

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Darling EGs,

I have been aware that the state of etiquette has been shifting recently, but it wasn't until I actually did see someone wearing a tube top at a funeral did I realize what the world has come to. Bear in mind this was also in February in Indiana!

What is the difference between a funeral and a memorial service? What attire is appropriate for each respective occasion? I realize that it's hard to go wrong with conservative and dark, but I was wondering if black was absolutely de rigueur.

Cordially,
Irish

Dear Irish,

Heavens to Murgatroid! Clearly we will need to make a Wee Jaunt out to Indiana, find the Tube-Top Wearer, and make her write, "I will not wear revealing clothing to Funerals, or, indeed, any type of Church Service, or, indeed, ANYWHERE" 500 times on the Blackboard!

But we digress. The difference between a Funeral and a Memorial Service is that the deceased is present at a Funeral, but not at a Memorial Service. They are both Solemn Occasions, and yes, we think Wearing Black is absolutely the Best Choice for both of them.

Very sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Thanks for all of the great advice! Loved the book, can't wait for the next one! My friends and I have a problem, and we aren't sure how to address it. We have a friend who organizes large get-togethers for birthdays in our group, and whenever the bill comes, she conveniently disappears into the ladies' room. How can we get her to pay her fair share of the bill? We are rather tired of paying for her share of food and beverages, as she works, and some of us are still seeking employment. One of the group suggested that we should ask for separate checks, but then we aren't "treating" the guest of honor. Any suggestions would be most welcome. Thanks!

Freeloader's Friend

Dear Freeloader's Friend,

Well, just because the Bill comes when she's in the Powder Room doesn't mean you need to Pay It before she comes back. She can't hide in there forever, so just have another cup of coffee, and as soon as she arrives back at the table, say something like, "Now that Sally's back, let's settle the check."

Or, you could just stop inviting her to go out with you. Cheapskates are No Fun at All!

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Question: Is it appropriate to send cash, to a widow with children, in a sympathy card? My husband says no, but I think that it is okay. Awaiting your reply.

Thanks,
M.A.

Dear M.A.,

Where are the Smelling Salts? The EGs have just Keeled Over with Horror!

When someone passes away, you may send a note containing only one thing: Your Condolences. If you wish to send a Mass Card, that is acceptable also. But no cash, checks, gift certificates, Traveler's Cheques, etc. It would be highly, highly inappropriate, Dear Reader!! It's admirable that you wish to help support the widow and her family, but this is not the way to do so. (And may we suggest that there are probably more tactful, and more helpful, ways to offer assistance to the family than simply handing them cash? You could volunteer to baby-sit the children or cook dinner once a week, or, if you work in a profession whose services could benefit the family, offer to, say, prepare their tax returns gratis.)

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Grrls,

I have a small question on behalf of a dear friend. We are both students at a darling university in Australia. She, as an international student, resides on campus in the student village. However, she is having problems with a boy. He, too, lives in the village, and is forever at her house making a nuisance of herself whilst she tries to study. However, recently he has started being extremely affectionate towards her, "pawing" at her all the time and forcing attention upon her that she is anything but interested in. He says he is doing this because she reminds him of his girlfriend back home. She is repulsed by his actions but does not want to seem rude as she is his only real friend in the village. (Personally, I can see why he doesn't have many others.) Please help!

Yours,
Studious in Terra Australis

Dear Studious,

"She reminds him of his girlfriend back home," is his excuse to "paw" at her?? Holy Mary, Mother of God! Your friend, Dear Reader, needs to Put Her Foot Down and tell this Ruffian that she will not put up with such Horrid Behavior! Now, it's unfortunate that he doesn't have any Other Friends, and commendable that she is trying to be especially nice to him because of that, but honestly, one of the nicest things she could possibly do for this Misguided, Rude Boy is to Set Him Straight. He is never going to make any more friends if he insists on treating them this poorly. One is Not Allowed to behave like this! Furthermore, if one is Away at School and has a Girlfriend Somewhere Else, one does not act this disrespectfully toward one's Far-Away Girlfriend! Break up, already! But we digress. We think your friend would be doing an Enormous Good Deed if she explained to This Boy that 1) he does not "paw" at a Lady, EVER; 2) particularly when she is His Friend and has no Romantic Interest in him whatsoever; 3) even more particularly, when he has a Girlfriend; and 4) that while she hopes they will remain friends (if indeed she wishes to do so), he cannot impose upon Her Hospitality the way he has been, as it is Affecting Her Studies. If he still doesn't Get the Picture, Dear Reader, she should talk to the House-Parent, Resident Advisor, or whoever supervises her house or the village, and make them aware that a Creepy, Persistent Boy is Pestering Her.

Yours sincerely,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I live in a college dorm, and I share it with one other girl whom I get along with well. However, she has a fiancé whom I Do Not Care For At All. There had been many Loud Noisy Fusses between us due to the fact that he seemed to think that since I room with his fiancée I have to put up with him At Any Given Time, up to and including having him in the dorm when I need to study for a test, shower, dress, or simply sleep. I finally became Quite Upset after an episode where he turned off my computer and made me lose most of a paper, and so went to the Hall Director and got both of them in trouble for how he's been behaving. Since then he's greatly backed off, for which I am grateful. However, since the last outburst he has written me a Rather Snide Letter (which he left in a hidden place, most likely so that his girlfriend would not know about said letter) in which he has complained I have taken his rights away to be able to act as he pleases in the dorm, complains about the sacrifices made to live near his fiancée (when he had a good job and resources back in his home town) and insists that I make a Decision set in stone about whether I would like him around or not. Personally, I would rather be hit in the head with a large rock than have to deal with him and his attitude and have resorted since the last argument to Ignoring His Presence Completely. Should I keep ignoring him, as he has informed me ignoring is the same as saying No? I have tried being courteous with him but he's a Total Boor.

Sincerely,
I Only Asked For One Roommate

Dear I Only Asked,

Apparently it's Dorm Life Week! But we digress. Of COURSE you only asked for One Roommate! We think this Dreadful Boy sounds vile indeed, but we also wonder what the heck Your Roommate is thinking. She's the one who should be telling This Fiancé of Hers that he ought to respect Her Roommate's Privacy. We love how he says you're infringing upon his rights—excuse us? That's the most ridiculous thing we've ever heard! Um, NOBODY has the right to "act as he pleases" in a Dorm! Dorms are communal living spaces, and everyone living there absolutely must be respectful of the Other Residents, even if that sort of Cramps One's Style! It might have pleased the EGs to toss Our Roommate's Tori Amos CD out the window of our Freshman-Year Dorm Room after she played it Non-Stop for Three Months, but did we do that? No! And while it's all Well and Good to Make Personal Sacrifices in order to Be With One's Beloved, the fact that one chose to do so does not give one the right to Camp Out in Her Dorm Room 24/7, infringing upon Her Roommate's Privacy. Hell, Dear Reader, OF COURSE you don't want him around! We think you ought to show the Snide Letter to Your Roommate (she ought to be aware Her Fiancé is pulling stunts like leaving you Hidden Letters), and tell her that while you get along fine with her, you just can't deal with Her Fiancé, and some Rules Need to Be Set. That's a discussion that should only involve you and Your Roommate, since you're the ones sharing the room—her fiancé should absolutely not be there or have any input into what you come up with. If all else fails, Dear Reader, go back to the Hall Director. Maybe they have a nice, quiet Single you can move into?

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear EGs,

I have a somewhat complicated question. I have a friend who had recently graduated from college, and although we don't often see one another (because I'm still in school), I still consider her to be a good friend. She is engaged to be married, and has been for a few years. I know she's getting married. I know the date and place the ceremony will take place. She has spoken of her wedding plans in front of me. We have even discussed the possibility of my taking part in the ceremony.

A few weeks ago, I heard that she is now having financial difficulties and is looking to scale the wedding back. Her method, I heard (from the wedding planner), is to invite fewer people to the wedding itself, to spare cost on the reception afterward. I have tried telephoning my friend to speak with her about her plans, but I have received no answer. I have not yet received an invitation to the wedding, which is only a few weeks away. I would be hurt if I were not invited, but more than that I would like to know either way so I can make plans accordingly.

My question is twofold: 1. Should I feel slighted if I am not invited? Obviously, it would help if my friend would speak to me about it but I'm not holding my breath. 2. Should I still give the couple a gift?

Thanks in advance,
(Ex?) Friend of the Bride

Dear (Ex?) Friend of the Bride,

We hate to say it, but if the wedding is really just a few weeks away and you haven't yet received an invitation, you probably aren't going to be invited. Furthermore, it wouldn't be the Best Idea to call up your friend and ask, because no matter how you phrase it, it's probably going to sound like you're demanding an invitation. This could put her in a Terribly Awkward Position—if she invites you, does it mean that in fairness, she needs to invite 10 other members of Your Social Circle in order not to Play Favorites? It's a shame that she discussed things with you beforehand, making it seem like you would definitely be invited, but if her Financial Circumstances have changed, she may just be Embarrassed to have to tell you that she needed to Cut Back. (Might we just interject that it's rather Bad Form of the Wedding Planner to be Gossiping About One of Her Clients? Tsk, tsk.)

Remember, everyone has the right to have as small a Wedding as they please. It really wasn't the nicest thing for her to make you think you'd be invited but then change her mind, but there may be a Very Good Reason—we would not make any assumptions at this point about it being a Slight Toward You in Particular. Of course, if you find out afterward that the Wedding was a Giant, Lavish Affair, attended by many people the bride met Just Last Week, then that would be a Different Story. Should you get her a Gift? Well, you don't have to, naturally; but it's always perfectly proper to send a gift to a couple who are getting married but have not invited you to the wedding because their celebration will be very small. It's up to you, Dear Reader.

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear EGs,

I am often required to attend dinners with, for lack of a better term, associates. Generally, these people are campaign donors, voters, and other people who generally have more money than sense. At any rate, on behalf of my employer, I am supposed to not only endure an evening with these clods, but also "make a good impression." The problem is that I do not eat dessert (for no particular reason except that I do not care for sugary things), and most restaurants assume that no right-thinking person would choose to eat fruit unless it is somehow slathered in something sugary. This creates an uncomfortable situation, because everyone else at the table generally wants dessert, but they are unwilling to order anything if I just order coffee. I generally end up ordering something, then not eating it, which is another set of problems. This may seem trivial, but I am in the business of perception, and causing people the slightest discomfort can be bad for my employer. I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

C.

Dear C.,

Wow, this is Rather Silly Behavior on behalf of Your Dining Companions. An analogous situation happens all too frequently—everyone in a group at a restaurant wants dessert, but no one, for some bizarre reason, is willing to Admit This and Actually Order Something, because they think they will look Greedy. This is so silly! You're all adults—if you want Dessert, get Dessert! It's nothing to be ashamed of— you're in a Nice Restaurant, for Goodness' Sake! And similarly, if someone Really Just Wants Coffee, for whatever reason, don't make an issue of it. As the EGs have always said, Food Issues are not a Polite Topic of Dinner Conversation, and no one should either spout off their own beliefs ("You shouldn't be eating that!!! All the Fat and Sugar will Kill You!") or quiz someone else about their beliefs ("Why in the world are you only having Coffee? Is Something Wrong With You?")

We're assuming you probably don't have the luxury of Finding New Dining Companions who won't Make an Issue of This, since this is a business-related situation. At some point, Dear Reader, you need to Cut Your Losses—wouldn't it just be easier to order something? Why not say something when ordering along the lines of, "I'm just going to have ONE tiny bite of it, but I'll have the Key Lime Pie." That way, everyone else can go ahead and order, and you really do not have to finish the dessert. Alternately, you could say something to your dining companions like, "The desserts here are simply amazing. I can't eat another bite tonight, but someone has to get the Crème Brulée—it's divine! The Peach Tart is also unbelievably good." Or you could pretend to Be Still Making Up Your Mind and encourage others to order before you. But as Annoying as You May Find It, it might be best just to get some Sorbet or Something, have a Wee Bite, and Move On. Finally, dare we say, Dear Reader, that having to sit through meals with people you don't like and think are "clods" would be a Pretty Good Reason to start looking for Another Job that didn't involve Such Trials?

With all good wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Hello, What a great site! I teach in an elementary school and I used some information from it for our "Etiquette Day" with our third and second graders. I have read through your wedding archive and since I have six to go to between May and August, I could really use some advice. First of all, what should someone wear to a Sunday afternoon wedding with a religious service? It will be held at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day weekend. I have a nice sundress with a matching cardigan, but I am not sure. There will no guests at the other weddings who would have seen this before. This dress would be appropriate for the other weddings. Secondly, I have received a save the date card, and it was addressed to only me, so I assume I am not to bring a date. A friend also invited is planning on bringing her significant other, even though her S.T.D. ( please tell me there is a better way to abbreviate that... I just realized what it looks like) was addressed to her alone. Lastly, can you send a gift for a wedding you were not invited to without it seeming to the couple like you are fishing for an invite? A college friend is having a small ceremony, and I would like to acknowledge it with a gift. I appreciate any advice you could give me.

Thank you,
Six Times the Charm

Dear Six Times the Charm,

May we just say that we LOVE the idea of Your School having "Etiquette Day"? So many Small Children aren't taught any Proper Manners at all from Their Parents (who, of course, really should be Setting a Good Example so the Wee Ones can learn all about Thank-You Notes and Introductions and Good Table Manners). It's absolutely admirable for Your School to address this! Hurrah, Dear Reader!

Now, on to your questions. We have to say, Dear Reader, that something about the word "sundress" makes us Un Peu Nervous about how appropriate it would be to wear to a Church Service. Sundresses are usually lovely, but some of them tend to look Very Casual, and it's usually better to err on the side of Formality when one is dressing for a Wedding (or any other Solemn Celebration that Takes Place in a Church). If, on the other hand, you just mean, say, a pretty Sheath Dress in a Springy Color, well, then that would probably be perfectly fine, especially with a little dressy cardigan or wrap over it. (The EGs aren't too keen on Bare Shoulders in Church, to Put It Mildly.) We're just worried that if the sundress is the sort of dress you'd wear to a Casual Picnic, it might not be Quite the Thing for this occasion.

Well, we're not sure about whether or not you could bring a date. Obviously it's best to assume you can't, than to invite someone only to have to explain that because Your Invitation did not say "and Guest," he suddenly can't Accompany You. However, the Save the Date Card is not the Actual Invitation. (And you're right, Dear Reader, "Save the Date" shouldn't be Abbreviated! Oh, Dear!) You and Your Friend very well may both receive Invitations addressed to you "and Guest." So, Dear Reader, we'd hold off on making any plans until the Real Invitation Arrives. What would be a Smart Idea, though, would be to have a Conversation with Your Friend in which you bring up the fact that You Can't Just Bring a Date to a Wedding Unless That Person is Specifically Invited.

Finally, as we said above, it is always Perfectly Proper to send a gift to someone who is Getting Married, even if you are not invited to Their Wedding. The key thing to do is to mail it very close to the Wedding Date and include a lovely note with it, which will make it clear you are not Fishing for An Invitation: "Dear Sally and Herbert, I wish you every happiness on your wedding day and always. When I saw this in a tiny antique shop on Charles Street, I thought of you two and just had to send it along. I'll be on Cape Cod with my family on the 22nd, but I'll be hoping Denver has perfect weather, and I will be thinking of you. With best wishes, Emily." The Bride and Groom will probably be genuinely touched by your gesture, and grateful to have such a thoughtful friend.

As ever,
The Etiquette Grrls

 

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