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The Etiquette Grrls' Q & A Archive: October 2003

Dear Ladies,

I am looking for some advice on my wedding shower. I live about 5,000 km (3,500 miles), from my parents' hometown, where my fiancé and I are to be married. Last night my Mother proposed to throw a "virtual" wedding shower, where we would set up web cameras, and I would sit in front of my computer, while watching them unwrap the gifts, have snacks and refreshments, and play games.

I understand that my Mother is trying to make the best of the situation, but she actually seemed disappointed when I suggested that she time the shower with a future visit.

I believe that some business meetings and phone calls can be done this way, but not a party. The idea of watching all the fun, while not actually being able to participate in my own shower, sends chills down my spine. I don't want to seem ungrateful. Am I wrong?

Victim of a "Virtual" Nightmare

Dear Victim,

First, Dear Reader, we've got to save you from a Major Etiquette Faux Pas! Your mother should not be throwing any kind of Shower for you… when someone in Your Immediate Family is the Hostess, it tends to look like you're just Collaborating to Get More Presents For You. Please tell your mother that you know she's just trying to be Thoughtful, but that it would really be better if a Friend was the Hostess for your hometown shower… and that since you're planning to come home several times for Wedding Planning Visits, you think it would be nicer for everyone involved if you could be there too to thank all the Gift-Givers in person.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I've been at my current firm nearly a year and came across a phenomenon that's new to me. Although I've heard of Boss's Day before, it never occurred to me that anyone actually celebrated such a ridiculous holiday; certainly no one did in any of my old offices. Last week, the ladies on the support staff went out and bought presents for the executive secretary, the marketing staff went out and bought their boss flowers and balloons; it didn't even cross my mind to get a present for the Vice President, whom I work for. In my view, it seems like this is a creation of some sort of gluttonous holiday-generating conglomerate and it just guilt-trips low-on-the-totem-pole employees and bilks them out of money they could probably better spend elsewhere. I like my boss, but I almost think it's offensive to have to spend money on him, since I only make about a quarter of his salary.

EGs, am I wrong? Do I actually need to get my boss something? I'm not a secretary, so it's not as if it's reciprocation from Secretary's Day (also superfluous, I think). Am I making a bad career move by not taking this opportunity to brown-nose? I don't think it bothered him at all, but the flowers, cards, and balloons in the rest of the office were rather showy.

All the best,
J.

Dear J.,

This "Holiday" is Absolutely Ridiculous, and the EGs are Entirely Sick of the Greeting-Card Industry coming up with New "Holidays" that everyone is supposed to begin celebrating! If we may digress for a brief moment, may we also say that we are Absolutely Appalled at the Damn Diamond Industry's latest stupid ad campaign? "The Right-Hand Ring"??? This is HOGWASH, and anyone who can't see that this is just a company trying to brainwash women into Dropping a Lot of Cash on their product is being Blind to Reality. We think it's time that Smart Women said we've had Enough of Their Ploys! No, we do not want a three-stone "Anniversary Band," or one of those "Past, Present, and Future" necklaces, or any other type of Gift whose meaning has been Invented by Marketing Executives!

Whew. Now back to Your Question, Dear Reader—thank you for letting us vent a little bit. We do not think you're making a Bad Career Move by spurning this silly "Holiday." (Unless, of course, you work for, say, Hallmark Cards. However, if this is the case, and you feel as we do about Boss' Day, then we'd recommend that after reading this column, you head straight to Monster.com.) If you have a Boss who actually expects you to celebrate Boss' Day, well, in our opinion, you have a Selfish, Greedy Boss, and we'd take that as a sign to Polish Up Our Resume as well.

All best,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I have been reading your site for years now, and am seeking some Sage Advice. A Friend of mine and I have had a Great Misunderstanding and I am at a Complete Loss as to how to solve it. I apologize for the long explanation...

Friend phoned me a few weeks ago, with what at the time seemed like a Great Idea and a Generous Offer. She said "Since my Boyfriend and I are Remodeling Our Kitchen, and I know you've been wanting to get a Gas Range, why don't we sell you our Old Range, and I will have one of my Business Contacts (she is an Interior Designer) Install the Gas Line and the Range." I told her that that was very kind of her, but I am low on funds right now and really couldn't afford it if the Installation would be more than $200. She said that she would take care of it and Get an Estimate before she gave the Go Ahead on the work. I was leaving for town on business, but she assured me she would handle it. I feel I was Clear on Setting a Financial Limit.

I returned from my trip, and the Range was Installed. It worked fine, and I was excited to now be Cooking With Gas. At some point, Friend made Vague Mention of the fact that the Bill May Be Higher Than I Expected because the plumber had to Do Some Extra Work due to the nature of my Old House. I received the Bill about three weeks after the Range was Installed. The Bill was for $700!!! I was in Total Shock! I am not Rolling in the Money right now as I am making my mortgage payments solo, and definitely In No Way have (or ever insinuated I would have) $700 to pay this bill! I called Friend and Informed Her of the Cost. Her First Response was, "I'm sure he did a Good Job." I tried desperately to Contain Myself, turning down her Offer of Money, and just tried to explain how Upset and Betrayed I felt. We came to the Resolution that she would contact the Plumber first thing Monday Morning, explain to him the situation and see if we could work out some sort of Payment Plan or Negotiate the Price. When I had not heard from her by Midday Tuesday, I contacted her asking if she had Had a Chance to Chat with the Plumber. She said she decided not to call him as she felt he did Good Work and gave me a Fair Price, and it was up to me to Negotiate With Him.

EGs, I am Absolutely Appalled at Her Actions! She Approached Me, offered her Help, and now seems to feel no Responsibility or Remorse for being $500 Over Budget! We live in a Small Town and I work with Her Boyfriend.... I do not know how To Resolve This Issue!!! Again, I apologize for the Lengthy Explanation, Please Help!

Over My Limit

Dear Over My Limit,

Oh, my. It sounds like your friend doesn’t understand that she really Screwed Up by having the range installed before you saw the Estimate. We'd write her a letter going through all of the events, making it clear that in No Way did you authorize her to proceed with the Installation until you had approved the Plumber's Estimate, and that you really do not think you should be responsible for the cost difference. Specifically mention that you thought that as your friend, she would have taken you at your word that anything more than $200 for installation would make it impossible for you to accept her stove. At that point, though, Dear Reader, you have to Let It Go and see How She Reacts. We suppose you could probably try to recover your money through the Legal System, but since we're not Lawyers, we haven't the Foggiest about whether that's really an option or truly a Good Idea. Plus, since you said you already refused her offer of Money, we assume that what you are really looking for here is An Apology. And sadly, there's nothing you can do to Make Someone Come to Regret Something They've Done. Some people just can't Get It Through Their Heads that they were Wrong, and if this woman proves to be one of those people, we'd consider the Friendship Over and Done With.

It's unfortunate that you work with Her Boyfriend, but honestly, if he's any sort of Reasonable Person, he'd realize that she Handled This Wrong. He shouldn't factor into how you proceed. If he should say something to you, you can tell him that you're very sorry, but you don't want to put him in the middle of a situation that has come up between you and your friend, and that you'd really prefer not to discuss it with him… that it'd be better to keep it Out of the Office.

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

A few months ago, a new employee moved into the cubicle next to me at work. I had previously been in a very quiet area with few others nearby, which has really been a treat in a building where our cubicle "offices" are separated by small dividers and all of your neighbors' activities sound like they are taking place right in your ear. However, the honeymoon is over.

My new next-door neighbor emits all kinds of disgusting bodily noises each and every day, all day long, with not so much as an "excuse me" uttered even once. And it's not just after a particularly filling lunch—it begins at 9 AM and continues throughout the work day. This has become terribly distracting and more importantly, embarrassing, as both vendors and customers often stop by my desk for meetings.

I wish there were a way for me to express my distaste for this behavior
anonymously, but I am the only other person nearby and I would never get away with it. I do like my neighbor and think that he is a good person, just one with very, very poor manners. How do I approach this situation without alienating him and creating friction between us, yet put an end the constant gastrointestinal showcase I get to listen to every day?

Yours truly,
J.

Dear J.,

How disgusting. You only have a couple of Options: Talk to the Disgusting One yourself, Speak to Your Boss, or both. You might, for example, draft an e-mail message in which you say that perhaps this person is unaware of it, but his behavior is both distracting and offensive to you and to the many Vendors and Customers you often meet with at your desk. You can always frame it in the style of "I know that if I were causing problems like this, I would want to know about it, even if it was Embarrassing, so I thought I should tell you." You could then meet with Your Boss, explain the Problem, and show her your drafted message, saying you planned to send this but you wanted to let Your Boss know something was up. The point to underline is not that you find it vile, but that it's affecting your ability to hold Effective Meetings. Your Boss might say that she'll just Handle It by moving one of you to a different workstation, or that it would be better if she spoke to the Disgusting One. If you do want to bring Your Boss in on it at all, we think it's better to have the e-mail with you when you talk to her, because you'll be showing her that you're willing to handle this All By Yourself. Good luck, Dear Reader! Now, we can't guarantee that anything you do won't cause friction between you and the Disgusting One, but unless you're willing to put up with this, that's the risk you have to take.

Most sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I am planning a baby shower at a Restaurant and have addressed the invitations to adult women. I am being asked if they can bring their children. I am told by others that this is the new thing... women bring their children to baby showers. Is this true??? Can you let me know what the proper etiquette should be?
Thank you,
A.

Dear A.,

If "Others" are telling you this is acceptable, you're talking to Very Clueless Others, Dear Reader. If your children have not specifically been Invited (i.e., avec Their Names or "And Family" on the Invitation) they are Not Invited. It would be Terribly Rude to call up the Hostess and ask if they may accompany you, and it's even worse to Bring Them Along as a Surprise!

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I'm pretty young and not from a rich family. In a few months I'm going to be staying at a really fancy hotel for the first time. The web site for the hotel says that one of the amenities is "complimentary bathrobes." Does this mean complimentary as in "free to take home with you" like the mints on the pillow, or as in "free to use while you're staying here" like the towels? I haven't been able to find the answer to this anywhere. I'd really like to know so that I don't look stupid or accidentally commit a misdemeanor.

A.

Dear A.,

Oh, Dear Reader, please don't take the Bathrobe—if you do, you're likely to see a charge for it show up on Your Credit Card Statement after you Check Out! We think saying it's "Complimentary" is kind of silly (after all, you use the bed while you're in a hotel room, too, and no one would ever say THAT'S complimentary), but in general, hotel bathrobes are like Towels: you can't pilfer them.

Hope you have a great time on your trip!

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I am not quite sure what's going on, but I have attended two weddings thus far this year that, upon My Arrival at the Reception, I learned were "cash bar." What is going on with this? Is this some kind of Horrid New Trend? I am wrong in my Continuing Assumption that asking people you've invited to celebrate your special day with you (and, who presumably have brought you a Lovely Gift) to pay for their own drinks is THOR*?

Cheers,
Unpleasantly Surprised

Dear Unpleasantly Surprised,

Your Assumption is Absolutely Correct: Guests should not be obliged to reach for their wallets to pay for Anything at Any Kind of Party! Yes, it's true that an Open Bar can be quite expensive, but if you can't afford to let the Booze Flow, you can always serve only Beer and Wine, or you can Keep It Dry. Both of those options are Much, Much Preferable to having a Cash Bar. After all, if you were having a party in your home, you wouldn't ask people to Pay For Their Drinks... the same holds true at a Wedding.

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

* THOR: In the EGs' Patois, this means The Height Of Rudeness.

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

The situation I am faced with is undoubtedly a dilemma faced by countless number of women the world over. What do you do when having loaned an outfit to a friend, it is returned damaged? In my particular case, the borrower in question failed to return the garments for over a year and only then as I persistently reminded her that I really could do with having the clothes back. Eventually, under duress, she returned the clothes. I must admit it wasn't a total surprise to see the condition of my clothes once returned, surely there had to be some reason that she was avoiding giving them back. Indeed there was. The skirt, dry clean only, had been machine washed and as a result had shrunk two sizes and was stained by the dye from another garment running in the wash. No apology has even been offered, am I presumptuous to expect that she has even realised what has happened?

If it were me, I would be sincerely sorry and of course offer to pay for a replacement. Should my friend be held responsible for the damage, or have I set myself up for a fall by loaning her my clothes in the first place? Most importantly, is a friendship worth jeopardising over a skirt?

Kind Regards,
Ms. Wash Day Blues

Dear Ms. Wash Day Blues,

That depends on the Quality of the Friendship, Dear Reader—we can't answer that for you! However, we think that in general, honesty in a Friendship is a Good Thing, and if you're just going to be Stewing Over This forever, it would be much better for you to Say Something Now and get things out in the open. You could always say that something has been Bothering You, and if the roles were reversed, you'd want to know, so you felt you should Bring It Up to her... then outline that you felt rather Taken Advantage Of by the fact that she kept your clothes over a year and then returned them in unwearable condition. Perhaps she didn't even realize what happened, but you felt she should know that you did indeed notice and feel More Than a Little Bit Hurt that she wouldn't have taken better care of your things. Hopefully, at this point she'll apologize profusely and offer to pay for a replacement, which is what she should have done in the first place!

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I have more of a comment than a question, but am hoping that something can be done!! I was on the T this morning going to work and saw a very lovely woman. She was dressed beautifully, and was wearing a very well made winter coat. However, she had neglected to cut the strings holding the back vent of her coat together, and had also left the tag on the sleeve which read "100% Camel Hair." Now while I am sure that she is just thrilled that she has such a lovely coat made out of such a wonderful and warm material, the EGs and I both know that the tag is meant to be removed and the strings are meant to be cut before wearing the coat!!! I believe that you have mentioned this problem before, but seeing as we are heading into the cold season again, maybe you could mention this in your column to save others from the same faux pas? Thank you for all of your efforts!

Sincerely,
Pet Peeved in Boston

Dear Pet Peeved,

You're right, we have mentioned this before, but perhaps it does deserve a Repeat Mention. Snip those tags off and cut those vent strings! This looks as silly as walking around with one of those Plastic Size Stickers on your clothing!

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I am in need of your wisdom on the subject of baby showers. My dear sister is expecting her first child next spring, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to host a shower in honor of my new niece or nephew. My goal is to make the shower a pleasant, civilized affair, which I fear is not always the case with other hostesses. Having been subjected to various Obnoxious Shower Games in the past (such as "Name the Mystery Baby Food Item in the Jar" and "Wedding Gowns Made from Toilet Paper"), and having heard of additional horror stories (grinding candy bars into diapers and passing them around to guests—yuck!), I am desperately in need of Appropriate Shower Activities and Favors. Any advice or suggestions you would have would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Sincerely yours,
Future Aunt & Hostess

Dear Future Aunt & Hostess,

Ugh!! Stupid Shower Games are simply intolerable! The whole point of a Baby Shower is to get together with Close Relatives and Friends who will "Shower" the New Mother with Helpful Advice and some Wee Gifts. The event does NOT need to resemble a Child's Birthday Party (even though the reason you're having it is because a Child is going to be or has been Born) OR some kind of Group Bonding / Ropes Course Kind of Thing. We're Not Too Keen on Games at Showers, period. If you have Good Food and invite Interesting People, they really won't need to Play Games in order to have a good time. We wouldn't have any issues with something like having a Pretty Notebook that you pass around to all of the guests, asking them to write a little note of good wishes or advice for the Mom-to-Be, but really, that's as far as we'd go. As for favors, that's another issue entirely! There are so many adorable things you could do! Candy is always a good choice... you could get some Darling Containers for chocolates, or jelly beans, or, really, whatever kind of candy you like! In some Wedding Magazine (damn, we wish we could Credit the Source Properly, but EGL can't remember which—she did buy pretty much every Wedding Magazine Known to Man before she got married last year), we saw a really pretty idea of having lots of different kinds of scoopable candies (M&Ms, gumdrops, jelly beans, etc.) in Pretty Glass Jars, and letting guests make little Treat Bags for themselves of all their favorites. (We think all the candy in question was White, so it Looked Pretty and Delicate, not like a Crazy Penny Candy Store. You could do the same, maybe adding some light pink or blue...) Tiny potted plants could be pretty... little herb sachets... little pastel guest soaps... you have so many options! Just make sure you choose something portable (e.g., not something that's going to Tip Over and Spill on the Way Home), and try to pick something everyone would really like to have but might not buy for themselves. A favor can be Very Simple and still be Quite Impressive!

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

What are some good ideas for Halloween costumes? The big party I'm supposed to attend is coming up fast, and I am NOT going to resort to buying a cheap mask somewhere, like I did last year.

In Search Of Ideas

Dear In Search,

Cheap masks are the Worst! We can't understand why anyone would want to sport one of them, as they get in the way of Eating, Drinking, and Having Conversations (the main points of Any Good Party), and furthermore, they never fit well and are Unbearably Hot! We have a Wee List of Costume Ideas here. Hope that helps!

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

A friend expressed her wish to throw my husband and me a couples baby shower complete with flowers, catered dinner and a martini bar. We casually talked about the number of guests that would be invited and the number 20 came up. My friend said she was ok with that. After talking it over with my husband and compiling our guest list, we realized we had closer to 45 people we wanted to invite. Since this was to be a pretty elaborate affair, we felt it was only fair that we tell her the number of guests we would like to invite AND offer to PAY at least half of the cost, since we were expanding the list past the original number. My friend says that we should be gracious and accept her offer to throw it for 20 or so people at no cost to us. She has also called me controlling because I want to be part of the planning process, such as going together to pick out invitations, selecting the menu. Her idea was that she throws the party and selects everything and plans and orders everything and all we do is show up at the time and see what food we will be eating and what decorations she picked, what the dessert is etc., etc., and what the invitations look like! I would like to know if my husband and I were wrong for wanting to invite more people than originally discussed and offering to pay any differences or the majority of the cost. Needless to say, we are now barely speaking over this. I would be grateful for any info as I feel miserable over what should be a very happy occasion.

Sincerely,
Expecting Parents

Dear Expecting Parents,

Oh, Dear Reader—this isn't going to be what you want to hear, but we think your friend is right, and that you and your husband aren't being the Most Polite Shower-ees. Your friend is trying to Do Something Nice for You, and you're not exactly making it easy for her to do so. A party for 45 is very different from a party for 20. We understand you didn't want your friend to incur any extra expense for the extra guests, but even so, that's a lot of extra people for a Hostess to have to Take Care Of. Maybe her home is Not Huge and 45 people would be Too Large a Crowd! Also, if it's a shower for you, you really shouldn't be paying for anything. And while it's certainly fine to show an interest in what's being planned, your friend is the Hostess, and should have the Final Say on the Invitations, Menu, etc. What's wrong with being a little bit surprised, Dear Reader? It sounds like you knew what the Major Details would be (sit-down dinner for 20 and Martini Bar)—why not sit back and wait for your friend to ask you for your opinion on the Smaller Details? We're sorry, but we think you need to Relax a Bit about the shower. It sounds like a lovely party already, and we're sure it'll be Just Fine, whether or not you've seen the Invitations or the Menu in advance. It's certainly Not Good to be Not Speaking to your friend just because of this! Give her a call, tell her you're sorry you've been obsessing over the details, thank her for Being So Nice to You in the first place, and promise to Let Her Plan It.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I am a Thirteen-Year-Old Girl who lives in a Suburban Town in Idaho. Seeing of late there have been Far Too Many Awkward School Dances where people are creating Hopeless Drama, I have decided to host an Alcohol Free Cocktail Party in my Humble Abode. I have devised the menu, and there will be lots of Delicious Appetizers—the Artichoke Dip, for one—and many "cocktails" in Pretty Glasses with No Alcohol in sight.

However, one of my Very Best Guy Friends says we should play Spin The Bottle. I am Somewhat Wary of this because some of my friends are Far More Mature than others, and I fear that I may Drive Them Away with this pastime. Also, I am trying to make this Very Grown Up, and I believe at a Normal Party one does not Make Out on the couch.

Also, I am designating the Dress Code as Semi-Formal, rather than Black Tie Optional as was suggested by My Parents. Many of my Guy Friends think this equals Khakis and a T-Shirt devoid of Stains, which absolutely Shocks Me. Would it be TTFW if I put a light guideline to Semi-Formal in the Invitation?

Please help me so My Party can be good without Having Someone Sneak in Tequiza without My Knowledge.
Befuddled in Boise

Dear Befuddled,

Your party sounds Smashing! We think more Teenagers should throw Parties Like Yours!

Absolutely squash the thought of Spin the Bottle. "Games" like that are Simply Vile, and should only happen in Judy Blume novels. (Actually, they shouldn't happen there, either, but those books have already been written, so you know what we mean.) It's YOUR party, Dear Reader, and you should tell your Very Best Guy Friend that It's Not Gonna Happen, Period. Hopefully he was Just Joking. Ugh!

As for the Semi-Formal Dress, how about not saying anything to define it on the Invitation, but instead, asking one of your good friends to send around an e-mail to your guests with Complete Information? "A bunch of people have asked me what 'Semi-Formal Dress' means, because they wouldn't want to wear the wrong thing to Befuddled's Fabulous Party! So, here goes: Semi-Formal means that girls should wear a nice long or short (but, of course, not too short) dress in a dressy cut and fabric, and that boys should wear a suit or sports coat with dress pants, a button-down shirt, and a tie. Just for the record, notice I did not say it means wear Workout Clothes, or a Ball Gown, or Khakis and a T-Shirt. All of these things Have Their Place, but they're not Semi-Formal. See you there! Best, Elizabeth, Your Dress Code Explicator."

We hope you have a Lovely Time, Dear Reader! Let us know how it goes!

All best,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

A short scenario:

In late '02, a friend makes me aware of a conference in late Oct '03 to take teen girls to.

I agree that the girls would enjoy this and agree to go with them and her.

I make arrangements.

Yesterday, my friend bails so she can cook and decorate for a surprise 50th anniversary party that OTHERS are giving.

The conference will not interfere with her ATTENDANCE at the party, just the PREPARATION.

Mother taught me not to abandon a commitment to something if something better comes along. In other words, once committed, don't cancel unless sick or DEAD.

What is the proper etiquette?

B.

Dear B.,

Your Mother is right. We can think of a few other exceptions—death or illness of a Family Member, deployment as a Member of the Armed Forces, being on a Sequestered Jury, etc. But these exceptions are Pretty Darn Uncommon, and they do NOT include helping people plan a 50th Anniversary Party! Especially when skipping the event means one's friend will be stuck there supervising lots of teenage girls All By Herself! And it's even worse that she's the one who asked you to go along in the first place! Such behavior is Most Uncool, Dear Reader. You might consider asking her to find someone else to attend in her place to help you Chaperone the Girls—it's not very nice to leave you to cover everything all by yourself. In the future, we wouldn't count on her to Keep Her Word about anything.

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I just pulled my copy of Things You Need to Be Told to double-check what you girls had to say about gifts from houseguests, and the suggestions were very helpful. I do have a question about my situation, though. Some friends are going to loan me the use of their townhouse in our state's Capital City while I am there on vacation. They will not be there while I am; it will just be me and two of my girlfriends. We will, of course, take very good care of said townhouse, and of course I will send a bread-and-butter note afterwards. As far as a gift goes, though, I am not sure what to do. Should I purchase a (nonperishable) gift while I am there and leave it for them to find when they next go up, or should I purchase something here before I leave and send it to their residence in this city? Any suggestions for thoughtful gifts? I housesit for them very regularly and am quite fond of this couple, but am a little intimidated by the idea of trying to find them a good gift.

Houseguest Home Alone

Dear Houseguest,

We've been in this situation ourselves, and we did leave a Little Something Nonperishable behind for our hosts in addition to mailing a Bread-and-Butter Letter. However, we knew our hosts would be returning to their home just a day or two after we left—we wouldn't have wanted to leave something sitting out, collecting dust for months. If you're at all in doubt, send the gift to Their Home.

As for what type of gift to give, something small made in the Capital City might be nice… perhaps you might stop in a Small Boutique and get a pretty bud vase made by a Local Artist. A book on a subject you know your friends are interested in is also always welcome. Or some Lovely Guest Soaps, or a Really Great-Smelling Candle… don't worry, Dear Reader, you'll find something!

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I know how often you have to answer questions about thank-you cards, but mine comes from a slightly different angle.

My husband and I sent out thank-you cards about a month after our wedding (we had them printed specially with a picture we took at the wedding, so it took us a little longer than it would have had we used pre-printed cards). About two months after the wedding (well after the cards should have arrived) my new mother-in-law sent me an e-mail saying we'd forgotten someone. She said that she'd spoken to her sister, Aunt S., and Aunt S. was a little put out at not having received a thank-you card.

We had kept careful lists of who had given what so that we could be sure to thank them for their gift; as a result, we knew for a fact that we had sent a card to Aunt S. I told this to my mother-in-law, who responded "Oh... she probably just got it and forgot."

Now I feel terrible, knowing that Aunt S. thinks we've ignored her kind gift. I would send another card, but if the first card does in fact show up I think a second one would sound insincere. What would you do?

Also—am I right in feeling slightly annoyed that my mother-in-law is checking up on the status of my thank-you cards? After the wedding she sent us regular reminders by e-mail, even though I had told her we were working on them. My mother is clueless about etiquette so I've never really experienced that sort of thing. I don't really know how to convey to my husband's mother that I have it under control.

Signed,
Gratitude-Challenged Girl

Dear Gratitude-Challenged Girl,

How Rude of the Postal Service to lose your thank-you note to Aunt S.! These things do happen, though. Since you know about it, you probably should go ahead and send her another thank-you note, explaining the situation. "Dear Aunt S., I was terribly dismayed to hear from Daniel's mother that you thought I had forgotten to send you a thank-you note! Heavens, I am such a stickler for writing thank-you notes promptly—I never even considered that the Post Office would lose one and have someone think I was Terribly Rude! I hope THIS reaches you. I do want you to know how much Daniel and I appreciate your kind gift of..." If the first card does show up, all the better, we think—when she sees it's spent the last six months making a Slow Trip around South America, she'll know you're Telling the Truth (and will probably be Un Peu Embarrassed to have assumed you just didn't write to her).

Yes, it's Rather Annoying of Your Mother-in-Law to check up on you. We'd have answered her first reminder with something like, "Thanks for checking, but I'm a big fan of Thank-You Notes, and I have everything under control. They'll all be out promptly—don't worry!" If she sent something again, we'd say, "Georgia, you can't think I'd forget about something as important as Thank-You Notes! I thought I told you I'm OBSESSED with Proper Etiquette!" If she continues, we think it would be time for Your Husband to mention to her that he thinks it's strange she's continuing to e-mail you about the Thank-You Notes when you've already specifically told her they're Under Control.

Most sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

My dilemma concerns a good friend from College who routinely outstays her welcome. She is such a bad guest that I have almost completely stopped making plans with her. She still lives at home with her parents while I live by myself about 30 miles away. Last weekend I invited her to stay with me on Friday so she did not have to drive back home late at night after an alumni cocktail party. During the course of the conversation she asked me if I had plans Saturday night. I did not because I had to work all day Sunday, which I told her. She responded, "Great, I'll stay Saturday and we can go to the movies!" I replied that was not convenient since I had a long to-do list which had to be attended to on Saturday (the only day I have free). To which she had the gall to answer, "Oh, I don't mind."

On Friday she was waiting at my door when I arrived home from work. She stayed Saturday and as the hostess I felt I needed to keep Saturday free to entertain and feed her. Sunday, she sat around my apartment and did not leave until I was walking out the door for work. We have plans for next Friday night and I see the same situation forming. My mother is coming to town the next day and I have to work Sunday. She always responds, "I don't mind." How can I make her see I DO mind? How can I make it clear that when I offer these reasons, excuses, sometimes flat-out lies, I am not worried about offending or being rude to her, but that I am tactfully asking her to leave?

Unwilling Hostess

Dear Unwilling Hostess,

You need to make it clear that you Do Mind, but first, you need to Stop Giving In to her. We'd try to be gentle but firm with her, because it sounds like she's Just Lonely—however, that doesn't give her the right to Impose On You, and you need to Put Your Foot Down. "Actually, Shelby, it really won't be convenient for me to have a houseguest for the entire weekend." If she should be so Impolite as to inquire, "Why not???" then you should say, "Oh, I thought I mentioned that I have other commitments on Saturday and Sunday. That's why I invited you for Friday night, not the whole weekend." We'll assume the next thing she'll say will be, "But I thought it could be just like Last Weekend—it doesn't matter if you have Stuff to Do, I'll just Hang Out Alone in Your Apartment or Go With You!" At that point, you say, "I'm sorry, but that really won't work out for me this weekend. You understand, right? Some other time you can come for an Entire Weekend and we'll plan a lot of stuff to do together." And the next time you invite her, make sure you specify What Days: "The party's Friday, so why don't you come up Friday afternoon, and we can have brunch on Saturday before you head back. "

All best,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Grrls,

As for my etiquette question—Scenario: Father and I were enervated and dehydrated after a long morning of touring D.C's finest. When we finally found a little stand from which to buy drinks, the girl working at the cash register was engaged in a telephone conversation. We picked out our refreshments without a word of greeting or acknowledgement from her. Still chatting on the phone, she rang us up and waited for payment. Even though we could see that our total is $3.80, Dad deliberately asked her, "How Much?" With phone still attached to ear, she pointed at the cash register irritably. (At this point I ducked away, knowing what was coming.) Then, from my Dad, a few "It's common courtesy, you know"s, and some louder "People here are so rude!"s, topped with a "People here are so uncivilized!" as I gently pulled him away and the cashier ducked into her stand to complain vehemently to her telephone. Now, of course cashiers shouldn't behave so rudely to their paying customers, or to anyone, but did my cranky papa take it too far? I'm always uncomfortable when my parents scold strangers in public, sometimes causing a petit scene. I especially dislike it when they generalize (i.e., "YOU people ____!"). I prefer to let it be, and take their example as how NOT to treat others. After all, even the most Sensible and Polite creatures have had to make mistakes in order to learn from them. What's your take?

Thanks and Best Regards,
A Fellow Sinner

Dear A Fellow Sinner,

How annoying of the Cashier! The EGs have run into This Sort of Thing far too often... boy, is it Vexing! Yes, we all know that some jobs—indeed, Most Jobs—are quite a drag, and of course it would be Much More Fun to Chat With One's Friends, but no matter how bored one is, one has to be Attentive and Polite to Customers.

Was it okay for Your Dad to Say Something? Well, in general, yes. We probably would've also asked something like, "Excuse me, but how much did this come to?" And depending upon Exactly How Irritated We Were, we might have responded to her pointing at the cash register with, "Excuse me, I couldn't hear you." It's one thing, though, to Have a Word avec the Cashier (or better yet, Her Manager, if that person is around)—it's quite another to start generalizing about Everyone Who Lives in a Certain City. Surely not all the inhabitants of Washington, D.C., are Surly Jerks, and it's quite unfair to take one person's Poor Manners as a sign that the Entire City is Rude or Uncivilized. That's definitely Taking It Too Far. And the "YOU people" comments are just as bad. What people, in particular? Cashiers? Not all cashiers are Boorish. Washingtonians? Everyone of the same Ethnic Background as the Rude Person? All Women, everywhere? See how ridiculous this is? It's offensive in its own right, no matter what Rude Act Prompted It. Deal with the Rude Person one-on-one, if you want to Say Something; don't Generalize.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

My question is in regards to my handshake. I give a firm, not tight, handshake whenever I meet someone. This I actually learned in finishing school when I was quite a bit younger, so I know that it isn't too hard.

Why else do I know this? Because only men seem to have an issue with my handshake. Their reaction, usually in front of a superior in the workplace, is: "Niiiiccce handshake," or "Ooh, she's got a good grip," which irritates and embarrasses me completely. Sometimes, I've even shook hands with a man who grips a lot tighter as if I'm attempting to one-up him and feels threatened, therefore crushing my hand. Apparently, these men either aren't accustomed to receiving a decent handshake from a woman or stereotype me as that I should have a "dead fish" handshake. Please also note that this has not happened once, but at least a dozen times—all from men; women do not seem to have a problem with this or notice.

I've talked to family and friends and showed them my grip and none of them think it's too hard so therefore, I don't think I'm grasping like the incredible Hulk. I've asked their opinions on a polite, professional come-back without being catty (especially in front of a superior) but most of them are too nasty for me to use in the workplace. You are my last hope—as Dear Abby has rudely ignored me in lieu of publishing another "Should-I-ask-this-boy-out?" letter from some prepubescent middle-schooler. What can I say or do?

Shaking with Irritation

Dear Shaking,

Ugh! We can't believe someone would make comments like that to you At Your Workplace—how uncalled-for AND unprofessional! Do that many women have limp handshakes that someone who does not offer a Dead Fish Handshake is really THAT much of a rarity? We certainly hope not! (Attention all Girls: If you're not sure if you have a Dead Fish Handshake, ask a Friend to shake hands with you and give you an Honest Opinion. You shouldn't be breaking people's fingers, but you do need to be able to give a Good, Firm Handshake.)

Let's see. Since you don't want to be Unprofessional in return, you should probably try (as hard as it is) to Curb the Sarcasm. In response to the "Niiiice handshake" comment, we'd give a quizzical look and say something like, "That's a rather curious compliment." As for the "good grip" comment, we'd probably raise one eyebrow slightly, but otherwise maintain a Neutral Expression, and say, "Excuse me?" or "Why would you say that?" (And, of course, let the Idiot Squirm.)

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I've always followed your advice as regards Polite Behavior for the collegiate set. I adore talking to my professors and turn off my cell phone and turn in work on time, and have never, ever worn pajamas to class. But now I am facing a dilemma.

I have been offered a lovely research fellowship (hardly ever given to undergrads!) and am naturally very keen to make a Good Impression upon the directors of the project. BUT, the Powers that Be have scheduled a Mandatory Meeting precisely in the midst of one of my seminar classes. I politely e-mailed the professor of said seminar to request permission to leave early, explaining the situation. Naturally he is not happy to have me miss, but it was implied my missing class would negatively impact grades, not to mention being The Height Of Rudeness (THOR).

Technically, I could go over his head and get permission to miss class from someone higher-up because the meeting is a university sponsored activity. But doing so could earn the professor a reprimand. If I simply miss class, he then has the right to dock me points. In any case, I feel I will lose his respect and be rude in the bargain. BUT, if I miss the Mandatory Meeting, I will lose my fellowship, the regard of the professors who recommended me for the project, and again, be rude.

Upon which horn of this dilemma do I impale myself?

Sincerely,
Uncomfortable Undergrad

Dear Uncomfortable Undergrad,

First, congratulations on your fellowship!! That's splendid! We think it's quite a shame that Your Professor is being Such a Pill about this—he should be proud of you, and happy to let you go! Here's what we'd do. Reply to the professor's e-mail and say that again, you are terribly sorry that this meeting is scheduled when it is. Tell him that you're going to ask the Project Directors if there is any way you could attend both the meeting and His Class, but that you fear that missing the meeting would mean you will Lose the Fellowship, and surely he understands how important this fellowship is to you. Then, immediately, call the Directors of the Project to tell them you have a conflict with the Meeting Time. Explain that one of your profs has a Real Issue with students leaving his seminars early for any reason... could you possibly come slightly late to the Meeting? Or, if not, would they mind sending a Quick E-mail to Professor Grumpy to confirm that the University is requiring you to attend this meeting even though it is causing you to miss class? We're sure they'll do that (especially if Professor Grumpy has a reputation for being Rather Cantankerous). That way you're not going Over His Head in a Threatening Way (like, for example, getting a Signed Note from the Department Chair that says you're allowed to Miss Class without a Grade Penalty), but you are making him aware that Other People at the School know you're missing his class for this... which should make him Less Likely to Penalize You.

If the fellowship people won't e-mail Professor Grumpy for some reason, then, Dear Reader, you just have to decide what's More Important to You… keeping this prof happy/maintaining your G.P.A. or keeping the fellowship/possibly getting a lower grade in one class. If it were us, we wouldn't hesitate to go to the meeting.

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I come from a family that feels that every holiday must be marked with a large celebration, complete with gifts. This includes Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, and of course, birthdays and Christmas.

The problem is, the women in my family are not good at choosing gifts. Every year, I receive tons of useless crap from my mother, grandmother, and aunts. Most of it gets thrown in the trash.

I am also afflicted with the Bad Gift Syndrome. I know that I am not good at choosing gifts, so I try very hard to put a lot of thought into it. This is a lot of work, since we have some occasion at least once a month, and I am very tired of it. I have begged my family to stop this tradition: I have told them that I'd rather see them spend their money buying something nice for themselves rather than spending it on (pointless) gifts for me. They respond that it wouldn't be a holiday without gifts.

Lately I have resorted to giving mostly handmade gifts. Usually at Christmas I give an edible treat in a handmade container. I put a lot of effort into making these near-gourmet quality treats. However, my sister has informed me that the rest of the family thinks I am "cheap." My husband and I are fairly well-off, and apparently the family thinks we should be able to cough up better gifts than cookies in pretty tins. True, we could easily afford to buy more expensive gifts, but I am so tired of giving and receiving meaningless junk!

Is there anything I can do to stop this gift-giving madness? Unless I come up with a better idea soon, everyone is getting a gift certificate for Christmas this year.

Sincerely,
Tired of Presents

Dear Tired,

First of all, we think Your Sister should Go Jump in a Lake. It's Incredibly Rude (not to mention Horribly Materialistic) of her to tell you that everyone thinks you should buy Expensive Gifts rather than taking the time and trouble to Make Yummy Treats for Everyone! We highly doubt she actually is speaking for The Rest of The Family, and even if she were, it's Their Problem if they can't appreciate that a Homemade Gift is ALWAYS much more thoughtful than some sort of Store-Bought Gee-Gaw!

Dear Reader, continue to give What You Want. Don't bother with Gift Certificates if you'd rather Bake Cookies! You might also suggest that instead of having everyone exchange presents, you could each select a name out of a hat and buy one gift for That Person. We're not sure if Your Family will go for that, but perhaps you could start talking to one person at a time and slowly gathering support for this idea. (You might also talk to them about Cutting Back on the holidays upon which you exchange gifts. Valentine's Day? Easter? Sure, it might be nice to give a Wee Easter Basket to your bedridden Great Aunt or something, but having a Big Family Present exchange à la Christmas on all of these other holidays strikes us as Rather Excessive.) However, in trying to convince everyone to Stop the Madness, please don't start criticizing the kind of presents everyone gets at these occasions. Maybe it is all "useless crap," but you shouldn't mention that fact to anybody, or you'll sound like Your Sister! If you have the right to give what you want (which you do), so does Aunt Edna, even if she gives you a bag of Knee-High Athletic Socks on every single occasion. No matter what you've been getting or continue to receive, you've got to write a thank-you note and act grateful. If you end up donating something to charity or pitching it, that's up to you, but you can't politely use this as a point in favor of Stopping the Gift Exchanges.

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dearest Femmes de Etiquette,

Firstly, I received your books as a birthday gift from my Matron of Honor. Not a snooty, pointed gift, I assure you. Just a nice, thoughtful, "she'll die laughing reading these books" type of gift. And I did stay up far past my bedtime reading them!

My fiancé and I are to be married the first weekend in January and we're both Absolutely Thrilled, even though we can't afford a honeymoon, or a photographer, or many other things society says you Absolutely Must Have for one's wedding, but after all, these things are not a necessity for the marriage. Even if we will be poor (at first), we're content to have each other. However his mother, whom I shall refer to as La Suegra (Spanish for mother-in-law, or LS for short), is convinced that we'll be divorced within two years! Not only is it Exceedingly Awkward for LS to tell either of us this at all, but it really demonstrates how little she knows either of us. Both my fiancé and I have very strong convictions about the permanence of marriage, and always have. Granted, she's had very little time in the last two and a half years to get to know Me, but she's had Twenty-three to get to know her son! We take the whole Till Death Do We Part line somewhat seriously, and while we may occasionally consider Bumping Each Other Off, we would never ever get divorced.

Personally she seems to like me very much, but she doesn't seem to be reconciled to the fact that her son is getting married period. Conversations seem to inevitably turn to our wedding, and I dread it, because she will ask my fiancé (in front of me, no less!) if he's sure he wants to do this! It's very soul-bruising.

In January I asked that she come up with a guest list and requested addresses. September now wanes and addresses I still do not have, even after informing her that all of my invitations would be mailed on the First of November and not one whit later.

LS is also upset that we will be living in Houston instead of ... (insert suspenseful film noir music here) ... next door to her! And the absolute worst part is that my Dear Fiancé is on my side, and really cannot object to her behavior more vocally without becoming THOR himself, and she ignores it or says how much his not wanting to live at home makes her and her mother cry.

I know I've inflicted a terribly long e-mail to you, but I'm honestly at my wit's end! If I endure one more comment along the lines of "are you sure you want to do this," then I shall go Ballistic, and it's possible I may go Nuclear as well. And that would be THOR. And I don't really want to alienate her at all, as she is going to be my mother-in-law.

Thank you so much listening, for whatever sage advice you can spare me, and for introducing me to G&Ts, of which I will be Drinking Copiously this weekend if a list of addresses has not arrived.

Bequita y La Suegra

Dear Bequita y La Suegra,

We understand that Your Fiancé does not wish to Be Rude to His Mother, but, Dear Reader, we think you need to call on him to make more of an effort to address this problem with her. She's behaving Quite Childishly, actually, and while he should not, of course, be disrespectful to her, he should sit her down and have a Serious Discussion in which he explains that you and he are In Love and are THRILLED to be Getting Married, and thus, she needs to Lay Off the "Are you sure you want to do this?" questions, etc. He might also try to address her Rather Unrealistic Expectation that you will live Next Door to her. (Or, if this might be Too Much for one Conversation, just ignore that one for now. That sounds like Plain Old Whining, while the other comments seem more intentionally hurtful.) You, meanwhile, should contact her and remind her that you will be mailing invitations on November 1, and tell her you're a little bit worried she hasn't sent you her list yet. "[Fiancé's name] and I really want your family to be present at our wedding, but in order for us to invite anyone, we need that list soon, so I can have enough time to address the invitations. If you don't want to give us a list, we can try to come up with one on our own, but both of us thought you would want to make sure the right people are invited. Could you get me something by October 15, please?" If she doesn't give you the list by that date, then you and your fiancé should do your best coming up with Names and Addresses yourselves. (Is there someone else who might be able to assist you, like a cousin or an aunt or somebody?)

Dear Reader, you're going to be fine. Don't lose sleep over LS… it sounds like she's simply Way Into Creating Melodrama, which, while unpleasant, is something you and your fiancé can always agree to dismiss with laughter (privately, of course). But right now, he needs to get involved here, since she is his mother, and try to Talk Some Sense Into Her. Enjoy your wedding planning, Dear Reader—we're sure you'll have a Beautiful Wedding and a Happy Marriage!

As ever,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I very much enjoy the page and hope you can help me in a ticklish situation, which came out of my son's bar mitzvah Saturday, but is probably not unusual for weddings, christenings, and other large occasions.

As we went through the guest list following the reception, we noticed that there were several guests who did not bring gifts or mail them ahead of time. Most of these are relatives or family friends and we would be pretty astonished if they did nothing by way of a present. It is very possible that some things, particularly envelopes, got lost or left at the temple or club. We also have a couple of random items which were intended as gifts but for which we do not have a card. Particularly for those who are M.I.A., and once my son gets to the end of the thank you notes (all by hand, by the way), what do we do? We don't want to seem rude, and don't want people to think that we or our son are not sending them a note, but at this point don't have anything to thank them for. Do we ask them if they gave something and tell them it seems never to have reached us? Do we tell them that their gift (which we're not sure if they gave) seems not to have reached the target? What do you suggest? Thanks.

Wishing to be Thankful

Dear Wishing,

You're right, this issue does seem to come up often following Large Gatherings. A word to anyone hosting a Big Event where Guests will be Bringing Gifts: Ask an Observant Friend to keep an eye on the Gift Table. If you discover later that the Big Square Box Wrapped in Silver Paper had absolutely no gift card attached or enclosed, your Observant Friend might remember that Mrs. Jones dropped off something resembling that. And a word to Guests Attending a Big Event: It's preferable to send your gift in advance (preferably via a Delivery Service that offers Package Tracking) to make sure it reaches the recipient. If you must bring the gift with you to the Event, put your card inside the box before you wrap it, rather than on top of it—this way it will not become separated from the gift as the packages are moved from the Event Location to the Recipient's Home.

At this point, however, we think you need to appeal to Several Close Friends or Family Members who attended the Bar Mitzvah and ask if they have any idea who might have given your son the Unattributed Gifts. If they, in turn, ask a few people if they know who gave the Lovely Fountain Pen to your son, because there was no Card Attached and you and your son feel terrible that you can't thank the giver, the giver's identity might Come to Light. If you can tell where the Unattributed Gifts were purchased, you might also have some luck tracking down gifts from those stores (it's worth a shot, at least—if something came from a Small Boutique and is One-of-a-Kind, there's a chance the Salesperson might remember who purchased it). And of course, you've checked with the Temple and the Club to see if anything was discovered by the Cleaning Crew, etc., right?

You really shouldn't, however, ask people if they got anything for your son (because honestly, even if you think they must have, there's still a chance they did not, and it'd be Impolite to ask… it's not nice to do anything that makes it look like you Expected a Gift). Your son could always send a note to people who didn't give him a present, thanking them instead for attending his Bar Mitzvah and saying how much it meant to him that they were there to celebrate with him and his family. Then at least no one will think he didn't bother to send Thank-You Notes at all… perhaps it would even spur someone to inquire if he ever received their gift of a Lovely Fountain Pen. You can't win them all, Dear Reader; as long as you and your son do your best to try to track everything down, and he writes all notes promptly, that's the most you can do.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

 

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