You’ve got that apple and some salad greens! You’ll be fine, right?
Q: Is it impolite to ask to be in someone’s wedding party, or is it okay? And does it make any difference if it is a young girl/child who is a family member? Situation: Wedding plans are all set. Four weeks before the wedding, the uncle of the bride contacts her, saying his young daughter would like to know if she could be a bridesmaid or flower girl. The bride is now feeling awkward and doesn’t know how to respond. Bottom line is that she doesn’t want another flower girl or bridesmaid, but the question of etiquette is also in debate.
Miss Manners says: It is true that one should not volunteer to be a wedding attendant; one should wait to be asked. But you are talking about a little girl, the bride’s cousin, who is overexcited about the wedding. Don’t you find a bit of mitigating charm in that? The uncle would have been better advised to tell his daughter that being a wedding guest is itself an honor, and to divert her attention to what she will wear, how much she will enjoy the wedding cake, and so on. If he felt close enough to confess her wish to the bride, he should have apologetically explained her enthusiasm and merely asked if there were some tiny task she could do.
Your Head Bitch says: It is never ok to ask to be in someone’s wedding. I feel like we need to just get that out of the way up front. Never, never, never. If the bride wants you in her wedding party, she will ask you, and she’ll ask you with a damn sight more notice than one month! That is not nearly enough time for her to get you a dress, flowers, accoutrements, etc., and it puts the bride in a terrible position overall. At that point she’s not still adding people, and clearly felt that while you were important enough to invite, you were not close enough to be included in the wedding party. If you put her on the spot about it, she has to come up with a nice way of saying that, or awkwardly shoehorn you in, and I’m not sure which is worse. It’s a big no-go. Don’t do it.
Now, I’m not a monster. I do find the enthusiasm little girl have for weddings to be very charming indeed. Now, this does not justify asking to be in a wedding (!) on short notice (!!), but it can be worked with. Make her your designated helper for buying and wrapping the wedding gift (within reason, don’t get them Spongebob plates or anything). Take her shopping for a new dress. Tell her you’re going to get a really great picture of her with the bride at the wedding and she can take it to school to show her friends (do kids still do that? I don’t know). The only issue of etiquette in question here is that you never, never, never ask to be invited to any party, but particularly a wedding party, family member or not. It may sound harsh, but it’s a good lesson to learn early.
She may end up with a better dress in the long run anyway.
Q: When a death announcement says, “In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to XYZ charity” benefiting research into a cure for the disease that caused the death, what do you think of someone who sends flowers despite knowing of that request? Albeit rooted in a supportive impulse, to me sending flowers seems to presume that the giver knows better than the family itself what will be most comforting, and also seems to be more about the giver than the recipient. No doubt the family is grateful for any expression of sympathy and has bigger things on their minds anyway, but as a contributor to a group effort, I found this somewhat wrongheaded.
Miss Manners says: Now that baby showers, births, birthdays, christenings, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, engagements, weddings, illnesses, recoveries and divorces have all become excuses for fundraising, Miss Manners had hoped that the impulse to collect would be sated before the funeral. While she is reasonably confident that this is the case for the deceased, it does not appear to be so for the mourners. The purpose of a funeral is to show respect for the deceased and sympathy for the living. While Miss Manners does not agree with the practice of soliciting, even for charities, on behalf of the deceased, she will refrain from leveling criticisms at such a difficult time. In return, she expects survivors who do so to refrain from criticizing those who chose to show their respect in other ways.
Your Head Bitch says: I actually have no problem with people asking for contributions to certain charities in lieu of flowers in funeral announcements, because I can understand how it would bring them some degree of comfort to feel like they were helping in the fight against the disease that took their loved one. And flowers, as much as I love them, could certainly be seen as a bit of a waste of money in the long run, though some people strongly prefer them as a tangible expression of sympathy. If they suggest sending contributions, personally, I would just do as they suggest and send a check to the charity of their choice, and a note to the family expressing my sympathy, so that I could double down on the condolences. You can never have too many condolences.
All that being said, while sending flowers when they have requested contributions smacks a bit of “I didn’t read the announcement thoroughly,” I can’t imagine if flowers did show up anyone would be like, “What the fuck is this?! We said no flowers! Get these out of here!” No one is offended by flowers, especially when they have much bigger things to worry about. And it’s possible you could have sent them before the announcement was published, in any case. I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it, you’ll get a nice note thanking you for the thought, and that will be that. It’s not going to spark a feud or anything.
Do I smell freesias? If I see freesias ANYWHERE…
Q: Next week we are hosting a fundraising gala for a charity whose founder is also a very prominent and successful businessman. There will be six people roasting him — all in good fun and humor. As there will also be a brief program about the nonprofit organization, a silent auction, a live auction and a paddle auction in addition to the roast — what is the appropriate response of the person being roasted at the end of the evening? A few comments and a brief rebuttal? An extensive addressing of each roaster’s comments and a bit of one-upmanship? How long should his comments take?
Miss Manners says: Being roasted requires tenderness and submission to being chewed over. Ask any chicken or turkey. However well intended, it is not always, Miss Manners acknowledges, an enviable situation. But it must be accepted with grace. So no, your target should offer neither a rebuttal nor counterattacks on the roasters. The humor that is chiefly expected of him is to take it all in good-natured fashion. His first duty is to laugh when others do. In acknowledging their efforts, the tack he should take is that they really have his number, and he is grateful for their putting up with him anyway. If he can do this with wit and brevity — your program hardly sounds brief — all the better.
Your Head Bitch says: Ok, let’s be honest up front, roasts haven’t been good since they stopped inviting Don Rickles and started inviting the Apatow crew instead. Nevertheless, I suppose the world must continue turning and sub-par insult comics must continue to find some employment for their skills. However, as sub-par as most insult comics are these days, none of them are even half as bad as some rando amateur trying to offer a rebuttal to a roast. Unless he is Johnny Carson reincarnated (and I can assure you, he’s not), the person being roasted should laugh appreciatively at good jokes, and chuckle amiably at all others. After it’s all done, he should make brief remarks — and I mean brief! — of exactly three sentences. The first should thank everyone for coming and the second and third should amount to, “You’ve heard a lot of things about me tonight, and unfortunately many of them are true! But I’m happy to air my dirty laundry to you good people if it encourages you to give generously to X charity, as both they and I are deeply appreciative of your support.” That’s it. Let everyone get back to their rubber chicken and their silent auction bids after that. Keep ‘em laughing, and keep ‘em giving, not sitting in their seats listening to some boring guy trying to undermine all the jokes they’ve just heard. That’s an awkward way to end the evening.
"I think if I took therapy, the doctor would quit. He’d just pick up the couch and walk out of the room." - Rickles
Q: I own a small family jewelry store. On occasion, a young lady will come in with an heirloom engagement ring that her fiance has given her. While my husband and I absolutely adore the young ladies who gush about the sentiment of receiving Grandma’s ring, we have a difficult time handling those who roll their eyes at the pathetic diamond and outdated setting, lamenting about how horrible the ring is - complete with their betrothed in tow. Many times, we will suggest that because the ring is not something they will get joy out of wearing, that perhaps we can melt down the setting and use Grandma’s diamonds to make a stunning little pendant to keep the sentiment alive. Often we are met with: “Oh. Well, these diamonds are horrible. I just want to get rid of them and get something I want.” My instinct is to tell the gentlemen to run, as I feel this attitude is a sign of wretchedness to come. How might I sway these young women toward rethinking getting rid of Grandma’s ring?
Gentle Reader: Your instinct sounds like the more humane course, but Miss Manners understands that you cannot voice that. She would be tempted to exclaim, “Oh, you can’t mean that! This is a treasure from a family you are about to join.” Well, maybe not. But as a jeweler, you could point out that styles change, and old ones that are scorned often come back into vogue; that once destroyed, something with such family sentiment cannot be replaced; and that the ring could be put aside for the daughter they might have. And if that means getting an engagement ring that is less expensive than the lady has suggested - well, because sentiment is not a factor, they could trade up when they can afford it. Whatever her response, you will have done your best to illuminate her attitude for her betrothed.
Your Head Bitch says: As some of you may recall, I have some, err, rather strong feelings about women who turn their noses up at heirloom rings. But to say as much in front of their fiance and add that they “just want to get rid of it” is, as far as I’m concerned, unprecedentedly rude. Like, mind boggling heights of badness. Yikes. But, even when the customer is very very wrong, I suppose in your situation, the customer is always right — well, not “right” but probably not fond of being scolded by a stranger either. I would probably say something like “I’m happy to show you some options for engagement rings, but before you make any hasty decisions, let me clean this ring for you and pull together some ideas for what can be done to transform it into something you might enjoy more. This is obviously an object of great importance to your fiance’s family and I’d love to be able to help in it being treasured for generations to come.” Resist the urge to slap her across the mouth and tell her that one does not just “get rid of” diamonds like they are used tissues, which is absolutely the most obnoxiously first world sentiment I have ever come across. If she’s really awful about wanting to get rid of it, after you’ve shown her some new things, box the old ring and return it to the fiance, and say that you hope it remains in his family for many years and happy marriages to come. That’s all you can do, really. Leave the rest to me. I won’t mince words.
What is this, a priceless family ring? Are these USED diamonds? You disgust me, sir.
Q: What does it mean when a man gives you a single red rose?
Miss Manners says: If you are on television’s “The Bachelor,” Miss Manners understands it to mean that you are allowed to remain for another episode — or marry him, depending on ratings and where they are in the season. In real life, it is a romantic gesture, the deeper significance of which can surely be explained by the man himself.
Your Head Bitch says: Ok, can we please give Miss Manners some snaps for a solid Bachelor burn, please? That was excellent. Now, I could give you a whole long thing here today about how there is a set language of flowers that the Victorians came up with because you couldn’t just walk up to a lady and be like “Yo, I dig you, let’s make out,” and how red roses indicated romantic love in this context, and how this is really the only flower that most people would still be able to recognize today as having this meaning, but it seems unlikely to me that a modern man has gone to all the trouble to research that just so he can tell you he likes you. Also, let’s not ignore the fact that dudes don’t generally go around giving flowers to ladies they aren’t interested in romantically, unless those women happen to be their mothers. So, yeah, I’m going to go with “he likes you.” Stop second guessing this one, honey, it’s easy. Oh, and just fyi, if someone gives you a viscaria they’re asking you to dance, so keep that one in mind next time you’re at the club (without your new beau, of course).
I mean, come ON. Look at this fucking guy. He’s not trying to tell you you have bad breath, that’s for sure.
Q: I enjoy the convenience of being able to access the Internet from my home. Lately it seems that whenever I log on to look up a piece of information or dash off a quick note, friends or relatives who have placed me on their “buddy list” are alerted to my presence online and initiate instant-messaging conversations. I find this unsettling, as I would if these same people received an alert when I pursued other activities. If I ignore their instant messages, they’ll know I am choosing not to respond. Is there any polite way to prevent these interruptions? Or how quickly may I end these conversations without being rude?
Miss Manners says: It took a long time for the computer industry to realize that people who were wonders at inventing new gadgets were not necessarily equally adept at fielding customer calls or writing instruction manuals. Miss Manners has noticed that the industry has yet to make the same realization regarding electronic manners. The “status update” that you refer to is an engineer’s solution to a manners problem — and not a good one. One imagines that homeowners who did not wish to receive callers faced a similar dilemma with the invention of the electric light, since throwing the switch alerted everyone on the block that they were home. Some online systems now allow you to limit such broadcasting of your activities. But for ones that offer no such privacy, politeness does not require that you answer every call simply because you can.
Your Head Bitch says: Oh, honey. You’re taking to the woman who decided to quit using AIM forever in a fit of rage one day because I received like a billion messages the second I signed online. I have neither the time nor patience for a billion “hey, what’s up?” messages when I’m just trying to look up movie times, you know? But what I realized afterwards is that if you permit chat applications to broadcast that you are online when you aren’t down to chat, you get what you deserve. There’s nothing rude about preventing everyone from being able to see that you are online in the first place. So, now, I only sign into the chat feature of various programs when I’m willing and able to chat. And I keep a highly pruned list of people I’m willing to chat with at all. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Wield the invisibility button with impunity, lady!
Of course sometimes, by accident, you might find yourself logged in when you don’t want to be. You’re right, ignoring the messages you get is both obvious and obviously rude. But don’t feel obligated to have a full blown conversation. A quick, “Sorry, just popping on quickly, must dash! Talk to you soon!” will do the trick nicely. And then, go invisible and revel in your sweet, sweet freedom all over again.
If they set this limit at like 3, that would be ok with me.
You’ve got that apple and some salad greens! You’ll be fine, right?
** Sorry guys! I swear I wrote this to post yesterday! Stupid Tumblr! xo HB.
Q: What should a woman do after she has been kissed on the hand? I am not sure if there is some gesture or response the woman should offer to “complete” the sense of a greeting/acknowledgment.
Miss Manners says: To respond to this gesture is to allow one’s hand to be approached. (Not actually kissed, because a proper gentleman kisses an inch or two above the hand, and would never attempt to do even that to an unmarried lady.) Miss Manners warns you that this is not as passive or as easy as it sounds. Probably expecting a handshake, the lady will hold her hand stiffly vertical and so must gently rotate it to a horizontal position, allowing him to hold it from underneath while he kisses the air above the back of her hand.
Your Head Bitch says: Not that there are all that many men running around these days kissing ladies on the hand, aside from Pepe Le Pew, of course, but that is important information to know, gents — it is major league creep material to kiss unmarried ladies on the hand. And yes, please also refrain from slobbering all over anyone’s hand in the process— just get close enough that everyone gets the idea, make a kissy sound, and then move it along. Nobody wears gloves anymore, so it’s more sanitary for everyone that way anyway. She might have just gotten off the subway, you don’t know!
Anyway, the hand kiss is generally a gesture reserved for old ladies is the point, so the proper way to respond to it may also come off as a bit old lady-ish. Steel yourselves now. One properly responds to a hand kiss by smiling warmly, giving the man’s hand supporting yours a gentle squeeze and saying, “it’s so lovely to see you” and then pulling your hand back at a slow-ish pace so as to not look like you’re horrified by having your hand kissed. That’s all there is to it! Now, go get my fur coat, cigarette holder, and a vodka stinger and we can all practice being fancy old ladies together. That’s my idea of fun!
And I think we can all agree that Pepe was a major league creep.
Q: I am a hostess in a family restaurant, and today I had a couple of young parents come in with an infant about 7 months old. I seated them in a lovely booth near the entrance of the restaurant. To my dismay, they changed their baby’s diaper right on their table. Then, they signaled me to come over, and when I arrived at their table, the woman held out the soiled diaper and asked me to dispose of it! I said simply, “I don’t have any place to dispose of your baby’s diaper, but there is a ladies’ room down the hall.” She was obviously annoyed and said, “Oh, come on! Surely you can put it in one of the bus trays for us!” I couldn’t help myself, and so I answered, “We don’t want your baby’s soiled diaper in our bus trays; we cart dishes in those trays.” She became furious and demanded to speak with my supervisor. When she learned that my supervisor was not present, she demanded the phone number for the corporate entity that owns the restaurant, stating that she would make a complaint about me. Miss Manners, how would you have handled her?
Miss Manners says: Without making physical contact. Expressing concern for the health and hygiene of other customers and employees is perfectly reasonable, as long as it is done politely. If necessary, you can blame health department regulations. Miss Manners would hope that any corporate entity would agree — and assures you that she will be none too quick to frequent the establishment of one that does not.
Your Head Bitch says: There’s a weird sense of entitlement that tends to appear in certain people once they have had children, and I’m not entirely sure where it comes from. So, in case anyone is confused, let me clarify. Having children does not exempt you from the social contract the rest of the world adheres to, ok? One of the major pillars of this contract is that there is a certain room set aside for the expulsion and disposal of human waste. Use it for those purposes for both yourself and your child. For the love of god, don’t open up a poop bomb next to me under any circumstances, but especially not while I’m trying to eat a club sandwich. That’s deplorable and unsanitary. Maybe there will arise the occasional emergency situation where you have to change a diaper in public, but it shouldn’t be your default. In a restaurant, there’s a bathroom literally feet away. Fucking get your act together.
Another, perhaps slightly less obvious pillar is this — unless medically necessary, you do not, under any circumstances, hand poop to another human being, unless that person has entered into a legally binding contract to raise a child with you. Otherwise, no. Just no. It’s disgusting and horrifying, and bad bad bad. Bad job on both fronts, ma’am! I’m shuddering just thinking about it. All that being said, using the language “we don’t want” to someone trying to hand you poop (which, I know, is horrifying and repulsive) comes off as personal in a situation where it’s far easier to blame health regulations (and thank god for them!). Not that it’s a situation you should have been put in in the first place, but simply saying “I’m sorry, but legally I can’t handle that in an establishment where I’m serving food” is a much better way to go overall because it creates the mindset that there is quite literally nothing you can do rather than just not wanting to do something. But god willing, it will never happen again, right everyone? Good. Godspeed, brave poop avoiders.
This is literally the face I made while reading this question
Q: In both business and personal dealings, it is often the case that emails are received containing typographical errors. In the days before email, one might ignore or even correct these incoming mistakes in a paraphrase (“In your letter of the 4th you asked about … “) but with email, it is common to have the original email attached at the end of your own. When the spellchecker goes over your outgoing email, it flags and offers opportunities to correct the typos in both your response and the original email. How is this best handled?
Miss Manners says: With restraint. Technology may have made it easier to correct the mistakes of friends or business associates, but Miss Manners notices it has done nothing to make such behavior more endearing.
Your Head Bitch says: You need to slow your roll, lady. First of all, you should only be including those previous emails if they relate directly to what you are talking about, and only the most recent one (or two, if really necessary). Otherwise, delete that shit because it’s annoying and long and impossible to read. Secondly, no, you don’t proofread another person’s emails unless you have been directly asked to do so. While I’ll grant the chance they might notice is pretty slim, if they do notice, particularly in a business setting, it would come off as super passive aggressive. Like, majorly batshit crazy control-freak passive aggressive. Which is bad. So don’t do that. Leave the typos to float off into the forgotten ether of the internet. The internet doesn’t care.
It’s rare that passive aggression makes a good business model.
Q:I find it extremely annoying to be separated from my spouse at the dinner table at my mother’s house. This seems like an old tradition. We like to touch and talk and do not talk about the kids, the dog or work, but we feel isolated and controlled when told where to sit. I would never dream of telling a guest where to sit. Isn’t the job of the hostess to make sure the guest is comfortable? What do you think? She knows we don’t like it but does it on purpose.
Miss Manners says: What about the discomfort you cause those who do not want to watch you and your husband touching each other? And do the others at the table like it when you ignore the opportunity to be with them in favor of someone you see every day? Of course it is the job of the hostess to tell everyone where to sit, in the interest of promoting general sociability. You have provided Miss Manners with an illustration of why this is necessary.
Your Head Bitch says: Ugh, few things annoy me as much as people who say to me very haughtily that they “would never tell a guest where to sit.” Uh, congratulations? You’ve just told me that you throw terrible dinner parties. Great. Look, deciding on the placement (the traditional French term for a seating arrangement) is almost as important as deciding what to serve for dinner. You place people you think will get along near one another in an effort to encourage different and interesting conversations. People are predictable. If you leave them to their own devices, they will sit with the same people, tell the same stories, and have the same conversations. Why even throw a dinner party again if it’s just going to be the same shit time after time?
Partners are not placed next to each other because they are particularly bad about this kind of thing. They will talk about things that are only of interest to them, in spite the fact that no one else cares, because they have a person to talk to built in. They will inevitably bicker. Even the most sparkling conversationalists will fall into old patterns if seated with someone they are intimate with because those are the people you don’t have to always be sparkly with. Even worse, if there is a lull, rather than keeping things flowing, couples frequently revert to just talking to one another, which is both rude and boring for those around them. Add awkwardly feeling each other up at the table into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for a terrible dinner party. So quit your bitching. Talk about who is going to pick the kids up from soccer in the car on the way home, and have a real conversation with the people your hostess thinks you might like when you’re at a dinner party. Sit with someone new. Learn something new. You get to spend a lot of time being a couple, so enjoy the opportunity to just be you for a bit.
Really, you can’t go 2 hours without touching each other? Really?
Q: I like “Best wishes” or “Best regards” to end business correspondence, but I’ve been toying with alternatives for friends and family. Here they are: “Live healthy,” “Live free,” “Be safe,” etc. Am I creating a trend perhaps not respectful of tradition (manners)?
GENTLE READER: When traditions need improving, Miss Manners will let you know. There is nothing wrong with signing off with assurances of sincerity or good wishes or affectionate sentiments. Admonishing your correspondents to lead safe, healthy lives sounds remarkably like nagging.
Dream your life dreams, man.
Q: Is it acceptable to solicit cash donations to fund my child’s extracurricular school trip from friends, family and business acquaintances? In the event that someone solicited does not reply, is it reasonable to ask again, or should the silence be interpreted as a “no”?
Miss Manners says: Do you have reason to believe that these people have enough interest in your child’s extracurricular activities and sufficient discretionary funds that they would welcome the opportunity to contribute? Would you gladly do the same for their children? If you cannot say yes to both questions, Miss Manners advises you to refrain from attempting to embarrass them into complying. But she gathers that you did not refrain. Can you at least refrain now from dunning those who did not respond? Silence does indeed mean “no,” if not “Please go away.”
Your Head Bitch says: Look, I don’t have kids, but I know the various costs associated with them generally add up pretty quickly. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can shop those costs around to those around you. I understand that sometimes kids have to do fundraising to get like new cheer leading uniforms, or sell girl scout cookies or whatever the hell, and it’s fine if you want to offer to email some people to help with that process. But you’ve got to keep it casual, ok? Just say that if anyone is interested you can give them more information and leave it at that — don’t badger them about buying shitty Christmas wrapping paper in July on behalf of your kids. That being said, if your kids needs $20 to go on a field trip, I’m afraid that one is on you. The guy in the next cubicle does not need to be donating small amounts for your kid’s trip, I’m sorry. That just comes off as weirdly mooch-y, even if it isn’t intended to be, particularly if you’re not also regularly donating to his kid’s activities too. Leave the appeals to friends and family for large scale fund-raising and try and limit it to twice a year, max. A cheer leading team only needs so many new uniforms.
Plus, everyone’s kids have the same shit, and people only need so many ugly aprons.
Q: I received an invitation from a friend of mine to spend the weekend at some property of hers. The caveat: We would be building her a house. Granted, it is a “tiny house,” and my friend is not the type of person to follow formal etiquette on functions, but this struck me as beyond the pale. I mentioned it offhandedly to my parents on a phone call, and they didn’t see any problem, calling it a “barn-raiser.” Miss Manners, I feel as though no one should be asked to raise a barn for a woman with a master’s degree. Who’s right, my parents or me? I do plan on declining, due to some health problems that prevent me from, uh, building a house.
Miss Manners says: When the barn-raiser was a recognized event, in 18th- and 19th-century rural communities, it was understood that the favor would later be returned. Miss Manners fears that your friend has missed the importance of reciprocity. Perhaps she could limit her invitations to those who, while she was earning her degree, insisted on asking why she did not spend her time on something more practical. They could then enjoy a last laugh at her expense while she benefits from their more practical training.
Your Head Bitch says: Um, if someone invites me to a barn raising and expects me to participate, that party better have a damn good gift bag is all I’m saying. Also, no offense to my various friends who read this blog, but of all the all the people I know there are only a select few who I would trust to build me a home. That’s generally a job best left to the professionals, as far as I’m concerned. Still, at least she told you it was a barn raising up front, right? She could have done it like one of those surprise weddings people do where you invite everyone to a party and just spring it on them. She deserves a little credit for that, surely.
So, while I certainly wouldn’t want to throw a barn raising party myself (again, no offense, guys) I think as long as people know up front what they are getting in to, it’s probably not that out of line, manners-wise to throw such a party. Still, when no one RSVPs “yes” to this party (I mean, I wouldn’t), she may find that it wasn’t such a great idea after all. Maybe stick to the murder mystery dinner parties from now on, lady.
Did you guys know a barn raising is also called a “raising bee”? I mean, if anything should have told this lady it was an antiquated idea it was that name, right?
Q: In the buffet line, what do you do when the person in line behind you is reaching in front of you to get food and pushing you along to get you to hurry?
Miss Manners says: Get out of the way. Miss Manners knows how galling it is to allow the pushy to achieve their objectives. She will grant you a sweeping “After you, Alphonse” gesture as you move. But standing between rude people and their feed could be dangerous.
Dessert buffet?! Now I’m REALLY hungry.