Talkative Strangers and Wedding Gifts, Vol. 5, Issue 17

May 7th, 2006 . by Etiquetteer


EXAMPLES FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF ETIQUETTEER: Many people in the world have a need to talk. But Etiquetteer has no need to listen. Two recent experiences reminded Etiquetteer that, frequently, silence is golden.On Easter Sunday Etiquetteer found himself traveling by subway to an afternoon party. While innocently standing on the platform reading American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, an urgent young woman asked Etiquettteer the time. The time Etiquetteer gave her, however, was insufficient to send her away. “Oh my goodness, I’m late for church! And not that I go every Sunday, but the music is so good at the beginning of the service . . . ” You can probably see where this is leading, but not the references to her boyfriend and her inability to pay her mortgage, which came about ten minutes later. Etiquetteer tried doggedly to continue reading, but concentration on the printed page was near impossible with this persistent flow of personal information. At the suggestion of a question, Etiquetteer saw an opening: “Oh I’m sorry, I’ve been reading my book and I wasn’t paying attention.” Alas, this didn’t stop her, but the train did. (No, Etiquetteer didn’t throw her under it.)Not long after that, Etiquetteer was enjoying the daily newspaper and a Cobb salad at the bar of a popular restaurant. Anyone who lunches at a restaurant bar knows that a certain amount of camaraderie between other diners is unavoidable, even welcome. But Etiquetteer finds it too much to ask to have to give up both paper and salad to focus fully on a total stranger. You see, an elderly man sitting next to Etiquetteer found his conversational opening with Etiquetteer’s lunch. “Say, that’s some salad!” he said. “Yes, it’s very good.” Etiquetteer replied. “Now what all do they put in there?” he persisted. “Tomatoes, cheese – I’ll bet that’s bleu cheese – and turkey . . . ” “No, it’s chicken.” “OH, chicken! Oh, that’s good.” Good heavens, Etiquetteer thought, must we discuss all the ingredients of this salad while I’m trying to eat it? This continued for no little time, until “Boy, the sandwiches we used to get at the [insert name of Defunct Cafeteria here]. Gosh . . . ” and he just kept going on and on. Etiquetteer, exasperated, finally had to turn fully back to the newspaper and simply not respond. It was the only way to finish lunch without indigestion and still get back to the office on time.Heaven knows both of these people were harmless, but also clueless. A person with his nose in a book or newspaper should not look as though they are ready to strike up a conversation, and yet how often do we hear stories of just that happening? This may lead Etiquetteer to get an iPod . . .

Dear Etiquetteer:My husband and I found ourselves with opposing thoughts. (This rarely happens, so it’s headline news around here.) One of us says that a wedding invitation can be answered with the regrets card plus a lovely congratulatory (or cute, depending on the couple) greeting card. The other one of us says no, that’s what you do when an announcement is sent; an invitation obligates you to send a gift whether you’re attending the wedding or not. If it makes any difference, one of us works at the same place (we couldn’t even say “works with”) the groom and we have never met the bride. What’s correct?Dear Gifting:Now let Etiquetteer make this perfectly clear: a wedding invitation is not an invoice. If you and your husband feel you are close enough to his colleague, then by all means get the Happy Couple a gift. But only if you feel moved to do so. Otherwise send the reply card and a heartfelt message of congratulations.

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