Acknowledging Acknowledgment of a Sneeze, Vol. 12, Issue 19

November 16th, 2013 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

If I sneeze while wearing earphones, should I remove at least one bud to accept and show gratitude for a “bless you” or is it OK to keep listening to my NPR podcast?

Likewise, if I am on the opposite side of that scenario is it rude NOT to say “bless you” to the sneezer should they not shed a bud, assuming that they will not hear it anyway or should I throw it out there regardless?

Dear Budded:

If a sneeze is sneezed in the forest with no one to hear it, is it blessed?

It is one of etiquette’s eccentricities that sneezing is the only Bodily Function acknowledged in public. One does not comment on, or even acknowledge, coughing, nose-blowing, yawning, belching, snoring, and especially flatulence - no matter how obvious any of those Bodily Functions might be. Etiquetteer has always understood that this began in Days of Yore (”when knighthood was in flower”) because the soul was thought to leave the body with the sneeze; a blessing would protect or restore it.

To answer your second question first, a Perfectly Proper “God bless you!” can’t go wrong, even if the sneezer is wearing earbuds or earphones. (Etiquetteer does prefer “God bless you” to “Bless you.” The Fiercely Secular may always use “Gesundheit,” which is the German for “health.” Etiquetteer must caution you to avoid translating this into French. Answering a sneeze with “A votre sant√©!” will only lead people to wonder where the champagne is*.)

If you sneeze without sufficient power to dislodge your earbuds, Etiquetteer does not think it necessary for you to remove either or both of them to acknowledge a “God bless you.” This does not, however, excuse you from acknowledging it. Make eye contact with your blesser and nod - kindly or briskly, depending on your degree of acquaintance - and then go about your business. If you’re one of those people who are going along with the Medical Establishment and sneezing into your elbow instead of your hand, Etiquetteer hopes this won’t involve removing, um, Nasal Effluvia from your sleeve. While hesitating to question the wisdom of the Medical Establishment, Etiquetteer continues to advocate the use of a Perfectly Proper handkerchief.

*Or whether or not you are Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas.


Unwanted In-Laws and Current Events, Vol. 8, Issue 8

March 22nd, 2009 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

We live near my husband’s brother, who is constantly inviting or letting my mother- and father-in-law invite themselves.¬† We (my husband, two kids, and I) are always faced with the “threat” of their every other month visits.¬† These visits usually last at least five days.¬† The events involved are excruciating to me.

What should I or my husband tell my brother-in-law and his parents to make them understand this is totally inappropriate?

We have invited them one time in seven years.  All the other visits, which have been every other month for the last seven years, have been them inviting themselves and no one saying anything.  Or my brother and sister-in-law inviting them for some reason.

Bear in mind that I have a special needs son who is 11 and my daughter is very active; she is six.¬† I home school my son as of about two weeks ago.¬† We live in the country and my husband could be losing his job.¬† ¬†Things are not perfect right now but it doesn’t help to have people in your face that you would rather not see at all - ever!

Dear Daughter-in-Law:

You are correct to note that someone has to say something about this situation to solve it. Nearly everyone thinks that etiquette has a way to make problems disappear without them having to say or do anything. Unfortunately, since humans are involved, that’s not possible. And Etiquetteer knows, to his sorrow, that the longer one seethes silently, the worse a problem becomes.

First of all, and this is true in any marriage, if it’s his family, he does the talking, not you, and vice versa. On the other hand, you may find out that your husband isn’t as opposed to these frequent visits as you are.¬†Etiquetteer can’t assume that he shares your revulsion for his family, although he may.¬†Etiquetteer predicts a frank conversation between the two of you. Whatever the result, it’s his family, and he has to deal with them.¬†

Etiquetteer hopes that your brother-in-law is not actually inviting people for multi-day visits into your own home! Only you and your husband have that privilege. 

All you have the power to change is your own participation and, in consultation with your husband, the participation of your children in these visits. If members of your husband’s family want to get together outside your house, that’s not your business. But Etiquetteer sees no reason for you to join them more than once over the course of five days.¬†

Now, how are you going to change the expectations of your in-laws, who are used to seeing you and your children a great deal after seven years? Etiquetteer recommends that you start not being available. Oscar Wilde created “Bunburying” in The Importance of Being Earnest, the subterfuge of leaving town to visit a fictional sick friend (in this case named Bunbury.) Etiquetteer doesn’t think you need to go to those lengths, but you can create special activities with one or both of your children, or your own friends, that keeps you from joining your in-laws. Send your husband alone with the excuse that you’d already made other plans, or he can bring the kids and say you “need some time alone being worn out taking care of the children.” If he doesn’t want to go either, he can tell his brother that all of you have other plans, every night of the week, if necessary.¬†

You have probably already figured out that your in-laws are with you for life, until death or divorce severs your relationship with them. Rather than rely on those two courses (the first immoral and illegal if you arrange it, the second painful for your children), Etiquetteer very much hopes that you can stake out your own territory in your family life.

 

Etiquetteer has seen a lot in the news over the last week worthy of notice and comment:

Etiquetteer has seen a lot in the news over the last week worthy of notice and comment:

Etiquetteer applauds the Bill Duncan Opportunity School of Lakeland, Florida, for suspending Jonathan Locked, Jr. for deliberately disruptive flatulence. Unfortunately Young Master Locked’s father is appealing the suspension, apparently believing that the punishment went too far. Etiquetteer cannot agree, and regrets that Mr. Locked isn’t using this suspension to teach his son to respect the authority of teachers and school principals, respect for education and his classmates, and of course Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer can only hope that the Locked family eats fewer beans after this unfortunate, um, outburst.

In Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, a pastor and a congregant got in trouble with the law for shooting an arrow in church during a service. Reading the article Etiquetteer certainly got the impression that the pastor is more devoted to using props to illustrate the Word than the Word itself. This sort of sensationalism, plus the way the pastor evicted an objecting congregant, violates every sense of Perfect Propriety to Etiquetteer.

Also in church news, Etiquetteer was very interested to read about the innovations of Rev. Anne Gardner’s iSermon Sundays at Phillips Academy. Certainly technology and References to Popular Culture will follow us everywhere, and Etiquetteer really has no objection. What raised Etiquetteer’s hackles was the fact that Academy students were eating breakfast in the pews during church! Forgive Etiquetteer for sounding just a bit old-fashioned, but eating in church is NOT approaching worship of the Deity of One’s Choice with Perfectly Proper undivided attention. Stop it at once!

Etiquetteer could not but agree with the Daily Telegraph’s list of ten first date faux pas.¬†

Finally, Etiquetteer was both touched and amused to read the obituary of Stella Trafford last week. “The Grande Dame of Boston Parks,” who was unafraid to wield a hoe or take on City Hall, received from her stepdaughter what Etiquetteer thinks is the ideal epitaph for a Working Lady to the Manner Born: “She died with her pearls on.”

Etiquetteer has a new address for all your etiquette questions, queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.


Holiday Fallout, Vol. 8, Issue 1

January 18th, 2009 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

About a month before the holidays I moved into a roommate situation with a social friend. We have known each other for years and it is a great living situation. I have enjoyed getting to know him better. I was raised Catholic, but now view myself as a more spiritual person, and my roommate is Jewish and about as devout as I am to his roots.

I was unsure how I might have approached him on the subject of a small Christmas tree somewhere in the apartment. Unfortunately my room is too small to put up a tree there.

How do you suggest that I approach my roommate on the mixing of our respective religious backgrounds when the holidays come again next winter?

Dear Respectful Roommate:

Etiquetteer must commend your sensitivity in considering the effect your choices might have upon your roommate. Battles royal have been waged over the most minuscule things, even how the toilet paper is placed on the roll. (Etiquetteer never ceases to be amazed at the fierceness of those defending either having the paper fall in the front or the back. The most Perfectly Proper solution to this dilemma is to have two rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom. Why no one else has thought of this mystifies Etiquetteer.)

While roommates share many things, they don’t always share holidays. But the simplest solutions are best. Ask your roommate how he would feel about having a Christmas tree, even a small one, to broach the idea. If he likes it, obviously go ahead with a tree. If you detect resistance, confine yourself to decorating your own room. It’s amazing what one can do with garlands, lights, and ribbon without even having a tree!

Etiquetteer wishes you and your roommate well as your shared living arrangements evolve in cordiality, courtesy, and Perfect Propriety.

Dear Etiquetteer:

As a frequent reader of your column I am well aware that you generally deal with matters appropriate for company. That said, I hope you can asisst me with an issue of a more delicate nature, “nature” being the operative word.

My loving husband — especially after consuming foods such as raw onions, Indian food, and Brussels sprouts but, it seems, just about any food — has a tendency to, let us say, “toot.” Sometimes these gaseous emissions are accompanies by an audible announcement, sometimes by just a tell-tale odor.

I’ve asked him to please give a simple “pardon me” to apologize to whatever companions may be nearby and forced to participate in a not Perfectly Proper environment. As we cozy on the couch after dinner, for example, I do appreciate a polite acknowledgement when it’s not the creaking of our old house that’s disturbing the romantic moment.

There are times, however, when he chooses to ignore the whole situation, telling me this is the more polite thing to do For example, at his weekly poker game, following a silent attack his fellow players are well aware of an offense while my husband sheepishly seeks to avoid a tell of his cards as well as the ownership of this atmospheric intrusion. These gentlemen have been polite enough not to fall prey to childish behavior. They do not interrogate one another followed by claims of “He who denied it supplied it” and like nonsense. It does seem ill-advised to call more attention to the situation but to say nothing seems like a case of ignoring a foul elephant in the room. If one were to cause some other offense, from arriving late to tipping a chair to a coughing gag, I’d expect a simple apology for disturbing the peace. Is this any different?

Can you please advise?

Dear Aware:

Etiquetteer has written on this olfactory subject before, and must commend your husband for knowing that Acknowledgement of Flatulence is never Perfectly Proper. It remains one of etiquette’s pecularities not to acknowledge this Bodily Function while offering an “excuse me” for coughs, sneezes, and even yawns. (It differs completely from your other examples, late arrival and chair-tipping, which are not Bodily Functions.) But flatulence, never!

Indeed, Etiquetteer wishes everyone would stop asking those “What’s that?!” type of question when they encounter palpable flatulence. Etiquetteer still shudders with embarrassment over an occasion several years ago. Having been the cause of a sulfurous aroma, Etiquetteer’s shame was compounded when the insistent bewilderment of an idiot acquaintance could only be stopped by having to say “I farted. Would you please shut up now?!”

Etiquetteer does have to Wag an Admonitory Digit at your husband for not altering his diet. Since he knows that raw onions, Brussels sprouts, and Indian food affect him adversely, he should stop eating them! And really, if all food puts him in a State of Perpetual Indigestion, he ought to see his doctor.