Winter Etiquette, Vol. 13, Issue 23

February 23rd, 2014 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

Occasionally my nose will suddenly start running, from any one of a number of causes. It could be strong smoke or fumes, scented products, spicy foods, or some unknown reason. I know it’s considered rude to even wipe one’s nose in public, let alone blow it, especially at the table. But it’s also embarrassing at a restaurant or a group dinner to keep hopping up and disappearing into a distant restroom. What’s the best way to navigate this difficulty?

Dear Nosey:

Etiquetteer had two Lovely Grandmothers, Granny and Gramma, and they each knew only one joke. Granny’s joke was “Brownie’s at the door,” and it went like this:

A spinster lady agreed to take care of her young nephew while his parents were going to be away, which meant that she had to take him with her to a dinner party. “Now Nephew,” she said, “I have post-nasal drip, and if you see a drip on my nose, I want you to tell me ‘Brownie’s at the door.’” Nephew agreed, and off they went.

At the dinner table, the nephew was seated on one side of his aunt, but on the other side the spinster found a handsome young bachelor! She spoke to him with fascination for some time, until she felt a tug on her sleeve. “Auntie, Brownie’s at the door!” said her nephew. “Not now dear, I’m talking,” was her reply. This dialogue was repeated two or three times. Finally, conversation at the table turned, and the spinster lady asked her nephew “Now, what was it you wanted to tell me?” “Well,” replied the nephew, “Brownie was at the door, but he’s in the soup now.”

Humans have had runny noses longer than there have been dinner tables, and as you point out, it’s not sustainable to leave the room every time one needs to to blow. To Etiquetteer, the real criterion is discretion. How silently can this operation be conducted? How can this be accomplished without attracting attention? At the table, if only a drip needs to be mopped up, “dab don’t rub” is a safe rule. If it’s possible for you to blow your nose silently and briefly, do so at table. If you’re one of those people like Etiquetteer, who is unable to blow his nose without sounding like Gabriel’s Legion or a New York City traffic jam, it’s best to leave the table.

Easy availability of the handkerchief is the second important factor in unobtrusive nose blowing. The old saying of “A handkerchief should be in your hand three seconds before you need it” is always true. A gentleman, of course, may keep it in his inside jacket pocket or a pants pocket. Perhaps at the table ladies could keep theirs in their laps under their napkins? Attention is always attracted when the need for a handkerchief is making itself felt and the search for the hankie becomes more frantic as the need becomes more urgent. On NO account should one’s handkerchief be allowed to touch the surface of the table! Take it out, use it, and put it back.

There is healthy, yet to Etiquetteer tedious, debate about handkerchiefs vs. paper tissues. Etiquetteer’s principal objections to the latter are that they form a gigantic wad in one’s pockets after use, and that too many people will try to reuse them after one blow, which is simply Disgusting. While Etiquetteer cannot object to people carrying those little plastic packets of paper tissues - apparently ladies need them in the ladies room, and it’s not Etiquetteer’s place to ask why - nothing beats a sturdy linen or cotton handkerchief.

Dear Etiquetteer:

This may sound foolish but when one lives in the Deep South how does one get rid of snow boots gracefully?

Dear Booted:
Your query makes Etiquetteer long for the days when anterooms were still an important part of domestic architecture. Those were also the days when servants were still an important part of domestic equipment. Both those features make divesting winter footwear less inconvenient than it is today, since they provided a specific place with sufficient space to do it, and a method (the servant) that didn’t involve any bending for prolonged periods. Nowadays, one can’t even be assured of a chair on which to sit to carry out this operation.
As much snow should be removed from one’s shoes as possible before actually going inside. Etiquetteer tries to do so by stamping on the doormat or gently kicking the doorframe or a step to dislodge it. If hosts have provided an area for shoe removal (often a chair near the coatrack, sometimes with a towel spread on the floor nearby), take advantage. If you’ve brought inside shoes, make the transition as quickly as possible. If not, be sure before you’ve left your home that your socks have no holes or bare patches, and try to act nonchalant about socializing in stocking feet. Perfectly Proper Hosts inform their guests in advance if they expect shoes to be removed.


Random Issues, Vol. 6, Issue 23

July 9th, 2007 . by Etiquetteer


Dear Etiquetteer:

So, where are you really supposed to put your napkin after dinner? Do you put it on the table or on your seat? We got into this discussion after dinner one night ‘cause we were all using paper napkins and they looked gross.

Dear Dabbing:

This is why Etiquetteer really doesn’t like paper napkins. Not only do they fall on the floor, they do not hold up well if the meal is, uh, moist. One of Etiquetteer’s favorite pub foods is buffalo wings. Most of us know how easy it is to use an entire stack of paper napkins going through a plate of those!

No matter the material of the napkin, its Perfectly Proper place at the end of the meal is to the left of your plate, not on your seat. When paper napkins get particularly messy, Etiquetteer is sometimes driven to slipping them into his pants pockets, but this is really a Desperate Measure . . . and not an option for a lady in a skirt.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What is the proper way to deal with friends who blog with wild abandon, and include one’s private matters in their online diaries? If one highly values one’s privacy, is the only solution to curtail social contact with the blogging folks? How does one make it clear to cyber-exhibitionists that one does not wish to be the subject of their reporting?

Dear Exposed:

Your life doesn’t become a blogger’s property, even the parts of it you choose to spend with and/or in confide in him or her. As soon as you read or become aware of references to yourself in someone’s blog, you should contact the blogger and request that those references be removed immediately. Repeat as necessary until the appropriate action has been taken, up to and including legal assistance. (Indeed, Etiquetteer became aware of an amateur photographer who had been threatened with a lawsuit if he didn’t remove photos of a former friend from his blog.)

If you feel, after repeated instances of this behavior, that your private life is no longer truly private, Etiquetteer can only recommend that you no longer communicate with this person without witnesses.

Dear Etiquetteer:

A few months ago, we were talking about mailing a letter to a lawyer and his wife who’s a doctor and you said the names should always be alphabetical, not Mr. first and Ms. second. But now we’re down to the nitty gritty of wedding invitations and I have a few questions. I normally start with Mr. and Mrs., but here are the questions:

Mr. Arturo Swisserswatter and Ms. Igotta Cacciabutti (married couple — should Mrs. come first?)

Mr. Galahad Familyman and Ms. Prunaprismia Amanuensis (not married, living together, one address, one invitation, but should our son Galahad come first?)

Ms. Antoinette Outlier and Mr. Lancelot Britlington (my married niece and her husband — again, with different names, but I feel that my niece should come first).

I admit to different rules (in one case husband first, in another case the relative first). But what is the perfectly proper way to handle it? Or does it really matter?

Dear Familyman Patriarch:

Taking your examples one by one:

Ms. Igotta Cacciabutti

Mr. Arturo Swisserswatter

Yes, this is in fact correct, even though you and I were always taught that the gentleman comes first.

Mr. Galahad Familyman

Ms. Prunaprismia Amanuensis

Etiquetteer admits that ordinarily they should be listed alphabetically, but since this is a family wedding invitation and Galahad is the family member . . . well, Etiquetteer thinks that’s a good enough reason to list him first. Etiquetteer has seen some universities list the name of the alumnus first and then the spouse, whether or not the last names are in alphabetical order. This seems a universal enough precedent to Etiquetteer to apply here.

Ms. Antoinette Outlier

Mr. Lancelot Britlington

Again, family may come first for a family wedding.

To answer your last question, you’d be surprised to whom it matters! People will interpret slights over the least little thing, especially at weddings.

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Personal Solicitation and Table Manners, Vol. 4, Issue 36

September 3rd, 2005 . by Etiquetteer


Dear Etiquetteer: Half-a-dozen times each year some friend or relative, out of the blue, writes or e-mails me with a thinly disguised request for money. Sometimes it’s for a business venture that allegedly will make me rich. Sometimes it’s to help with a medical problem (which they’ll then refuse to document, even though they know I’m a health professional). Sometimes it’s to support their favorite charity (even though they’re aware that I support a number of my own favorite charities). How can I - preferably early in the dialogue - let them know that I don’t intend to fulfill their request, without - as is often the case - eliciting an angry response? The range of angry responses is impressive: shock (”How could you think that I was asking for money?”), a guilt trip (”Your parents would roll over in their graves if they knew what a skinflint you are!”), and sometimes it’s just an above-it-all “I thought I knew you better” followed by a prolonged cold wind.) Dear Solicited: Etiquetteer has a lot of experience on both sides of this question, as an enthusiastic fund-raiser for underdog arts organizations and as one who has been “touched” for particular “opportunities.” Etiquetteer can tell you recognize these conversations when they start. You have the power to make your position known early on by casually mentioning that your own investment strategy is more conservative now or that you’re focusing your charitable giving on your own favorite charities. This pre-emptive strike should alert your solicitors that you’re not interested. With illness it’s a little more challenging. Etiquetteer presumes that you may actually care about the people hitting you up. Confine the conversation as much as possible to the symptoms and treatment of the illness and not its financial repercussions.As the prospect, you have a few ways to react to your solicitors when they become less than polite. (And really, Etiquetteer is appalled by the reactions you detailed.) Etiquetteer frequently finds it beneficial to ignore the “elephant in the room” until an actual request for a specific amount of money is made. This gets you out of the shocked response you mention; then you can answer “Because you just asked me for money.” Otherwise Etiquetteer finds you completely justified in observing “I’m so disappointed that only my money means anything to you. I thought we meant more to each other than that.” Then you can blow the chill wind.

Dear Etiquetteer:

My partner and I recently hosted a sit-down dinner at our home for my extended family. The spouse of a cousin has the habit (yes, this has happened on more than one occasion) of placing, not to say grinding, his linen napkin into the remnants of his meal on the plate when he has finished his meal. Needless to say, this is rather unappetizing, not to say unhelpful when it comes to laundering the linens.

We obviously do not want to offend the spouse, but would like to have this behavior stop. Whatever shall we do?

Dear Harried Hosts:

The solution is obvious. Instruct your housemaid to keep a close eye on Cousin Zebulon. At the first sign of his completing his meal, she should whisk away his plate before he even has time to fold his napkin.

No housemaid? No kidding! You must forgive Etiquetteer’s longing for domestic service. Of course it’s so hard to find good help nowadays that no one even bothers.

It’s a grievous thing to have to correct a guest in one’s home, and it should only be done in grave situations (like bringing up politics at the dinner table or criticizing another guest to his or her face). Etiquetteer feels sure you have been tempted to give Cousin Zebulon a paper napkin instead, but singling him out from all the others would have an insulting effect you do not want.

Can you be sure that your backwoods relative sits next to you at dinner? This way when you see him start to remove his napkin from his lap, you can relieve him of it yourself, clearing his place at the same time. Purists will note that this violates the rule of clearing everyone’s places only after everyone has finished, but Etiquetteer thinks this the best way to preserve both the napkin and the feelings of the guest.

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