Why Did This Person Send Me A Baby Shower Invite, And Do I Have To Send A Gift?

Just hope these aren't there. [Via Cakewrecks]

Just hope these aren’t there. [Via Cakewrecks]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Hiya!  I love the website so far! And now I have a question of my own.

I just got my first baby shower invitation (yikes).  I am busy that day so I can’t go — but do I still have to send them a present? If it matters, this is an old high school friend who I’m not very close with, and I wasn’t invited to her wedding (which I was totally fine with–I only mention it to illustrate how not-that-close we are and I think it is weird I got this shower invite).  Is it a huge faux pas to forgo a gift? If you tell me to, I will get something small from their registry, otherwise my natural inclination is to buy books and give them to her at some vague point in the future, because I buy everyone books.


Strangely Showered


You are under no obligation to send a gift, though, of course, you can if you wish.


Jaya:  Baby shower gifts! I actually just got invited to a baby shower, so this is timely.

Victoria:  Nice! Yeah, gifts are totally optional if you can’t go. And for someone not close like this I would totally not send something because…it kind of seems like a gift grab? Showers are tricky, they are really supposed to be just for your super intimate friends, but now we have people inviting all the female wedding guests to them and all kinds of craziness.

Jaya:  Absolutely. And yeah, it does seem like a gift grab. It’s probably not intentional, but presumably this mother-to-be knows they are not that close.

Victoria:  And usually, I think the hostess will get a list of guests from the mother-to-be?

Jaya:  Right. But just inviting everyone you know to every occasion (unless that’s culturally what you do) seems a bit like a ploy for gifts. I don’t know, showers bother me sometimes in general.

Victoria:  I don’t mind them so much for babies, but I wish they would fall out of favor for weddings as they are starting to seem redundant with all the crazy gift giving that is starting to happen. Like, why are people giving you TWO (or MORE!) gifts for the same life event?

Jaya:  And also, you’d think anyone important and supportive in your life would already know you’re having a baby, and would probably buy you a gift.

Victoria:  Yeah, because its kind of like, for the baby!

Jaya:  I have no problem with people throwing parties! I love parties! But yeah, to invite everyone you know, who may not have been a part of this baby’s life already, sounds like you’re trying to get more stuff.

Victoria:  Weirdly, I have heard a thing that it is bad luck to throw a baby shower before the baby is born.

Jaya: Oh is it bad luck?

Victoria:  I have heard that, but it seems like everyone does them before anyway.

Jaya:  Problem solved. Don’t send a gift or the spirits will get you.

Victoria: I guess the idea is that birthin’ babies is dangerous and it might die and then you will have all these presents to deal with, but no one wants to think that way!

Jaya:  Omg Victoria!!!!!

Victoria:  It’s a thing I heard! Not something I believe!!

Jaya:  “Please save the money on buying me a baby bjorn in case I die and you need it to raise my orphan child.”

Victoria:  No no, they are afraid the BABY will die.

Jaya:  Ooooh.

Victoria:  Don’t Indians not give babies names until they are like, 2, because of the same reasons?

Jaya:  Yup! Also because they wait until the baby has a personality, so their name will match who they are. But yeah don’t waste the good names if they’re gonna die of malaria by the time they’re 4 anyway.

Victoria:  Ooooh, that makes a lot of sense actually.

Jaya:  Hi! Ok, back to gifts, and not infant mortality.

Victoria:  Yeaaaah, I really like the idea of sending a classic children’s book.

Jaya:  For this person, I think it’s totally up to her whether to send a gift. Gifts are always optional no matter what, and especially in this case. And I love the books. Good, gender neutral option.

Victoria:  I personally wouldn’t send one, I don’t think. What am I, made of money? No. But maybe if later on they invited me over to come see the baby, I would probably bring something. And then I would squish its little face. Although, I do think if you choose to attend a baby shower, you do need to bring something since the main activity of a shower is gift giving.

Jaya:  I always liked the idea in these things of like, giving something not related to a baby. Like how nice would it be, as a new mother, to have someone give you a nice robe and some bath salts and be like “hey, take a night not as a mom.”

Victoria: Remind me to invite you to my shower if I ever have a baby.

Jaya:  Also, pregnant ladies of the world, do not invite acquaintances to your baby shower. There is probably a lot of vagina talk and that’s weird.

Victoria: I hear there are games where people put melted candy bars in diapers and you have to guess what candy bar it is. Although, again, there is this whole hyping up of every portion of our lives- baby showers, gender reveal parties, specially colored cakes! Where does the madness end??? (I don’t really object because I love parties, but still!)

Jaya:  I also had no idea Baby Registries were a a thing until last year.

Victoria: Yeah, actually, interestingly, while it is not etiquette approved to put registry info on your wedding invite, it is totally okay to put it on shower invitations.

Jaya:  Oh interesting. I guess because you’re not inviting people to your birth. The shower is sort of the one event. Unless you want 60 people to see a baby and your bloody vagina. Which…hyped up!

Victoria: OMG that is absolutely going to happen. What a world we live in.

Jaya:  I can’t wait to get invited to my first birth. What sort of cardstock do you use for that?

Victoria: Although! It would kind of be more traditional! Because it used to be all the ladies of the village would come help out.  Paleo-birthing, it’s gonna be big.


Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Follow These Crazy Dating Rules

Via Random_fotos

Pheasants make very romantic gifts Via Random_fotos

I think I have only been on one date in my life. I was 16, he was the 19-year-old half-brother of a friend, and we saw Master and Commander and then got pizza. It all happened because he asked me. He straight up asked me. Ok we had been making out on my futon at a party, but afterward he asked if I wanted to go out sometime, and I said yes, and then we went on a date. And even though that was the only date, how fantastic is it that he could just ask and I could just go? Obviously this was not always the case because if not for an elaborate system of rules, someone might get the wrong impression.

Dating as we know it did not even really exist in more western culture until the 1920s, when first-wave feminism and cars collided to pretty much invent the modern teenager. You could get a lot more necking done in the backseat of a model T than on your parent’s porch, and young people in general were rebelling against the Victorian models of etiquette and decorum solidified by their parents. Furthermore, with more women entering the workplace, the idea of what marriage meant was beginning to change. Women began looking for a friend and companion with sexual chemistry in a potential husband, not just someone to provide a house.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before the radical drunks of the ‘20s, there was courtship. You’ve probably read about it in a Jane Austen novel. A man and a woman of the same social circle are introduced formally, the man makes clear his intentions to woo this woman, and after some supervised interaction they agree to plan a wedding. Romance was not really in the picture the way we experience it today. Cassell’s Hand-Book of Etiquette (1860) states “According to the strict code of our forefathers a gentleman should ask the consent of the parents or guardians before he endeavours to win the affections of the young lady.” Because of that, “parents should be very careful whom they receive as intimate friends,” especially if they have daughters. (However, it was not just men who were in danger. Men should “beware the lady of unmeaning attentions.”)

Once a man decided he wanted to woo a lady, there were a few options. He could hang out at her house. He could hope to run into her at a ball. He could take her out with a chaperone (more on that later). He could also send her gifts of fruit and flowers, though according to Cassell, “in fashionable life, game is almost the only present that acquaintances make of each other.” For the love of god, why has nobody brought me a “Thinking of You” pheasant?

Later, if he wanted to propose, he could do so in a handwritten letter, provided he had received permission from her father first.  However, Gertrude Elizabeth Campbell mentions in her 1893 book Etiquette of Good Society that “it is said in the olden times of [England], the women made the advances, and often became the suitors.” She also mentions that “In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it seems to have been the height of gentility to hold the lady by the finger only.” In case you wanted to go retro on your next date.

Anyway, back to the more modern age of 100 years ago, when “dates” began to be a thing. How do you know when you’re ready to date? How do you ask someone on one? How do you know when it’s over. Various etiquette books over the years had advice, though some rules are unbreakable. Putnam’s 1913 Handbook of Etiquette says “is it necessary to state that a young lady who desires to hold an enviable position in smart, ceremonious society does not, whether motherless or not, go to restaurants alone with young men for any meal?” Surely it is not!

By the 1950s things had changed even more. Amy Vanderbilt says that parents know when their boy is ready to date when “his shoes will be shined to a glassy polish” and he starts paying attention to all of his ties. However, Vanderbilt offers no advice on just how this boy will ask a girl on a date, saying they “bungle through somehow in the early years of dating, eventually acquiring a certain polished technique only experience can bring.” Great. Once he does ask her on a date, it is the girl’s responsibility to signal when the night is over. To do this, “She places her napkin unfolded at the left of her plate, looks questioningly at her escort and prepares to rise. If he suggests they linger she may do so if she wishes. However, her decision must be abided by.”

Even if you were an adult with a career and your own place, some old rules still applied. Vanderbilt wrote in 1952, “A career girl, from her twenties onward, can accept such an invitation [to a single man’s house] but should not stay beyond ten or ten-thirty. An old rule and a good one is ‘Avoid the appearance of evil.’” No word on what to do with your napkin if you’re a career girl in a bachelor’s pad; we’ll get back to you on that.

How to Take a Compliment

Pretty much

Pretty much

Is anyone actually comfortable taking a compliment? You’re probably not. For this post, we decided to both weigh in. As you may be able to tell, Victoria is much better at it than Jaya. But let’s talk. How do you take a compliment?

Victoria’s View:

Just say thanks, it’s that easy!

But seriously, it is. If you try to deny it or explain it too much, it’s just going to turn into this big awkward thing. Besides, own your awesomeness! You are great and deserve to be told so. I do think if you say “thanks, I got it at ___________” or “thanks, it was my grandmother’s” that’s totally fine and can sometimes be a nice conversation starter.

Jaya’s View:

IT’S NOT THAT EASY OMG. It’s all fine and easy when someone compliments you on an article of clothing. Duh, you can’t take credit for soldering that bracelet or creating the pattern for those pants (but if you did you should totally take credit because clearly you’re the most talented person alive). But what happens when someone compliments you…on you? Most of the time when someone calls me pretty, or says I did a good job writing an article, or says I’m smart I curl up into a ball and start making strange grunting noises until they stop. I’m not kidding. Ask Victoria. I could even feel my face twisting up just writing that sentence, as if admitting that someone has complimented me on being pretty means I think I’m pretty and that means I’m really vain and oh god it’s happening again.

I think a lot of this anxiety comes from the fact that when most people learn “don’t brag,” it bleeds into “don’t admit any good qualities about yourself ever.” Which is a shame because it is so freeing to admit to yourself that you’re good at something. On my more enlightened days, I know I’m pretty and I’m strong and I’m a half-decent writer. This doesn’t mean I think being pretty is important, or that my writing will change the world, just that I like things about myself. And with lots of work, when someone has said “You look nice” or “I liked that article,” I’ve been able to say thanks without any apologies or conditions. Just remember, no one will think you’re a monster for saying “thank you.”


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How Do I Deal With This Impossible Coworker?

Ok maybe not

Ok maybe not

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I have an impossible coworker! That is the best description. We sit in a big open office, and he is right across (a very short) partition from me and he’s driving me absolutely nutso. He’s extraordinarily loud and likes to yell all the time, either at the people around here, imaginary people, or will literally just yell out movie quotes or lyrics at nobody for no reason. When he’s not yelling, he’s got headphones in that don’t work very well as headphones. I’ve got a pretty stressful job, and I can’t hear myself think anymore.

I know that I should just TALK TO HIM, but there are a few obstacles:

1) I need him to do work for me, often, and he takes ANY criticism as a huge slight and will not talk to the person that “disrespects him” for WEEKS.

2) There is no HR department at my very small company.

3) The powers that be seem to be straight-up terrified of him, and won’t fire him or even reprimand him for anything, despite the fact that he actually recently stole a bunch of stuff from the office and now almost everything is under lock and key AS WELL AS previous incidents he’s been responsible for that I know the company lawyer is constantly being called in to deal with his shenanigans. I think they don’t want to pay him unemployment.

Anyways, essentially the guy is a huge pain in the ass and I don’t have ANY IDEA what to do here. I’ve narrowed it down to “quit my job” or “stew forever.” Help!




This is somewhat outside the scope of etiquette, but most etiquette experts would probably say to be polite and direct and go to your superiors about the problem and if all fails, then to grin and bear it. You might also check askamanager.com, a really great resource for questions about office politics and legal issues.


Jaya: Well, I do still think that talking to a superior is a good idea. And mention that the yelling makes it very hard for him to do his job. It seems like the letter writer has a higher up job, so that could help.

Victoria: And if they do fire him, they won’t have to pay unemployment.

Jaya: And if the letter writer wants to talk to the guy himself, and if he decides not to talk to him for weeks, that’s also something the letter writer can bring to higher ups if he doesn’t get work done.  Just say “well coworker for some reason is not responding to my many requests.”

Victoria: That’s true, and maybe even keep a log of incidents, which can be helpful when approaching management.

Jaya: If anything, perhaps he can request to move desks? I think in a lot of situations, the best advice is always to find what you can do for yourself, if there’s no way to change the other person. Which in this case, there probably isn’t. Move desks, get headphones yourself, something. Also, this coworker sounds like such a baby.

Victoria: Yeahhhhhhhh.

How To Never Address Anyone Again

These titles have been out of use since we stopped hanging witches.

You would think that since America doesn’t have a nobility, the historical use of titles would be very straightforward, but there are a few interesting uses that we don’t have anymore:

Goody/Goodwife and Goodman

If you’ve ever read The Crucible or other books based in Puritan America, you’ve probably come across the term Goodwife and its abbreviation Goody and have perhaps seen the term Goodman. Obviously these terms came with the colonists from England but seem to have been used mostly by the Puritans in New England. To an extent the term denoted church membership, as those who belonged to the church were “good.” They seem to have been titles denoting a slightly lesser social status than those addressed Master and Mistress, but still with some social standing in the community. The term fell out of use in the early 1700s.

Mistress and Master

Early forms of address for people of the middle and upper (but not noble) classes, precursors to Mister and Mrs. Mistress was used for both married and unmarried women. They fell out of use sometime in the 1700s as the democratization of language preferred Mister and Mrs. (which is still short for Mistress, but obviously pronounced Missus) or Miss for all people.

For a while, Mrs. was used as term of respect for women even if they weren’t married- such as calling the cook and housekeeper Mrs. Lastname to denote their rank even if they weren’t married. Miss also was derived from Mistress. An interesting historical fact about the use of the word Miss was that in a family, the eldest daughter would have use of the title Miss LastName and her younger sisters would be called Miss FirstName until the eldest married and the next was bumped up. The use of the term Master for the minor, male children of a house survived well into the 20th century.

During the period immediately following the Revolution, Americans were trying to figure out what they would call each other. Many advocated for a no-frills approach and an ending of most earlier courtesy titles. One wish was to change female titles to eliminate a distinction between married and unmarried women. For those who think the term Ms. originated in the 20th century, it has actually existed as the abbreviation for Mistress as long as Mrs. and Miss have been around.