Etiquette for Witches

Photo courtesy of Ellen Pratt

Actual Wiccans have a great rule that “everything you put out into the world will come back to you threefold,” which is actually a really great lesson for etiquette. If you are polite, people will be polite to you. Probably.

However, today is the day before Halloween (and coincidentally, Victoria’s birthday. Jaya’s birthday was yesterday! Happy Birthday to us!) and it is the time for etiquette for Halloween-time witches:

  • Try to keep your black cat from crossing people’s paths.

  • Label your ingredients well so you don’t mix up your eye of newt and toe of frog.

  • Don’t mix your black clothes in with people’s white laundry, it will make the whites dingy.

  • Love spells are emotional manipulation and a big faux pas.

  • Wash your cauldron carefully or your roommate will be pissed when she ends up with batwings in her bouillabaisse.

  • If you keep your house on chicken feet, you will have to send out change of address notices every time you move. What a pain.

  • Take good care of your flying monkeys and they will take good care of you.

  • After riding your broom, why not give the kitchen floor a quick going over?

Etiquette for Dealing with Witches:

  • If you are a virgin, don’t ever light the black flame candle.

  • Always invite them to your wedding and baby’s baptism, it’s the only way to avoid a curse.

  • If you don’t want a witch to ride your horse, braid its mane with corn shucks.

  • Avoid touching a witch’s “Book of Shadows,” or handling their ceremonial dagger.

  • According to a guide book given to the Metropolitan Police, “do not jump to conclusions if you encounter a situation where a blindfolded, naked person is tied by their hands – you could merely have stumbled upon a pagan ritual, where such activities are normal practice.”

  • If you don’t want a witch to bother you, plant 10 pumpkin seeds in the shape of a cross outside her house.

  • If you drop a house on her sister, a witch is likely to get mad at you.

In the comments, please tell us your Halloween costume this year OR your greatest Halloween costume ever.

This year, I am dressing up as a….witch!

Help! Can I ask my hairdresser to fix my hair?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I have a question about hairdresser etiquette!

You can’t be afraid of hairdressers or you will end up looking like this.

I recently switched hairdressers (silently, shamefully, and in fact that is probably its own etiquette question, but not what I’m curious about today). I went to a new hipster barbershop/salon in my neighbourhood. I brought a photo to the stylist, let her know about some of my hair’s particularities and issues I’ve had with cuts in the past, and made it clear that while I had a cut and style in mind, she should feel free to make it work the way she thought was best for my hair. It was a nice experience, but two weeks later I have a decided cowlick situation messing with the back of my severe side part, and my curls are not sitting as full as she promised. What are your thoughts on asking a hairdresser to fix a cut that’s off? I’ve done it once before and found it VERY awkward–my then stylist and her colleague were pleasant but definitely made me feel like I didn’t know what was right for my own hair. I don’t know how long to wait (more than a week seems too long, but a few days feels like not giving the cut enough chance). and asking a new hairdresser after a first visit seems like setting a bad tone for the “relationship.” Is asking for a hairdresser to fix a cut ever okay, and is there a way to do it without harming your relationship with them?




Yes, of course you should ask your hairdresser to fix it. Politely.


Jaya: I do think that in our everlasting desire to get rid of all vestiges of servitude, sometimes we go too far and forget that when someone has a service job, their job is to do what you pay them for. And like, not in a mean way.

Victoria:  Hahah yeah! that’s a great way of putting it

Jaya:  But if it’s a haircut, you want a nice haircut!

Victoria:  Totally. And to be honest, haircuts are really expensive.

Jaya:  Especially for women. And you can be all like “well that’s your fault, go to a barber for $10” but c’mon, your hair is a huge part of how you look, and I don’t think there’s any shame in caring about that

Victoria: Nope! I really need to not be such a baby and ask about bang trims more often.

Jaya:  Haha yeah, it’s hard to do on your own. Also, I  do think most hairdressers offer this kind of week-later check up. even if they don’t flat out say it.

Victoria:  Yeah, i think hair stylists expect to have to fix things sometimes and honestly, lots of them get cried at and yelled at, so i’m sure they appreciate a polite “could you please fix this weird thing my hair is doing.”

Jaya:  Yeah! that’s so much nicer than just freaking out.

Victoria: Or not coming back.

Jaya:  Also, they’re professionals. They know what hair is like, and if it’s your first time, duh there are gonna be cowlicks and weird head shapes they’re not going to immediately know, so it helps both of you.

Victoria:  Yep, I think they’d rather fix it and get a loyal customer.Plus then you will have a person who knows about your hair.

Jaya:  Absolutely. I made the mistake for too long of not alerting hairdressers to the weird things my hair does and once I got over that I started getting much better haircuts.

Victoria:  Hahah yeah, it’s scary to try to speak up since they are supposed to know what they are doing.

Jaya:  I think that’s the thing though. They know what they’re doing, but they’re not psychics. They don’t know your head.

Victoria:  Haha yeah, what’s inside it or what’s on it.

Jaya:  If they’re not willing to have a conversation then ok, they’re assholes and find someone else.

Victoria:  Yep.

Jaya:  But there should be a back and forth. They trust you to speak up about anything weird, you trust them to know what looks good from there.

Victoria:  And I think dye jobs too, are especially something you should ask to have fixed if they don’t come out quite right because that’s really normal.

Jaya:  Oh yeah. I’ve never really done that, but that makes sense.

Victoria:  Yeah me either, but it crops up a lot in articles about hair dressers.

Jaya:  how many articles about hair dressers are you reading?

Victoria:  I meaaaaan…

Victoria: Some.

Jaya:  Hahahaha.

Victoria:  Anyway, in sum, hairdressers are professionals and if you aren’t happy with their service, tell them and try to work something out.

Or complain on the internet and tell us your worst hairdresser stories.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Do That Anymore: Dance Cards

“‘Here comes Ned Moffat. What does he want?” said Laurie, knitting his black brows as if he did not regard his young host in the light of a pleasant addition to the party.

‘He put his name down for three dances, and I suppose he’s coming for them. What a bore!’ said Meg, assuming a languid air which amused Laurie immensely.”

-Little Women

Dance cards are one of those things people are always referencing in regards to how stuffy etiquette is. They are a common trope in literature and movies about the “olden days” but how common were they really? And how were they used?

Before we get into dance cards, it is important to know a few things about balls from the early 1800s to the early 1900s. Hereby follows a brief history of social dance: In the early period (think Jane Austen times), social dancing was very formal with all the dancers dancing in a big group, moving around in figures, similar to square dancing (rent any of the many versions of Pride and Prejudice to see examples). Because of this, all the dancers had to be in place at the beginning of the dance and had to dance the whole dance.

A dance card is simply a card that was provided at large balls and dances with a list of the dances for the evening with a space beside it. The ladies would each have a card, sometimes with a small attached pencil, and when a gentleman asked her to dance, he would write his name in for a particular agreed upon dance. This was to help the lady remember who she agreed to dance with and to avoid the embarrassing situation of promising to dance the same dance with two different men. (Though I have always been confused about how the men were supposed to remember who they promised to dance with!)

Dance cards were common in Vienna for hundreds of years, but didn’t come into use in England or the US until the 1830s or so. The Viennese custom was probably introduced to the rest of Europe during the Vienna Congress of 1814/1815, which was a big meeting to settle Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. Right around this time was also a shift in dance styles from longer formal dances like the minuet to shorter dances like the waltz, meaning that there would be many more dances in an evening and more partners to remember. Because of this, ladies started taking it upon themselves to write down the names of their partners in small notebooks or on the backs of their fans. Later on, the ball organizers would have cards preprinted with the names of the dances with a space for your partner to write in his name.

Upon consulting a dozen or so etiquette books from the mid-1800s to the 1950s, it is unclear exactly how common dance cards were at any given point in time. The majority of etiquette books do not mention dance cards specifically and if anything simply allude to “being engaged for a dance.” By the time Emily Post comes along in the 1920s, she says that they are used at public balls and college dances but laments that they are unheard of in fashionable society. It seems as though when dance cards were used, they would be used to arrange to dance in the future, but if a gentleman asked a lady at the beginning of a dance if she was engaged for that dance and she was not, it would be perfectly fine for them to dance without having to write it down.

Dance cards clearly fell out of use when society, for the most part, stopped having formal, set dances. They aren’t particularly useful when you don’t have to know when the waltz, foxtrot, or rhumba are coming up. I think that later on in the early 20th century they were more of a keepsake, being highly decorated and with a list of all the dances and perhaps even the menu of refreshments, than a true way of keeping track of dance partners. Afterall, in the more modern form of social dancing, it’s much easier to quickly ask to dance than it was when dancers were set up in lines and figures that needed to be organized more in advance.

Some related ballroom etiquette:

  • If a gentleman other than your father or brother escorts you to the ball, you must give him the first dance and go into supper with him.

  • If you do accidently agree to dance with two different men for the same dance, it is better to dance with neither to avoid hurt feelings

  • You shouldn’t dance more than 2 or 3 times with the same person as the purpose of balls is to be social and mingle

  • You shouldn’t agree to dance dances when you don’t know the steps

  • If you accept an invitation to a ball you should be prepared to dance, not hang around the edges

  • A gentleman must ask a lady if she would like a refreshment after a dance, she may accept, but if she does, she shouldn’t keep him too long which might prevent him from being timely for the next dance he has promised to another

Many common sayings are derived from the use of dance cards. “To pencil someone in” comes from this practice as well as the more obvious use of “my dance card is full” to indicate a full schedule.


Bonus image because this dance card is a fan. via Wikimedia Commons

How to Be a Considerate Urban Dweller

We firmly believe that city dwellers can be some of the nicest, most polite people out there. After all, you are forced to be in close quarters with hundreds of people every day. You need to learn to read social cues and put others needs above your own. And yes, we all dream of retreating to a ranch in the middle of nowhere where we don’t have to talk to anyone or remember to be nice to the deli guy and we can walk however slowly we want on the sidewalk, but humans are social creatures, and nowhere represents this better than our bustling cities.

That being said, city living doesn’t come naturally to everyone, so here are a few tips on how to handle yourself if you suddenly find yourself in an apartment building in the middle of a metropolis. (Public transportation is a whole conversation unto itself, so we will cover that in depth later!)

  • Remember that there are people around you! Avoid very loud conversations in person or on your phone. Also be aware of music leakage. Even if you’re using headphones, loud music can definitely be heard by those around you. (Also, please use headphones. Do not be that person who is just watching music videos on their phone OUT LOUD.)

  • Sidewalks are the city’s highway, so treat walking as though you were driving. “Pull over” if you need to stop for any reason, don’t just stop dead in the middle of the flow of traffic, especially if you are a group of people. If you are walking and texting, you are NOT walking as fast as you normally do. Try to move out of peoples way. Also, like on roads, keep to the right (or left if you’re in Europe I guess?), especially on stairs, so traffic can flow both ways.

  • Don’t block things! Don’t stop in doorways or at the top, bottom, or middle of subway stairs.

  • Don’t walk three abreast (or more, jeez!) down the sidewalk!

  • Be mindful of your downstairs neighbors and don’t clomp around on your hardwood floors or play very loud music all of the time. On the flip side, be aware that you are living in very close quarters and don’t be too hard on your neighbors unless it is very intrusive and persistent.

  • Be mindful of jaywalking. If you can see cars aren’t coming for a while, then it’s probably safe, but don’t run into the middle of the street if you see someone coming.

  • If you are on a bike, remember you are still a vehicle and obey all traffic laws. No riding against traffic, no running red lights, no biking on the sidewalk.

  • Telling neighbors to quiet down: Doing it in person the first time is probably best, or if you can’t, leave a friendly note. However, I’ve been known to resort to/respond to a few bangs on the ceiling or floor with a broom handle. It’s quick, unobtrusive, and everyone knows what it means.

  • For gods sake pick up your dog poop! There is no excuse not to do this.

How Do I Decide Whose Holiday Invitation to Accept?

Get it? Because multiple invitations feels like a tug of war! [Via Flickr user futureshape]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I’m trying to come up with some sort of question in something resembling eloquent English about holiday parties and invitations and respecting RSVP and how do you handle roommate/friends/family invites. Also, if you have multiple invites (lucky child) what is a good way to decline or accept or whatever. You covered parts of this in your “RSVPs are for real, yo” thing, which people know for weddings, but tend to forget/be more lax about when it comes to holiday dinners and then if no one shows, boy your friends are jerks and now you have an entire turkey and a vat of creamed corn and it’s just sad. But basically, if your friend invites you to a holiday dinner first but then your brother invites you, does family trump friends? If your roommates parents have invited you to dinner 8 times and it hasn’t worked out, at what point do you make that plan a priority over all other plans? Help.


I Don’t Know Where I’m Going



You still have to let people know if you are or are not coming to everything you are invited to. Especially holiday dinners. Etiquette has no say about where you go, you have to make that choice for yourself.


Jaya: This is one of those times where I wish I were a kid again. When you’re a kid you just go where your parents go. No need for decisions.

Victoria: Yeah, I guess it’s lucky in a way that I don’t have close-by family, so my sister and I just hang out at home and make some food and watch some movies on Thanksgiving. And I just go to my parents’ house for Christmas. But I think we are in agreement that your family trumps friends for holidays. If someone invites you, you just say, “I’d love to but I have to do family things, so sorry.”

Jaya: I think in general yes, but also, everyone’s family is different. My mom has always said if I wanted to do Christmas with friends or just go on vacation elsewhere, it would be totally fine. But we’re pretty lax about holidays in general. Divorce does that. So just, know your audience.

Victoria: I mean, family trumps if you want to/it’s important to hang out with your family.

Jaya: If you know it would mean a lot to your friend, and your family is cool without you, then go hang out with your friend.

Victoria: I guess by trumps I meant more like, if you can’t come to a friends house for a holiday because of a family thing, they should understand.

Jaya: Oh yeah, definitely.

Victoria: But then again, you don’t really owe anyone an explanation for why you are or are not able to come.

Jaya: Right, but I think it’s understood for holidays that you may have family obligations. But also, even if it is your family, you should give a firm RSVP.

Victoria: Totally! Especially if its not JUST your parents.

Jaya: If you tell your mom the day before that you’re not coming, then that screws them. And even if it is just your parents, that might mean your parents are having dinner alone!

Victoria: Ahhh yeah! So sad (though maybe not if you have siblings). Your single child privilege is showing, JAYA

Jaya : Oh yeah, cause that’s a privilege. WORRYING ABOUT YOUR PARENTS EATING ALL ALONE ON CHRISTMAS. Showing your sibling-ed naivite, Victoria.

Victoria: Yesssss.

Jaya: Let’s talk about for situations with multiple RSVPs.

Victoria: Sure.

Jaya: There is something that I’ve been dealing with recently. If you know about one event first, but don’t receive a physical/official invitation to it until after you’ve been invited to something else on the same day, which do you go to?

Victoria: Okay, so the rule about RSVPing is not that you go with the one you were INVITED to first, you go to the one you RSVPd yes to.

Jaya: Ooooooh.

Victoria: So if you get two invitations before you have a chance to respond to one, you get to choose!

Jaya: Good to know!

Victoria: You just can’t change your RSVP to, “I got a better offer.”

Jaya: Though what if you RSVP’’d to one event and your sister all of a sudden decides to get married. I mean it sucks but people would probably understand?

Victoria: That’s why I really like save the dates for weddings, or sending out invitations for other events on the early side. But in that case, it’s basically a family emergency, as long as it’s not the day before or something.

Jaya: Also your sister is annoying in that case.

Victoria: So she also asks about prioritizing an event you’ve had to reschedule like, 8 times, and I definitely think after a couple of reschedules, you should pretty much drop everything to make it happen- if its important to you to have dinner with your roommate’s parents, or whatever the situation is. Otherwise, you end up looking really flaky, which is not a good look.

Jaya: Right, especially if it’s been your “fault” every time. Though if you’ve rescheduled a bunch because you just don’t want to do it, maybe just come out and say that.

Victoria: And if you are flaking to get out of doing it, then maybe just own up to it. But in general, just try to make things a priority the best you can, and stick to your RSVPs whenever they require action on the host’s part.

Jaya: Whether that’s cooking you Thanksgiving dinner, saving you a seat at a wedding, or telling a bartender how many people you’re bringing.