Is Not Understanding an Accent Rude?

The grocery store is a tower of Babel, basically. Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

At least once a day I get someone at the store I work at who’s mumbling and has an accent, and I can’t tell a word they’re saying 
and I have to have them repeat it like 4 times. How do I politely tell someone I don’t understand them?


Official Etiquette:

Miss Manners suggests, when faced with someone mocking your accent, saying “I beg your pardon, but I don’t understand what you are saying.” Presumably this would be the thing to say if you don’t understand what someone is saying for real.

Our Take:

Jaya: Ok so accents! I understand this a lot. Some of my immediate family has accents I do double takes on.
Victoria: Yeah, although i suppose this could also apply to people who mumble and talk so quietly you can’t hear them,
Jaya: Hahahaha, I think you can use different approaches though. Like, if an adult is mumbling, tell them to speak up. You should just know that.
Victoria: Agreed. Although, it gets a bit absurd when you’ve asked someone to speak up like 3 times and you still can’t hear them!
Jaya: I feel like for an accent there should be a way to politely say “I’m sorry, I’m having a hard time understanding your accent” but then again that gets into tricky territory.
Victoria: I think what you said, except maybe, “I’m sorry, i’m having a hard time understanding what you are saying” which focuses less on the accent.
Jaya: Yeah, definitely and put it more on your inability to understand, rather than blaming them for having an accent.
Victoria: Yesss, and actually, the more you are around accents, the easier it is to understand them. Sooooo just live in a vibrant community I guess.
Jaya: Hahaha yeah easy as that. Also, since he’s working retail, I feel like you can do a lot of interaction with pointing and gestures. So you can attempt to do that as much as possible.
Victoria: Yeah, it’s surprising how much you can communicate with gestures.
Jaya: Ooh wait! maybe lie and say your hearing is bad and that they need to enunciate?
Victoria: HAHAHA, maaaaybe.
Jaya: I’m serious though! It makes it clearly about your inability to hear, but also encourages slow and clear speaking. I’m all for harmless white lies that let everything go smoothly.
Victoria: True, but it’s something pretty easy to get caught lying about.
Jaya: But what are the consequences? Oh, your hearing is fine? Say you went to a loud show the night before and it’s temporarily bad!
Victoria: Lol true, but generally it’s embarrassing to get caught lying, and people don’t like being lied to, even if its harmless
Jaya: I’m guessing if it’s a checkout line at the grocery store, you may not have the opportunity to be found out. Though i guess if it’s a regular customer just try to learn their habits.
Victoria: Yeah, I think the key thing is do what you need to do while trying not to call too much attention to the accent and risk making someone feel bad.
Jaya: Yes, saying you’re the one having a hard time understanding, or maybe asking them to repeat specific things like “cash or credit.”
Victoria: Yes, simple words are best.


Do you have a question or tricky etiquette situation? Write to us at!


What You Can and Cannot Conduct Over Social Media

Good lord just don't be this person [via Jezebel]

Good lord just don’t be this person [via Jezebel]

It’s easy to use social media. It’s too easy. I can think of at least three friends with whom I make plans entirely over social media, because I do not have their phone numbers or email addresses. I know, I’m a millennial, go ahead and yell at me or whatever. [Ed note: Millennial used to not show up under spell check, and now it does. Progress.] We’re not here to judge you for how you get in touch with your friends. However, there are some interactions that should not be conducted in a public place. Let’s go over some. (And remember, most of this varies depending on who you’re connected with. It may look different if you’re friends with 2,000 people v. 20).

1. Don’t ask someone on a date– This doesn’t even have to be a romantic date. Any question of “when are we hanging out” should be taken to a private conversation, whether it’s Facebook messaging, DM on Twitter, private snapchat (???), anything. The whole world shouldn’t see you debating whether you can make the 8pm showing of Lucy or if you should go to the 9:45pm one just to be safe. On Twitter you might be able to get away with this more, since if you message someone only the people who follow both of you can see it, but after a while it’s probably easier to switch to email anyway.

2. Don’t RSVP on someone’s public page- If you’ve been invited to a Facebook event or something like that, RSVP through that page. Don’t write out why you can’t come on the host’s page, because maybe they wanted the event kept private, and definitely don’t RSVP on social media for an invitation you got in the mail. Similarly, don’t try to host a party through your public social media pages. Saying “come to my house for a BBQ on Saturday” will either get you hundreds of people asking for your address, or you having to explain to a bunch of strangers that you don’t actually want them there. YMMV depending on privacy settings, etc., but if you have 20 people you want to invite, just invite them.

3. Don’t ask people to be part of huge life events– It’s already known that it’s a bit tacky to talk endlessly about your wedding or baby or other events on Facebook, considering you don’t want to broadcast a party that most people won’t be invited to. In that same spirit, do not ask people to be part of these events in public. Recently, my husband showed me something that popped up on his Facebook feed, where one girl wrote on another’s wall, asking her to be a bridesmaid, and naming three other women who were already on board. Would you have this conversation in a room of 50 people with everyone listening? Then don’t do it on Facebook.

4. Don’t post disgusting pictures– Pictures of you and your new baby? Awesome. Picture of your new baby covered in its own vomit? Maybe not.

5. Don’t post anything super judgmental- As usual, this is a case of “know your audience,” but posts where you’re judging a large group of people on their actions, or acting really sanctimonious about your own, are just inviting trouble. Even if you think you’re really close to all your Facebook friends, you never know what someone else’s personal life is like, and you may inadvertently be insulting a good friend.

6. Don’t be passive aggressive– It gets really, really tempting to subtweet and hint at some larger drama in your life, and you may think that by avoiding naming names, you can get away with this. But chances are, someone in your feed knows who you’re talking about and will figure it out. Plus, etiquette usually dictates you confront anyone about personal issues directly and as soon as possible, so you’re probably not even letting this problem escalate to the level where you’d need to do this, right?

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of things you can do! For instance, you can post fun or interesting articles, promote yourself, create events or just make a lot of bad jokes. You can actually keep in touch with people and have funny and inane conversations with people you live thousands of miles away from.

How to Go to a Group Dinner and Keep All Your Friends

What the Bible doesn’t mention is that Judas also always stiffed everyone on the tax and tip. Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jaya and I have a large group of friends that we regularly eat out with, so trust us that this advice works. However, this is the sort of thing that only works if everyone does it, so don’t be that guy and don’t accept repeat dinner invitations from people who don’t cooperate. If bad group dinner guests find themselves not being invited to things, hopefully they will figure out why.

  • When you sit down, ask if it is possible to split checks. Some places are more accommodating than others (for some reason this is regional and I don’t really understand why.) In New York they tend to not want to do it.
  • See what everyone is in the mood for. Is everyone hungry and wanting to split appetizers and desserts? Or is this more of a single entree per person crowd? This can help avoid the next point.
  • Try to avoid situations where some people are ordering a small salad and water and some people are ordering 3 courses and tons of booze. This leads to the flow of the meal being different for everyone and extending it way out for the people ordering little. It also causes problems when it is time to split the check (if the waiter can’t do it per person and bless those who can!).
  • Splitting the check evenly is fine! As long as everyone’s bill will be roughly the same anyway. If you have the salad and water vs three courses with wine, you MUST split it per person. It is wildly unfair to let someone subsidize your dinner. Make sure your share of the tax and tip is in proportion to your total bill too.
  • There is an easy trick for making sure you are covering your fair portion of the tax and tip: take your total bill and calculate 30%. This is a little high, counting the tax at 10% (when in NYC it’s 8.875% and other places certainly less) but it’s MUCH easier mental math than figuring out the exact amount and that way you know you are covered and the waiter is getting a good tip.
  • If it’s a birthday, split the birthday person’s share, if that’s amenable to your group. It’s a nice thing to do.
  • Bring lots of cash (in a variety of bills if possible), it’s much easier to split that way.

Are Thank You Note Services Rude?

5542053136_cf01d74e05It recently came to our attention that there are a myriad of services out there that will take care of all the pesky parts of thank you writing (for save the dates, invitations and the like as well.) Basically, the service emails all your guests and asks for their addresses, compiles them into a database. You then input the invitation information or your thank you note contents (presumably these are individualized) and it prints it out, puts it in an envelope, stamps it, and mails it. So you are still writing the content, but then you don’t have to deal with any of the hassle. We had a nice talk about whether this was rude or not, but share your opinion in the poll at the bottom!

Victoria: Soooo what do we think about this service that writes your thank you notes for you? (I mean you write the content, but skip the actual writing and licking and stamping and such.) I actually sent a card to my mom this way once- she was weirdly offended. And it was just a random no occassion card!!
Jaya: Oooh, yeah I think it’s weird. Like, at that point, send an email or type out a letter.
Victoria: Yeah exactly, I think it makes you look lazy to the point of not caring. Seems great for invitations though.
Jaya: You used it though?
Victoria: It was a similar thing and I had a coupon code for it- Hallmark has a thing where you can send cards directly from their website, so I tried it out and my mom did not love it. Which is CRAZY because she is the queen of e-cards.
Jaya: It is really strange, because you realize the line is so murky. Like, handwritten from you is ok, e-cards are ok, but a handwritten card done through the internet is not.
Victoria: Yeah, I mean, I guess it does end up looking like a tricky junk mail spam thing.
Jaya: Yeah, all those “handwritten” fonts don’t look natural anyway. It’s interesting though, that there’s a market for it. That people value the idea of getting a handwritten note so much they’re willing to automate the process, but not to the point of getting an email.
Victoria: Haha yeah, but I think it ends up backfiring because it looks so weird. I think its almost better to just send an email, it’s more natural.
Jaya: Definitely. I really am all for email thank yous. Especially since I’ve gotten a few thank you notes returned and people aren’t getting back to me about their actual addresses
Victoria: Ahhh yeah. I dunno, I still really like handwritten notes, but then, I never got yours because it was lost in the mail. So maybe it would have been better to just have it in an email. Then again, things can get lost in email junk folders too.
Jaya: If the point is conveying earnest thanks, I don’t see how ink does that better. I’ll still do it, because I know people appreciate it. It just seems like ok, you can do it if the ink comes from you, not if you say the exact same thing to Hallmark and they write it down for you. At that point, is any thank you note that’s been dictated to a secretary or something less meaningful?
Victoria: Yeah! I think the show of effort counts a bit- it takes you know, 5 minutes to actually write the thing, but you double your time by having to lick the envelope, stamp it, write the address and stick it in the mail. And time=love, I guess.  Like how homemade cookies somehow seem more caring than storebought?
Jaya: Yeah! Even though if you’re a shitty baker it probably isn’t great. And what takes more time, carving cookies off a Tollhouse roll, or driving to a good bakery and picking them out?
Victoria: That’s a great point. So basically do what feels right, but know that a lot of people will still expect the traditional handwritten note.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Monograms But Were Afraid To Ask

MonogramWhen you were born did you get a bunch of silver cups and bowls and rattles and crap with your initials on them? Were you not at all confused attending your Southern University when suddenly everyone had Vera Bradley bags sporting three letters embroidered on (and not Greek letters either)? Then this guide is not for you. But if you still have some questions about how monograms (not to be confused with mammograms) work, then read on!

A monogram is simply a persons initials. Where it gets complicated is how to write those initials and where to put it.

Generally, there are two ways to do a monogram. First Middle Last initials vs First Last Middle initials. If you do the first, then you are going to want all three letters to be the same size. Like so:


If you want you last initial in the middle, then you make it bigger than the surrounding initials. Like so:


It is slightly more traditional to use the first form for a man and the second form for a woman, but you all know how we at Uncommon Courtesy feel about THAT. If one of these arrangements spells out something unfortunate, you would generally be advised to pick the other one, but ymmv.

You may also use just a single initial, but using your last initial is the convention.

If a married couple used a combined monogram, it goes Her First Last His First. Of course this only really works if you have the same name. Same sex couples usually use just two initials, either both first initials or both last, so that could be a good convention to follow for heterosexual couples with different last names.

A hyphenated last name can be written thus: A|B but you should just stick to the initials of the last name.

So what do you put these lovely letters on? The Original Preppy Handbook says: anything your WASPY little heart desires EXCEPT: suits, cashmere scarves, your dog’s collar, your china (lest you look like a hotel- quelle horreur!), your car. There are apparently special rules for monogramming mens shirts- basically to put it in sneaky places so it’s never visible but you know that it’s there.

Formality of the monogram should match the formality of the item. A silver cup for a baby should have a fairly formal monogram- perhaps a bit swirly and grand, but a bib can have something festive that looks like cutesy handwriting. Women generally can get away with fancier monograms and men generally stick to block letters. First names can be used for children for informal things, but many people choose to stick to the initials so the child’s name isn’t right there for strangers to see.

If you are dealing with monograms around a weddings there are some specific rules you are supposed to follow, which I am including here for thoroughness sake, but do whatever you want. Technically, if it is something you will use before the wedding, it should have your maiden name monogram. If you want to monogram wedding stuff like invitations etc you use both first initals like this: A&B. You never use the married monogram until after you say I do. However, if you want your registry gifts monogramed, it is fine to register for them with the married monogram since you aren’t supposed to use them until after the wedding anyway.