Job Interview Follow-Ups

T for Thank You

T for Thank You

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

After a job interview, when you’re sending follow up/thank you emails, can you send the same one to everyone you interviewed with? I had an interview yesterday with three people. Do they each get a different note?


Copy and Pasting


Victoria: I would strongly recommend making it slightly different for each.

Jaya: Yeah.

Victoria: Because I am sure they compare. But like, they don’t have to be THAT different, just not copy and pasted.

Jaya: Absolutely, that makes sense.

Victoria: If they is any way to mention something unique in each note that is tailored to something you talked to each person about then that’s especially great, but of course, not necessary.

The Case For Formal Titles?

44099I just started reading a fantastic book called No Nice Girl Swears. It was written in 1933 as a modern etiquette guide for young ladies, by a fabulous debutante Alice-Leone Moats, who managed to trick George Putnam into having her ghostwrite her own book. It’s a crazy story, and you should pick it up, but in the 1983 reprint, Moats walks through a few of the changes that had taken place over the last fifty years. She recognizes some parts sound “positively archaic,” but that others stand as good guidelines.

One thing she does stand by, though, are formal modes of address, “principally because the instant use of Christian names does away with the shadings so important in relationships. It is a leap into intimacy which I would often prefer not to make: I don’t lead a sheltered life and I meet many characters with whom I don’t care to be on terms of intimacy.”

We have spoken before about the issues surrounding formal modes of address, specifically gendered salutations. But it’s true, most people introduce themselves by their first or full names, and do not insist on being called Ms. Lastname by all but close friends and family. I would probably feel incredibly uncomfortable if I introduced myself as Jaya and someone continued to call me Ms. Saxena. However, I’m starting to see what Moats is getting at here.

Have you ever had an experience where someone thought they were closer friends with you than they were? Or you thought someone was a close friend and they weren’t? It’s a really easy thing to happen. For me, it usually is because we have lots of mutual friends, and we see each other at parties and are friendly and chatty with each other, and then suddenly one of us is calling the other to make plans when the other really didn’t see the relationship that way. Of course, meeting through mutual friends and slowly hanging out otherwise is how lots of great friendships happen, but only when both people are into that friendship.

Anyway, there are lots of reasons why this happens, but what Moats argues here is that the form of address helps reflect the level of intimacy. If I’m at a party and someone I’m very fond of asks “may I call you Jaya?” or if I ask her to call me Jaya and she agrees, there is the mutual understanding that this is a closer relationship. However, if I ask her to call me Jaya and she continues with “Ms. Saxena,” I understand that she prefers to keep our relationship cordial but at a distance.

I spoke to my husband about this the other night, and how I think the concept of having these removed relationships is a great idea, and he disagreed, saying that it just comes off as passive aggressive. I wouldn’t call it that, but yes, it is an indirect way to make your point clear. And really, that’s what a lot of etiquette is: a way to make things explicit without the awkwardness that it could entail. Most people do not want to have long, protracted conversations about the state of all of their relationships. Maybe we should, but we don’t. I don’t want to tell every friendly acquaintance exactly where in my hierarchy of friends they stand, I just want it to be understood that not everyone is the closest person to me.

This is making me sound like an unfriendly hag. I love friends! I love turning new friends into better friends into the best friends. But I do think there is a cultural assumption now that everyone has to be friends, and I wish we’d get away from that. There are people I see in larger social circles that I absolutely get along with, with whom I have engaging and fun conversations, who I don’t consider friends. That’s okay! That’s a fine sort of relationship to have. There are many other ways to put up boundaries in a relationship without having an explicit “I see you’re trying to be friends with me so let me stop you and just make this awkward for everyone” conversation. You can decline invitations, or not extend them. You can not initiate conversation, or not seek them out at any social gathering.

At this point, formal address conventions are not coming back. Even my bosses insist I call them by their first names. Plus, I’m sure this worked much better in theory than in practice even when it was more common–it’s not like awkward interactions only started when we dropped honorifics. But what are your thoughts? Is there something else we could do to make this clear? Should we just have really weird, direct conversations about this?

Are Funding Sites Inherently Rude?

If everyone gave just $1…[Via Wikimedia Commons]

Sites like Kickstarter, Indigogo, GoFundMe, Patreon have exploded over the last couple of years, and honestly, it’s great. I love that people can come up with a great idea or regularly create content and make it really easy for people to help them out/pay for content without having to go through traditional industry. However, like anything, these types of sites can also be abused.

We talk about the conundrum of wedding registries a lot…how strange it is to ask for people to give you things, and yet there’s this expectation that if people are going to give you gifts anyway, they might as well give you something you want. And then there’s the whole asking for cash thing, and honeymoon registries and it’s complicated enough that people are CONSTANTLY writing about it on wedding and etiquette sites. But I think that the growth of asking for gifts through wedding registries has led people to believe that it’s always okay to ask for things. And I don’t know if it is? The whole crowdfunding thing is so recent that there isn’t really any etiquette surrounding it. I think that what rubs me the wrong way the most is that so often, people are setting up crowdfunding for themselves. I’m absolutely not talking about the Kickstarter/Patreon things because in my mind, if you are creating a product that people are paying for, that’s not really fundraising in the same sense as just asking for straight up cash.

Historically, when there was a disaster, like a house burned down and the family needed help, someone in the community would organize the help for them- through a church or a school or a civic organization. People would give money or food or clothes or whatever they could and everyone rallied and it was great. But now, you see people asking for help to pay their medical bills or help pay their tuition. Which…is still something a lot of people want to help with and that’s great! But to a certain extent, only a few people are going to be able to do that with any kind of success. You either have to be the first one to do it or have a really good story because most people have some kind of medical bill or school debt or something and aren’t going to be able to spread their money around to everyone who needs help. And then there’s the fact that you asked for it for yourself, which still seems like “greed” to many people (not that I’m saying it is, that’s just a perception that many may have.) I realize that many people don’t have churches and social clubs anymore, but surely everyone has a circle of friends, co-workers, kickball team members, bookclubbers, or SOMEONE who can take the lead? And maybe this is a good time to point out that if someone close to you IS going through a particular rough patch, maybe reach out to them and to others and see if you can pull together some help.

Another thing I see crowdfunding for is “voluntourism.” Voluntourism is when you go on a vacation and spend part of the time “volunteering.” Now to begin with, voluntourism is a really murky area with a lot being written about whether it does any good at all (unlikely). But if that’s how you want to spend your vacation, take some bug spray and have a great time. The problem comes when you send out a crowdfunding message to all your friends and family telling them that you need $2000 for airfare and room and board so that you can be a volunteer. If you are not making a major, serious impact then you are taking a vacation and generally speaking, people should pay for their own vacations. You would be much better off if you asked for that money to be sent directly to the people who need it or at least only ask for money to buy supplies to bring (something like mosquito nets comes to mind).

And then you get the truly superficial. There’s the girl who raised $1500 to throw her own birthday party or people who fund their totally elective, cosmetic plastic surgery, bachelorette parties, vacations, there are hundreds. But for every one of those awful ones, there is someone raising money for someone to take a once in a lifetime trip after like, I don’t know, adopting 50 orphans or to raise money for a gift for a respected member of the community, which seem okay?

So if I was going to write some etiquette rules about crowdfunding they would be:

  • If you are actually creating something that people want, you are totally in the clear. Podcasts, blogs, art, music, movies, all that. Just keep the number of requests for support down to a minimum and deliver on your promises.
  • Always keep your requests to a minimum. Post it publicly a couple of times and then again right before it ends.
  • Don’t harass people to donate. ie don’t send out individual emails more than once. If people are ignoring you it’s because they aren’t interested and if you persist you will only annoy them.
  • If you are raising money for a cause, make sure it is helping the cause more than it is helping you.
  • Ask yourself if people will really want to give money to you. Are you the kind of person who is always ready to help everyone else out and is well regarded in your community? Likewise if you are crowdfunding on someone else’s behalf- have a talk with a bunch of people and ask them if they would be interested in donating before setting it up.
  • Consider your audience- if everyone you know has a pile of student debt, don’t ask them to help raise money to alleviate YOUR student debt or send you on vacation, etc.
  • Always graciously accept declines and be thankful to the people who do donate. Consider sending individual thank you notes or messages if you know who the contributors are.
  • If your request somehow goes viral and you receive way more money than you ever imagined, consider giving a big chunk of it to charity.
  • If you are the one who needs money, strongly, strongly consider asking a VERY close friend if they might set up the site on your behalf. It looks so so so much better.
  • Ultimately though, you can probably try to crowdfund anything and hey, you might get lucky and get some money. The worst that can happen is that all your friends and family hate you!

Can I Turn Down The Job Of Being A Bridesmaid?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Can you turn down being a bridesmaid and still be friends with the person? I still love her and want to go to the wedding but don’t know how to turn her down. It’s far away from my hometown so it’d be too expensive for me, plus I don’t know her fiance or anyone else in the wedding party that well, and I’m prone to social anxiety in these sorts of situations.


Not The Best Bridesmaid


Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette suggests you take great care in choosing attendants. “Participating in someone else’s wedding is both a pleasure and a responsibility,” and you should consider if this person is reliable, considerate, courteous and fun. The book also brings up “the number of prewedding events requiring a financial contribution or gift seems to be on the rise,” and that “people in their twenties and thirties may find themselves invited to attend or participate in several weddings in the same year,” so to keep that in mind when asking people to participate in yours. However, there is no explicit advice on how to say no to that request.


Jaya: This is a great question, because as much as we’re like “turn down being a bridesmaid if you can’t do it!” we haven’t actually spoken about how to do that, or what the likely ramifications are.

Victoria: It’s a hard thing, and it definitely depends on the reason.

Jaya: To me there are two categories of reasons: circumstantial and, I guess, non-circumstantial. Some people would want to be a bridesmaid, but it’s too expensive, or they don’t have the time, or something like that. And some people, if they had all the money and time and freedom in the world, would just not want to be a bridesmaid. Here it seems like a little of both.

Victoria: If she does want to be a bridesmaid but there are these obstacles, sometimes they can be worked around. So let’s go on the assumption that in her gut she just doesn’t want to do it. I always assume that brides and grooms will be reasonable about this stuff, but that is not true.

Jaya: A lot of people see their wedding party as the ultimate expression of friendship, even though being a good friend and being a good bridesmaid are very different skill sets! And even within being a bridesmaid, there’s a difference between being good at helping plan a wedding and being able to afford to attend four different parties.

Victoria: I mean, I think you should stay away from making excuses like “it’s too far away” or “too expensive,” unless those are the only hurdles. Because you run the risk of the bride negotiating with you about that stuff.

Jaya: Right. I mean, if that’s your only hurdle, fine. But if you really don’t want to be a bridesmaid and you try to get out of it by saying “I can’t afford it” and the bride offers to pay for all your flights, then you’re stuck with having to say “well actually, it’s just that I don’t want to do it.” And that’s part of what you have to figure out yourself.

Victoria: I think you need to have a heart to heart with the bride, say you love her and want to support her, but being a bridesmaid is not something you think you can do, and that you’d better support her as a guest.

Jaya: Yes, and perhaps offering something in return, like helping to craft stuff. I think the best outcome is not you turning it down, but having a talk and you coming to a mutual agreement that this isn’t the best job for you. But again, easier said than done.

Victoria: If pressed maybe you can bring up the money and anxieties, but maybe just say something like “You know me so well, and we’re close enough that you’d ask me to be a bridesmaid, but since we’re so close you know that this kind of thing just isn’t my thing, and I don’t want to be the kind of bridesmaid that disappoints you.” And if they take it the wrong way and can’t understand that, maybe it’s not a great friendship.

Jaya: That’s great, though I imagine a lot of people would press for further details. Just like, “I don’t want to be a bridesmaid” quickly followed by “Why not?” A lot of people just won’t take “it’s not my thing” for an answer. Because the other side of this is thinking about the compromises you make for friendship. Given the choice, no, on most days I do not get up at 7am to get my makeup done and put on a dress I spent $200 on, even though when I’ve been a bridesmaid I had a blast most of the time. You do it because you want to support your friend. Like anything there are parts that are a hassle and parts that are fun, and it’s a balance of what you know you can do that’ll make them (and sometimes you) happy, and what’s too much.

Victoria: If people are just ambivalent about it, I’d encourage them to suck it up and do it. But if you’re dead set against it, you should bow out instead of participating and just being a downer the whole time. And you can even try to negotiate yourself. Maybe say, like, “I want to support you but in this time in my life, the only thing I can do is stand up with you on the day, and if that is fine with you, I’d be happy to accept.”

Jaya: I think there are three stages to this, possibly. The initial rejection, the minor explanation, and then the firm no. Like, “I’m sorry, I love you but I don’t think being a bridesmaid is the right job for me, but I’m so happy for you and can’t wait to celebrate with you on the day.” Which can possibly be followed by “why don’t you think you’d be good as a bridesmaid?” To which you’d have to explain…something. And this depends on whether you just flat out don’t want to be a bridesmaid, or if you would were it not for money/travel/time.

Victoria: Or if you admit that you have crippling social anxiety and this would just not be good for you.

Jaya: Yeah, and ideally that’ll end the conversation, but of course some people won’t take no for an answer, which is where we move into the firm no/possible friendship strain.

Victoria: At that point, you probably just keep repeating that it’s not possible for you to be a bridesmaid, and that’s your final answer.

Jaya: Yes, and realize that no matter how careful you are and how much you make it about your issues, not theirs, there are people who will see this as a major blow.

Victoria: Which is why you shouldn’t do it lightly.

Jaya: And you know your friends best, you know who would possibly take it well and who wouldn’t.

Victoria: And if they take it really badly, maybe they’re not a great friend. I mean, I would feel terrible if I put a friend through a huge financial and emotional burden just for the sake of them standing next to me on this day.

Jaya: I guess it just comes back to our standard advice that both sides should be reasonable. If you’re a bride, try to understanding and not ask too much, or understanding if what you consider normal is “too much” for someone else. And if you’re a potential bridesmaid, understand that you’re going to take on some extra stuff in your life for the sake of a good friend, and weigh what you can handle and what you can’t.

May Day Traditions

May Day seems like one of those holidays that’s a big deal in elementary school and then you basically ignore for the rest of your life. I definitely remember making May Day baskets out of construction paper and doing a big school assembly where we had to dance the Maypole. I always got annoyed that the other kids couldn’t remember to go over and then under correctly and messed up the weaving of the Maypole ribbons.

But, May Day is actually a really interesting and beautiful holiday. It takes place on the first of May and was the traditional beginning of summer. Girls would start the day by washing their faces in the morning dew, said to have magical properties to make them beautiful (this seems like risky business in Brooklyn, so I won’t be trying it!).

Then, everyone would gather flowers and greenery to decorate their houses to bring good luck.

Children would put together May Day baskets- often as simple as a cone of paper with some flowers in it and leave them on the doorsteps of their friends and neighbors. Then they would ring the bell and run away.

Many towns and villages will elect a Queen of May who wears a white dress and a crown of flowers and opens up the festivities.

Traditional events at May Day celebrations are plays (often about King Arthur or Robin Hood), Morris and other ethnic dancing, and of course, the Maypole:

The Maypole is a tall pole (traditionally a tree was cut down to serve this purpose each year) with many streamers hanging down from it. It could also be decorate with a wreath of flowers at the top. To do the Maypole dance, each dancer takes a streamer. Every other dancer faces right and the rest face left. Then they each go over and then under each other in a weaving formation. If the dance is completed successfully, the ribbons turn into a beautiful pattern woven around the pole! See an example in the video below: