What I Learned About Making Plans From Planning A Wedding

Every summer it happens–there are weekends to use up, and warm weather to be enjoyed, and suddenly I’ll find myself 20 replies deep in an email chain and ready to kill all my friends. Not that they’ve done anything wrong, it’s just that watching these plans being hashed out and having ten people trying to figure out a free weekend in common makes my head spin. Making plans with a large group of people has gotten really complicated, largely because we’re all so nice. We want to accommodate everybody. But if there’s one thing I learned from wedding planning is that that is not possible, and it’s been freeing.

The bigger your wedding, the less likely it is that everyone is going to be able to make it. Four people at City Hall? Easy. Twenty five in your backyard? Trickier. A hundred in a banquet hall? Someone is going to drop out. Those are just the facts. There are only so many days in a year, and people have their own lives and plans and conflicts. So when we picked a date, we double checked with our parents and siblings, and then set it. Yes, some people we dearly wanted to be there couldn’t come, but that would happen no matter which weekend we picked.

I’ve started applying this to making plans in the rest of my life. The other day, instead of having all of my friends tell me their free weekends for a beach trip, I just said I was going to the beach next Sunday and any and all who want to join should. Some people had plans, and some people could make it. Of course, this is predicated on the idea that if nobody could make it, I would still be going to the beach, which actually I would. But the point is that making firm decisions before you talk to all your friends can cut down on a lot of back and forth and hurt feelings.

For instance, let’s say you and some friends want to see a movie, but there’s no night in the next week that works for all of you. If you start your planning by asking when everyone is free, it’ll become clear that not everyone is free at the same time, and then you’ll have to make a decision about who to leave out, which could hurt some feelings. On the other hand, if you said “I’m seeing Mad Max at 9pm on Thursday if anybody would like to join” then people are free to accept or decline, knowing plans have already been set, and that it’s not personal.

This doesn’t work for all things. Obviously if the point is seeing specific people then a little more coordination has to happen, and if absolutely nobody can make it then you’ll have to change things around. But what I learned from weddings is that, while it’s the planner’s job to make reasonable accommodations, no plan will satisfy everyone. Picking a date and giving everyone reasonable notice of plans is all that’s really required, and if a few people can’t make it, that’s just fine. Maybe it’s pre-anxiety over FOMO that’s making us worry about including everyone. Of course we don’t want anyone to feel left out, or feel like our friends are doing things without us. But sometimes that’s life. Personally I’d rather miss a movie outing than suffer through another 40 emails.

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Genealogy Etiquette

The grave in question in bullet [Courtesy Victoria Pratt collection]

The grave in question in bullet 4 [Courtesy Victoria Pratt]

Jaya and I, in addition to being etiquette experts are really into genealogy. We both have branches of our family trees that go way back in America, both to the American Revolution and the Mayflower. I’m even a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Family history can be great fun- like being a detective! And it’s very rewarding in having the opportunity to connect with very distant family members.

However, like anything, there are a lot of rude genealogists out there! So here’s how to be polite:

  • Family trees are not subject to copyright. I had a 3rd cousin of my grandfather’s send me a very nasty email after I put the names and dates of our mutual family members into my Ancestry.com family tree. By all means, if you’re relying on a significant chunk of research from one person or website, cite it. But just because you are the one who told me that Charles Smith was born in 1790 and died in 1840 doesn’t mean I can never use that information for my own publically accessible trees! Of course, don’t plagiarize written stories and things that are original work.
  • Ask nicely- if you believe someone has some information that will be useful, ask them nicely for it, don’t demand it. That goes for professionals such as librarians as well.
  • Be careful with original documents so they will be available for future genealogists as well.
  • Don’t make assumptions! I had set up a Find-a-Grave page for one of my ancestors several years ago. Recently someone emailed me through the site and asked me to transfer the page to him as he was a direct descendant. Well, I am ALSO a direct descendant and I was there first, so no. If he had said, I’m a direct descendant of so-and-so and I would love to take control of the page to do this, this, and this and would you be interested in transferring it to me? The answer might have been different.
  • Always be thankful when people help you. Find-a-Grave does this awesome thing where you can submit requests for people to photograph a particular grave in a particular cemetery for you. (This is a very fun hobby, btw!!) I have submitted a few and gotten the photos I asked for. Of course I immediately wrote to the photographer to thank them for taking the time.
  • Don’t publically list information about living people! Ancestry.com hides all information about living people and you should too.
  • Always be willing to collaborate- don’t take and take information from people without giving any information back.
  • Feel free to reach out to people you might be related to, but don’t get mad if they aren’t interested. As weird as it may seem, not everyone is super into genealogy. You might trace some living relatives down through obituaries and then find them on Facebook or whatever, and that can be awesome! I’ve done it and had a great time chatting with someone who is my 5th or 6th cousin. However, I’ve also reached out to people and never heard anything back. It’s fine and totally their choice.
  • Be specific in your information requests. When reaching out to someone who might have a connection to you, make sure that you are specific in who you are researching and how you think they might fit into the other person’s research.
  • Don’t assume everyone is as fascinated by your family tree as you are. Family history is kind of like dreams- utterly fascinating to you, but a total bore to everyone else. If you must talk about it, keep it short and punchy with good anecdotes. For example, some of my family are buried in a small cemetery in the East Village in NYC and I always point it out to people when we are walking by and tell them about the dramatic suicide of one of my ancestors who is buried there.
  • Take rejection well. I get emails from other researchers occasionally who think that someone in my tree might be someone that they are searching for. After getting more information, sometimes it turns out that there’s no actual connection. Most people are fine. However, I emailed one woman back and said something along the lines of “I don’t think I have anyone by that name in my family tree and it doesn’t look like I can help you. Good luck in your research!” and she wrote back that it was the rudest response she had ever gotten and why didn’t I want to hear more about her family tree?

Also, apparently gravestone rubbing is passe now that everyone has digital cameras. Plus it’s bad for the preservation of the inscriptions. Happy family hunting!

Flag Etiquette

[Via Wikimedia Commons]

It’s the flag, you know what the flag looks like! [Via Wikimedia Commons]

Flag Day is coming up on Sunday and so I wanted to bring everyone up to speed on American flag etiquette!

A few fun facts to begin:

  • The US Flag Code was adopted in 1923 and prior to that there were no official rules governing the US Flag. The different branches of the armed forces all had their own regulations, so the flag code was adopted to make one universal code.
  • It is absolutely not illegal to burn or otherwise desecrate a US Flag in the United States. The Supreme Court decided in 1990 that is it unconstitutional to violate people’s right to free speech (flag desecration counts as free speech) by having laws against flag desecration. (I see people who are unaware of this all the time and it is irksome to say the least.)
  • The Pledge of Allegiance was first written in 1892 and the “under God” bit was not added until 1954 as a way to distant the US from atheistic Communist countries!!  (So maybe we should not make a big deal about people not wanting to say it?) (The pledge was also originally said while doing the Bellamy salute. However, the Bellamy salute looks a lot like the Nazi salute, so it was discontinued during WWII and replaced with the hand over the heart salute.) (Court decisions have decreed that you cannot force anyone to say the Pledge of Allegiance and you cannot also not require anyone to stand during it.)

To paraphrase the flag code:

  • The flag should never dip to show respect to a person or a thing.
  • The flag should never touch the ground or water under it
  • The flag is only flown upside down to indicate distress
  • The flag should never be draped on anything as decoration. To decorate patriotically, bunting should be used with the blue on top, white in the middle, and red on the bottom.
  • The flag should not be used for advertising. It should also not be embroidered on anything or printed on anything that is meant to be casually discarded.
  • The flag should always be fastened securely so there is no risk of it being torn or damaged.
  • There should never be anything written or drawn on the flag.
  • No signs or advertisements should be posted on a flagpole.
  • No part of a flag should be used as a costume or uniform. The armed forces may have a flag patch on their uniforms. Flag lapel pins should be worn on the left, over the heart.
  • When a flag is too worn or damaged to be a fitting symbol, it should be burned ceremoniously.
  • When saluting the flag, whether at a flag raising/lowering ceremony, the National Anthem, or the Pledge of Allegiance, all people should face toward the flag and put their right hand over their heart. Civilians should remove their hats and put the hat over their heart. Military persons in uniform do not remove their hats and salute instead of putting their hands over their hearts. (If you are not a US citizen, you don’t have to do this, but you should stand to be polite.)
  • When displaying the flag from a flagpole, the flag should always go fully to the top unless being displayed at half-mast.
  • The flag is displayed at half-mast by presidential or gubernatorial order. To set the flag at half mast, it is first hoisted to full mast and then lowered. The lower the flag, it is again hoisted to full mast before being lowered fully.
  • The flag is to be hoisted briskly and lowered slowly. It should only be up from sunrise to sunset, if it is to be displayed at night, it should be illuminated.
  • When flown with other flags, the US flag should always be the biggest and fly the highest. It is always the first raised and the last lowered.
  • When the flag covers a casket, the union (the blue section with the stars) should cover the head and left shoulder. The flag is removed before it is lowered into the grave.

Etiquette Tips For Being Cat Called

tex-avery-wolf-and-red’tis the season, I guess, for dealing with this. Here are some acceptable ways to respond to this fun social dance!

1. Flip ’em off.

2. Ignore them.

3. Run into a bodega and buy yourself some ice cream because you totally deserve it.

4. Call your mom and cathartically trade stories about the other times this has happened to you.

5. Call their moms.

6. Cry violently at them.

7. Say “please don’t” as you smack their hand away.

8. Just say “ew”

9. Literally anything that makes you feel safe, whether that’s sassily laughing it off or pretending to be on a phone call or yelling.

10. Fuck ’em.

11. Fuck ’em all.

Etiquette I Observed On THE CONTINENT

Good morning! As Victoria may have mentioned, I have spent the last couple weeks on THE EUROPEAN CONTINENT, specifically the cities Paris and Amsterdam. They’re pretty great places to visit, but of course I kept my eye out for any etiquette differences or behavioral expectations. Overall, globalization has gotten the best of us. One dated guidebook told me that in Paris it was unacceptable to eat food on the street, and yet I saw the parks littered with Parisians noshing on cheese and fruit, and the streets packed with people biting straight into baguettes. That rule seems to have fallen out of favor, but there are plenty that still exist.

  • In every restaurant I went to, the English speakers were always the loudest, whether they were Americans, Brits or Australians. I have no idea why we can’t just keep it down, but do your best to lower your voice when dining out. People will stare.
  • Speaking of speaking, make an effort to learn some basic words in the language of the country you’re visiting. I haven’t practiced French since high school, and I never learned Dutch, but I brushed up on hello/goodbye, thank you, and excuse me. Paris has the stereotype of being cold to Americans, but that’s definitely not the case anymore. Everyone was pleasant when they realized we spoke English, and seemed to appreciate the effort. What wasn’t appreciated was anyone who marched into a store and immediately spoke English.
  • Do not shoot back your genever in Amsterdam. Sip it slowly and savor.
  • Do not ask for butter to spread on your croissant in Paris. You probably won’t need it anyway. They are pretty much all butter.
  • Look everyone in the eye when you cheers your drinks.
  • In Paris at least, dinner is still expected to be a few courses–at least a separate first and second course, and usually dessert or coffee. You may get some confusion if you only order a main dish at some of the more local places, so just let yourself indulge.
  • Do not lean over the gates in Notre Dam to tape an entire mass on your iPad. Seriously, people are actually participating and you look ridiculous and disrespectful.
  • Maybe also don’t take photos of every single painting in any given museum. Look at the painting. Enjoy it. Think about it. You can always Google it later.
  • Shower before you get on a plane. Your seatmates will thank you.

Also, a small thing I noticed from traveling with my husband, who’s arm was in a sling the whole time from a broken collarbone–pay attention to when people have casts/slings/other injuries! So many people would just push on subways or through crowds and knock into his shoulder, which was still healing from surgery. You’d think the giant sling would be pretty obvious, but apparently not, so just make sure if you’re pushing through a crowd it’s all people whose shoulders are not broken.