Etiquette Terms: Bread and Butter Letter

True life: Icelandic butter is the best.

True life: Icelandic butter is the best.

Short and sweet for Friday!

A bread and butter is a letter/note you write after attending a dinner party or staying at someone’s home. You write a couple paragraphs thanking the host/ess, saying what a great time you had, praising the food/their lovely home, etc. Basically, a thank you note with a cute name!

Making Plans and Reading Socials Cues

Maybe these guys didn't even WANT to go to Vegas.

Maybe these guys didn’t even WANT to go to Vegas.

One of the key points of etiquette is about making people comfortable. Unfortunately, people won’t always flat out say that you are making them uncomfortable or they aren’t interested. Oftentimes we all feel the pressure to be “polite” and not say no and hurt people’s feelings. Of course, it is absolutely polite and fine to say no to things, but it is hard!

So, if you practice reading the social cues people are giving you, you will be better able to interpret whether they are truly interested or whether they are just too shy to say no.

This is especially true when it comes to making plans. Sometimes you meet a new person and think you really click. You say “hey, we should hang out!” They say “omg that would be amazing, want to try this new ice cream place with me on Friday after work?” Then, you have a very enthusiastic person and that’s great. If you conversation goes more like this: “hey, we should hang out!” They say, “oh, yeah, definitely sometime!” You says “how about getting drinks Friday after work.” They say, “oh, I’d have to check my calendar…” There is a lot less enthusiasm there. If you don’t hear back, you should certainly follow up with them because yeah, maybe they do have to check their calendar. But if they are busy that night and all the other nights you suggest, you should probably give up on them.

This kind of thing is especially true for dating. If someone is barely responding to your messages/calls/etc or does a lot of one word answers, chances are they are just not that into you and it’s probably time you move on.

You especially need to be sensitive to the cues people are giving you when it comes to things that are going to cost a lot of money. Like trying to plan a big trip with your group of friends, like a bachelor/ette party. I just saw this example on A Practical Wedding where the bride is upset that her groom’s friends don’t seem that interested in doing a big weekend bachelor party for the groom that has a lot of subtle social cues going on. If someone is saying- “hey, let’s whisk Jimmy away to Vegas for a big crazy weekend- penthouse suite, strippers, bottle service, the works!” and everyone is emailing back things like, “oh, well we just bought a house and money is really tight right now” or “I only have one vacation day I can spare right now,” or “hey, my parents have a cabin at [nearby lake], let’s do a fishing weekend there,” or “maybe we could do a night out a couple of days before the wedding” then maybe it’s time to think about whether a trip like this is really going to work for this group of people at this time. If people are making excuses, it’s usually because they are not really into the general idea (and often those excuses are very valid!). But if people aren’t picking up the things you are putting down, you need to step back, scale down, and not push. (Hey Ladies is the not-quite-totally-satire version of this. It’s great, check it out.)

However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if the cues people are giving you are because they aren’t interested or that they are interested but they just aren’t interested in doing any planning themselves. Take a long chain email about a plan to go hiking. A few people are debating dates, locations, times, train vs carpool etc. The rest of the group gives the dates they are available and then are silent for the rest of the conversation. These folks are likely still interested in going, but they just want to be told when and where to show up. A good way to figure this out is do a roll call after the details have been hammered out- send around an email giving the date, time, place, and relevant details and ask that everyone respond if they are going.

All of this is so very subtle and it can be very complicated. Is there anything I left out? Got totally wrong? Let me know in the comments!

On Screaming Children in Restaurants

Some pancakes are probably worth it [Via Wikimedia Commons]

Some pancakes are probably worth it [Via Wikimedia Commons]

By now, you all have probably heard about the incident at a diner in Portland, Maine where the diner owner screamed at a crying child. Obviously, we have our opinions about it.

Jaya: I forget, have we done something about children in restaurants? Because this is blowing up:

Maybe we could pull out the etiquette lessons on both sides here?

Victoria: Oooh wooooow

Jaya: Like, both sides reacted TERRIBLY here.

Victoria: Yeah, this is, like, epically horrible.

Jaya: And I feel like it just makes both sides worse. It makes parents more likely to not react well to criticism, and it makes others less friendly and understanding of weary parents and cranky kids.

Victoria: Yeah, parents definitely need to try to deal with their kids crying. Like, take them outside for a bit or wrap everything up and leave. And for sure a restaurant can ask them, NICELY, to leave if they are disturbing other patrons. But the yelling and swearing is incredibly inappropriate.

Jaya: And buried in the owner’s rant was a good suggestion–have snacks! If your kid is hungry and their food isn’t ready, have some apple slices or whatever.

Victoria: Yeah! Snacks are good. One of MY favorite diners always has a long line and they give snacks to everyone!

Jaya: And yes, if you run the restaurant, ask if the parents can take the child outside or maybe offer the kid a snack yourself. Though I can immediately see parents being like “don’t you think we’re trying?” or “don’t tell me what to do with my kids” because everyone is testy.

Victoria: And like, someplace like a diner- I think you have more leeway- like the kid can cry for a bit and its not that bad. But the finer dining the place is, I think the less time you have to quiet the kid. I was having dinner at Commanders Palace in New Orleans and there was a family with a small child sitting nearby that would not stop crying and the family did nothing. And everyone was FURIOUS. Rightfully so, I think, as it is very much a once-in-a-lifetime type of restaurant for many people.

Jaya: Yes, I think if you see a parent clearly trying to do something and the child just won’t stop, it’s unfortunate but certainly not as bad as parents ignoring the situation. Like at home I am all about being like “fine, cry yourself out, you’re not moving until you eat your peas” but in public there are other people to consider.

Victoria: Yeah, exactly. I am always a million times more sympathetic when I see the parents trying. Or when the restaurant makes special arrangements to put them in an area where the crying is less likely to be a problem- I was at another upscale restaurant that had a smaller dining area in the back and they had put a family with a kid there and it worked great. Of course, that’s not always going to be possible. But I think the more that people are starting to dine out with their children (which i think is great! They learn manners best by practicing), restaurants should put some thought in how to deal with it. Parents should also make an effort to eat at the dinner table with their children at home and enforce good manners as much as possible. Then, kids will be used to sitting still and eating their food and it won’t be such a novel experience at a restaurant.

Jaya: Absolutely. Though then we get into the “should people bring kids to restaurants/bars” thing, which I have mixed feelings about. I think on one hand it’s great to start kids young in knowing how to be around other people and not be the center of attention and manners and whatnot. But I see a lot of parents being like “I’m exhausted and I wanna be out so you’re just gonna have to deal with my kid no matter what they do.” Which, sorry to be so blunt, but you’re the one who had the kid. This is the sacrifice you make.

Victoria: I mean, it should definitely be something you do AFTER you’ve instilled good manners at home and find that they generally act pretty well. And be prepared to leave if they act up. I mean, my parents took me to a fancy restaurant at a winery when I was like, 1, and it was fine and I was well behaved.

Jaya: Haha, of course you were.

Victoria: But they pretty much knew that I was easy going and didn’t act up.

Jaya: I also think the type of restaurant matters. Big open beer gardens, brunch at backyard patios, diners, basically anywhere big and casual is probably better suited for kids. So if you want to go somewhere fancier or intimate or at night, not that you can’t, but it’s going to make it a lot harder.

Victoria : Oh yeah, for sure. And you should work up to that. Start with breakfast at a diner that is usually fast (omg nothing trendy with a 2 hour waitttttt!!) And then lunch somewhere and then you can work up to dinner when you know you can trust that your kid can behave.

Jaya: Hahaha in general avoid 2 hour waits for anything omg.

Victoria: Seriously. I get very cranky waiting 2 hours for brunch so I can’t even imagine how it feels for a toddler.

Jaya: Also it’s brunch! Like, it’s fun, but you can get eggs LITERALLY ANYWHERE. Your trendy Eggs Benedict is not THAT much better than an Eggs Benedict I can get anywhere without a wait. Anyway yeah, I feel like if the parents are clearly trying to calm their kid down we should all be more sympathetic. But if your kid is having a meltdown and nothing helps, part of being a parent is you gotta take care of them before you can have your pancakes.

Victoria: Yes. That is what it comes down to. And if you own a business, you can gently ask people to leave (volunteer to wrap things up for them, rush their check!), but don’t yell and swear at people the first thing! Like, that’s just ridiculous.

Jaya: Yeah! Avoid that if at all possible, though if the parents are being insufferable asshats about it you can escalate as needed.

Victoria: For sure. The key is “escalate as needed”

Don’t start at code red

Jaya: We need etiquette emergency code.



How to Graciously Accept a Gift You Do Not Want

Always an option

Always an option

There was a video going around recently (that turned out to be fake) showing a husband surprising his wife with a $60,000 kitchen remodel. And when she walks in she is not impressed and walks out. Now, if it were me, I would be FURIOUS that my (hypothetical) husband spent $60,000 of our money without consulting me on a change in our house that I would have to look at and cook in for at least the next 10 years. And the fake kitchen in this particular video was not even that nice, so adding in that anyone who had spent $60k on it was an idiot who got wildly ripped off. It was baffling to me, then, that so many of the comments on the video were about the wife being ungrateful and horrible. Now this is an incredibly extreme example of being ungracious about a gift, but highlights this visceral reaction that people have to their gifts being rejected.

Thus it is important to learn how to receive gifts gracefully and with tact.

Obviously, it is important not to scowl, say “this isn’t what I wanted,” call the thing ugly, throw it across the room, or otherwise make the giver aware that you hate their gift.

You should at least act like you are pleased- say something like “this is great! I always wanted a purse shaped like a cat!”

If it’s someone close to you like your grandma who you see frequently, it’s a nice gesture to keep the offending item around and pull it out when they come over, but this is completely optional.

Say thank you in person or write a thank you note if you are not with them.

If you are able to figure out where they bought it and return it, that’s fine and great. If not, give it away to someone who can use it more.

Avoid regifting if it is likely that the original giver will find out.

If you do run into a problem where someone is consistently giving you tons of stuff that you don’t want and don’t have room for (like bringing you random junk every week) then you can have a gentle conversation about appreciating the thought but you are trying to get clutter out of your life and you would love to see just them, no presents.

If a repetitive poor gift giver is someone VERY close to you like your parents or your spouse, you can also have a gentle conversation to try to steer them in the right direction.

So tell me, what are the worst gifts you were ever given?

End of Life Etiquette

I get it, no one really wants to think about dying or make preparations to do so. It’s scary to think about and a little bit overwhelming, but if you don’t do it, you are just making it that much harder for your next of kin to deal with. And at a time when they are already going to be grieving terribly and not really capable of making clear decisions. I’m not going to go far as to say that doing all of this is clearly within the bounds of etiquette, but foisting tasks you find unpleasant onto others is surely impolite so we’re going to go with it.

Obviously, this all doesn’t have to be done at once. When you are young, single, and have few assets, it is pretty simple that everything just goes to your parents. As you acquire things and spouses and children, you should add additional documentation about your wishes. As your children become adults or it becomes clear that you won’t be having children and need to appoint a next of kin, you need to make sure your kids/key person is aware of where everything is and how to access it.

First- make a will. Once you have acquired enough stuff to leave behind, you should decide who you want to have it if you do not want the state to decide. Take the time to appoint an executor, who will be in charge of making sure everything gets done as you wish. Update it as your life changes.

When you have minor children, you need to appoint a caretaker for them in the event of your premature demise. You should probably also discuss it with that person so they don’t get *surprise* kids.

Decide what you want to happen if you become ill and incapacitated. If you have strong feelings on say, pulling the plug vs not, or especially as you get to the REALLY old stage, things like DNR (do not resuscitate) orders, make sure you state them clearly. Appoint someone who knows and respects your wishes to act as Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney  and outline those wishes in a living will. Become an organ donor, if you wish.

Get organized! Make sure you have some kind of list or file of all your:

  • Credit cards and bank accounts
  • Insurance policies (especially life insurance!)
  • All pensions/IRAs/other retirement funds
  • All important documents: wills, living wills, powers of attorney, birth certificates, marriage certificates, social security cards, citizenship records, military records (Veterans can get some pretty nice stuff for their funeral), etc
  • Paperwork for major assets: your cars and house if you have them
  • Major debts- credit cards, mortgage, student loans so your executor can pay them off
  • Make copies of everything! If you die in a plane crash and all your credit cards go with you, how is your next of kin supposed to get the numbers?

If you have a lot of money and assets, talk to a financial planner about organizing a trust, or setting up special school accounts for grandkids and the like.

In the digital age, it’s also important that someone have access to all your social media accounts so they can close them or memorialize them. If you are part of an online community, wouldn’t it be nice if someone were able to tell them that you had died and not just stopped logging on? Of course, there is an app for that- If I Die sends out a message of your choosing if you die.

Plan what happens to your body and the kind of funeral you want to have. Do you want to donate your body to science? Become a crash test dummy? Do you wanted a traditional burial, cremation, natural burial? There are so many options these days! If you have strong feelings, you need to make them known. If you want a burial plot somewhere particular, you should purchase it in advance. Do you want special music played at the funeral? Special food served? Make sure someone knows!

With a little planning and foresight, a difficult time for your most cherished family and friends will be a little bit smoother and easier. And isn’t smoothing relationships part of what etiquette is all about?