Your Ultimate Guide to Plus Ones

Bring a boy band to a wedding

People are really opinionated about plus ones (+1s, whatever) at weddings. I’ve heard that it’s mandatory to give every single guest a +1. I’ve heard of friendships torn apart because a guest didn’t get one. I’ve heard of people having an awful time at weddings because the couple told them they had to bring a date and they spent all night babysitting a stranger instead of hanging out with their friends. Like many etiquette issues, it’s a place where people assume there is one rule and that they know what that one rule is.

You do not have to offer +1s to anyone at your wedding–that is a rule. But if you want to, it can get tricky to figure out who should and should not get one. I’ve found that it helps to have a few things in mind when offering +1s to your guests.

  • Is your guest dating anyone? If they’re dating someone seriously, they shouldn’t get a +1, but rather an invitation to their actual significant other. Where to draw the line on significant others, though? Only married couples? Engaged? Living together? Dating for over six months? Whatever you decide, be consistent. No one will appreciate if they couldn’t bring their boyfriend of a year and find another guest got to bring someone they met on Tinder the week before.
  • Does your guest know other people? One of the biggest arguments for +1s is for guests who may not know anyone else, as it’s no fun to show up to a giant party by yourself. Sometimes you need a buddy, and offering a +1 to that friend you know from work who has never met any of your other friends before is a great way to ensure they’ll have someone to talk to. On the other hand, if you have a group of single friends who’ve all known each other since high school, it may be more of a burden for them to bring a date and make sure that date is having a good time than to just come alone and hang out with their friends. This goes double for a destination wedding. It’s one thing to drive an hour to a party where you don’t know somebody, but quite another to fly to Mexico for it. If you’re friend’s not the solo adventurer type, offer to let them bring a friend and make a vacation out of it.
  • How many people are going to be at your wedding? If you’re having a 500 person wedding, you probably won’t a few +1s you’ve never met before. However, if you have a 20 person ceremony and an intimate dinner, cousin Betty’s girlfriend of two weeks might be an awkward addition.
  • Are you comfortable with strangers around? Offering +1s means you’re giving your guest sole discretion as to who they bring. You may give one thinking your college friend will be bringing her new boyfriend, but she may bring another friend, or her mom, or her yoga teacher. The nature of the open offer is that it’s up to her, so make sure you are comfortable with that.

Similar consideration should go into choosing whether or not to bring a guest if the invitation is extended. Is your guest the type to mingle and make friends quickly, or are they going to need to have you by their side all evening? If ten of your best friends will also be at this wedding, is a guest necessary? If you know nobody else there and are bringing a guest, are they a person you can have fun with?

Remember, you should not stand for people demanding to bring guests, or demanding to bring more guests than they were allowed, or asking to swap out one guest for another. And if you RSVP for yourself because you don’t have a plus one, you’re not allowed to add one after the fact, even if your original invitation offered you a guest.

Etiquette IRL: Beach Edition

BEACHBLANKET2I want to tell you a story about a good deed that didn’t go unnoticed! A few weeks ago, I lost my driver’s license and credit card on the beach. I put them in my shorts’ pocket because I didn’t want to carry a purse, and at some point realized they were no longer there, making attempting getting into a bar that night quite an ordeal. Immediately, I called my bank to cancel the card…only to find it had already been cancelled. Who would do such a thing?

Anyway, a few days after I returned home, I got an envelope with no return addressed, containing my cards and a letter with no signature. It simply said that the cards had been discovered on the beach, that they tried to get my bank to give me their phone number so I could contact them, and that they hope I still had an enjoyable weekend.

What an amazing thing!! Of course I would have written a thank you note had they included a return address (a lesson to always include a return address on your mail!), but sadly I can only hope they know how appreciative I am. And I thought it was a wonderful example of how polite actions can really have an impact. It’s really easy to follow etiquette rules because we’re told they make others feel good, but there is often little concrete proof. Nobody gets a thank you note for sending a thank you note. And it’s not like you should be doing these things so you get a cookie and a pat on the back, but it is helpful to know they actually work. Here’s your proof. Go make someone’s day.

How to Respond to Unsolicited Career Advice

Unsolicited advice giver

Unsolicited advice giver

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

In the past week or so, I’ve gotten a number of emails and tweets from people offering unsolicited career advice. The messages have been quite hurtful, actually! They’ve been condescending, unhelpful and demoralizing. And also infuriating: I’m aghast at the entitlement these people are demonstrating in thinking that it’s acceptable to burst into my inbox uninvited and start offering their opinions on what I’m doing wrong with my work.

I would love to have a perfect response to someone’s unsolicited advice that firmly, but politely, indicates that they should shove it. Whatcha got for me?

xx Doing Quite Well, Actually

Victoria: JFC

Jaya: YeahhhhhFor reference, the LW has the type of public job where people would actually think to do this. I have so many thoughts on this. There seem to be stages here, based on if/how well you know the person emailing, and how much you feel like dealing with it. There is always the option of not responding, especially if it’s a one time thing from a stranger, if you just don’t have the bandwidth.

Victoria: Yeah, you never have to respond to an unsolicited email from someone you don’t know!

Jaya: Totally. But yeah, she seems like she wants to respond, and I think it depends on if she knows the emailer or not. If not, the first go I think can be like “I’m trying a lot of things out with my career and am making decisions I feel comfortable with.” Is that too oblique?

Victoria: I think that’s good! Or even just, “So far, my work has been very successful where it is and the things I’m trying have been rewarding experiences, so while I appreciate you taking the time to reach out, I am handling things fine on my own.” I don’t know if I would ever have the guts to say that though.

Jaya: Yeah, I think that’s definitely for 1. someone you know or 2. someone who didn’t get the hint with the first email. Or even something like “While I’m sure you were just trying to help, it comes off as condescending when you offer me unsolicited career advice.”

Victoria: Oooh yes, that’s very good, very strong.

Jaya: I think if they continue bitching after that you’ve earned the right to say whatever you damn want to them.

Victoria; Hahah yeah. Just say “I am not interested in discussing this any further. Now, tell me about your trip to Timbuktu.”

Jaya: Also, don’t offer people unsolicited advice! Ugh this is a huge peeve of mine. Because half the time it’s like, no shit, you think I haven’t attempted that avenue before? Like, unless you’re offering something constructive, like “Hey, I think your writing would be great for X site and I am good friends with the editor, let me know if you want me to put you in touch,” just don’t.

Victoria: Especially in trying to break into media and stuff, like, “yes, maybe I would like to be an etiquette superstar, do you happen to have any useful contacts i could reach out to?”

Jaya: And maybe don’t even offer to put people into contact with people you know.

Victoria : Oh, I think that is nice! Offering contacts gently is great, unless its like, say for Fox News,

Jaya: Hahahaha, delete all your Fox News contacts.

Victoria: Or some other place that would be very inappropriate for your type of work. But yeah, contacts are how people make careers and that is really the only advice you should offer! Unless you happen to be at the top of the career that person is aiming for. But presumably you would actually know the kind of advice that would be actually helpful!

Jaya: But yeah, telling someone what they should be doing with their career without them asking, and without knowing what they’ve already done/are trying to do, is super rude.

Victoria: Yes, and while you can’t answer rudeness with rudeness, you can certainly be firm or just ignore them.

How To Be Considerate Of People Who Have Been Through Tragedies

Here’s a fun fact about your ol’ friend Jaya: I have either been present for or just barely missed many large-scale tragedies. On September 11, 2001, I was a high school sophomore in downtown Manhattan and vividly remember walking through the city with a dust mask for days. On August 28, 2005 I was set to fly to New Orleans to begin my sophomore year of college when I got word that a hurricane was approaching [ED: Victoria was also], and later had friends evacuate and sleep on my couch. The semester was cancelled. And in late November 2008 I was going to meet my grandparents in Mumbai and stay at the Oberoi hotel, owned by family friends, except my family wasn’t getting back to me about plans and I was being impatient and I booked a flight to Delhi instead and they changed their plans to meet me. I woke up my first day in Dehli to news of the bombings.

I’m not looking for pity. I’m lucky I wasn’t further downtown, or already in New Orleans, or that I didn’t wait a day and book my flight to Mumbai instead. But these things have a tendency to stay with you, even if you were on the outskirts. I can’t speak for everyone who has been through something like this. Even among friends who I experienced these things with, our reactions and traditions and the ways we remember are different. But there are ways to make sure you don’t cause more harm.

If it’s in the immediate aftermath and you’re trying to contact them, try to find one or two points of contact. In Delhi, it certainly helped to only have to email my mom and my boyfriend and have them relay that I was safe than answer 30 emails from concerned friends and relatives. If you can be that person, volunteer. Yes, now you’ll be the one answering all the emails and calls, but hey, it could be worse.

If you’re in a position to do so, offer help however makes sense, whether it’s a couch to sleep on, extra clothes, or legal expertise.

You may be tempted to let your friend know that they can talk to you. This can be good, but can quickly turn into a burden for the afflicted friend. It can either pressure them to talk if they don’t feel like talking (and don’t feel comfortable saying “I don’t want to talk right now”), or just subject them to an endless barrage of “How are you?” and “You must be going through a lot.” A simple “let me know if you need anything, I’m here for you,” just once, is effective.

As years pass your friend may still carry some trauma publicly, may be pained but prefer not to talk about it, or be honestly over the incident. It’s none of your business how that plays out.

Anniversaries can be a tough time, not just because it reminds the person of what transpired, but because it reminds everyone else of what transpired too. If it was a public tragedy there are going to be a million thinkpieces and news reels and conversations about it. Your friend may honestly not mind, but as a precaution, let them bring it up if they want to talk about it. Nothing is worse than having someone go “wow, what was 9/11 like?” when I’m not in the mood.

Similarly, if you know someone has been present for a tragedy, be careful about bringing up your own experiences. This is a tricky one, because in a lot of ways things like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina are national tragedies. Everyone remembers where they were, and it’s natural to want to share what we were all doing when The Thing happened and commiserate together. But I’ve seen too many conversations turn into a pissing contest of who was the most traumatized?, and people talking over the person who perhaps witnessed or experienced it firsthand. And hey, they may still just not want to talk about it, and hearing what someone who wasn’t present feels about it won’t help. Yes, your feelings are valid, but they can also wait.

In a lot of ways it’s like helping a friend after a death. Let them know they have a support circle, be considerate and understanding if they need you, listen instead of talking over them, and let them handle it in their own way as long as they’re not causing themselves or others harm.



Etiquette at the DMV

c1dcf20a1201757bef3e6327688b2861I just had a lovely experience signing up for IDNYC (if you live in NYC you should get one!), and it had me thinking about all our stereotypes about the DMV and customer service in general. I wasn’t actually at the DMV, the signup took place at a local community college and I made the mistake of making my appointment on ORIENTATION DAY so oh god there were all these posters and helpful looking young people and ugh I just wanna find room E116 without making eye contact and accidentally signing up for the Gay-Straight Alliance. Aside from that it was actually quite painless and the woman who processed me was a delight.

But anyway, the DMV and similar places! They sort of suck, don’t they? There’s a lot of waiting, and forms, and people taking too long, and weird smells, and they just seem to bring out the crank in everyone. My theory is that paperwork and long wait times make everyone forget some basic etiquette that could smooth things over. No, etiquette will not make your wait shorter, nor will it make anyone less crabby to you, but it can help how you end up internalizing all your experiences.

Firstly, the practical stuff. If you can do it online, DO IT ONLINE, both to save you the hassle and to make one less body taking up space at the DMV. If you must do your business in person, research what forms you need to fill out and what you need to bring, and do them before you get there if possible. You probably already know this, but I was shocked when I got my learner’s permit renewed (a thing you can do, yes) a few years ago and saw the number of people who didn’t realize that a credit card isn’t a valid form of ID, or who had filled out completely the wrong forms, and held up things for anyone else. (A pass is given to anyone who doesn’t speak English well because they do NOT make those forms easy to read).

Next, the zen stuff. If there’s one humbling thing the DMV makes you remember it’s that you are not special. There is freedom in that. Use it. I think a lot of our etiquette faux-pas come from believing we alone are suffering the fools. We believe we are right and they are wrong, or we need something more than someone else, and no one understands us. That is rarely the case. At the DMV you are not suffering alone. Everyone around you is waiting, and probably has been waiting, and probably has places they have to be, or places they’d just rather be, or other stuff on their mind so they don’t hear their number called immediately. And the people who work there, yes it’s their job but they may also be tired or zoning out, like you are at your job sometimes. And maybe you think they shouldn’t be in customer service if they’re like that, but good jobs are hard to find. Nobody is always where they want to be.

It is satisfying in the short run to yell at someone for being unhelpful or rude or ignorant. On occasion it even works, and if someone has offended you or keeps giving you the wrong directions, by all means ask to speak to a manager. But returning rudeness with rudeness won’t make you feel better, really. You’ll stay resentful that you had to be rude. If you got an apology you’ll worry about if they meant it, and if they learned their lesson. If you didn’t, you’ll be wondering what you could have done to make them change. The rest of your day will be filled with the DMV. You don’t need that.

I don’t always like telling people to be nice. I think a lot of real issues get silenced under the pillow of “nice.” I don’t think niceness should come at the cost of human dignity. But people like to think places like the DMV are an affront to that dignity, and they just aren’t. They’re governmental processing buildings and they sorta suck. It’s not the worst thing you’ve had to endure.

This turned into being about a lot more than the DMV.