Do I Have To Buy My Cousin A Registry Gift For Their RENTAL?

plutos-housewarming-movie-poster-1947-1010686166Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

My cousin and his girlfriend are moving in together and are having a house warming party (for a rented apartment, mind you). This was fine with me right up until the point where they sent out their gift registry along with a hefty list of preferred colors separated by room (i.e. Red kitchen accesories, purple bathroom thingies, etcetera). I am really put off by the whole thing, specially considering that at my very simple, registry-free wedding my cousin didn’t get me anything himself, but rode along with my aunt and uncle’s gift. Am I being overly touchy about it, or am I right to have “EFF THAT” as my first thought? I mean, I’m gonna have to get them another present when they get married (along with bachlorette and wedding shower ones)?
Thank you very much! 
Off The Registry
Official Etiquette
As we’ve mentioned before, Miss Manners does not consider a housewarming an appropriate time for anything but token gifts, and that goes double for non-permanent quarters, such as a rental.
Our Take

Victoria: Okay, so yeah, this is a no, this is not okay, for me.
Jaya: I’m gonna agree with you there. I think I’d be okay if they had bought their first house together, but for a RENTAL this is too much.
Victoria: Yeah, and I would say if they bought a house and then got married a year later, I would probably still get a present, but it would be MUCH smaller.
Jaya: Definitely. And I think this is another example of people expecting every life moment deserves a gift.
I am all for celebrating more life moments than weddings.
Victoria: Yesss. Not every moment needs a huge gift.
Jaya: I think there are a lot of important milestones that don’t get as much attention, and too much emphasis is put on pairing up or having kids. However, the goal should probably be fewer presents all around.
Victoria: I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love gifts, but like, token gifts are a thing because no one wants to shell out $50 every time someone wants to feel good about their accomplishments. Bring a bottle of wine, a plant, some jam. And like, I’ve said to people who are going to be buying a place soon- wait to make major household purchases until you do actually buy a house, so that your stuff will fit THAT house, not the apartment you had 3 apartments ago.
Jaya: Exactly. You can’t be buying Kitchenaid mixers any time someone rents a new apartment. I will also say, however, that it doesn’t matter that this cousin did not get LW their own gift for their wedding. Or that LW’s wedding was simple and registry-free and the cousins has a color coded list.
Victoria: I mean, I guess everyone has their own internal calculations and if you need to take that kind of thing into account, no one will know (unless you write it into a letter to an etiquette site!)
Jaya: Haha yes! LW is absolutely allowed to have “eff that” as a first thought because, well, you’re allowed to think however you want as long as you don’t call up your cousin and tell them off.
Victoria: Haha yeah. And like, no one knows your financial situation. Maybe you are about to have a baby and your budget isn’t quite as elastic as it might have been. And maybe this cousin is younger and at the time of the LW’s wedding, it was appropriate that he latch onto his parents’ gift.
Jaya: Exactly. No gift giving/non-gift giving should ever come out of that sense of obligation or “well he didn’t get me anything 2 years ago so I’m not getting him anything now.” If you’re going to be going to a housewarming party and find the registry off putting, bring a box of cookies or wine or a bouquet, same as you would for any party.
Victoria: Exactly. And maybe if people don’t bring anything off the registry, people will be like, oh, no one is into this, and then they will tell their friends and no one will do it anymore.
Jaya: One can only hope!
Victoria: The thing with a registry for weddings is that it’s ultimately an organizational tool because the event itself is so much bigger than most life events that people need to have gift ideas without 200 people calling the happy couple. Are 200 people really coming to your housewarming?(And obviously, sometimes people have registries for small weddings, which is fine, but thats because weddings=registry in our culture even when they are unnecessary)
Jaya: You’re so smart about this. But to play devil’s advocate (ugh), maybe this couple isn’t planning on getting married and can’t afford to buy a house anytime soon. Maybe this is their big moment, and they’re trying to treat it as such. I understand that, and as long as they understand that nobody is obliged to buy anything off a registry, there’s little harm in what they’re doing. That’s probably not the case but I like to believe the best.
Victoria: There’s generally no harm in HAVING one, and I think if you want, you can make one and then only give it to people who ask for it. And honestly, do a little white lying and be like, oh well, this is our wish list of things we want to buy for the house eventually. It will go down a lot better. And I definitely keep ideas of things O want for my birthday and christmas throughout the year on, say, pinterest, so that when my mom inevitably asks, I have some ideas. So it’s basically the same thing, and I think thats okay. But issuing an invitation and having “housewarming registry” stuff all over it is a bit…greedy, because it makes it look like you are only having a party to get gifts.

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 Do I Punish Bad Service?

luis-guz-man-waitingDear Mesdames Courtesy,

The etiquette of tipping has been covered in multiple places, but those are more for rewarding good service. What is the polite way to punish bad service? Say, for a waitress that ignores you for an hour, or a cab driver who has no idea what he’s doing and gets lost before you have to get on your phone and figure out how to get home?
Where’s My Waiter?

Amy Vanderbilt says that you can reduce a tip in a restaurant if “service is minimal or unbearably slow.” She also says that, although a tip is a reward for good service and not required, it usually ensures better service in the future. Mr. Pink also has some strong ideas about this.

Jaya: I definitely think you can tip less/not at all for bad service, though it really depends. The only time I’ve not given a tip at all was when a cab driver spent the entire ride complaining that I was going to Queens (from Manhattan), and that he’ll never find a ride back, and it’s gonna cost him so much money and time to do this, and basically implying that I was a real bitch for wanting to take a cab home.

Victoria: I would definitely not tip the driver in that situation.

Jaya: I was even trying to convince him to go to the airport (not far from my house) to pick up a fare! I was trying to help! And I was all ready to tip him nicely for a long ride, but nope.

Victoria: For bad service in a restaurant, you want to call the manager and really let them know that the service is bad rather than tipping poorly.Then they have a chance to fix it or make it up to you instead of you stiffing someone out of their already low wages.

Jaya: Yes, because it’s often so hard to figure out whether it’s actually your server’s fault, since there are so many moving parts. Maybe your server put in the wrong order, or maybe the kitchen messed it up. Talking to a manager will usually result in the right person being reprimanded, instead of you giving a waitress a 10% tip when it’s not her fault.

Victoria: I feel like i see a lot of server complaints that are like, “they left a 10% tip and I don’t know if I did something wrong or they are just cheap.”

Jaya: When I was a waitress that happened a few times, and I asked the people dining if I had done anything wrong, and it turns out they were just bad at math and thought they left a 20% tip.

Victoria: Hahahaha! That’s why tipping should be abolished- Americans are becoming increasingly bad at math and can’t calculate a proper tip even though there are apps for that!

Jaya: I’m trying to think of other tipping situations.

Victoria: Getting your hair done. But if you’re not happy with a cut, you can ask them to fix it rather than tip poorly.

Jaya: Yes, and usually you can see what’s going on, so if it takes a turn you can speak up.

Victoria: Changing your tip only works if the person you’re tipping has complete control over the situation.

Jaya: I’d add that they should have complete control and don’t seem to be trying very hard. What if your bartender is slow because the other person didn’t show up for their shift? Or a machine broke in the coffee shop? Always try to be understanding first. But yeah, do not tip your cabbie if he gives you shit about a totally legal request to take you home.

Am I A Good Enough House Guest?

Did you make the bed? [Via]

Did you make the bed? [Via]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy, 

Can we go over house-guest etiquette?  Specifically, with respect to how one contributes to groceries, gas, etc, when staying at another’s house? What is the minimum?  Is there a maximum? What other things should a person be doing when they are a house-guest?  Bring a gift, I know, be generally considerate, etc, but basically, how do I be the best house-guest I can be, without breaking my own bank to do so? 

For example, recently my boyfriend and I visited our friends for the long weekend, who live far away.  They picked us up at the airport (they had no choice, there are no busses or taxis where they live). I paid for a rather large grocery bill (contributed to in part by the many cheeses I selected, for I know my friends are cheese-loving).  I then also bought quite a bit of booze, although my boyfriend and I drank quite a bit of it, as we are more dedicated drinkers. We provided probably 5/6 of the wine, beer, and whisky that was drank over the long weekend.  I also brought a small-ish gift and bought another one for them while I was there.. 

Did I do enough? Should I have done more? I paid for a lot of groceries, but we definitely ate other things in our stay. 

This particular stay does not have me overly worried, as they are old dear friends and I have been exorbitantly generous with them many many times, and frankly if I under-delivered this once I am to be forgiven.  But I would like a refresher!  


Anxious Guest


Emily Post says that houseguests should bring their own toiletries, offer help around the house, and ask about stripping the bed before leaving. Giving a gift and writing a thank you note after are also “musts.”

Jaya: This writer have nothing to worry about, because they have absolutely gone above and beyond with being a house guest.

Victoria: Umm yes, way above. I don’t do any of those things when house guesting. Like, if you spend more money on your hosts than you would on a hotel, what’s the point, really?

Jaya: Have we been shitty house guests the whole time?

Victoria: No we are totally normal guests.

Jaya: I think I’ve done combinations of the following things to thank hosts in my time: paid for groceries, cooked a meal, treated hosts to dinner, brought a bottle of wine/other small gift, paid for gas. Sometimes I’ve offered to do many of those things but the hosts insisted I needn’t worry, so I did none of them, and just thanked them profusely. I’m not sure I’ve ever sent a thank you note for crashing at someone’s house.

Victoria:  I think the standard is to bring a little gift and send a note after, but I honestly can’t remember if I’ve done that. Maybe I am the worst! I know my parents sent flowers to a family I stayed with when I evacuated college for Hurricane Ivan.

Jaya: I think it depends on your relationship with the host. I feel like a lot of formal etiquette treats it as if you’re taking in, like, weary travelers. I’ve always been friends or family with the people I’ve stayed with, so it’s far more casual. For instance, I had a friend move to New York and stay on my couch for a week before his apartment was ready. He bought a lot of his own groceries, but we offered to cook for each other and other things like that, because we’re friends and enjoyed having the other around. It wasn’t this burden.

Victoria: Yes! Usually a guest is someone you know or like having around, so it’s a bit of a treat for the host too?  I mean, you crash with someone because you are in town for something else, I think you have more of a need to thank them. But if they have invited you because they wanted to see you, then you should still do SOMETHING, but you don’t need to be picking up every little tab.

Jaya: Absolutely. Guests should not feel the need to constantly apologize for their presence. Clean up after yourself, offer to do some nice thing for your host, and don’t overstay your welcome, but you don’t have to be hyper-aware of everything you’re doing. There’s no need to break it down so far. No one will notice if you pay for 4/6 of the liquor instead of 5/6, or whatever. Oh but speaking of that, how do you know if you’ve overstayed your welcome? I feel like usually you know exactly how long you’ll be somewhere, so it’s not always an issue.

Victoria: Yeah, you’d usually say “Oh I’m planning on coming for four days.” Otherwise…once you host starts asking how long you think you will there is a good time to plan on leaving within a day.

Should I Pay My Friends To Babysit?

7Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

We are the first of our group of friends to have a baby. We’ve gotten lots of casual babysitting offers over the past few months from friends. “I can totally babysit” – that kind of thing. Now that the kid is old enough to be left with someone else for a few hours, I’d like to start cashing in these offers. But do I offer to pay? I don’t want to assume anything. I mean, I would pay a babysitter and these friends would be giving up their time. Maybe a gift instead? “Oh look a bottle of your favorite booze I just happen to have here. Take it.” Please advise!

Favor Flustered

Emily Post and the like are pretty mum on the subjects of babysitting and favors among friends, though we’re guessing they would say never to offer a favor and expect to be paid for it.

Jaya:  I’d think that you can do the ol’ dance of offering to pay, and your friends will probably be like “no don’t worry about it.” Especially if you bring it up in terms of their original offer. Like, “Hey, now that the kid is old enough to be left at home, we’d love to take you up on your generous offer to babysit!”

Victoria: I think if I were offering to do this, it would because a) I want to hang out with a cool baby b) do a nice thing for my friend, so I really wouldn’t WANT anything. It’s actually, I think, considered sort of insulting in some circles to pay friends for babysitting because you aren’t really paying them enough (usually) to recompense for their actual time, so it’s better to just not and let it be a favor that you can repay at another time.

Jaya: That’s true. Unless you’re paying your best friend $15 an hour (or whatever the rate is now) it may not matter. It’s also probably important to note that, since the offer was probably made as a friendly favor to new parents, you shouldn’t take advantage of it. The offer may be a couple-time thing, not a thrice-a-week gig.

Victoria: Yeah, seriously. This is definitely like, once or twice spread out (unless they seem to really really like doing it).

Jaya:  I found some interesting stuff here, where they say that a bottle of wine or a gift card seem like “thank you for a favor” gifts, while cash is an impersonal transaction .

Victoria: Definitely, although if it’s a fairly short amount of time, I don’t think you even need to do that much, just be prepared to do them a favor later. Like maybe under 4 hours?

Jaya: Haha that’s as good an arbitrary amount of time as any.

Victoria: I mean, it seems like dinner and a movie time. But still, a bottle of wine wouldn’t go unappreciated, I’m sure. Or some takeout.

Jaya: Yes! Still do all the other babysitting norms, like leaving money for takeout/emergencies, etc.

Victoria: I think it ties in a lot with the general doing of favors for friends.

Jaya: Absolutely. For instance, I generally do not expect to pay my friends when they cat sit for me, but may leave them a little gift, or ask with the assumption that I will cat sit when they go away. And cats=babies duh.

Victoria: Haha yeah! Exactly. Or sometimes a friend will drive you someplace and you get their lunch, or you borrow their drill to hang your curtains and ummmm you will do something nice for them sometime (thanks Jayaaaaa).

Jaya: Yeah you know you lend a friend your drill and they pay your rent for two months, right Victoria?

Victoria: Hahahaha no.

Jaya: Hmm, what should she do on the off chance a friend demands payment?

Victoria: I guess pay them and then don’t ask them again.

Jaya: I can’t imagine you’d make that offer to a close friend if you want to be paid, but then again people are crazy.

Victoria: This is true.