Monthly Archives: December 2012

Loss, and the etiquette of Loss

funeral

I am at a loss. Yesterday a friend lost her husband to cancer. I am close enough to her to want to show her how sad I am for her and her children, and that I am available for her to ask me to help her or her children with anything, but not close to her husband, and don’t know what is the right behaviour in the coming days and weeks.

I trusted my gut instinct and called her this morning, and thought I’d get her voice mail. To my surprise, she picked up the phone. She was, understandably very sad and emotional. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I was so moved that she even picked up my call. We shared the injustice of his illness, and how he was taken so quickly, and she shared with me how fortunate she was to have spent 30 years with this man.

But what happens next? It is such an uncommon occurrence, so I just don’t know what is the right protocol. Again, I lean on those who know, and find myself guided by their experience, and then want to apply my sensitivity and closeness to her and her family.

Yes, I have experienced loss before. Mostly when I was much younger as aging relatives died, and was mostly guided by my parents behaviour.

Now, I must firstly check their religious faith, as I don’t know what is customary; does one wear black, or should I send flowers, or do people select worthy causes for donations?

Secular ceremonies have various forms of honouring their family and friends, and this note by no means aims to standardise mourning and loss. But, after doing some research, it seems that there are changes to some of the past behaviour that I thought still in practice.

It seems that it is no longer expected to wear black to funerals. Tasteful attire, covering up shoulders (though bare arms seem acceptable), and skirt or dress length need be at least above the knee or longer. Pants are acceptable, though shorts are not.

Offering up condolences are acceptable, and it seems that as long as the message is sincere and thoughtful, then it can be by phone, by mail, in a condolence card or note, or even by email. It’s not wise to send a condolence by text.

It’s important to reach out to people you may know that are close to the family of the departed. They will let you know if there is a funeral, which is often kept for close family and friends, and if there is a memorial service for the extended friends, colleagues and other people who want to show their sympathy.

Gifts, such as wreaths and other flowers, are still thoughtful gifts, to add gaiety and colour to the ceremony. If a donation is preferred, the family will let you know in the lead up to the service.

It is however, considered most important to attend the service, whether at the funeral, the cemetary, memorial or the wake, and to offer a kind word to the family of the deceased. Though they will be wrought by sadness, they will still appreciate the kindness of those around them.

Rushing to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while after the service should be muted to a respectful murmur.

From the UK etiquette experts – Debrett’s – taken from http://www.debretts.com/etiquette/rites-of-passage/death/miss-debrett-on-funerals.aspx

Miss Debrett’s Top Tips

  • Take your lead from the chief mourners and never outdo them.
  • Switch off your mobile, don’t whisper during the service and maintain an air of dignified discretion.
  • Keep your behaviour sober and restrained at the post-funeral gathering; remember this is a wake, not a party.

Loss in death is the worst grief one experiences in life. Offering up any small gesture of kindness will aid the grieving process.

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Class and etiquette

class

Is class synonymous with etiquette?

I was invited to a terrific christmas lunch yesterday, where the host and I got into a heated discussion about class.

He defines class as someone who shows generosity beyond their means, or if fortune has found you, then you are classy if you make efforts to bridge the divide with those less fortunate. I shared with him that I didn’t agree with his definition, and said that class was irrelevant of wealth. That class is defined by many attributes, like humility, courtesy, consideration, and etiquette. Generosity is not about class. I know many people without means who have class, and many more with huge wealth that are class-less.

He was determined to contradict me, so I, being a guest in his home, agreed to disagree, and left it at that.

Obviously, it did get me thinking about the differences between etiquette and class.

Etiquette are the rules and guidelines to behaviour between two or more parties, or manners that one has in society.

Class is a state of being. In any given situation to act with class is to be humble and generous in nature, polite and somewhat refined in your behaviour.

I think it is natural to think that people with class live with etiquette.

But some people who use correct etiquette have little or no class.

So, maybe they’re not synonymous after all.

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The gift of giving

gifting

As we lead up to the days before Christmas, I have been asked to write about the art of giving gifts.

How many times have you received a gift and wondered, “why did I get that?”

I do believe that the giving of a well thought out gift is nearly impossible these days. People have access to everything, all the time. So, how do you determine if we’re all just jaded and spoilt, or if we can shift our perception and return to the source of giving?

It really is the thought that matters.

I recall when I was about 10 years old, my father gave my mother an iron for her birthday. I thought he was being very practical and thoughtful as he had noticed that mum’s iron was on the verge of dying. As you can imagine, mum did not find the gift pleasing at all. She actually threw the boxed iron at my father and declared him a heathen.

To this day, I don’t understand how a practical gift, or a sentimental gift, is deemed more or less appropriate? I may be a little odd, but I actually enjoy ironing. When my father asked me last year what I wanted for Christmas, I actually asked him for the latest, fancy steam iron. Go figure!

A girlfriend asked me recently if I thought it was acceptable to offer a child a charitable gift; a goat for an impoverished third world village, for example. I actually thought that it was a fantastic gift for children who “have everything”. Not only does it make the giver feel good, it should be a warming gift to the child, who can now also consider himself benevolent, but, at it’s very core, it is giving the gift of  life to the villagers. Obviously, it does show that the gift giver isn’t so close to the child, as it isn’t such a personal item. But nonetheless, they are generous and thoughtful enough to give a gift at all.

Another gift that has made me think is when my daughter was given a bunch of shares after her birth. I thought it very generous a gift, but every year receive statements telling how much money/shares she has. It has grown somewhat, and that’s fantastic, but it did always seem quite impersonal. Until recently, when the giver asked me how those shares were doing. After sharing the update, she was happy to admit that she originally gave those shares to my daughter so that when she was 18 or older, she could use that money to buy herself a car or maybe choose to use the funds as the deposit for something even more important. All of a sudden I thought this a terrific gesture. Well thought out and less practical than thoughtful.

I don’t know how personal or appropriate gifts are these days, so I thought I’d do the research. I’m about to offer one of my best friends a face cream that I’ve enjoyed because it minimises my wrinkles. Is this a no-no?

Well, after extensive checking, it seems that logic and thoughtfulness are the right way to choose gifts. The closer you are to the person, ie, your best friend or family, then the gift should be of a more personal and thoughtful nature. The further away you are from that person, the more generic can be the gift.

I’ve always thought that homemade gifts were more about the giver wanting to show her talents in basket weaving, than about the giving. But then, I have been known to knit a scarf or two and then pass them to friends for a lovely winter gift.

As to re-gifting. It appears that most reputable sources declare that re-gifting is a big no-no. I can’t think of anything more silly. How is it rude to give a lovely gift to someone that you’re never going to use yourself. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if my friends forwarded one of my gifts.

Giving makes you feel good. Receiving a gift makes you feel good. Does it really matter what it is as long as you feel good?

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Dating (and) your mobile phone

couple-texting

So, there are two parts to this story, one about a relationship that only exists thanks to your mobile phone, and the one that shouldn’t even figure on a date.

I know that all you single guys and girls, and those who have been single in the past 15 years (does that mean 90% of the population?), can attest to waiting for the text message or response from an interesting other. Yes, you know the way it goes;

You 7pm: “Thanks for a terrific time last night”

Him 10am: “Yes, it was fun”

You 10:45am: “We should do it again some time?”

Him (2 days later) 3pm: “Love to”

This is a brush off. You may interpret it as anything other than a brush off… but nonetheless, it is. He is potentially going to contact you at a later date for a hook up (if hook up means sex). But he is not interested in you for a romantic loving relationship. If he was, he would do any, or all, of the following things:

1) use the phone as it was originally invented by Alexander Graham Bell to talk with you;

2) call you to see if you had a good time together;

3) make an appointment to see you again;

4) want you to feel special.

My fella and I went on our first date, and though we went to a very special restaurant by the harbour overlooking the magnificent views of Sydney, and had a very relaxed meal getting to know each other by chatting about our respective lives, there really was one slightest moment when I felt the hook of affection grab me. As we walked out the restaurant, he paused, and asked me, “Have you had a nice time tonight?” It was the simplest question, and yet it struck me that he showed concern that I had enjoyed his company. It was the smallest sign of vulnerability that he shared, and I reflected that if he hadn’t shown it, I would have found him rather indifferent and detached.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that he has a healthy ego and displays confidence. But the detachment that single men, and women, display when dating makes me wonder why they date at all? When did romance become so wrought with bravado and wariness that displaying warmth and desire gets confused with dependency and neediness?

I digress… the point here being, showing someone that you enjoyed their company should not be done by text, it should be done face to face, or at the very least by phone. And by the same token, asking someone if you can see each other again should not be by text. Your relationship is not with your phone. It is with a real person. It is a little nuanced, but text messages in early stages of relationships, especially in dating, should only have practical content, not be emotionally loaded. A text to confirm a time or place is acceptable. A text to state that you’re running five minutes late is also acceptable. But a text asking “Are we ok?” is far too loaded. Not only will the recipient feel cornered, but you will also feel weakened by the cry out.

Know this, people will always behave the only way they can. That means, if a person doesn’t fancy another, he can’t force himself to care. If he doesn’t care, then he will do things that display that lack of affection, ie, he will not call.

The shoe fits for both sexes. It’s not unusual for me to cease communicating with a man if I don’t feel a warm connection. It’s not that I’m particularly heartless when I’m disinterested, it’s just that I don’t want to encourage them or send the wrong message. Yes, if I cared, I’d communicate. I don’t mean that I’d send messages all day, every day, but the messages would leave no doubt that the person mattered. Yes, I’d pick up the phone and make a call.

Onto the more practical part of this article, when is it acceptable to use your mobile phone on a date?

The short answer is, as you already know, it’s unacceptable to use your phone on a date.

If, for example, you have children, or are “on call” due to your profession, then it’s polite to let your date know, and then ask him/her if they won’t mind if your phone is accessible. I’ve yet to meet a person who would deny such a request.

You should always leave your phone screen visible, as you don’t want your date to think that you’re hiding the identity of your caller. And should you be expecting such a call, then leave your phone in your bag, and make the ring tone just loud enough to hear it. Yes, be polite. Your date will appreciate your mobile phone etiquette.

Should your phone ring, then it is polite to leave the table and take your call in the restaurant lobby or in a more discreet place. Our old world had powder rooms in the toilets, and it might be time to reinstate them to give us a venue to rush off our text messages and upload and download.

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What’s with the caps indoors?

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Tonight, at dinner with friends at the local ribs joint, we were enjoying that etqt is raising awareness for modern day issues.

We heartily ate our ribs with our hands, watching each others faces quickly become fodder for all the sweet and sticky sauce. Our bibs were collective messes, or “Rorschach” ink blots – easily translated as a great meal. I’m sure that there’s an article here somewhere about proper eating etiquette.

We were each running through a list of behaviour that always surprises us. However, most of the topics we seemed to differ on the correct etiquette.

One topic where we were all in absolute agreement is about the correct etiquette with caps, the baseball cap, the truckers cap, actually any cap.

They are to keep the sun out of your eyes, obviously for playing baseball, and for driving your truck. We agree that they are recommended for shielding eyes from the sun for lots of other occasions too. But where they are not acceptable is indoors.

So why do people still choose to wear them indoors? I guess it’s a vanity or ego thing. Men losing their hair seem to think it’s a substitute for hair, or maybe they actually think we will think that there’s a full head of hair under the cap.

So, after some research on what’s the correct etiquette here, it is unanimously declared that caps indoors are unacceptable. There seems to be a limited number of places where they are acceptable, like in elevators, where you may find that you can’t remove your cap as your hands are full carrying packages.

One American online source on Hatequette (http://www.manyhattyreturns.com/2010/08/10/etiquette-of-hat-wearing-for-men/) states that all hats must be removed in the following places:
As a general rule men should remove their hats when indoors, as follows (not necessarily comprehensive):
-In a home (particularly in another’s home)
-Indoors at work (especially in an office). This rule would not apply of course to protective headgear such as construction helmets.
-At a movie or other indoor theatrical performance.
-In a Christian Church (or perhaps in another place of worship depending on the rules applicable) except for the priests. There are different rules for different religions and they also relate to the type of headgear to be worn. For example, Jewish men wear a yarmulke, skull cap, as a sign of humility before God. Some Jewish men wear the yarmulke all the time except for swimming or bathing at least.
-In a court of law (wearing a hat has often been treated as a contempt of court).
-In a restaurant ( sometimes it is deemed acceptable to keep a hat on while at the lunch counter of a diner or café
).

The biggest question today is what to do with one’s cap when it’s removed? The hat-check room would make a great revival.

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Public displays of affection… or publicity?

pda1

Touching… one of the great senses, along with sight, sound, taste and smell. Who doesn’t like to be touched? I love it. And also enjoy to feel the flesh of others against mine. It’s not only a sensually intimate thing, it’s as simple as the warmth of a familiar hug always makes me feel good.

I like the endearing feeling I have when I see others holding hands, or hugging. The vision of people embracing at the airport arrival hall is one that I find so affective, and makes me warm inside, even though I’m witnessing total strangers share their love and happiness.

To watch an elderly couple holding hands makes me think of the long, loving relationship that they have shared, with enough romance and exclusive connection that they can lock hands whilst strolling, for the world to see. Rare is a love that displays this longevity, affection and solidarity.

Having said that, there are definitely limits to how much I’d like to witness of a couple’s physical intimacy.

I’ve had giddy love in my youth. One that would make me behave inappropriately in public. My hope was to be told to “get a room!”

So, when are displays of affection acceptable, and when are they publicity?

There are definitely times when you share a warm moment with your partner, and without even knowing it, you innocently reach over and stroke his face, or share a loving hug. Even a kiss.

But these simple, innocent, fleeting moments of affection are very different from the groping, tongue lashing, lap dancing displays that we occasion to see around us. Of course, mostly seen by couples who are loosened by alcohol or more. But there are also those couples who confuse affection with decorum.

Romance is between two people, no-one else. If you look closely at very loving couples, you will know that they are a couple, even if they are not standing together. That quality of bond and caring that they share is exclusive and vital. I know that the eye locking between me and my partner in a crowded room can make me go weak at the knees. That kind of intimacy and affection is more powerful than anything that I will share with others. No need to publicise.

Yes, I admit that if my partner strokes the small of my back whilst I’m talking with a friend, it sends electricity through me. Just as his breath on my neck when we’re queuing at an ice cream stand. But our restraint adds to our romance and heightens our intimacy.

If you absolutely must take your physical affection outside your romantic sanctuary, then follow the following guidelines by keeping away from children, away from restaurants, or where you may block another’s path, and above all, no straddling. Unless of course you’re under one of Paris’s famous Seine River bridges where anything goes, especially if you’re in little else than high heels and a trench coat. But that’s another topic altogether.

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Emoticons, acronyms and communication between generations

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Emoticons, though considered a form of communicating your emotions, really are the very simple version. I can’t remember when I left a friend’s company with a simple happy (or sad) face to something she said. How very one-dimensional.

So when is it appropriate to use them, or more importantly, when is it not a good idea?

It’s simple really, only use emoticons with friends and those friends that understand them, ie, not all family members get them, even if they try, and your new boss definitely won’t think you’re serious enough for a promotion if you send him a happy face after a good business meeting. Unless of course you work for Mark Zuckerberg.

They should not be used for official work communication, either by email, or phone texting. Think of the hierarchy in your office. If you want to go up the business ladder, then do not send emoticons, or acronyms, to your superiors.

When mobile phone texting was first launched, the sender was limited to a maximum number of 260 characters (or thereabouts), and anything over that would be charged another unit by one’s mobile phone provider, so it was often important to maximise the usage by minimising the number of characters used. Hence, the creative invention of emoticons. Today, we have limitless texts, so it’s just really brevity or an effort to be funny to insert them at every text.

Teenagers use them amongst themselves with acronyms and all other sorts of abbreviations to speed up the communication process. It does make this mother of two teenagers wonder why they don’t just pick up the phone and call their friends. They remind me how old I am, and tell me that it’s not cool.

I’ve thought this over dozens of times. It makes me think of the language that we use in our lives. I believe that there are three languages… all english;

1) the language we use with our elders, with superiors, or professionally, ie always polite, respectful, without cursing, always taking care to be as articulate as possible, lots of active listening;

2) the language we use with our children and those we feel we need to be a good example, also polite, without curse words, with a tone of confidence, respect and often extolling the correct behaviour; some active listening, lots of “ah ahh”, “yes, I see”;

3) the language we use with our friends and peers, where obviously anything goes. Yes, the most relaxed form of communication. Some cursing may figure here depending on the individual.

I daren’t send emoticons or acronyms to my elders for fear to offend them if they didn’t understand them. I don’t send them to my children either, and ask them not to send them to me. I have told my children that as their parent and teacher of life lessons, I would like to give them the purest education that I can, that of common courtesy, and of course, etiquette, so I ask them to respect the roles we have, and within those roles learn, and practice, good communication skills. They also have all their friends with whom they can 🙂 or LOL.

Funnily enough, I rarely send emoticons or acronyms to friends. I do think it’s generational. I just seem to want to practice complete and coherent sentences with my friends. Nowadays, it’s easy to use your voice recognition to speak/write your texts for you with just a quick perusal to check mistakes. Oh, and I also do pick up the phone and enjoy having full conversations with them too.

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The slow dance to your first date

date pic

The dance for romance between men and women today is wrought with questions and doubt. In this, times have not changed at all.

It is different in that we have been pressured by technology. This is a shame.

Joel, a handsome and articulate, young gentleman of 25, I met recently, shared with me how he was saddened that romance is lost today. He explained that if he asked a woman out on a date, he normally did so with at least 4 or 5 days notice. He thought that during the lead up to the date, he and his date would have giddy expectations, and build up, without much, if any, communication till the actual date. That “distance” and time would actually enhance the desire and romance, and start the date with a wonderful innocence and hope. Sadly, the reality is, that each day prior to the date she or he would send each other text messages stating what they were doing, and how they felt – potentially dozens of texts per day. It left nothing to the imagination or anticipation… and by the time the date occurred there was not as much excitement and giddiness as he wished. For Joel, the romance was already dissipating.

It’s true that with technology we have eliminated all the gaps that patience and time had offered us. We have no more patience, and we all seem quite unravelled if we send out a text message, and do not get a response within the hour, if not immediately.

So what is the acceptable protocol with texting and dating?

Be patient. Yes, it’s worth it.

Asking someone out takes courage, whether you’re handsome, confident, smart, or shy, all people need courage to ask someone out. Rejection is always an option, and everyone hates that.

So, if you agree to go on a date with someone, have confidence that this person has thought it through enough to want to see you. There is absolutely no need to validate his or her invitation by constantly communicating with him or her until that date. It’s a wonderful, albeit sometimes scary notion to wait for that day to come. But it’s also a time when you can prepare yourself too. For girls, we can plan to get a manicure, pedicure or a hair styling. Maybe even buy a new dress. For the guys, get a haircut or  hit the gym and build those pecks that make you feel more manly!

Making contact prior to the date to make sure you’re both still available to go out is acceptable. But communicating too much leading up to the date will also leave less to talk about when you meet up.

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Chivalry curbside

stroll nyc

I recently started a romantic relationship with a lovely man. He is decisive, smart and worldly, practical and modern. We were strolling on the footpath. I was walking on the outer side of the curb. I mentioned that I’d heard that men are supposed to walk closest to the traffic to protect the woman from getting hit by traffic. He laughed, and said that yes that was how it was in the olden days, but today men should walk on the inside. Pedestrians were often avoiding horses and horse-drawn carriages, which had a tendancy to swerve off the road, or splash filthy water or sewage, or worse still, horse manure onto the curb, so a man’s role was definitley to protect his strolling mate. Today it’s highly unlikely for a vehicle to come off the road, and much more likely that things fall out of upper floor windows and balconies or get thrown out of shop fronts. And hence he would still be the protective one. I’m not sure if he was pulling my leg, or if he had actually been updated on the latest etiquette. But it got me thinking about how times have changed, and how etiquette needs to be updated.

So, I went on a mission to research his “facts”. Were they actually fact, fiction, or a version of both? And what is the current etiquette curbside?

Emily Post’s Etiquette states that “it used to be that a man escorting a woman on the street walked on the inside so that if waste were thrown out a window it would hit him and not her. Then when sanitation became recognized as important and people stopped tossing their waste into the street, custom changed and a man escorting a woman walked on the street side to keep her from being splashed by mud thrown up by carriage wheels or horses’ hooves. Technology has paved our streets and replaced carriages as the primary source of travel, eliminating the danger of splashing on all but rainy, slushy days, so men once again might walk on the inside, particularly at night in dangerous neighborhoods,in order to protect a woman from muggers and purse snatchers lurking in doorways.” So, he had most of it right. But, as Emily Post derives from the United States, I thought I might check out how they do it trans-Atlantic in the United Kingdom.

I discovered that in England, “In days gone by, a gentleman would walk on the outside of the pavement to protect the lady from the risks of the road and the perils of the gutter. Today, a man should still walk on the kerbside of the street. If, however, a woman naturally falls in step on the kerbside and seems comfortable with it, then it would be clumsy for him to start dodging around her to try and walk on the outside.” Deblett’s etiquette.

So, for the sake of putting this one to rest, I’d have to say, that it really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s more important that you walk side by side, as some people have a tendency to lead, or follow.

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Etiquette today

“ETIQUETTE is courteous, thoughtful behaviour, impeccable manners, dignity and civility.” Emily Post Etiquette, 1922 or “When in doubt, etqt today!”

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