Thursday, March 31, 2011

RSVP, Again

I have spoken about this before but this social scourge still lingers. Just yesterday, I had the ill fortune to witness a blot on the etiquette landscape in the form of, essentially, a gate-crasher to a luncheon. Here's the story....

I was invited to attend a lunch meeting as a wrap up to a major benefit that was held several weeks ago. During the luncheon, we were expected to celebrate the success of the Gala, as well as share feedback on the event and begin planning for next year. The staff of the organization sent no less than four emails inviting, reminding, nudging, and finally scolding the committee to respond so that they could accurately set up and cater a lunch. I arrived at the appointed time, and was greeted with a lovely table set for 10. The committee members and staff sat and began discussing the items at hand and tucking into the first course of chilled asparagus soup. Imagine our dismay when not one but two people strolled in without having RSVP'd. (Their late arrival, while excessively rude, paled in comparison to the RSVP issue.)

What's a Grace to do?

Ok, it's not exactly on the scale of the Salahi White House Party Crash Incident, but it was rude and Graceless nonetheless. Fortunately for all concerned, the staff of this non profit is replete with Graces. They discreetly rose from the table, swiftly procured clean plates and cutlery, and gave the two Grunts who arrived unexpectedly their seats. This was done with such swiftness and subtlety that the two Grunts never even knew the disruption they had caused. The staffers then were forced to hover around the perimeter of the table, never really having a chance to enjoy the delicious food provided, or conveniently participate in a round table discussion.

So let's try it again. When you are sent an invitation for ANYTHING, you let the hosts know ASAP whether you will accept or decline. Honestly, how long does it take to write an email or FB message? To leave a voice mail? 30 seconds. No one is so busy to render this impossible.

And while I do not consider RSVP's a joking matter, I found this SNL spoof of the Salahi party crash rather funny...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thanks, Teach

Dear Social Grace,

I am in a quandary.

My son just took a three day camping trip with his elementary school. It ended up being a wonderful experience, but I was a little nervous sending him as this was his first time away from home. One teacher was especially helpful in this department; he assured me that he would put my son in his cabin group, and gave me his cell phone number just in case. I was able to check in via text message once or twice a day, get a very brief update of how things were going, and this made all the difference in the world. As it turned out, it went so well that I didn't even feel the need to bother him after the first full day.

My quandary is: I would really like to do something special for this guy. He clearly had plenty to deal with on this trip, but he made a special effort to make sure that my son was safe and happy, and that I was not worried. I don't want the other teachers who were also there to feel slighted--they were all, I am sure, kind and helpful--but this one guy did go above and beyond. On the other hand, I don't want to be overly extravagant.

Any suggestions?

Grace Says:

It is important to acknowledge this type of effort, so kudos to you. Here are some ideas for you:

--Bake something. This is simple, personal, and a sure fire hit.
--Make a CD. Have your son help select the songs. (I know, I know, everyone uses Itunes nowadays, but this will expand his music library in a personal and creative manner.)
--Purchase a modest gift card. ITunes, a bookstore, or coffee shop would be appropriate.
--Call a local deli or pizzeria and have lunch delivered to the teacher during the school day, or make him a nice lunch and send it with your son. (Think tomato, basil and mozzarella, smoked turkey and boursin, chicken salad, a container of homemade soup or pasta--not PB&J).

If none of these appeals to you, a heartfelt note explaining how much his support meant to you and your family is always a good choice, and often means more than material goods.


Speaking of this old classic:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Namely, It's a Problem

For you regular and loyal readers, this post may appear familiar; it is. You saw it here a few months ago--but I was asked to discuss this very topic today on the radio, (listen live at 9:10am or later when I post the clip). Since it was on topic, it seemed timely to share it again. New stuff soon!

Dear Social Grace:

I am terrible with names. Most people who don't remember names don't pay attention or don't care--honestly, this is not me. I am not a thoughtless person--I remember birthdays, return phone calls, send condolence notes and congratulations cards when warranted and genuinely care about my inner and outer circles of friends. But I have a mental block about names. I am also anxious about it, which makes it worse. I have tried mnemonics, rhymes, and every other trick out there. I live in fear that I will erroneously call my biggest client's assistant Jane (or is it Joan?) the wrong name and never get another call put through. Any suggestions?

Grace Says:

I happen to be married to someone who is not great with names and I have several suggestions for you....all are proven strategies and I can personally vouch for their efficacy.

1. Introduce yourself, even if you should know the person's name. In this situation, most people will provide their names. After they give it up, you can say, "It's great to see you again, Fred. I wasn't sure whether you would remember me." This flatters Fred, implying that he might not remember insignificant little old you but he left quite an impression--even if it is patently false. Graces never underestimate the value if a Little White Lie when navigating through awkward social waters.

2. Use the Buddy System, Part I. Identify a go-to person who is great with names. Ideally, this person is someone who is around you a lot, is reliable, discreet, and not a practical joker. (While he might think it hilarious to have you calling your boss's wife Fredericka when her name is Ann, the long term ramifications for you could be dire, or at least humiliating.) Have a signal of some sort--elbow to the ribs, wink, pursing of lips--which lets him/her know that you are floundering and gives the clue to broadcast a name STAT. This broadcast should not be an introduction unless you are on the initial approach. If you are mid-convo, a simple, "Sue, that is too funny/fascinating/wonderful/repulsive" does the trick.

3. Use the Buddy System, Part II. Introduce your date/partner/friend without giving the other person's name which you can't recall. Say to What's-her-name, "Have you met Alice?" As Alice shakes hands with What's-His-Name, she can say, "Sorry, I didn't catch your name?" or "Great to meet you....." leaving a meaningful and questioning pause which will force the name to be coughed up. Best to brief Alice on this strategy ahead of time so she knows to play along.

Finally, you can try the truth. It appears that you tend to remember the person, but not the name, which makes it manageable. You can simply say, "I apologize; I am terrible with names. I know we met at the neighborhood potluck and you play tennis at Oak Lawn Club, but I am drawing a blank. My name is Grace, by the way." This demonstrates that you truly do recall the person, which softens the blow, and gives him the chance to cough up "Bill" without being too offended.

Here's the Ting Ting's take on the Name Problem....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Vamos la playa!

Well, Graces, this snowbird is off to Mexico to quaff some margaritas, soak up some sun, see some Mayan ruins, and return refreshed, with lots of new material.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Work Party: To Bring or Not To Bring a Date

Dear Grace:

I recently started clerking at a law firm with the hopes of translating this into a permanent position. I have been invited to the annual firm soiree. Can I bring my boyfriend? He doesn't quite fit in the "corporate mold", but he is my beloved and I want him there with me to meet my new colleagues and keep me company. Please advise.

Grace Says:

First and foremost, ascertain that you are invited with a guest before you make any plans. Crashing the party, regardless of his charming manners, witty reparte and becoming attire would be a colossal gaffe.

As far as the "non corporate mold" situation....Well, Graces are all for personal style and freedom of expression, but these habits must be tempered by appropriate dress and conduct for the occasion. Scarlett O'Hara aside, you wouldn't go horseback riding in a ball gown, would you? Apply this rule to the corporate setting. If your BF can't doff his Goth Garb and comb his hair for an evening in the interests of your professional advancement, then maybe he should stay home, pop some corn, and have a steaming cup of cocoa and a loving embrace waiting for you when you arrive. No problem, just not his thing. Unless, of course, it is a problem.

If your date looks more like this:

Than this:

then fitting him into the law firm mold is going to be a constant challenge. But my guess is that your Grant, like most, fits somewhere in between these two.

If you must attend a firm function with a date and it must be him, request that he don an appropriate ensemble, walk the walk and talk the talk--it won't permanently scar him, I promise. (You will most certainly owe him a favor, and I'm sure he'll think of something.....) Fairly or not, the Human Resource Department is looking for insight into you, and the company you keep provides a lot of information.

Know this, my dear Grace: If this is an issue for the two of you, it is not likely to disappear. You may want to rethink the whole relationship if he won't make some small, temporary concessions in the interests of your future prospects, and he may want to rethink the whole relationship if he will be placed in uncomfortable situations on account of your goals and aspirations.

In a perfect world, everyone would be open minded and tolerant. People would be judged on their personalities and actions as opposed to the bull rings protruding from their noses or their inability to make polite small talk. But we live in the real world and I must advise you based on the way it is. And truthfully, Graces, I don't want to see track suits, muscle Ts or disfiguring facial 'adornments' at my dinner parties. So spread the word: look in the mirror, scan your date and get it right.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gracious Retrieval, or Gimme Back My Stuff!

Dear Grace:

I lent a pair of peau de soie sandals to a friend in need several months ago and she has yet to return them. She has mentioned in passing once or twice that she should drop them off, but when I try to pin her down, she suddenly becomes very busy and scattered. How do I get them back without creating an unpleasant exchange? Spring is coming and I need these shoes for 2 weddings!

Dear Reader,

No beating around the bush on this one. Call this moocher and say, "Suzanne, I'm going to a wedding in a few weeks and I plan to wear the sandals I lent you. I want to try them with the dress and organize the outfit this weekend, so I need them back. Will you be home Saturday morning so I can come by and get them?" Or, "Frida, I know you mentioned dropping my sandals off awhile ago, but with winter in full swing, who is thinking of sandals? I'm sure you forgot, as did I, but I'd like to get them back for an upcoming event. I'll be home Tuesday and Wednesday after work; will you be able to come by with them?" If these fail, identify a time when you are certain she will be home and drop in: Knock-knock. "Hi Kathy, I was in the neighborhood getting a pedicure which reminded me of sandals, and that reminded me of the ones you borrowed so I figured I may as well save you the trouble of bringing them back to me.....Hand 'em over, you shoe-napper" (last phrase optional),

After this, don't lend her any more of your merchandise.

Good luck with the search and rescue!

Speaking of shoes....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Declining Graciously, or Not

So here's something that really chipped my polish this week. Tuesday was Mardi Gras, so naturally I made a Cajun feast featuring Jambalaya. I doubled the recipe, which made enough to feed a significant percentage the population of New Orleans. Needless to say, I was keen to share. I sent some to my neighbor, to my children's teachers, and my Grantly hub took some to work. He offered one of the secretaries a generous tub and she said, "I just started a diet and I'm not eating carbs." Then she gave it to another staffer. Grantly hub was justifiably offended, and as is his want, he wondered....

What's a Grant To Do?

In response to his urgent email I replied:


But the person who really ought to be asking the question is carb-free secretary. Now, I'm not saying she ought to have ingested the stuff, delicious though it was if it conflicted with her (doubtless already broken) diet. Rather, I am saying that, like everything, there is a way Graces handle such scenarios, but this gal headed straight to Grunt City.

She could have done any of the following and remained in Graceland:

  • Say thank you, no elaboration needed.
  • Lie, "It was delicious, thanks so much. Good thing my no-carb diet starts tomorrow." Note adroitness of final comment; it prevents future carb-rich offerings.
  • Say, "Wow, thanks! I'll be taking this home to share with my husband/mailman/fortune teller/pug's masseuse. How nice of you to think of me." Whether she eats it, gives it away, or chucks it in the bin, we are none the wiser and it conveys appreciation for the generous gesture.
  • Tell a version of the truth. "It was incredibly nice of you to bring me this delicious food. I have just started a diet which forbids carbohydrates but I had to taste this. I picked out the meats, had a few tastes of the yummy rice and shared the rest with my skinny friend." Graces avoid discussing diets outside of the physician's or nutritionist's office, but some people can't help themselves.
Speaking of Graceland....

Monday, March 07, 2011

Ill-Timed Birthday Gift

Dear Grace,
I have a wonderful, thoughtful, generous friend. We have been friends for almost ten years, and we are friends on Facebook. This friend sent me a gift, wrapped in happy birthday paper, with a note saying "happy birthday," but, as my Facebook friend and accountant, she has access to all sorts of documentation that we share the same zodiac symbol, in the balmy days of summer. As we are shivering our way through the last days of winter, I must write her a thank you note for the thoughtful gift postmarked in the shortest month of the year. How does one politely thank someone who gave a gift intended for your birthday that was either given six months too early or six months too late?

With many thanks,

Dear Gemini,

I had to pause for a giggle before responding; this is really quite amusing!

But, as to your question: a present is a present is a present. Whether she is early or late, she still did something really nice for you. I am, of course, assuming she got you an actual gift, not one of those insults in a box (wrinkle cream, vouchers to the gym, calorie counter, self-help book on how to find an appropriate mate in 3 simple steps). Based on your note, that does not seem to be the case, so......You will write the note as you would any other thank you--but de-emphasize the bday element:

Dear Wanda,
You were so sweet to think of me. I just love the scented candle and bubble bath--the lemon grass aroma is intoxicating and I am really enjoying the indulgence of long, leisurely bubble baths in candlelit bliss, courtesy of you.

Thank you for your very thoughtful and generous gift. Please forgive me if this is watermarked; I've been spending a lot of time in the tub lately.

If she does clue in next July and express embarrassment, simply say, "you got me a half-birthday gift--which was a wonderful surprise. It extended my celebration." and laugh it off good naturedly. If she never mentions it, you do the same.

As always, keep up the good Grace and thanks for writing,

Here's another chuckle worthy take on birthdays:

Friday, March 04, 2011

More on Moblies

Wednesday's post kind of opened the floodgates. I guess all of us Graces are fed up with the rudeness of tech users. One of my favorite Grants even sent me this picture:

I know it's dark, but it makes the point. My poor friend was out to dinner, unfortunately seated next to this rube who spent 45 minutes conversing loudly about nothing. While playing with his laptop. He's lucky that all that was snapped was his picture.

So, let's review. Here is a list of public places where people are congregating that are ok to have a loud, long, personal cell phone conversation:
  • Nowhere
  • Nowhere
  • Nowhere
  • Nowhere

What you have to say might well be important to you, but unless you're calling 911 with a genuine report that the sky is falling, what you have to say is both uninteresting and intrusive to the people around you. If you need to have a long chat with your broker, your mother, your soothsayer and can't wait until you're in your own home, find a quiet place away from people trying to do business, dine, enjoy the fresh air or, God forbid, have a conversation with another person who is actually present. So let's try again.

Places where it's okay to have brief, quiet cell phone convo:

-In transit. But be mindful of the people around you. Watch where you're walking; don't become an obstacle as well as a noise nuisance. If you are on a train or bus, be brief and quiet, making sure your voice is no louder than it would be if you were telling the person next to you exactly where you found the hidden treasure of a store that offers free mochaccinos and foot massage while you peruse video iPods for 50% below retail. Hello, minimal necessary info, goodbye. If you're in your car, pull over. No matter how capable you think you are, statistics unequivocally show that your response time is much slower when you're on the phone. It's illegal to talk/text and drive in many places, and there is new technology coming out to disable cell phones in moving cars. I personally know at least one person who received a costly ticket for this infraction. Even thought I like the person, I was glad to see this law being enforced.

-While shopping. Never if you're in line. For anything. (Except perhaps the DMV where, no matter what, you will be in line for two hours. Dante had nothing on the DMV.) You know it: there's nothing worse than being stuck in line at the supermarket with someone who's gabbing away. Like the car, no matter how coordinated you think you are, there's no quick and graceful way to unload a grocery cart or fish out a credit card while talking on the phone. It holds up the line and is just plain rude to the cashier. And, again, be mindful of the space you're taking up, both physically and noise-wise. The woman behind you wants to be able to reach the glove display, too, and she does not want to hear the details of your recent bikini wax.

No one ever, ever wants to hear the details of your recent bikini wax.

Places where it is not okay. Ever.

-Theaters. Do I even need to explain why?

-Business meetings. Ditto.

-Lectures, presentations, memorials, anywhere you have gone to listen to what someone else has to say. Because, unless they ask, what you have to say here, especially to someone not here, is completely unimportant.

-Hospitals and other medical facilities. First of all, many such places have equipment which can be compromised by cell phone use. Okay, so I'm not sure I entirely believe that either, but do you really want to take the chance that your call to book a manicure might cause a blip in someone's MRI? Secondly, medical facilities are, by nature, stressful places for many people. Don't make it worse by gabbing.

If you absolutely must be communicado (and I'm a mom; I understand) put the phone on vibrate and tuck it into your pocket or lap. It will be available and as discreet as a telephone can be. When it summons you, enjoy the little tickle, then politely excuse yourself and take the call where no one will be bothered by it.

Loved this commercial illustrating this societal scourge:

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Unmannerly Mobile

Reuters reports that a study conducted by Intel concluded that inappropriate use of mobile technology is getting worse. I find it astonishing that anyone would need to conduct a study to conclude this rather obvious fact, given the epic proportions of techno-rudeness that pervade our ever more plugged in world. But the question for us, as always, is:

What's a Grace to do?

-Move. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is change your seat or treadmill.

-Tattle. I know, I know, we're taught not to. But there are times when you just don't want a confrontation, or anticipate a dramatic, unpleasant response. Go quietly to the traffic cop, gym manager, maitre d', or whoever is nominally in charge and ask them to intervene.

-A polite, "Excuse me. I hate to interrupt you, but I was wondering if you could speak a little more quietly/somewhere else. I know your conversation is important, but I'm having a hard time hearing/concentrating." Usually that does the trick. A tad disingenuous, yes, but disiningenuity has won wars.

Nothing is foolproof, but these can be effective and are certainly worth a try.

Adam Lambert, formerly of American Idol had an effective way to combat this scourge, too. Next time I am performing a pop concert to a packed house, I just may give it a try.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Dress Code Decryption

Dear Grace:
I have become flummoxed of late by some recent invitations. The dress codes invoke some sort of jargon that I don't speak and I am fearful of showing up inappropriately attired. I received two printed invitations phrased as follows:
For a 30th birthday party: "not cocktail, but smart".
For a wedding rehearsal dinner: "evening casual".
Translations, please?

Grace Says:

Oh, dear. You are wondering whether to go for "I'd like to thank the Academy...."

Or, "I just cut the grass...."

What you want is something in between. We'll get to that in a moment.

As to the invitation....there are some things that benefit from creativity. Art. Music. Food. Decor. Gift giving (to a point). Fashion. Party Planning. But dress code wording does not. Hosts need to use clear, unambiguous language when it comes to directing guests how to dress.

Yes, it is nice to use the traditional terms--but in many cases they have lost their meaning. "Informal", which which used to convey not-black-tie-but-dressy, is liable to result in guests arriving in gym clothes. This link provides an excellent summary and decoding of the terminology on this thorny topic.

Personally, I love the term "tidy casual", which is commonly used in Australia to describe the attire appropriate at a vast majority of restaurants. I may try to spread it here.

As to the cryptic phrasing you received....both the birthday party and the rehearsal dinner are festive occasions, and clearly both hosts want guests to arrive in something other than Yogawear. Ladies, don dresses, skirts or nice pants. I wouldn't do it--I always dress 'up' not 'down'--but you can get away with jeans if they are dark wash, not ripped (even if the rips are part of the fashion statement), and you pair them with heels and a dressy top. Gents, wear pressed pants, a collared shirt and/or jacket (no tie required).