Saturday, November 24, 2012

Grace on TV

Good Day Philadelphia was kind enough to invite me to their studio for a chat about Thanksgiving etiquette.  I know TG has come and gone, but the tips apply to any holiday/celebration.  Hopefully there will be more of these as we cruise into the holiday season...stay tuned!

Monday, November 19, 2012

I'm Baaaack....With a Post on How To Avoid Making Your 'Do a Don't

Well, Graces, it's been far too long.  Not because of an etiquette outbreak, but other responsibilities have kept me from the keyboard. 

But I've had a fair few prods to the posterior to get back into it, so here I am.  And not a moment too soon...

Today's post is directed at benefit event planners, some of whom seem to miss the fact that benefit attendees are giving generously and non obligatorily to their charity.  Donors do so because they want to support a given charity but it's an added bonus if they get to enjoy a night out.   If they have fun they will come back next time and bring friends.     If they do not have fun they will not return, and they will tell friends that the 'do is a don't.

A key to keeping the party buzzing is to avoid devoting any portion of the evening to "educating" the public on your mission if it requires the party to stop.  The supporters are already there.  They've ponied up for the ticket price, so consider them hooked.  Don't pry them away from the bar or their convivial conversation.  They will come back next year if they've had a good time.  They will not come back if they've had to endure horrors like these, all true, all endured by Grace at recent charity functions:

--At a Hospital benefit, a video was shown detailing the intricacies of bowel disease as dinner was served.  Bon appetit!

--At a benefit for a social service agency, a religious leader shared a long story about how the organization helped a family take their grandmother off life support and stayed in the room with them as she died.  Seriously, a tale of pulling the plug on Nana.  Cheers!

--At another charity 'do, the honoree, who was told he had three minutes to speak,  pounded the podium and forcefully asserted strong, polarizing views on the politics of the Middle East who should and shouldn't be allowed to have nuclear weaponry--which he rather archaically called "The Atom Bomb."

--An emcee scolded the audience for continuing dinner conversation while an appallingly bad youth band played in the background.

So cash the checks, write sincere and prompt thank you letters, and strategically and selectively schedule meetings with new donors so you can encourage long term interest and sustained support.  Do not preach, lecture, upbraid, offend, or disgust them while they are supposed to be enjoying your hospitality in celebration of your organization.

Monday, July 30, 2012

No Means No, Gate Crasher!

Graces, you won't believe this tale of woe.  This series of letters, along with my advice will really chip your polish.

Dear Social Grace,

My husband and I live near a beach.  This time of year in particular, we are very, very popular.  People come out of the woodwork and invite themselves for a visit.  In the past we have accommodated these "requests" as best as we could, but we are both getting on in years and have not been in the best of health recently.  We have limited visitors to close friends and family.  Several weeks ago I received an email from a distant relative of my husbands (his late cousin's granddaughter, which I think makes her a second cousin thrice removed.)    She said she would be in our town for 2 days on her way to take her teenage children to camp and would like to come visit.  As it turns out, the dates she offered coincide with my birthday celebration so we have guests coming to stay and a small party planned.  There, literally, is no room for her to stay here, and the events of the weekend make it impossible for me to make time for me to meet her or take her for lunch.   Besides, we don't even know her!  What do I tell her?"

Dear Long Suffering Host,

Tell her the truth.  Or an expurgated version of the truth.  Email her back and say:  "Lovely to hear from you.  It was so nice of you to think of us.  Unfortunately, the timing doesn't work.  We have a lot of family in town that week and due to recent bouts of ill health, we've limited our socializing to a small circle.  Our house is at capacity with these guests, and we have several events planned around their visit.  I hope you enjoy your trip and that your kids have a wonderful time at camp."  Don't emphasize that you are having a party, she's liable to a) invite herself and her kids or b) get angry for an imagined snub.

So, Graces, I thought that would end this scourge, but alas, this poor Gracious reader continued to be hassled..... I was almost tempted to recommend a barricade.

Dear Social Grace,

I took your advice, copied your Graciously-worded email verbatim.   The distant cousin came back with a counter-offer.  "We will find a local hotel or motel to stay in.  But we'd still like to see you.  Maybe we could stop in at some point for a visit?  We are completely flexible on timing and would come anytime that is convenient."  Now what?

Dear LSH,

Wow, that is chutzpah.  You'll have to come back with something stronger.  Try this:  "We are really flattered that you want to see us.  The timing just doesn't work.  We are at capacity and  have a jam-packed week.   We have relatives flying in from out of town and will be organizing airport transportation and various other logistics.  Thank you again for thinking of us, but we simply won't be able to get together."  Good luck!

Dear Social Grace,

Well, I thought the last message would work, and for the next week, I was lolled into thinking that we were shot of this woman.  But her pitstop in our town is upon us.  She just emailed again:  "We will be in town tomorrow and Friday.  We'd like to meet for coffee, or tea or ice cream."  Where do I go from here?

Dear LSH,

Don't respond.   You are busy with your houseguests and all the associated responsibilities thereof.  You don't have time to respond to pesky emails from pushy, persistent would-be gate crashers.  Press delete.

I guess on the one hand, you could be flattered that she really, really does want to see you.  (Or the beach.)  But this is bordering on harassment.  Enjoy your company and your party, and ignore any further correspondence from her.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Yoga Class Grunts

One would think that in Yoga of all places, people would be courteous, serene and mindful of others.  Isn't mindfulness one of the prime tenets of the practice?

Sadly, Graces, my experience in Yoga last week begs to differ.  I arrived plenty early, and secured my favorite spot--one in a corner, which insulates me from people on two sides. Call me antisocial, neurotic, or misanthropic--I don't care.  I don't want people's sweat and exhalation encroaching my pranayama.      Maybe I'd be less picky if my fellow students were the likes of...

Jennifer Aniston in Side Plank
or perhaps,

Sting in a twist.

But such is not the case.  I get someone like this:

As luck would have it, the class began to fill up, and despite my best efforts, the space next to me was taken by my least favorite gym member.  Without being unduly crass, this woman has very little regard for personal hygiene, laundry, and worst of all, the effect that her uncurbed flatulence has on the surrounding atmosphere.   By this time, the floor was practically full, and I really had nowhere to go.  I pulled my mat as close as I possibly could into the corner, hoping that any distance I could create between us would mean purer air for my ujayyi breathing.  Alas, my strategy backfired.  In creating this small amount of space, another latecomer, an old fat guy as it happened, plopped his mat right down, so close to mine that they overlapped.    Seriously, his mat was resting on mine as he looked around somewhere between clueless and obnoxious, resembling a dog as it circles a spot before lying down.

What's a Grace to do?  

Horrified, I pulled my mat up and moved--to the only spot available, which happened to be behind a large pillar.    I spent the first few minutes of the class fuming, but then I found my groove, and thought that maybe the old fat guy did me a favor.   I didn't need to see the instructor; she narrated the poses and I was able to follow along just fine.  Because of the obstructed view, the spot wasn't overly crowded, which I like.  And most of all, I was spared proximity to the odiferous crone.  Maybe I ought to send him a thank you note?

Speaking of Yoga, I was reminded of a very funny Yoga-related remark by a dear friend.  She said, "I love Yoga.  Because when I lie down on the floor in my office and close my eyes, I can call it 'Shavasana' instead 'having a nervous breakdown' and no one thinks anything about it."  Thanks for the chuckle, Grace J.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gracious Guesting

Good guesting practices make all the difference between this:
and this:

'Tis the season, Graces.   Summer is prime time for guests.  This is especially true if one has access to a vacation home, but it also results from people traveling to various places, stopping to visit friends and family on the way.  Mostly this is a good thing; it's lovely to connect and reconnect, and as long as everyone plays nicely in the sandbox, then all is well.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few visitors who never learned the basic rules.

Case in point:  Beach house last Sunday night.  Just shut door on massive crowd (invited by a family member who did not read my previous post).  All breathed a sigh of relief.  Within minutes, that same family member received a text "I'm on the Causeway, be there in 20" from a friend who she had a cursory and inconclusive conversation with 3 weeks ago about coming to visit around July 4.  Despite never accepting the invitation or confirming any plans, this guy decided to come.  He arrived with his girlfriend late that evening.  The alleged plan was for them to spend the night, pass the following day at the beach, and leave in the evening. Four days later, they had not been dislodged.  The crowning moment came when I, mop in hand, bandana on head, sweat dripping with exertion from cleaning up after other people was asked by this Grunt, "We're heading to the beach; can you get me the badges?".  The fact that this chap did not find the mop handle shoved in one of his orifices is a true testament to my self control.

So, in light of that, it seems that people may need a bit of a refresher on Gracious Guesting Guidelines:

  • Accept or reject an invitation clearly and promptly.  Never, never, never show up without a relatively recent communique with the hosts confirming your plans.    Did I say never? 
  • Bring something.  Ideally, this is a gift that the hosts will find useful and enjoyable.  There are never enough towels at a beach or lake house.  I'm also a fan of soaps, cocktail napkins, wine/spirits, nonperishable gourmet foods, board games, and books. More ruminations on hostess gifts here.
  • Pull your weight during the visit.  Buy groceries and cook a meal,  provide takeout or treat the hosts to lunch or dinner in a restaurant.  Take the kids (or grownups) out for ice cream.  Walk the dogs.  Fold and stow the dried beach towels.  Mix a pitcher of cocktails.  We had a prime example of a great guest this past weekend.  Visiting relative who was invited for the weekend called me and said, "I'm bringing something, so you may as well tell me what would be useful.  I know you will get back to me, Grace, so I'm calling you.  A dinner?  Desserts for the weekend?  A case of wine?  Give me some advice or we risk duplication."  I called back, suggested a simple-to-reheat Italian dinner, and this Gracious Guest arranged for takeout lasagne, two salads, and garlic bread for the crew from a local restaurant in time for Saturday night's meal.    They'll definitely be invited back!  Wonder if he's busy this weekend...
  • Come when you say you're coming and--more importantly--leave when you say you're leaving.  I thought last week's pair were going to have to fill out a change of address form before much longer.  Fortunately, they did depart after four--yes, four--days.
I got a kick out of this article from about the 7 Worst Types of Houseguests.  So, Graces, what tales of woe or wonder can you share on this timely topic?

Monday, July 09, 2012

Sharing a Vacation Home Graciously

Hi Graces, I know it's been awhile. Lest you think my silence is a result of an epidemic of etiquette, I am sorry to disabuse you of this idyllic notion.   I have simply been busy working. Writing this blog feeds my soul, surely, but alas, does not feed my family. This working girl was slogging away in the salt mines, so to speak. And I really would have continued devoting my time and energy to paying clients were it not for the epic tales of rudeness involving summer homes and vacation woes that many of you have shared with me over the past few weeks.  This topic will likely span a few posts, so fasten your seatbelts......

As you may recall we are fortunate enough to have access to a beach house owned by my family. This, generally is a wonderful thing; we escape the heat of the city, kids see their cousins regularly, the extended family breaks bread together...the fact that we all run screaming off the Causeway mid-way through Labor Day weekend and don't communicate with each other until Thanksgiving is no indication of the joyful times we share throughout most of the summer. Today's post deals with co-habitation and house sharing. Future posts will address guest behavior, hostess gifts, and related matters. 

Here are some Gracious rules of thumb, which, you no doubt can infer, were grievously violated in recent weeks.

1. Do not invite vast numbers of guests when the regular occupants are all in attendance.  Or at a minimum, clear it with your co-habitees.  Comparing calendars is really not difficult in this day and age--iCal or Google calendar, anyone? Sure, go ahead and invite your therapy group, the mailman, your guru, fortune teller, and dental hygienist--just do it when the usual crowd is elsewhere.

2. Kids and dogs.  Train them.   Take care of them.   Or leave them home. If they are in attendance, provide more than cursory surveillance of said dependents. When both sets of species have resorted to foraging in cabinets at mealtimes and strewing trash, wet towels, banana peels, candy wrappers and other forms of waste on the floor, put down your beer, haul yourself off the beach, and do the needful.

 3. Share.  This means the workload, the goods and the costs.  Writing your name on the Cheerios box is neither Gracious nor effective.  This doesn't mean that every single person has to do a load of laundry or chop the equivalent number of onions.  It means that everyone pulls some weight.  Call me a Marxist, but I'm a proponent of "each according to his ability and each according to his needs."  To a point.  Just because you excel at reclining on the couch and hoisting Coors Light cans doesn't make that your contribution.   Buy the groceries.  Cook a meal.   Do the dishes.   Take the kids mini golfing. Lead the charge at putting them all to bed.  It doesn't really matter what it is, but be sure to do something that makes the day run more smoothly.

Anything I've forgotten, Graces?  Next post:  Gracious Guide to Being a Good Guest.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

I Love You, But I Don't Want To Hear About Your Laundry

Dear Social Grace,

 I have a friend who is wonderful in most ways. But she has one serious flaw: an absolute lack of awareness of how (un)interesting her day to day life is, and she yammers on about it endlessly. If her voice were a bit more soothing I could seriously fall asleep while she drones on.

 She has a near constant need to inform me in great detail what she is doing--and trust me, her life is not that fascinating. I get a lengthy litany of her daily errands, her kids' homework assignments, her parents' ailments, the tedium of her job, her workout routines and her household chores. Aside from that she is a really good friend. She's thoughtful, generous, kind, considerate, helpful, supportive and in many instances, fun to be with. But this saturation is, well, saturating me. Help!

 Dear Saturated,

 I empathize. I really do. No one wants to function as a one-Grace stream of consciousness twitterfeed dump. I freely admit that this would drive me nuts. But go back to your statement for a moment: "She is a really good friend..thoughtful, generous, kind, etc." Let's face it, nobody's perfect, and in most ways, she sounds pretty great. Friends like that don't sashay up the runway every day. That said, it doesn't mean that you have to become a repository for her minutiae. Take tactful, and ideally undetectable steps to combat the scourge.

 Here are a few ideas:

1. Only accept her calls when you have limited time so there is an end in sight. Say, "Hi Anita, I have a few minutes to chat, I"m on my way to [open heart surgery/the Cannes Film Festival/the supermarket] but we can catch up until I get there." Blah, blah, blah, making meatballs for dinner, blah, blah, just ran my stockings, my boss is wearing a hideous tie, blah, blah, blah. "Ok, Anita, I've arrived here, so I'll have to talk to you later."

 2. Call her when you have enforced "dead time". During your commute, say--assuming you have a hands-free device in your car. When you are waiting for the cable guy. While folding laundry--but don't, no matter how tempted you are, give a running narrative of the darks and lights as she might do to you. There's nothing Gracious about spite, and more importantly, Graces are good conversationalists and there is no standard by which laundry talk could be classified thus.

 3. Return her calls with a text. "Can't talk now, but can text. What's up?" It's unlikely she'll regale you with details of junior's times tables if she has to let her fingers do the talking.

Hope these help.

I know the question wasn't exactly about cell phone rudeness, but I love these "cell phone karma" ads.  Enjoy...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hockey Etiquette

Ok, I know that sounds like a complete contradiction. I can hear my male readers shouting "It's a hockey game, Grace, not a garden party!" I know that. But in every, ahem, arena there are codes of behavior, aka etiquette, that should govern people's conduct. Yes, even hockey games.

Alas, the recent bouts between the Flyers and the Penguins have not demonstrated the best examples of that.

To my dismay, I reluctantly acknowledge that fights are part of the game. But Sunday's game saw gratuitous and excessive violence which resulted in two Penguin players receiving suspensions. Good, say I.

But that's not what has really chipped my polish, Gracious Sports Fans.

It's that mouthpiece of mean, that blaster of brutishness, that utter, utter Grunt Sydney Crosby.

When asked about his less than sportsmanlike conduct, particularly in regard to his smacking away Flyer Voracek's dropped glove as Voracek bent to retrieve it, he responded thus: "I don't like any guy on their team. So [Voracek's] glove was near me, he went to pick up and I pushed it. Was I supposed to sit there and pick up his glove for him?"

Well, Sydney, a Grant would have. But clearly expecting exemplary behavior from Crosby would be optimistic to the point of idiocy. I get that in the heat of a competitive, hotly contended, and supremely important game emotions run high. I also get that some of these players have been knocked on the head a few too many times and maybe their impulse control is impaired.

But it doesn't take a tremendous amount of brain power to shut up. And that, Graces and Grants, is what really smeared my lipstick (no, not the hockey mom/pitbull kind, just the normal, tasteful tint that Graces wear for that extra little glow).

Fine, Sydney, we get that you're mad. We accept your antipathy. We even understand your need to 'diss' our guys on the ice. But for Graces' sake, don't make yourself sound like a petulant child after the fact.

That's all, Graces. Now I'm off to put on my orange and black in preparation for tonight's game.

Go Flyers!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rudeness in the Office

A question came in about office rudeness, so of course Michael Scott sprung to mind.

Dear Social Grace:

I need some advice on how to handle a difficult coworker.

What's a Grace to do when:
1. My office mate keeps interrupting me, both when I am on the phone and when I am speaking to someone in person?
2. This same office mate bad-mouths a co-worker... (namely me) to the point of sending text messages to a client advising this client to go directly to the boss without passing through the secretary?

--the secretary

Grace Says:

Oh, dear.

Let's start with question #1. Try this: When the interruption occurs on the phone, point to the phone, gesture that you'll be with her in a minute, and ignore further interruption. If the colleague continues to interrupt, politely say to the customer, "Excuse me Ms. Customer, would you excuse me for a brief moment." Then turn to Jabber Jane and ask if there is an emergency. When she says there is not, then tell her you are in the middle of something and will deal with her issue when you are through. If this occurs a few times, JJ should get the hint. If not, this might be a job for Human Resources.

As to question #2...This is a bit more complicated. But, you can never go wrong with either of these two options:

1. Take no action. To paraphrase an oldie but goodie, "Doing well is the best revenge." If you do your job well to the benefit of the organization, that will speak for itself. (But it might be wise to keep a documented record of the sabotaging acts that your colleague commits in the event that things escalate down the road.)

2. Ask for help. You can either do so via your boss or the HR Director of your company. Let him/her know that you and Jane have had some issues and you want to do your best to iron them out. Request that he/she assist with the discussion. What you really want is a reasonable third party who Jane will have to respect to serve as mediator and more importantly, witness. What you don't want is to come across as a tattletale, so be sure not to trash Jane, no matter how much she deserves it. You need to convey a desire to help the company by heading off a potential personnel problem, not a desire (no matter how fervent it is) to get Jane into trouble.

A third option is to confront Jane directly, but I don't recommend that; she sounds unreasonable and if cornered she might retaliate in more destructive ways.

Good Luck!

Accepting Compliments

Some people say thank you....Just ask the late, lamented cast of Will and Grace:

It seems that we as a species have trouble accepting compliments. I've been asked about this informally before, and I just received an email from a new reader about it. So, it seemed a ripe time to address it generally.

I've riffed plenty on the insulting comments before: "Jane, you look so nice I almost didn't recognize you!" or "Bob, what a cute little diamond you gave your fiancee". Those are complicated; you don't want to make a scene (Graces abhor scenes) but neither do you want to take abuse. However, that is a topic for another day.

Straightforward compliments should be received exactly as they are given--in a straightforward way. A simple thank you is all that is required. If you wish, you can add "it was nice of you to notice" or "how kind of you to say so."

What you must never, never, do is dispute the remark. Not only do you look foolish and inappropriately self-disparaging by denying the value of your new haircut/effective sales pitch/delicious dinner, but you may appear disagreeable and argumentative. If someone tells you that your sweater is lovely, don't say, "this old thing? it's a rag!" By doing so, you essentially insult the admirer by implying that their taste and judgment are lacking.

Many of us are hardwired toward self-effacement. This can be sweet, endearing, and downright hilarious. But like everything, Graces, there's a time and a place. Great to invoke when a friend is feeling embarrassed about a mishap at work--DO share the fact that you attended a business event with your pants ripped and your undies fully exposed like I did last week. It will both make her laugh and make her feel better about her snafu. Not great when your friend is attempting a diet and you carp on about how fat you are--particularly as she outweighs you by a good 20 lbs.

So next time your supervisor commends you for a job well done, thank her. Two little words that will never fail you.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

How to Deflect Unsolicited Advice

Dear Social Grace,

I recently ran into a well-meaning former colleague who shared with me that his son, like mine, has special needs challenges. As our kids are about the same age, it was clear from the conversation that we've both been dealing with these issues for, well, a long time. Throughout our brief encounter, he repeatedly pressed for me to have lunch with him so he could give me his "valuable insights" on the subject. I did not convey any need for such insights, nor do I particularly want his. I was wondering if there is a graceful way to handle his repeated entreaties to have this "very instructive lunch".

I don't mind meeting the guy for a sandwich, but I don't want to dwell on on this topic. Is it completely gruntish of me to set parameters before I meet him?

Grace Says:

Oooh, I loathe opinionated know-it-alls. Especially ones who don't respect boundaries.

No, in this case it's not Gruntish. What is Gruntish is this chap's repeated desire to impart his, um, wisdom to you about a highly personal and sensitive subject. My suspicion is that he is seeking just the opposite; he undoubtedly feels isolated under the circ's and is hoping to connect with someone in the same situation. But that's not your problem. You are more than entitled to retain your Grace status and avoid this uncomfortable conversation by simply saying:

"Fred, I'd be delighted to have lunch with you. You mentioned that you are eager to share your experiences about your son, but I tend to try to keep personal and business separate. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. I'd really like to hear about your new job. It's been awhile since we worked together, and I'm interested in your career path since we parted ways. Let's meet at Joe's Deli and we can catch up."

If you don't think he'll abide by that, then plead the pressures of work and tell him that your dance card is full in the foreseeable future.

Good luck and thanks for writing!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Grace, Overexposed

As I told you in my previous post, Graces, it's been an epically humiliating week. On the heels of my email snafu, I survived, well, for lack of a better term, a wardrobe malfunction. It wasn't as widely watched or overly exposing as JLo's slip at the Oscars, but it was mortifying nonetheless.

Here's the story....

I was invited to a press event to cover a restaurant launch on behalf of the Philly Food Lovers. Thrilled to be offered such a plumb gig--free appetizers, free drinks, and interesting people in the food and media worlds--I spruced myself up and headed over. I had donned a new spring outfit for the occasion: a pair of black, snugly fitting trousers with a black cami, topped with a bright yellow knit blazer. Upon arriving at the launch party, I sampled the food and drinks on offer, took copious notes and photos, talked with the chef, the GM, several of the restaurant's suppliers, and various other movers and shakers. Upon departing this lovely event, I planned to write a favorable review and was quite pleased with the entire affair.

Imagine my shock, dismay and deflation when, upon arriving home, my daughter said, "Mom, you have a hole in the crotch of your pants. I can see your undies." And Graces, I am horrified to tell you that the undergarments on display were bright red.

What's a Grace to do?

Really, at that point, all you can do is laugh it off.

In looking back, I was trying to decide whether my cardinal rule, that Graces Tell (unobtrusively, of course, about spinach in the teeth, unzipped flies, exposed tags, etc.) would apply here. Because the rule is intended to address a condition that can be immediately remedied. This was not the case with my gaping hole. Unless the restaurant doubled as a tailor shop (which did not seem to be the case), the revelation would have served to make me impossibly self-conscious and forced me to leave abruptly, thus missing out on the chocolate covered figs paired with port wine. I suppose I could have removed my jacket and tied it, backwards, around my waist, but in addition to looking unfashionable, it would have left my top half inappropriately exposed for a business event on an early spring evening.

So, in the end, I concluded that ignorance was bliss, even though I was mortified afterwards. And I will be sure to inspect all apparel--even brand new clothes--before donning them.

Have you suffered any embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions of late?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

E-mail Oops

Well, Graces, it's been a heckuva week. I suffered not one but two epic humiliations, and I am here to share the first one with you in the hope that you will avoid similar mishaps. It involves an email gone oh-so-terribly wrong.

I have discussed email etiquette before, but this time I was guilty of the 'oops'. Here's the story:

We have been dealing with a clerical error on our City taxes for over a year. We did not make the error, that was done by a now unrelated third party but City Revenue Department has no interest in the original cause. Nor do they care that we owe them absolutely no money; they simply demand that we file some enormous stack of complicated forms to demonstrate that there was an error made by a third party. The burden remains on us or we will continue to receive harassing letters threatening enormous fines (for zero taxes due), jail time, repossession of our home, and ultimately, the reclamation of our vital organs.

My Grant of a hubby finally found a human being who was willing to answer our questions and he worked tirelessly to remedy the complication (hubby, not revenue guy.) Just when we thought the coast was clear, the accursed third party sent another erroneous piece of paper and upset the apple cart once more.

My patient husband approached his contact in the Revenue Department via email, cc'd me, and asked how we remedy the problem (again). The Revenue Guy sent back a convoluted email describing the regressive and onerous tasks we had to complete (again) to free us of this yoke. Frustrated, I sent back to hubby, "It astonishes me that more people who work for the Revenue Dept. are not murdered."

But I sent it to the Revenue Guy.


Under the Circ's, What's a Grace to Do?

Well, I immediately listened for the SWAT team that was doubtless speeding toward my house. I mean, threatening a civil servant is a major criminal offense, right? I also careened between hysterical laughter at the hilarity of the incident, and bone-chilling terror at the consequences of my action.

Then I emailed an enormously contrite message: "Please disregard previous email. I was intending to send it as a commiserating joke to my husband in light of the frustration we have had with this mishap. I am terribly sorry for sending it to you and sincerely hope you are not offended. We are profoundly grateful for the help you have given us through this process. I deeply apologize for any offense I may have caused and I really, really, really hope you have a sense of humor."

He sent back a curt: "I'm glad you clarified this. I wasn't sure of your intent. No problem." Not exactly, "It could happen to anyone, we're all pals together and let's go have a margarita," but I guess it was the best I could hope for, Graces. I mean Revenue Department Directors are not exactly known for their charm, wit and sparkle, are they. Oddly, my husband has yet to see the humor in this.

I also delivered a bag of homemade pistachio, cherry, dark chocolate bark tied with a pretty green ribbon along with a very contrite note of thanks to the Revenue chap's office the very next day. He came out to receive the bag, my personal apology, and my thanks. He even shook my hand.

So, I haven't been arrested for making terroristic threats to a civil servant. But we still don't have the tax snafu sorted out. And April 15 is a few weeks away. If we get a thorough audit we'll know why.

Moral of the story, Graces? Check, Double Check and Triple Check before hitting Send. If you don't, it can have dreadfully dire consequences.

Next post: my other epic humiliation involving overexposure. Have you suffered any whoppers lately?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How to Say Thanks for a Mystery Gift

Dear Social Grace,

I am in a quandary. I recently celebrated a milestone birthday and was thrown a lovely surprise party. It was a great evening, and many friends generously bestowed gifts upon me. But one gift did not containe a card revealing which of my friends was the bestower. I can't bear the thought of not thanking the person, but short of asking each person if he or she brought the gift I can't solve the mystery. The obvious solutions do not work: process of elimination is out because everyone who came did not bring a gift, and calling the store where the gift was purchased was a dead end; they had way to trace the item. What do you recommend?

--Birthday Girl

Dear BG,

First of all, happy birthday! Aren't surprises wonderful?

But on to your question.

Your best option is to write effusive notes to all who came thanking them for helping you celebrate your bday in such festive and fun fashion. This way, the mystery giver will receive a note of thanks, and if there is any confusion about the gift, she can contact you and ascertain that you did in fact receive the scented candle, cashmere scarf, or Ferrari that she left your as a token commemorating your milestone.

The only other possibility is to have a third party make discrete inquiries, but this is complicated and this is fraught with pitfalls. Upon being asked, those who did not bring a gift may feel uncomfortable and obliged to dash out and deliver one; even if you ID the right one he/she will be embarrassed by the gift tagging error. The person you appoint will have to be something between a True Grace and Mata Hari and that is a rare combo.

Monday, March 12, 2012

You Don't Say, Again

It astonishes me that this scourge continues. The latest form that I have observed is actually somewhat related to last week's series of posts by guest blogger Isa Catto Shaw on bereavement. It doesn't deal with death, but does demonstrate what not to say when commenting on the difficulties of others. In other words, prime illustrations of people who never learned that oh-so-simple rule "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing."

I've seen a lot of really ugly parent on parent commentary of late.....Two examples come to mind in particular, variations on the same thoughtless, rude, and maybe even cruel theme:

1. Parent A has a child with severe ADHD. Parent A works hard to help said child with the challenge, and has made strides through various interventions. Parent B has a child with a similar challenge--in fact, the kids share a tutor and attend the same study skills seminar. Parent B is often heard to say to Parent A "Gosh, I don't know how you do it. Your situation is so much worse than ours. I mean, you're in a whole different ball park."

2. J has a teenage nephew with severe anxiety. One of the treatments for the anxiety was for the nephew to travel alone on a visit to J, experience the successful separation from his home, and gain confidence in reducing his nerves. He did, and a good time was had by all. J's friend, Parent Q has a child with an almost identical disorder; upon meeting J's nephew during the visit, Parent Q pulled J aside and said, "Wow. I'm really glad that my son doesn't have anything that bad. I mean, I'm really worried about that kid. Our problem is very simple and easily fixed. Not your nephew's though. Whew. His poor parents."

In the face of such abject rudeness, What's a Grace To Do?

You have two options.

Option one is to say nothing. True Graces diffuse rather than escalate situations, so the UberGrace simply ignores the heartless comment, chalks it up to Gruntliness, changes the subject, or tactfully removes herself from the situation.

In choosing Option One, and if you aspire to sainthood in addition to Gracehood, you can consider the villains' perspectives; perhaps they think they are being empathetic by recognizing how difficult these problems are. (They are, of course dreadfully wrong). Or perhaps they are seeking to make themselves feel better by favorably comparing their situation to one they deem more difficult. (They have absolutely no right to tromp on the feelings of others in order to bolster their own.)

Option two is to say something. If the diffusion option is too passive for you, or if you have simply had enough, here are some responses which assert your position while still maintaining some Grace.

"I tend to avoid comparisons, I just focus on our situation and wish the best for everyone."

Or (slightly more assertive):

"I'm sure you are trying to be empathetic, and for that I thank you, but that doesn't make me feel any better."

[I know, I know, you are tempted to say, "If you could pry your Joey off the chandelier I'm sure I could more clearly see how much better your ball park is than mine," but it won't do you any good.]

"I'm really proud of nephew; he's done a great job facing his fears and we've had a lovely visit."

"I'm glad you're glad."

[Resist the urge to remind Parent Q that her son assumed the fetal position and hyperventilated under the desk when the school planned a trip to the Art Museum sans parent chaperons.]

Have you witnessed any parent on parent nastiness lately? What did YOU do?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tips for the Bereaved

Today's post marks the third and final in the series by our Guest Blogger, Isa Catto, who has, sadly, become rather expert on the topic of condolence, bereavement, and the etiquette--or woeful lack thereof--in this realm. Her previous posts covered do's and don'ts; today she tackles tips for the bereaved.

Say Thank You.

  • Always return your condolence correspondence with a grateful response on good stationery.
  • Thank those who helped in other ways, like running errands, providing food and other help. Thank you notes are an onerous task, but an important one. Those who reached out to you deserve to be acknowledged, and recognizing the outpouring of support you received can help in the grieving process. Writing those notes helps you catalog all the people you have in your life who are in your corner, and that is affirming.
  • Send a thank you note for any donation in the bereaved’s honor.
  • Acknowledging grace with more grace is a good thing for the universe at large. It is fine if it takes six months or more.
  • You don't have to write more than one note per person. For example, if your neighbor sent you a lovely condolence note, made a memorial donation, delivered lasagna to your house and picked up your kids at school for a week, that can all be rolled into one very, very sincere note of thanks.
  • Don’t forget to thank your nearest and dearest. Your kids and your spouse have been right there with you. Don’t take them for granted.

Socialize when you are ready, not before.

Avoid social settings until you are ready. There is no rush, and it is awkward for everyone when you cannot contain your emotion. And, you're likely to have a miserable time. Choose events that are not emotionally stressful or overly demanding. If you recently lost a loved one to cancer, avoid the American Cancer Society's Gala or a screening of Terms of Endearment at the local retro theatre.

Back to Grace...Big thanks to Isa for sharing her wisdom and wit on a difficult subject. Next up on More on "You Don't Say." This topic is never fully covered, alas.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Condolence Don'ts

Guest Blogger Isa Catto continues with her series on Condolence Etiquette. Today's topic is Condolence Don'ts

Don't stand in front of the person with head cocked and spaniel eyes and say nothing. This happened more times than I care to remember. At one family event, I was approached by an acquaintance who just stood there and I decided to ride it out as a social experiment. After a minute she let out a long exhale, the kind you hear in a yoga class. Her left eye was twitching. Still silence. Our young son needed immediate attention and interrupted us. Which proves that there is a God. That was agony. And really annoying. It shouldn’t be up to the bereaved to read minds or make someone else feel better by jump starting the conversation.

Don't allude to inheritance. This is not your business and only go there if the bereaved specifically mentions it. Fortunately this did not happen to me, but someone did insinuate to a friend of mine that she was going to be on “easy street” after her father died. And since the estate was left to charity, this assumption wasn’t true.

Don't indulge in competitive grieving. This is not about your loss, but the bereaved’s. I had one acquaintance imply that he suffered much more when he lost his mother at age 25, than I did when my mother died, since I was already an aged 43 . I am sure he suffered, but that was not the time to talk about his loss.

Don't offer unsolicited advice. The barista at my coffee shop offered me the name of her psychic so I could talk to my parents. That left me speechless.

Don't urge people to “get over it.” Mourning is a solitary and individual process. There is no timeline.

Don't indulge in platitudes like, "well, life must go on" or "life is for the living" or "they are still with you". There may be some wisdom in them, but they sound condescending and trite. I had woman ask me how I was (how I hate that phrase – avoid it) and I when I replied that I was alright, she countered: "Oh are you still sad?" Why yes, I was still sad six weeks after my father’s death.

Next up: Tips for the Bereaved. What are your suggestions?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Isa Catto, Guest Blogger and Reluctant Condolence Expert

Isa Catto, our Guest Blogger, UberGrace, and Reluctant Expert on Condolence Do's and Don'ts

I am thrilled to have my friend Isa Catto, artist extraordinaire and SuperGrace as a guest blogger for the next few posts on Condolences. Isa was prompted to contribute this insightful and sometimes shocking series as a result of her grisly experiences with her recent and tragic bereavement. As if losing your parents isn't bad enough--she was subjected to some epic examples of sheer Gruntliness. And we both concluded that people aren't inherently mean (well, most people aren't), so we ascribed a majority of these gaffes to cluelessness and discomfort with a difficult and sad situation. We also concluded that a little Grace Primer on Condolence Do's and Don'ts was necessary. So, take it away, Isa.....

Recently I lost both parents, and my mother-in-law, in quick succession. I was very touched by all the love and support, but I also realized that grieving brings out a great deal of social deficits. Many people need a primer about social guidelines around the grieving process.

Condolence Dos

Do say something. Acknowledge the loss with a swift “I am so sorry “ or “ You have been in our thoughts and prayers and please let me know if I can help you in any way with walking the dog, taking the kids etc.” Do not linger unless the person wants to talk. It is devastating when people avoid you because they are too awkward to offer a condolence. It isn’t hard. I was astonished at how many people say nothing, and we live in a small town. Life and death are constants. Don’t ignore the final transition when it happens to someone. Everyone needs support when they suffer loss. This is an opportunity to exhibit grace and to overcome your own anxiety and to step out of your own life. And if you can't bring yourself to say something, then write to the bereaved. (See the next "do".)

Do write a note. Email is now acceptable, but never post on Facebook unless you have absolutely no other way to get hold of the bereaved. If this is your only means, make it a direct message as opposed as a wall post. I had so many people posting on my wall that I had to post back a thank you. That made me very uncomfortable. I later discovered that I could have turned OFF all FB communication, but I am a FB Luddite so I just didn't know. NEVER send a text condolence; this is simply too casual. NEVER send condolence through a third party; people were always sending condolences through my husband or best friend. This is a cop out. Handwritten notes are best, and the post office needs all the help it can get anyway. Writing a note also honors the deceased by keeping his memory alive that much longer.

Do include in the note a positive story or memory about the deceased if you knew him. Avoid discussing your specific experiences with loss unless you are an agile writer or a famous Irish poet. I loved discovering details of my parents' lives through other people's experiences. These memories were a delight and a gift during a dark time. Notes really do help with the slap of the loss. It is a way to honor the deceased and the family.

Do dress appropriately for the funeral. Choose a modest style in a dark color. This is not complicated, folks--a black/navy/charcoal/brown suit or dress for women, and pretty much the same for men. (Well, not the dress). To dress immodestly, or overly casually is profoundly disrespectful. To dress in attire that suggests that you are fitting the funeral in between clubbing, rock climbing, or skiing, is unspeakable. In San Antonio, where my father was buried everyone was appropriately dressed. Here in Colorado, at my mother’s memorial, the attire ranged from appropriate to athletic gear, jeans, fishnets and a tank top.

Think this:

Not this:

Do bring food. It is overwhelming when you lose someone in the family. Good food is always welcome.

Always bring it in a casserole dish that you can part with for a few weeks, or better yet a recyclable/disposable container. I had one woman who was desperate for her dish after a few days and although I really didn’t have the time to deal with her pantry crisis, I of course did. That said, we also received several mystery casseroles, which were not exactly consumed with relish in our household. They were pretty awful. It is wise to find out in advance what the family likes – comfort food never fails.

Do honor the specific directions of the bereaved. If the family asks for a donation to a particular charity or memorial fund in lieu of flowers, do it. It is not dissimilar to giving gifts from a registry – you are paying attention to what the family actually wants. This is no time to be creative and to freestyle. IF you do not know what to do, ask a close family friend. Fussing with flowers and plants when you don’t want them is one more thing that the bereaved doesn’t need.

Do give the bereaved and the family room. Things fall through the cracks. Calls don’t get returned, appointments get forgotten and details get overlooked. This is normal, so be forgiving. When my father died over the Christmas holidays, I was especially forgetful and I just didn’t have the energy to oversee all the kids’ thank you notes and I forgot the neighbor’s Xmas presents, and mislaid two teacher presents. Six weeks after my Dad died I received an email from an acquaintance asking after my mental health. She followed it with a request for a donation to a non-profit. That is really bad form. I would give people at least a grace period of three months. Also, unless you go through this process, you really don’t realize how much time the administration of death takes – it is a full time job for everyone to handle an estate, regardless of size. So accept that the bereaved may not have much time for lunch, book group, or salsa class for quite some time.

Next post: Condolence Don'ts. Have you seen any whoppers?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Grace the Delinquent Blogger

Ok, Graces. It's been a month. First off, let me give a big fat apology for seemingly abandoning you. Secondly, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. February was rahhther busy.

My daughter turned 13, so celebrations began the minute January ended. Thankfully, February, even in leap year, is the shortest month. I also have been busy working as a ghost blogger and writer for a few special clients (wild horses couldn't drag their names out of me--or at least not unless they came bearing very special shoes in my size as an enticement). Until such time as that offer is made, however, my clients' names will remain confidential. Finally, and most fun, I spent the month of February putting the final touches on a bang-up Gala benefiting my beloved Reading Terminal Market.

The party was a smash; guests were dressed to the nines, they danced their feet off, and fortified themselves with the best food on the planet. Most of the merchants in the market were "open"--meaning that whatever your heart desired was on offer for you: oysters and jamabalaya from Beck's Cajun Cafe; to die for sweets from Flying Monkey Patisserie and Pennsylvania General Store ; sushi; cheesesteaks; Basset's ice cream, honestly, I can't begin to catalog the selections. The ambient entertainment was spectacular--face painters (yes, that's The Grace being adorned),a Shutterbooth, which is a great way to both jazz up a party and save on photographers, a temporary tattoo artist, (yes, the heart near my heart did come off, though not as easily as the artist claimed; i used make-up remover, soap, and sugar body scrub to little avail; it disappeared after about 3 days of its own accord.)a fortune teller and body stockinged seemingly naked people who appeared out of nowhere to general shock and awe--pictured here, in case you missed it.

Upcoming posts will include further ruminations on benefits, a series from a guest blogger on the do's and don'ts of condolence (trust me, it's necessary, and I promise, not as grim as it sounds), and a reprisal of "You Don't Say", a topic that, sadly, never is completely covered.

So, that's what I've been up to. What have YOU been up to, Graces?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Four Great Rules

I was at a corporate function last week and had the good fortune to meet a woman who adheres to 4 etiquette rules. When she heard that I write, she was kind enough to share them with me, and I, in turn, will share them with you. Her rules were:

1. Never be rude to someone who can't afford to be rude back to you.

Now, I would probably stop at the 3rd word of this edict, but I realize the world is not perfect. There are indeed degrees of rudeness, and undoubtedly the most reprehensible type is that which cannot be reciprocated. Classic cases of this would be ill treatment of a waitress, a person who is in your debt or employ, or anyone who is in a position of weakness or disadvantage. Rudeness to your haughty neighbor who uses every opportunity to criticize your window boxes I can see. Rudeness to her landscaper, never.

2. Always accept a cookie when the tray is offered.

This is sociable, endearing, and unifying. It is rare indeed for people to be unpleasant when they are sharing sweets. Unless you are diabetic, or have some other compelling reason to decline, such as a severe food allergy, take one. Do not be that person who declines in a superior voice, saying, "Oh, dear, I never eat white flour or refined sugar. I'm watching my figure. But how liberating for you that you don't worry about that. Here, you go ahead and have mine, too."

3. Always write thank you notes.

'Nuff said.

4. Never refuse a breath mint.

This may be offered out of politeness--if I'm digging into the Altoids, I'd certainly offer them around, just as I would with the cookies mentioned in item #2. But it also may be a Gracious way to give you a gentle hint. I'm sure that Caesar salad was delicious for lunch, but its aftermath could be lethal.

So, thanks to my new Gracious Friend for her tips. What are your Rules to Live By?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You Don't Say!

Do I really look this old, Graces?

Has anyone else been subject recently to comments that simply should not be uttered? I have.

First, and this one really smarts--A neighbor helped me out of a scheduling jam yesterday morning and took my son to school for me. She is a very youthful 30 year old, had her two-year old in tow, and is visibly pregnant. A newish teacher at the school asked me later that day if that was my daughter. Which, for those of you who are still doing the math, means that (1) this teacher thinks I am old enough to have a 30 year old daughter and (2) that I am a grandmother.

Second: I was in Zumba last week and a woman in front of me doubled over in apparent pain. It appeared that she had pulled something in her mid-section the way she was cradling her abdomen. Still smarting from my recently healed fractured foot, I have a lot of empathy for the injured . I took a step toward her and asked if she was ok. She responded, "Yes, I just have gas." Well, I was speechless. And behind her.

What's a Grace to do?

Absolutely nothing. (Though I confess to taking a few steps backward and staying there for the duration of the class.)

This would be one of the many examples of things better left unsaid. You could certainly make the case that I did ask--but Grace would have lied. Or been truthfully tactful: "I"m ok, just a slight cramp."

Have you been the recipient of comments like these? How did you handle them?

In searching for an appropriate video clip for today's post, I came across this one--while not totally on point, it gave me a chuckle....and having been mistaken for a Granny yesterday, I can use all the laughs I can get. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

ReGifting Debacles

In the aftermath of the holidays I have encountered several regifting horror tales. From a gifting point of view these rank right up there with the shower scene in Psycho.

The first instance was my very own. I received a lovely sweater for Christmas from "Aunt Evelyn". (Don't worry, that is not her real name and she doesn't read my blog). To my slight dismay, it was a size too big, but I was confident that I would be able to do an even exchange and be rockin' my new cardie pronto. Normally, I wouldn't have even mentioned the impending switch to the giver, but I was concerned that the return might be noted on "Evelyn's" credit card account and she--ever paranoid of online commerce--would fear she had been hacked.

When I broke the news to my aunt that I'd be making the change, she was oddly opposed. "Isn't it cotton, dear? It will probably shrink." I persisted, and reiterated that I was only telling her because I didn't want to flag her Visa. Then I called the retailer. They traced the purchase using Evelyn's name and zip code, and then the CSR read the following: "Happy Birthday Evelyn, with love from Janet." And there it was: The sweater was a REGIFT!

What's a Grace to do?

Absolutely nothing. For the same reason that I felt duty bound to let "Evelyn" know that I was making the exchange--the off chance that the credit/charge was somehow posted on Janet's account--I couldn't possibly proceed. This could have alerted "Janet" that the lovely cardigan that she bestowed up on Evelyn for her birthday had been regifted. So I did the next best thing: I gave the sweater to my mom, sharing the whole sordid tale with her. She was thrilled with this post-holiday surprise and got a good laugh out of it besides.

The next two tales come from a loyal reader. She writes:

Dear Grace,
I gave my father and step-mother a George Foreman grill for Christmas. They had admired ours on a previous visit and talked about how much they enjoy grilled food but how their living space does not allow for outdoor barbecuing. This seemed like a perfect gift. Alas, he called to "thank" us and said: "We're giving the grill to your step-brother Fred because we know he'll use it more than we would." I blame my wicked stepmother, but still....
And the second: I gave a Christmas ornament to my neighbor that was decorated with local emblems (the name of our city and its crest, some iconic landmarks--it sounds kitchy but it was tasteful). She wrote me a thank you and in it said, "I gave the ornament to my daughter. Now that she lives in Seattle, it will be good for her to have a remembrance of her hometown."

What gives?

Grace Says:

These are both instances of sharing too much. Both parties should have quit at "thank you." It is unlikely that you would have caught them in the regift had they not outed themselves, and their unnecessary outspokenness was potentially hurtful and assuredly thoughtless. Console yourself with the knowledge that you are indeed a Grace: giving a present that someone had admired and expressed a desire for is the utmost in skilled gifting, and giving a gift to a neighbor that connotes that which you share (i.e. your hometown) is both clever and meaningful. It's tough to be a Grace surrounded by Grunts.

The moral of the story Graces, is that when regifting, do so with the utmost care and keep your regifting to yourself. Aunt Evelyn didn't even violate any of my regift rules and she was busted--it's a delicate business to be sure. The others, well, they need to remember that ever so simple GraceRule: If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Holiday Horror

Dear Social Grace,
I was the victim of what I think was epic rudeness last week--should this situation arise again, I'd like your advice on how to handle it.

We hosted extended family over Christmas week, which included my widowed father-in-law for a 4 day stay. His other son came with a steady girlfriend for one night. I was in a bit of a quandary--we only have one fully equipped guest room with en suite bath, and I felt it best to give it to "Dad". I cleared this with my husband and his brother; they agreed. Bro said he and GF would bunk anywhere since it was just one night. Happily, I set up the guest room for Dad and planned to give the happy couple my daughters' room which contains two twin beds.

We had a lovely day on Christmas, and when it came time to retire for the night, I showed GF to her room. She recoiled in horror, "why are we in a twin room?" she asked. I calmly gave her the reasons outlined above, emphasized that her BF approved the plan and showed her the way to the bathroom and clean towels. She complained that Dad was only one person, so why should he get the queen bed with private bath, while they were two. She was quite determined that I change the setup. I just walked out. Soon thereafter, my daughter realized she had forgotten her pjs, and popped into the room to retrieve them. The "aunt" stood up, cursed loudly, and shouted "That's it. I'm leaving." When my daughter entered the room, the "aunt" was not sleeping, disrobed, or in any other state that would preclude an 8 year old girl from coming in, but this was clearly the last straw.

She grabbed her suitcase and walked out the front door, evidently planning to drive 150 miles home. My brother-in-law went tearing out after her. Thirty minutes later, the two returned, poured themselves generous measures of whiskey, rejoined the party and acted as if nothing had happened.

We all had an ill-advised extra nightcap and carried on with the evening. Your thoughts, Grace?

Grace Says:

Oh, dear. Hardly visions of sugarplums, that. I'd say you handled the situation with perfect Grace.

  • Yes to giving the elderly relative the most comfortable accommodations.
  • Yes to providing a heads up to brother-in-law about the sleeping arrangement.
  • Yes to showing this specimen to her room and courteously but firmly sticking to your guns.
  • Yes to your daughters generously vacating their room for the visitors.

You showed remarkable restraint in not saying something like:

"Well, if you can't sleep in separate beds for one night there are several hot sheets motels within driving distance, I think they charge by the hour. I can't promise their sheets will be clean but mine are."

"I do apologize that you are uncomfortable with this arrangement; my daughters are sleeping on the basement floor so that you and Bro might have beds; you are most welcome to trade with them if that is preferable."

"Are you hoping to elevate your status from GF to Fiancee? If so, I question your strategy."

But much better to have taken the high road. Let's hope that by next Christmas, Bro finds another companion under his tree.