Tag Archives: Emily Post

To the letter

I don’t know about you, but I sense an uncomfortable tension between traditional etiquette and contemporary reality. Nowhere is it more palpable to me than on a Christmas card envelope.

Every year I find different ways of reconciling my respect for proper etiquette with the realities of modern relationships. Last night, the tension kept me awake, as I revisited hundreds of envelopes in my head.

One of the virtues of etiquette is that it gives us clear rules and bright lines between what is proper and what isn’t. I do try to adhere to these, as it saves me from making erroneous judgment calls.

However, the rules were written at a time when households were composed of traditional relationships, typically, a mister and a missus and some children.

One rule I follow strictly is placing a prefix before a name. I’d never address a letter to “John and Mary Smith.” Never. Etiquette calls for “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith” and I follow that.

I’d also never address a birthday card to “Mary Smith.” But here’s where it gets a little dicey. In the old days, the proper way to address a letter to Mary would have been “Mrs. John Smith.” Nowadays, I’d be inclined to write “Ms. Mary Smith,” especially if Mary were on the younger side. But never “Mrs. Mary Smith,” though that has become accepted.

Our Christmas card list is made up of all sorts of exceptions to the rule. This is worth celebrating, because it shows the rich diversity of our friends, their professional accomplishments and living situations.

But therein lies the tension. What if the husband is a mister but his wife is a doctor? Or the wife uses her maiden name? Does one address a couple as “Mr. and Dr.?” No, because etiquette requires use of the husband’s name, so it doesn’t match up:  “Mr. and Dr. John Smith” is incorrect because John isn’t the doctor; Mary is. If the two went by the same last name, then it would be “Mr. John Smith and Dr. Mary Smith.” If Mary uses her maiden name, then it would be “Mr. John Smith and Dr. Mary Jones.” One line or two?

What about a same-sex couple? One wouldn’t say “Mr. and Mr. Baxter” if they don’t share a last name. Even so, whose first name would be used?  What I do is put one person’s name on the first line, usually the one I know better:  Mr. William Brown and Mr. Robert Green. Or both names on the first line if they fit. 

What if one member of the couple has a military title but the two have different last names? Or what if they share a last name but the woman is the military officer? Mr. and Captain? Who, the man or the woman? What if one is a judge?

When addressing a family, I typically address the envelope to “The Nelson Family” (even when the family is one parent and one child) and inside say “Dear Richard, Martha, Bobby, Billy and Betty, comma. Notice I said “Dear.” That’s how letters and cards are addressed. Not “Richard, Martha, Bobby, Billy and Betty.” Let’s not let “Dear” fade away. Please.

In addressing my cards, I encountered instances in which I did not know all the children’s names. Lacking clear guidance, I simply said, “Dear Richard, Martha and family.” Tacky, I know, but that’s all I knew to do.

As an empty-nester, I pondered whether or not to sign my son’s name to our card. I probably shouldn’t have, but I did. What if the addressees’ children have left the nest? Are their names included any longer?

These issues weighed heavily on my mind at three o’clock this morning. The cards are going in the mail today, so there’s not much I can do this year. Next year maybe I’ll keep the rules handy with the master list.

I don’t hear anyone else worrying about these issues. Am I alone in my tension? I suspect the people who wear white shoes and pants between Labor day and Memorial Day will say that times have changed and we should just do whatever is easier. And truly, dropping prefixes and titles is easier. But I can’t do it. I am conditioned for convention, predisposed toward politesse. And sleepy.



Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Holidays

Validation at last

I cracked open the new issue of Vanity Fair, which was fresh from the mailbox. I got as far as page 96, the October 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll, and found a teensy ray of sunshine. Which, by the way, I needed after reading Graydon Carter’s unusually grim editor’s letter.

If you’re a regular VF reader, then you know it shows how Americans weigh in on the poll’s 10 or so issues each month.

This time, 847 people answered questions on topics ranging from the war in Afghanistan to the likelihood that Sarah Palin would make an effective president; whether tanning salon services should be taxed and the extent to which Mel Gibson’s bad behavior would influence moviegoers’ seeing his latest movie.

Only 37 percent of those responding to the poll said they knew who Emily Post was and what she was known for. As sad as I am about the downward spiraling of etiquette awareness, I am not going to dwell on that here.

Why? Because I am so darned encouraged by the answers to another poll question.

The third question of the poll asked participants, “Of the following, which one do you think is the most overused word in the English language today?” The choices were “like,” “awesome,” “tweet,” “organic” and “hope.”

The top choice was [drumroll] “like.” Finally, it’s not just I being critical and whiny. Others’ ears are aching too.

As if I were not pleased enough to see acknowledgement that this nothingness word has run amok, here’s the cherry on top. Among those who said “like” is the most overused word in the English language, more than twice as many respondents were ages 18 to 44 as were 45 or older. Way to go, young people. Awesome. There is hope. Organic hope. Like, I’m so going to tweet it from the rooftops.

I’ll be optimistic that all of us who believe “like” is overused will stand up and take immediate steps to curb it. Let’s begin with not using “I’m like” in lieu of “I said,” shall we? Then maybe we can aim for good stats from the under 18 crowd.

Now please don’t go and burst my bubble by telling me that 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Beauty and Fashion, Movies, Television and Radio, News, Politics, Reading, Technology and Social Media

Mind your manners

This may not come as much of a surprise, but I am kind of an etiquette geek.

I defer to conventions and rules established so long ago that, in modern times, they might seem outmoded.

While some rules of etiquette might seem superfluous, in my mind, most are in place for much the same reason Emily Post or Miss Manners might argue—that they preserve civilized co-existence with our fellow humans. My words, not theirs, but you get the gist.

One realm in which greater awareness of etiquette is sorely needed is air travel. A quick Internet search revealed more than a dozen sites addressing air travel etiquette, so people and institutions are definitely spreading the word.

Mostly these sites address the obvious:  don’t kick the seat in front of you, don’t throw trash on the floor of the plane, don’t try and repack your suitcase before hefting it into the overhead bin while 75 passengers wait in the aisle behind you.

As a seasoned business traveler, I do not intend to be a snob; in fact, I go out of my way to be helpful to those who aren’t so accustomed.

However, I do believe just a few simple acts of civility would ease an already tense process; or at least keep us from wanting to mutilate each other with the tweezers that eluded security.

  1. Please dress appropriately. Whether in the gate area or a cramped coach cabin, we can’t avoid extreme closeness. So we should not be forced to look at the bare-fleshed, hairy legs or the unpedicured toes of strangers. Ladies and gentlemen alike, when you sit down, your shorts ride up. Most of us were brought up to dress for travel; I’d wear white gloves if I could find them to fit my freakishly large hands. Please save the shorts and flip-flops for your beach destination.
  2. Walk as you would drive, on the right side of the concourse. If you feel the need to stop cold, please pull off to the side. You wouldn’t stop your car in the middle of the freeway without pulling over to the shoulder. The pedestrian behind you, trying to make it from Gate A2 to Gate E58 in 10 minutes’ time, may rear-end you right in the knees.
  3. Do you really need to bring your bed pillow? I understand if you have a small pillow for your orthopedic need or a support cushion around your neck. People have told me they take their own pillows when they travel because they don’t trust the cleanliness of hotel pillows. So now when you get to your hotel, your pillow will be encrusted in airplane cooties.  Plus, it makes you look like a goofball.
  4. The universal armrest rule:  the one on the right is yours.
  5. If you notice someone sleeping during the boarding announcements, please tap her on the shoulder.

Please note:  Word Nymph is currently combining business with pleasure. Her pleasure accommodations have technological limitations that may inhibit timely blogging. Perhaps there’s a local Panera.


Filed under Rants and Raves, Travel