Monday, January 24, 2011

Nothing is certain but death and taxes

Hello Dear Readers,

I’m sorry about the delay between postings, the last two weeks have been very hectic in my personal life. School started again, and I lost my Grandmother, Mickey, to a long battle with cancer.  Under these circumstances, I hope that you’ll forgive me for my absence, and understand why I needed to take some time.

While our blog this week will deal with something that isn’t modern, per say, it is necessary. At some point in everyone’s life, we will all have to deal with death, and the  etiquette of the grieving process. 

Death, and dealing with death are difficult. It leaves us with a sense of total helplessness, and with an overwhelming awareness of our own mortality. The mourning process, from a cultural standpoint, is ever changing. Every culture has their own traditions and standards, be respectful of them, even when they are foreign in comparison to your own. Regardless of culture, death necessitates the immediate presence and need for impeccable etiquette.

The first rule when dealing with death, is to establish what your relationship is to the grieving family. If you are not particularly close, then it is appropriate to send a condolence card to the family, flowers/donations to the funeral, and possibly attending the service. Please, use your discretion, and read the obituary, if the obituary specifies family only, etc. it is inappropriate for you to come to the services. Also, if you aren’t significantly tied to the family, or the deceased, do not attend the graveside or entombment service, the family deserves their privacy, and the right to grieve freely.

It is appropriate, and encouraged, to bring over an offering up to one week after the passing of the loved one. Traditionally I try to bring over something hearty, and not overly nostalgic, or sweet. I have a wonderful lasagna recipe, that I make mainly from scratch, and have had wonderful feedback with. Be thoughtful, and think comfort food, Macaroni and Cheese, Meatloaf and Mashed potatoes, Pot Roast, and potatoes in general are a great suggestions. If you’re not a great cuisinier, then bring over a lovely tray of fruits and veggies with a homemade dip, arranged appealingly. Whatever you decide to make, or bring, please, please, remember to make it with love,  and yourself/semi yourself. Your touch, and consideration will help the dish convey the things that words cannot possibly say during this difficult time. Remember, the family already overwhelmed, don’t defeat the purpose of your kind gesture by bringing over something that needs to be thawed, or is complicated to plate and prepare. Also, the reason I suggest no sweets, is because they can trigger memories of happier times, “My wife loved your lemon cake, Mrs. Smith. I wish she were here to enjoy it.” proceeded by uncontrollable sobbing that only makes you feel like the bad guy.

Your gesture of food is not where your obligation ends, especially if you were close. You are expected to, at the very least, send a condolence card. It is suggested that you attend the funeral, and make yourself available to the family. Condolence cards should be white or cream, heavy card stock. I really love Crane & Co stationery for these occasions, it is classic, timeless, and elegant. Keep your sentiments in the card short, and to the point. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” followed by a fond memory of the deceased, closed with a restatement of your condolences, and a statement of availability/solidarity.

Finally, I would like to discuss appropriate funeral attire. I tend to err on the conservative side when it comes to funerals. Unless otherwise specified, black, deep grey, some types of navy, and white are appropriate colors for attire. Not prints, not black and red. Black, deep grey, some navy’s, and white accentry. Personally, I  prefer simple black, it is the safest, and conveys undeniable respect.

Recently, I attended a funeral where we were asked to wear pink, because it was the deceased person’s favorite color. When you have permission to wear color, you may. I chose to incorporate pink with a hair flower, or accessory, not bring it into my ensemble colors. My best advice is to stick with black. Under absolutely no circumstances should you, or anyone else accompanying you, dress in casual wear.  No denim, flip flops, ugg boots, t-shirts, etc (living in the southwest is so much fun, we’re always in resort wear mode, yuck!) It may be helpful for you to purchase a funeral dress/suit. I have one, and while it may sound morbid, it makes my life easier, during difficult times.

A funeral is the celebration of a person’s life, it is also your last opportunity to show your respect for said person. Do not disregard their memory, or life, by showing up as if you’re heading for the beach.

I’ll elaborate, as it is my favorite thing to do. Gentlemen, at the very least, slacks, button down shirt, tie and dress shoes. Suits are always preferred.  I also expect you to appear tidy, and well groomed. Ladies, slacks, blouse, and heels or smart flats, or a modest dress.  Be mindful of your nails, make sure they are well groomed (NO CHIPPED NAIL POLISH!) If you have long hair, consider pulling back, and keep your makeup modest, a classic lip and eye are fine, but no one wants to look at Tammy Faye Baker while trying to grieve. Also ladies, a funeral is not the time to pull out your push up bra and low cut tops.

At recent funerals, I have seen my fair share of distasteful mourners.  More specifically, people who belong to a specific scene/lifestyle.  Most memorably, a Goth person and a Rockabilly person. I have lots of “Rockabilly” friends, but there are some occasions during which you should tone down your lifestyle choices.You will always be you, but don’t have the audacity to pay your last respects to Aunt Nina wearing cherry barrettes in your hair, doing your best Rebel Without a Cause impression. It might not be a popular thing to say, but I assure you, being respectful of the dead and the family, doesn’t make you any less of who you are, you’ll always be a special snowflake, even without doing your best Robert Smith impression.

Next week, my darlings, I promise we will discuss a more cheery topic. In the meantime, please, behave yourselves!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rudeness is a Disease?

As you may be aware, rudeness is a disease from which many Americans are suffering. I thought that you would enjoy this article, it is a fascinating read.

I would like to thank my wonderful friend, Aaron, for bringing it to my attention. 

Happy Wednesday, readers!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Delights of Decorum

Hello my darlings! I hope that you had a wonderful New Year, and enjoyed all of the New Year’s festivities. This year, I resolved to write once a week in my blog, and I toasted to you, my readers. I appreciate you so much, and I love the feedback that I have been receiving. Now that the holidays are over, there are a slew topics that we could discuss. One of the most important being post-holiday decorum, so, let’s dedicate this post to decorum, without it, this blog would not exist.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to begin with the all mighty thank you note. The thank you note is the all mighty afterthought. It is one of the most classic, kind, and genuine ways that one can express their gratitude for the actions of others. As a general rule of thumb, you have approximately one to two weeks to send out thank you notes after the gift or gesture. By the way, I am being very generous, and lenient with that rule. Growing up, I was given three days to write and mail my thank you, and it taught me a valuable lesson about punctuality and the importance of considering other people before my own immediate desires.  When writing thank you notes, it’s always best to be prompt. Procrastination often leads to forgetting, or the truly unfortunate lapse of time so impolite that you now have to write a thank you note with a prioritized apologetic tone, and a secondary thankful tone. Yes, there is such a thing as "too late" and then you're left embarrassed, and appalled at your own brutishness. Trust me, dear readers, don't be "that guy." Frankly, who wants to write an apologetic note with a thankful tone? Not me, and hopefully not you!

If you were invited to a New Year’s party, I am sure that your behavior was impeccable. I’d like to give you a friendly reminder to collect addresses, stamps, and stationery, and to send your host a thank you note. I am a hesitantly avid believer that the glorious, romantic days of posted mail are drawing to a close. If you lean towards a more modern air, like many modern persons do, at the very least, send them an email. Your job does not end with the host gift! Remember, these are your family and friends. It would be nice to be invited back, wouldn’t it?

As we discussed last week, when you are being given a gift as a host, or hostess, you are not required to give a gift in return.  While the party is over your job as a host or hostess is not!  A thank you note, or at very least an email, is the best way to show your appreciation for your guests. Unless you are particularly close to the gift giver, do not stray from the mail path. If you are close, then a text message or a phone call (preferably a phone call) is appreciated. Keep your note short, sincere, and to the point. It is best to mention the gift in the letter, and make your gratitude known. Posted mail is always best, and email is secondary. Ask yourself, would you rather be a first-rate, or second-rate host? Also, isn’t it lovely to receive posted mail?

Last week I was asked what the protocol should be when someone gave you a gift, and you did not have a gift to give in return. This tricky situation is certainly an etiquette alert!

Have no fear, I have several tips to help you fight the war on bad-taste. Here are my top three suggestions: keep stationery handy at home and in the car, have home made gifts prepared and waiting in large quantities, and when all else fails, stall! Allow me to elaborate; I always keep personalized stationery in my car, with a nice ink pen, to write quick, thoughtful notes. Around the holidays, I like to have hand-made gifts packaged and ready to go in the car, this year I made organic sugar scrub bars, which were male and female friendly, and certainly came in handy! Also, I’ve found it helpful to have a stash of gifts at home.  But, when all else fails I post-pone. I use phrases such as “I’m so sorry, I feel terrible, but I left your gift at home!” no one can blame you for your spacey behavior when you’ve given them a faultlessly sincere apology. When I have a trick up my sleeve, I say “Give me one moment, and let me run to my car!”

The lovely thing about having a gift closet, and categorizing said closet, is that it allows you to prepare for birthdays, holidays, graduations etc. all year long. A gift closet is a theory, it can be anything from an actual closet to an under the bed storage container. See, mon bijoux, you can be the proud owner of a gift closet!

One of my personal mantras about gifts is that I prefer not to give something that I would not like to receive.  I am a confirmed thrift-store junkie, and I’m constantly scouring for trinkets and afterthoughts, these stores are filled with potential memories to be made. I love giving and receiving pre-loved treasures. Many of my thrifty finds end up in my gift closet, patiently waiting to be loved in their new home. Pack your GC with home made gifts, like sugar scrubs, shaving balms for your gentlemen friends, soaps, hand made hair flowers, a famous recipe of yours printed on gorgeous paper, or, a homemade gift that I received this year (and intend to give) Russian Friendship Tea. All of these gifts say, “I’ve been thinking of you.” and are sure to make the recipient feel appreciated.

On the rare occasion where you have completely forgotten someone special, or of significant importance, use the stall method.  It would be impolite to flatly refuse to open their gift, so instead, say “I would love to go to dinner, and exchange gifts at the same time, when would be a good day for you next week?” Make it about them, indicate that you love and appreciate their gift, but they are so important that you want to dedicate a designated time for them. While in truth, you are unprepared and buying time, they probably won’t know the difference. Give yourself a week, so you truly have time to find/make the perfect gift. When you finally meet, include a wonderful, glowing note that apologizes for the delay.

My darlings, I hope this has been helpful. I am off to write my holiday-related thank you notes. I hope that you will do the same. Until next week, behave yourselves!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bonne fĂȘte!

Forgive me, dear readers, for my absence. I, like you, have been quite busy for the last month, and it took a toll on my blog. I had the most sincere and lovely intentions of writing you a “how to guide” to the holidays, I was froth with all of the wonderful rules and suggestions that I have for making the holiday season as fantastic as possible.

While I have clearly dropped the ball on the 2010 holiday season, I hope that you will accept my apology and we can move promptly onto New Year’s themed suggestions.  That being said, I had the most lovely and wonderful of holidays, and I hope that you did as well. For those of you still bursting at the seams with winter spirit, I hope that you will remember we still have a few more days to eat, drink, and be merry, in the most festive of fashions.

Have you ever heard the phrase “the devil is in the details?” Well, this is true. Yet, it is not only the devil that resides in the details, but the magic and wonder as well. The holidays, and New Year’s Eve, are all about the details.

I would like the theme of this particular blog to be centered primarily around New Year’s, but before we begin that, I’d like to tackle a much more pressing issue. What should one say to properly express our best wishes during this time of year?

First of all, did you notice that I’ve darted around the topic of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or any of the other religiously affiliated celebrations that occur during this time of year? This was done purposefully. From mid-November to early January, every year, without fail, it’s important to be extra conscientious of wishing every single person you see a “Merry Christmas,” while the sentiment is sweet, kind, and undoubtedly sincere, it can be offensive. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, it was a family tradition for us to have Christmas lunch at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. We were often joined by family friends who happened to be Jewish. Meeting for lunch at Canter’s was a great way to share the spirit of festivity, spend the holiday with family, and friends (as holidays should be spent), and yet it kept things neutral and non invasive.  I received a lovely invitation from my neighbors for their “Christmas party” this year. While the invitation was lovely, as was the sentiment of the invitation, all I could imagine was how alienated I would feel if I were not of Christian faith, and invited to a “Christmas party.” I declined the invitation due to a scheduling issue.
 Whenever you’d like to pay someone a holiday-oriented sentiment, just remember, unless you know the person very well, and you know exactly what holiday they are celebrating (if any) “Happy Holidays” sends the most sincere, and correct statement.

It will literally warm anyone’s heart. Saying “Happy Holidays” says that you’re wishing them a very merry, happy, everyday in between mid-November, until early January. That’s approximately 45 days of good cheer, and tidings of joy, wrapped up into one simple little phrase. It doesn’t cost a penny, yet it’s worth its weight in gold. So I say to you, dear readers, I am wishing you the Happiest of Holidays.

Let’s move on to New Years, and New Year’s Eve.  If you have made plans for NYE, be sure to keep them. The last thing one should do on NYE is jilt their date unexpectedly, it’s the tackiest of faux pas one could make. If one has received another opportunity, proceed after the New Year. If you’re going on a steady date with your special lady or guy, be sure to make plans that you’ll both enjoy. Be willing to compromise so that you both have the New Year celebration that you want. If you intend to keep your dance card more open, then be sure to carry some breath mints, and business cards, New Year’s can be a magical time, and you never know who you might meet!

Depending on where you live, this may or may not be a piece of pertinent advice. I have the pleasure of living in a warm climate, where our lowest of lows rarely reach
20 °F. One of my greatest pet peeves about this climate is that people do not dress appropriately for any occasion. NYE is one of the only days of the year in my town that people dress up, even moderately. If you’re experiencing the same problem in your neck of the woods, just remember, if it’s cold, it is cold, dress appropriately, also, dress adequately.  Remember that you’re at a NYE party, not a clam bake. Therefore, it is inappropriate to wear flip flops, casual denim, running shoes, etc. Ladies, a slight heel, or a fancy flat, can make any outfit more fun. NYE is a night for false eyelashes and a new lipstick, treat yourself to a manicure. Gentlemen, treat yourself to a trip to your favorite barber, get a proper cut and shave. When you get home, iron a button-down shirt. I don’t expect you to put on a suit and tie if you’re going to a casual party, I do expect you to present yourself appropriately. Who knows, maybe your attention to detail, and dapper dress will land you the type of kiss at midnight that will change your life. Whatever you might do to prepare for your party, be sure to relax, and enjoy the last day of the year in style. You’ve earned it.

If you have been invited to a NYE party, be sure to RSVP if necessary, and ask your host or hostess if you should bring anything. I do mean anything. Word it like this, “What could I bring to the party?” “Is there anything I could do at all?” do not use phrases like “Is there anything I could do for you” because this implies to your host/hostess that they are not capable of planning or putting together their party properly. Even if your host or hostess says that you can’t help, and shouldn’t bring anything, remember that it is rude to show up empty handed. Bring something thoughtful, a bottle of sparkling apple cider, for people who don’t drink (at parties they are often forgotten and excluded from midnight toasts,) or a batch of homemade cookies, mulling spices from Williams Sonoma, the eternal fail safe, fresh flowers (NEVER carnations or colored daisies) or, perhaps the most appropriate a nice bottle of wine/champagne (it does not have to be expensive.) Moet and Chandon make a sparkling wine (just like champagne, but not from the Champagne region of France) that I swear by called Chandon, and it can usually be found for approximately $10-20 per bottle, if you have a better price range to work with, try Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label. It has always been my favorite champagne, and the holidays aren’t the holidays without it, again, at around $40 a bottle, you’re really getting a fantastic champagne for the price.

Another excellent rule of thumb for that evening is to make arrangements, be it through a car service, cab, or designated driver. Nothing is more tacky, thoughtless, or dangerous than driving under the influence!  Now comes my biggest, and best piece of advice: do not over do it. Last year, I’m ashamed to say, I celebrated a little too hard on December 30, and it put quite the damper on my New Year’s Eve Day. Pace yourself, drink water, take a vitamin/airborne when you get home from your celebration, and get some rest.

Readers, friends, and family, I am wishing you the most sincere, and happiest of New Year’s, I hope 2011 is more magical and wonderful than 2010. Enjoy yourselves, behave yourselves, and most importantly, Happy New Year!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Do's and Don'ts of Public Conduct

Etiquette lesson for the week: Phone calls in public are a definite don’t, as is poor customer service.

I was running errands today, and I had the misfortune of having not one, but two unpleasant retail experiences, both at the hand of rude store clerks. While it was frustrating, I’m thankful, because it gave me the inspiration to write this etiquette lesson.

The monotonous task of errand running is not pleasant for anyone. It’s unpleasant for you, and people working in retail settings. The situation is only exacerbated by people who refuse to show minimal-politeness, by refusing to make their phone calls during an appropriate time.

Allow me to elaborate, there are appropriate and inappropriate times to make/receive phone calls.

It is inappropriate, when you are dealing with a store clerk, checking out, and there is a line behind you. Everyone else in line has places to go, people to see, and things to do, please, don’t be so egocentric and truly selfish as to believe that YOU are the only person on earth who has priorities or obligations. We all have priorities and obligations. Respect for your fellow man should be a lesson learned many moons ago, but just in case, enjoy the refresher course.

Hooray for you, you’ve received a call in the middle of a treacherous line! You’re popular! Rejoice! Oh if only that were true, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It is impolite to the clerk, the other persons in line who do not want to be privy to the details of your personal calls, to whomever may have accompanied you to the store, and the rest of the store staff. Yes, browsing through aisles, and aisles of miscellaneous objects is a tedious task; but, you’re at the store doing one of two things: you’re on a mission for a specific item, or you’re killing time. Either way, this does not mean that you have the right to devalue anyone/everyone’s time, privacy, etc by taking personal calls in public. When put into these social situations, do the right thing, press ignore, and call them back when you have a free moment, it only takes a second of your time, and you’ll have fantastic bonus-karma points awaiting you in the car.

There are exceptions, of course, and that’s why I adore the science of etiquette, it is an enigmatic art...or is it a science? The best example, might be if you are at the grocery store, when you realize you may have forgotten to write something on your list  in that circumstance, make a quick, quiet phone call “Darling, do we need tomatoes?” Get your answer, and end the conversation. But, don’t forget to pull your cart over, and be continually mindful of other shoppers and their needs.

Do not allow it to become an inappropriate call by shouting your questions/answers at the person on the receiving end of the line, or the call segues to something more private, “Yes, she left him for their children’s art instructor!” Audible Gossip in the grocery store, or any store for that matter, is tacky.  Idol gossip in general is tacky. You’re only making yourself look cheap. Your ultimate goal in life, should be to never cheapen yourself, or the opinion of yourself.  This rule applies to everyone from strangers, to close friends. My best advice to you, is to always make your interaction in the most timely, swift, and polite manner possible, and then leave the store.

Now, we have covered ways to be polite in public, but what is equally important as being timely, and courteous, do not be a door-mat. This is a tricky line to walk; on one hand, you never want to be impolite or pushy, on the other you do not have to put up with maltreatment in any situation. Do not think so little of yourself that you should be willing to accept poor customer service. You deserve to be treated with respect, as you are giving respect in a retail or public situation. The old adage “The customer is always right” is unfortunately, a thing of the past, in most retail situations. Be realistic, you’re buying blueberries at Trader Joe’s, not a Carolina Herrera Ball Gown from Neiman Marcus.

I had a lovely Halloween, and I hope that you did as well. My Halloween was so lovely, that I purchased too many supplies at a national-chain beauty supply, I’ll allow you to use your imagination (another etiquette lesson, it is impolite to name names unless completely necessary. It is almost never completely necessary.) I had some items that I needed to return, and I needed to purchase a few toiletry staples; I collected the things that I needed, and headed to the register. It took the staff two minutes to realize that I was standing at the register, customer-service faux pas number one, then, in the middle of my transaction, the store clerk took it upon herself to take a phone call. This slowed her momentum down to the pace of a snail, while not one, but two staff members looked on, breathing heavily through their open mouths, which, ironically, is an etiquette lesson they should have learned years before joining the workforce.
It took 19 minutes for me to exchange two items, and purchase two items. I’m a fairly patient woman, but that is nothing short of ridiculous. This both wasted my time, and tried my patience. The clerk neglected to bag my items, or ask me where I would like my new receipt. She also neglected to say goodbye, or thank me for my time or patience, which again, is just brutish, sad behavior from someone working in a customer-related field. Shame on you, Betty, shame on you for having no work-ethic, or integrity.

My second encounter took place at a national drug store, on the way home, where the store clerk was distracted by another co-worker, who was busy spitting out questions at my clerk, rather than waiting her turn to speak, when my transaction was complete.
One of the most disappointing, and distasteful traits socialized into most american people is a lack of patience. When you interrupt what anyone else is doing, or when someone else is speaking you are sending them a very clear social message. That message being that “My time is more valuable than yours, my ideas are more pertinent than yours.”  This brash staff member didn’t even wait for my store clerk to respond, she answered her own question, by moving my handbag and cellphone out of her way, and grabbing a stack of candy bars that the bag/phone were sitting under. This made my transaction take 3 times what it should have, first of all, and secondly, it invaded my privacy, personal space, and possessions. This is the type of instance when you are allowed to invoke my “don’t be a door mat” advice. You don’t have to stand for such behavior. I intend to call the store manager, and suggest that he discuss what appropriate and inappropriate behaviors are with is staff. Large companies are often guilty of allowing, accepting, or teaching deplorable behaviors to their staff, their ultimate goal is the mighty dollar. In my personal opinion, my dollars are valuable, and can easily be spent elsewhere, perhaps in a store with polite staff! Every day is election day in retail, my darlings, always keep that in mind! Take your business elsewhere, if you’re not happy, I know that I will!

It is easy to become resentful of the fact that because I’m clearly in my early 20’s I am not treated with respect, the way that a patron in their 80’s would be afforded. The reason for this, is that people understand young persons will accept, and expect poor treatment, because they generally don’t command, or understand the difference. I urge you to take a stand, and, like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

Good taste isn’t about money, or status, it is a matter of knowing the difference between the meanings of the words class, or classless, and living those differences, even when there is no “reward” for doing so. Having class in a classless nation is its own reward.

I hope that you’re having a wonderful week, and you’ve enjoyed our lesson. The holiday season is approaching, I am coming up with some really lovely, and exciting holiday related topics to discuss. Until week meet again, behave yourselves!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


My name is Josie, I am the product of fastidiously meticulous manners sticklers. I was raised in arguably, the most traditional, not traditional home in the Western-united states, where my lessons on etiquette began almost at birth. I am now a college student, writer, makeup artist, daughter, friend, girlfriend, and consummate lady, always on manners  patrol.

I loved my daily etiquette lessons, I reveled in the idea of becoming a more polished young lady. As I got older, I realized, and was appalled by my peer group and their general total and utter lack of manners. I loathe that we live in a society that promotes and rewards bad and or poor behavior, I want to do everything in my immediate power to change that. Whatever happened to codes of conduct, or self pride?

I have had a life-long love affair with everything “old” I am guilty of loving everything from vintage  literature, film, clothing, architecture, and of course, life-style patterns and behavior. Previous generations valued manners and etiquette in the highest of esteems,  a system that transcended breeding, background, or financial means.

I believe that there is a happy medium, there is a way to conduct yourself as a lady or a gentlemen in the 21st century without being a drag, or a stick in the mud. I hope to be your guide on your fabulous manner-minded journey.

I believe in the power of please, and thank you’s, of hand written notes, or at the very least an email, about considering “dated” etiquette practices, and reviving them to be practical in our daily lives. I believe that good-manners can save the world.

Let’s save the world together, I will explain actual scenarios from my week, you’ll ask me questions, and every week I will commit to answering  the scenario with a modern, younger, twist. I promise to serve up my advice with garnishings of style, taste, and good humor.

I look forward to getting to know you, Polite Patrol. Until we meet again, behave yourself!