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!