Margery Sinclair (pictured above) will answer your etiquette questions on this page. Please email your questions to email@example.com
The questions are real; however, the names are fictitious.
Respect and Manners are our common bonds......we all want and deserve to be respected. Manners are the first set of tools needed for a successful life with family, friends, and civilized society. Margery Sinclair's motto: "Good Manners are Good Business."
We invite you to purchase our perpetual calendar (also known as a birthday book) "A Year of Good Manners" by Margery Sinclair and Jan Polk, ($27.95. No Shipping charges within the continental USA or taxes on orders $50.00 or more; 5 cent handling fee.) featuring 365 common everyday courtesies written by international business consultant Margery Sinclair and 365 reasons to use the tips. Also featured are Jan Polk's GAFC "respect series" artwork which reminds you to treat yourself with respect. When the reasons change, it is time for the rules to change.
AYOGM may also be used as a journal, an etiquette tip reference book, and as a family heirloom to collect the autographs of family members on their birthdays and anniversaries. It becomes more valuable with each new entry.
See and hear Margery Sinclair in her own words tell you
about “A Year of Good Manners” by Margery Sinclair and Jan Polk. Margery is being interviewed July 15, 2010 by
co-host Tiffany Ogle,
and sub co-host Lisa
Manna filling in for regular co-host Molly Fay from the Milwaukee NBC affiliate
show “The Morning Blend.” http://www.themorningblend.com/videos/98499189.html
Is it wrong for someone who has plans with their family to
go out to dinner for that someone's birthday to call and ask to change the date
so that they can do something else with their friends?
We had confirmed dinner plans with my sister and her husband
to celebrate her birthday. She called
our Mom and asked if she could change the date so she could go camping with her
They did change the date, but I didn't go because I thought
it rude and disrespectful for her to do that, especially to our parents. She says that it was her birthday and she
should be able to do whatever she wanted.
She also said that we could have told her no, but who would do
that. Who would say, "No you can't,
you have to go with us."?
Am I wrong to feel that she was disrespectful?
There are so many answers here!
1. The etiquette rule
to which I think you are referring is this:
when you accept an invitation, keep your word. Don't cancel later because a
"better" offer came along.
This is taught to young children with the example of birthday parties.
2. But sometimes
friends and family feel close enough to ask if other people's schedules can be
re-arranged so they can be at both events.
In this case, your sister was hoping to go on the camping trip and also
celebrate her birthday with her family.
3. I'm going to vote
with your sister on this one: there was
no harm in asking. Sometimes dates can
be rearranged conveniently, and sometimes not.
The only way to find out is to speak up.
The answer could have been No, and then it would have been her problem.
4. This is not worth
your being upset. If your sister didn't
mind her birthday being celebrated on a different day, you can let it go.
5. But in general,
the best way to avoid this circumstance is to keep your word after accepting
the first invitation.
Thanks very much for writing, and I hope your family has a
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
My wife and I are having a large outdoor party to celebrate both my daughter's graduation from college and my son's graduation from 8th grade. The party is a casual affair from 12-5 and has been in the works for months. My son since has joined a summer concert band, one of his few joys. We have found out that 1 of 2 concerts they will be performing, happens to fall on the day of the party and he wants to play. He would have to leave the party at 3 and would be able to return just before the scheduled end of the party. Is this rude to consider allowing him to leave for his concert and come back?
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Y,
Congratulations to you both on the accomplishments of your children. It's a nice family event to celebrate two graduations on the same day.
While I would usually say that the guest of honor should not leave half way through the party, the assumption is that said guest is an adult (who also accepts the benefits that come with being the guest of honor--good wishes and presents). Your daughter is an adult, and she is accepting her responsibilities graciously.
I would cut your son some slack; he and you can explain his very good reason for leaving for two hours. A five hour party is a long time. He will come back exhilarated from his concert, and have more to talk about.
A. Yes they are. The whole point of respect and good manners is to acknowledge and show appreciation to those who provide you with hospitality, gifts, and favors. Send your thank you notes within a week. Of course, a hand-written note is always appreciated and will make you look very gracious and thoughtful in the eyes of your host or gift giver. We all want to feel appreciated and not used.
A. If you are having trouble getting started writing a thank you note, open with the word "you." As in "You were so kind to..." or "You were so thoughtful to..." A thank you note only has to be three sentences long. You can write more if you wish, then it is called a thank you letter.
We have 365 short and to the point courtesy tips in our birthday book "A Year of of Good Manners" by Margery Sinclair and Jan Polk. $27.95 which will help you practice your ABCs (always be charming....especially to family members).
Q. Daughter cancels 2nd BD dinner party at last minute while food is being prepared. Rude? Inconsiderate?
My grandson's 2nd birthday was today and I planned a dinner for him, his mother and her boyfriend, and myself. I gave her money to purchase a birthday cake to bring to the dinner. At 5 p.m. my daughter called to ask if I had started cooking dinner and I told her yes.
She said that she decided to take her 2 year old to a pizza place (Chuckie Cheese) which is geared toward entertainment for children. She wanted him to have a good time on his birthday. I was surprised that she would give me such short notice and I suggested that she take him another day since he was too young to know it was really his birthday.
I mentioned that I especially prepared food for them that I would not be able to eat since I am diabetic. Needless to say, I was very annoyed and decided not to have the dinner on another day as my work schedule was very difficult for the upcoming week (lots of out of town travel.)
How should I address my daughter's rudeness? Would it be best to ignore it and drop the subject? I don't want anymore wasted or cancelled dates in the future. Thanks for your response.
A. Dear Emily,
Thanks for writing, and my heart goes out to you about the last-minute cancellation of the birthday party. I completely understand your disappointment, and agree that the two year old won't know the difference if he goes to Chucky Cheese's the next night. And most important, you had already prepared a family dinner.
But to mention your displeasure to your daughter? I'd also have to ask if this is part of a long term pattern on her part? My hunch is that she will see you as the complainer and that you're not flexible. If you talk to her about this, will it do any good?
Note the difference between 'rude' and 'thoughtless' -- the former is intentional, and the latter is not thinking of the other person's feelings. The etiquette answer is no, do not bring up her bad behavior. The Mother answer is to choose your battles. I wish you well.
My friend is getting married soon. She is only planning on punch and cake for a reception. She can't really afford more; however, shouldn't she offer more for out of town guests?
Ans: Dear Susan,
Thank you for writing. I especially like questions about weddings.
Regarding your friend's reception, she is doing the right thing to only serve what she can afford. I assume the wedding and reception will be mid-afternoon? That would be the best time, because then guests will not expect a whole meal. If the invitation specifies "Wedding at 2:00 p.m. ....Reception Immediately Afterwards" out of town guests can read between the lines and will know to plan lunch and dinner on their own. The bride has no obligation to provide heartier refreshments. That's why afternoon weddings are so popular; they can be followed by Afternoon Tea and still be a lovely social event.
I have a co-worker (female) who does not cover her mouth when she yawns. She sounds like a roaring lion. How does one let another know they're behavior is rude and very unlady-like. I was raised to always cover my mouth when yawning, coughing, etc. Please help!!
A. Dear Maria,
Regarding the co-worker who doesn't cover her mouth when yawning--
Thank you for writing; this is a nation-wide problem and the offenders are not conscious of what they are doing. I completely agree with you that it is a very unpleasant sight. But what to do? This is thoughtless behavior, but it isn't intentionally rude. Your response is complicated by the etiquette rule that (unfortunately) it's bad manners to correct other people's bad manners.
You need to be tactful. Consider this: mention how much trouble you're having trying to teach your child (or a child that you know) to remember to cover her mouth when yawning. You can expand on this, saying something like, "Well, she's learned half the lesson. Now she covers her mouth for the second half of the yawn." Point out how hard it is for the child to remember to bring her hand up to cover her mouth at the beginning of the yawn, and how frustrating it is for you to keep on reminding her. Ask your co-worker if she has any suggestions as to how you can teach this child. People can not change a habit until they are aware of it. Do what you can without embarrassing her. You may get results, or you may not. If not, try to overlook it, or it will drive you nuts.
Unrelated to this, ask a close friend if there is anything you do that is in this category of unaware behavior. As friends, we can help each other out. Probably the smartest question we can ask is, "Do you have any advice for me?" If your co-worker asked you that, you could kindly tell her the truth. I wish you well. You're doing your part to improve the manners around you. I imagine that you are already teaching by example, by covering your mouth when you yawn, but some people just don't notice.
I was invited by a local southern politican to attend a lunch in honor of her at a lady's home, who I do not know. Do I take a gift to the hostess, the honoree or both?
Thank you in advance.
A. Dear Sasha,
Thank you for writing about taking a gift to the hostess of this event, or the guest of honor, or both. I'd like a little more background information, but if I understand correctly--this is quite close to a political fund-raiser, is that correct? Is the goal of the luncheon to help the candidate meet potential voters and therefore (hopefully) donors? And am I correct in believing that you know the politician, but not the hostess?
If those circumstances are right, then you do not need to take a gift to the hostess. Just thank her cordially for her hospitality. Your friend, the politician, would appreciate a campaign contribution more than flowers or candy; and that contribution would be tax deductible for you.
This is "business entertaining" so the social rules of hostess gifts do not apply. If there are other conditions or factors that might change this answer, please let me know. By the way, you can get more information about flowers as a hostess gift in our new book, "A Year of Good Manners" by Margery Sinclair and Jan Polk, Artist.
I would like to know if it is acceptable to include "please RSVP" in an announcement for a celebration of life that is being held a month after the person has passed.
A. Dear Cheri,
Hello, and thank you for writing. It's quite alright to include R.s.v.p. in the lower left hand corner of the announcement, but don't add Please. The "s.v.p." is the abbreviation for the French phrase "s'il vous plait" which is the most polite way to say "if you please." So it would be redundant to say, in effect, "Please respond please." All guests should know that the host needs to know how many people are coming.
Q. Family members cancel out of Thanksgiving Dinner at the last minute. What to say?
For the Thanksgiving holiday each year, we alternate between our home and my wife's sister's home. This is a very small family. This year was slated to be at our home. It was common knowledge and had been discussed weeks before, so there was no confusion as to the plans. The morning of Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law phoned and stated that they were going to a friend's home instead, because he was lonely. We told her to bring him along to our house, but she declined. I already know that her actions were completely rude, but my question is, should I say anything to them the next time we see them?
A. Dear Soren,
What a disappointment to have attendance at a small family dinner suddenly cut in half. People need a very good reason, like a family emergency, to cancel out of a holiday dinner only hours before it begins. There is a difference between thoughtless (accidental) and rude (intentional), and it looks like she crossed the line to rude behavior. You offered a good alternate solution (to include the lonely man).
What should you do in the future? Be tactful. My definition of tact is 'the pleasant side of truth.' Without scolding or complaining, you can express disappointment, that you missed her and the table was not complete. You can also ask what she would like to do for future holidays. Perhaps it would it be more tactful for you to say nothing and let your wife talk with her.
I just don't know if I should go with white or black. I also bought black "elbow length" satin gloves. Please help.
I know this is a minor detail but I am stressing out about it! Also, the ball is October 6th so it is in 5 days!
A. Dear Laura,
This is not a minor detail, and I'm glad you wrote me. I went to the Silk and Sable web site and have to admit that both the black and white fur stoles look great. The choice is a matter of personal preference; you can't go wrong.
Having said that, here is a detail that might tip the scales of your decision. What color are your gloves? If they are white, I suggest the white fur stole. If they are black, get the black fur.
Black and white is the most classic color combination there is. Truman Capote threw a Black and White Ball back in the '60s that is still talked about for its ultimate chic.
Have a great time! Project confidence all evening long; you will look elegant. here is my alltime favorite quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of tranquility that religion is powerless to bestow."
Q. Two parties in one night? Obligations of a good guest?
My brother and sister-in-law have already RSVP'd to my husband's 40th birthday party. This is a catered event with a sit-down dinner, not just a cocktail party. My brother just called me today to say that they will be leaving the party after a couple of hours to go to a 50th wedding anniversary party for his wife's former next door neighbor (they just received the invitation today; they RSVP'd to my husband's party last month). He says her widowed father doesn't want to go alone, and she grew up with this particular neighbor living next dooe (I've only heard her speak negatively of him). They constantly do things like this, make plans and then try to squeeze in other social events they are invited to, or change plans at the last minute to do something else. One Christmas Eve they even called us and told us we needed to delay our dinner due to the fact that they had so many Christmas Eve parties to go to. My father is elderly and must eat early because of digestion issues, and they knew this.
I feel that when you RSVP to an event, then that is your event for the evening. If you get a second invitation or "better offer", that is simply too bad. You have already RSVP'd and it is rude to cancel or leave early to go to another party, unless it is an open house or a cocktail party.
What is your opinion on this? Thank you, Amanda
A. Dear Amanda,
I'm with you on this one. When people have accepted an invitation, they also accept the obligation of being good guests. That starts with keeping their word, and being there for the time specified. Any exceptions (like wanting to be somewhere else later in the evening) need to be stated at that time. Other obligations of being a good guest include talking to all the other guests, dressing appropriately, and expressing gratitude afterwards. After receiving a second invitation for the same night, your brother and sister-in-law should have given their regrets citing a previous engagement.
Occasionally, people can get away with "double-booking" if both events are large cocktail parties. But then, when accepting the second invitation, they need to say "We would love to stop in but will arrive rather late because we are attending another party that same night." That doesn't work when a sit down dinner is involved. The first accepted invitation gets priority.
If a 12 year old is invited to a classmate's birthday party, but cannot attend due to a conflict, should a gift still be sent?
A. Dear Kris,
There is no obligation to send a gift when you are not attending a party. But if you feel especially close to the birthday child, you will probably send a gift anyway. Then it is done out of choice, not guilt and duty.
Q. Phony to be nice to someone you don't like? Cold Formality?
Q. How does one “hold themselves to a higher standard” when confronted with someone you dislike and you have good reason to dislike them. Isn’t it being “phony” to be nice to someone like that?
A. Dear Sally,
About the 'phoniness' of being kind to people you have reason to dislike: It's not so much that you would actually show kindness to them; it's more that you would avoid being noticeably rude or hostile to them. It's called "cold formality." When they greet you, you say "Hello" but that's all. If you are seated next to them at the dinner table and they ask for the salt, you pass it and say nothing. It is preferable to avoid these situations with those who have wronged you or someone in your family. When you must have contact with them, make it brief. You can use polite words, but you don't have to smile.
Q. Two Hostesses - How many gifts to take?
Dear Margery, I will be attending an afternoon party co-hosted by two hostesses. I do not know one of them. Should I take two hostess gifts, or just one for the hostess that I know? Thanks for your help. Sincerely, Joan
A. Dear Joan,
That's a sticky situation, but here is my suggestion: take a hostess gift addressed to the person you do know, and then be sure to send athank you note to the other hostess. It is sometimes difficult to find just the right gift for the hostess you already know, let alone trying to find something appropriate for a stranger.
Q. White Tie Ball?
Dear Margery, Help! I have just been invited to my first White Tie Ball, and don't know what to wear. I am a 24 year old graduate student in Europe, and I can't ask anyone here because they think everyone should already know these things. Can you give me some guidance? Sincerely, Jessica
A.Dear Jessica, Thank you for writing. This is a very special event, a rare occasion in anyone's life, and I am happy to give you the following information:
"White Tie" refers to what the gentlemen will wear; White Tie is the most formal dress code there is. (On less formal occasions, gentlemen wear "Black Tie" which means a tuxedo suit.)
For ladies at a White Tie ball, you must wear a long dress--ankle length. Nothing shorter, and definitely no pants, no matter how dressy they look. Your long dress can be strapless or somewhat bare on top, or more covered--whatever suits you. You should also wear long white gloves, above the elbow.
Make your hair more special for the occasion. If you usually wear your hair down, at night put your hair up. Conversely, if you usually wear your hair up, at night let your hair down. The idea is to look different for this very rare event. It is not just another 'nice' party.
Since the ball will be this winter, you will need a very dressy wrap. This could be a short jacket or a stole, either fur or fabric. This is also the place for outstanding jewelry, especially a necklace and earrings. Even if you do not usually wear make up, this is the time to emphasize your eyes and mouth. A brownish-red lipstick looks more natural than a bluish red. Add some eye liner in the same color as your mascara.
One last thought: project confidence and poise. This will be a memorable night. Enjoy it to the fullest!
Q. Office Parties and Festive Attire?
The season for office holiday parties is coming up, and I'm wondering about the etiquette involved. Like if the invitation says "5:00 to 8:00 pm," do we really have to stay for the whole three hours? Is it rude to leave early? What about drinking alcohol? And when the invitation specifies "Festive Attire," what does that mean?
Thank you very much for your help,
Elinor in Seattle
A. Dear Elinor,
Thank you for writing, and I'm glad to offer the following suggestions:
1. Arrive close to on time, but then you can leave early. An hour is long enough to stay for cocktail parties. When you greet the hosts, let them know that you can't stay too long. A tactful excuse is that you have another party to go to later. This is not a lie if the other party is for the two of you at home at 8:30 pm.
2. Don't drink too much alcohol at office parties. This is still business. You harm yourself if co-workers, the boss, and clients
see you tipsy and silly. Alcohol affects judgment and behavior. Limit yourself to one drink or have non-alcoholic beverages only. And eat before you drink. Hold the hors d'oeuvre plate in your left hand to keep your right hand ready to shake hands. Don't drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
3. When the invitation says "Festive Attire" you should wear bright colors. Avoid the "too-too's" -- too short, too tight, too low-cut, too transparent. Cleavage is not in good taste at an office party. Don't wear perfume. Self-control is necessary because you're still at the office, and Monday morning is coming.
Have a very happy holiday season!
Q: Birthday gift for strangers?
We are invited to dinner. I have taken a hostess gift before. When invited for dinner we were informed that it was in honor of another guest's birthday, (who are total strangers to us), and were told to bring nothing, but just wanted us to be aware. My question is...do I take a hostess gift and no birthday gift, or no hostess gift and no birthday gift...What to do?
Thanks so much,
A: Dear Thelma,
Usually we take a small hostess gift when invited to dinner at someone's home. The exception occurs among close friends who eat frequently at each other's houses; then just take a hostess gift for bigger events.
The hostess has already told you that no birthday gift is necessary for her other guest, the one who is a stranger to you. You should believe her, and just bring your good wishes for that person. However, it was unnecessary for the hostess to tell you about the birthday in the first place. If she had said nothing in advance, it would have been smoother for everyone. The birthday can be announced at the party with toasts.
It's very awkward to buy presents for total strangers--how do you choose? There's no universal gift that will please everyone.
Q: Do I have to send a Hostess Gift even if I am not attending the party?
Hostess l is having a party. Hostess 2 is also having a party on the same night and invites Hostess 1. Hostess 1 must decline because of her own party. A friend told Hostess 1 she should send a gift to Hostess 2 even though she cannot attend the party. Should she send the gift?
A: Based on the information here, I say no: Hostess 1 committed no offense in scheduling her party. Is there more to the story, like a relationship between the two hostesses that indicates the first one slighted the second one in not inviting her? This is getting complicated. Hostess 1 declines the invitation, explains the circumstances, and suggests that she and Hostess 2 get together for lunch.
Q: Unwanted Gift subscriptions?
Two friends exchange gifts each year. Friend l casually mentioned she liked a particular magazine. For the last five years, Friend 2 gives that subscription to Friend 1. Friend 1 has mentioned casually several times that she doesn't have time to read the magazine anymore. Friend 2 says "you can read them later." The question is: How do I get friend 2 to stop giving me a magazine subscription that I no longer care about?
A: There are two approaches here, direct and indirect. She has already tried being subtle, casual, and indirect, and it didn't work. The other choice is (well in advance of Christmas next year) is to ask her friend directly what she would like as a gift and add that there is a new magazine the first friend would like to try for a change.
Of course you don't have to be a Buddhist to know that there is always a third way too: promptly donate the unread magazines to the library.
Q: Drop in Guests at Christmas Dinner?
Relatives called and said they were going to stop by for a few minutes before leaving town. The hostess said ok but we are just sitting down to dinner. The drop in guests arrived just after the food had been served and was still hot on the plates. The hostess invited the 4 newly arrived guests to join the party of 8. They declined spoke to everyone at the table and left.
The question is should everyone at the table have stopped eating and left the table to great the new arrivals?
A: The hostess and the guests handled this one very nicely. The drop in guests called first, the hostess told them dinner was about to be served and invited them to join the table, the new guests spoke to the other guests seated at the table, and left. It seems that the drop in guests understood the circumstances and therefore didn't stay too long. As Tiny Tim said, "God Bless You, Everyone!"
Q. What are the etiquette rules for using cell phones?
A. All the same rules for land lines apply in addition to the following:
See GAFC Tips for Cell Phone Etiquette
Q. Forgotten Birthday
What do I do when a close relative forgets one of my children’s birthdays? She remembers my daughter's birthday but forgets my son's birthday 3 days later. Do I approach her about this or let it ride? My son knows she has not acknowledged it. Hoping for a reply. Thanking you for your time.
A. Dear Mary,
Thanks for your question about a forgotten birthday. I once learned a wonderful definition of "tact" from a student. She said that it was "the pleasant side of truth.." Consider a tactful way of drawing this to the attention of your relative. Perhaps, "Jennifer so much appreciated your birthday card. She showed it to several people who came later that week to Justin's birthday party. We have to be careful, because their birthdays are so close together, to keep the celebrations distinct." The idea is to keep your comments indirect and conversational, not direct and not scolding. If the tactful way doesn't get results, it is also a valuable lesson to your son about learning good and bad manners from other people's examples. Also about the difference between "thoughtless" which is accidental and "rude" which is intentional.
Q. What does it mean when a party invitation specifies dress as "Festive?"
A. It means color. The hosts will appreciate your extra effort to dress appropriately and add to the ambience with some bright color in the darker days of winter. If you do wear black, add some brighter accessories. 'Tis the season for major bling-bling."
Q. Is it necessary to send a thank you note to a relative who hosts a holiday family dinner?
A. Why do we tend to save our best manners for comparative strangers? Family members, the people we care most about, also deserve our expressions of appreciation.
When you have been a guest in someone's home, of course you verbally thank the host--at the table and upon leaving. If you would also send a prompt, handwritten thank you note to a host you don't know well, then yes, send one to Grandmother or Aunt Kathy for similar hospitality. Who deserves our best manners? Our family.
Q. What if the dinner was more casual, spur of the moment, or even potluck? Is it possible to overdo thank you notes?
A. Technically, I suppose it is possible to 'overdo' and write too many thank you notes, but that doesn't seem to be the biggest problem with modern manners. I've never heard of hosts complaining that they felt over-appreciated.
When you have been a guest at more casual entertaining, it is acceptable to thank your hosts verbally, and not repeat your praise in written form the next day.
Q. At a seated dinner, how long do you wait to serve the food for latecomers?
A. If you are invited to dinner at, say, 7:00 pm, arrive around 7:00 to 7:15. The hostess decides when to serve the food, and it will typically be between 7:30 and 8:00. A guest who was invited for 7:00 and shows up after 8:00 is both thoughtless and rude and will likely not be invited again.
If you were unavoidably detained, call, apologize profusely, and offer your very good reason. If you will still attend the party, join the other guests in whatever course they are eating when you show up. If they are having dessert, you have dessert. Don't expect to start from the beginning.
Understand that opinions about how late or on time arrivals should be, and still be polite, can vary in different parts of the country. In military families, punctuality is expected. If invited for 7:00 pm, arrive between 7:00 and 7:05. Just don't arrive early.
Q. What suggestions do you have for hostess gifts?
A. When you have been invited to dinner, it is thoughtful to take a small gift to your hostess. These gifts are typically wine, chocolates, or flowers. The wine will likely not be opened at that meal because another wine has previously been chosen to complement the food. Chocolates are very appreciated by some hosts, less so by diabetics or dieters; know your hosts.
If one guest brings flowers, it's not too inconvenient for the host to go to the kitchen, get a vase, fill it with water, arrange the flowers, and bring them back to the living room. But it sure becomes a nuisance if another, and then another guest do the same thing. You don't want to be the one bringing in the fourth bouquet.
It is so much more elegant and thoughtful to have flowers delivered the day before. Think how pleased and surprised you would be if you were the host, and here was one less thing you had to do to get ready for the party.
Especially around the Christmas holidays, you can become more creative and take a gift for the house or something for the children.
Everyone's holidays will be more enjoyable when we treat other people the way we want to be treated, with kindness and respect.
Q. What is the etiquette of returning a gift?
A. Gifts are tangible expressions of inner emotions. Therefore, rejecting the gift could be misinterpreted as rejecting the giver. Where there is a good, open relationship between two people, it is easier to return a wrong gift. The tactful way is to try to exchange it for a different size, color, etc. Remember that tact is "the pleasant side of truth." When feelings might be hurt, it would be better to pretend pleasure. Thank you notes for these wrong gifts can still emphasize how pleased you were with the giver's thoughtfulness.
Q. Is it all right to have a "gift cupboard" and occasionally do some re-gifting?
A. These are actually two different questions.
Yes, it's very practical and organized to have a gift cupboard. You stock it during the year as you find unusual gifts at good prices during your travels. Sometimes you buy a special gift without having a particular recipient in mind. Later you will match the gift with the right person and the right event.
If you regift (meaning that you pass on a very nice present given to you), you had better keep excellent records. Put a note on the gift with the original giver's name and the date, so you don't embarrass yourself by giving it back to the first giver.
We have all probably been on the receiving end of regifting. When it is done thoughtfully, the present is pristine and in it's original packaging, and it is just what we wanted. The goal is to please the recipient. If the present isn't right for (or needed by) you, it can still make someone else very happy.
Regifting just to get rid of stuff is vulgar, unrefined, boorish, and rude--to name only a few adjectives.
Q. To be polite, do I need to make eye contact with strangers while waiting for street lights to change?
A. When people say how important eye contact is, the underlying assumption is that of course we are talking about people we already know.
Eye contact with strangers on the street is much different. For instance, women almost never make eye contact with unknown men in public unless they are intentionally flirting. If not, their eye contact will be misinterpreted and the man will usually think that she is coming on to him.
Indeed, this is a classic flirting move: make eye contact with him for a full two seconds, and then quickly look away, as if to blush.
Men tell me that they do not make eye contact with strangers on the street. Eye contact engages the attention of the other person. If that attention is unwanted, then don't make eye contact.
There could be regional and ethnic variations on this answer, and I would be glad to hear other points of view.