Jan Polk Original Oil Paintings, note cards, limited edition prints and book A Year of Good Manners by Margery Sinclair, GAFC, AYOGM, Painter of the GAFC


Margery Sinclair offers Etiquette Seminars for Corporations, Colleges and Children.
Her Motto is:   Good Manners are Good Business
Margery currently resides in Annapolis, MD.
Thank you for visiting www.AskMargerySinclair.com
 Please submit your etiquette question via our Contact Us Page.  
The anwers from Margery Sinclair will appear on this page.


RE:   Death and Birthday in same week.

Q.  Dear Margery,

What is the proper etiquette for acknowledging your aunt's birthday the day after she buries her husband?  Or even if we should?


A.  Dear Stella,

This is a tough question, but yes, you should acknowledge your aunt's birthday.  Something like, "Your birthday will be very different this year, but we wanted you to know that we are thinking of you often."

I suggest avoiding a tone that sounds like the circle of life, or that life goes on, and the aunt should look forward to a wonderful, coming year.  The real expressions of sympathy went to her at the time of the funeral.

My condolences to you and your family.


Margery Sinclair


RE:  Knee Benders on Airplanes

Q. Dear Ms. Sinclair,

Did you hear about the airline passenger who was sick of getting his
knees whacked when the person sitting in front suddenly reclined the seat?
When a flight attendant told him he couldn't use the bracket-like gadget,
he refused to remove it. The female passenger in front threw a glass of
water in the man's face. Both passengers were removed from the plane
at an unscheduled stop. 

What do you think of the behavior involved here?
Who is right and who is wrong? What is the general etiquette of reclining
a seat into the personal space of the person behind you?

Thanks for your advice and by the way I love your book,
 "A Year of Good Manners"!

Annapolis, MD 

A. Dear Ann, 

Thanks for your question; it certainly is relevant in today's crowded airplanes. 

The airlines already have a solution for the cramped seating space.
It's called pricing.   They want you to spend more for a bigger seat with
more legroom,  but  the  public  wants  cheap  airfares  that  allow us to
fly more often.

Here's the etiquette answer; I learned it from an eight year old girl who
was sitting in front of me on a flight to Singapore. After we reached
cruising altitude,  she turned around, looked over the top of her seat,
and said,  "Hello! Is it all right with you if I recline my seat?" I was so
disarmed by her charming smile and polite request that I said yes.
I knew what was coming.

Ask first. If permission is not given, don't recline your seat. If the person in
front of you reclines, you can kindly ask them to straighten up because you
need your space. Water does not need to be thrown.


Margery Sinclair


Re:   Shaving vs Not Shaving    (Self-imposed Problems) 

Q:   If you are working towards a personal goal and it affects your professional look, how do you convey that appropriately?  For example, I am currently working on a weight loss goal where I cannot shave until I meet it. How do I convey that to people that don’t know that, so they don’t get the wrong impression of me? 

Sincerely, Leo       

A:   Dear Leo, 

This is an example of a "self-imposed" problem.  By linking 'not shaving' until you have lost all the weight, you have created your own new problem:  how to explain the details of your personal life to strangers. 

I suggest a different motivational goal:  Whatever reward appeals to you on a weekly basis, or a big celebration when you achieve this milestone.  What travel destination appeals to you? 

If someone else had said to you, "Don't you dare shave until you lose that weight!" you would be justifiably angry.  You don't talk like that to a friend.  But it's the conversations we have with ourselves that cause many of life's difficulties.

This is a time to be good to yourself.   Having a scruffy beard will harm you professionally and socially.  Use this weight-loss period to look especially well-groomed. 

One other possibility:  keep the beard neatly trimmed while  losing weight; then shave it entirely for the big reveal.      

Best wishes,  

Margery Sinclair 


RE:  Cell Phones at Funerals

Q.  I was at a small funeral last week and accompanied the family to the grave side service.  My friend was on my right (her brother was being buried).  To my left was a woman around age 50.  Somewhere between the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm, this woman took out her cell phone, read a text, and then replied!

I was shocked, and instinctively took a half step forward to shield my friend from seeing this rudeness.  What is your reaction?  Are cultural standards continuing to drop so far that funeral texting is the new normal?     

A.     I'm just as shocked as you are.  Thank you for protecting your friend's feelings.  Since the perpetrator was around age 50, we can't blame young people or excuse cell phone rudeness by calling it "a generational thing."  Apparently, we are supposed to be grateful that she turned off the ringer and put it on vibrate.

There is more information about when and where not to use cell phones in
"A Year of Good Manners."  See entries for April 14-17; specifically
 "...turn off your phone when the point is to do something other than talking or texting on your phone." 

It's amazing that some people still have to be told these things.  Thanks for writing.


Margery Sinclair


Q.   Hostess allergic to perfume at daughter’s wedding.

Dear Margery,

I want to put in our daughter’s wedding invitations a polite way to ask guests not to wear perfumes or colognes.  I am highly allergic.  I do not want to offend anyone.  Can you help me?



A.       Dear Fiona,

It is acceptable to enclose a separate note with the invitation stating the situation and asking for the guests' cooperation.  This would not be printed on the invitation but would be an enclosure printed in the same style as the invitation.  This is a reasonable request, and I'm sure everyone will cooperate if they know the reason.

Best wishes,

Margery Sinclair



Q:  Cancelling dinner plans to do something else.

Dear Margery,

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 friends.   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?



Ans.:     Dear Dorothy,

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.

Margery Sinclair



Q.  OK for honored guest to leave early?

Dear Margery,

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?

Please help.

Jack Y.


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.

Best wishes to all!

Margery Sinclair


Q.  Are Email thank you notes socially acceptable?

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.

Margery Sinclair


Q.  Why are thank you notes so hard to write?

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.   Thank you note for a thank you gift?

Dear Margery,

Is it necessary to send "thank yous" to party guests that bring a bottle of wine or some other small gift (their way of saying thanks to party giver)?

Thank you.


A.  Dear Cheryl, 

Graciously thank your guest at the time you receive the hostess gift.  It is not necessary to send a thank you note for a thank you gift.  It has to stop somewhere.
Thank you for caring.

Happy New Year!


Margery Sinclair


Q. Daughter cancels 2nd BD dinner party at last minute while food is being prepared. Rude? Inconsiderate?

Dear Margery,

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.

Margery Sinclair


 Q.  Weddings on a Budget

Dear Margery,

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.

Best regards,

Margery Sinclair



Q.  Cover your mouth

 Dear Margery,

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!!

Sincerely, Maria 

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.


Margery Sinclair



Q.  Political Entertaining

Dear Margery,

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.


Margery Sinclair



Q.  R.s.v.p. in announcements?

Dear Margery,

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.

Thank you.


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.

And please accept my condolences.

Best regards,

Margery Sinclair



Q.   Family members cancel out of Thanksgiving Dinner at the last minute. What to say?

Dear Margery,

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.

Thank you for contacting me.


Margery Sinclair



Q.   Which color stole should I wear?

Dear Margery,

Please HELP ME!


I am stressing out about one particular thing and I think you can help me.

My fiance and I are invited to go to a black tie event... I bought a formal floor length black satin gown and I also want to where a stole.

Although, this is where my problem lays... What color stole?
I have been looking at these...

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."

Let me know how the evening turns out.

Margery Sinclair


Q.  Two parties in one night?  Obligations of a good guest?

Dear Margery,

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.

Thanks very much for writing.




Q.  Sending gifts to parties you don't attend?

Dear Margery,

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?

Sincerely,    Kris

 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?

Dear Margery,

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?

Sincerely,  Sally

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.

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 a thank 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.

Best regards,

Margery Sinclair

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?

Dear Margery,

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!


Margery Sinclair

Q: Birthday gift for strangers?

Dear Margery,

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

Dear Margery,

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.

Best wishes,

Margery Sinclair
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