When the three disgraces — Paris, Britney and Lindsay — bared their bits for the paparazzi, it sparked a media blitz. Despite their wealth and fame, this trio are mere paupers in the comportment department. (“Poor things!”) Etiquette consists of firm rules made by others who have come before you, telling you to do this and not do that on specific occasions, says Letitia Baldrige, the former chief of staff to Jacqueline Kennedy and author of Taste: Acquiring What Money Can’t Buy. “Manners help you create order out of chaos, make people feel comfortable and bring pleasure to others.” ELLE asked the grande dame of decorum to guide us through some sticky social dilemmas.
Your husband’s boss has had one too many at your cocktail party and is becoming lecherous — with you. How do you defuse the situation?
Tip off your husband or a friend and proceed to the kitchen together, where you become intensely busy preparing more drinks. The presence of your protector hovering over you will discourage the amorous advances of your husband’s boss; if it doesn’t, tell your husband to look for another job at once.
A new friend sends you a gorgeous bouquet to display at your party that evening, but you’re allergic to flowers. What do you do?
Hail a taxi and tell the driver to bring the flowers to the nearest hospital. Tell your friend that you sent them there because they were so magnificent and that they’ll shed light and joy on many people.
When you meet for lunch, you notice that your friend never pays half the bill. The last time you met up in a group, she paid even less. How do you call her on it?
Your friend needs a simple lesson in math, so you can be the one to give it to her. Carefully divide the bill up into equal parts and announce to one and all what each person’s share is. If she still shortchanges you, only meet her for breakfast at a very inexpensive fast-food joint — she just might catch on.
Your friend is a fashion victim with a tendency to throw all the season’s trends into the mix. When you go out with her, people stare and snicker. How can you steer her toward a more stylish look?
You can’t inspire anyone with your good fashion sense in one or two tries. Maybe someone could anonymously buy a semester or two of schooling for her at a good fashion institute.
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Someone drips red wine on your antique rug. She tries to mop it up but just makes it worse. When she confesses, she doesn’t offer to have the rug cleaned. What do you do?
You’re stuck with this one. If a guest offers to have the wine-stained rug cleaned, she just might take it to a second-rate cleaner. Just chalk it up to bad luck, remind yourself that it could have been worse and don’t let the guests think your party has been ruined. Stiff upper lip and all that….
During dinner, someone drops a hot-button political issue into the conversation. You’ve invited a number of argumentative types with wildly different beliefs. How do you steer the conversation away from social Armageddon?
First of all, you should be knowledgeable enough not to invite all those quarrelsome types together to a meal in your house! Second, you might begin the dinner party with a toast: ‘Here’s to all of my sensitive guests who are not going to even consider starting a political argument tonight. The first one who does will be asked to go to the kitchen and begin loading the dishwasher!’
You’re in an art gallery with friends. They brought their children, who — bored — are acting loud and obnoxious. Your friends won’t step in. What do you do?
Bribe the kids with a game. Gather them around and say, ‘I have a nice crisp $10 bill and I’m going to give it to whichever one of you is the quietest for the next hour. See that guard over there? I’m going to have him report back to me about the four of you.’
Your mother-in-law keeps criticizing you in front of your guests at your party. How do you handle it?
For your next party, arrange for a friend to take her to a show she’d like to see — and keep doing it as many times as you can get away with it!
You’re at a house party and walk in on your friend’s husband in a clinch — with a man. Do you tell your friend?
No, you should say nothing to your friend. But you may want to say something like ‘You know, I just saw something I absolutely didn’t see!’ to the man you caught in the act.
A friend always talks about herself but never asks about you. How do you make the conversation more balanced?
The way to solve this problem is to find another friend — before you die of boredom.
You’ve invited a friend over for dinner at your home several times and she never offers to bring anything — nor does she call and thank you the next day. How do you call her on this?
Personally, I think that when someone invites you to dinner, you don’t have to bring anything other than your witty, grateful self. But the absence of a telephone call, email or handwritten note to the host afterward is just plain-and-simple bad manners!
It’s freezing outside. You want to wear your grandmother’s vintage mink coat, but all your friends are anti-fur. You decide to risk it, but you bump into a pal on the subway. What do you say?
Just tell your friend that it’s your grandmother’s vintage fur coat and that you’re proud to be wearing it. Mention that ‘this coat could tell many wonderful stories.’ If your friend is rude enough to make a remark after you say that, tell her that it’s obvious she wasn’t lucky enough to have a grandmother like yours and you feel very sorry about that!
You’re having a very bad hair day, so you wear a charming cloche hat to work. When you get there, you remember that you have to attend an important business lunch. Do you keep the hat on?
Yes, keep the chic hat on for lunch — you’ll be a sensation. Tell everyone that you’ve decided to start a new trend: wearing a hat to lunch.
Your neighbour keeps her air-con on while she’s away on vacation and doesn’t bother to recycle. How can you encourage her to reduce her carbon footprint?
Give her an anonymous gift of one or two excellent DVDs on saving the environment. Maybe she’ll watch them!
You are walking along and notice that the person in front of you has just thrown his litter on the ground. Do you say something?
Rush ahead, pick up his cast-off litter and say, ‘You dropped this, and I know you want to do something with it — at least, I hope you do!’
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