Archive for the 'etiquette' Category


getting married in a hurry

Reader E. E. writes:

I have two friends who are eloping and it really bothers me. I just don’t think they’ve thought it through. She’s not pregnant (that I know of) and I just don’t think it’s wise to rush into a marriage, especially given the current divorce rate. How do I get them to think about it?

Dear E.E.:

By the time two people have announced they’re getting married, it’s far too late in the game to tell them they need to “think it over”. In fact, the more you tell them you don’t approve, the more likely they are to go through with it and just not invite you to the ceremony or the after party.

Telling someone you don’t think they should get married is just like telling a friend you don’t like their significant other — it’s going to drive a wedge between you. People who have decided to get married are every bit as headstrong as people who are dating, if not more so. If you are that certain that this elopement is going to completely ruin their lives and you’re willing to sacrifice your friendship over it, then by all means, tell them.

One ring to rule them all

Image: vichie81 /

If you were a parent or direct relation to the engaged parties, your say might have a little more weight. You could withhold inheritance money or something. And in fact, if it’s really that serious to you, saying you can’t be friends with them if they’re making this decision might sway them, although I doubt it.

I can understand your concern, of course. According to every statistic out there, our generation takes marriage about as seriously as we take reality TV (by which I mean, not at all). Britney Spears can do it in Vegas and get it annulled six hours later; gay people aren’t allowed to do it; half our friends and family members have gone through divorce, and it’s never easy or pretty, even if it’s mutual.

But don’t believe for a minute that eloping means they’re not taking marriage seriously or that they haven’t thought it through.

First of all, the fact that they’re not having a giant, stressful wedding could be a life saver for their relationship. We put a lot of pressure on people to make their wedding days the best days of their lives, and sometimes that’s a death knell.

Second, the length of an engagement is not a good gauge for a couple’s commitment level. We all know stories about people who met and got married within a week and are still together 50 years later. It’s not how long you’ve known each other that makes a marriage last; it’s how willing you are to work on staying together.

Third,  they’re adults, and you have to let them make their own decisions, whether it’s going to be a complete mistake or the best idea they’ve ever had.

Finally, try to take a step back and see if you feel like they shouldn’t married because you wouldn’t be ready in this situation, or because you really think they’re not ready. Your feelings on marriage are your own for your own reasons, and they’re perfectly valid, but remember: you’re not the one getting married. I think you will have a much better time with this if you ask your friends their reasons for getting married rather than telling them you think they’re too hasty, which comes across as judgmental. Talking with them about their reasons for such a quick wedding might actually put your mind at ease; just don’t plan on your input changing their minds at all.

My best advice: be happy for them. Whether they’re going to last together or not, they’re going to need your support and love, and that’s all there is to it.


the holiday party dress code

Reader E. G. writes:

My boyfriend’s office holiday party is next weekend. Being a dude, he has no idea what the dress code is, and I don’t know any of his coworkers. It’s the holidays, so I want to get dolled up, but I don’t want to overdo it. What do you recommend I wear?

Dear E.G.:

As a lady, it can be difficult to toe the line between well-dressed and over-dressed, as you obviously know. But usually if there wasn’t a formal paper invitation that clearly states “black tie”, you are more likely to be risking overdressed more than under.

I’m sorry your boyfriend doesn’t provide you with the need-to-know dress code thing. Not all guys are that socially careless, just so you know. But typically, guys who don’t know or don’t care about dress codes tend to work in offices that also don’t care so much about dress codes, so there’s your next clue.

Um, yeah, it would have been nice to know it was a "Saturday Night Fever" them, thanks.

Image: photostock /

My very best advice to you is to wear whatever you do with utter confidence, even if you find you’re the only one there in a skirt and heels. If you’re not embarrassed about what you’re wearing, it’s unlikely anyone else will be, either. You want to get dolled up? Do it, and don’t look back. If you stay in the upper to middle ground of “dressed up” and avoid the ballgown or sweat pants extremes of the spectrum, you’ll probably be fine.

Also, take a cue from wherever the party is taking place. If they’re holding it in the office, be prepared for people to wear whatever they wear to the office (in this case, I’m guessing jeans and polos, max). If it’s at a restaurant, you can probably assume things will be on the nicer side. The location is information I’m sure your boyfriend will be happy to provide.

Wherever or whatever the party ends up being, here are a few ideas to help you blend in while allowing yourself the opportunity to dress up, whether this party ends up being a classic New Mexican “well, you could wear your dress boots, I guess” barbecue or a more upscale sort of soirée:

– Wear a dress. Unless you’re the kind of girl that never wears a dress, in which case, wear nice slacks that aren’t jeans. Skip the suited look, however, because that can make you look like you simply can’t leave your own office. You can typically get away with a cocktail dress that’s at or above the knee — a longer dress can edge into “over done” territory pretty fast.

– Keep it simple, but don’t be afraid of fun, classy, party-ready textures. A simple shift or a-line dress can be completely glamorous in the right material, like silk chiffon, taffeta, or lace. There are sequins and patterns all over the place right now, so go for it. Plus, if you don’t know any of his other coworkers, they may just assume you’re always this chic and well-dressed.

– Use your accessories to really shine. Carry your best bag, wear your good jewelry, and put on those heels you never wear. Your good pearls can dress up a tee shirt dress, and a sparkly belt can take your office job sheath to festive party in a snap. Get a cocktail ring and bling your way through the evening. And if you feel overdressed, you can easily remove accessories easily to take it down a notch. (But c’mon, who wants to do that?)

– Wear red lipstick and get your nails did. If you read any of the fashion mags, red lips are apparently the only thing anyone is doing these days — it’s like 1945 out there. If you wanna’ add a bit more sparkle to your evening, paint your nails in one of those glitter colors that are lining the shelves at salons. It may take you back to fifth grade, but that’s partially what the holidays are about anyway. Or put a little shimmer on your eyelids. And remember that a little goes a long way. As in, don’t go smoky glitter eyelids + red lipstick + glitter nails + body glitter + sequin dress. Let one or two elements speak out and keep everything else neutral.

– Smile. Meeting your boyfriend’s coworkers can be like meeting his parents. Decide before you get there that you’re going to have a good time, and that if you’re the overdressed arm candy for the evening, it’ll be a great story for the grandkids, even if they don’t end up being this boyfriend’s grandkids.


a little potluck etiquette

Reader E.W. writes:

It’s potluck season! Can you please write a post about etiquette for these gatherings? Not for me, for my clueless friends.

Dear E.W.:

Why, sure!

Potlucks are supposed to be a way for a host or group to diffuse the burden of feeding the group among the group’s members. That way, no one person has to do all the work. (That’s the goal, anyway.)

If you are invited to a potluck, be prepared to bring a dish. If you’re a good cook, it’s your time to shine. Prepare to make that thing you make that everyone loves. If you’re not a good cook, prepare to order something from your favorite bakery/deli/bbq joint and bring it with you.

If you are hosting a potluck, be gracious. Prepare something big so that if the people in your group don’t read my blog, you can feed them anyway. The world is full of mooches who don’t recognize their own mooching, and they probably have a great rationale for why they don’t bring food with them (I’m a bad cook; everyone else makes more money than I do; whatever). Appreciate their company if nothing else. The only thing you can do to a shitty potlucker is not invite them to the next potluck.

For you shitty potluckers who don’t want to get kicked out: You probably run with a group of people who do potlucks all the time. Think of the people who consistently bring good food. What do they bring? Can you ask them for advice? And can you relieve them of the inevitable “I’m the provider” fatigue that accompanies being the person who always brings good food to the potluck?

Here are a few good pointers to being invited back:

My potlucks never look like this.

Image: Rosen Georgiev /

Make a main dish or at least an exciting and substantial side. The problem with potlucks is that it is a diffusion of responsibility, so people don’t think they need to bring anything important, and you end up with a bunch of chips and salsa and 2-liters of diet soda.

If you’re really smart, you will contact other people going to the potluck and see what they’re bringing, so that it’s not a battle of the enchiladas or a spread of slaws. A great host will even assign you an item to bring, or at least a category of food to prepare.

Bring enough food for yourself and everyone else in the group. If you’re bringing alcohol, bring enough for you to drink, and enough for everyone else to drink. One bottle of wine? Okay, if there are only three people at the potluck. One six pack? Same rule. Bring more. And bring a variety. As a friend recently said, “If you bring a bottle of wine and drink the whole thing yourself, you are NOT contributing.”

If you have a food allergy or “alternative” diet, this is not the time to preach about it. Also, a potluck is not the time to try and punish people for not subscribing to your extreme vegan diet. Bring a dish you can eat and make sure there’s enough for everyone else. Make sure it’s something delicious so they’ll say, “Wow, maybe she doesn’t just eat hay all the time!” Be kind about it. Food is a tough subject and people are crazy, and that includes you.

Make something that is easy to reheat or doesn’t require reheating. Something in a crock pot is a good idea, or something that will maintain heat from your way over to the event (potatoes!), so you don’t have to line up for the microwave or oven. If you’re bringing a tray of something, be careful about meat and milk. Food poisoning sucks. Being the person who poisoned everyone at the potluck sucks more.

Also, be prepared to bring your own serving utensils, and keep track of your dishes. It’s a good idea to put masking tape on the bottom of your dish with your name on it. If you buy cheap kitchenware like most people, it’s highly likely they saw the same sale you did and stocked their kitchens in an identical manner. If you are a host, have extra utensils and serving available, in case someone forgets them. (Nothing quite like microwaving something in a tupperware container and getting melted plastic as part of the meal.)

Be prepared to handle leftovers, either by taking them back home with you or having your own tupperware. Your host may want to keep the leftovers, so offer to give them to him/her, but don’t just assume he/she wants a fridge full of other peoples’ food. Don’t expect the host to wash the dish for you, either.

Finally, when you do go to a potluck, try every dish that you can, at least a little bit. (“Can” is determined by food allergies or dietary restrictions, too.) There will probably be dishes that are preferred over others, and when you go back for seconds, you can have those. Just make sure you’re not eating so much that other people don’t get food, or so little that it’s obvious you’re picky and ungrateful.

Remember that the word “luck” is in the title of this event, and so what you get to eat is at the whims of the other people involved. But you can make your own luck by bringing something you like.


no friend of mine

Reader H. R. writes:

A friend of mine has introduced another friend into our group that I cannot stand. This new friend apparently has no idea when he’s being annoying. He says things that no socially adept person would say out loud to people; he takes jokes too far; he assumes intimacy that isn’t there. And I’m not the only person who’s annoyed. Of course, none of us wants to insult the friend who introduced this new guy into the group, and she apparently has no problem with him. What should I, or, really, what should we do?

Dear H.R.:

I’ve written before about what to do if you don’t like someone else’s significant other, but a friend is a different story.


Let your annoyance show. Image: graur codrin /

First of all, leave the friend-bringer out of the equation. You don’t have beef with her; your beef is with the friend she brought. It’s not her fault this person annoys you.

You can tell her that her friend grates on you, and she may be able to provide you with some sort of justification (“he’s insecure; he grows on you; I know, he annoys me, too but he saved my life once” all spring to mind). But really, what you need to do is take it up with the annoying person.

It’s never fun to be uninvited to things, or shunned, or spurned, but it’s always worse for it to happen without knowing the reason why. One thing groups of people tend to do is band together further, and groups are just great at excluding someone. That’s probably what you and your friends are going to want to do — exclude both this new guy and the friend who brought him. But I say don’t. Let him join in when he wants, and let your friend invite him to other events. Of course, you don’t have to invite him yourself; but don’t ignore him when he’s there or forbid your friend from inviting him.

Instead, interact with him, even if it’s unpleasant. When he says something stupid, don’t let on that it’s okay. Tell him what he said was annoying. Don’t pretend to like him when you don’t. Be up front about it. He will either change his ways from input from you, or he will quit coming to events altogether.

This is not about you telling him he’s not cool or not worth your time, or that everyone in the group hates him. This is you relaying the feelings you have as you feel them. If you do this is a non-accusatory manner, he’ll probably back off rather than try to start a fight with you. (Depends on his personality, of course.) This shouldn’t be about your friends ganging up on him, either.

You may find that he doesn’t actually do annoying actions as often as you think he does. You may have this blown completely out of proportion. Once you start being aware of what it is that annoys you and how often it happens, it could well be he’s not as annoying as you think.

Another aspect of continuing to have him at your events is that you can learn to love him. In my life, some of the people I have thought were extremely annoying as casual acquaintances have turned out to be some of my favorite people once I really got to know them. People who are annoying tend to be so because they are extremely insecure and don’t have the situational awareness to notice it; or because they’re too secure in themselves to care. For the former, you may learn to love them through this insecurity, in which case they’ll really shine; for the latter, you could learn a thing or two about being yourself regardless of who’s watching or who cares.

You should never pretend to like someone you don’t like in your personal life, even if you feel you’re being civil. Girls are particularly bad at this, because we have been taught to be “nice” above all else. It’s disingenuous and we should all work to put a stop to it.

Let’s be clear — there’s a difference between a professional or business environment and a personal social environment. Having a healthy work life is all about putting your personal differences aside and getting things done. But your personal life is different. By all means, yuk it up with people you would never dream of being personal with at networking events, etc.; don’t let this phoniness spill into your day-to-day personal life. Leave the phony for times when it’s absolutely necessary.

If he doesn’t clean up his act or quit hanging out with your friend group altogether, then your other option is to avoid hanging out when he’s around. He will probably at least learn to steer clear of you at events, and you can learn to do the same. You can also try to focus on the positive aspects of his personality — and this is where that mutual friend who brought him to the group in the first place comes in. Why is she friends with him? Try to see him in a new light.

Group dynamics change often, so you may find you don’t have to do anything before he’s out of the group without your intervention. Just take a deep breath, express what you think and feel, and be honest. That’s the most anyone can ask for, anyway.


co worker leaving early

Reader N. A. writes:

I have a new colleague sitting in the cubicle next to mine. He apparently doesn’t understand that we count the hour for lunch as non-work time. So he comes in at 9, takes an hour for lunch, and leaves at 5. What should I do?

Dear N.A.:

You have several options in this case.

1. Tell him yourself.

can't smoke in here

Dude, you can't smoke in here, either. Image:

Be nice about it, but take him aside and give him a heads up. Make it a word of advice from a friendly co-worker, rather than a threat from a rival. You could email him so nobody has to hear you telling him. Just let him know you’ve noticed he takes the hour for lunch and you don’t want him to get in trouble.

2. Tell HR to tell him.

This saves you the embarrassment of having to tell someone how to do their job, but it also makes you the office tattle tale. Of course, it also adds an official measure to the whole ordeal, so if it ends up later he has other work issues beyond abusing the schedule, there’s a case for getting rid of him. Nevertheless, it’s supposed to be HR’s job to inform new employees about official rules and scheduling, so passing them the buck is an entirely viable option.

3. If you don’t have an HR department, tell your supervisor.

Again, this is the tattle tale way to go, but it’s also official and saves you some anonymity, depending on how your supervisor handles it, and on how small your company is. If your supervisor is a good supervisor (I know, a very rare species), they will simply tell your new co-worker the rules without mentioning you. But if they say, “Hey, so-and-so said you’ve been leaving early,” you’re going to end up looking like a douche. If you’re in a small company where it’s going to be obvious anyway, you might as well just sack up them ovaries and tell the co-worker yourself.

4. Don’t say anything.

To be totally honest, this is probably the most right advice I have here. Is it your business that he’s leaving early? Not really. Unless it affects your work personally, it’s probably not a big deal. I know that we all have an urge to make sure everyone is following the rules to a T, because it’s not fair if someone isn’t. But really, why does it bother you that he’s taking an hour for lunch and leaving at a reasonable time? We Americans are such dicks about making work our universe. Office life doesn’t have to be the only life you have. Let the guy have an hour to himself during the work day and get home to his family on time. It’s not going to bring our country down in socialist flames. And don’t forget that by enforcing the rules yourself, you bring yourself under closer scrutiny. Maybe your best route in this case is just to take it upon yourself to allow your co-worker to damn the man for as long as he can. Eventually, someone else will probably notice he’s bending the rules, and he probably won’t get into too much trouble if he’s the new guy and he “just didn’t know”. Let HR do their job, unless you really feel like you’re going to be helping the guy out by ruining his lunch hour.


digital ex-proofing

Reader E. S. writes:

Do you have any advice for removing an ex from your digital life? I mean beyond Facebook blocking, etc.

Dear E.S.:

Okay, Facebook blocking is not necessarily my first advice. You should always set limits on your privacy settings on Facebook so the folks you don’t want seeing stuff won’t be seeing stuff, whether they are exes or not. You don’t have to defriend or block someone to avoid seeing them on Facebook. You can remove their posts from appearing in your feed; you can put them in a special privacy setting so they can’t post to your wall; there’s all kinds of tricks on Facebook for limiting the contact you have with someone without going so far as to block them. I save blocking for the most extreme cases. (I have officially only blocked 2 people in all my years of being on Facebook.) I wouldn’t block someone unless you absolutely know you never want to see their ugly mug ever again. And who knows? You may want to be friends with your ex someday. Maybe.


Image: Salvatore Vuono /

My first advice (after that extremely diverting paragraph above) would be to make a list of all the places where you have a digital share with your ex, and methodically remove the ex from those places. Facebook is a good place to start; there’s also Twitter, Google Buzz (if someone still uses that), Google Latitude (this is especially important in the block sense unless you want them knowing where you are), Flickr, MySpace (haha right), your blog, etc. If you really want the ex out of your life, block him/her from all of it. You will probably have to look him/her up via username and make sure he/she isn’t allowed to access anything on an individual basis. Create a rule in your email account that redirects his/her emails to spam or automatically deletes them.

If you have lived together, or were together for a long period of time, you probably know a lot of each other’s passwords. Make a list of all the accounts you once shared that he/she should no longer have access to, and change the password. Netflix; bank accounts; PayPal; the gas or electric or water bills… Change ’em. If you’re still being nice to your ex, inform him/her that you are changing the passwords. He/she shouldn’t have a problem with this, but you might as well give fair warning. (Other than, of course, breaking up, which should be fair warning.)

This may be common sense advice to some, but many people don’t realize it: don’t share you passwords for personal accounts (Facebook, email, personal bank account) with ANYONE. And if you do, change ’em often. Most people re-use the same single lame ass predictable password over and over. Don’t do that. If you’re going to share a password with someone for any reason, make sure it’s something you don’t use on any of your other accounts.

Personally, I have separate passwords for almost everything. For my financial accounts, I use a different password every time, and they are super complicated. My email and Facebook passwords might be the same (or similar) so I can remember them, but they get changed every single time one of my friends gets hacked.

Hopefully your ex is a good enough person to leave your accounts alone once things are over. I am 80% sure I can still log into one of my ex’s Netflix accounts, but I don’t, because I am as out of that relationship as he is. But whether or not I trust him to stay out of any accounts he may have learned the password to, by changing those passwords, I remove the temptation. One less reason to have a heated argument later on. Giving up the rights to digital areas is the same as giving up the rights to having a copy of your housekey — when you’re dating, it might be convenient for him or her to have access; when you’re broken up, it is absolutely not something the ex should expect. Take back your housekeys, your car keys, and your passwords!

Be forewarned, however, that if you have lots of the same friends, you are not going to be able to completely remove the ex from your digital life. She’ll show up on friends’ Facebook pages (unless she’s blocked, but even then, if she’s tagged in a photo with friends of yours, you’re gonna’ see her face in the shot). He’ll show up in a direct response on a friend’s Twitter feed or a re-tweet. It just happens. You can either defriend any of the people you know in common, or get used to it.


too much time at the watering hole?

Reader M.S. writes:

My problem is my favorite hangout. As a freelance writer, I don’t work in an office and I could work whenever and whereever that I want. I just feel that I am spending too much time at my hangout. Now, like I said, I’m still very productive and I have not gotten any backlash at all, so they have no problem with me using their wi-fi. It’s just that I am there five days and 20 hours a week. I have not been blessed with a lot of friends in my (soon to be) 30 years of life and to find a group of people that respect me and see me as a friend (at least some of them do) has been something that has been very refreshing for me. I guess my question is: is there anything wrong with hanging out in a resturant/bar (I sit at the bar because I am friends with a couple of the bartenders, but I don’t drink) for so much time? I like to think I’m a smart, unique individual, but I am still going to ask if this is okay. I’d feel a lot better if I was wasting time in a library or Starbucks, rather than Hooters, even if I would be doing the same thing no matter where I was. The other thing about this is that I take the subway to get there because I live in a different borough than where the resturant is, so it’s not like I could pop in after work for 30 minutes and then leave, I kind of have to stay for an hour or two at least to justify the trip.

So am I worrying about something that I should not be worried about, because I do have other problems like getting writing gigs and how I’m going to make money as a freelance writer. Or should I try to find other hobbies and split my time more? At this point, I’m either at home, at a computer lab at Brooklyn College or this place. Is that bad?

Dear M.S.:

I’m going to quote Hamlet on this one: Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, 250-251)

old man on a computer

You can stay home to do work when you're old. Image: Maggie Smith /

I say if you’re enjoying yourself and you’ve found a nice group of people, there is no problem going somewhere regularly to do your work, even somewhere like Hooters. Even if you don’t drink. Even if you’re opposed to ogling amply-busted women. If none of these issues is keeping you from going to your favorite hang out, then going there is more positive for you than not going there.


But if you’re really having trouble with it, maybe you do need to find somewhere else to hang out. What I mean is, if you’re thinking it’s bad, it’ll be bad.

I’ve talked about this before, but in linguistics we talk about the difference between prescribed rules and described rules. Prescribed rules are the ones that we enforce on language; the grammar our second grade teachers push into our heads so that we write well. (Like using “well” instead of “good” in that last sentence. That’s prescribed.) Described rules are those that you come up with if you just sit back and listen; the actual rules people use when they’re not thinking about it and are just talking. When you’re not applying prescribed rules, the described rules that you naturally follow can be quite different.

I find the same is true in the rest of life. Prescribed rules say nice girls don’t sleep with a guy on the first date. Prescribed rules say guys who don’t drink shouldn’t hang out at bars. Described rules say otherwise.

Take a look at the rules you’re holding yourself to and decide if they’re really the rules you believe in. Are you really the type of guy who hangs out at libraries? Apparently not. Is there anything wrong with being the guy who uses the Wi-Fi at Hooters? Survey says: no.

Ask yourself why you’re uncomfortable with the issue in the first place. Is it your social image? Is it rules your parents taught you? Is it comments from friends or family? Are you spending more money than you’re making?

If you can reconcile your feelings of inclusion and love (yep, having people know your name somewhere is love) with your feelings of moral or financial obligation or whatever else is going on in your head, then you’re okay.

You can look for freelance work anywhere. You and I both know that’s true. You might as well enjoy yourself while you do it. As long as your work isn’t suffering, there’s nothing wrong happening here.

I say, since you’re a writer, write down how you feel. Do a pros and cons list. Figure out just what it is that’s bothering you so much about this and either come to terms with it or let it keep you from going back. (Apparently, it’s not so far, so my guess is it’s not really that big of a deal to you.)

If you just need outside assurance that what you’re doing is okay, here it is: Kat Cox says it’s okay. Hooters is not a bad place unless you think it is. Hell, I’m not one to draw lines in the sand about these sorts of things, but if you have to, tell yourself the following:

It’s not a strip club. You’re not doing anything illegal. You’re not getting into trouble. You’re getting work done. You’re fulfilling your social needs. You’re stimulating the economy. And who knows, you might just be making somebody’s day.

As far as finding other hobbies goes, yes, you should probably find some other hobbies eventually. I think everyone should have myriad hobbies. I know it’s cold in Brooklyn right now, but once the spring hits, you should find some social team to be a part of that’ll get you outside of your house (and Hooters). There are lots of things to do in NYC.

Plus, any place gets old after a while. The group dynamic at your bar will change somehow. Your favorite bartenders may leave or move on. Someone new may come in that you can’t stand. It happens. You’re probably going to find a new place to go, too, eventually. Just be prepared for that.

But for the time being: you’re doing just fine.



how belated is too belated

Reader B.P. writes:

I’m clearly a bit late on the Christmas gift thing this year. Do you think it would be worth it to get my friends gifts anyway, or would it just look tacky?

Dear B.P.:

Once again, my tried and true method with gifts is: if you feel like giving a gift, do it. Regardless of when you get the feeling, or what you get the feeling for.

Most people genuinely enjoy getting gifts. Even if it’s the ugly sweater from Aunt Mildred, there is a certain joy in having something handed to you that is meant specifically for you from someone who claims to love you in some form or another. In fact, getting a gift  when it’s not a gift-specified season (e.g. birthday, anniversary, Christmas) can be twice as exhilarating because it is so unexpected.


Belated or not, I would not recommend giving a half-eaten apple. Image: Clare Bloomfield /

So what I say is: ditch the Christmas pretense in this case, and give them gifts when (and if) you feel like doing so. You may, if you’d like, say, “This was supposed to be your Christmas present,” upon presenting the present in, say, March. Or you could say “Happy Easter!” or “Happy Passover!” or something for the spring holidays. There’s a Catholic saint for every day of the year, so you could always use that as an excuse to give a gift. That is, if you must have a “holiday” reason for giving a gift.

Or you could be even classier and make up your own holiday, which is what a dear friend and I once did. True, the original goal of our holiday was to be a religious-sounding reason to get the friend out of having to play tennis with a coworker, but it turned into a gift-giving experience, too. We called it “El Día de No Jugar con Pecado” (the day of no playing with sin) and bought each other little gifts and drank a lot.

The absolute best thing to do, though, is just give the gift when the moment is right, probably right after you buy it. If you bought gifts before Christmas and just failed to send them, by all means send them now and allow the belatedness to be part of your charm. I once found a stash of Christmas cards I’d written and forgotten about from a few years previous, and sent them out to the addressees as part of a “blast from the past”. It was like sending out a time capsule.

It certainly is the thought that counts, and not necessarily the timing. If your friends or family care more about when you give than the fact that you’re giving at all, they’re lame, and that’s not going to change whether you give them gifts or not.


a date with a waitress

Reader N.A. writes:

Is it possible to score a date with a waitress? They seem impenetrable, since they’re constantly flirted with (especially a cocktail waitress) all day long.

Dear N.A.:

While I think it’s possible to score a date with a waitress, I don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea to try to score one. Especially cocktail waitresses. And bartenders.

Coffee and dessert

"Yes, I'd love coffee, and dessert, and a date with you." Image: Daniel St.Pierre /

By now you all know how I feel about dating people at work (i.e. DON’T DO IT). The same goes for trying to date people who are working, particularly in the service industry. What I mean is, don’t try and pick someone up while they’re at work, even if you’re not working with them. It’s not fair. It’s a waitress’s job to be nice to you, and to give you stuff you want. Asking her out on a date while she’s working is awkward and could, from some perspectives, be considered sexual harassment, depending on how far you go with it. It’s not like shooting fish in a barrel, although there are several people who seem to think it is.

This is especially true at strip clubs, where sex appears to be on the menu. You have to remember that this is not the case. Strippers are paid to act like they are sexually interested in you. About 98% of the time, they’re not. Do not assume you are a lucky member of the 2%. Your best bet is to let the women do their jobs without harassing them. Would you harass a secretary, or a nurse, or a librarian? (Please tell me no.)

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to pick a girl up when she’s waiting tables or tending bar (or putting away books or answering phones or drawing blood). You’re just setting yourself up for getting into a lot of trouble or making things really terrible for her if you try too hard.

If you do see the girl of your dreams holding the tray before you or standing behind the bar and you can’t stop yourself, here are my tips for your best chance:

Wait until after she’s done being your server. Write your name, number, and a “I think we could hit it off” on a piece of paper (or on your business card) and leave it with the check. Or put up a post on Craigslist missed connections or in your local newspaper’s “I Saw You” section. If you’re feeling very brave, you could try and find her on Facebook and send her a message, but make sure you don’t just send her a random friend request. You don’t want to be a stalker. And do not, for any reason, say something while she’s putting your drinks on the table or taking your order or interacting with you as a server. That’s what makes it awkward.

Don’t over-tip and hope it’ll make her like you. That just screams “I use money to get what I want and I expect it’ll always work”, and no (or at least very few) girls want to feel that they’re the object of your moneyed affections.

Don’t go back to the restaurant or bar over and over, especially if she doesn’t respond. Sure, it’s nice to have regulars. But having a stalker is not cool. If you’ve asked her on a date in her off-time, be very tactful about going back to the restaurant when she’s working. Try not to sit in her section. Be casual about it, and take rejection well, but do not harry her about it or make her feel more uncomfortable than she probably already does.

Remember that if this is your regular joint, you are going to make things extra awkward for everyone if a) she says no, or b) you do date but it doesn’t end well. It’s a thin line to tread. Just be aware that you may have to quit going to your bar for a while if the relationship goes sour, or if she’s really offended that you hit on her. If it’s at a strip club, you could be kicked out or barred from coming back. Choose your battles, amigo.

I will admit fully that it is far easier for a girl to pick up a male bartender or server than it is for a guy to do so with a working woman. It’s not fair, maybe, but it’s just how sexual politics works out. Still, I think women should take this advice to heart just as much as men should, because men can be made uncomfortable by unwanted advances, too.

Finally: You’re right – we girls tend to get hit on all the time, especially when we’re working a casual job like waitress, barista, or bartender where we have to be friendly, sweet, charming, and cute. You are wise to be aware that you’re probably not going to be the first man to proposition her while on the job. And that can totally wreck any chance you could possibly have. But you can be classy about it, and not put her on the spot. Or you can look elsewhere for your romantic endeavors.



Reader K. N. writes:

I had a huge fight with a friend a while ago. We both said some pretty awful things, blocked each other on Facebook, and went through a lot of other drama that I’m sure our other friends didn’t appreciate. Today I was going through some old pictures on Facebook, and I kind of miss her. Am I just being sentimental, or is it time to forgive and forget?

Dear K.N.:

There isn’t a statute of limitations on grudges. Some people hold them for life; others forget about them easily. It all depends on who you were fighting with in the first place and how much pride you have.

It sounds to me like you’re over it. If you’re capable of “missing” your friend, I think you’re ready to overlook the fight, regardless of who started it or what it was over, and be friends again.

The big question is: does she feel the same way?

And moreover, how are you going to go about finding that out?

The biggest part of holding a grudge is pride. People who aren’t terribly proud don’t hold grudges. You’ve apparently got a bit of pride in you, or you wouldn’t have been angry this long in the first place. Luckily, your pride isn’t completely keeping you from moving on. How prideful is your (former) friend? Is she still angry about the whole thing?

You can gauge this in several ways.

sea lions fighting

Do sea lions hold grudges? Image: Liz Noffsinger /

First, check with mutual friends. She may have been talking to them about you, especially if she’s over it. If she hasn’t been, you could ask them to bring you up in conversation and see how she reacts. If she shrugs her shoulders or changes the subject, she might be willing to reconcile, although it’s still dicey. If she spits on the ground and curses you, it’s probably not the right time. You can certainly forgive and forget in this case; just don’t hope for any luncheon dates with her anytime soon.

You could skip the intermediary, of course, and just ask her yourself. The best way to get through a grudge is just to admit wrongdoing on your part, not accuse her of any on her own, and apologize, regardless of how wrong you think you were.

A very kind (but arguably sissy) gesture would be to write her a letter. People don’t write letters these days very often, so sending her an apology card with a brief note that says you’d like to bury the hatchet shows you really care. And you were willing to spend 44 cents on a stamp! Amazing!

An email would serve this purpose just as well, although it doesn’t speak the volumes as much as the formality of the mailed letter. Still, you should keep it short and apologetic rather than accusatory. Be the bigger wo(man) and simply say that you miss her and you feel that you were wrong.

Is there a little voice going off in your head right now? Is it saying, “NO WAY JOSE, she was wrong and I was right”? That’s your pride speaking. And if your pride is saying things like that, you’re not ready to get over this and you’re just being sentimental.

But if you’re ready to apologize, really apologize, even if you still don’t think you did anything wrong, this could work out well.

Under no circumstances would I suggest a face-to-face confrontation here. This is one of those instances where being a sissy works. You want to think out your words, and edit them, until they will be impossible (or at least very difficult) to misconstrue. If you approach her physically, you’re just opening up the opportunity to have another fight before you even get a chance to say what you mean.

Of course, if she’s not ready to forgive you, it’s not going to work out, anyway. Still, the act of forgiving is a great release, even if the object of your forgiveness doesn’t believe she needs forgiving or doesn’t accept your forgiveness. You can at least know that you gave it an effort, and the grudge ball will be in her court. Furthermore, you’re not telling her that you forgive her in this case — you’re asking her to forgive you. Do the forgiving whether she asks for it or not, and move on.

Frankly, I think if we stopped carrying around our petty grievances, we’d all be a lot lighter for it. So I say hop to it, and forgive and forget, even if you can’t repatch the friendship.

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