Archive for the 'etiquette' Category


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.


addicted to text

Reader N. M. writes:

Whenever I’m with my boyfriend, whether we’re out with friends at dinner, or on the couch watching TV, he is constantly on his phone checking for text messages, looking at Facebook, etc. I don’t think he realizes he’s being rude, but it’s kind of embarrassing, especially when we’re out with friends. He does it particularly when he’s either not interested in what other people are talking about or if he doesn’t know very much about it, which is incredibly disruptive. I want to say something, but how do I say it without coming off like a mom?

Dear N.M.:

This is definitely one of the biggest issues with our delightful 18-35 age group. Smartphones have wrecked our ability to be fully present or social in a face-to-face situation. And being constantly bombarded by all this media isn’t just rude; it’s bad for us and makes us stupider. People who are constantly plugged in are less capable of actually switching between tasks than people who aren’t.

In fact, this media addiction we have has started a new movement in romance: turning off your phone to show someone you love them. You can even get a handkerchief emblazoned with the term “My Phone is Off For You” that will block cell phone service while the phone is wrapped inside. (I guess chivalry isn’t dead after all!)

However, the biggest problem with the text-Facebook-IM addiction our generation has is that we are so often unaware we’re participating in it. Just like in the case of your boyfriend, our casual affair with technology has made it no big thing to keep your phone on the table during dinner, or whip it out while you’re in the midst of a conversation with friends.

the phone in the foreground

Image: graur codrin /

So there’s one consolation: your BF may not be aware that he’s being rude. I think that, since it bothers you, it’s your job to let him know. Tell him directly that it bothers you when he has his phone out during social engagements because it doesn’t feel like he’s interested in the conversation. He may tell you that his lack of interest in the conversation is actually the reason he has his phone out in the first place, in which case your boyfriend is kind of a brat. But also you need to communicate your feelings in this matter — even if he is bored to death by your friends’ conversation, for your sake, could he please just pretend to be interested?

I don’t think it’s scolding or mom-like to communicate with your partner about what troubles you in the relationship. If he’s interested in continuing the relationship, he should be interested in compromise at least.

Of course, you should be prepared for your BF to let you know of any quirks or personality flaws you have that bother him. Your goal here is not to accuse him of anything, but to be open. He may feel defensive anyway. It’s hard to hear that we’re not living up to our partner’s ideals, so keep that in mind when you’re letting him know.

But moreover, you could tell him that you’re not just concerned because he’s embarrassing you in public. You should let him know that it’s a health problem, too. And it makes you two less intimate. And it makes you not want to have sex with him! (That gets the boys listening EVERY TIME, Lysistrata.)

If he recognizes it’s a problem and is willing to give up a bit of ground, set up a few ground rules to wean him off his Facebook checking. Start small. Talk about when it’s appropriate to have the phone out. Can he check his email while waiting for a movie to start? Can he look at Facebook while he’s alone for a few minutes standing at the bar or in line for the bathroom? If he can handle those without keeping the phone out the rest of the evening, maybe he can keep his phone on him, in his pocket. If not, he should have to put it somewhere inaccessible during the meal or night out. Have him leave his phone in the car when you’re out with friends. After a few trips out without the phone, it gets easier.

If he won’t leave the phone in the car or at home, make up a signal you can give him to ask him to put his phone back in his pocket without having to say, out loud, “PUT IT AWAY” in front of other people. Agree on it and make sure he understands that you’re trying not to embarrass him by mommy-ing him, but that he has to be just as nice about not embarrassing you with his phone usage.

If you want to be extremely antagonistic, go on and embarrass him. Call him out in front of everyone. I say this should be a last resort, after you’ve talked about it and he’s acknowledged that it bothers you, and not something you should just do out of the blue. But if you’ve had the convo and he knows it’s a problem for you, but he does it anyway, then I say you can make it a problem for him, too. You don’t have to be passive aggressive about it by saying something like, “Gee, sorry we’re not entertaining enough for you.” Just say to him, “Can you please put your phone away?”

Or you could buy him one of those handkerchiefs. As a hint. And one for yourself, too. I think it could be the new promise ring, honestly.

Which brings me to the most important aspect here: make sure you’re not being a hypocrite about it. If he can’t play with his phone while you’re out with friends, neither can you. You may not realize that you’re just as addicted to texting and Facebook as he is, because you just do it when nobody else is around. Take this opportunity to check yourself for your own tech addictions. If you’re 18-35, you probably have a similar problem. Let him know you’re committed to getting on the wagon with him, for the sake of your relationship.


that first email

Reader O. C. writes:

I joined an online dating site recently and I’m wondering what kind of first emails get the most responses. Can you help a guy out?

Dear O.C.:

In honor of your question, I went through one of my inboxes to see who I responded to and who I didn’t. And now I’m going to make a list of DO’s and DON’T’s because I haven’t in a while.


what to write what to write

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /


Spell check. It’s not hard. Copy and paste the whole thing into your word processor before you send it. While I’ll give a guy a chance if he uses “your” where “you’re” should be, I don’t give him the chance without wincing. Furthermore, if he has major spelling errors in a one-line email, there is absolutely no way I’m going to respond. This is like a cover letter. If you want the job, you put your best face forward and you check the grammar. Make it look like you care at least slightly how you’re represented.

Write about something from her dating profile. Take something that struck you as interesting and write about it. Girls like to hear about themselves, and they like to think you’re paying attention.

Ask a question. That way she has a reason to respond. When a guy writes “hey liked your profile we should hang”, I never know what to write back. “Thanks” is about all that comes to mind. Make it look like you took the time to read her profile and you’re actually interested. You can pretty much be sure she’s not going to be totally taken in by your photos unless you are beyond Brad Pitt smokingly hot, in which case the girls would be contacting you.

Sign it with your first name. If you’re comfortable doing that, giving her your actual name is a great way to set yourself apart. Especially since most user names are things like “FunkyChkn4U”; they blend together after a while.

Attach a photo if the system allows it. Make sure it’s your best photo, and make sure it’s one of your face.

Keep it short. Three lines is probably good — a brief introduction about what struck you (and why not discuss how much you like it, too?), a question about her, your name.

Be funny. If you can.


Use text speak. Srsly. Write in complete words and sentences. U don’t want 2 luk stupid LOL.

Give her your “real” email address or phone number. Not in the first email, at least. That can come later. It makes you look desperate if you send it too soon.

Invite her to go out immediately. You don’t know if you really want to do that yet. Wait until the third or fourth email. Chat with her on IM first. Get a feel for her personality.

Talk about sex, or make sexually charged comments. Even if they’re funny. Unless she’s specifically asked for sex, don’t offer it. You’re just stereotyping yourself.

Attach a photo of just your body or certain naughty bits. Girls don’t want that in an introduction, unless they’re just looking for sex. If she hasn’t explicitly asked for a body shot or a hoohaa shot, don’t send it.

Criticize her profile. Or her user name. Or her photos. Or anything else. At all. It’ll make her mad, not interested, in spite of how that “little insult” is supposed to work in real life (if your name is Mystery and you write books about being a pick up artist, of course).

Send a follow up email asking why she hasn’t responded. If she doesn’t write back, she’s not interested. Take the rejection like a man and move on. Even after you’ve had a few email convos already, sending repetitive emails is annoying. Let it go.

If my advice wasn’t good enough, check out OkCupid’s blog on the whole subject. They even have data to back it up, so you don’t have to trust my feminine instincts.


leaving early etiquette for guys

Today we’re going to take a break from our normal format of question and answer and simply write an essay (thank you Mr. Noble for the suggestion).

It has come to my attention that dudes don’t really understand how a woman feels when you “act like a panda” (eat, shoot, and leave).  What I mean is, if you go over to a girl’s house, have sex with her, and then leave, it will inevitably make her feel bad unless at least one of the following three conditions is met:

  1. She’s a hooker and you’ve paid her.
  2. You’re just a booty call and she doesn’t care about you (in which case she may be somewhat hurt that you don’t at least pretend to care about her, but she probably won’t say anything).
  3. You’ve told her before the sex that you’re leaving and have explained why. (And it probably had better be a really good reason.)

For the sake of clarity, let’s define terms.

“Leaving early” means getting up, getting dressed, and leaving for your own abode or somewhere else before an appropriate night of sleep has taken place (or at least been attempted). This includes when you get up silently at 3 am because you’ve been tossing and turning and take off without saying goodbye. If you’re going to do this, you have to at least wake her up and/or kiss her on the cheek, or she’s going to be pissed/hurt/devastated when she wakes up alone.

“A hooker” is anyone who is paid for sexual acts.

Panda Bear

Don't be that guy. Image: Arvind Balaraman /

“A booty call” is a sexual partner whose intended role in someone’s life is just sex, when sex is desired. It can sometimes include dating, but more often than not, this is not the case. It tends to be a mutual agreement. No money changes hands, either (because that would make one party or the other “a hooker”).

“Feeling bad” in this case most often means you have made someone who is not a hooker feel like one, or made someone who thought she was not a booty call feel like one, and they probably want to cry about it and they might be really angry. For instance, if you have actually discussed pursuing an actual relationship with a girl, and told her you don’t think of her as just a hook up, you are going to make her “feel bad” if you leave immediately after having sex, regardless of what your excuse is.

Here are a few tips to avoid this situation:

– Tell her beforehand that you have to leave at a given time and for a given reason. Don’t just spring the news afterwards.

– If you know you’re going to be too busy to stay the night, maybe it is better just to tell her so and come over another time. Or avoid having sex during the short period of time you have before you have to leave again. This sounds hard, but it’s not really.

– As mentioned before, wake her up if you’re going to leave in the middle of the night and explain that you’re having trouble sleeping. She’ll still feel bad, but she won’t feel as bad as waking up alone without an explanation and possibly with your change still on the dresser.

– Have sex and then have dinner, watch a movie, or something else “active” yet “intimate”. This actually removes the “appropriate amount of sleeping time” clause, because you don’t sleep during dinner or a movie. She may still be sad that you’re leaving when you do, but she’ll probably be much more forgiving.

– Don’t tell hookers or booty calls that you’re interested in pursuing a relationship with them when you really aren’t. Even if you think you’re just joking, they might not. And hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. For serious.

If you have already trespassed and you’ve got a girl mad at you, and you’ve decided she’s definitely not a hooker or a booty call, here are some tips for making it up to her:

– Avoid offering “making it it up to her” via anything having to do with sex. Again, we’re trying to establish the idea in your head that sex is not a currency for most women. While you might be fine with her “paying you back” in sexual favors for something, she’s probably not going to feel the same way about it. This is why you’re in the situation in the first place.

– Surprises. Good surprises, not like, “Surprise! We’ve got the clap!” or “Surprise! I’m leaving town for a weekend in Vegas with my buddies and you’re not invited!” Try something like, “Surprise! I’m apologizing for being a dick, even though it didn’t even occur to me that you would think I was being a dick! Here is a bouquet of flowers!” or “Surprise! I got us tickets to the opera!” or “Surprise! I want to take you shoe shopping!” They don’t have to be mega huge amazing things, just events, services, or gifts that show you went out of your normal way to do something for her. Even just sharing your feelings and apologizing when you normally don’t will probably suffice. Personally, I would recommend a surprise pizza. Pizza is all I want in the world right now, and I know I have a few girlfriends who feel similarly.

– Make a good effort not to do it again. That’s usually a good sign you’ve learned your lesson.


letting someone know about an STI

Reader H. G. asks:

I think I might have an STD. What’s the etiquette on telling past partners? I know I should tell them, but how far back should I go?

Dear H.G.:

You are a good, responsible person. Just so you know. If more people were like you, less ashamed of their situation than determined to stop its evil spread, we would have fewer drug resistant strains of whateverness floating around and wreaking havoc. So I applaud you.

Now, for your plan of action.


Whoops. Image: Darren Robertson /

First and foremost, you need to make sure you actually have the STI (BTW, they changed the acronym from STD to STI, to make it less heinous or something; even VD has good PR these days, FYI). Go find a clinic and get tested. Planned Parenthood is usually good, if you can wade through the anti-choice protesters. Your GP is an even better choice. Man up (woman up, either way) and get to a doc. Otherwise you’ll be spreading useless panic, which is almost as bad as the STI. And with how much hypochondria this country has over sexually transmitted infections, you may be panicking needlessly, yourself. If you’re a lady, it could just be a yeast infection or a bacterial infection — both easily cured and relatively tame. Keep that in mind. Sometimes what we think are weeping sores are just irritated skin.

If it does turn out you’re infected with something, you’ve got a bit of work ahead of you, and some of it can be really hard. Suck it up. You’re doing this for the betterment of humanity. While you’re at the doc, ask as many questions as possible about what the STI could be, when you could have gotten it, how long it takes to gestate, how easy it is to infect others while wearing that condom I’m sure you were wearing, etc. Some STIs manifest themselves as soon as seven days later; some take six months or more. With some, you may not even ever have symptoms, and the partner you got it from probably didn’t either; all the more reason for you to tell them so they don’t spread it around.

Next up, make a list of all the people you have slept with, in a safer manner or otherwise, in the past six months. Include people you’ve had any kind of  genital contact with, even if it wasn’t full on penetrative sex.  (Yes, hand jobs and BJs count here, kiddos.) If you’ve only had one partner, you’ve got an easy road and he or she has a lot of ‘splaining to do. (Not really. Unless you were in what you thought was a committed relationship for longer than six months and he/she gave you something there’s no way you could have gotten from a toilet seat… then there’s lots of ‘splaining and, I am assuming, breaking up to be done.) If you’ve been with multiple partners, you’ve got to decide how you’re going to tell all of them. Yes, all of them.

STIs can be passed regardless of how in love you are with someone or how long the relationship is going to last. What I mean is, they come from long-term partners and one-night-stands alike. The length of your relationship with someone should dictate how you tell them. If it was a long-term bf/gf, call them up. It’s the right thing to do. They’re not going to be happy, but they should be grateful you told them (eventually). Tell them where you got tested or where you would recommend they go, to help them out. And maybe offer your moral support. Having an STI can make you feel like a leper, as I’m sure you already know. Your ex will probably be feeling the same way.

For shorter-term partnerships, a text may be sufficient. “Hey, sorry to tell you, but I was diagnosed with [name of STI here] and I think you should get tested; I’d recommend [name of clinic here].” Done.

If you’re not on speaking terms anymore, or are just too embarrassed to bring it up in person/text/phone calls, there’s a wonderful site called INspot where you can send your (former) partner an anonymous email telling them they should probably get tested. The site will also recommend nearby testing sites, which makes things easy. I do not recommend using this as an anonymous tool to scare your hated ex– that’s not just cruel; technically, it’s also harassment. Furthermore, your ex will probably guess it’s you, and then you’re in trouble. And that brings up another issue with using this site — if you’re the only person someone has slept with in a while, they’re going to know it’s you, and having them call you up and ask why you sent it anonymously could be even more awkward than the text message would have been in the first place. So use this site wisely, kiddos.

The good news is, once you know what you have (or if you have anything), you can probably get treated easily. In spite of all the hype, the majority of STIs are curable and probably won’t ruin your ability to have babies some day. Also, you’ve got your head in the right place to ask what you can do to stop the spread of disease, and again, I applaud you.

But I’ll applaud you even more if you promise to use condoms and be careful about who you sleep with and what you do with them from now on. And, you know, if you swear to be abstinent until you’re totally cured. Please.

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