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Conversation Etiquette + You’re Welcome

Dear Didi,

As you know, the Northeast has been struck with a record breaking winter. It’s cold. It’s snowy. I haven’t formally signed up with the state volunteer group that provides help with snow removal for the elderly or financially strapped. Instead I’ve been shoveling out my neighbor, who would have reached out for help, if I weren’t providing it. Every busybody on my street has noticed, and mentioned my work to shovel them out. What can I say to save my neighbor’s face? How should I respond to their comments?

-The Good Snowmeritan, Providence, RI

Dear The Good Snowmeritan,

Traditional conversation etiquette may no longer come into play in situations such as this this when cynical neighbors are cranky about your generous courteousness. What you say to the busybody questioning your winter workout is this. "My neighbor thanked me and I responded by saying you're welcome." There is nothing wrong with performing a good deed -- a favor -- while getting a bit of exercise and a few rays of sunshine. Calling your benevolence your winter workout is as good of an answer as any.


Children + Modern Wedding Etiquette — Flower Girl Dilemma

Dear Didi,

My youngest brother, a single father, is bringing his seven-year-old daughter to my daughter’s wedding in July and she asked to be the flower girl. She is a sweet child and we love her dearly, but she is difficult to manage. She never sits still. My husband is very frail and his health is not very good, so the thought of her jumping around our small house when they come to stay during the wedding is stressing us out.

Last time he called I suggested they stay at a motel, but my brother thinks it would be more fun — and cheaper — to stay with us the nights of the rehearsal dinner and wedding . As the mother-of-the-bride, frankly, I’ll have enough going on without having to worry about a seven-year-old and there won’t any other children her age. What should we do? Is there an etiquette for children at weddings?

-N.R., Watch Hill, RI

Dear N.R.,

Apparently, your brother is not a good listener. You need to perfectly honest him and say, "As you know, John is not well and we simply cannot have any more commotion in the house during the wedding than is absolutely necessary. I need you to make a reservation in a motel and in return I will find you a happy teenager who can baby-sit both nights so that you can have some time partying on your own. She can even come to the wedding and take Lulu back to the motel after dinner. Lulu won't like sitting through those long toasts that always run on for way too long, and it will give you a chance to catch up with old friends." Don't give him an option, tell him that this is a perfect modern etiquette plan. If he balks, say, "Lulu cannot come to the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner and there won't be any other children her age at the wedding, so there won't be any accommodations for kids. We're happy to have her as the flower girl, but after the family photos and dinner, it really won't be fun for her. She'll be happier playing board games with the sitter in the motel room and watching a movie. As I said, I'm happy to pay for a sitter for both nights, but she can't just hangout with the grownups either night." If he's stubborn, there is always the issue of safety. Who's going to keep an eye on her while you're on the dance floor?" The sooner both your brother and Lulu understand your plan, the more time they'll have to politely adjust to it.


Why Don’t Women Ask for Help?

Dear Didi,

A well-liked and respected friend ran for a local state seat in her district and had quite a respectable victory. In the past mid-term election, however, even though she was not challenged in the primaries, she lost that seat to the opposing political party. We all assumed the representative would keep her seat, because she was doing a fantastic job, getting lots of positive feed-back, and appeared to have a healthy amount of backing in terms of volunteers and contributions.

Two weeks out from the election I felt her opponent was getting more attention and tried to talk to her. We were all shocked when she lost the election. If she had asked her friends for help, she would have won because early on we would have found her a campaign manager. Why don’t women ask for help? How can we encourage them to do so?

-E.P., Rhode Island

Dear E.P.,

Honestly, women in general are remarkably reluctant about asking for help, because they fear it will jeopardize relationships. Your friend may have felt that her cadre of supporters and friends had done enough and didn't feel she could impose on them further. Any woman brave enough to run for a political office -- more than likely -- takes pride in being a problem solver and thinks that asking for help is a sign of personal weakness and an admission of failure. Knowing when to ask for help is about managing your time and your career. The quicker and easier the problem is solved the sooner you can happily move forward. She may be an excellent public policy maker, but not so good at promoting herself. Personally, I don't believe asking friends and family for help diminishes what we are good at doing when we admit we are not good at something else. In this case, running her own campaign. It takes a certain amount of inner strength to admit one's weaknesses. Tell your friend that strong and spirited women ask for support from others in order to maximize their power. Remind her next time she runs to find her own strength in asking for help from not just her friends, but from her political party affiliate. No doubt, if she had reached out ahead of time to political pundits in her party, they would have stepped in and found her a campaign manager. In asking for help, encourage her not to be fearful of rejection, or to be scared of appearing incapable or weak -- or dread being a bother or burden. Help her to understand that her greatest fear may have been that of losing control. Learning to ask for help -- without hesitation -- would be an asset to her career. A helpful skill to have when she needs it. A quick recent story. A graduate student at a prestigious university asked the dean why so many male graduate students were teaching their own courses and most women students were assigned as assistants. Point blank, she was told by the dean, "More men ask. The women just don't ask." If your friend is driven by passion, she will persevere for as long as it takes to reclaim her seat as a representative -- but only when she learns to ask for help.


Who Makes The Engagement Toast

Dear Didi,

A good man friend of ours is giving a catered cocktail-buffet engagement party for our daughter and her fiancé at his house. The groom’s father is deceased and he doesn’t have a brother, step-father or grandfather to make a toast. Does my husband make the toast? What is the protocol?

-L.S., Long Island

Dear L.S.,

Traditionally, before the age of communication, the purpose of the engagement party was to announce a daughter's upcoming marriage while introducing the two families and the wedding couple's friends to one another. More recently, the engagement party is hosted by whoever wishes to host a party celebrating the engagement. The groom's family, both families jointly or a friend. The two fathers would toast the merging of the two families and welcome guests to have a good time and thank them for coming. In return, guests sent engagement presents from the bridal registry. Fast forward, protocol still sets the code of conduct that someone welcomes the guests and thanks them for coming before suggesting that everyone raises their glasses to toast the wedding couple. In your case, your friend the host would be thanked at that time. Alternatively, your friend the host could make the first toast welcoming and thanking guests to such a special occasion in his home, or your husband could simply toast the wedding couple on their engagement, thank the host for hosting and the guests for attending. A thoroughly modern solution would be to have the wedding couple make the first toast thanking the host and guests. For instance the groom with his bride by his side would say, "Vanessa joins me in welcoming you tonight and we would like you all to, please, raise your glasses to toast our amazing host ...." Lastly, don't forget to assign someone to make sure that awesome photographs are taken of your daughter's engagement party.