Open Thread

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This open thread is your space to use as you like. We invite you to discuss current and traditional etiquette. Feel free to ask questions of each other and the community moderators here.


  1. polite punk

    A friend and his girlfriend are getting married this April. They have opted to do a small ceremony with just family in the morning and then a celebration/reception with friends and family in the evening. I’m planning on going and have a question about the registry. They have registered for their honeymoon (instead of gifts). What is an appropriate amount to give?

    I’m always thrown when it comes to dollar amount gifts for gifts. If it matters, we are in our mid-thirties and while we all live a comfortable life, none of us make a lot. Also, the wedding is local, so I won’t have any travel/hotel costs.

    • Alicia

      Amount is not defined. It is a question of your budget, your closeness to the couple, and how happy you are at the wedding. So think to yourself about how much you would want to spend on the wedding and give that amount. If like me you are uncomfortable giving money or paying for a honeymoon it is perfectly fine to give an actual gift instead. So feel free to ignore the registry and just buy something that you think would make the couple happy.

    • Chocobo

      I agree with Alicia. This is why money registries are considered inappropriate by etiquette — the couple knows exactly how much you have spent on them, and it changes the focus of your gift from how thoughtful you are to how generous you are.

      If you wish to give to their money registry, please give within your budget and relationship to the couple. However, if you would rather get something more thoughtful or just would like to give a gift whose monetary value isn’t immediately known, it is more than proper to do so.

  2. Dennis

    Is it correct to accept a wedding invitation and stipulate that we can only attend the church ceremony but not the reception? The reception is in the evening and we don’t prefer to drive at night. Of course, we intend to give a wedding gift.

    Thank you.

    • Chocobo

      Absolutely it is proper to attend the wedding but not the reception. It’s the other way around that is questionable.

      Please call the bride and groom and tell them that you will be delighted to attend the ceremony but unfortunately cannot make the reception. Just leave out the part as to why you are skipping the reception.

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      Yes it is. You of course need to say so in your RSVP. Attending the ceremony but not the reception is highly preferable to the other way around, which unfortunately seems to have become a trend.

  3. Just Laura

    Good morning, Friends,
    Recently my boss left for a new position, and as the most qualified person, I am filling his position for the interim, as well as doing my own job. This has left me extremely busy (and a little stressed). Our administrative assistant is a nice woman, but not the most efficient person, or the most intuitive. She’ll routinely schedule me for back to back meetings for hours, then ask me at the end of the day why I didn’t take lunch. She’ll take messages that don’t make sense. She’ll leave her desk several times in a hour, forcing visitors to hunt a person down or knock on my door. Now she’s started using her cell phone while sitting at her desk. Not discretely texting, mind you, but chatting with her adult children. I do not have the ability to fire people, and nothing has warranted a write-up.
    I considered copy/pasting the HR rule about cell phones at the front desk, but that seems really confrontational and may cause more problems (this is not a person who easily accepts criticism). Working in a bureaucracy is relatively new for me; I’m accustomed to small firms and mom&pop businesses, where interacting with others is easier and doesn’t require a formal process.
    I am stressed enough. Please, friends, do you have any advice?

    • Lilli

      I’m sorry to hear about your troubles! I’ve had the exact same problem with our secretary at work lately. If you’re on friendly terms you can do what I did which is to (1) ask her if everything is alright, perhaps she is dealing with personal issues and she’ll appreciate that you show you care even if she says everything is fine . (2) tell her she isn’t holding her own and let her explain her reasons why (if any). (3) tell her how you are affected when she doesn’t do her job correctly and why you need her help. I spoke with my secretary this morning and number 3 is what really seemed to hit home the most because she realized that I’m not asking her to do things just for the sake of keeping her busy – I have been working long hours and weekends for weeks and I honestly need her help during the hours she is her (she doesn’t do overtime). As for the cell phone – if she’s the first person people see when they enter your office/department she needs to be professional and I would explain that people will make a first impression of the whole office/department based on her. Lastly, I shot an email to her direct supervisor explaining the situation and that I was going to talk with her directly. This documents this issue and keeps them in the loop of what’s going on in case she decides to run and cry to her boss.

      I hope this helps and good luck!

      • Vanna Keiler

        Good advice Lilli! I would consider trying your plan of attack if dealing with Just Laura’s situation. Just Laura: I hope your predicament is resolved with little stress and satisfaction for all (especially you).

  4. Winifred Rosenburg

    I wanted to ask about something that doesn’t bother me, persay, but I do find it odd. A relative of my husband has a habit of mailing us cards, invitations, etc. addressed to “the Rosenburg Family.” We do not have children so it seems strange that she consistently uses that form of address instead of “Mr. and Mrs. Rosenburg” or something similar. Thoughts?

    • Chocobo

      Winifred, that is rather odd since there are no children or, I presume, others in your household. Nonetheless, a couple does technically make a family unit, if a small one. I would chalk it up to a probable habit of addressing all households as “families” to save time or thought. Or is it possible that this relatives not close enough to remember whether you have others in your household?

      • Winifred Rosenburg

        We see her often enough that she is definitely aware we don’t have children. I suppose she just does that for everybody. Thanks!

  5. Brockwest

    Filling in for the boss: Wow, you are a treacherous position, without full authority with an administrative assistant who is taking advantage of you. She may be the assitant to your new boss and could hurt your relationship with your new boss.
    That being said, I feel you should be professional and request proper behavior. I would pick my battles and ignore minor problems, but in a non-confrontational way, I would address the problems.
    Certainly the poor scheduling should be addressed. A simple statement that you do not want back-to-back conferences, want 30 minutes between conferences, that 12-1 is to be reserved for lunch should suffice at first. When the assistant backslides, repeart the instructions.
    For messages that don’t make sense, you can change them on that, so state you don’t understand the message. Perhaps if they hear that repeatedly from you, they will get the message.
    On leaving the desk for hours at time, that should be addressed. Surprisingly, most people respect the call for bounderies and rules. It actually sounds as if the assistant is pushing your envelope to see what they can get away with. You should simply state that you need them to stay at their desk or inform you if they are leaving for more than 15 minutes. If their job involves going to the copy machine, then that might be the reason they keep leaving the desk. I would ask why they are away from the desk so much and explain they are needed to staff the desk.
    The cell phone is more of difficulty in your temporary position. If there is an HR rule about cell phones, then I would simple state that HR does not allow cell phone use.

    On the other hand, life at work should be pleasant so denying any family contact would be burdensome. A quick 2 minute call is different than a lengthy 30 minute chat.

  6. Scarlett

    Laura – This is tricky, and I feel for you. I currently work in a “bureaucracy” but I am not the manager; however, I do have prior management experience. It sounds like you need to set some guidelines/boundaries. As for the b2b meetings, let her know that you need “x” amount of down time between meetings and “x” amount of time left open for lunch each day. If you want to specify a time for lunch that’s even better, but if you want to remain flexible, say “between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. I need at least 30/60/whatever minutes” for lunch. If she overschedules you, make it her responsiblity to correct the mistake by calling the other party(ies) to reschedule. Regarding messages, tell her that they aren’t clear, and ask her to re-write it/take better notes/call the person back for clarification, more info, etc. Unfortunately, some people don’t care until they have to take responsibility for their actions. You can only hope that she is the type who will get tired of correcting her mistakes and start doing things the way they are supposed to be done. If not, you will have to consult your boss or HR.

    About leaving her desk, let her know that she needs to 1) tell you (or someone) when she’s leaving and 2) arrange for coverage of her work station while she’s gone. That’s just common sense, but . . . bottom line is that it’s unacceptable behavior and she needs to be accountable. This should also serve to minimize those absences.

    As for the cell phone, if there is a policy, then ask HR to send out a “gentle” reminder or if you have staff meetings, it would be appropriately addressed there. If that doesn’t work, you will have to take a more direct approach. Again, you may need the assistance of your boss(es) or HR in navigating this issue.

    Good luck. I will be anxious to hear what others have to say.

  7. Jody

    She may be used to doing things that way because that’s what she did for your former boss. It sound like you and the AA need to have a private meeting. You could phrase it that since you’re temporarily doing two jobs you need to work out a schedule so that everything gets done in a timely manner — and at this point you can tell her that back-to-back meetings don’t work for you and you’d appreciate the messages she takes being a bit clearer. She may very well say “well that’s how I’ve always done it” and the reply could be “that’s fine if it worked for Mr. X but I work better with XYZ methods.”

    As for her leaving the desk so often and using her cell phone, is it possible that she has medical reasons to leave the desk, or her adult children need to reach her for medical/family emergencies? That’s something that can be clarified in a meeting. If she gets defensive, which she may, you can say that you were concerned because it seemed to be causing disruptions in accommodating visitors to your office.

    It likely won’t be an easy meeting but if you stick to specifics and concrete examples (and firm rules/policies) it should result in a better situation.

  8. Nina

    Hi Just Laura,

    Re: lunches: book your lunch hour in Outlook, or whatever scheduling program you use. If that’s not possible for whatever reason, just let her know what time you prefer to take lunch and ask that she not book anything for that period–if it seems terribly pressing and unreschedulable, she can ask you before booking it.

    Re: cellphones: You might approach her as a colleague, not an authority figure, and mention that she might not know that there’s a rule about cellphone use and you wouldn’t want her to get in trouble. Depending upon your workplace, this might work–it would have to plausibly true in the context.

    Re: messages: shouldn’t she be offering to put the caller through to your voicemail rather than take paper messages? That’s what most offices I’m familiar with do–much less chance of something getting lost in translation.

    I have no insight on the leaving the desk thing–hopefully another commenter will have an idea!

    Good luck with all this–sounds like a stressful situation!


    • Just Laura

      Wow, I really appreciate so many taking a moment of their day to leave some great advice. A few things aren’t workable in this particular office due to the nature of our work, but I see a lot of useful suggestions. I laughed when I read Scarlett’s comment, “tell you (or someone) when she’s leaving and 2) arrange for coverage of her work station while she’s gone. That’s just common sense….” Yes, I think it’s common sense too. But apparently what is common to you and I isn’t common to everyone. She does tell me when she’s leaving, but I can’t keep dropping what I’m doing at my desk to go attend to her front desk. Actually my former boss had quite a long conversation with her about her duties, but while some things have improved, others have not.

      While I am not unsympathetic to the possibility of family emergencies, I can’t have the admin assistant on her cell phone for 8-10 min a couple of times each day (the last conversation was about the cold temperature). The other front-desk people in the department aren’t allowed to be on their phones except during breaks. I take maybe two personal calls at my desk per year. It’s just not professional. I may use Winifred’s suggestion about emailing everyone in our office.
      As for voicemail, due to the setup of our phones, my phone will ring a couple times before going to voicemail; because some of my meetings involve people with acute anxiety, I prefer to not have that distraction. No, I don’t know why our phones are like that.

      Many thanks to those who suggested scheduling lunches in my appointment calendar. I don’t know why I didn’t consider that obvious answer, but I appreciate your opening my eyes.

      I will breathe a sigh of relief, and wish you all a happy Friday.

      • Scarlett

        Laura – Glad I made you laugh, but just to clarify, I didn’t mean that YOU should arrange for coverage of her workstation or be willing to cover it for her. SHE should make sure it’s covered by another staff member before she takes off. Whether you want her to tell you she’s leaving is up to you. My point was that it would make her responsible for doing/covering her own job. People are less likely to “disappear” – or at least do it less often – when they have to tell another person about it and they know that someone is waiting for them to get back.

        I’m all for teamwork, but you have enough on your plate without worrying about whether the front desk is covered for phones, visitors, etc. Best wishes! – Scarlett

        • Just Laura

          I understood what you meant. 😉 While I have no problem watching her desk occasionally, I was getting tired of doing it multiple times a day.

  9. Lightnlovely63

    My Ex husband and his new gorlfriend plan on crashing MY sons baby shower. This is my biologiccal son not his. What shlould I do. I don’t want him there. What’s the proper etiquette for this situation?

    • Alicia

      The hostess should not let them know the party details. If they crash the party the hostess(which is the person throwing the party not you) should escort them to the door and let them know that this is a private function.
      Wait I just reread this assumes that you mean your son ie you are pregnant with a boy. If your daughter in law is pregnant ( ie your son will become a father and you a grandmother) then it is up to your son and daughter in law if they would like these people to attend and it has nothing to do with you. In that case you leave it to the hostess and the mom to be an you just chat with others at the shower about how wonderful the grandbaby will be.

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