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. Rachel

    One of my friends has recently tried to commit suicide, and has just gotten out of the hospital. I want to show her I care and build her up, but I don’t want to come across as doing this out of misplaced pity. What is the etiquette of talking to and visiting her?

    • Jana

      I had a friend (and eventual roommate) that attempted suicide and severely injuring herself 3 times before she followed through. The only thing you can really do for her is to be there. Just call or visit. Talk to her. Make sure that she knows you are there for her…it’s not pity if you are truly her friend. Just know that regardless of what you do, if she is that unhappy, only she can change that. I know that I never mentioned the attempts specifically, but I made sure that I was the best friend I could be. You kind of have to keep yourself from trying to be a parent…you can’t try to control her or prevent anything else from happening.

      I have also known other people that attempted suicide, but they had wonderful support systems to get them through things afterwards. My friend had a great group of friends, but her family was not supportive…to the point of her own mother telling her they would both be better off dead…it was an awful time and horrible to watch unfold. Her mother did actually kill herself, too, about a year later. Some people don’t want help (or believe it’s necessary), and there is nothing you can do beyond just being there.

  2. Nonnie Mowse

    Hello Rachel. I am very sorry to read your question, and hope that you too find support since the topic of suicide can have unexpected ripple effects.

    It is admirable that you want to be there for your friend, and are conscious of how your caring about her may be interpreted. At the outset, building her up would be entirely the wrong thing to do. Just let her know via note, email or phone message that you’re thinking of her, and if she’s ever ready to spend some quiet time together, you will be there for her, no questions asked.

    Don’t ask her ‘why’ unless you add that only if she’s up to talking about it. Suicide is often borne of a feeling of a lack of control or feeling of hopelessness about something, intractable physical pain, etc… Trying to build her up too soon could result in her feeling guilty about her feelings and feel like another loss of control. Let her control how much and when to share her thoughts. I know firsthand about the anger and frustration that suicide causes family and friends. But it does no good to vent on the person who is for whatever reason hurting. If they had a broken leg, the first response wouldn’t be to make them ignore it and walk on it. Family and friends should let a medical professional get their loved one to a safer emotional place before revealing their feelings. Stay calm.

    Many years ago I had a psychology professor who on the first day of class posed the question, ‘If you go into this field, and one of your patients attempts or commits suicide, are you religiously and mentally prepared for that? If you don’t think you will be able to handle or accept it, *look into another vocation*. You may not be able to save every patient.’ I don’t mention this to discourage or frighten you. But to help you think about, are you ready to hear what she may want or need to say without judging. If you need to keep your distance, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just let her know you think of her, that she’s not forgotten. And remember it can take a lot of time before she may respond.

    Gentle thoughts and energy to you both.

  3. George

    I’m wondering if it is okay to make a small placemat out of the paper napkins from the napkin-dispenser every time I have a meal at the dining hall at my boarding school. I seem to be one of few people who do so, but my reasons are 1.) the dining hall tables are long and wooden; they’re not formal tables, and it’s not a formal dining atmosphere; 2.) the tables are not wiped off after every student or faculty member who sits down at them, and I liken the situation to eating out at Pizza Hut, for example; and, given that the previous patrons have left a mess, I expect the server to wipe up the mess and wipe down the table, as well as place a new paper placemat on the table, but this doesn’t happen at my school because we don’t have waiters and waitresses; so, I reason that I am within the boundaries of etiquette because what is the difference between my school dining hall and a restaurant table?; 3.) If I have to get up and get more food from the serving line, I can put my silverware on the paper napkins rather than on the dirty wooden dining hall table; and 4.) I think using paper napkins to make a makeshift placemat is sanitary and hygienic, especially at a school where kids get sick and the tables are not wiped off after every eater. I think I’m well within the bounds of etiquette to do this. What do you think?

    Thank you.


    • Elizabeth

      I don’t think that it is rude per se to make the ad hoc placemat, but it does seem to me (personally) to be overly fussy and wasteful. Presumably your food is on a plate and nothing directly touches the table. So, I’m not sure what kind of ‘protection’ you’re getting from the placemat. The ‘germs’ or ‘dirt’ will not leap up on to your plate. (Is the table really so dirty when you use it?) In my mind, placemats are used not to protect the eater from a dirty table, but actually to protect the table (think of a wood table with a delicate finish) from any food that may spill on to it. If you use paper napkin like this two or three times per day, multiply that by the 8 months or so that you’re at school, and pretty soon you realize that you’re using some 300 or more napkins in this way over the course of the year. Save a tree, and skip it!

    • Jody

      Paul, I think it’s perfectly OK to make a placemat as you describe. I usually do something similar at my work cafeteria — I don’t make a full placemat, but I do make a “mini-placement” where I can put my utensils.

  4. Maria

    I am helping my mother plan my father’s funeral service. In the obituary, what is the proper way to list step-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren? My sister got married 1 year ago and acquired 3 daughters, 2 son-in-laws, and 4 grandchildren with this marriage. She opposes the use of the word “step” children so to her they are grandchildren and great grandchildren to my father even though he has not met some of them. And they are not likely to come to his funeral. My mother believes attendees will be confused when they see 9 addl names under the children and grandchildren section that they do not recognize. My sister will feel that her new family is not being well accepted by our old-fashioned family if her kids are not listed. Pls help.

    • Alicia

      My grandmother obituaries this year listed just children by name and then simply 14 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Listing all by name is lengthy and becomes just a reciting of names and at least in our family is more words then the paper will publish. Include the new grandchildren and great grandchildren in the counts.
      My deep sympathies for your loss.

  5. Jazzgirl205

    List them any way you see fit. Just be sure to list them. This is a very emotional time for everyone and any perceived slight will be remembered forever. Err on the side of inclusivity.

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