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. Char

    What is the appropriate way to describe a black person? At times I struggle when people ask me who a certain person is, and I try to find ways to avoid quoting his skin colour as a descriptor. Is it OK to say “John is the black guy who wears a hat” or should I keep saying something along the lines of “John is the guy who wears a hat and sits in the north corner of the office” without references to colour at all. At times, I see other people do it too, and they avoid quoting the colour, and in general it creates a very awkward situation for both of us. I think it’s a society thing…

    • Vanna Keiler

      Hi Char. I would recommend doing what you’ve been doing: describing the location and clothing of the individual and avoiding reference to ethnicity if you are uncertain how to address it. Best not to say something if you’re unsure if it will offend. It is generally not necessary anyways to reference a person’s ethnicity if there is another way for someone to know who you’re talking about. I applaud your sensitivity and consideration for others in asking this question.

    • Elizabeth

      I think it does probably depend on the cultural norms in which one is operating. For me, there would be nothing weird about saying, “Jane is the tall white lady, theshort Asian lady with glasses, the black woman who uses a cane, young Pakistani woman, the red-headed Latina in the next cube.” I think it gets dodgy when you only use the descriptor for non-whites (or non-majority). But if you also specify the majority race as well, I can’t see what harm is.

  2. Amanda


    I have two questions about table etiquette. First I was wondering if putting paper napkins along with cloth napkins is a faux pas for formal dinners. A friend of mine says you are suppose to have paper napkins on the table for people that wish to use it but not with the cloth napkin. It doesn’t seem right to me to have napkins with a napkin holder on the table, but I couldn’t be sure. Are we not suppose to use paper napkins when we have cloth ones or if we should where are we suppose to put them?

    My second questions is concerning the bread plates. Are we suppose to remove them when the salad plates arrive or should they stay on our left the whole dinner?

    • Alicia

      If cloth napkins no need for paper as you would be using the cloth napkin and vice versa. One or the other

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      Alicia is right about the napkins. Paper napkins are a substitute for cloth napkins and are not needed when the cloth napkins are available.

      If using bread plates, remove them before serving the first course.

  3. Petra


    My question refers to forms of address. I work in the hospitality industry, so where I work we are always respectful when addressing our guests. I prefer, and think it is appropriate to address women as “Ma’am.” I have a manager, who is 30 years old, who thinks it is appropriate to address women as “Miss,” regardless of the woman’s age. He will address 60+ year old women in this fashion. I feel this is demeaning and disrespectful. He claims it is appropriate. Please help me.



    • Winifred Rosenburg

      I agree with you. I will say it possible your manager developed this habit because he was chastised by an uninformed woman who thought the term made her sound old. (Sadly, I’ve heard of people doing this.) No one likes to be yelled at so I would give him a pass if that is his reason.

  4. Laura

    My husband and I recently purchased a home in an older well established neighborhood. We are in our late 20’s and most of our neighbors are much older and /or retired. What is expected of us as “new kids on the block”?
    Thank you,

    • Alicia

      Smile, introduce yourself as you see people out and about, say hi or a brief wave after you get to know people. Age of neighbors has no difference in how one should act neighborly.

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