Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Non-Parent's Guide to Toy-Buying

Holiday sales have already begun, so I'm aware that some people (not me) may be starting their gift shopping soon.  It may seem tacky to promote gift-buying guidance as a form of etiquette, but I think we've all gotten a gift at one time or another that inspired a truly sincere "You SHOULDN'T have." In this economy, I feel it's polite to help people not to waste their time and money on things that are likely to inspire more frustration than appreciation.

As a new mother, I am particularly sensitive to this because I realize that my son may be magnet for some well-intentioned but not well thought out presents.  Before I was a parent I saw other people's kids as an excuse to buy "fun" kid's stuff.  I now see that some of those purchases were a bit misguided (Sorry), but I hope not to have to regret anyone else's generosity.  Luckily my son is so young this year that if anyone gives me something misguided it can be fixed with a return, but parents of older kid's may have trouble getting an inappropriate toy away from an admiring youngster.  So, for anyone who may not have kids (or whose kids are so old that you've forgotten the fundamentals), here is a guide to picking out toys that will inspire the parents to write thank you letters instead of death threats.

1. Toys have recommended age ranges.  You may think something is just sooooooo cute and clever, but check the tag.  If the child is younger than the recommended age range the toy is likely too complicated or DANGEROUS.  Don't make a parents choose between politeness and their child's safety.

2. Avoid toys that make lots of noise, whether it be from recorded sounds or encouraged banging (i.e. a drum set).  Different parents have different opinions of these things, but unless you are sure of their feelings err on the side of something quiet.  I personally am okay with banging (which is good because my son does it a lot), but I have low tolerance for the tinny recorded music/voices/nature sounds that seem to be embedded in just about everything nowadays.  They say in gift giving "it's the thought that counts," but you really don't want your name connected with the thoughts that hearing a millionth metallic rendition of "Old MacDonald" can inspire.

3. Avoid toys with a lot of pieces.  If you followed item one this isn't an issue for a few years since a billion little pieces are a billion little choking hazards.  However, once age appropriate things like Legos are very good toys, but that doesn't mean you have to be the one to buy them.  Similar to avoiding the blame for the maddening cacophony of noisy toys, you don't want to have your name attached to the end of the expletive that the mom will scream every time she steps barefooted on a jagged piece of plastic that didn't get put away.

4. Ask the parents for ideas, or if you have an idea ask if it seems appropriate.  The parents know what they'll be comfortable having their child received.  It will spoil the surprise, but some surprises are best spoiled.

Does that all seem too complicated?  Why don't you give a nice book?  Or, if you really want something the parents can appreciate, free babysitting is always nice.  Plus you'll get to see first hand what toys are just asking to be "accidentally" lost forever.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Welcome to Post Emily Post, a blog of "do unto others" etiquette for modern social situations.  This is a new experiment, but the plan for the time being is to do one post per week, probably publishing on Tuesdays.  That's not enough for you?  Follow me on Twitter where I plan to post a tip a day!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chivalry, Ladies, Is Not Rude

Yes, we are women hear us roar. Yes, sisters are doing it for themselves. Yes, our mystique is feminine. But hey, ladies, get funky. And by that I clearly mean, please don’t be offended by chivalrous acts.

A man who opens a door for you or pulls out your chair or offers to carry your grocery is rarely doing it because he thinks you are incapable. He’s probably being nice, or at minimum he’s doing it because chivalry has been ingrained in him by his mother, which is pretty sweet if you think about it. If you are looking for men to view as misogynist swine, chivalrous gentlemen should be the last on your list. That guy who lets the door slam on your face is the one who doesn’t view you as a human being worthy of his time.

If you take offense at an innocent act of chivalry and reprimand the guy for performing it, you not only risk embarrassing him and making him feel bad but you piss off me and other women who appreciate such gestures and who may not get to enjoy them because you have now convinced this guy that it’s not worth it because women just get mad. Seriously, if a guy is willing to open my door, move my sofa, or pay for my meal, I think it’s wonderful. Don’t f*ck that up for me! Say “thank you” and get on with your day of ball-crushing dominance.

(Full disclosure: I happen to be married to a rather chivalrous gentleman.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Don't Enable Voyeurs (Or Be One)

The problem with cell phone cameras is that people can take them anywhere.  The common example is a locker room, but I read today about a stage manager who used his iPhone to spy on an actress in her dressing room.  Hopefully I don't need to point out that being a voyeur is not only impolite but also, generally, illegal.  However, less egregious examples are worthy of some etiquette-oriented reflection.

Having a camera constantly on the ready prevents a lot of "darn, I wish I had brought a camera moments."  That combined with the essentially free nature of digital photographs enables a whole lot of pictures to be taken that might never have been captured in the past.  Additionally, the Internet allows for these images to be shared widely.  This is great for showing the grandparents a baby's first steps, but it also results in the journalistic recording of far less noble events.

I know they are funny, but please don't publish embarrassing photos of your friends without their consent.  And if you publish a photo that a friend wants to be "untagged" from or wants to have totally deleted, please respect those wishes.  (True, nothing is ever truly deleted from the Internet.  Cached archives get generated too quickly, and you never know who may have done a right-click>save already.  Still, you can minimize the damage by removing something quickly.)  Realize that your definition of embarrassing may vary from that of your friend, or they may want the picture removed for another reason. Perhaps they are avoiding a stalker.  Perhaps they are trying to establish a false alibi.  Perhaps it just makes them look fat.  Regardless, the polite thing to do is to give them some control over images of them put on the web.

Additionally I add this even though few will heed it: Please don't post embarrassing pictures of strangers.  I know we are a voyeuristic society, but most of you won't think "People of Walmart" is nearly as funny when you find yourself featured on it.  If a photo goes viral it can make its way back to the subject who may not be as amused.  If someone is amused by an embarrassing photo that person is probably a reality-show-seeking exhibitionist, who should not be encouraged.  The classy thing is not to mock strangers in a public forum.  (In private forums, however, this is called "wit" or "social satire" and will usually improve your cocktail party banter.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Are you coming or not?!?

A friend just posted this status on Facebook:

$^#& - if you don't want to come to a wedding then don't RSVP. That's what RSVP cards are for! Honestly, I don't mind if you say "no" to the RSVP, but don't say "yes" only to change your mind 2 days be...fore. Most people don't realize (until they've planned a wedding) that the meals/slots are nonrefundable starting the week of... I bet I'm going to cross the "$1k wasted on ghost-guests" threshold today...

 My short answer is "yes!"

It's astonishing to me how many people don't RSVP to events or change their answer at the last minute.  This may not be a big deal for a casual affair, but for a wedding or something else requiring planning knowing the guest count is very important to your host.  Not responding or changing your response is just plain inconsiderate. 

Sure, occasionally an invitation gets lost or circumstances may make you able to attend or not attend at the last minute.  If that happens, apologize vehemently!  Unfortunately, many people are habitual non-responders or mind changers.  If that is you, stop it.  You're costing people money.  In the case of an event with seat assignments you are also causing stress because adjusting seating charts is a pain in the ass.

I think the level of rudeness increases with the formality of the event.  Therefore, these breaches of etiquette are most egregious for something like a wedding.  However, most hosts appreciate having an idea of how many people to expect, so it is thoughtful to respond accuarately to evites and Facebook announcements as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Subject: Use One

I have a feeling technology will be a frequent subject on this blog.  Technology has made us more interconnected than ever before, but it also creates more opportunities for rudeness and misunderstanding.  Decorum is often overlooked in exchange for a quick contact fix, in a serious need for some etiquette guidance.

For this first technology etiquette post I'll start at the top...of an email that is:
Always include meaningful subject lines on your emails.

Include as much detail in the subject line as you can without becoming overly long.  For example, "lunch today?" is a better subject line than just "lunch?" because it makes it clear that you are not asking about "lunch next Friday?"

The subject line is there for a reason.  It helps someone to identify which messages to read first.  Perhaps more importantly, it helps someone locate a message that was previously read.

The subject line also helps confirm that this email is from a person as opposed to being generated by a virus or spambot.  This is particularly important if you are sending a message to someone who may not immediately recognize your name, but security savvy friends who may know that email addresses can be spoofed may be wary of emails with subjects like "hello" or "that file you wanted" even if they are from a familiar sender.  To help ensure that your email doesn't get dragged to the spam folder include a meaningful subject line.

In threaded email clients, like GMail, the subject line is used to group related messages.  As a result, it is important not only to include a meaningful subject line but also to change the subject line if you are sending a reply that is off topic.  This will help the recipient find your message later without having to remember that you sent that handyman's phone number in the thread about a friend's upcoming birthday party.

In a world of rapidly refilling inboxes, most people will appreciate any assistance they can get in organizing their many incoming email messages.  Including meaningful subject lines is considerate, increases the likelihood that your message will be read, and only takes a few seconds.