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Modern Manners + Etiquette: Bad Breath, Body Language + More

Thursday, October 04, 2012


How do you tell her that her breath is the thing you love the least about her? A clever new device may be the answer.

How to read his body language, how to tell her she has bad breath, how to comfort a bereaved friend and what to wear to an October wedding outdoors, were all breathy questions at Didi Lorillard's NewportManners.com this week.

Dear Didi,
We're having a wild debate about body language and how to read it. When you're in a bar and you're talking to some guy you've just met, how do you know he's paying attention to you for the right reasons? For instance, if his arms are folded, does that mean he's not available?  Alma, Manhattan

Dear Alma,
You understand people better when you know the meaning of various hand gestures. His hands will tell you if he's interested in what you're saying or bored by your conversation, and whether he agrees with you or not. Look at the whole picture. Where is he? In a public bar. Even the hottest guys get cold feet in public spaces. Look at his body language in clusters. He's unconsciously sending out easy-to-read body signals. If he's just a bit nervous, he'll have one or both arms in front of him as a barrier. Or if he's using both hands to hold his beer glass, adjust his tie, or fiddle with his cufflinks—you'll pick up that he's feeling insecure. If he starts tapping his drink stirrer or drumming the edge of the bar with his fingers or the stirrer, he's nervous. Crossed arms may just mean he feels cold, but folded arms and crossed legs say he's not into you.

Watch his hands. When his hands are loosely clasped, he massages his chin, or gnaws on his drink stirrer or eyeglass temple, he's bidding time before making a decision about you. If his hands are near his mouth, he's not sure. When his finger tips brush his eyes, he doesn't like what he sees. When they're pulling his ear, he doesn't like what he's hearing. When he starts grasping his hands together, he's feeling frustrated and holding back negative comments. When his arms are crossed and fingers tucked under his arm pits with just the thumbs showing, he's angry, aggressive and disagreeing because he wants to be in control of the situation. The same is true when his hands are in his trouser pockets but his thumbs are sticking out. However, open palms means he's interested.

To figure out whether he's lying to you, watch to see if his hands cover his mouth either while he's talking or after he's just said, "I have an eight AM conference call to prepare for." Instead, he may slightly touch his nose while saying, "I'll call you"—but you know he won't. Notice if he slides his wedding band up and down his finger, because it's a sure sign there are problems with his marriage. But this is someone you should probably avoid anyway.  ~Didi

Dear Didi,

I am going to a wedding in a park (near the beach) in October at 2pm. The invitation does not list an attire, but the reception and cocktail hour are right after at 5pm. I am in my early twenties, what should I wear? I have a lovely coral dress but is that too summery for an October wedding?  M.C., Baltimore, MD

Dear M.C.,
You're in luck. Tango Tangerine is the flavor of Fall 2012 and coral does the job. When the wedding invitation doesn't specify Black Tie, you can assume the dress code is Suits & Dresses. Even though a two o'clock wedding is not dressy, a five o'clock reception means you'll be right in fashion in a coral cocktail dress. Since I don't know the climate where the wedding is taking place, you may need a jacket or cardigan sweater for the outdoor ceremony. It would be very cool to wear a soft leather jacket, or a yummy cardigan sweater, that you can take off when you enter the reception. That said, wear great shoes and carry a small clutch bag.  ~Didi

Dear Didi,
Condolences are such a puzzle. Other than cards and donations to named charities, any suggestions about more personal, more comforting approaches?  Katy, Dedham, MA

Dear Katy,
If the person just died, then take comfort food such as freshly baked cookies, pound cake, coffee cake, lemon squares, muffins, or lasagna, casserole, or stew to the house for the family to eat at their leisure. Offer to run errands or give elderly relatives and friends a ride to and from the funeral. Even taking the family dog for a run would be helpful during the period before and just after the funeral.

My personal favorite is giving a tree (a sapling) in the name of the deceased or sponsoring a park bench dedicated to the departed. Parks and nature preserves usually have creative ideas for giving in memory of nature lovers. The most personal comfort is the follow up. After relatives and close friends have retreated back into their own lives, call the spouse or next of kin and take them for coffee or lunch and let them talk. Just knowing that someone is listening to how they're feeling is a great comfort.  ~Didi

Dear Didi,
My girlfriend has bad breath. How do I tell her? I've tried subtle hints like keeping several kinds of mouth wash on display and even bought breath mints.  Anonymous, Cranston

Dear Anonymous,
You're in luck. Finally, there's a new gadget that's a bad breath alarm—the Topland Etiquette Checker—that tests breath to see if it's - irresistible, fresh, so-so, funky, nauseating, or deadly. For about sixty dollars you can buy one online. Keep it next to the mouth wash. If she doesn't get the hint, use it in front of her and encourage her to try it. Alternately, keep it in your car to check your blood alcohol content level when deciding which of you should drive home. It looks like a home pregnancy tester, so it's easy to take along. If the bad breath alarm doesn't do the trick, then you'll just have to say, "I love you but not your breath."  ~Didi

Didi Lorillard researches shifting etiquette at NewportManners.com by answering questions on relationship dilemmas, wedding etiquette, dress codes and manners. Or find Didi on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest, after reading her earlier GoLocalProv columns, some of which are listed below.



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