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Modern Manners + Etiquette: Giving Gifts + More

Thursday, July 12, 2012


A new mother-in-law needs counsel on how whether to commemorate an anniversary with a gift.

Questions about etiquette gift giving when establishing newlywed family traditions, helping an alcoholic spouse adjust to being sober, seeking care for a person with dementia, as well as how to stop coworkers from being so argumentative during the heat wave came into Didi Lorillard's NewportManners this week.

Dear Didi,
Recently my wife of fifteen years joined the only Alcoholics Anonymous meeting group in our small rural town. At a meeting yesterday, an older gentleman approached her and said, "Do you believe in love at first sight?" My wife was not flattered but didn't want to be rude. What should she have said?  Name withheld

Dear spouse,
When someone is rude to her like that again, she can say, "The first time I saw my husband fifteen years ago, he said exactly the same thing. We're raising three wonderful kids and have a happy marriage." The next time your wife gets up to speak at her AA meeting she can tell the audience how much she loves her husband and how grateful she is for his support. That way everyone will know that your wife is clearly unavailable. ~Didi

Dear Didi,
It's my son and daughter-in-law's first wedding anniversary—should I give her a personal gift?  Katherine, Warren

Dear Katherine,
You're going through the stage commonly called Establishing Shared Family Traditions. Remember if you give her/them a first anniversary present, you're setting them up to expect a second, third, fourth, etc. If you can afford the ongoing additional yearly expense, then by all means give her a personal gift. Since they're married, it should be an anniversary gift to them as a married couple.

On the other hand, if you don't want to set up the kind of commitment that will have to be repeated annually, simply send them a card or invite them out for brunch or dinner—although not for the actual date. It's the thought—remembering—that counts; sending a card, followed up by an email or phone call shows that you're thinking of them. Many new parents-in-law give the couple a gift certificate to a swell restaurant where they can celebrate their one year anniversary over a romantic dinner. ~Didi

Dear Didi,
There is a widow in our church whom we on the vestry think has Alzheimer's disease and is in need of care, but we don't know how to go about helping her get it. We feel her dementia has gotten more serious. She has a son in another state and we're wondering if we should approach him because we don't think he knows what's going on. She lives alone and recently had one fire in her kitchen that we know of.  Jack, Tiverton

Dear Jack,
It would be better if your minister talked to the widow to gently assess the situation and ask her permission to speak to her son. Tread lightly because she may be in fear of losing her driver's license and thereby a certain amount of freedom. In many states physicians are required to report all newly diagnosed Alzheimer's patients so the DMV would be notified and her license revoked.

Also, there is the ethical question: Would she want to know just how badly off her dementia is? Some of us would want to know because we would need to make plans and put our papers in order. According to recent studies, others of us apparently don't want to know, and shouldn't: The knowledge could cause them to spiral down into a deep depression. It's still not clear whether knowing about an Alzheimer's diagnosis benefits the person with the disease. If the widow thinks her wiring is a little off, then she'll probably welcome giving the minister permission to talk to her son about getting her a proper diagnosis and assistant care. Go gently from there. ~Didi

Dear Didi,
Maybe it's the heat but coworkers seem extremely disagreeable and argumentative despite having climate control in the workplace. What is the polite way to stop arguing when it goes on and on? It's more bothersome than the heat.  Sapphire, Providence

Dear Sapphire,
Usually, by simply saying, "Let's agree to disagree," you can end the conversation. If the person continues, then say it again, "Okay, we don't agree, but let's agree that it's all right to disagree." If they don't get it the second time, then walk away because they aren't listening to what you're saying. Sometimes it's an ego thing, in which the person has to have the last word. Walk away before they have the opportunity. Of course on the phone, one can always say, "I have to take another call." Obviously in an important meeting, one doesn't walk out. Then it's up to you to change the subject by saying, "Let's move on to another topic." ~Didi

Didi Lorillard researches shifting trends in etiquette at NewportManners where she answers question about dilemmas in relationships, wedding etiquette, dress codes and manners. Or follow Didi on Facebook or LinkedIn after reading earlier GoLocal columns, some of which are listed below.




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