I'm a Lady and So Are You

Dear Readers:

The time has come for us to talk of etiquette. I had one reader who wished to know how to avoid pouring gravy down her uncle's shirt, and one reader who wished to know how to apologize. I wonder if they are related? Readers, I assure you, that while a lady may need to apologize, she does not need to apologize for pouring gravy down a house guest's shirt. It simply isn't done.

But, all of this leads me to the subject for today: Correspondence.

A well bred woman always maintains a stock of stationary. At minimum you should have note paper, note cards and envelopes to fit. Mrs. Spit is fortunate to posses monogrammed stationary, but this is not a requirement. You should also have a blue or black pen to write cards and letters. It need not be said, a lady does not use pencils, or ink of a violent hue to write her correspondence. As to the design of the cards and papers, I will leave that up to you, but will point out that the design should not induce dizziness on the part of the recipient, and condolence cards and letters should always be as plain as possible.

A note about form - for heaven's sake, spell things correctly. Mis-spellings and gramitical mistakes are sweet from a five year old, and simply obnoxious from a 25 year old. Letters always take the form below.

November 26, 2008
Dear Ms. Lady (Or Dear First Name for a friend)
Body of letter.
Yours truly or Sincerely. Never Regards.
Mrs. Spit

Why yes, your children should absolutely send thank-you cards. If they are not old enough to hold a writing implement, you write the card. If they are old enough to hold a crayon, you write the card and they draw a picture. If they are old enough to be at school, they are old enough to write their own correspondence. I promise, if Aunty Spit receives a drawing or a letter with mis-spellings from a wee one, she will only smile.

For A Gift:
  • In the words of the famous and immortal Etiquette Grrls, you get a gift, you send a card. Always. This goes for birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, because it's Tuesday gifts, friendship gifts, good-bye gifts, baby gifts, wedding gifts, any gift. Let me repeat that again. You get a gift, you send a thank-you card, within 6 weeks.

Dear Elizabeth:

I cannot say thank-you enough for the amazing gift that you sent me. It was wonderful that you thought of me, and I cannot tell you how surprised I was that you sent me the Hope Diamond. Really, your care and concern knows no bounds. It resides in a very special place in my home, and I shall treasure it always.

Sincerely, Mrs. Spit.

For a meal, hospitality, or a kindness done:

  • If someone feeds you dinner, you write what is called a bread and butter letter. It is simply a letter thanking the person for the time they spent preparing for the meal, and preparing for your visit. It is an acknowledgement that they provided you hospitality, and you appreciated it.
  • It is always appropriate to mention a particularly memorable event or dish, as long as they do not bring up negative memories. We would not, for instance, bring to mind the flaming roast beef, or the car accident on the way to the museum.
  • Finally, a very important note. Writing a bread and butter letter does not absolve you from bringing a hostess gift. You do that as well.
  • If you are writing a letter for a kindness done - someone who attended a funeral of a family member, or who assisted you with a task, you highlight the task, and simply thank them for their kindness.

Dear Kelly:

Thank you so much for your kindness and hospitality in holding a congratulatory dinner party for me, as a result of my Nobel Prize. As always, your food is incredible, your hosting skills are impeccable, and your home, lovely. I shall treasure the words in that remarkable toast for always, and my mouth is still watering from the delicious roast beef. You truly are amazing.

Sincerely, Mrs. Spit

A Congratulatory Letter

  • We use these when someone achieves a great thing, is to be married, had a baby, graduated from schooling, won an award, received a promotion and the like.
  • The letter simply reflects that the person has put in hard work to get where they are, and we wish to celebrate in their good fortune.
  • Where you are congratulating a recently engaged couple, it is important to point out that we never, ever congratulate the bride or the bride to be. It is the very height of rudeness to suggest that we are congratulating her on her ability to "catch" a man. Rather, we congratulate the man, who is fortunate that such a wonderful woman has consented to be his wife, and we wish a woman every happiness.

Dear Sally:

Really, it seems just yesterday that you started grade school and I was baby sitting you, and here you are, graduating high school. Your mother tells me that you will attend my Alma Mater, Wonderful University in the fall - I'm so pleased, I have such fond memories, and if the cafeteria still serves them, do try the cinnamon buns.

We want to send you every congratulation in the world, you have worked hard, and you deserve every good thing.

Sincerely, Mr and Mrs Spit.

A letter of Condolence:

  • These dear readers, must be the hardest letters to send. They are not a few scrawled words written on the back of a sympathy card, but instead, a heartfelt reflection of your sorrow at the tragedy in an other's life. I remember these from after Gabriel died, and I remember how much comfort they brought me.
  • You may chose to send a letter by itself, or tucked in a standard sympathy card.
  • A word to the warning, be very cautious about sending religious type cards, where you don't know the religious background. Nothing is more offensive than religious sentiment to those who are not religious.
  • It is always important that a condolence letter be written as plainly and simply as possible, and not include any ridiculous platitudes. They will not help the bereaved feel any better.
  • It is always appropriate that you recall a particular memory about the person, or the way in which they affected your life. I am sure that it need not be said - we do not mention old arguments or unhappy memories.
  • Even if you know the bereaved well, and you have spoken to them, still write a letter. The memories you share and the happy thoughts will bring them comfort.

Dear Mr. Smith:

I heard with such sadness the announcement of your wife's untimely passing. Please accept my sincere and heartfelt condolences for your loss.

I worked with Judy at White Guys with Blue Ties, Inc, and it was such a pleasure. She was so knowledgeable and helpful, and she will be missed. I remember especially how she liked to make accounting jokes, and in doing so brightened up otherwise boring meetings. I will think about her and miss her jokes.

With sympathy, Mrs. Spit

The Letter of Apology

  • There are only four instances in which it is permissible to send a letter of apology - Where the slight was minor, where the person is simply so angry that they will not speak to you, but you wish to apologize anyway, and where it would cause more of a commotion to apologize in public, or where you are sending a replacement item for something that was broken.
  • In all other cases, you must apologize in person.
  • Very often, when we are writing a letter of apology, there is a desire to explain why we have done or said what we did. (In essence, we say "I'm sorry, but. . . )
  • DO NOT do this. If something is worth apologizing for, it is worth apologizing for. There is little point in trying to explain away part of your guilt. Apologize and be done with it.
  • Alternatively, often we apologize for things we have no business apologizing. If you are apologizing to "smooth things over", ask yourself if this is really appropriate.
  • I cannot give you the form for a letter where someone is simply too angry to speak to you. In all likelihood, the issue will be serious and difficult. I can only say to be genuine, to be direct, and to seriously consider what you want to say. Ugly words said in haste or anger cannot be quickly resolved.

Form 1: Where the slight was minor (including replacement)

Dear Mrs. Neighbour:

I wish to extend my apologies for breaking your window while playing baseball. I recognize that we were indeed very careless in our play, and understand that the broken window must have caused you considerable inconvenience. My mother and I would like to come over to your house to arrange repayment for the damages. Would tonight at 7 p.m. suit?

Your servant, Badly behaved neighbour child

Form 2: Where it would have been more of an commotion to apologize at the time

Dear Sarah:

Please accept our sincere apologies for our lateness to dinner yesterday. We must have been a terrible inconvenience and caused you significant consternation as you tried to serve dinner in a timely fashion. Our lateness was inexcusably rude, and we are sorry that it occurred.

Sincerely, Tardy Friend.

A few notes about above. If you are more than 10 minutes late, send an apology. When you do arrive at the dinner, slide into your chair, perhaps demurring and saying "traffic". I assure you, the rest of the world does not want to hear about a car that wouldn't start, a child that wouldn't behave and the like. You have already made enough of a spectacle of yourself, and it does not do to draw even more attention to yourself.

If you are going to be more than 5 or 10 minutes late, it is incumbent upon you to call ahead and offer to either step back from the invitation, or repeatedly assure your host that they may begin serving the meal, and you will eat whatever left overs survive. If you are the guest of honour, nothing short of chaos and death should permit tardiness.

Your Homework:

Of course there is homework. Sit down and write a card or letter to someone. You could send a thank you to a friend for being a really wonderful friend. Perhaps you have a condolence note or a congratulations letter to write.

The Rules:

You must obey the form rules at the top, and you must mail or hand deliver it. Absolutely no e-mail.

Let me know what you have done, and why and next week I'll give you a shiny lovely button.