Category Archives: Good WORD (Etiquette)

El Hostel de Reph

For the past several weeks I’ve been haunted by the realization that I am not able to live up to my own standards.

Not ethically, thank God, but etiquette-ly, which might be worse.

Mike and I recently hosted Sarah and Casey in our home while they were in town for the other other royal wedding.  They booked one night at the hotel across the street, but the rest of the time they stayed on our floor.

I know, the horror.

To be fair, they have stayed with us before, so they know our square footage exactly.  But that doesn’t change the desperate feeling I encounter when I see my guests waking up after a night on an air mattress.

Look, I get that it’s normal to have people stay on one’s floor when there’s no other choice, and it helps out-of-towners save some cash, and it’s not the worst thing in the world.

Unless you write about etiquette on your blog all the time.

We tried to mitigate the situation and do what I would tell anyone else to do: let the guests sleep in our bed.  We even laid down on their air mattress in protest, insisting that they go sleep in our bed.  It turns out doing that is akin to the classic restaurant standoff, “I’m paying the bill,” “No, I’m paying the bill,” until both of you hates the situation enough that the only gracious thing to do is give in.

The chaos of being involved in a family wedding at the time didn’t help either.  We were all sharing one bathroom, and after three days we were out of fresh towels.  Due to the hectic schedule of out-of-towner dinners, the rehearsal dinner, and the wedding itself, I had no time to do a load of laundry.

It was an etiquette-obsessor’s nightmare.

Let me be clear: our guests never once complained.  They were gracious beyond description and even thanked us daily for the hospitality.  I told them hospitality was a loose term in this case, but they insisted.

Long after they’d departed, I was still consumed with thoughts of how I could possibly improve our situation without moving to a three bedroom home.  I continued to be at a loss until we spent the night at the home of two of our good friends.

Their entire home is 540 square feet.  It is a free-standing home, not a condo.  It is completely adorable and should be highlighted in a design magazine for optimizing small spaces.  When they invited us to spend the night, we could not imagine where we would be resting our heads.

We shouldn’t have worried; they invested in an air mattress that blew our minds.  It’s double layered, so when inflated it looks like it has a box spring and a mattress, and it is about two and a half feet high so when getting into or out of the mattress it feels like a normal bed.

The best part — the box spring covers only about two-thirds of the mattress, so the mattress portion rests over a couch.  The result looks like a fold out bed from a couch.  We slept great.

The next morning we were singing the mattress’s praises when they told us they were actually trying to sell it due to their upcoming move into a bigger place.  Would we be interested, they asked?

Sold.

Though this won’t totally alleviate my feelings of hostess failure, I’m convinced the Reph Hostel has just upgraded to bed-and-breakfast.

Now accepting reservations.

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Shower with Care

I am pleased to announce the publication of my second guest post for Clise Etiquette!

The topic this time?  Bridal and baby shower etiquette — true minefields of social awkwardness.

The author of the blog, Arden Clise, is the well-known Seattle authority on business etiquette.  As the founder of Clise Etiquette, Arden works as an etiquette consultant, speaker and business etiquette columnist for the Puget Sound Business Journal. 

Many thanks to Arden for so generously allowing me to share her space again.

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Disposing Martha

There was a time when women got married, bought a four-bedroom house, and expertly knew how to care for every aspect of their home. 

2008, the year I got married, was not that time.

And my mother knew this about me.  She knew that not only did I not really have a clue about home maintainance, but that I was taking the easy road by living in a condo versus a house (thereby eliminating half the work — cleaning out gutters is not part of my spring cleaning routine).

So she turned to the expert to teach me how to become a decent homeowner:

Yes, she bought me Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook, and I’ve never looked back.

While most people would stuff this on a shelf and only dive for it in the wine-on-carpet disaster scenario, I have decided to read it cover-to-cover.  I tend to retain information like this, so I figure if I just read the whole thing I won’t need to look everything up all of the time.  Naturally I do this in a closet with a flashlight, because reading it is, of course, mortifying.

What’s less embarrassing is when that book totally saves the day. 

Last week, Mike and I were talking about how we tend to make each other do chores based on gender.  For instance, I always do the laundry and change the sheets, and he always takes out the garbage and fixes anything that breaks.  

But then the garbage disposal broke.  And we got into a tiny argument about the fact that neither of us intrinsically knows how to fix a garbage disposal.  I was extremely dismissive, you know, in that charming “Not my problem!” manner.  He was slightly irritated that this was his job just because he’s wearing the pants.

And then it hit me — MARTHA!

I ran into the den and pulled Martha off her place on the bookshelf.  I remembered reading a little how-to on fixing the garbage disposal.  I raced through my index, found “Garbage Disposals” and flipped to page 89.

“How to Fix a Jammed Garbage Disposal.”  Eureka! 

(I love how she even has optimism in her How-To.  No, your disposal is not broken — it’s merely jammed!  Let’s fix this in a jiffy!)

Mike opened the cabinet below the sink and had all his tools at the ready.  I started reading from Martha (everything was numbered and extremely detailed with things like “1.  Turn off circuit breaker to stop power to disposal.”  I honestly would not have thought of that).

After shutting off the power, Martha told us all about removing blockage and using our “reset button” (disposals have buttons?). 

After jamming things around in the sink for a few minutes (no actual tools required), we turned the power back on and tested the disposal — voila!  The genius of Martha lives on!

Mike’s look of shock was barely disguised, and my victory dance wasn’t remotely concealed.  We felt like we had broken through the genderism and had actually fixed something together…well, the three of us — Mike, Abby, and Martha.

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Don’t Wear Gortex to Dinner in D.C.

I am excited to announce the publication of my first guest piece on an etiquette blog, Clise Etiquette!

The author of the blog, Arden Clise, is the well-known Seattle authority on business etiquette.  As the founder of Clise Etiquette, Arden works as an etiquette consultant, speaker and business etiquette columnist for the Puget Sound Business Journal. 

Arden and I share a passion for all matters of decorum, from table manners to thank-you notes, so when she asked me to write about navigating the differences between East Coast and West Coast etiquette, I didn’t hesitate. 

Special thanks to Arden for this privilege.

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It’s Official: I’m Not Marrying Prince William

He’s engaged. 

Prince William asked his girlfriend of eight years, Kate Middleton, to marry him. 

To put my current previous obsession with Wills in perspective, consider this: my friend Amy sent me a text at 4:11AM telling me the news. 

Because news like this cannot wait. 

Because she knows I’ve been waiting for it. 

And because she knows I need to hear it from no one but her.

This is a woman who once collected every article written about Princess Diana for an entire year.  They were all kept under her bed, stacks and stacks of magazines and newspaper clippings of every detail of her life and tragic death.  I would go over to her house across the street and we’d pull them all out and stare at hundreds of photos.  We knew her life story, her family dynamics, her best dresses, her worst hairstyles. 

So, you could say it was picture perfect that a Prince William obsessor should get a 4AM text from a Princess Di obsessor.

We were 13 at the time, however, so it might seem silly that we care at age 26.  It might.

But I am not concerned with silliness, because I absolutely love royal weddings, and this one should prove to be more fantastic than the rest.  I cannot wait to see what style of dress she will choose, how decorated his suit will be, how many people will line the streets of London hoping to catch a glimpse.

Kate is already moving up my ladder of style icons.  People may joke about her over-the-top headpieces and formal hats, but I think they’re divine.  If it were even in the vicinity of socially acceptable in the States, I’d be sporting one every chance I got.

Given my propensity for formality and etiquette, I am eager to see the royal wedding process unfold.  I already admire their delayed announcement and press call, so the couple could have some private time to celebrate.  And in an age of reality TV and totally lack of privacy, I respect their decision not to share the details of how he proposed. 

These are the times when I mourn my lack of celebrity.  If I were at least a successful actress or daughter of a President, I might have a chance at an invitation.  As a Seattleite with no claim to fame, I probably won’t need to watch the mail too closely.

Which really is a shame, because I would have rocked a killer headpiece for that event.

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Be My Guest

There are hundreds of books and articles written about the art of hospitality; much less is said about the behavior of guests — especially for an overnight stay. 

Haven’t we all spent the night in someone else’s house and thought, “I really hope this doesn’t utterly destroy our friendship” ?  And haven’t we all hosted someone in our home overnight and thought, “This could be fantastic or a total nightmare” ?

What is the etiquette for those being served?  How can you make yourself a pleasant guest?  What are the cringe-inducing actions that can make your host regret inviting you?  Read on.

It Starts at the Door

Never show up empty-handed to stay overnight.  The host is not only (presumably) making you multiple meals, but she is also doing your laundry after you’ve gone.   The best you can do is show gratitude before any of this has even begun.  A few ideas:

  • Wine — always a solid choice, and if you’re not sure on their preference, bring a red and a white, just to be sure.
  • A decorative candle — one can never have too many candles, and they’re quick and easy for the host to light and display.  Avoid scented ones, as scents are personal, and if a meal is being served you don’t want the smell of the candle to interfere.
  • An unusual kitchen accessory — chances are if your host is having you in her home, she knows her way around the kitchen.  That’s why a killer gadget can hit the spot, such as a stainless steel olive oil can.

A Helping Hand — To a Point

It’s wonderful when guests offer to help set the table or crack the crab, but it’s less appealing when a guest insists on working in the kitchen with the host.  Don’t forget that one of the pleasures of hosting is knowing that your guests are comfortable and happy — if you appear distressed at not helping, you are robbing your host of this privilege.  Sometimes, if you can tell a host is in her element and things are going smoothly, it’s better to simply express your excitement about the coming meal.

Clean Up

This is probably the best chance for you to earn your keep.  Jumping in and helping with the dishes is almost always appreciated, especially when you do so without asking (“can I help with the dishes?” almost always comes across as a I-asked-just-to-confirm-I-don’t-have-to statement).  Of course, if your host is mortified at the thought of you cleaning up, don’t make a bother of yourself by entering into an “I insist, no, I insist” argument for twenty minutes.

The Next Morning

If you are staying multiple nights, make the bed in the morning.  On your final morning, strip your sheets and grab any used bathroom towels and put them in the laundry room.  It’s a harmless chore that spares the host from having to go room-to-room gathering linens.

Going the Extra Mile

When arranged in advance, it can work really well for you to prepare one meal for your hosts.  Let’s say you arrive at 4PM and are staying until noon the following day.  A great idea would be to offer to prepare breakfast as a thank you to your hosts.  By asking a couple of days ahead, you are showing that you’re eager not to be a burden, and you’re being considerate of their shopping preparations (they won’t buy eggs if they know you’re bringing them).  Though it might be tricky getting around your hosts’ unfamiliar kitchen, making eggs and bacon shouldn’t involve too many tools.

If you’re not comfortable with preparing a full meal, offering to make a dessert or a special cocktail for everyone is just as thoughtful. 

The Essential Follow-Up

If someone has had you in their home for 24 hours, a thank you text or email is not going to suffice.  Find a card or stationary and write a thank you note by hand.   When you’ve been in someone’s home for dinner, usually you can return the favor; with overnights, it’s less obvious if you’ll be able to host them in your home for the same purpose.  Therefore, a sincerely written card is most appreciated –“thank you” flowers, even more so.

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Fit for a King

From the age of 13 to 15 I wished beyond anything else that I could marry Prince William.  Yes, he was very cute in those days, but his being cute wasn’t nearly as attractive as his being royal.  I used to imagine the People magazine cover of our engagement and our soon-to-be wedding.  Laugh all you want, but Kate Middleton did nothing but prove that my fantasy wasn’t far from reality (just…not for me).

I had an entire wall of posters of him, postcards of his face from friends who visited the UK, and teen magazine tear-outs analyzing his moppy hair.  I even wrote a three-page letter to his fan club, which ranks among the most embarrassing acts of my entire life.

Needless to say, I developed an obsession with all things British-royalty.  The palaces, the houses in the country, the clothing, the peacock hats pinned to the sides of heads, the wealth, the formality, the etiquette, the travel.  But nothing held the same fantastical appeal as the creme de le creme: royal weddings.

Remember Diana’s?  I don’t.  I wasn’t alive.  But the pictures — my word, the pictures — showcase the over-the-top grandeur of it all.  It wasn’t their fault; as my friend Siri appropriately noted, “Diana’s wedding fell victim to the ’80s.” 

Look no further than her sleeves to understand why:

It’s madness.  She looks like she was swallowed whole by a pillow.

The entire wedding party is lost in a sea of fluff.  The wrings of flowers on the girls’ hair only causes further chaos.

All of this is freshly brought to mind because of the style triumph that was Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria’s wedding last Saturday.  It was elegant, refined, opulent and undeniably royal (despite her marrying a commoner — gasp!).

My opinion of Swedes has skyrocketed due to the gorgeous representation of the people by their royals.

Look at the joyful bride and groom:

Not only are they both gorgeous, but their clothes are picture perfect.  She wore an off-the-shoulder, age-appropriate (she’s 32) cream-colored silk gown designed by Pär Engsheden.  He donned an undecorated white-tie tuxedo with tails.

What most impresses me, I believe, is that on the one day when she could have worn head-to-toe five-carat diamonds, sapphires and family jewels, she instead chose to wear the cameo tiara her mother wore on her wedding day in 1976.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s still stunning.  But it’s less obvious and ostentatious than the typical crown associated with royalty.  After all, what does she have to prove?  We know she’s going to be Queen; no need to flaunt it, I suppose.

What’s amazing about her groom, Daniel Westling, is that he was her personal trainer.  Not royal.  Not a billionaire.  Do you see why I employed fantasies of a girl from Seattle marrying the future King of England?

Question: can you imagine being the mother of a commoner marrying into royalty?  I honestly can’t conceive of a more daunting wardrobe situation.  The entire royal world will be attending your son’s wedding to an actual princess, 500 million people will be watching on TV, and you have to walk in there as the only woman without a crown.  Ouch.

I’m sad to report that Westling’s mother failed to rise to the occasion.  She’s wearing a dress any mother-of-the-groom could find at Moms, Maids and More.

After the ceremony, the bride lifted her 16-foot train and looped it around her arm so she could hit the dance floor.  It occurs to me that this seems like a hassle, and certainly a lot of fabric to keep track of, but then again royals don’t bustle their dresses.  They have giant trains for a reason — they’re royalty.

The handsome duo didn’t disappoint for their version of a rehearsal dinner, either.  A gala dinner and concert were given for the couple the evening prior to the wedding, and the results speak for themselves:

Impeccable.  I can’t help but note that the groom has to be the most modern-looking man to become a prince in recent memory.  Those glasses and that hair make him look as if he’s partner of a Manhattan design studio.

Clearly I’m already toe-tapping in anticipation of the next royal wedding, between my former flame and his commoner girlfriend.  It’s only a matter of time before he pops the question, and only a matter of taste whether their wedding will receive the Words Become One nod of approval.

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