Newport Manners & Etiquette: College Etiquette Tips, Secret Crushes + More

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


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What to do about a secret crush in your Inbox, assisting college students in fitting in, and the etiquette for seating guests at the wedding reception dinner were all questions to Didi Lorillard this week at NewportManners.

Romanticizing and revitalizing a forgotten charming crush

Q.  What if you're nearing death's door, more or less, and you still have a crush on someone and you've totally haven't stayed in touch, but you don't want to go to your grave in silence....  JH, San Francisco


A.  Think about the people you leave behind when you die, your survivors. There was a fascinating obituary of Lillian Ross in the New York Times recently that mentions the pain Ms. Ross caused William Shawn's family and friends by writing about her fifty-year affair with Mr. Shawn. Specifically the amount of time she stole from his family when he was with her - and not them.

If you currently have a partner, or the person whom you wish to contact has such a relationship, think long and hard about the consequences of exposing your secret crush. 

If you can pull it off without wounding your partner or hers, then by all means make contact. Feel the temperature of the water. "A dream about you came from out of nowhere, which prompted me to get in touch and find out how you're doing..."

It also depends if there was a real relationship between the two of you, or, as you say, it was merely a secret crush - that perhaps was not reciprocated.

It is hazy weird when someone out of the past contacts you. Don't text. Instead email to say you would like to call her. Set up a day and time. Confirm her phone number. She'll be curious. As are you. So why not make the call. If you have a family, don't leave a paper or Internet trail. Figure out if you want to intensify the relationship. What if she lives a million miles away?

Actually, i would be curious to find out how she reacts. I called an old boyfriend out of the blue because I had a dream about him, and he coldly said, "Didi, do you remember why you broke up with me?" And so it was like - Why are you calling?


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The bully guest wedding reception seating dilemma

Q. At a beautiful wedding we were given numbered table cards for the seated reception dinner, but there were no individual seat assignments as in place cards on the table. I actually prefer being seated this way because it gives me better options when I can pretty much choose who I sit next to. For instance if there is someone I really don't want to sit next to, I can control that by not seating myself next to him. 

But the bully at the table took it upon himself to seat everyone. How rude! I would never take it upon myself to tell people where to sit at someone else's party! Not only that, but he loudly voiced his disapproval of there not being place cards. This led to a discussion about how guests seat themselves at a dinner when there are no place cards? Aside from not seating yourself next to your spouse, but sitting boy-girl-boy-girl, how should have the ten quests at the table handled who sat where?  JB, Newport


A.  Seating a dinner of any size takes thought. The host attempts to be mindful about making sure that every guest is seated with at least one compatible person with whom he can find common ground. However, when the numbers swell for a dinner of more that eight - and possibly as many as two hundred - doing individual seating can be an organizational nightmare. Guests drop in and drop out, so you don't want to waste time by drawing up a seating plan too far in advance. 

  • Formality of the seating should be consistent with the formality of the wedding. 
  • At a formal white or black tie wedding where the dinner is plated and served, the formality of having individual place cards at each place setting follows the formal style. 
  • When guests plate their dinner themselves from a buffet, the guests probably are not formally dressed and there wouldn't be individual place cards for each guest, but guests would be given a table number. This is appropriate when you're mixing generations because you don't want people wandering around forlornly looking for an empty seat, so you give every guest a table number where they'll find guests with similar interests.
  • The least formal dress code would be a family-style wedding with a buffet, and open seating where guests can sit wherever they like.


*Ideally when there are just table cards, the seating of up to ten guests should be able to arrange itself.


  • When possible, every guest should be flanked by a person of the opposite sex, which of course is becoming more common with the profusion of all-gender wedding guests and same-sex couples.
  • A lively person or couple should be at each and every table.
  • Aside from their spouse, every guest should be able to recognize at least one guest at his or her table.
  • Married couples are never seated side by side.
  • Tables are more successful when they are comprised of guests of the same generation with similar interests.
  • By the way, tables of twelve or more should probably have place cards.


In this instance, JB, I'm assuming that the other guests at your table knew one another or knew of each other - or shared a commonality. 

So, respecting your intelligence the host was leaving it up to all of you to not sit next to your spouse, but adhere to tradition by sitting between people of the opposite sex. 

It was left to the guests to fall into place and figure the seating out amicably without one person taking charge. If the bully hadn't taken over, the table would have politely seated itself.


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14 greatest tips for newly matriculated students

Q. What about etiquette for newly matriculated students who don't have a clue as to what college is really all about when you have to live for the first time with strangers?  GB, Alberta, Canada


A. These simple dos and don'ts should smooth the transition.


  • Pace yourself because there's plenty of time over the next four years to party.
  • Eat nutritiously to stay healthy and alert.
  • Phone your family once in a while.
  • Keep up good personal hygiene.
  • Be kind to anyone who looks and behaves as though they are homesick or feeling left out.
  • Report sexual assault.



  • Get drawn into competitive hangover-ing.
  • Blow your budget the first month.
  • Assume your roommates will clean up after you.
  • Become overwhelmed by your vast new surroundings and intimidated by the academic backgrounds of your fellow students, because everyone else is feeling insignificant too.
  • Become upset if you do or say something silly. Quickly laugh it off to show you're human.
  • Forget to deal with your laundry on a weekly basis because it can smell up your room.
  • Cook or store food that leaves a lingering odor.


When first impressions really matter

Q. Our son is unhappy about his sullen roommate. Our first impression when we moved him into his dorm and met his roommate, was not a cheerful one. My husband and I tried to dissuade Jake from judging him to quickly. We probably overdid it when Jake complained about his disposition. He says they don't talk and stay out of each other's way. How do we handle this problem politely?  Name Withheld


A. Your son will get to know his roommate better over time. The roommate may be feeling incredibly stressed or irritated. He may have never been away from home before, let alone having to adjust to living with a total stranger. First impressions are unfair. Everyone has something that they are dealing with, worried about and fear. 

Such anxiety often is hard to disguise. It is expressed on a person's face. The roommate on first impression may look angry, sad or lost. Perhaps he's just worried that he won't fit in or be able to keep up. He may be depressed about financial concerns.

  • According to Alexander Todorov, in his new book FACE VALUE: THE IRRESISTIBLE INFLUENCE OF FIRST IMPRESSIONS, it only takes 30 milliseconds (or one-tenth of a second), for our brain to form snap character judgements from a first impression. In particular the person's level of attractiveness, politeness, trustworthiness, and powerfulness. "These impressions," Todorov writes, "are closer to perception than to thinking. We don't need to think, we see." He says that impressions register on our senses. Senses are based on past experiences. 
  • University life is largely about having new experiences and learning not to base a person's character on a first impression.


Suggest that your son, from time to time, tries smiling at his roommate to help him relax. Smiling creates what behavioral scientists call feedback loops. When we smile - even when we're not feeling joyful - the body releases hormones that helps the body relax naturally and be happy.

In some cultures, making eye contact is a breach of etiquette, but a simple smile is universally accepted. 

Didi Lorillard is not a so-called expert. However, she does research manners and etiquette at NewportManners for her forthcoming book NEWPORT MANNERS & ETIQUETTE.


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