Newport Manners & Etiquette:  Etiquette for What Not To Do

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


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Not sure about which topics are off limits in social situations? Didi knows!

This week--in a nutshell--etiquette for what not to talk about, write about, or complain about. Wedding etiquette when you hate your bridesmaid dress. Roommate etiquette and an e-cigarrette tupperware-style holiday party. Send your huffy concerns to Didi Lorillard this November at

What not to talk about socially

Dear Didi,

My husband and I were dinning with eight friends the other night at a upmarket French bistro when the discussion turned to barfing. OMG, I couldn't finish my delicious dinner. Are there topics that shouldn't be discussed in social situations, let alone during dinner? How would you have changed the subject? A.R., Manhattan

Dear A.R.,

In a perfect world, everyone would ask themselves before starting a conversation, Will anyone be interested in this subject? But we don't think before we talk, especially while sipping sumptuous wine. In a nutshell, change the conversation, but steer it clear of bodily functions, sleep disorders, the weather, ailments, grid-locked traffic, money woes, and any topic that constitutes a stressed-out complaint. Lastly, nobody likes a braggart who plays one-upmanship or name dropper games. ~Didi

Did you say tupperware-style E-cigs party?

Dear Didi,

My roommate wants to have a E-Cigarette tupperware-style holiday party as payback to her friends and selling e-cigs and cartridges would cover the cost of the booze and food. I have asthma, but she says the vapors from e-cigarettes won't affect me. Otherwise, she is an awesomely fab roommate and I doubt I could find a better one. My fear is the effects of second hand vapors. It's like you can smell tobacco the next day after a smoker had been in your apartment because the smoke seems to stick on his clothes. What should I do? D.H., Providence

Dear D.H.,

Your health is the primary concern. Tell your awesome roommate you will help her with the party if she finds another place to hold it, but you have to live and sleep in your apartment after the revelers have split. The American Lung Association is backing bans in many states because detectable levels of cancer-causing chemicals, including anti-freeze, were found in leading brands of e-cigarettes and cartridges. Two studies so far have found that formaldehyde, benzene and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (a carcinogen) come from secondhand smoke emissions. Look it up on the web.

If your roommate is really your friend, she will find another crib for her tupperware-style e-cig party. If you're really her friend, you'll pitch in with the cost of a vapor-less holiday party instead. ~Didi

What not to say on a birthday card

Hello Didi,

I have a friend who has a birthday coming up this week. Her husband of many years passed away after a long illness a few months ago. I have a card for her and started by writing "I have been thinking of you and hope all is going the best it possibly can," and now I have run into a mental block. It doesn't seem right to say "Have a great birthday" or something like that, yet I would like to add a few thoughts other than what I already said. Anything like "happy" or "enjoy your day" or "have a fun celebration" seems so out of place. Do you have any suggestions for me? Thank you, Bonnie, Location withheld

Dear Bonnie,

On the contrary, it is OK to wish your friend a 'happy day.' You want her to know you think that she's OK. Birthday cards should exude happiness and never be maudlin. Be cheerful and let her know that you're happy for her on her birthday. Say,"Have a great day." Your friend doesn't want a pity-party on her birthday. A birthday card should never double as a sympathy card, because it's condescending when, in fact, you want be cheering and praise her on celebrating another year. Nobody wants to be thought of as a professional widow or widower. If anything, she craves company, so if you want to say something pleasing, ask her to meet you for lunch, coffee or tea.

It is often after the months following the death of a spouse when friends need companionship the most. Strike out that first sentence and start again. Ask her if she wants to go to a movie or museum, and say you'll call her next week to set up a time. ~Did

When you don't like your bridesmaid dress

Dear Didi,

My daughters are junior bridesmaids in their aunt's wedding. They dislike the dresses that were chosen for them, because they are matronly. Is it possible to get them made shorter, above the knee, and still be appropriately dressed for a catholic wedding? L.F., Philadelphia

Dear L.F.,

Probably not above the knee for a Catholic church wedding, but knee length would be fine. Tea-gown length, which is mid-calf, and maxi, which is ankle length, are also OK. Since I don't know the style of the dress, it is difficult to give you my best opinion, because a full skirt will look even fuller short.

Tell your daughters to think of the wedding as a play about their aunt in which they each have important roles to perform. It is one day out of their life, and it might be best if they acted their way through the day like good nieces and actresses. My worry is the wedding photographs. There will be many staged photos of the bride with all her bridesmaids, and some with the groom and ushers as well. If your daughters are the only two in short dresses, it may throw photographs off.

To make the dresses less matronly-looking take them to a good tailor and have them fitted to the shape of each daughter to give the dresses a more flattering and youthful look. ~Didi

Do you have a question to ask Didi? Email it to [email protected] or visit her at If we use your question, we can withhold your name and address. Didi researches etiquette and all matters of manners for her book,"Newport Etiquette." Prior weekly columns are listed below.


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