Newport Manners + Etiquette: Gum Chewers At Work + More

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


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How to handle coworkers who may care more about the gum they are chewing than the business at hand.

How do I save my marriage from my hellish step-daughter? What's the etiquette with gum chewers? How to handle a daughter-in-law behaving badly? What to wear to the boss's birthday party? All topics to Didi Lorillard from inquirers this week at

Dealing with a gum chewer

Dear Didi,

Is it me or just my imagination, but are people chewing gum more? I find it disruptive. There are two women in the department I've just started managing who are always chewing gum. While I'm talking to them their jaws move at a rapid pace. I want to ask them if it is nicotine gum, but don't feel I should get that personal in a professional situation. How can I politely ask them not to chew gum around me? It's distracting. I'm so busy watching the movement in their jaw that I lose my train of thought. Then when they talk, answer my questions, I wonder where that gum is lodged and wish they would swallow it. S.H., Providence

Dear S.H.,

Take the gum chewer coworker who is the most likable aside and say to her, "If you chew gum for matters of health and it's nicotine gum, that's fine. But if you do so, please, dispose of it before meetings." 

You're right about not wanting to ask them directly if it is nicotine gum, because you don't want to make it personal. So act as though you are setting policy. As the the new manager you have the authority to set new rules, including the setting of boundaries on gum chewing. Even though it has been scientifically proven that chewing gum boosts alertness by ten percent, gum chewers should be considerate and do so in private. Didi

Breaking Bad Daughter-In-Law

Dear Didi,

My best friend's mom passed away and right after she died her daughter-in-law picked up her purse and started going though her mother-in-law's checkbook. She did this right in front of her father-in-law. What should have been said or done? Thank you, I.S., Woonsocket

Dear I.S.,

Someone should have stepped up and said, "Excuse me, what are you doing?" Then taken the checkbook away from the daughter-in-law and handed it over to the father-in-law, who no doubt was in shock at her action as well as in mourning. ~Didi 

Step-daughter is ruining my marriage

Dear Didi,

My step-daughter's mother was disabled and she (including her boyfriend––not working—and their son) and all four lived in a house that was leased by the mother. After the daughter's mother passed, the daughter was evicted for non-payment of rent. I have reason to believe that my husband had paid his daughter's mother's debt off with the monies that were saved for our vacation. He has told me that the money was used for car repairs and equipment, which I found not to be true. He basically told me that he could do whatever he wants to do with his money.

Several months later the daughter moved into another rental house. Now my husband is helping his daughter pay her rent, because I do not believe that she can afford to pay a monthly rent with her current income. Initially, the daughter was receiving financial help from her disabled mother before her passing.

Each payday my husband is in need of money, wanting to borrow money from me. Our home needs a lot of repairs and he cannot contribute to getting anything fixed or contribute towards a nice vacation. It appears he is trying to take care of two households; I do not like this setup. I feel this is destroying our marriage. What should I do or say to him? F.K., Detroit

Dear F.K.,

You need to get your husband into couples therapy. Don't elaborate, just say you want to save your marriage and ask him if he would be willing to go into marriage counseling with you. Give him five days to think it over. Then ask for his answer. 

Your husband is lying to you and being deceitful. You can't trust him. If you want to continue living with him, you are going to have to seek professional help. It sounds as though this has been going on for a long time. Too long. The sooner you resolve this one way or the other, the better you'll feel. ~Didi

Dress Code for the boss's birthday party

Dear Didi,

My husband is a bodyguard for a politician in DC. He was invited by his boss to attend his birthday party (mid-October at night) with his wife (me). What should I wear?? Formal attire is not required but I don't want to look sloppy or overdo it. A.P., Washington, DC

Dear A.P.,

Wear a simple cocktail dress with beautiful shoes and carry a small clutch bag. For ideas about dresses trending this season, go to the Web site for Rent the Runway, Click on 'Occasions' and then 'Cocktail Attire.' Look for the following knee-length cocktail dresses:

  • Tracy Reese's 'Charmed By You Dress'
  • Kate Spade New York 'Carol Dress'
  • Trina Turk's 'Stacking Circles Dress'
  • Rachel Ro's 'Swing It Dress'
  • Narciso Rodriguez 'Clean Cut Dress'
  • Cushnie Et Ochs' 'No Fear Dress'
  • Cushnie Et Ochs' 'Bold For Bond Dress'
  • Viktor & Rolf's 'Bittersweet Dress'


I use Rent the Runway to illustrate the style of dress that would be dressy enough as well as appropriate. As you'll see, you can rent or buy a dress, but you should also be able to find these dresses, and copies similar to them, in your local department store. The look I'm going for here is a slightly above the knee dress that doesn't show too much bare skin up top. Preferably with a sleeve of sorts and definitely not strapless. It should not be adorned with sequins or beading. You don't want to look provocative or flashy. You're going for an elegant look.

There is a joke in the fashion world that DC women always look as though they only shop at Talbot's. So you could start there, but I also like J.Crew and Ann Taylor, which seem more updated than Talbot's. ~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 GoLocal columns are listed below. More topics can be accessed through a search.


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