When in doubt with modern social puzzles, our own culture aficionado Ms. Modern Manners Sharon Schweitzer, JD shares her encouraging insight of how to make the best of any situation

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

Our best friend’s daughter is making her debutante bow at an international cotillion that we are invited to attend. Shall we bring a gift to congratulate her as well?

Debuting Do’s

Dear Bow-Tied,

The debutantes, who are daughters of the international elite – including ambassadors, diplomats, and industry giants – traditionally receive flower arrangements as gifts from family and very close friends, a week or so before the ball (prior to travel). Gift ideas also include luxury personalized or monogrammed stationery; or a donation to her favorite charity in her honor, noted in a card of congratulations. Jewelry, pearl or diamond earrings, and lockets with childhood photos are classic choices that she can also hand down to her daughter.


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

Approaching the holiday season has me thinking of gratuities for our extended team of those who help us on a regular basis. What’s appropriate for lawn help, doormen, garage attendants, a consistent babysitter… and the like?

Gratuity Giving

Dear Giving Your Best,

‘Tis the season to indeed express gratitude – within fiscal boundaries and the organizational policies of the service provider. Gift and tip with judgment for loyal service. You are not obligated to give cash, yet you’ll want to include a handwritten note of gratitude. A short list of tipping includes:


Au Pair: two week’s pay and a special gift from the children

Babysitter: a tip or gift-card equal to evening or day of service

Doorman/Lobby Attendant: a cash gift of $20-100 depending on location and service

Lawn Help: a gift-card equal to a day of service

Garage Attendant: $15-50, depending on location and service

Housekeeper: a tip equal to one day or week of service per person

Pet Groomer: a gift-card/tip equal to one service and human treats

Pet Walker: a tip/gift-card equal to one day or one week of service

Personal Trainer: a tip of a gift-card equal to one service or a special gift

Teacher and Teacher’s Aid: a class gift or individual gift rather than tip


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

During this time of year my children will receive gifts from family and friends. In this world of texting, how do I encourage them to form a lifelong habit of gratitude by writing thank-you notes?

Taking Notes

Dear Noteworthy,

Children are keen observers and they learn what they live. I encourage you to invite them to design their own personalized stationery (within reason) in lieu of you selecting it for them, and then include them in your weekly or weekend thank-you note writing sessions. Have their favorite snacks as a reward afterwards. I also recommend sharing the thank-you notes you receive and make gratitude a theme in your home… and soon they will express their own gratitude with written eloquence.


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

During all the festive parties happening now, there always seems to be a guest who, well, over imbibes. In fact, it may be a couple who has a few too many and gets sloppy in their decorum. How should I handle, so as not to offend them or our other guests too?

Hosts With The Most


Dear Hosting Habitués

It has happened to the best of us all. It is incumbent upon all hosts to advise bartenders and servers, before the event begins, to discreetly (and immediately) alert the host or hostess to any guest who may be losing their personal decorum. The host can then assess how to handle the situation, as each one is usually unique. The best policy is to have a drink limit, and a reasonable ending time for the festivities stated on the invitation.


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

We love hosting a holiday meal and as you know, it’s tremendous work for even the most casual gathering for more than a dozen family members and friends. My brother just informed me he wants to propose to his girlfriend, whom he’s only known for a few short months, at this gathering. What to do?

Decent Proposition


Dear Proposing Pensity,                                                               Accept the idea with your usual grace and charm, naturally. Marriage proposals during the holidays are popular. Obviously your brother wants his entire family there when he pops the question. Your entertaining skills are legendary, so therefore your holiday dinner is one of the best setups, since most, if not all, of the family wouldn’t miss a holiday dinner at your home. Everyone will be, or should be, in a festive mood, and the happy couple will share this memory for years to come.