Object D’Art? It’s Yours…

How does you handle the challenges of today’s etiquette dilemma? Our Ms. Modern Manners, Sharon Schweitzer rides to the rescue with answers to pressing conundrums like inheritance wishes, forgetting names, host gifts. and awkward run-ins with a former spouse. 


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

My mother-in-law, who is getting up in years, has recently asked what my husband might like to have of hers after she is gone. How should we answer the next time she asks?

Dallas Inheritance Inquisitor

Dear Inquiring Inheritor,Questions like this from a loved one are often difficult to absorb, despite the fact that his mother is asking.  Make no mistake that she is sincere or she would not pose this delicate question. She has come to terms with her own mortality. Her son may respond by advising her that he will ponder her question, respond soon and then tell her the truth with grace and in person. If he has always loved her Japanese chair, silver tea set, or his father’s desk, then let her know how much it would mean to have something that would remind him of the family. Also, you may want to gently recommend her to consult an estate-planning attorney to make a will. She can make a special bequest or written list of cherished possessions with intended recipients. Storing this with her will for safe keeping goes a long way toward reducing future family squabbles. She is blessed to have you both.

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

I seem to keep running into my former husband at social gatherings. We stay friends because of the children, but I’d rather not converse in a social situation with him.  How do I take the high road, yet avoid the awkwardness?

Riveted in River Oaks

Dear Riveted and Riled,

This situation may be a continuing déjà vu if your circle of friends continues to be the same people you were friends with when you were married. The main thing to remember is that your actions will affect how comfortable the other guests feel around the two of you. Do not ignore him when you see him for the first time at an event. If he’s standing close enough to be included in conversation, greet him cordially. You may make small talk for a few minutes, then excuse yourself. Do not make a scene of trying to avoid him for the rest of the evening. If he does happen to join a conversation you’re involved in, smile and greet him by name. Be cordial, but not overly friendly, since you are not obligated to smother him with overt kindness.

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

Please settle an argument. My husband thinks I over give. I always bring a host gift, give gifts for birthdays and holidays, write a thank-you note for gifts received – the things we were taught to do. Am I over doing it or clinging to a be-a-good guest-be-a-good-host system that it seems might be going out of style?

Curious in Alamo Heights

Dear Curious As All That,

The basics of etiquette were designed by society to create order and respect for other people. As time goes by, some have observed that the basic social graces seem to be ignored, or even forgotten. You, however, seem to have done neither.  A gracious guest brings a host or hostess gift and gives a gift for a special occasion such as a birthday or holiday. Thank you notes are de rigueur.  These social graces are not considered ‘over giving’ unless the gifts are inappropriately flamboyant. While it may seem that our society has become more relaxed when it comes to manners, make no mistake – the social graces will not go out of style.

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

My architect and his long-term life partner of 15 years have eloped to another state where gay marriage is legal.  How should I acknowledge that the next time I see them?

Honesty in Old Enfield

Dear Honest Engine,

With joy and happiness, of course. Acknowledge their marriage with the positive expressions of love. “So happy for both you and your partner” “Congratulations gentlemen” or “Best wishes for a long and happy marriage” are all good ways to acknowledge this gay marriage. These newlyweds will be delighted to receive gracious wishes of future happiness. I encourage you to treat this newlywed couple as you yourself would hope to be treated as a newlywed.