Fall is on the way, and it’s time to bring the etiquette indoors. Our expert Ms. Modern Manners Sharon Schweitzer, J.D. provides answers to questions about some of life’s most interesting situations.

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

We’re been offered an incredible opportunity to stay at a friend’s chateau in France while they are not there. What do you recommend we leave behind for them as a substantial host gift?

Chateau Chic

Dear Chateau On The Go,

For a unique experience like this, there are two requirements: leave a handwritten note and a gift. There is an emphasis on the handwritten note to demonstrate your time and appreciation to the host. You may leave this with the gift or send it immediately after leaving their chateau.

The gift must be personalized to the friends’ taste. Ideas range from fine chocolates and wines to luxury items for the home, such as five-star coasters, soaps, crystal, linen napkins and placemats. If your friend has a family of their own, include them with the personalized gift. Another fun idea can also be to include photos shot during your stay and sent after your departure. Staying in their home will provide additional insight into their taste and may help you find the perfect gift.  

Dear Ms. Modern Manners

Since it’s gala season, can you remind me if it is appropriate to have place cards at a dinner table so that guests can mix it up a bit and create new, strategic relationships?

Gala Goer

Dear Gala Going,

Gala season is a joy every year. If you have generously hosted or sponsored the entire gala table, then yes, it is completely appropriate to have place cards for your invited guests at the dinner table. However, if you are assigned or seated at a table of 8 or 10, then it’s the host or hostess’ prerogative to have place cards, not yours. It’s extremely inappropriate to use place cards if you aren’t the host, hostess or underwriter. Whatever the case may be, enjoy.

 Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

I’ve been recruited to help host a fundraiser honoring a recently deceased friend. What’s the best way to move forward from the emotion of it to create a winning philanthropic evening?

Always Thinking

Dear Thoughtful One,

Memory fundraising is a growing trend to honor those who have passed on, particularly when there is an emotional connection between the deceased friend and the receiving charity. For those involved, the fundraising itself becomes part of the grieving process, a way to work through the life of the friend and pass that energy on in a positive way. If you are the host:

  • Recruit a few mutual friends to co-organize the event with you to assist with the grief journey.
  • Share stories and memories of your friend with the group, so that the most raw feelings have an opportunity to heal a bit before the event itself.
  • Hire or enlist a professional event planner to ensure success.
  • Conclude the fundraising evening on a positive note with an uplifting story about your departed friend.

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

For the holidays, how far ahead should we let our in-laws know we are going to start alternating Thanksgiving and Christmas with them and what if our schedule doesn’t correlate with theirs?

Holiday Happiness

Dear Holiday Delight,

Holiday planning can start as much as 4-6 months ahead of time, especially with airfare and large family gatherings. Some couples choose to alternate holidays with the in-laws annually. If successful, once the cadence is set then the family knows what to expect in future years. Starting this practice as newlyweds is an ideal option. Otherwise, start the conversation in the summertime to avoid conflicts. If your schedule doesn’t correlate the first year, one or both of the families may need to make adjustments. However, it gives you a chance to plan for the following year so that everyone’s schedules can align. Keep in mind, for this pattern to work successfully long term, family peace and harmony will be an important part of every holiday.