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Is There a Doctor in the House? 

Does someone with a Ph.D. need to be addressed by her title all the time?

Wednesday, May 8 2002
Dear Social Grace,

Just a quick question about the properness of the title "Dr." I have a relative who has a Ph.D. She is not a professor, and as far as I can tell she is not on any lecture tour. She insists on being addressed as "Dr. Jane Doe." It has bothered me lately, because it has been awkward at family occasions (weddings, a reunion, and unfortunately a funeral). My brother is a physician, and as far as I'm concerned he is the only doctor in the family. Am I wrong to assume that a person with a Ph.D. should be addressed as "Dr." only in a professional setting among colleagues?

Via the Internet

Dear Concerned Madam or Sir,

Generally speaking, we address people as they want to be addressed (and before we know how that is, exactly, we're as formal as we can be). Like the rest of us, a person who holds a Ph.D. gets to choose how she is referred to in social situations. You're right that in all professional situations she should be referred to as "Dr. Doe." Formal social settings also call for recognition of titles: For example, introducing your relative as "my aunt, Dr. Jane Doe," at a wedding would be quite correct. At more casual events, insisting on being called "Dr." may seem a bit odd (obviously it strikes you as braggadocio) -- it's certainly more common for holders of Ph.D.s to use "Mr.," "Mrs.," or "Ms." -- but the choice is, in the end, up to the individual. Your relative has made her preference clear; please try not to let it bother you too much.

Dear Social Grace,

I work for a small company, and a co-worker is getting married. She's having a small ceremony, and I'm the only co-worker invited, but I'd like to throw a shower for her and invite co-workers. Is it appropriate to invite people to a shower who are not invited to a wedding?

Via the Internet

Dear Generous Madam or Sir,

A bridal shower should include only a bride's nearest and dearest -- who, it can be assumed, are invited to the wedding. If the bride in question is not only a co-worker but also a dear friend, you may throw her a shower, but even then it should properly include everyone close to the bride, not just other co-workers. If a person isn't close enough to the bride to be invited to her wedding, then she's likely not close enough to be invited to her bridal shower. (To invite mere acquaintances to a shower gives the appearance of gift-grabbing, even if that's not what it is.) It is possible that her close friends and relatives haven't been invited for some good reason (a strict budget or a ceremony in a distant place, for example), but a shower in such a situation is less expected.

If you want to invite her officemates (and if they're no more than that) to celebrate your co-worker's imminent nuptials, consider a less structured, non-gift-giving event -- celebratory champagne after work, for example. A bridal shower is far beyond what she could possibly expect of the folks at the office.

Dear Social Grace,

My younger sister is graduating from college this spring, and my parents are throwing a party for her. My sister would never be so tacky as to ask for cash gifts; however, I know that she wants to travel this summer, and I think money would be much more appreciated than a pen or a briefcase. My parents (who are giving her money, by the way) tell me that cash is an unacceptable gift from a sibling and that only older-generation relatives may give money as a present. They say that a brother giving a sister money is improper. Do you agree?

Rose's Big Brother

Dear Big Sir,

I do hate disagreeing with parents, but in this case I must (if only because my older siblings might be reading). Cash gifts from siblings are not always inappropriate. That said, if your parents feel so strongly about this gift's impropriety that it would ruin an otherwise perfect graduation party, give your sister something else. A compromise could meet both requirements -- say, a traveler's money pouch with a bit of money inside (some consider it bad luck to give a person an empty wallet or purse). You could even give her cash on the sly.

Your parents are correct that monetary gifts can seem impersonal -- even insulting -- when they come from a sibling or peer. In the situation you describe (graduation gifts typically involve money), the danger of insulting your sister sounds minimal. Give the idea some thought, though, just to be sure.

Dear Social Grace,

I usually agree with your feedback, but as a reservationist at a fine-dining restaurant here in San Francisco, I have to address the letter from Chris, regarding the way he or she was treated after being late for a reservation and losing a table ["By Any Other Name," April 17].

Chris says he/she called three times to confirm the reservation -- that alone rings untrue and makes me suspect some other aspects of the letter may be a tad exaggerated. Chris says, "We didn't object to having to wait, but rather to the ungracious way in which it was handled. There was no mention of '"have a drink on us while you wait' -- instead, a lot of pointing at watches and hostility."

So, Chris expects gracious treatment for being late, and even to be rewarded with a cocktail for it (the cocktail on the house is usually reserved -- so to speak -- for the guest who waits because the table is late).

Hmmm ... did Chris ever think to call the restaurant to say they'd be late, to apologize for being late, to realize he/she was in the wrong? Perhaps if he/she had shown genuine remorse, the staff would have bent over backward, rather than simply acting appropriately. None of us are in the hospitality business to offend people. But it sounds as though Chris took no responsibility for the situation and was treated like a mere mortal, not a revered god. Try being on time next time, Chris.

I commend Social Grace for taking the time to call several restaurants to inquire about the "15-minute rule" (which we enforce at my restaurant). But I'm surprised you didn't point out to Chris that the "Customer Is Always Right" rule is not a given, especially when the Customer is wrong.

Diane K.

Dear Ms. K.,

Thanks for giving us a view of this situation from the other side of the reservations book. I agree that Chris seemed to expect rather a lot in the way of compensation for his missing an appointment. But I think Chris learned that lesson well enough, and I expect that he'll phone ahead the next time he's in danger of being late for a held table. We can't know whether Chris exaggerated his maltreatment (and I have to disagree with you on one point -- I've encountered people employed in the hospitality industry who seem to feel that offending guests is their first priority), but I maintain that if he feels he was mistreated, he's correct to let restaurant management know.

About The Author

Social Grace


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