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Social Grace 

Tipping policy at an open bar; Serving plates; Addressing the Interviewer; Wedding Ushers; Noisy Neighbor

Wednesday, Jun 14 2000
Dear Social Grace,
I recently attended a private party at which there was an open bar with a bartender mixing drinks for the guests. As no money is changing hands, how much am I required to tip this bartender?

Dear P.S.A.,
You're wrong to think that no money is changing hands -- money is changing hands. Your hostess will be paying the bartender and other service people at her private party. As the hostess, she is solely responsible for paying and tipping them. You are not required to tip any amount.

Dear Social Grace,
(When serving plates at dinner) is it "serve from the left and remove from the right," or vice versa, or does it not really matter?
Via the Internet

Dear Sir or Madam,
Of course it matters, gentle diner. Without food, we would die. The rituals surrounding the consumption of food are some of humankind's oldest, and they certainly deserve respect and attention. But I hope my response to this question isn't intended to decide a wager -- because there is no definitive answer. All my resources on American etiquette agree that serving from the left is proper. The venerable Amy Vanderbilt prefers also removing from the left as the more strictly correct method (and removing from the right as also correct but an American concession to convenience). However, the esteemed Lillian Eichler joins the majority in thinking that dishes are best removed from the right. I'll add that serving from the left and removing from the right seems to be the most common traditional practice. (However, dishes at a person's far left may be removed from the left, to avoid a long reach in front of the diner.)

Dear Social Grace,
It's a job interview for a creative position with a dot-com. I show up "dressed down" in a black sweater and cotton twill slacks, because I know things are going to be very casual. My interviewer, "Mr. Ortega," shows up in a Quake III T-shirt and jeans. We are both under 30. He immediately says, "Thank you for coming in, Melissa." Now, my first instinct is to respond with "Thank you, Pablo." But I still have a small feeling, instilled in me as a child, that I should be calling him "Mr. Ortega" -- he is, after all, a potential employer and this is, after all, a job interview. What do you think? You've mentioned the "new informality" in the workplace. Have last names been suspended?

Dear Melissa,
Oh, dear. This is the kind of question that earns me angry letters from people who tell me I'm unfriendly and "not nice." But I like that piece of the old formality (and agitate for its return), for lots of reasons. It made the nature of interpersonal relationships clearer, and it allowed your friends and family a nice piece of intimacy that not everyone had a right to: your first name. However, Social Grace, like etiquette itself, must recognize sweeping societal changes and their effects on how people relate to one another.

Proper etiquette still asks us to call Mr. Ortega "Mr. Ortega" in the situation you describe until he invites us to call him by his given name. (And he is to call you "Ms. Smith.") However, in such a casual situation, I recognize that this bit of well-mannered behavior may not happen -- and that insisting on formality might make Mr. Ortega uncomfortable, brand me as "uptight" (shudder), and potentially cost me a valuable job. I've dealt with this problem by stating, at the very beginning of the professional relationship (during the first phone call or e-mail), "This is Grace" or "Please call me Grace." I then wait for Mr. Ortega to introduce himself (as he probably will) as "Pablo" before calling him anything.

Dear Social Grace,
Should ushers (at a wedding) be chosen by the bride or the groom?
September Bride

Dear Bride,
The bride and bridegroom together choose ushers, from among their friends and family. Ushers needn't be chosen only by one or the other.

Dear Social Grace,
The person in the apartment beneath mine works a night shift and plays his stereo at high volumes every day, all day -- not a problem during the week, but on weekends I have to wake up when the music starts, and I can't relax at home until the music stops in the evening. I have complained to him, to no avail (he is something of an asshole). His neighbors to the side have complained to him, also to no avail. The SFPD obviously has better things to do than deal with daytime noise disturbances. So how do I deal with this? Good manners have failed. I've tried asking him politely to turn the music down, and it doesn't work. After a long Saturday afternoon of Def Leppard rising through the floorboards, I am wondering at what point I am allowed to retaliate by egging his car or Super Gluing his locks while he's at work.
Considering Options in Noisy Valley

Dear Considering,
I'm sorry to inform you that I condone revenge vandalism only as a very last resort -- and, really, an egged automobile is unlikely to inspire the considerate behavior you hope to encourage in your rock 'n' rolling neighbor.

Good manners can (and sometimes must) employ their own kind of force -- that is, when a person refuses to play by the rules of a community, that community must firmly (but politely) bring him into line. And we have a tool for that. So keep your eggs in the refrigerator and your Super Glue in your desk. First we're going to try some gently persuasive public censure. Since your neighbor's music is disturbing several people, I recommend uniting and presenting your case to him as a group. A petition signed by everyone in the building, or the sight of several stern neighbors at his door one Sunday morning, might make it clearer to him that he's become more than a minor nuisance to one neighbor -- whom he might consider overly sensitive (not to mention unappreciative of great music). And even if he has no feeling for others' needs for peace and quiet, a firm, united, civilized complaint should embarrass (or even scare) him into behaving himself.

Your group of tenants could also make its problem known to the owner of the building (if you rent) or the building association. Though the police may not want to get involved, the building's management should have an interest in maintaining peace in the building. If they don't seem to, you can apply your assertive good manners to them, and to the police, until they work to remedy the noise problem.

Are you unsure how to behave? Send your etiquette questions to

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