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Stench Warfare 

Wednesday, Jul 20 2005
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Dear Social Grace,

I have this friend who has a body- and foot-odor problem that is getting worse as the years go by. I've known him for 10 years, and although I discussed his odor with him a few years back, it seems he does not care -- he has commented that some people like the way he smells.

With the warm weather of summer, I've noticed that his smell has gotten worse. After a long walk one day, I drove him home, and my car mat and the car seat reeked after I dropped him off. I had to shampoo them. Our other friend "Ted" has told me that it's no use to discuss the odor issue, and that he's brought it up and heard all sorts of excuses. I enjoy Ted's company but am finding myself avoiding Ted, too, except to talk over the phone.

So what should I do? Should I once again call Mr. Smelly and tell him how his body odor offends me, or should I just ignore it as Ted seems to? I would hate to lose two friendships, but the poor hygiene is really getting to me and making me angry.

Tired of Holding My Breath

Dear Breathless Madam or Sir,

Social Grace is obviously very powerful -- but I'm afraid I can't give you any magic words that will make this fellow change his hygiene habits. Mr. Smelly's close friends have explained to him that his body odor offends them, and he either can't or won't smell any different. Perhaps he has some sort of allergy to soap. Or perhaps other people (whose company he enjoys more) really do like the way Mr. Smelly smells.

There comes a point in many friendships when one friend must say to the other, "I cherish and adore you, but I fear that there is something amiss in our relationship." You've tried this tack, and you're welcome to try it again -- two more times at most, let's say. But having friends is often about making compromises. Only you can know if this particular compromise -- the occasional shampooing of your car-seat covers in order to spend time with Mr. Smelly and Ted -- is too much to bear.

Dear Social Grace,

What is your opinion of the money dance at weddings? My daughter is getting married, and I don't feel comfortable about the dance where you pin bills on the bride and groom, but she says everyone does it.

Thank you.

Questioning Mother

Dear Questioning Madam,

I've attended many weddings -- of people from many cultures -- and I've never actually seen a money dance (though I have heard of them occurring), so "everyone does it" must be something of an overstatement. And anyway, a lot of people do a lot of unpleasant things, so "everyone does it" is not an argument I tend to yield to.

Now, your daughter may think this custom is so universal (or so charming) that she simply must include it in her big day. But the more probable reason is that she -- bless her heart -- wants money. And who can blame her? If I thought I could convince my loved ones that pinning 20-dollar bills to my evening clothes would be a delightful thing to do, I'd be very tempted to give it a try.

But you won't be seeing a money dance at my wedding -- for one thing, I'm stuck with the much less festive-sounding "commitment ceremony" for now. And I feel that much of the "Give me money!" stuff that occurs at modern weddings can seem to cheapen the occasion. When two people get married, they each get a spouse. All that other stuff should be incidental.

By differing accounts, the money dance has roots in a Polish or Slavic, or maybe Greek or Irish, custom (its origins are somewhat hazy), and it is intended to supply the newlyweds with a little bit of money to get their home started. And money can make a lovely and fitting wedding gift. You just shouldn't make people give it to you. I'm on the side of the many etiquette experts who think that the money dance verges on unforgivably tacky. If I were you, I would try to convince my daughter that even without a money dance, the people who truly want to give her money will surely find a way to do so -- there really is no need to make money-gathering part of the reception if it's going to make her close relatives (such as her mother) uncomfortable.

Dear Social Grace,

When did women of all ages start to be addressed as "guys"? I have witnessed dozens of servers in restaurants, teachers in classrooms, and CEOs in meeting rooms address groups of women decidedly over the age of 12 with "Hi guys!" Last time I looked, I was a lady. I find I can't tip someone well or take someone too seriously when they call me a guy. What happened to "Hello, ladies" or "Hello to you all" or "Welcome" or "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen"?

Signed,

A Real Lady

Dear Real Madam,

All those lovely phrases are being replaced by new terms such as "Yo" and "Hey, whassup" (I guess you didn't get that text message). I, too, am agitating for the return of "Good morning," "afternoon," or "evening" as a standard greeting, but I'm afraid that outside of a few senior citizens, and some people who learned English as a foreign language from outdated textbooks, I'm not finding a whole lot of support.

I agree that referring to a group of people as "guys" can be too informal in many situations. However, we live in an era in which informality is becoming the rule -- your preference that food servers (and so on) treat you as a customer, not as a buddy, is not shared by all. Here in San Francisco, there are, I'll wager, many women who dislike the appellation "lady" as much as you dislike "guy."

Although you may decide that your company's CEO should be allowed to call you what he will, there are ways to deal with people who are too familiar for your liking -- a gentle correction such as "Oh, no guys here, just us ladies," said with a ladylike smile, for instance, would not be out of line.

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Social Grace

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