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Woman, Abroad 

How to dress in Paris

Wednesday, Jun 6 2001
Dear Social Grace,

Is it appropriate for women in their 50s to wear shorts while traveling in Europe in the summer? Weird question, I'm sure -- but we're not sure if this is appropriate attire in a city like Paris.


Wanda Seaton

Dear Ms. Seaton,

Asking what to wear in a foreign country is not a weird question at all. Generally speaking, attire should be appropriate to context, and Europe is a very big place. I commend you for recognizing that clothes appropriate to Greek beaches might be wrong for the streets of Paris (where age and gender don't bear upon our conversation as they would if we were discussing, say, a visit to an Istanbul mosque).

Travelers to foreign lands are generally concerned with comfort, which may recommend shorts during the summer months in some parts of the world (a notable exception being San Francisco, where many tourists insist on wearing summer clothes at the risk of hypothermia). But if you expect your Parisian trip to take you into museums, cathedrals, indoor restaurants, and the like, you're better off packing some more sedate clothes. California is perhaps one of the most relaxed places in the world when it comes to apparel, but as a matter of respect it's wise to defer to local conventions -- and if I remember correctly, Parisians tend toward dressy.

Dear Social Grace,

My boyfriend of several years passed away suddenly, and I was wondering how long I have to send out thank you notes to friends, family, and neighbors for flowers and that stuff. I have tried a few times, but it's extremely painful for me, so I was just curious how long I have.

Thank you.

Dear Madam or Sir,

I'm sorry for your loss, and I certainly understand the difficulty involved in writing such letters. Thank you notes should be sent out as soon as possible, and an acknowledgement of a condolence letter or expression of sympathy does fall into this category. They should go out within a couple of weeks. If you're struggling with the effort, it may help to imagine how important an acknowledgement of their thoughtfulness is to the people you're writing to. Expressing gratitude is a fundamental, obligatory kindness, and making an effort to fulfill the obligation can be a first step to resuming some normal routines.

Dear Social Grace,

Your etiquette advice is well tempered with progressiveness and common sense, so I thought I'd shoot this question at you. My fiancee and I are addressing our wedding invitations, and we're wondering what the best alternative is to using "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith." We do not feel comfortable addressing our married women family and friends as "Mrs. John Smith."

We have discussed alternatives such as "John and Mary Smith" (but this is perhaps too informal); "Mr. & Mrs. John and Mary Smith" (probably the best); and "Mr. John & Mrs. Mary Smith" (this sounds pretty awkward, I think).

Are there any norms being established for the best alternatives? Do you think using one of these options will be frowned upon by the more traditional guests?

Thank you,

Mr. W.

Dear Engaged Sir,

Thank you for your kind letter. There are, in fact, some new protocols for "modern" wedding invitations, and they recognize your disinclination to refer to a woman only by her husband's name.

Luckily, once you've decided that you don't want strictly formal envelopes, your choices multiply. There are correct ways to invite, say, married couples with different last names or unmarried couples.

The first choice is to include both full names on the same line ("Mr. John Smith and Mrs. Mary Smith" or "Mr. John Smith and Ms. Mary Doe"). Another acceptable and popular option for a couple with the same last name is to omit first names altogether ("Mr. and Mrs. Smith"). The final option -- leaving out courtesy titles ("John and Mary Smith") -- is, as you indicate, informal, but it's not beyond the realm of proper etiquette. After all, a wedding does not have to be formal to get two people started in their life of wedded bliss.

You may startle some guests -- that is the risk associated with breaking tradition, and you're taking it knowingly. But there is little to give offense here, and I'd be seriously concerned about the emotional state of someone who actively "frowned upon" any of these options. However, if I knew, for example, that my Aunt Vivian would prefer the more traditional wedding invitation, I might choose to humor her.

Dear Social Grace,

When dining at a restaurant or catered event, I would prefer to have my plate removed when I am through -- not clearing the whole table, just the plate. I hate looking at the dirty dish. My mother feels that the server should wait until the entire table is finished so as not to rush those still eating. What's your opinion? Thanks.

Via the Internet

Dear Squeamish Sir or Madam,

I understand and agree that looking at dirty dishes is unpleasant, but I suggest you try to focus your attention on the other people at the table -- and satisfy yourself with the knowledge that you don't have to wash that dirty dish. Your mother is right (as mothers so often are -- much to our chagrin): Although a restaurant's food servers often remove plates as individual diners finish, it's preferable (especially at a dinner party or a catered event) for all the plates to be removed when everyone has finished so other guests do not feel rushed.

About The Author

Social Grace


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