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Manners and Etiquette Q & A

Manners and Etiquette Answer to Question on creating a Southern Home Manners and Etiquette Q & A

Dear Ms. Ramsey:

I have been asked to give the bridal luncheon for my nephew's fiance (more like roped into).  The bride has many, many over-the-top requests and I have already spent a fortune to meet her rather unbelievable demands for items that can't be rented.  My brother and sister-in-law (parents of the groom) are very well-to-do in that area and are mortified that I am going to fail miserably (and are expecting me to fail miserably) - and if that happens, then this will be a point of contention for them.  I want to make sure this luncheon is done to absolute perfection even though this is WAY out of my budget.  

The bridal luncheon will be held outdoors at a mansion I am renting.  I live 650 miles away so I have to rent a place to hold this luncheon.  Originally, the bride insisted it would be held at her house - so when she decided that she wanted it somewhere else, I was relieved, to be honest.  I have put a huge amount of effort into planning every aspect of this luncheon and I think it will be a very nice event.  Because I live so far away, I am having to collect all of the china, crystal, etc. at my home here (thank goodness for eBay) and will have to literally rent a U-Haul truck to move all of this down there.  However, I am determined to do it and make this a memorable, gracious event that would be worthy of the cover of Southern Living!  haha! 

Here's my question.  I don't have funding to hire a staff for this - so an old friend who lives in that area will help me set up the day before.  Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment my friend can not join me on the day of the luncheon.  I will have the food catered but I will not have anyone to do the filling of the glasses, serving of the cake, coffee, tea, hot chocolate (for the 2 children invited - yes I've even had to get two gold high chairs).  Would it be okay if I do not sit down to eat with them but instead act as the attendant?  Otherwise, I feel I'll be hopping up and down so much that it will seem frantic.  

By the time this is done, I will have spent over $17,000 on this ridiculous luncheon - which is a HUGE amount of money for me.  And to make it even more frustrating, now the bride is claiming that she wants for them to eat and run within 1 hour because they have to get their nails done.  Yes - she is Bridezilla.  Therefore, I really do not want to have to pay even more money for attendants, too.  Would it be rude for me to not sit down and eat at a luncheon I am hosting? 

Thank you very much.

Kindest regards,

I am assuming that this is a legitimate inquiry, though I am hoping it is not because I hate to think that there are people this ungrateful and inconsiderate in the world!

I must say first of all, that I am appalled that your family would be telling YOU how to host a luncheon. They should be grateful for whatever kind of luncheon you host because you are a valued member of this family (or should be) and your capabilities should be respected. You will be paying for this event for years! I’ll bet the marriage doesn’t last as long as you will be paying for the Bridesmaid’s Luncheon!

You know that now other members of your family will expect you to entertain them in the same manner. This is definitely not something you need to be doing. Even if you can afford this you shouldn’t be doing it because of their demands and lack of grace.

I can assure you that this group that you are attempting to impress will not be impressed. They will simply take this as their due and you as their minion. You will not make points with your brother because there will be some trifle that they will make a mountain out of.

I posted your letter (minus your name) on my Facebook page to get the response of my Southern Lady friends. Needless to say, they were as appalled as I was.

Here are some of their responses:

1. Stand before the mirror and practice saying NO!!!!! If your relationship with your brother is so fragile, it won't last anyway. You must end this. Have a nervous will be easier. If you have to pay for a couple of nights in the hospital you'll come out cheaper. It's your fault if you don't stop this.

2. It's never too late to say no.

3. I just noticed that she said, "By the time this is done..." Maybe it's not too late for her to get out. At least she can stop spending money.

4. At this point, I'd make it a buffet and let everyone serve themselves including Bridzilla if she wants to eat. If brother doesn't like it or can't stand up to his wife, or rest of family for that matter, tell them to take a flying leap. If they are that abusive, and yes this is a form of abuse, you haven't lost anything any way. Wasn't much of a brother to begin with. No matter what you spend or do, it will never be enough and don't hold your breath waiting for a Thank You. It will not happen. Good luck. You are going to need it.

I must say that I agree with my Southern Lady Friends and hope that you will let us know how things turn out. At this point, if you are determined to follow through, I think the idea of a buffet is a good one. I would probably just give my brother a withering stare rather than telling him to take a flying leap or perform anatomically difficult acts, though I think you are probably entitled to do so.

You are certainly in our thoughts and prayers!

Sharman Ramsey

I just moved from California to NC.  I'm an RN in my early 60's.  By my peers, bosses and locals I have been called ma'am a lot. (In California it is kind of an insult it shows age) and have also been called Miss Breck from instructors when I've asked questions in class and have heard my peers call some RN's Miss and others not.  No order of age or rank.  What is proper for me.  I can't find any pattern that would make any sense on when and why or timing or place or rank.. what gives.. Breck

I am 42 and live in Tennessee.  I was raised to always say “sir” and “ma’am” to anyone older than me.  Now that I am “middle aged” I am unsure if it is polite or if its condescending to use these terms to people obviously older than me.  Are they my contemporaries or still viewed as older and should be shown respect?

It was recently brought to my attn by a friend that using those terms to someone our parents ages can be viewed as condescending—it had never occurred to me that it was anything but being polite and respectful.  I would appreciate your feedback. Jennifer

Southern mothers begin early teaching their children to say "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am, "yes, sir" and "no, sir" to their children when addressing adults. It is considered disrespectful for children to speak to their elders or those in a position of authority with a simple yes or no. My husband, an attorney, addresses all of his adult clients, regardless of their relative age with "ma'am" and "sir" out of respect. I said "yes, ma'am" and "yes, sir" to my mother and father until the day they died and would never have considered doing anything else!

This is not a term of derision. Saying "ma'am" and "sir" does not demean your own position.

While I realize personal relationships might develop where "ma'am" and "sir" may be dispensed with, there is still a time and a place to maintain the professionalism and respect those terms acknowledge. Using a person's first name is also considered a form of familiarity. Not knowing the marital status of a woman, the term Ms. has become a common form of address. Many, including my husband, have a problem with younger people in their profession continuing to address them as Mr. or Ms. after being asked to call them by a first name. After being requested to address a person by a less formal name, that request should be respected.

A college or university classroom setting is considered a formal setting though in high school classrooms a first name is usually used. Students should always address their instructor with "ma'am" or "sir".

I am a firm believer in maintaining civility in society and think we've gotten way too casual in our personal relationships. A respectful form of address may help to provide the distance needed to keep office relationships from sliding into problem causing personal relationships between men and women. I would suggest that maintaining that buffer in the male female office relationship might be proper and should be considered.

Is staring rude?  You've got to answer, trying to break my husband (Mr. California) of the habit! Paula

Yes, it is rude. People deserve their privacy. Plus, it makes others uncomfortable. Those of us who consider good manners an important attribute cringe at the thought of making another person uncomfortable.

Why is it when someone dies in the South it is common for neighbors to bring food??? Dave

Bringing food is the very best way one can comfort a grieving person. You feed their family until the shock is gone. You don't have to talk. They feel your love and concern through your actions.


What is proper etiquette when it pertains to politics?  Do southern women speak about politics in a diverse group?

You know, that is a very good question. Southern women have intellect and opinions. But, a southern lady would temper her opinions with thoughtfulness, respect and consideration for another's opinions, without compromising their own firmly held beliefs. Let no one mistake the iron backbone in that gentle spirit. And when sterner stuff is needed, there may be a glove on the fist, perhaps?


At what age should young gentlemen stand when a woman approaches the table? I think around 12. Bob

I think you are right. That is the age they are identifying with their father and should definitely be encouraged to be a gentleman.

My wife and I raise our four daughters in New Orleans, and we were seating ourselves on the sidewalk tables of a restaurant yesterday when a woman about 20 years my senior (I'm 38) passed us and said hello, and I offered up a hello in return, however I offended her.  Here's how.  Let's say her name is Jane Doe.  Well, I said, "Hello, Ms. Doe."  She stopped and protested albeit playfully.  Then I offered "Hello, Ms. Jane?"  Which she still stood dumbfounded.  So hastily and finally I said "Hey Jane!"  To which she seemed ok with but - - - 

Jane is a peer in the real estate world, but she is also old enough to be my mother.  I also want to set a respectful example to my daughters.

So who's right?  My original actions?  Or was she right to be offended? Jean-Pierre

She was not right to be offended. Your address to her was your example to your daughters as to how they should address her. Making you feel uncomfortable in an innocent exchange in front of your daughters was improper on her part. It is credited to Jonathan Swift to have said, "Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse. Whoever makes the fewest people uneasy is the best bred in the room." She could have smiled and said, "Call me Jane, dear." Still, your daughters, being well-bred southern girls would know to call her Mrs. Doe unless there is a close relationship there and they have been given permission by their parents to address her as 'Ms. Jane.'" Simply being a professional peer would not warrant that address. (My opinion -- Sharman Ramsey)



I am hosting a “couples shower” perhaps a tool and gadget shower along with 2 other ladies. We are all good friends of the grooms mother and all of our sons have grown up together and are in this young mans wedding. Any suggestion as to what we should refer to this shower as? It will be fairly casual at a very nice outdoor pavilion in May. Also what is the proper protocol for gifts? Beth Ann

What a fun event! As friends of the groom, I think the perfectly fine to provide this family with guy necessities rather than the usual items considered under the woman's domain. Calling it a "Tool and Gadget Shower" lets folks know exactly what you are trying to do. All of those boys will really enjoy shopping for the things they are bound to be borrowing. Send me a picture. That sounds like something others would be inspired by!
God bless the happy couple that is so lucky to have friends like you.


Is it correct for my fiance who sat next to me at a dinner party to talk to a woman at the end of the table for a full 20 minutes.  I told him this was in  extremely bad taste and it is wrong.  He was sitting at the head of the table and I was seated to his left.  Many thanks for your reply.

Let me get this image straight. You and your fiance attended a dinner party. The hostess sat at one end of the table and she seated your fiance' at the other end of the table. That in itself is odd because the host usually is seated opposite the hostess. If the woman is not married then her date or significant other would assume that duty.

I chose the word duty because the reason for spreading the host and hostess among the guests is precisely for the purpose of conversation. It is considered polite to make conversation with the person to your left and the person to your right, drawing out those who might be shy or uncomfortable and allowing them to speak and become a part of the group. If conversation between your hostess and fiance' was so dominant that all others in the group were left out of the conversation, I would indeed say that was rude because it made everyone else feel excluded.

I posed this question to some friends and one responded:
I am married to a social butterfly and learned early in our relationship that he was going to talk to EVERYONE and make sure everyone feels welcome and included at events and functions. I think it is far worse to let someone sit alone and miserable than to spend some time chatting with them. While there have been times that I have sat waiting for him to wrap things up "visiting" - I have never thought it in bad taste. Several times it lead to great business opportunities or trips - so well worth the conversations. Did you feel excluded? You have to jump in and include yourself. If it was a party for your engagement - I am sure there were people you could have chatted with while he talked. I barely saw my husband at our wedding reception because we each had SO many people to catch up with and see. You have a WHOLE lifetime together and I wouldn't let 20 minutes muck up your future.

Another responded:
If it makes you uncomfortable, figure out why it makes you uncomfortable first. Are you focusing on what other people might be thinking? Was there something about that particular woman that makes you uncomfortable? Were you just feeling left out? Figure out your answer first and then have a heart to heart with your fiance'. Yall are going to be at social gatherings together for the rest of your lives so you should make sure yall are on the same page from the get go. Unless he was brazenly flirting with her, it doesn't strike me as so much an etiquette concern as it is a communication gap.

Another pointed out:

Think now, because it isn't going to change. Do you want to live through that evening over and over?

My son, who is married to a lovely southern belle, has is insisted that my note to thank his mother in law for inviting us to share our grandson's first Christmas was too much and, in his words, crazy.
I thanked her, provided our travel arrangements and the nearby hotel where we would be staying. Then I offered to do anything we could to help and assured her my husband was quite the cook and would love to help out in any way we could.

I was told I put undue pressure on her to find him/us something to do and it was contrary to southern hospitality.

I do not with to be a burden at such a busy time. As an Coloradan, this is considered good manners.

Have I made a faux pas?

I totally disagree with your son. I don't know if you have noticed, but it seems that our children at that stage of life often think anything we do is embarrassing. I think you did the thoughtful and very proper thing. It opened the door for her to invite you in for the preparations which helps build a relationship. It let her know that you did not expect her to wait on you throughout your visit and truly makes you a much more welcome guest. This is how families meld. What hostess wouldn't like to know that a gentleman enjoys cooking? You are breaking the ice here and have now become guests any southern hostess would enjoy having in their home.