Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Elizabeth Post on Strained Relations

Even Elizabeth Post wasn’t this neurotic over how a table should be set!

Doing the Right Thing: What to say when everything goes wrong

Dear Mrs. Post: How do you word a thank-you note for a visit, when you know you were not welcome? We visited my husband’s brother for the first time. We stayed three days. The two brothers are very close and we have always enjoyed their visits. Our sister-in-law was always prompt in writing us a warm thank-you note. I liked her and thought she liked me. Their home was considerably more impressive than ours, the poor girl was a nervous wreck having us there. Things were quite pleasant, though strained. Our last evening there, I was setting the dinner table I put the forks on the paper napkins, as there was a slight breeze, I didn’t have all of the napkins folded towards the plate. I noticed a frown and asked if I was all wrong. Oh boy, was I wrong! 

She got out her book of Etiquette and read to me. She informed me she wanted her table set properly, and she also wanted her guests to use proper table manners. After a few more words about the neighborhood they live in and the people they are accustomed to associating with, she left the room crying. After a few minutes she came back and everything was fine. When we left the next morning, we sent a plant to their home with a thank-you note. Upon our arrival home we found a thank-you card from her for the plant. An added note said, “we wish we could have made you people more comfortable.” How do I answer this in order to smooth things for the two brothers? Shall I write and rave about her lovely home and exclusive neighborhood (as I know she wants me to)? I know I cannot write a warm, sincere letter. Yet, I am the one that upset her. How do I go about making amends? —Gladys

Dear Gladys: Although you thought that things were “pleasant, though strained.” apparently your sister-in-law didn't. There must have been something more to upset her then Just the way you placed the napkins. If you truly don’t know what it could be, I would write quite frankly and ask her. Do tell her how much you enjoyed her lovely home and hospitality. If the trouble was really caused by your table setting, I feel she is at fault. No unimportant detail is worth such an outburst. Whether one is a pleasant, helpful guest, as you apparently were, is far more important than what fork you need or how you placed the napkin! – By Elizabeth Post, 1968

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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