Culture

The Most Asked Etiquette Questions of Summer 2022 — Pool Parties, Parenting, and Vacation Friends

Our Modern Etiquette Ambassador Answers All

BY HEATHER WIESE-ALEXANDER // 07.28.22

In her recurring column, “Social in Security,” modern etiquette ambassador and Bell’INVITO founder Heather Wiese-Alexander answers all our questions and walks us through a list of trusted tips you can rely on. Because now that we’re emerging back into the world, we want to do it as the best version of ourselves. 

Happy Summer—in Texas. I pray you are reading from your favorite cooling-off place. When the temps reach this kind of swelter, for me at least, it feels like all etiquette bets are (or should be) off. Frankly, I want to tell you all to find a pool and cool your jets—in all the ways. Hot can equal cranky. You feel it? I feel it. I love that we can acknowledge that very real summer sensation together. See, that was easy. Etiquette isn’t about feigning happy feelings. It is all about well-worded, thoughtful honesty. More on that below.

Nonetheless, summer weddings, pool parties, graduations, neighborhood gatherings, summer vacations… all of these social engagements are still conjuring questions and reasons that a socially-savvy response might just be the ticket to better memory-making for all these occasions. I know we’re in the same boat because I’ve been getting your questions. And I love them. Keep them coming. Let’s get right to your summer quandaries (because we all have the same questions).

Texas Pool
Practically a Plano landmark. (Courtesy of The Texas Pool)

I was at a pool party and my friend’s kid was antagonizing mine and other children. She ignored it because she wanted to have fun herself and didn’t want him to feel embarrassed by being scolded. However, the child’s actions caused continued distress over the course of the party. I did gently try once to divert the energy elsewhere, but to no avail. What should I have done?

Heather Wiese-Alexander: Pretty sure we all feel your discomfort. Oh, I cringed reading that. Conflict management is delicate among friends, and a whole other level when it’s addressing a friend’s child. To emphasize how both important and tricky this is, I’ll admit that I have re-written my answer about four times amid research from some of my best sources. It’s not easy and it’s never perfect. I think that’s the most important point to grab and keep with you. The next time it happens, be brave and kind, and give yourself some grace.

I’m simplifying the answer down to this. Remember that Tiger Mom is a real instinct (you’re feeling it, too, in defense of your kids, right?). Go at forming your thoughts with room left for listening and solving the problem together, with you being somehow supportive of your friend’s needs. It sounds like you might encounter this again. What does it look like in your mind to leave a little room for the possibility of hurt feelings, while being honest about the cause and effect? Really consider a few scenarios. Asking for help is typically better than making a demand. Try asking for help to divert the focus from your kids to something he might still think is fun. I might say, “{Friend}, I think {her kid} is having a great time {insert action you want to stop} but {your kid) seems to be less amused. What can we find for {her kid} that he would still have fun doing?” Obviously, a lot of details are missing, but I hope you can see the point.

Holiday Gifting

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Shift your mindset from making a demand to asking for help. And let me know how it goes—we’re all a little invested at this point.

 

modern wedding etiquette questions
Reply cards from Heather Wiese-Alexander’s BELL’Invito, a luxury stationery line based in Dallas

I have very good clients, whom I love, that have begun asking me to tell them my vendor’s names so that they can take my ideas and execute them on their own. It’s taken me years of trial and error at my own expense to find the right vendors and my business depends on those resources. I can’t afford to be an unpaid source for DIY projects, even for my good clients. How do I nicely tell them no?

Heather Wiese-Alexander: That is quite possibly the plight of ALL designers. It’s not unlike being asked how much money you make or what you do for a living at a party. So, while the ask is simply poor etiquette, when a great client doesn’t know how potentially derailing the questions is, it’s very uncomfortable. It’s so much easier, too, when the person asking is actually a new face at a party and isn’t also someone you are financially obliged to keep happy. The best response will be one you’ve rehearsed. It’s short, kind, and to the point. Here’s my sample script, “I guard my vendor relationships since they are a crucial part of the health of my business. But, I can help you get anything accomplished that you need.” It’s simply a fact that in business you will not please everyone. You will especially upset those who want to take advantage of you with no regard for your well-being. Most likely unintentional ignorance is at play, so stating the facts with a genuine, caring tone is the best you can do. May the force be with you on that one. It’s not an easy one to navigate.

 

modern etiquette questions
Gift sets from Dallas-based Leatherology.

I have received graduation announcements from people I know but am not close to. In some cases, I haven’t seen the graduate in over a decade. Do I have to give them all a gift?

No, you do not. If you received an invitation to a graduation or a party, a gift is in order. If you know the grad and want to send well-wishes and a gift or some money, that is of course welcome, but a gift when an announcement is received is not necessary.

 

Meredith Flores went to great length to make sure the dresses were perfect. (Photo by John Cain Photography)
Floral bouquets by wedding planner Todd Fiscus for Meredith Flores’ Houston wedding. (Photo by John Cain Photography)

Is the wedding tradition of tossing the bouquet still acceptable?

Acceptable? Sure. Popular? Not so much. As with many traditions in this modern world, they are being analyzed and rethought, and for good reason. The key is the analysis and thought behind the decision. Ditching tradition for the sake of non-conformity is short-sighted. Many traditions are rooted in thoughtfulness and considerate or even simply practical behavior. This tradition, however, is arguably outdated and can be insensitive. I’ve seen variations where the bride hands off her bouquet to someone else she wants to have her spotlight for a moment. It’s been to honor the couple married the longest, to someone who is being proposed to at that moment (that’s a layered onion in my opinion), to the entire group of guests instead of just the single ladies, and even to all the singles as opposed to just the women. Whether it’s sweet, fun, or skipped, I think what matters most is the consideration and meaning the couple decides to give the tradition.

 

Anna Sui spring 2020 collection at New York Fashion Week© 2019 Thomas LauCourtesy of Anna Sui Design Studio
Anna Sui blush multi rosebud tweed jacket and contrasting bikini. (Photo by Thomas Lau courtesy of Anna Sui Design Studio)

I often get invited to my neighbor’s pool parties, but some of her friends wear nearly-nothing bikinis and it’s a party with couples. It makes me very uncomfortable. What is the appropriate thing to say if someone is simply dressed offensively?

Oh honey. First, in love, I’m going to tell you something. Being offended is your choice. Although your eyes may disagree, no one has assaulted you. I’m right there with you on being a little put off by scantily clad ladies at a pool party (mostly when they look amazing and I’m jealous), nonetheless, this is simply a neighborhood pool party. Their choices are a reflection of them, and yours of you. Choose something stunningly classic and go about your business. It’s quite possible anyone of substance will take you more seriously than the pretty pool girl they are gawking at. You will just have to give up being the center of attention for all the sexy reasons and head for something that will bother you less, like the bar. Or don’t go at all. That is always a valid option. My point is that ‘appropriate’ dress probably isn’t the most appropriate place for your opinion in this particular situation. But, I applaud your morals. I really do.

 

People We Meet on Vacation Best Books 2021
One of the most popular fiction books of the year, “People We Meet on Vacation” is a romantic comedy. (Courtesy of Amazon)

My family is taking a vacation this summer and friends who are going to be in the same location have asked to join several activities. How do I politely tell them that this is family time for us only? I might be ok with one meet-up, but the whole point of shelling out this expensive trip for us was to make memories as a family. Plus the logistics of larger groups pose their own set of problems I don’t want to deal with.

Good question. I’ve been asked this more than once, and I’ve had to handle something similar myself. The answer is to be 1) short, 2) sweet, and 3) decisive.

I recommend something like this as a response, “We are so pressed for true alone time with the kids that I’m guarding all of our minutes. However, if this {date} night at {this time / this location} works for you, we can meet up then. Otherwise, let’s try to find another time we can all connect.” The lengthy explanations to mitigate hurt feelings often have the opposite effect. Just express your need for family time and be specific as to one or two possibilities you genuinely would be willing to commit to more company. A polite “not this time” is always much kinder than a half-hearted maybe.

 

Keep them coming, friends. Unless I ask you or you ask to be named, your questions remain anonymous. They have been such great conversation starters. I truly appreciate your asks. Stay tuned for some 2022-style talk coming up, and toss your own question into the mix. I’ll be tapping into some experts to give us the best guidance to kick off our post-pandemic Fall 2022 style at the office, around town, on the weekend, and out to dinner. You’ll hear back from me soon!

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - Social in Security

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