Starting Off the New Year Right (with the blessing of Etiquette Central)

First, Darling, let’s start with some wise words about badgers, rats, moles and you

no animal, according to the rules of animal etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter. Kenneth Grahame

Refraining from strenuous activity does not mean: do nothing. It means re-tool, re-group, re-calibrate as needed. Take me as a fabulous example. I should be talking how to find the best cafes on the Amalfi coast, wear kitten heels on icy streets, decorate with fake leopard skin and make Ritz-Paris Sidecars! I should be castigating Fortnum and Mason about their wholly inadequate, anemic peppermint back (which, given the few wisps of peppermint, lost and forlorn, on the chocolate base, should be renamed “Peppermint Bark for those afraid of Peppermint”).

But etiquette is like baby scissors – the goal is to stop you from hurting yourself. So I am not making a Ritz-Paris Serendipity (or Nautilus!), I am encouraging you to celebrate New Years as best you can.

And “celebrating New Years” means drinking something delicious, tossing out things that doesn’t fit anymore (shoes, romantic partners, coffee tables, kombucha kits) and trying something new, anything. Start small. Get a plant. Make a lasagna. Buy both kind of screwdrivers and an awl. Be a little more self-reliant. Sleep more.

For this January – our mantra is self-preservation and kindness to others.

And about that ‘kindness to others’: Darling let’s do a quick reminder that etiquette has been created to help (not torture!) you and  following the How to Behave edicts makes everything in your life more wonderful: rosy glow on your cheeks, straighter teeth, thicker hair and a higher rate on your certificates of deposit.

The notion you need to lose (along with any moisturizer that has been opened for more than six months, washed-until-grey t-shirts or socks, expired sunscreen, flavored olive oils that you will never use and anything you are keeping because ‘you might need it someday’) is the idea that etiquette (aka kindness) is overrated or difficult.

Etiquette is the guide-rails to keep you from careening off the road – yes, you may ignore it, but if your Alfa Romeo ends up in a pond, let’s not look at Darling Auntie who told you so, without ever saying “I told you so.”

Of course it is not as easy as “treat others as you would like to be treated.” That’s a nice thought but unrealistic as it does not take into account different cultures and tastes. I have several relatives who would love to treat me as they do themselves and force-feed me kale, orthopedic shoes, beige interiors, oatmeal and goat’s milk soap. No. Absolutely not.

Etiquette says, treat people kindly taking into account you and your charming personality and them and their charming personality, especially if they are lacking a charming personality. Or charm. Or any kind of a personality whatsoever.

Allow me to demonstrate. Some people (idiotic trolls) think that etiquette means saying nice things. So they walk around saying “Happy New Year” in icy, emotionless tones to people they hate thinking this would earn them etiquette brownie points. It does not. Saying kind things in a cold voice is not effective, nor is it proper etiquette. Say the nice things in a nice way or duck into nearby cleaning closets to avoid those you hate.

Second, some people (trollish idiot) think that etiquette is difficult and time-consuming. No. Never. Shall we look at the bete-noir of so many trolls (and such an important topic this time of year) thank-you cards? Etiquette says: write thank-you cards. But etiquette central does not say: toil over your thank-you cards for hours to the exclusion of all fun. We have thought-through dozens of scenarios and have all the correct responses for all circumstances. See how benevolent, compassionate, generous and sympathetic we are?

In general, the closer you are to the person and the more the gift was given with love – the less effort you need. Darling friends who give you yachts only need a “you are so kind!” and an invitation to sail.

The more distant or frosty the relationship, the longer and more elaborate the thank-you card. Buy a card with gilt and embroidery and write out 24 heart-felt sentences of gratitude to the evil twit who gave you a stained sweater with a used tissue in the pocket.

A gift from someone who was abusive to you? No need to send a thank-you card. Nor do you need to send anything for a gift that reminds you of an addiction or is an (unasked for) self-help anything.

You don’t have stamps or want to go to the post office? EC says you can write out a lovely card using different colored pens, take a photo and use e-mail/ social media to deliver.

Kindness to all my dear, especially to yourself.