Confronting a Coworker: Something Smells

Q. Could you please tell me the polite way to tell a colleague that he smells really bad? I’m not sure if it’s body odor, stale cologne or incorrectly washed clothes. I work with this very nice man, who looks well groomed, but he stinks! It is not just after lunch when he might have exercised or taken a walk; the problem is also there in the morning. Other people have also noticed. I’m not sure if I should discuss this with his manager and let her deal with it or confront him directly.

A. The answer to this often-asked question really depends on your relationship to the offender. It is never easy, but it is likely this person truly doesn’t know he has a problem and even if he is initially embarrassed, he will ultimately be grateful for your helping him. Make sure that you speak to him privately. You can say, “Ted, I don’t think you realize this, but I’ve noticed that you have the same problem I do with perspiring– I didn’t know what to do until I found Brand X deodorant, but it’s made a difference for me and it might work for you, too.” You will make Ted feel better to think that you two share a problem rather than to think that he is going around offending the entire office on his own.

If you do not have a close relationship with “Ted,” then you may certainly politely bring the subject up with his supervisor so that he or she may tactfully discuss the situation with him privately.

Hiring a Bartender: Tip-toeing around the tip jar

Q. We are hosting a party, where we will provide appetizers, beverages, music, entertainment, etc. for approximately 125 people. We have hired a bartender. What is the proper etiquette for showing appreciation for the bartender? In addition to our compensation, what does etiquette dictate about the possibility of putting a tip jar for him at the bar?

A. A tip jar should not be made available as it will only make your guests feel obligated to provide tips every time they get a drink. If the gratuity for the bartender is not already included in the contract, you may set aside an extra 15 percent of the total cost of his service to be given at the end of the event to show appreciation for excellent service.

Making a Formal Toast: Raise your drink… any drink!

Q. When making a formal toast, why is it not considered proper to use water?

A. This is a misconception–the only real guideline that applies is to make sure that all the glasses are filled before toasting. The glasses don’t have to be filled with champagne, or wine, or any other alcoholic beverage; nondrinkers can toast with water, juice, or a soft drink. Even an empty glass is better than nothing. It’s the gesture and warm wishes, not the drink, that matter.

Wedding Invitations: Name Game

Q. My married sisters have not taken their husbands’ last names. What does proper etiquette dictate when addressing their wedding invitation? Do I use their husbands’ names or write out both names for each couple?

A. You should write out both names on the same line:

Ms. Janet O’Connor and Mr. Henry Pearson

Accommodating the Driver: A Post-Funeral Meal

Q. If you wanted to go for a bite to eat after a Funeral service and you wanted to pay for your driver’s meal, should the driver sit with you or should the driver sit at the bar and we tell the waiter that we are paying his bill?

A. You are not obligated to have the driver join you – and he probably wouldn’t expect to – but if you wish to pay for his meal, arrange this with the restaurant hostess or the cashier before you are seated.

At the Dining Table: Throwin’ ‘bows

Q. What are the origins of the rule that forbids resting elbows on the table when dining?

A. This traditional rule of etiquette was born of the essential courtesy of good posture while eating at the table. Ideal posture at the table is to sit straight, leaning slightly against the back of the chair. Your hand, when you are not actually eating, may lie in your lap, which will automatically prevent you from fussing with implements, playing with breadcrumbs, etc.

But for all we hear about “elbows off the table,” there are some situations when it is permitted out of necessity. This is true in restaurants or large dinner parties when distance or loud noise may necessitate that one leans far forward to make oneself heard. But even in these special situations, elbows are never on the table when one is eating!

Bridesmaid Duties: Opting Out of Shelling Out

Q. I was asked to be a bridesmaid in my stepsister’s wedding. It was a courtesy request because she was involved in mine (her father requested her to ask me to be an attendant). This is an out of town wedding, and I am wondering what my obligations are for the wedding shower and bachelorette party. The wedding shower was quite elaborate and the maid of honor told the bridesmaids that we ‘owed’ $50 each to help fund it. Now she is planning a large trip for the bachelorette weekend, and am concerned she will ask for contributions for that as well. Am I obligated to help with the shower and the bachelorette party if I do not attend? I am already spending money for a dress and plane fare to get there, as well as a wedding gift.

A. Assuming that the maid of honor is able to take care of her responsibilities, the main charges to the bridesmaids are to help the maid of honor in any way they can and to take care of the dress and accessories fittings. They may help with a shower for the bride, although this is totally optional. Other duties they might perform include the following:

– Attend as many prenuptial events as possible

– Possibly host or co-host a party or shower (not mandatory)

– Assist bride with errands

– Contribute to bridesmaids’ gift to the bride; usually give an individual gift to the couple

– Are expected to attend the rehearsal and are included at the rehearsal dinner.

As far as a bachelorette party is concerned, there are no traditional rules of etiquette which suggest any obligations whatsoever.