Bad Habits Repented

How to invite people to a smoke-free party or handle an annoying cell-phone caller in a public bathroom

Dear Social Grace,

Last year, my resolution was to quit smoking, and I succeeded; however, most of my friends are smokers. I usually host a small New Year's Eve gathering, at which smoking has always been allowed. This year, I want to make it clear beforehand that there will be no smoking at my flat, as a favor to my friends, some of whom would prefer to know beforehand so they can make an educated choice as to whether they will attend my party, or whether they will just stop by for a little while. Is there a way I can make that clear on the invitation?

No Smoking, Please

Dear Smokeless Madam or Sir,

We return to the idea that prohibitive declarations just aren't very inviting. Therefore, I don't think that printing your new house rule on invitations is a good idea. Generally speaking, an absence of ashtrays in a home should be enough to communicate such a prohibition.

People who build their social lives around places where smoking is permitted are, I'd imagine, increasingly lonely here in California, but if you want to give those friends an opportunity to bow out of attending your small party, you could let them know in casual conversation, by saying, for example, how happy you are to be living in a home free of cigarette smoke. Oh, and congratulations.

Dear Social Grace,

If you're at a bar and someone jostles your elbow and spills your drink, aren't they supposed to buy you another drink?

S.K.

Dear Drinkless Madam or Sir,

Well, if someone spills your drink, he should offer to replace it, anyway. If he doesn't, however, you can't really insist on the matter. Indeed, it sounds like a very efficient way to get a barroom brawl started. An occasional spilled drink is one of the hazards of going to a bar.

Dear Social Grace,

How should one handle someone using a cell phone in a public bathroom? On a recent visit to my company's loo, I encountered a woman who talked on her phone during her entire stay, while those around her did their business. I found it revolting, but I couldn't think of what to say to stop her (nor whether to knock on her stall door or what). Ideas?

Via the Internet

Dear Revolted Madam,

And what exactly did you have in mind? "Excuse me, I'm trying to concentrate"? "Pardon me, Miss, but you are sickening me"? Though the average person finds several situations a day in which the latter comment would be appropriate -- and while I agree that using a stall in a crowded ladies' room as a phone booth is an egregious and somewhat unsettling misuse of cellular technology -- there's not much you could've done to terminate her call that wouldn't have been equally inappropriate. I'd forgive, perhaps, repeated flushing of a neighboring toilet; if the person on the other end of the line were to say, "What was that noise?" the commode-sitter might realize that her call was ill timed. The best advice I can give you, though, would be to ignore others' bathroom behavior, inappropriate and otherwise, as much as you can.

Dear Social Grace,

Is it wrong to send out a Christmas card after Christmas has passed? I face this dilemma every year, getting too busy to send out Christmas cards to everyone who sent them to me. Is it better late than never or is it just obvious that I didn't get my act together? And are Christmas cards even necessary?

Kelly

Dear Kelly,

When it comes to doing something nice for other people -- for example, a note filled with holiday cheer -- late is almost always better than never. Besides, the Twelfth Day of Christmas isn't until Jan. 6, so you can buy your cards now (and on sale, too, not that this should encourage you to delay your Christmas cards again next year), and they'll still arrive on time. You could even choose "Happy New Year"-ish cards, a wise choice if one counts people who do not celebrate Christmas among one's friends and relations.

Regardless, holiday cards are not "necessary," by any means. If you want to send them, do; if you don't, don't. They're supposed to represent, at least believably, a genuine emotion. Many people take advantage of holiday cards as a way to communicate with people they are rarely in touch with, but you should send them only to people you sincerely want to greet; you needn't answer every one in kind.

 
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