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Monday, Sep 30, 2002

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The right way

If you have been crippled with angst over the appropriateness of using `Ms.' or `Mrs.' or freshening lipstick at the table, help is at hand. Here are answers to commonly asked questions of what's right and what's not in polite company.

ETIQUETTE, IN its essence, is about courtesy and consideration that makes human interactions pleasing and rewarding. There are a few social rules that are practiced and followed everywhere, irrespective of nationality. These time-tested rules of conduct are -- never point a finger at people and whisper, do not ask prying questions, malicious gossip is a no-no, do not stare at someone, never intentionally embarrass someone, just to mention a few.

But, as times change, international travel and intercultural living are becoming common, taking us through uncharted territories. We have been receiving quite a few questions on what is appropriate in a given situation and here are a few select questions, the answers to which will be beneficial to everyone.

When I meet a friend of my father, who extends the hand first to shake hands -- the senior gentleman or I?

The protocol is for the senior person to initiate the handshake. Having said that, please remember that if someone extends his/ her hand to you, you should reciprocate immediately with warmth and grace. Normally, while being introduced, both parties extend their hands simultaneously.

We were invited for a wedding reception and the invitation stated 7-30 p.m. We arrived on time but there was no sign of the bride, bridegroom and their respective families even at 8-45 p.m.! What should we have done under these circumstances?

The lack of consideration from the host and hostess towards their invited guests is shocking! Let us give them the benefit of the doubt -- maybe they had a family emergency. Even then, they should have sent one of the family members to the venue to inform the guests of the delay and made sure whoever chose to stay is made comfortable and hospitality extended. There is absolutely no excuse for making all of you wait and wonder.

As for the guests, it was not necessary to stay that long and wait for the hosts to show up at their own celebration. After a reasonable wait of 30 minutes, it is perfectly all right to leave. A written note announcing your presence and blessings to the newly wed couple along with the wedding gift is appropriate under these circumstances.

May I freshen my lipstick at the table after dinner?

No, you may not. I know there are a lot of people out there who do that. That does not make it right or acceptable. Any grooming is done in privacy. Please excuse yourself from the table and a quick visit to the ladies room will assure you that you look perfect!

I am a doctor. Is it all right for me to introduce myself as `Dr. Ghosh'?

The protocol for self-introduction is `never' give oneself the honorific of `Mr.', `Mrs.', `Dr.' etc. The correct way to introduce would be, "Hello, I am Nitin Ghosh, I practice medicine."

Please settle this argument I am having with my friend. We cannot seem to agree on the usage of `Ms.' and `Mrs.' when addressing a woman.

I am glad you asked. Everyone is unsure as to which one to use. `Ms' is thought of as the invention of the 20th century feminist movement. Actually, this form of addressing a woman has been around at least since the 17th century and was applied to both married and unmarried women. `Ms.' was the abbreviation for mistress, just as `Mr.' is for mister. While `Miss' and `Mrs.' denote a woman's marital status, `Ms.' is here to stay. That is the correct way to address a woman, especially in the business arena, regardless of her marital status. Even in the social arena, more and more women prefer `Ms.' before their names. Just as for men, a woman's marital status is her own business.


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