Aunt Dandelion is an advice blog offered to help readers solve simple or perplexing problems related to social and business etiquette. Ask Aunt Dandelion when you have a problem, and check back soon for answers. Send your conundrums to Or follow Aunt Dandelion on Facebook!

What is etiquette, really?

What some people think etiquette is:

  • Stuffy rules that take the fun out everything.
  • Something which only snobs care about.
  • The way people behave in Jane Austen novels (and not since).
  • What little old ladies do over tea and crumpets.
  • Boring, irritating, intrusive, rigid, arbitrary rules.
  • Meaningless prescriptions that cramp personal style.
  • Formal manners that have no relevance in the relaxed modern world.
  • Hyacinth versus Onslow.

And the list goes on.

Aunt Dandelion would like to offer a different perspective. Etiquette really is:

  • Common-sense ways of behaving in public that preserve the comfort and dignity of each individual.
  • A framework for throwing parties and other gatherings that run smoothly and on time, and keep guests happy. 
  • An attitude of kindness and charity towards others.
  • Essential information for anyone who aspires to get ahead in business, society and the community at large.
  • A way of attracting friends and potential intimates with decency and charm.
  • The gift of a sense of confidence when encountering people of any social or financial stratum, however high, low, or unfamiliar.  
  • Making peace. 
  • A sure way out of frat-boy slobbishness, cat-girl cliquishness, wall-flower shyness, Mad-Man brusqueness, and all the other defenses behind which insecure people hide.
I could continue, but hopefully my point is made. The knowledge and application of etiquette adds grace notes to life's everyday experiences and elevates one in the esteem of one's peers and betters. Fundamentally, etiquette is simple manners -- "please," "thank you," "may I help?" and "I'm sorry."

Etiquette is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Ask Aunt Dandelion 

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Thank You Notes Dilemma

My mom passed away a year ago. My dad, sister and half brother died many years ago. So Mom was all I had left. My half-brother was the son of my dad's first wife and I didn't know he even existed until I was a teen (I am 65 now). I mention this because my "sister-in-law" is the reason I am contacting you. There were many cards with gifts of cash to our family that my sister-in-law opened (immediately after the funeral). I was still in a state of shock and disbelief and oblivious to what was happening at that time so I have no idea as to who sent what or even how much. When I asked my sister-in-law she wouldn't give me a direct answer. She told me she gave the money to the church and then promptly flew back to her home in GA. Mom lived in IL and I'm in Texas. The point is that I want to thank people for their gifts and kindness, but I have no idea who those people are. As I said, I was still in shock so I'm not sure who was even at the funeral. What, if anything can I do about thanking people? - DG, Texas 

Aunt Dandelion replies: 

I have thought deeply about your question. I can suggest some wording for a note that would cover your situation as gracefully as possible, but without knowing to whom to send the notes, there doesn’t seem to be much you can do. You might ask anyone whom you can remember being at the funeral if they can tell you who else was there. Often there is a guest book at funerals, and perhaps you can locate that. You might be able to acquire a few names at least.

The fact that a year has passed means that most people won’t be expecting to hear from you anymore. I do think it’s still worth sending notes to as many people as you can, apologizing for the delay in writing to them, and explaining simply that your emotional state at the time was one of overwhelm. Most people will understand that and forgive you. Please do not place blame within these letters -- that can remain between you and God. 

Since you don’t know who sent cards or money and where the money really went, you might try some wording such as the following:

“Many kind friends offered condolences, support, and gifts when my mother passed, and I’d like to thank you for all you did for my family at that time.”

This is less good than being able to thank people for their specific gift, but at this remove of time, and given the circumstances, it is better than nothing.

Good luck, and perhaps steer clear of the sister-in-law in future.

Is it "sucking up" to say thank you?

"My husband and I were just treated to a weekend away by the owner of my husband's company. He paid for our hotel suites and gave us tickets to the suites at an OU football game. I'm curious about sending a thank you note. I don't want to seem like a suck up but I feel like appreciating is necessary." - A.M.

Aunt Dandelion replies:

The bottom line is, appreciating is ALWAYS necessary! To receive so much generosity from anyone, be it a friend or a boss, and not acknowledge it with a handwritten, mailed thank-you letter, would be the grossest breach of etiquette. Your host spent a lot of money treating you and your husband (suites all the way!). Both business and personal etiquette demand that you put your gratitude into words on (nice) paper.

Aunt Dandelion has never heard of common politeness being referred to as "sucking up" before. Please banish such concepts from your worldview and start writing that thank-you letter!