Ask Mister Manners: Can a grandparent dictate how grandson spends his graduation money?

Rather than attaching a string to a gift, a grandparent is better off gifting an experience that involves a shared common interest

After finishing high school last June, my grandson took a year off, spending the pandemic doing not much but playing video games. He’ll be starting college this fall, and I’d like to give him a monetary gift. Unfortunately, I’m concerned he’ll spend the cash on something wasteful. Would it be improper of me to stipulate how the money can be used?

If you gave your grandson a sweater, would you insist he not wear it on Tuesdays? If you gave him a harmonica, would you make him promise never to play Maroon 5? Your gift is not a bequest and should come with zero strings. Once he opens the envelope, how he uses the money is up to him, not you.

With that in mind, if you can’t shake the feeling he will splurge his graduation windfall on something you deem unredeeming, perhaps cash is not your best option. There are myriad less risky ways to convey your congratulations.

If the two of you share a common interest, consider gifting him an experience you can both enjoy together, such as a special dinner, a sporting event or a night at the theater. Alternatively, if your tastes are too divergent, how about giving him a budget and going online shopping together for some of the items he’ll need for the fall semester?

Just don’t flinch if he insists his college experience will be incomplete without a VR headset.

Send your questions to

Ask Mister Manners: Can a grandparent dictate how grandson spends his graduation money?2021-05-28T15:44:27-04:00

Political Respectness on November 7 (And Beyond)

Political Respectness on November 7 (And Beyond)

November 5, 2018

With perhaps one of the most talked-about midterm elections in a generation now just a day away, we know that by this time tomorrow evening, Americans from both sides will have at least some reasons to rejoice and some reasons to grumble. As shared with CNN International this evening, here are my suggestions for how to maintain political respectness in the rhetorically charged era in which we live, (particularly in families and among circles of friends).

Put Off Posting

Don’t turn to social media–whether to gloat or to grieve. Political animosity has been so vicious in the run-up to the midterms that the last thing opposing sides want to hear on November 7 is grandstanding—or griping, as the case may be.

Celebrate (or Commiserate) With Like Minds

With so many tight races and so many supporters all-in for specific candidates, depending on what happens at the polls, there are going to be huge disappointments, much excitement and perhaps some upsets. If you’re looking to share the joy of victory or the agony of defeat, do so with others whose views are similar to your own…not with those whom you know are diametrically opposed to you. You’ll find far more receptiveness to your point of view with like minds, with less temptation to argue.

Political Respectness

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, I encourage everyone to be conservative with their critiques of their opponents and liberal with their empathy. I call this political respectness. We know that American families are often divided on these issues. How can we expect our Senators and Representatives to cross the aisle if even family members cannot accomplish that? Listen before jumping in and learn how (and when) to bite your tongue.

Let the Dust Settle

The newly elected will be making big plans, and those defeated will be licking their wounds. But it’s important for the rest of us to take a momentary breather and find joy in diversions outside the political arena this week and next. Re-charge your batteries so you’ll be ready for Thanksgiving, when so many Americans have been shown to be cutting short their celebrations, or skipping them altogether simply because of political strife with family members. (A 2016 survey using cell phone location data from 10 million mobile devices found that family members were actually leaving their dinners 30-50 minutes earlier than in years prior, owing demonstrably to opposing political viewpoints.)

Make a Wish

And since Thanksgiving will be contentious in many households, rather than dredging up the same old arguments, family members should consider avoiding talk of specific candidates or issues and focusing instead on having constructive conversations about how to find common ground and mutual understanding. Set some house rules and have both sides explore the topic with respect and humility, valuing the dignity of the other individual throughout the process.
Political Respectness on November 7 (And Beyond)2018-11-05T23:14:16-05:00

OK to Text an Ex?

Okay to Text an Ex?

October 31, 2018

To text an ex or to resist? The answer to this question becomes even more murky when you have not broken up officially, but rather, are just on a break. There’s no doubt that out of sight, out of mind becomes that much more difficult when you start ex texting, or exting, as it were.

Amid the myriad issues couples must face in the digital age is how to break contact when there are so many ways to remain in contact. It’s easy to forget how not easy it is to forget someone who is only a text, Snap, like or Instagram Stories view away.

The desire to stay in contact with a significant other even after you’ve both agreed to take a break is understandable. Particularly if you’re accustomed to multiple check-ins with one another throughout the day, bilateral ghosting can feel extreme.Particularly during a moment of loneliness.

And yet, if your true goal is time apart for you both to consider whether you are meant for one another, by remaining in virtual contact you are conjuring up memories and feelings without giving yourself the opportunity to be emotionally available to others. For that reason, and out of respect to the decision you’ve both made, I recommend mutual radio silence, with any exceptions (such as birthday greetings, holiday wishes) agreed to up-front.

As part of this process, be particularly wary of orbiting the other party on social media. And under no circumstances should you be texting thirst trap photos. Though doing so may fan your ego, it also confuses matters and does nothing to further the original goal.

As a couple, also consider whether you want to select a date for you to remove the restriction on texting contact. By then you should be able to reassess the situation, and even if you decide the break will be permanent, by then you’ll have proven you have enough respect for one another to abide by an agreement for both of your sakes.

OK to Text an Ex?2018-10-31T19:43:41-04:00

Baby Shower Gifts (Please!) Says Kenya Moore

Baby Shower Gifts (Please!) Says Kenya Moore

October 15, 2018

Bringing a baby into the world is a journey filled with emotions—especially during the home stretch. And for that reason, we should cut former “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Kenya Moore a bit of slack for venting her frustrations with guests for her forthcoming baby shower.

Moore, who is expecting a child with her newlywed husband Mark Daly at the end of November, took to Instagram Stories on Saturday to grouse that not all of her guests have RSVP’d. Wrote the RHOA star: “RSVP literally means RESPOND PLEASE in French so if you get an invitation, respond with a yes or no if you will be attending.”

The reality TV celeb went on to say: “#Etiquette101: If you cannot attend a monumental life-changing event in a friend’s life, it’s nice to send a gift anyways (weddings, graduations, baby showers). Or is it not about class? It is NOT about a dollar amount. It’s to show you care the same way the person cared to invite you to share a moment in their life.”

On these two points, I could not agree Moore 😊. Party guests of every stripe need to step up and realize that an invitation is a privilege, and withholding an RSVP–for whatever reason–is inconsiderate. Leaving the host of an event without a proper guest count has all sorts of ramifications for catering. It may also hold up the sending of a second wave of invites, pending RSVPs from the first wave.

Where I diverge with Kenya is on the passionate plea for presents. Though it’s tough to argue with Kenya’s tip for guests who can’t attend (“it’s nice to send a gift anyways,”) it’s also unseemly for her to guilt them into doing so.

A baby shower should be an opportunity for friends and family to celebrate the pending arrival of a loved one’s new bundle of joy. It should not be a campaign to enforce gift-giving from each and every invitee (no matter how distant) If a guest who declines the invite also declines to send a gift, he or she should not be held accountable.

Wishing Kenya a terrific baby shower and that her guests all RSVP. And with respect to gifts from those who don’t attend, sometimes less is Moore.

Baby Shower Gifts (Please!) Says Kenya Moore2018-10-15T20:57:58-04:00

America’s 5 Friendliest and 5 Most Mannerly Cities

America’s 5 Friendliest and 5 Most Mannerly Cities

October 19, 2017

Earlier this month, Forbes asked me to name my choices for the five friendliest and five most mannerly cities in America.

As a frequent business traveler, I have the opportunity to visit dozens of destinations throughout the year and I have the good fortune to meet terrific individuals anywhere I go. You can imagine, then, the task was daunting to say the least.

For me, impressions of a new place are forged by the interactions I have with taxi drivers, shopkeepers, restaurant workers and everyday residents. All it takes is a few rude exchanges and I’ll return home with a less than favorable perception of the locale. Conversely, after a few friendly conversations, chances are good I’ll be longing to return.

Although it wasn’t easy narrowing down my list to just five, my choices are below. For the full Forbes article and my reasons for nominating each, please see here.

Let me know what you think…next time I think I’d prefer to list the top fifty rather than the top five!


1. Dallas, TX
2. Nashville, TN
3. New York City
4. Boulder, CO
5. Washington, DC.


1. Palm Beach, FL
2. Minneapolis, MN
3. Lancaster, PA
4. Charlotte, NC
5. New Orleans, LA

America’s 5 Friendliest and 5 Most Mannerly Cities2018-05-28T21:56:26-04:00

Sorry, Not Sorry: A Condolence Lesson for the President

Sorry, Not Sorry: A Condolence Lesson for the President

October 18, 2017

For most of us, finding appropriate words of sympathy for a grieving friend, colleague or family member can be particularly challenging. At such times, many of us default to: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

The sheer innocuous-ness of that phrase sometimes makes it feel trite—or worse, not heartfelt. And yet, its simplicity sums up what courses through our minds as we offer comfort to someone going through the unimaginable. How much more difficult, then, are condolences for a fallen soldier.

The tragic death of Army Sergeant La David Johnson and the subsequent condolence call made by President Donald Trump is under great scrutiny today, and rightly so. The fallen serviceman, who was killed in an ISIS attack in Niger earlier this month, is survived by his wife, Myeshia—who is six months pregnant—and their two young children.  He was 25.

As conveyed firsthand yesterday by Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who was with Mrs. Johnson at the time she received the commander-in-chief’s call, the president’s attempt at sympathy included mentioning the soldier “knew what he was getting into” when he enlisted. If accurate, the Florida represntative’s report of the conversation, provides echoes of “I like people who weren’t captured,”—the tone-deaf statement of then-candidate Donald Trump in speaking about longtime prisoner-of-war Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Comforting the family members of a fallen soldier may well rank up there as one of the hardest calls a commander-in-chief must ever make. It is of the utmost importance that every syllable convey sympathy, concern, tact and support. To come off as callous—or even jocular—is worse than offering no comfort whatsoever.

Being president is not easy. Sometimes there are perfect words. Sometimes there are no words at all.

Sorry, Not Sorry: A Condolence Lesson for the President2018-05-28T21:31:37-04:00

Voice Mail: Not the Villain You Think

Voice Mail: Not the Villain You Think

June 6, 2017

A holdover from before the age of email, voice mail is perhaps the most loathed (and disused) communications tool at our disposal in 2017. Consider sentiments such as these:

“I never listen to my voicemails. It’s too time-consuming.”

“I don’t bother leaving voicemails. No one listens to them anyway.”

“I haven’t set up my voice mailbox. I wouldn’t even know how.”

Companies including Coca-Cola, Bloomberg and JPMorgan Chase have largely eliminated voice mail for their employees, typically to great acclaim. The argument, of course, is that voice mail is prehistoric and that email and text messaging have eliminated the need for it. Voice mail, with its cumbersome access numbers and passcodes, not to mention its linear method for listening to messages, is simply a time-waster. And while one could argue that replacing a fax machine with email is an upgrade with zero downsides, suggestions that email is a comparable substitute for voicemail are inaccurate.

What does voicemail have that email and texting do not? Tone. And I don’t mean dial tone. I mean vocal tone. In the business-etiquette training workshops I offer around the U.S., one of the consistent complaints I hear from my students is that they regularly receive emails that come across as rude. Often, this perception of lack of politeness is the result of a misunderstanding. What is meant to be concise comes off as curt. What is meant to be a question comes off as a demand. What is meant to be a rationale comes off as an excuse. And in each of these cases, the missing element is the human voice…something that would help bridge the digital gap easily and effectively. Consider the following one-line email:

We missed you at the meeting today.

How would you interpret that statement? As a thoughtful check-in? A perplexed inquiry? A gentle chastisement of someone’s absence? A frustrated observation?

I challenge you to answer that question definitively. I don’t think you can. Now try saying the line aloud, using as many different intonations as you can. How many versions of that statement can you create? Your voice inflection gives the listener keys to gauging your state of mind. Could you accomplish the equivalent via email? With effort, yes. Does everyone make the time to write thoughtful, nuanced emails that remove all possibility for misinterpretation? Based on the responses I receive in my training classes, absolutely not.

Is there subtext to your message? Is there an opportunity for the recipient to perceive your meaning incorrectly? Is a face-to-face conversation out of the question due to your being in different locations? If so, voicemail is clearly the superior option to email or texting. The takeaway here? Don’t be afraid to leave them—and listen to them.

What do you think? Are there instances where you would use voicemail as your preferred means of communication versus email? Let me know! And in my next post, I’ll discuss the art of perfect voicemail—both incoming and outgoing.

Voice Mail: Not the Villain You Think2018-05-28T21:32:13-04:00