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Brushing up on manners...

Etiquette for Empty Nest and Retirement

retirement etiquette

Stage of Life is pleased to feature etiquette expert, Jay Remer.  Below you will find tips, advice and articles from Jay on important etiquette topics specifically tailored to baby boomers in or near the Empty Nest and/or Retirement stages of life.

If your children have left the nest or you're in retirement (or near it) and are interested in etiquette and manners protocol for this stage of life, read the stories below real-life etiquette advice about empty nest and retirement.

And don't forget to check out all 10 of our
etiquette advice pages for the other stages of life.

Etiquette Tips for Empty Nest and Retirement

Mother Drops In for Dinner

How do I tell my mother that sometimes I don't want her to stay for dinner or that she can invite me over from time to time?

Dear Jay,
My mother always shows up at dinner. If she sees me cooking she will sit there until I invite her to stay. She says "sure I'll stay if I am invited". Most of the time, I am not prepared for her. If we order in she does not contribute nor does she offer. She never invites us for dinner. I have been married for 15 years and my husband has eaten at her house once. I feel obligated as she is my mother. Is there a way to tell her without hurting her feelings?

Jay's ANSWER...
A: Your mother must live alone. She sounds very lonely. If she “always shows up”, how is that you aren’t prepared? By now, you have developed a pattern of always being hospitable. That is wonderful, and perhaps far more important to her than you will ever know. That does not mean that you cannot have boundaries. You should not feel uncomfortable in your own house letting people know that you need your privacy from time to time. But inviting yourself over to her house is not appropriate. She sounds depressed, as if in mourning. Have compassion and flexibility. I hope this helps.

Guests Taking Advantage of Free Stay

How can my friend politely ask her guests to pay for their stay? 

Dear Jay,
An elderly and very generous friend of mine has been providing a holiday destination for her friends and family for years and to date the majority of them have not contributed financially to the cost of their stay - save for one meal out. My friend believes that many guests are making the assumption that she and her husband are wealthy because they live in a lovely villa in a lovely area; however, the property was purchased when house prices were low and they have spent a lot of time and money restoring it, and of course, maintaining it.

This elderly couple now live on a fixed and modest income and are finding it difficult to support guests who do not contribute. Matters are further complicated by the fact that some of the family are from her husband's first marriage and she doesn't know how to approach them without offending them or her husband even though she enjoys a good relationship with both parties.  Needless to say, my friend now wishes she had done things differently from the outset therefore avoiding this very delicate and stressful situation.

Jay's ANSWER...
A: It’s never too late to set things right. There is no rewinding events, so what’s done is done. However, moving forward, the elderly couple who host guests need to explain that from here on, vacations are Dutch Treat. This is not an unusual request. Some guests may not be able to participate; but, that’s just the way it is. Honesty is the best policy. No need for apologies or explanations. Friends understand these situations, and the last thing they would want is for the hosts to be stressed out. You’ll be surprised at how quickly this situation can be resolved with a simple conversation. I hope this helps.


Napping During Visits

Can I nap while my daughter visits and chats with my wife? 

Dear Jay,
When my wife invites our daughter over to our house for dinner and a visit, is it rude for me to take a short nap while she and her mother chat?

Jay's ANSWER...
A: Not rude at all. I hope this helps.
  - Jay 

No Presents, Please

How do I word my husband's birthday invitation so the guests know not to bring presents? 

Dear Jay,
I'm giving my husband a 90th birthday party in a restaurant. I'm inviting mostly family and about 8 couples of friends.  All in all we will be about 35 people and grown up kids.  How do I word the invitation that he does not need any gifts, or money?

I am happy to pay for this wonderful occasion to give our dear family and friends.  I know some or if not all of them want to bring something. I know they will bring something if I don't tell them.  I thought a token gift to give my husband like his favorite candies, nuts, etc. something small.  How can I list it and  word it, without looking cheap? 

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I use of the phrase - “Bring only good wishes”. Some people use - “Cards only, please”. People know what this means, and there will always be some who insist on bringing a gift anyway. Be grateful and don’t worry about it. I hope this helps.


Grown Children Footing the Bill

How do I tell my grown children that it would be nice for them to pay for the dinner bill from time to time? 

Dear Jay,
We have always treated our kids when going out to dinner, hardly ever do they pay for the bill when it comes.

Our kids are all grown and working good jobs. Is it ok to teach them to reciprocate and treat us to lunch or dinner once in a while? How do I bring it up with them? I feel it is a good thing to teach them.

Your thoughts as soon as possible.



Jay's ANSWER...

A: I agree with you. Teaching children to have gratitude is an important gift. Reciprocation fits into the gratitude category. I would approach the subject from a “when you are treated to a meal or the movies by other people, not us of course, you do remember to reciprocate, don’t you?” The trick here is to not come off as having this be about you. Parents customarily do pay for their children, in some circles forever! But this is not a habit or courtesy that should be practiced outside of immediate family. Even then, it’s not equitable, but sometimes parents insist as it gives them a sense of usefulness, connection, and joy. The subject is an awkward one, and this illustrates just how important teaching these skills by example is, and from an early age. Such teaching avoids such awkward moments down the road. I say this because the conversation may feel awkward, but nonetheless, it is an important one to have. I guarantee you, your children will start treating you from now on from time to time. I hope this helps.


Asking guests to pay for a party

Is it okay to ask guests to pay $50 each to attend a 90th birthday party for my mom, so I don't need to foot the whole bill? 

Dear Jay,
My mother will be 90 years of age on June 25th.  My father is deceased, 2 yrs ago my mom lost a son and last year she lost her oldest daughter.  I have 1 sister and 4 brothers left, 3 of which are disabled and on limited income.  I want to give my mother a special birthday dinner and do not want to get stuck with the entire bill. The list would probably include 100 guests. Is it proper etiquette to ask/charge $50 per person? Please help me with some ideas.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: No, it is not OK to ask/charge anything for a party you are hosting. A celebration for this number could perhaps be arranged very inexpensively at a church hall with coffee and cake. It is the camaraderie that should be the focus. Finances do not allow for an extravagant dinner party. Most of the guests you invite would feel very uncomfortable, as would your mother. If you personally can foot the bill, that is another matter. Otherwise, a greatly scaled back event would be appropriate. I hope this helps.


House Rules for Picky Guests

Should I be expected to accommodate my boyfriend's picky parents in my apartment? 

Dear Jay,

My boyfriend’s parents are retired and drive up to see us out of state. They are never that clear on how long they are staying. We live in a major city,1 bedroom 1 bathroom 800 square ft. apartment. Once they stayed with us for 2 weeks. I try to be as accommodating as possible. I work all day and come home to cook them dinner.  His mother is really picky about what she eats and not because of dietary restrictions, but because simply she does not like it. 

My boyfriend and I have gotten in fights about this and think I'm being unreasonable. Is it just me or is this incredibly rude? My mother (only) had visited me once, but only stayed a few days and is not picky about what she eats or does. Other relatives of mine that come to town always get a hotel room. If we had a spare bedroom and bathroom it might be different. Is it unreasonable to ask his parents to get a hotel room next time they want to visit, or at least half of their visit?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: What is important here is that you and your boyfriend establish some house rules. If you feel displaced in any way because of his parents’ visits, you must let him know, and try to reach an agreement you can both live with. This should not be a big deal. If it is, your life moving forward is guaranteed to be filled with difficult situations. If his mother is a picky eater, cook something you know she’ll like. Your house is your castle. Get started on the right foot with clear and reasonable house rules, which everyone will adhere to. What those rules are is completely the choice of you and your boyfriend - no on else. Learning to communicate with one another effectively will help ensure a rosy future. I hope this helps.

 My best,


Etiquette's Purpose

Do we really need etiquette in our modern world? 

Dear Jay,

I am very curious to know, as you answer so many of these questions, do you believe that social etiquette is necessary? I personally do not. I believe it is a part of a stupid never ending game in which people lie, cheat, and loot. As an example I have seen that many people do not appreciate directness, preferring what, I don't know. I believe that if you wish to communicate it should be directly, without paying attention to how the person may feel.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I do believe that social etiquette is necessary. What I hear in your question is a great deal of anger. I do believe in being direct, but not rude. Learning to communicate in a respectful way has helped me to form deeper and more meaningful relationships with my friends, family, and business associates. Developing such skills can require professional help. I hope you can find a way to release your anger. Perhaps then you may begin to shift your perspective.

 My best,


My mom is cramping my quiet lifestyle

Do I cancel all my plans when my mom comes for an extended stay? 

Dear Jay,

I have looked and looked, but have not seen anything online about my specific problem. What are a host's obligations to a long-term house guest?

My mother is in her mid-80s and lives alone in Florida. Like so many retirees, she has, for many years, come north to stay with my family for a few weeks at a time, while visiting family and friends. However, as she has gotten older, those visits have grown longer and she does not see others as frequently, since she relies on me to transport her to see family and friends. Since I work during the week, that means I travel with her on weekends.

Generally, I don't really mind, but to be honest, it can be an inconvenience some days,and a downright imposition other days. She is not as mobile as she once was and tires easily, so she doesn't go out much. She relies on my husband and me to entertain her.

My husband and I have raised four children and the youngest has finally flown the nest. We have developed a quiet routine that works well for us. When I come home after a day at work, I often want nothing more than peace and quiet, but it feels extremely rude to retire to my room with a book leaving her alone after she has been alone all day. My weekends are spent with mom doing things that are pleasant for her, not relaxing.

But I cherish the time with my mother and try to squelch any resentment.

However, this summer she is coming for two months. That is a long time. I have been invited to visit a friend at her lake house for a long weekend during Mom's stay. May I accept the invitation or am I required to stay at home all summer?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You are well within your rights to accept this invitation, and any others for that matter. Your mother is a guest in your house. This would be a disruption for many of us. It’s very helpful to have some ground rules in place because everyone enjoys their privacy. Do not harbor any resentments. Be grateful for what time you have to spend with your mother and when you feel overwhelmed, have compassion for yourself. No one can be all things to all people. I think with some privacy time carved out, life will be simpler and easier. I hope this helps.

 My best,


Paying for Out of Town Guests

Is it my responsibility to pay for out of town guest accommodations? 

Dear Jay,

I am having a 90th birthday party for my Mother. There will be relatives coming from other states. Who pays for accommodations, me or them? What is proper etiquette?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Under usual circumstances, the guests would be responsible for their own travel expenses. There are certainly plenty of possible reasons why you might help out, but the choice is yours, not the obligation. I hope this helps.

 My best,


Happy at a Hotel

How do I communicate with my 83 year old mother-in-law that I'd rather be in a hotel than at her home? 

Dear Jay,

My father-in-law passed away in December. We now have to check on my mother-in-law who is a young 83 year old. She lives over 4 hours away, so it means overnight stays. I have very bad insomnia and I prefer to stay in a hotel. I also have two small dogs that she says we can bring, but she wants them to sleep in the garage. My dogs have never been in my own garage. They sleep with me and would flip out. I have tried to tell her I need to stay in a hotel, and I have used the dogs as my excuse. She is very frugal and gets so upset she tells us not to come. We pay for our hotel, of course, but she says she doesn't want us wasting our money. 

I am under a doctor's care and take medication to sleep, but it will not work sleeping at anyone's home (not even my own mother's). I have no problem with my husband dropping me off at the hotel and him staying at his mom's. My dogs and I will be very happy. Thank you in advance.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You do have your hands full! As people age, they become acutely aware of losing control of various parts of their lives. For people who are fiercely independent, this can manifest in demanding behavior. I help look after an older woman, and I find being flexible is essential, but not to the point of compromising my own life. The fact that this lady still has control over your husband is not likely to change. The concept of him explaining to her that how you manage your finances and life style are not her concern is highly unlikely as well. Therefore, make your own appropriate arrangements, and don’t make a big deal about it. 

Obviously you are going to great lengths to accommodate this woman. She knows this and will likely let the subject drop. If you have health issues that require that you follow a certain routine, so be it. This is not about being frugal; this is about being in control. You need to take control of your decision making, and in unison with your husband, carry on. If he cannot escape staying with her, you and the dogs can. I hope this helps.

 My best,


Mixed Invitation Messages

How do I respond to the changing invitation status from the woman for whom I provide care? 

Dear Jay,

I'm a caregiver for a 91 year old lady for a few years now. She invites me to holiday dinners, because I don't have any family. Starting 2 months ago she asked me if I was coming to Christmas dinner and I said yes. Today she mentioned that the Christmas plans got mixed up and she was sorry, but she had to un-invite me because she was going to her son's house. She lives in a very posh senior apartment complex, and we usually have dinner there because the food is excellent.

I must admit I was hurt. I heard her on the phone talking to her son and the plans changed again, and he wants to have dinner where my client lives so she re-invited me. I said no that I already made plans.

Was I wrong to be hurt? I found it very rude, and then to ask me to come again. My client is not senile at all, and I don't understand why she uninvited me when her son and his wife live in town?

Thank You,

Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Kelly,
You work for a bully. I do, too. This behavior has likely been with her more or less her whole life. I understand why you would feel hurt - you'd just been snubbed - who likes that? However, when working with the elderly we need to summon up all of our compassion - not only for them, but also for us. Family dynamics are complicated. You will never know what the dynamics have been over the years in her family. Don't take any of this personally. I'm afraid it's too late to change her ways. Caregivers are very special people. Remember she is lucky to have you in her life. I hope this helps.

 My best,


Confirming Plans

Who should confirm the plans - the host or the person invited? 

Dear Jay,

When planning an informal dinner party with close friends or family, who confirms the plans? Let's say the invitation is made by the hosts two weeks out, and then you don't hear from them? I really don't want to call and ask if we're still invited, and definitely won't just show up…

Jay's ANSWER...

A: It is the job of the host to confirm plans. Not everyone knows that, however. Therefore, I would suggest you phone and ask to confirm the time of the dinner party. "I'm just calling to make sure I wrote down the right time for dinner. I have 6:30 written down. Is that right?" I hope this helps.

 My best,



How can I invite my friend over without her bringing her grandchildren?

Dear Jay,

I am married with no children. I have a good friend that has become consumed with her grandchildren (especially since her parents passed away).

Everytime my husband and I try to get together with her and her hubby for lunch or dinner, she always asks if her grandchildren can join us. We really don't mind this on occasion, but it would be nice to meet without the kiddos.

With the upcoming Labor Day weekend, I asked if they wanted to visit our house, go fishing and grill out. Guess what her first question was...


Jay's ANSWER...

I hate to state the obvious ungraciously, but have you ever simply said, "No"? She must learn to assimilate back into the real world and allowing her to bully you into this situation repeatedly is not helping her. It is clearly a bother to you as well. Stating how one feels about things is healthy communication. For relationships to be healthy, so must all communications. I hope this helps.

Kindest regards,


Getting to Know Us

Honest is the Best Policy

Dear Jay,

My siblings (4) and I have an aunt that comes to visit from another state for six to eight weeks, two times a year. The first time is June-July and November-January. These dates have changed through the years because of vacation plans (mom, sister, aunt and me went on a couple of two week trips, etc.). She started coming to visit after my grandmother passed away (ten years ago). She is planning on moving here within the next couple of years (she says). She started visiting to "get to know us". She stays two weeks or longer in three homes.  Most of us work and she stays at the house all day watching television, playing games by herself, etc. She does entertain herself. When we come home, there she sits. We have to make dinner arrangements then go to bed and start all over again the next day! One sister lives with me, one sister is married and another recently became a widow. Another sister out of state is married, but my aunt has only visited with them one time and they said they weren't "keeping her". Three of us agree that "she has gotten to know us!" We fret over each visit, and she has made the comment that she's on "vacation" when she visits and that when grandma was alive (aunt has never been married and lived with her mom), they provided meals for visitors. A couple of times, she has taken us out to dinner and last year helped buy groceries at my house. She doesn't ask to visit (she leaves it up to us where and when she makes her visits to each home) and another sister has said that she doesn't have to be entertained. We feel like she does!  Aunt demands that we provide transportation to church, she doesn't ask! She never calls us between visits. We call her when we have a question about a game rule or concern for her during a storm, etc. We don't want to hurt her feelings and just want to know how to remedy this situation. A few days at each home would be nice!

Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Mrs. Honeras,

Honesty is the best policy. Unfortunately you and your siblings have been first class enablers in this family dynamic, which has now grown out of control, as such situations are want to do. I recommend that you have a siblings-only family meeting - in personal preferably, but the phone could work too. Come up with a plan that you can all agree to. One of you meets with the aunt - again face-to-face is ideal, and simply explain how you all feel. She is not psychic and probably does not want to be the colossal inconvenience she has become. This discussion should not be confrontational or stressful. State the facts and leave the emotions alone. This situation is not going to fix itself or go away, so it is time for you to take the bull by the horns and make that plan come to light! I hope this helps.

Kindest regards,


Just Droppin' By...Again

Can we tell our guests to get a hotel?

Dear Jay,

My husband and I live in a tourist destination, and family members and friends frequently ask to visit us (we usually have visitors at least two weekends per month). Our siblings (we have five of them) are extremely needy and are usually not the greatest house guests.  They each come multiple times throughout the year, stay in our guest room, don't rent a car (we only have one), and always want to go out to eat.  Not only do these visits require our time (entertaining and cleaning before and after their arrival), but they also affect our wallets.  Frequently, these visits extend into the work week as well.  We don't want to hurt their feelings, but we would much rather they get a hotel and their own car so our normal routines are not constantly uprooted.  What is the best way to handle the situation when we get a call saying "We're coming to visit you in July!"?


Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Sauna,

Please forgive the tardiness of this response. You are stuck in somewhat of a habit herea rut, if you will. This will more than likely continue and even worsen until such time as you lay down the lawexplain your house rules! One's house is one's castle, and as master of one's own castle, one is well within one's right to be crystal clear about house rules so that no one embarrasses the others through no fault of their own. 

It's best to handle delivering this information face-to-face and as a couple if appropriate. If spoken over the phone or written in a letter, do not be defensive or feel the need to give an explanation for the rules. 

There appears to be a combined lack of gratitude and a resultant feeling of entitlement; as well there is no respect for your boundarieseither time or space! This information can and should be delivered calmly and clearly. You cannot control their feelings - if their feelings are hurt, they need to take responsibility and grow up - age having nothing to do with it.

Learning to say no in a friendly way is possible. Speak from your heart and trust your inner voice. I hope this helps.

Kindest regards,


Just Droppin' By

Is it rude to drop by unannounced?

Dear Jay,

Is it rude for someone to just drop by unannounced if you've only met them once or twice, and they are not a close relative?

--Ms. Johnson

Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Ms. Johnson,

Frankly, I think it's rude for anyone, close relative or the traveling salesman, to drop by unannounced. I wouldn't have daren't do so with my own mother!

I hope this helps.

Kindest regards,


To call or not call?

Should you walk into a friend's or family member's home without first announcing your visit?


I was brought up to always call family or friends if I wished to visit, to see if it would be convenient for them.  I have, in fact, taught this practice to my own children.

However, I seem to be in the minority here and my friends think I am super strange.  Many times I have been at the home of a friend or neighbor (either having coffee or watching a movie), only to have their family or friends just walk into the house unannounced.  Often I find this extremely uncomfortable and cannot wait to leave.  I find it super rude.  My friends do not.

The mother of my son-in-law walks into their house any time as well.  My daughter hates it.  Locking the door doesn't work with her either, because she has a key, and uses it.  The key was given to her to use in case of emergency.

To me, my home is my haven, where I can kick back and relax with no worries about anyone walking in.  Am I wrong??


Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Jan,

You and I were brought up identically.  You are absolutely 100% correct, no question about it. each of us chooses to run our households is personal obviously, but I can assure you that if someone were to arrive at my doorstep unannounced, they would likely not do it a second time. It is the height of rudeness. 

Stick by your guns!

Kind regards,

Do we need to be quiet for the golfers?

Etiquette involving living on a golf course


We recently moved to a home that has a backyard on the golf course. Are we supposed to be quiet in our backyard when golfers come by? Thank you for your help?


Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Linda,
Thanks for asking this good question. As a common courtesy, it's nice not to be making a lot of noise, but you are under no obligation to be quiet unless there is some sort of covenant or by-law, which you would have know about before you bought the house.  It would be unreasonable to expect children, for example, to keep track of golfers. 

If you are on a municipal course, don't give it  thought. Carry on as usual!

Kind regards, Jay!

Parents Rules Rule

Children Return Home and Take Over

Dear Jay,

Is it proper for adult children when they come to visit us in our home, to turn the radio on and listen to music of there choosing with out asking if it were okay ? I don't think it is but my wife has no problem with it and we get into argument's over whether it is okay or not.

Please advise,


Dear Lon,

I agree with you in this case. People who are guests in your house, and I consider visiting adult children to be in that category, should respect your space and ask to turn on your radio, TV, etc. Old habits are tough to break, but somewhere along the line no one taught your children otherwise. They must learn to be discerning as well as respectful. 

I hope this helps. Jay

Hosting a Luncheon

Limited Space

I am hosting a Luncheon at my home for 34 women.  I am sending each invitation by US mail.  I cannot accommodate additional guests. I would like to include on my invitation the following:

Seating is limited – Cannot accommodate house-guests.

Could you suggest another way to say “I cannot accommodate your house-guests??? I must say something without being rude.  Some people think that their house-guests are automatically invited to every party their hosts are attending.  I know this is an incorrect assumption.  I live in  very social environment – Sarasota FL.  The snowbirds are here!

Thank you for reviewing my situation.


Dear Helen,

If people assume they can bring uninvited guests to your house for a private lunch, they are sadly mistaken. This is a basic consideration one learns as a child, not as an adult. If this is an issue, I think the invitation itself is not the place for the explanation. I would suggest that you share this concern with a couple of the guests, who know the rule and have a modicum of common sense already, and ask them to spread the word. 

Unfortunately with gate crashers, you do need to be able to accommodate them, but draw the invited guest aside privately and explain that this has placed you in an untenable spot. Their total lack of respect for you is shocking and the fact that this sort of behavior is tolerated only acts to sustain it into the future. If this is not a good solution, you could resort to adding to the invitation (no guests, please). Although irregular, it might be the best solution for you. 

Kindest regards, 


Compassion in Three Great Men


Our Etiquette Man, Jay, had the chance to hear three wonderful men speak about "Crash, Learn, and Conquer". Former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Danny Williams; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and the one and only Donald Trump each spoke at a conference two weeks ago. Here he shares some observations with you...

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Spark NB event last week where Donald Trump headlined an all star line up of speakers including former New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani and the former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams. The theme of the day was Crash, Learn and Conquer and was delivered to an audience of seasoned business people, young entrepreneurs and students. I attended because I wanted to hear how these men incorporate civility and compassion into their working lives. Strangely enough I was not surprised that those two words were not uttered a single time throughout the presentation. I found this fascinating, however, because to me without civility and compassion, business cannot truly succeed.

Mr. Williams was the first to speak and he explained how he pulled his province up by the bootstraps and with his tenacity and scrappiness persuaded the federal government to treat his constituency fairly. He has been a hugely successful businessman and attorney as well. Despite the reputation he garnered over his years at bat for the province, he showed a side of compassion and understanding of the really basic needs of his fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans and a genuine caring for people. 

Mr. Giuliani spoke of his time as mayor of New York City during the events surrounding the tragic day of September 11, 2001. In addition to his words of wisdom for entrepreneurs of having a goal, being optimistic, being a problem solver, having courage tempered with fear, the importance of practice, anticipation, and teamwork, his most important pearl, in my opinion, was to love people. He emphasized how friends are our best safety net and that we need to help people whenever we can. Without his enormous compassion and sense of civility towards all people, he would not have had what it took to manage one of worst moments in human history, as we know it.

Mr. Trump spoke of his colossal ups and downs both in business and in his personal life. I lived in New York for many years, so “The Donald’s” track record was old news to me. I remember when he was struggling with what seemed like an insurmountable amount of debt, when his real estate empire was collapsing around him, and when almost any other person would have given up. And I remember watching him climb back building strength upon strength to regain his prominence as a great entrepreneur. He deservedly has the reputation of being a bully in the boardroom and he espoused the position of getting even, having ironclad agreements, and never giving up. His philosophy of loving what you do, staying focused, and making your own luck is one which has been enormously helpful to his career. Although he has great bravado and an arrogance that a scant few would dare to get away with, I came away feeling that here is a man who flourished because of the team of people he maintains around him. My guess is that behind closed doors was a man who demanded respect and who equally showed respect to everyone in his life. He would not have been able to form a good team without compassion for himself and for others and certainly not without sincere civility.

One only need look at his children to see what a great father he has been and continues to be. That is where the evidence really lies. Despite never mentioning the importance of compassion and civility in his life, it is tucked away inside, hiding sometimes behind a tough protective exterior.

I hope the audience appreciated the kindness and common sense values that these men have. We all love to hear the incredible stories of crashing and recovering. Many of us can clearly relate as we have such stories in our own lives. We love to hear about the renegade side of people who go against the tide and handle pressures we hope to never be faced with. Some of us can handle life on a roller coaster and can face serious challenges with great strength and a sense of purpose. Others of us need a more secure, even sedate, life where intense pressures are avoided.

In the end, whichever path we choose or find ourselves on unexpectedly, we can be happier and move more gracefully through the day if we practice compassion and show civility to everyone whom we meet. It is the lubrication that oils the wheels of life and which gives is the strength to put the feelings of other people ahead of our own. In business and in our private lives, we may at times be scrappy, be focused on emergencies, or even be in a position of being arrogant. If tempered with compassion and respect for those around us, those who truly love us will surround us.


Coming Back to the Nest

Guidelines to Visiting Parents

Dear Jay,

What is a polite way to limit the number of days an adult child visits home?

Respectfully yours, Karen



Dear Karen,

Adult children returning to the nest is one thing. Those simply coming for a visit is another. You must remember that your home is your castle and you alone set the guidelines and make the rules. If there is an issue about this in your mind, you must state clearly exactly what the guidelines are. Being honest with your message does not require being disrespectful or rude. Keeping facts and feelings separate is a challenge we all face from time to time. Speak in a kindly tone and take full responsibility for your position. It is, after all, your position. Don't lay blame on your child. He or she learned their behavior from you most likely. So, if you've enabled this turn of events, it's now time to explain that now things must change and these are the new rules. I advise not letting this become a big issue. Nipping it in the bud before he or she arrives will help.

Kind regards,  Jay

Lack of Awareness 

Look Around You and Be Polite

This may sound like an exercise akin to patting your head and rubbing your tummy, but I am quite serious about this seemingly simple concept. A reader recently sent me this note illustrating the lack of awareness and kindness towards others. Perhaps we can all learn from this reader’s questions.

“I really enjoy your column. Thanks for the great suggestions for the New Year, which I intend to use. One thing that maybe you could consider writing about is the following: It really bothers me that many people today seem to just live in their own world and have little consideration for others who are around them. Often I have walked into a building right after someone who does not appear to know that I am there and drops the door on me. 

“Another beef that I have is people shopping in grocery store aisles, often with a number of family members, who run into someone that they know and proceed to block the aisle as they carry on a conversation. 

“I think the one that bothers me the most is when you get behind someone at the local drugstore or convenience store who insists on making their purchase, get their air mile points, pay all their utilities, and both check all their lotto tickets and buy new ones while others are waiting behind them! There just seems to be a general inconsideration for others demonstrated here. I used to buy my gas at a convenience store in the Fredericton area where the owner had a policy that customers could not do prolonged lotto ticket transactions if others were waiting. More than once I have just put my purchases down and walked out! 

“I know that I sound like the complainer here but it really does bother me! Happy New Year and looking forward to reading you in 2012.”

The scenarios outlined above are ones to which we can all relate. No one likes having a door surprisingly slammed in his or her face. But it does happen frequently! People just do not look behind them to see if someone is coming and politely hold the door open for that next person. What we need to practice is  being polite by taking just seconds to be aware of those around us. I find that when I experience these annoying situations, a bit of self-reflection often reveals a need to slow down and be more aware of what I am doing.

In grocery stores or any store with narrow aisles and shopping carts, it is helpful to look around and try not to inconvenience others. I am not suggesting that a good ‘gossip’ isn’t appropriate quietly in the store, but most customers are not there for social purposes. They need to get in and get out. The lesson here is to consider putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. The Golden Rule comes in handy frequently. This is another call to slow down and be aware of those around you, even putting them and their feelings before yours upon occasion.
The multi-tasker at the super market or at the bank or even at the ticket counter can really be annoying. We have become accustomed to one-stop shopping and find accomplishing a number of chores at one place very satisfying. However, if there is a line of people behind you watching you wind through your list of lottery tickets or other time-consuming tasks, I recommend coming back at a time when the lines may be shorter. This is akin to going through a busy grocery line with a full cart of purchases without helping to bag them. We all know how annoying it is when it happens to us. This is a two-way street. It is inconsiderate and disrespectful.

Let the New Year allow you to start off with a clean slate in one important way. Slow down and pay more attention to exactly what is going on around us. As we interact with other people, whether they are fellow shoppers, clerks, or friends and family, becoming more aware of how our actions affect other people will make for a more civil society. And don’t forget to smile often. We never know how our smile can brighten someone else’s day. It happens often!


Offering Kind Words 

What to say when you have nothing to say

Dear Jay/,

I have a question regarding retirement. I have a co-worker that I really don't have a close relationship with that is retiring. Most of my co-workers are enthusiastic about her retirement but, I don't really know what to say. We are putting together a scrap book and I am struggling over what to even write. What's the best tasteful and nicest thing I could say or do without sounding phony.



Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Monica,

This is not an uncommon question. If you feel obliged to sign the card at all, then something such as "Best wishes for a happy retirement" would be appropriate. You're not schmaltzing it up and the sentiment is true (I assume).

I hope this helps. Jay

Standing your ground with visitors

Self-invited house guests

Dear Jay/,

Three times now, a couple I know only fairly well and like only moderately have invited themselves to stay with me for several days. I suspect that their main reason is that I live in a very pleasant seaside town. They give me a lot of advance notice of their visit, so it's difficult to claim that I have previous engagements so far in advance, and they now know that I have a spare room.

In truth, I don't like having people to stay and only ever invite those really dear to me - my sister, brother and other dear friends and relations who live far away.I live alone and work full-time as a translator from home, without any domestic help.

This couple expect me to be available to entertain them, accompany them on outings and feed them. The man is diabetic, with special dietary requirements, and grumbles a lot about the wet Cornish weather. They do offer to "help", but the main help I need is for them to get out of the kitchen when I'm trying to cook and, anyway, their "help" is useless because they don't know where anything is or how anything works. They leave me feeling completely exhausted mentally and physically.

When they leave they always "invite me back", but they live in a distant town I'm never likely to want to visit or pass through. How can I get myself out of this Wunwanted guest trap" I've allowed myself to fall into? Your advice would be much appreciated.



Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Jenny,

Thanks for taking the time to ask this very good question. I am glad to see that you are taking responsibility for having "fallen into this trap". You just need to learn how to say 'no'. You are in fact being bullied by these folks, albeit unintentionally (I hope). This is a case of separating facts and feelings.

When you next speak with them simply explain the fact that you do not want any house guests at this time. You live alone for a reason and you need not feel obliged to share that reason with anyone. "I just do not want house guests" should suffice.

Think of it this way. When someone does something to you that you don't like, you say "Please don't do that." They should respect that. If they don't, they are being disrespectful and hurtful, which is unacceptable behavior.You may have to speak in a louder voice to make clear that your boundaries are not to be crossed.

Standing up for one's self is not easy, especially after you've been somewhat of an enabler in the situation. But this is what you need to do.

I hope this helps. Jay

It's a Respect Thing

Rising to welcome others 


The other day my mother was hospitalized overnight.  I went to visit her and sat by her bed.  The room was small as hospital rooms usually are.  During the course of my visit the doctor and a priest stopped in on separate occasions.  The doctor was a women between 35-40 years old and the priest was elderly. 

 When each entered the room, my mother introduced me to them.  I shook both of their hands without rising from my chair.My mother thinks I should have stood up but I don't agree with her.  I'm 35 years old.

Any thoughts?


Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for asking this good question. I would have to side with your mother on this one. Standing is a sign of respect, something both of these people deserve, as frankly does anyone else. Age and gender really have nothing to do with rising when someone enters your "space". It makes people feel welcome and respected.

I hope this helps, Jay

Don't Ignore an RSVP Request

RSVP Etiquette

I have noticed that the RSVP on invitations in certain instances is ignored. Most invitations ask that the recipient RSVP. This is a simple but very important request. The translation of RSVP, the French expression ‘Respondez s'il vous plais’, is simply ‘please respond’ or ‘please reply’.  The RSVP is the means for the host to gather essential information to complete the party or function arrangements. The RSVP clearly indicates how many people will or will not attend the event. It lets the host/hostess proceed with ordering food and beverages, creating a seating plan, hiring the correct number of wait staff and other obvious considerations in planning a successful occasion.

I have noticed that most people do in fact reply to private party invitations. Once you decide to accept an invitation, it really is important to show up, especially if a sit down meal is being prepared and served. Last minutes cancellations with a very legitimate excuse are acceptable. But ‘no-shows’ are inappropriate and extremely rude. Likewise, last minute replies are thoroughly disrespectful. If you are so late in replying that the host/hostess phones you to see if you are planning to attend a function, you ought to realize your gaff immediately, and apologize for your faux pas and any inconvenience which may have resulted. Apply the adage of walking in someone else's shoes and imagine yourself in the position of hosting a party without a clue to the number of people who will be attending. 

For public or institutional affairs it is equally important to reply to invitations. These events require a lot of planning and a head count is crucial. Many times, people think RSVP means ‘regrets only’. It does not. If I am invited to an opening at a museum and there is an RSVP, I call immediately to let them know one way or the other. And, I might add, that no one is exempt from replying. Many times public figures are invited to special events as a sign of respect and courtesy. They must reply to such invitations for exactly the same reasons everyone else must.

At these large public gatherings, if you have not replied to the invitation, do not just show up thinking your host will be thrilled to see you. I have been to many such events where there is a list of who has replied. If you’re not on that list, you may well not be admitted. You are less likely to be turned away at the door for a non-profit group. Because these organizations cannot afford to offend anyone, protocol is broken or stretched. But keep in mind that you are still a guest and ought to return the courtesy of the invitation and hospitality that has been extended to you. Be prepared for a solicitation for a donation or request for volunteer help with various projects. These are some of the ways non-profits remain in existence doing good for the community.

There are various schedules one follows when mailing invitations depending on the kind of event or party. However, one should reply within 48 hours of receiving any invitation if possible. Unless otherwise stated on the invitation, replies should be in writing. In today’s fast paced society, most invitations have telephone numbers or emails for quick reply. Some contain a reply card to indicate the number of people attending and perhaps a card for choosing an entrée. Whatever the method of reply, do it promptly. Always put yourself in the position of the host or hostess.

Invitations are very clearly addressed. If the invitation is addressed to Mr. John Doe and Guest, then he is invited to bring along a guest – any guest of his choice. I heard recently of a wedding invitation where a gentleman was invited to bring a guest. The bride found out who the guest was and announced that the guest in question wouldn't be welcome. The bride did not want to be upstaged by the extraordinary beauty of the lady who was to accompany the invited guest.  Once you have sent an invitation there is no taking it back-that just does not happen in polite society. Once a person RSVPs, the host/hostess accepts whatever decision the guest has made without further stipulation or regulation.  How ludicrous! What a peculiar and cruel way for a bride to behave. That was a first for me.

If the invitation is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. John Doe and Family, that refers to immediate family, i.e. children. If the invitation does not state “and family”, do not ask if you may bring the children or others. Your asking this of a host/hostess puts him/her in an awkward position and makes you look foolish. However, in the case of an informal party, such as a pool party, as it’s a family kind of affair, it is acceptable to call and explain that you have house guests and ask if they might be included. More often than not extra guests are welcome.

RSVPs are one of the most essential parts of an invitation. Please respect them and respond as quickly as possible. This is one way that you as the guest can contribute to the success of the party and help ensure less stress for the host or hostess. This small gesture is always a winner.

Meet Stage of Life's Etiquette Coach

Meet Jay Remer - etiquette expert on StageofLife.comOur Etiquette Expert

Why Jay?  It's simple...Jay knows etiquette. 

For years Jay has planned and managed royal, corporate, political and social events and parties, some of them for up to 500 people.  As a graduate of the Protocol School of Washington, he offers workshops on business, social and dining etiquette, as well as international protocol for a variety of audiences.  From teenage students to corporate clients, Jay teaches everything from the basics of a handshake to the subtleties of developing a business relationship during a networking dinner.  His course on self-esteem in youth, in particular, has been encouraged by Dr. Piet Forni, founder of the Civility institute at Johns Hopkins University.  Originally from Delaware, Jay now lives in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada  where he has written a weekly etiquette column in the National Post and is a current columnist in New Brunswick’s Telegraph Journal.  He is a Social Etiquette and Good Manners expert on and has answered over 1,000 questions from people around the world...and we post his content here on Stage of Life.  

You can read more about Jay on his website,

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