Etiquette: Son's Valentine gift should be his personal choice

For the News-DemocratFebruary 10, 2014 

Q. Our son is in college and has a sweetheart of a girlfriend. He has a part-time job to help us with his tuition and books. He plans to drive home from college to take his girlfriend out for dinner to a very nice restaurant for Valentine's Day. He called the other night and asked my opinion as to whether he should also get her candy and flowers.

My recommendation was to forget about the flowers because they are so very expensive for Valentine's Day. I also told him I thought a big box of candy was a bit much, and kind of awkward to take into a restaurant. I suggested he get a very small heart- shaped box of chocolates and add a Valentine's card on top. It would probably fit into his coat pocket and he could give it to her at dinner.

I could tell when he hung up the phone he wasn't convinced my opinion was the right one even though he agreed it could be an expensive day to do flowers as well. Is it a must to do all three?

A. Not that I want to give the impression flowers are not important, but a dinner date with a card and a cute little heart-shaped box of candy from a young man in college sounds perfect! I know of no etiquette book which suggests all three are necessary. How he chooses to "treat" his sweetheart on Valentine's Day is an individual choice based on many things, one of which, is available funds. A common sense approach, therefore, is best.

Q. I was recently in a doctor's office waiting to be called in for my appointment, flipping through some magazine. Just before the nurse called me in, I saw an ad with a young man wearing a suit, walking on a street obviously in a business district, and he had a backpack strapped on his back. Is this the latest trend for men in the business world to wear a back pack instead of carrying a briefcase? It didn't really look very GQ to me.

A. I have recently noticed a few younger, nicely suited businessmen who have donned a backpack as they walk from a parking lot to their offices, or even when stopping for a social beverage after work, before walking to their cars. It certainly does not provide a professional appearance. A backpack not only has a tendency to destroy good posture, but it also creates unwanted wrinkles.

It also gives the impression the young man thinks he is still in college and not in the professional business world. Not a good message to send.

Reader's comment

Thank you for your recent comments concerning the propriety of young professional men growing weird kinds of facial hair. Our son graduated from college last spring and he has not been able to find a white-collar job. For months, my husband and I have been suggesting he should shave off this beard thing he has on his face because we feel it is unprofessional.

I put your column in front of him at the breakfast table and did not say a word to him about it. A couple of days later he had a clean-shaven face. A couple of days after that, he met a friend who got him an interview for a job he wanted. He made it through that first interview and, within a few days, was asked for three more interviews up the chain. He called us as he left to come home after the final interview, all excited to tell us he had gotten the job. We never said, and will never say anything about whether we think the clean-shaven face helped,ut thank you for telling it like it is!

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427. Or email to

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