Q: I went to church recently with a girlfriend from work. A special soloist friend of ours was singing a solo on this particular Sunday. My girlfriend and I arrived just as the church bells were ringing to start the service. We found space in a pew about halfway up. She sat on one side of me. On the other side was a younger couple. The man was next to me.
As the service proceeded and we stood up and sat down several times, he turned to his wife a couple of times. I couldn’t help but notice he had a tremendous amount of dandruff on the shoulders of his dark suit. His wife was considerably shorter than he, so I guess she didn’t see it. I was a little taller, and I could not help but see it. I had to control my hand not to reach over and brush his shoulders or whisper something to him so he would brush it off, but I didn’t. I felt rather uncomfortable about it throughout the entire service. The pews behind us were full, and I’m sure they could see it as well. My etiquette question is, should I have at least whispered to him about it?
A: In this particular scenario, the answer is no. It goes back to the etiquette rule: If someone can easily solve a clothing problem without drawing a lot of attention to himself or herself, then quietly and discreetly tell the person about the problem. If it cannot be fixed, or if fixing the problem might draw more embarrassment to that person than that drawn by not telling that person, then do not mention it.
Had you arrived a few minutes earlier and had had the opportunity to meet this couple and chat for a minute or two before the service began, perhaps you could have whispered in his ear something like: “Excuse me, I think you have some lint or something on the shoulders of your jacket.” He then could have excused himself to take care of the problem, or if he felt there were not a lot of people watching him, he could have brushed off his shoulders or turned to have his wife quickly brush them.
However, once the service started, for you to present that kind of problem to him, he probably would have felt he should not leave the pew, and he could have automatically begun to feverishly brush off his shoulders, or ask his wife to do so. In the meantime, those sitting in the rows behind him would have witnessed the entire commotion. He would have been embarrassed; his wife would have been embarrassed, as well as those in the rows behind them. You, also, would have been embarrassed or felt uncomfortable for instigating the commotion.
If at the end of the service, when everyone around you is talking and moving about, you could engage in the pleasantries of social conversation with him and his wife, and then discreetly and quietly tell him. I can hear some readers at this point saying, “Why tell him then? Church is over.” However, he may be joining other family and friends for lunch or have some other social commitment with another group of people; therefore, the kind and considerate thing to do would be to tell him so he could fix the problem.
Q: Political talk among my friends is driving me crazy. I do not want to discuss it, and if one more person asks me who I am going to vote for — regardless of the fact that the candidates have not been chosen yet — I am going to scream! What is the polite thing to say to them?
A: Suggested responses are as follows:
“I’m sorry, but I prefer not to discuss politics.”
“Politics is not a subject I care to discuss right now.”
“My personal political views are private, and I prefer to keep them private. I do hope you understand.”
Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.