Social Etiquette and Good Manners/my birthday


My Birthday was last week. I turned fifty. I did not hear from either of my brothers on my big day. Two days after, I received a birthday card in the mail from one brother. My eldest brother has yet to acknowledge my birthday, not even a card. Should I call my brother or email him to ask why he forgot my birthday? I am hurt. I feel that they wanted to hurt me. My brothers and I do not see one another often. They make a lot of excuses for the manner in which they treat me. I send cards to both of them on birthdays, holidays and I get nothing from them. This has been a pattern from them for some time now. I need advice to handle this in the appropriate way.

Dear Gwen:

There is no graceful or appropriate way to let others know when they forget a milestone in our life.  I don't recommend that you scold your brothers for doing so; it will only drive a broader wedge between you.  Also, from your message, the forgotten birthday is just one example of disappointments they have caused you.

I recommend that the next time you are together with your brothers, you let them know--in one-on-one conversations--that their behavior toward you has been hurtful. Calmly and sincerely tell them how you feel and how you want to improve your relationship.  Use the "I" approach instead of the "you" (e.g., "I feel hurt because we don't have a closer relationship", not "You are thoughtless by forgetting my birthday...").

If either brother indicates interest in improving your relationship, discuss methods for achieving that goal: creating and sharing a family calendar of important dates and getting in touch on birthdays and holidays; connecting on a regular basis via email, telephone, or family newsletter; planning large or small family reunions on a regular basis--whatever is feasible for your group. Volunteer to be the wrangler/reporter/nudge.  In 99 out of 100 families, this role is filled by a woman.

If either of your brothers sees no need to alter the status quo in your relationship, then cut your losses and focus on other family members who matter in your life and who appreciate you and what you do. But please, don't let the thoughtless and discourteous behavior of others affect your behavior negatively. Continue to send the cards that you have always sent and know that no family is perfect.  

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

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Nancy Mitchell


Social etiquette; Business etiquette; Entertaining etiquette; Wedding etiquette; Protocol, domestic (US) and international; Flag etiquette; Dining etiquette; Restaurant etiquette; Spa etiquette; Travel etiquette


Nancy R. Mitchell is a nationally recognized etiquette and protocol consultant and trainer with more than 30 years of experience in the field. She owns the firm The Etiquette Advocate and is an owner and founding partner of the firm Protocol Partners-Washington Center for Protocol. Currently, she is an adjunct faculty member at The George Washington University, where she developed and teaches protocol courses in the School of Business and the Career Center, and at Stratford University, Falls Church, VA. She serves also as protocol and special events consultant to the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library and cultural center. For 23 years, Mitchell was director of special events and protocol at the Library of Congress where she and her staff were responsible for planning and managing over 400 events each year. She coordinated the institution’s major special events, visits of heads of state and other distinguished visitors, galas, conferences and meetings. As the Library’s chief protocol advisor, Mitchell served as liaison to the White House, U.S Department of State, the Congress, the Supreme Court and other government agencies, embassies, academia and corporations.

Protocol and Diplomacy - International Protocol Association

Mitchell is quoted on matters of etiquette and protocol by CNN, ABC Nightline, Martha Stewart Living Radio, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Washington Business Journal, the Associated Press and Washingtonian magazine, has been featured on ABC Good Morning America, Fox News and National Public Radio, and is an etiquette columnist for, etiquette consultant to Alexandria Woman and to Engaged! magazine, and technical editor of Wedding Etiquette for Dummies (Wiley, 2010).

B.S., University of Utah, 1969

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