Social Etiquette and Good Manners/blanket refusal of all future gifts


My sister is gay.  She has been living with a woman for 20 years and they are deeply committed to one another.

The woman had a troubled childhood and doesn't share many values of our family.  In general, she dislikes family get-togethers and has made many derogatory remarks about my family over the years.  She refers to the family collectively as "the Smiths."  (Not our real last name.)  She has said at least 25 times in my presence how much she disliked social obligations with "the Smiths."

I am a believer in gay rights and I have supported my sister's sexual preference since she was 20.  I have spent countless hours in pro-gay rights activities, partly out of loyalty to my sister, and party because of the strength of my own beliefs.  All of my efforts were unpaid.  When my sister and her companion got together, I began to refer to the companion as "my sister-in-law."  Since I am a lawyer, I achieved some early legal landmarks concerning gay rights.  I feel that I was way ahead of the curve in being supportive of gay rights and of this relationship in particular.

Recently, I gave my sister's companion a birthday card and two modest gifts for her birthday.  I took a lot of time and care in picking out the gifts.  A few weeks later, I got a flowery note from the companion that I was not to send her  gifts in the future.  She said their house was too full of "stuff" as it was.  They are very well off, and have a house that is about 3,000 square feet.  Stuff is piling up in closets, like it does for everyone, but there is no clutter.  One of my gifts was a book.  

I was extremely hurt.  I felt that if she didn't want to add to the "stuff" in her house, she could have suggested that I give her flowers, perishable edibles, gift certificates, gift cards, or even suggested donations in her name to charities she supported. (I must admit, I am not aware of any charitable giving the two of them do.  Although they are well off, their lives are mostly about supporting their own lifestyle and personal comfort.)  In my family, which has a German and Norwegian heritage, it is a very deep tradition to give gifts on special occasions, especially birthdays and Christmas.  The companion also believes Christmas is a "made up holiday" and attempts to persuade my sister to take Caribbean trips to avoid interactions with the family at the holidays.

I believe that my sister's companion's act was the height of rudeness and disrespect.  I also feel that it was complete rejection of the relationship I have tried to build over 20 years.  She's a difficult woman, and I feel that I have over and over walked the extra mile to placate her to help enhance my sister's happiness.

I have never been rude to the companion; not once.  My sister acknowledges that the companion can be difficult and abrupt, but is basically enabling all of the gratuitous remarks about the family.  My sister's companion seems to regard her hostile remarks about "the Smiths" as a form of humor, and my sister sort of chuckles and says something to the effect of that's just her companion's way.

To make matters worse, my sister announced that now that gay marriage was legal in many states, the two of them would probably marry, but that my other sister and I would not be invited to the ceremony.  She said that her companion wanted to have a "small ceremony," implying there would be some invited guests, but the guests would not include her sisters.  I was completely stunned and speechless.  My sister sees my other sister very frequently.  (They are both retired.) I see the sister in question less frequently because I work full-time and I have grown to feel unwelcome in their house.

There were forty years that passed when my sister and I were extremely close.  That time came to an end when the companion entered the picture.  After that, we have had a number of mainly positive interactions, but the closeness slowly seeped away.

I would like some objective feedback on the situation.  Was my sister's companion rude?  Professional advice to me has been to gradually disentangle myself from these two, seem them as little as possible, and develop a different support system.  But the blanket rejection of gifts gnaws at me, and I am curious to know what an objective person would think about this problem.



Dear Sarah:

I am so sorry that your sister (who is involved with her girlfriend) hasn't grown a backbone and doesn't realize the value of keeping those who love her close.  That seems to be the bottom line problem with the scenario you describe.  Remember, if you are hurt because your sister's girlfriend doesn't treat you or your family well, it is because you are letting her hurt you.  Don't waste the precious time you have on this earth trying to get someone to like you who has obviously decided not to - for whatever reason she has.  It is not about you or who you are - it's all about her.  

Your sister has chosen her girlfriend to be her closest friend - over you and your other sister.  That is entirely her decision so please stop fretting about it.  Find someone else who appreciates you and loves you like you need and allow your sister to live with her choice.  

You asked if your sister's companion was (is) rude.  She is quite rude but doesn't seem to care whether she is or not.  I personally stay away from people like her because I don't want them taking up my precious time with disrespect and nastiness.  I am sure you don't want to waste your time either so it's time to say good bye to her in your life.  Be civil, be cordial when you see her if you do.  But don't let her get to you and don't bother with presents anymore.

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

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Cynthia W. Lett


Proper manners with friends,family,colleagues,neighbors and everyone else you know.


I have been an etiquette expert teaching and consulting on the subject worldwide since 1983. I started and serve as the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and am considered a leader in the field of etiquette and protocol training and execution. I edited "Etiquette for Dummies" and have recently written "Lett's Talk - Everyday Etiquette Dilemmas and What to Do about Them". My book, "That's So Annoying:An Etiquette Expert on the World's Most Irritating Habits And What To Do About Them" was published in 2009 and is available wherever books are sold. I taught the Business Protocol class to Master's level students at the George Washington University, Washington, DC for seven years I served as Chief of Protocol for MCI Telecommunications for three years.

International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals, ASTD, PCMA, National Speakers Association

I have been quoted over 700 times in the past 5 years worldwide. Publications include Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, NY Times, Washington Business Journal, USA Today, Associated Press, London Times, Newsweek Japan edition, Newsweek US edition and many many more.

I am a Certified Etiquette Professional (CEP) and Certified Protocol Professional (CPP) earned by examination through ISPEP. I have a Master's degree in hospitality law and undergrad degrees in Restaurant & Hotel Management and Public Relations/Interpersonal Communications from Purdue University.

Awards and Honors
Who's Who Worldwide,Who's Who of American Women, Distinguished Darden Professor (Purdue University).

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