Jan. 30, 2023

Returning Dirty Handkerchiefs, Reading Office Emails Aloud, Getting Permission from References, and More

Etiquette, manners, and beyond! In this episode, Nick and Leah answer listener questions about returning dirty handkerchiefs, reading office emails aloud, getting permission from professional references, and much more.

Etiquette, manners, and beyond! In this episode, Nick and Leah answer listener questions about returning dirty handkerchiefs, reading office emails aloud, getting permission from professional references, and much more. Please follow us! (We'd send you a hand-written thank you note if we could.)

Have a question for us? Call or text (267) CALL-RBW or visit ask.wyrbw.com



  • What's proper handkerchief etiquette?
  • What should I do about a coworker who reads all his emails out loud?
  • Should I thank my neighbor for doing unwanted yard work on my property without my permission?
  • Should you ask references for permission before listing them on a job application?
  • Vent: People who don't RSVP to parties







Hosts: Nick Leighton & Leah Bonnema

Producer & Editor: Nick Leighton

Theme Music: Rob Paravonian



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Episode 171


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Nick: Hey, everybody. It's Nick Leighton.

Leah: And it's Leah Bonnema.

Nick: And we had so many great questions from you all in the wilderness ...

Leah: [howls]

Nick: ... that we have a bonus episode. So here we go. Our first question is quote, "My question is about handkerchiefs. Recently I was watching Love is Blind, and a lady started crying and a man handed her a handkerchief to use. I immediately began worrying about her next move. Is she required to use it? And then what? Hand it back to him dirty? What on Earth are we supposed to do in this situation? Is it rude to say 'No thanks,' and just use your sleeve? Or use it and hand it back? Or use it and keep it? This is a situation I hope to avoid for my entire lifetime. Please help clear this up."

Leah: So much wonderful.

Nick: [laughs] Mm-hmm.

Leah: Of course, you all know that Nick and I love watching Love is Blind, Love Island. All of these things from across the United States. And then we text each other about it to keep up.

Nick: Oh, yes.

Leah: So delighted that a question has now come in.

Nick: Yeah, finally. Finally! Something in our world of expertise.

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: So just for anybody who doesn't know, Love is Blind is a reality television show, and the premise is that there are all these people who date each other but never see each other. They date through walls, and so they only ever hear each other.

Leah: And they have to decide whether or not they're gonna get married. It's not just dating.

Nick: [laughs] That's true. Yeah, that's the bonkers part, that at the end of this, like, what is it, 10 days? They have to decide if they want to actually, like, propose marriage. Real deal, down on one knee marriage.

Leah: And fun fact: Love is Blind is actually the first reality show I ever watched.

Nick: Really?

Leah: Yeah. And so in the beginning I was like, "This is just insanity!"

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: And then somewhere in that journey, you become so, so committed to these people.

Nick: So the question at hand is about handkerchiefs. So I actually don't remember this scene in the series, but I believe it happened.

Leah: And I think handkerchiefs are in the zeitgeist right now because I'm watching this new show called Will Trent, which is based off a mystery series—you know I love my mystery books. And a component of his character is that he carries a handkerchief. And it's important, and I won't tell you why, but it is ...

Nick: Oh, it's like a plot device.

Leah: It is important to his whole persona.

Nick: Oh, interesting! So handkerchiefs, there was a time when they were all the rage, probably for a couple hundred years, thousand years? Long time. It's actually only recently—probably the '80s—that they actually really started to fall out of favor. But I guess they're back. They're hot now. And yeah, it's just like a little square of fabric, usually cotton, maybe silk, usually 12 inches by 12 inches for men, maybe a little smaller for women. And, like, that's the deal.

Leah: My grandfather carried one.

Nick: Yeah. I mean, I think probably most people did until, like, relatively recently. I bet it was, like, the tissue industry, the paper tissue industry went out of their way to sabotage. [laughs]

Leah: Yeah, Kleenex is sabotaging. I also think we've become more germ focused.

Nick: Yes, I think there is definitely the idea that, like, paper is more hygienic, although I think there is an argument that cloth can be hygienic too.

Leah: Oh, I think so. I think—I'm not saying it's real. I'm just saying I feel like that that's a—because I think it's the idea of taking somebody else's handkerchief and then giving it—and you're like, "Oh, did you already use this?" You know what I mean? That all those thoughts that were—make people nervous.

Nick: Right. So when it comes to the etiquette, Miss Manners, she loves handkerchiefs. Like, this is her whole jam. She is just all about it. I think she is very sad that not more of us use them.

Leah: Honestly, after we got this question, I decided that I'm bringing it back for me personally.

Nick: Okay.

Leah: I'm gonna have to have seven and rotate them out daily.

Nick: Well, that's the thing. You always have to have a clean one. And there is actually an etiquette rule that even if you didn't use it the day before, you should still swap it out with a fresh one every day. Like, there is the idea that every day it should be a brand new handkerchief.

Leah: I think if you—if somebody needs it and you're offering to them, it may be nice to just say "Fresh handkerchief. Unused handkerchief."

Nick: I mean, I guess you could say that. It is implied that you never hand somebody a dirty handkerchief.

Leah: It is implied.

Nick: Like, that's just not a thing.

Leah: We know people.

Nick: Right. And when you do offer it, you do not actually do it with the expectation that you'll get it back. So you don't ask for it back. But if somebody offers you a handkerchief and you want to use it, then you can do so. But then you have to return it to them. And if they're a stranger, you have to ask them how to return it to them. And if you know them, then you know how to return it to them. And you have to return it to them clean. You do not return a dirty handkerchief. So you basically take it, use it, launder it, and then return it as quickly as possible. Like, that's the etiquette.

Leah: I feel like I've seen in movies people say, "I'll wash it and bring it back to you."

Nick: Yeah, exactly. And Miss Manners loves handkerchiefs because they're useful for so many other things, especially during a time when we were just glancing all the time, when, like, most relationships were just glance based. She says quote, "A bit of lace dropped at the foot of a strange gentleman, gave him an excuse to run after her and open an acquaintanceship." So how fun! An acquaintanceship! Titillating! [laughs]

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: So that's the deal. That's the deal with handkerchiefs. So our next question is quote, "At work, I have a new colleague—let's call him Chad. We sit in close proximity to each other, and most of our day is spent next to each other. I feel like our personalities clash at every turn. He reads every single email he gets out loud. Over the past few months since he started, he has progressively gotten louder week by week. What started as a silent lip reading progressed to an under the breath utterance and has now turned into a clearly audible discussion with himself. The worst part is that he reacts out loud as well. If he's puzzled or surprised, disappointed, or simply confused about the email, he makes the associated noise. I can't stand his personality, and the noises all day long just grate on my nerves, making the whole situation worse. Do I say something? If so, what do I say?"

Leah: I love that I immediately, for some reason, just saw, like, a graph with a feeling and then an associated noise. I just—you know what I mean?

Nick: [laughs] I like that.

Leah: I feel like we can have a conversation with this person.

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: Also, some people, in order to read and process, sort of have to read out loud to themselves.

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: It's just how they think. And it's possible they don't even actually realize they're doing it.

Nick: Yeah, I don't get the sense that Chad is doing this on purpose. Yeah. This is not nefarious.

Leah: Yeah, I don't think he's being nefarious at all. So I think you could say, "Hey, you tend to read your emails out loud, which I totally understand, but it takes away my focus. So I'm wondering what we can do so we both can have a working environment that works for us."

Nick: Yeah, I think something in that world.

Leah: That was just like the intro into it. That wasn't the smooth thing to say. But I mean, you know, it's sort of like ...

Nick: But that's the vibe. Right.

Leah: Yeah, because it's throwing you off your work game. You want him to be able to work, you want to be able to work. How can we make this work? No judgment on anybody.

Nick: Yeah. What kind of compromise can we reach? But I get it. Like, when there's somebody who sort of annoys you, then everything they do becomes annoying. Like, everything. Like, "Ugh! Chad's wearing that blue shirt again. I hate blue shirts!" So it's sort of like, you know, there could be nothing that somebody who annoys you can do to, like, make something better sometimes. Like, it's just like everything is irritating when you hit some certain point.

Leah: Oh yeah, for sure.

Nick: So I think another thing to think about is can we sort of reframe the whole thing and somehow try not to be so annoyed? Like, can we have compassion for this person or empathy and realize, like, oh, maybe my total annoyance with everything about him and everything he stands for and everything he believes.

Leah: And everything that he is.

Nick: Right. His core essence. If we could somehow get past that and realize, like, oh, maybe there are redeeming qualities. Maybe I can change the way I react to this. Perhaps there is some self-reflection that might also help.

Leah: But also I need very particular environments to focus because I tend to get scattered. And if there's, like, certain noises happening, I cannot focus. And so if it's interrupting your work, I think it's totally fair to have a conversation about it.

Nick: Yes. And of course, if this is an office situation and there's, like, an HR department or bosses, or maybe you can move different desks or, like, can we wear headphones, like, there's I guess all the other sort of office-y interventions that are also available if you don't want to have a direct-yet-polite conversation or you can't, or that would actually make things worse for some reason, like, I think you do have some other tools in your toolbox.

Leah: You can always pop in some earbuds and listen to classical music, which is what I do.

Nick: Yeah, sometimes it's just nice to have some background noise that's sort of white noise.

Leah: White noises it out.

Nick: And then another idea that often comes up in these office situations when somebody is sort of talking loud and you can hear it and you want them not to do it is to say something, but say it in a way that actually expresses concern for the privacy of the conversations that they're having. So, like, "Oh, you might not realize it but, like, I can hear your emails, and maybe you want to keep those private. Like, maybe you don't realize that I can actually, like, overhear the content of that very private information. And so maybe be more mindful that, like, oh, in this shared office, like, it is easy to hear your private business. So if you don't want us hearing your private business then, like, be mindful about not talking while you're reading."

Leah: I like that. I think the one problem with that is that if they don't care if you hear their private business ...

Nick: Oh, that's true.

Leah: You've now lost the ability to be like, "It's actually disruptive to my ..."

Nick: "Actually, that wasn't it. It's just annoying." Right. [laughs]

Leah: "I was just trying to say it in a nicer way, but really, you're just annoying me."

Nick: Okay. Oh, that's true. And yeah, once you do give the first like, "Oh, it's privacy," and if that doesn't work, yeah, then going back to the trough, that's a little hard. Yeah. Okay. Well, it was just an idea. Just talking out there.

Leah: No, I think it's a great idea. And it's perfect for conversations, because that's not like a thing that happens constantly.

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: That you're desperately trying to get away from.

Nick: So letter-writer, let us know how this one works out. I'd be curious, because I think a lot of people have annoying colleagues that do something similar and would be curious how successful this was.

Leah: I think headphones are fantastic.

Nick: Headphones usually solve a lot of problems, yeah, it's true.

Leah: And then if they ask you, then it's your opportunity and, "Oh, you're an email reader, and it throws off my—you know, and I know you have to do it for your well being, I gotta do this."

Nick: Okay. So our next question is quote, "My partner and I have a lawn service, and each year we tell them not to collect or mulch our leaves because it's better for the environment and for the grass. The other day, I'm working in my study which faces the front yard, and our neighbor next door comes over on his riding mower and mulches our leaves. Now I'm not sure what to do. Thank him? Explain why we don't do that? Ignore it altogether? This happened a few days ago, and I've been trying to limit the number of times I could run into him to avoid bringing it up. But this also feels a little passive-aggressive to me. What do I do in this situation? If this was something I actually wanted done, I would send a thank-you gift. But I also don't want him to do it again. Please help!"

Leah: And we think that this also feels a little passive-aggressive to me as referring to the neighbor coming over, not her trying not to run into them.

Nick: Oh, I think what's passive-aggressive is avoiding the neighbor instead of saying something.

Leah: Oh, I think it could be passive-aggressive that the neighbor's coming over and being like, "Oh, let me just mulch this for you," as opposed to being ...

Nick: Oh!

Leah: And when really they—a possibility, which I think we would choose not to believe it was this possibility, was that they don't like living next to somebody who's not collecting their leaves.

Nick: Oh who's not a mulcher?

Leah: [laughs] So they ...

Nick: Okay, yeah.

Leah: ... were like, "Here, let me just handle this when you're home without asking your permission, or asking permission if I can come on to your property, or even if you want this." So that's why I think that—that's why I was wondering what you think that sentence refers to.

Nick: Well, I think the letter-writer meant to say passive-aggressive, as in, like, avoiding the neighbor, that was actually just being a little passive-aggressive.

Leah: Okay.

Nick: I think it's a little more passive than passive-aggressive, but I don't think it's ideal either way.

Leah: Well, it's—you want to fix it so you don't feel uncomfortable.

Nick: Right. And I don't think we live in a world in which we just have people coming over to your property on their lawnmowers and, like, doing stuff to your lawn. So, like, I don't think we have to live in that world. So I think it is totally okay to be like, let's correct that so that doesn't happen again.

Leah: Agreed.

Nick: Yeah. So I think we just, like, thank them, like, "Oh, thank you for being neighborly." And we will just assume that it wasn't some sort of aggressive, like, "Oh, you don't know how to take care of your lawn." So, like, we'll just use a tone that, like, ignores that and just be like, "Oh, thank you, Chad. It was so thoughtful of you to take care of my mulching, but actually we prefer not to mulch because we feel it's better for our lawn. So, like, totally no problem this time. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it. But, like, just know in the future, like, that's not a thing we do."

Leah: I think that's perfect.

Nick: And I think if you could just say that with your best non-judgmental, value-neutral kind of vibe, then I think it's cool.

Leah: I wrote that down almost exactly.

Nick: Okay.

Leah: "Appreciate ba ba ba ba ba. Normally we don't, but thank you so much."

Nick: Oh!

Leah: "In the future, ba ba ba ba."

Nick: Oh, this was the exact same template.

Leah: I mean, I handwrote it right there. You can see it.

Nick: Oh, I see it. Yeah, Leah's showing me her paper.

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: There is evidence that that is exactly what she wrote. Should we actually just like, have etiquette Mad Libs? Is that what it's come down to at this point? Just fill in "Name a person who committed a crime," and then, like, "Thing that they did," "Thing you would rather them not do." [laughs]

Leah: We could actually do funny Mad Libs.

Nick: Yeah. So I think that's the solution, and I don't think it's gonna be a big deal. But I think the longer you wait, the worse it's gonna be. So just, like, catch your neighbor and be like, "Oh, thank you, but." And then we're done.

Leah: Yeah.

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: And even if it feels a little uncomfortable, I actually—super proud of myself—had a thing the other day that felt uncomfortable, had to get done. I just plowed through it, I smiled through it. We did it. I left. That's what it is. I'm not thinking about it anymore. We're moving forward.

Nick: Was my voice in your head?

Leah: You know, it actually wasn't.

Nick: [gasps] What? Does that mean you've graduated?

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: [laughs] Maybe. Oh, I'm so proud. Okay, great.

Leah: That is interesting that your voice wasn't in my head.

Nick: Because, yeah, normally you would hear my voice in your head being like, "Leah, just do it. Just do it. What are you waiting for?"

Leah: True. True. True.

Nick: "Just do it."

Leah: You're right, I normally would. I didn't catch that. It's very interesting. I'm gonna have to be like ...

Nick: No, I'm happy for me to not be in your head or anybody's head.

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: I don't even want to be in my own head. So, like, I don't blame anybody else.

Leah: I mean, there's a lot of voices in here, so sometimes yours doesn't win out.

Nick: Fair enough. It's crowded. It's a dinner party. Can't always be seated. That's fine. So our next question is quote, "I realize I may have been committing an egregious etiquette sin these past few weeks. I'm a student in college, and I'm currently applying for part-time jobs. When filling out job applications, I simply put the name, phone number and email of my past bosses for references and move on to the next part of the applications. I recently overheard my father on the phone with one of his former bosses, and I heard him formally ask his past boss for permission to use him as a reference. My stomach dropped. Should I be asking my past bosses to use them as references every time I apply for a job? What is the correct etiquette for this?"

Leah: I think if you want the person to be a reference to speak to your qualities, you've got to give them a heads up and ask them first.

Nick: Yeah, you should do that because I have checked people's references where they did not have a heads up and oh, does that not send a message when you're like, "Hey, I wanted to just see how such and such was in this job," and they're like, "Wait, what? What is this regarding? Who? Oh, right. Yeah, that person, I think I remember them." And it's like, okay, that's—that's not a great reference.

Leah: Yeah, I've had somebody use me as a reference. I was their supervisor for something and they didn't give me a heads up. I didn't even know they were applying for jobs, you know?

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: So I was totally caught off guard. I wasn't ready. The employer completely recognized that, as Nick said.

Nick: Yeah. No, so you definitely want to give people a heads up, because also you want to make sure that they want to do it and will be a good reference. And then it's also an opportunity to actually give them a heads up about what you want them to say or emphasize. Like, depending on what the job is, you may want your reference to like, "Oh, can you emphasize, like, these skills or this project or this time? Because, like, that would be very relevant for the job I'm applying to." You can even give your current resume to that reference. Like, that's a thing that's done, too.

Leah: Ooh, that's good. I like that.

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: I also think there is—when you're filling out a resume, and you're just saying all the places that you've worked ...

Nick: Yes. I mean, there is, like, the, "Who was your supervisor on that job from this year to this year?"

Leah: Yeah. And that's not the same. I think if you're just giving all of your "This is where I worked. This was the time," and you're not—you know, they're just checking were you actually there. I don't think that's exactly the same.

Nick: Yeah. I think it would depend, like, oh, is this person actually gonna be contacted or not? But I think if there's a chance that they're gonna be contacted, yeah, I think you should definitely give them a heads up.

Leah: For sure give them a heads up.

Nick: So letter-writer? You didn't know and that's fine. But moving forward, now you know.

Leah: Absolutely. I think this is—do not beat yourself up. How would you know unless it got talked about?

Nick: Yeah. And the people you already listed, I mean, they're gonna say whatever they're gonna say, but yeah, you'll get a better reference from these people when they have a heads up.

Leah: Yeah. It works to your benefit to give people a heads up.

Nick: Oh yeah. This is totally for your benefit. I mean, etiquette often actually does have selfish results. When we do the right etiquette thing, often it actually does benefit us as much, if not more, than the people we're interacting with. So that's actually the interesting thing about etiquette, I think, is like, some people want to be selfish and like, "Oh, I don't want to, like, do the polite thing because, like, I just want to be selfish," but actually the etiquette thing is actually usually a little more selfish. Like, "Oh, this actually benefits me in the long run." You've gotta play a long game. Holding doors for people at Starbucks is a long game because you want the favor to be returned to you the next time you're at Starbucks. But the idea is that, like, oh, eventually I will have this payback.

Leah: I mean, I hold doors because I want people to feel nice.

Nick: I mean, however we get there is fine.

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: I'm more interested in the end result. What is in your heart? What is your motivation? Like, I'm less concerned. I just want the end result, which is, like, not having doors slammed in my face. And so if we can do that because we want to be a good person, that's great. If you want to do that just 'cause you want to live in a society where we don't do that, also fine.

Leah: I definitely—I was in this conversation the other day with a friend, and they were saying to me, "Why would this person not have been nice? No matter what, it's not gonna work out for them down the line that they behaved this way."

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: The eternal question.

Nick: Well, that's why this podcast exists.

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: Until we solve this problem, Leah, we will have episodes.

Leah: I just had a visual of the two of us sitting in this exact position and we're both, like, 105.

Nick: Oh, you don't think we're gonna solve all the world's etiquette problems by the time we're 105?

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: No.

Leah: Oh, I'm crying.

Nick: So our next thing is a vent. Quote, "What is up with the people who don't RSVP to a party? It is so annoying! I'd rather get a no than a no response. Just acknowledge the invite so we can all move on with our life. Who are these people? I invited 12 guests to a party several weeks ago, and the party will be a potluck. And so I sent a last-minute reminder via group text so the invitees can confirm what they're bringing, and so we don't end up with duplicates. Since I'm petty, I did not include the person who did not respond. For me, no response means you're not coming. This person is really a mutual acquaintance, and her response to me has been lukewarm in the past. I was wondering if she doesn't like me and I think I have my answer."

Leah: Right up top, let me say any vent/PSA that begins with "What is up with people?" and then later has "Who are these people?"

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: I mean, deep, deep, deep in my heart.

Nick: We're in. We're in.

Leah: Yeah, we are in. I also want to say something that I have been focusing more on, where our letter-writer—yes! Wait, first let me say yes, so annoying! Annoying!

Nick: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this—this is one of my major top 10 pet peeves.

Leah: So rude!

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: But—and this, "I was wondering if she doesn't like me, and I think I have my answer," for new year, new me, I personally—and maybe our letter-writer wants to join me in this: flip it around. And is it, "Oh, they don't like me. Maybe I don't like them. And I don't have to continue to invite somebody who doesn't respond to me in the way that I want to be friends with people."

Nick: Yeah. I mean, I think there are different flavors of hosting. And for some hosts, super casual, drop in, do a pop in. Happy to have you over. Other people—such as myself—I like a little planning. I like to know who's coming, and I like to be able to, like, buy enough ingredients, make sure I have enough chairs, know the guest list. And so if you just aren't on my page, then I don't really want to have you as part of my event. And I would say this person is not on your page, and they're just on a different page. And that's fine. But, like, you do not have to invite them anymore. You just don't.

Leah: And you don't even have to like that page.

Nick: You don't even also have to like that page. That's also fine. Totally fine, yeah. But it is true: no response is a response. Because I have long maintained that people who are interested make an effort, and people who are not do not. And so this person has made no effort, and therefore they are not interested. They're not interested in the party, they're not interested in your friendship. And so let's not invest any more time.

Leah: To quote Nicholas Leighton ...

Nick: Uh-huh?

Leah: "Let's walk them out of the theater."

Nick: I definitely would reseat them. Sure. Yeah, I don't think they need to be in the orchestra. I mean, I think definitely there's a balcony spot for them.

Leah: I mean, they could be outside.

Nick: [laughs] Okay. They could be in the touring production outside.

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: Yeah. So it is rude.

Leah: No, I love that they're in the touring production.

Nick: So I would also say, for people who are receiving invitations, as a reminder, just respond to them. It is a yes or a no. "Maybe" is actually not a great answer. Facebook has trained us that "Maybe" is an acceptable answer to a party, and it is not because that leaves your host hanging. If you cannot commit, then you can communicate with your host and be like, "Hey, I can't say yes because I have this other thing. When do I need to let you know by?" That's a fine conversation. But just to leave it hanging as a maybe? Uh-uh. So just yes or no. That's all we need from you.

Leah: Agreed.

Nick: Right?

Leah: Yes.

Nick: It's just, like, not that hard.

Leah: It's not. And as Nick said, if you're unsure because of a thing, just reach out to the host, ask when they need to know by.

Nick: Right

L:. Just because you have a conflict that hasn't cleared yet.

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: And you're wondering how much time you have to respond. Just ask.

Nick: Right. And it could be like, "Oh, actually, I do need to know now. So if so, then okay, then I'll just decline no." Okay, then that's what it is. See you in the next event. But don't leave your host hanging. And also, the people who do this are people who never host, people who host know how annoying this is. And I think the only people that do this are, like, people who never host.

Leah: Mm-mm-mm.

Nick: Right?

Leah: Thank you for sharing your vent with us. We 100 percent agree.

Nick: Yes. I think a lot of people in our audience can relate to this and sympathize and feel your pain.

Leah: Who are these people?

Nick: Nobody knows. Nobody knows. [laughs]

Leah: [laughs]

Nick: So do you have a vent for us or a repent? Or a question? Oh, yes, you do! Send them to us. You can send them to us through our website, WereYouRaisedByWolves.com. Or you can leave us a voicemail or send us a text message: (267) CALL-RBW. And we'll see you next time!

Leah: Bye!

Nick: Bye!