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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Confronting Sexual Abuse + More

Wednesday, October 05, 2016


Trying to understand the etiquette of apologies and how to respond to "I'm sorry," or how to appreciate a host's hospitality were etiquette questions of the most interest this week to Didi Lorillard at Didi's Manners.

What to say in answer to "I'm sorry"

Q.  Flash back many decades. I was sexual assaulted by a childhood friend whom I considered a special friend. I quickly put the scary incident behind me by practically blanking it out. As it turned out, this sweet, smart, funny boy, whom I thought I knew, had momentarily become someone I did not know at all. After a casual date he came back to my apartment and forced himself on me. Fueled by alcohol he became a stranger. 

A year ago, for some unresolved reason, I mentioned the incident to a mutual good friend. The "boy" had gone out of my life completely, but we are both still friends with this woman. Had I confided in her because I was trying to understand something about myself? For many decades, the "boy" has been a recovering alcoholic and lives by the four principles of Buddha. Recently, he phoned me out of the blue to tell me that she had told him about the attack and that he was calling to apologize and make amends. 

Flash forward to today. This mutual woman friend is getting married and I know that he will be at the wedding. It will be an intimate gathering on a tiny island off the coast of Georgia. There will be no way of ducking him because we will be housed in the same building, sharing meals and attending the ceremony, which he is officiating.

Do I have an obligation to thank him for his apology? At the time of the phone call, I did not thank him for his apology and he did not ask for one.  

My guess is that we will greet one another at our mutual friend's wedding as old childhood friends, as though nothing unpleasant had ever happened. That's fine with me, but do I need to thank him for apologizing?  CM, Atlanta, GA

A.  You say you never asked him directly for an apology. Although, perhaps you did inadvertently by telling your mutual friend about the attack. 

In apologizing to you on the phone, he set the stage -- albeit decades too late -- for you to trust him and let the healing begin. It showed he was concerned about your well-being. But, I suspect only because he was prompted by your mutual friend.

Nevertheless, no matter how heartfelt the apology, an apology does not always elicit forgiveness. It sounds as though he was intelligent enough to know not to ask you to give it. That must mean he is not looking for you to thank him for apologizing.

Sexual assault is an unforgivable offense.

There is another simple answer: don't go to the wedding.

Gift for the host who has everything 

Q. My recently divorced father and I have been invited to visit with his old college friends in New York City. We were going to stay in a hotel but they are insisting that we stay with them in their large apartment. What would be a good hostess present from a father and daughter to our hosts who have everything?  NS, Barrington, RI

A.  Send a white orchid plant from the greenhouses at Venamy Orchids in Brewster, NY.  They make two delivery trips a week into Manhattan. There is a small charge for the delivery but the quality and cost of the plant far surpasses expectation. 

An orchid plant may be a better choice than flowers if you don't know if your hosts are going away after your stay. The orchid will still be blooming when they return. Orchid plants need little care; two ice cubes can be placed on top of the moss every two weeks to keep them moist. Also, with flowers if you're not familiar with their taste, your host may be finicky about colors.

Handcrafted chocolates are also a huge hit. In that case you would arrive with the chocolates, perhaps from La Maison du Chocolat at 1018 Madison Avenue, where there are delicious assortments. A coffee table book is also an excellent gift, but it has to be of interest to your hosts.

  • As a houseguest you would arrive with something in your hand to present upon your arrival. A beautifully wrapped book or handcrafted chocolates are always welcome. 
  • Orchids or flowers should be delivered.


If you decide on a floral arrangement, two of the best florists in New York City are Miho Kosuda, Ltd. for exotic flowers from foreign countries and Belle Fleur, which uses only fragrant garden roses as opposed to warehoused roses. For a more conventional arrangement, Renny & Reed, at 505 Park Avenue, are well-known and well-respected.  

  • The floral arrangement shouldn't be over-whelming in height or girth or be designed as a long centerpiece. Ask for a coffee table or end table size.

Steer clear of giving tabletop linens that may not fit the decor, or the size of the table. Scented candles can also be a problem when your hosts don't like the scent of tuberose or patchouli.

Also, wines, port, and handcrafted bourbons are challenging, because you don't want to make your host feel he has to open a wine that doesn't jibe with the dinner menu. 

  • In other words, if you don't know wines and spirits, or exactly what they like, don't guess. 
  • For instance guests will bring a bottle of handcrafted bourbon that is made in small batches to my husband, because that's what he likes.


It is also welcomed words to the host who is presented with chocolates or wine to be let off the hook when the guest says, "Please, know that you can save this for another occasion."

Didi Lorillard writes about manners and etiquette at Didi's Manners.


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