Dear Dottie Downturn

Salon's mistress of manners offers etiquette advice for the nouveau poor.


Salon Staff
July 6, 2000 11:30PM (UTC)

Dear Dottie Downturn: A week ago, my husband and I were invited to dinner at the home of a couple who at the time were worth $10 million on paper. But now, their stock is only valued at $150,000. We already bought them a bottle of Chateau Yquem, but suddenly it doesn't seem appropriate. Should we bring a different vintage? Or should we offer to have them over to our place for tuna casserole? -- Sober in Santa Monica

Dear Sober: Did you buy the bottle from Wine.com? If so, you may be able to return it. If not, Dottie Downturn suggests keeping it for a cold night when your own stock tanks; buy your friends a bottle of Ravenswood instead.

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Dear Dottie Downturn: A forged e-mail from my company's CEO, which makes him look like even more of a despicable tyrant than he actually is, just showed up on Fuckedcompany.com. I feel like I should alert the CEO and the rest of our management team, but I don't want them to know that I've been reading Fuckedcompany when I should be working. What should I do? -- Fucked in Silicon Alley

Dear Fucked: This is what anonymous remailers were invented for. With their help, you can inform key executives without jeopardizing your job. Sometimes the Internet makes it easier to be politely honest without consequence. See also: Coworkerhints.com.

Dear Dottie Downturn: Yesterday, our stock price dropped by 50 percent. Today, the CEO asked full-time employees to forgo their next paycheck in return for stock options! Am I wrong to think this is really rude behavior, or can I go ahead with my gut impulse to start hurling hand grenades? -- Violent in Venice

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Dear Violent: Two wrongs never make a right. While Dottie Downturn agrees that it is grossly insensitive to ask employees to sacrifice hard cash in return for worthless paper, please do think of what could happen if news of armed warfare in your company's headquarters hit the trade press. You might start longing for those good old days when your stock price only fell by half.

Dottie Downturn suggests heading to the Yahoo FinanceVision bulletin boards, where a few anonymous posts can easily start wild rumors touting your company's imminent purchase by AOL. This sudden solvency will have you working for cash again in a few short hours; it is, however, only a temporary solution.

Dear Dottie Downturn: My girlfriend works for a dot-com that just bought my dot-com. Before the buyout, we both had an equal number of vested stock options -- and they were even worth about the same amount! But after the buyout, my options are suddenly worth about half what hers are. I don't know whether to be mad or happy for her: Should I buy her dinner or should she make up with me by sending flowers? -- Perplexed in Palo Alto

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Dear Perplexed: Count your blessings. It's time to propose.

Dear Dottie Downturn: My friend's dot-com has just been delisted from NASDAQ. What gift should I send? -- Worried in Woodside

Dear Worried: Don't send anything. A gift will just draw more attention to your friend's unfortunate circumstances. Even worse, it could discourage potential investors and hurt chances for vigorous over-the-counter trading.

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However, a discreet envelope with a few shares of IBM stock is always appreciated.

Dear Dottie Downturn: I planned a party for the IPO of my sister's start-up company, but now the offering has been pulled. The e-vites have already gone out. Should I still throw the bash? -- In the Mood in South of Market

Dear In the Mood: Yes. A positive outlook in the face of adversity never hurts a company's bottom line. And if you invite reporters, the company may even get free press! Plus, Dottie Downturn is sure all concerned could use a few stiff drinks. Encourage costumes.

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Dear Dottie Downturn: Recently, I made a social call to another dot-com, and was grilled about my company's languishing stock price. How could I stay at my place of employment when my options must be worthless, asked my hostess? Her company is privately held and recently received a $100 million cash infusion. Was I right to be offended? -- Underwater in Atherton

Dear Underwater: You were correct to take umbrage. One should never rub one's guests' noses in their dwindling fortunes, especially when one is fortunate enough to benefit from a company that sponsors luxurious business trips to golf resorts in Arizona.

You mustn't, of course, respond to rudeness with rudeness. A simple glassy smile, followed by a shrug and a dignified yet speedy exit is recommended in face-to-face situations. But there's also no reason why you can't stealthily sabotage her fortunes from a distance. Dottie Downturn suggests anonymous phone calls to your host's primary investors, noting her company's extravagant parties, flat-screen monitors and Aeron chairs.

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Dear Dottie Downturn: My company gave all the employees who had been with our dot-com for four years "Fuck You, I'm Vested" T-shirts. But now our stock price is in the toilet. Should we return the gifts or burn them in a bonfire? -- Four Years Closer to Death in San Francisco

Dear Closer to Death: Never return a gift because it no longer suits you. Dottie Downturn suggests rounding up all unwanted T-shirts and taking them to a local homeless shelter. A little bird tells Dottie Downturn that the shelter ran out of Wired T-shirts quite a few years ago.

Dear Dottie Downturn: If you are laid off after your company's stock price drops below two and a quarter, is there an approved method for disposing of thousands of stock certificates? -- Unemployed in El Cerrito

Dear Unemployed: Now that you have time on your hands, take the opportunity to discover your creative side. Papier-mbchi lampshades are always fun and, since you can no longer afford that mid-century modern furniture, practical as well. Waste not, want not. Other options: Origami, paper airplanes (for Junior!) and Christmas tree decorations. Once your funds get really low, you can also save on toilet paper.

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Dear Dottie Downturn: When I was hired, my boss boasted about the laid-back and playful work environment at our start-up. The Foosball table, pinball machine and video games drew me in, but now that there are only four people left in the company, including the janitor, no one plays anymore. Would it be rude to ask for the Foosball table as a Christmas bonus? -- Solo in SoHo

Dear Solo: Don't ask, just take. No one will notice; they have bigger problems to worry about.

Dear Dottie Downturn: When I graduated from business school, I turned down a job with Goldman Sachs to work at a start-up, figuring that selling dog food online was the perfect way to get rich. Now, my company has laid off dozens and the stock is in the low single digits. How should I gently reestablish contact with my Goldman recruiter? -- Whiplashed on Wall Street

Dear Whiplashed: Don't worry, he'll call you. Odds are he's been waiting for this moment since you dogged him. But it never hurts to grovel. Your phone will be ringing in an instant, but don't expect to meet his eye ever again without feeling humiliated.

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And how about you, dear reader? Do you have qualms about proper behavior in the new dot-com economy? Please send all questions to Dottie Downturn.


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