With visits to grandma’s house, myriad of social events and gift-giving situations, the holiday season is rife with opportunities to mess up.
RSVP ASAP, says Diane Gordon, of Etiquette Essentials. “If the invitation is made over the phone or by e-mail, this is an informal invitation and you should respond within 24 hours; if it’s a formal invitation that has come in the mail, respond within 48 hours.”
She adds that many people are confused about attire in these days due to a generally more casual attitude toward dressing, “so make sure your invitations – no matter the form – include dress code.” Black tie (tux for men, gown for women) is formal; informal means gentlemen wear a suit and ladies a cocktail dress, according to Gordon. Casual can mean anything from business dress to jeans and a sweater, so check with the hostess.
With a 40% divorce rate in Canada chances are most folks will be faced with the conundrum of who to invite in a divorcing couple. “You don’t need to take sides, that’s not appropriate. Send an invitation to both parties. When they respond, let them know that the other party is attending (if that’s the case) then each can make up his/her mind whether to attend. You’ve given them the opportunity to continue your friendship,” explains Gordon.
Through the eyes of a child
Wendy Mencel’s company, the Canadian School of Protocol and Etiquette, specializes in teaching manners to children, youth and young adults.
At the very least, children over the age of six should be practising the following three skills to be able to navigate holiday social situations:
- Say please and thank you
- Say hello while making eye contact
- Exhibit proper (yet age-appropriate) dining skills – using a fork and napkin, participating in table conversation, not talking while chewing and not gulping food
Mencel adds that while these seem simple, many children aren’t trained in table manners as many families don’t sit down to dinner together on a regular basis. “That’s where these skills are taught, often by the parents’ demonstration of proper table manners.”
Giving without regret
Gordon recommends guests always show appreciation for an invitation by bringing a hostess gift, but it can be difficult to choose. “If you’re going to give flowers to the hostess, have them delivered earlier in the day. Bringing them to the door when you arrive for the party results in the hostess having to leave her guests to attend to the flowers and that’s not her role,” she explains.
“Traditional choices like wine or a decorative wine stopper, chocolates or truffles are appreciated by almost everyone and are good because they can be put to the side and opened later,” Gordon adds. Don’t expect the hostess to ignore her guests and open your gift on the spot.
Again, fractured families create question marks in how to handle the holidays in terms of gift giving. “Families often live far apart nowadays,” Mencel says, “and the hard and fast rules don’t really apply anymore.”
Grandparents especially have a hard time keeping up with the desires of grandkids who live hundreds of miles away. So helping Grandma out with a ‘wish list’ isn’t bad taste as long as it’s done appropriately.
“Instead of the child saying ‘This is what I want,’ having them list three or four things in a variety of price ranges is helpful and is considerate of grandparents who may be on a fixed income,” Mencel adds.
Conversely, a parent can volunteer to purchase something on the grandparent’s behalf, as they are usually aware of both the giver’s financial situation and the child’s needs or wants.
Getting through the holidays without committing a social blunder can be summed up this way, advises Gordon: “When in doubt, don’t do it.” Whether it’s drinking too much at the office Christmas party or overspending your budget on gifts and decorations, this rule applies in so many situations.
For more information: