Category Archives: Good WORD (Etiquette)

Don’t Wear Gortex to Dinner in D.C.

I am excited to announce the publication of my first guest piece on an etiquette blog, Clise Etiquette!

The author of the blog, Arden Clise, is the well-known Seattle authority on business etiquette.  As the founder of Clise Etiquette, Arden works as an etiquette consultant, speaker and business etiquette columnist for the Puget Sound Business Journal. 

Arden and I share a passion for all matters of decorum, from table manners to thank-you notes, so when she asked me to write about navigating the differences between East Coast and West Coast etiquette, I didn’t hesitate. 

Special thanks to Arden for this privilege.

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It’s Official: I’m Not Marrying Prince William

He’s engaged. 

Prince William asked his girlfriend of eight years, Kate Middleton, to marry him. 

To put my current previous obsession with Wills in perspective, consider this: my friend Amy sent me a text at 4:11AM telling me the news. 

Because news like this cannot wait. 

Because she knows I’ve been waiting for it. 

And because she knows I need to hear it from no one but her.

This is a woman who once collected every article written about Princess Diana for an entire year.  They were all kept under her bed, stacks and stacks of magazines and newspaper clippings of every detail of her life and tragic death.  I would go over to her house across the street and we’d pull them all out and stare at hundreds of photos.  We knew her life story, her family dynamics, her best dresses, her worst hairstyles. 

So, you could say it was picture perfect that a Prince William obsessor should get a 4AM text from a Princess Di obsessor.

We were 13 at the time, however, so it might seem silly that we care at age 26.  It might.

But I am not concerned with silliness, because I absolutely love royal weddings, and this one should prove to be more fantastic than the rest.  I cannot wait to see what style of dress she will choose, how decorated his suit will be, how many people will line the streets of London hoping to catch a glimpse.

Kate is already moving up my ladder of style icons.  People may joke about her over-the-top headpieces and formal hats, but I think they’re divine.  If it were even in the vicinity of socially acceptable in the States, I’d be sporting one every chance I got.

Given my propensity for formality and etiquette, I am eager to see the royal wedding process unfold.  I already admire their delayed announcement and press call, so the couple could have some private time to celebrate.  And in an age of reality TV and totally lack of privacy, I respect their decision not to share the details of how he proposed. 

These are the times when I mourn my lack of celebrity.  If I were at least a successful actress or daughter of a President, I might have a chance at an invitation.  As a Seattleite with no claim to fame, I probably won’t need to watch the mail too closely.

Which really is a shame, because I would have rocked a killer headpiece for that event.

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Be My Guest

There are hundreds of books and articles written about the art of hospitality; much less is said about the behavior of guests — especially for an overnight stay. 

Haven’t we all spent the night in someone else’s house and thought, “I really hope this doesn’t utterly destroy our friendship” ?  And haven’t we all hosted someone in our home overnight and thought, “This could be fantastic or a total nightmare” ?

What is the etiquette for those being served?  How can you make yourself a pleasant guest?  What are the cringe-inducing actions that can make your host regret inviting you?  Read on.

It Starts at the Door

Never show up empty-handed to stay overnight.  The host is not only (presumably) making you multiple meals, but she is also doing your laundry after you’ve gone.   The best you can do is show gratitude before any of this has even begun.  A few ideas:

  • Wine — always a solid choice, and if you’re not sure on their preference, bring a red and a white, just to be sure.
  • A decorative candle — one can never have too many candles, and they’re quick and easy for the host to light and display.  Avoid scented ones, as scents are personal, and if a meal is being served you don’t want the smell of the candle to interfere.
  • An unusual kitchen accessory — chances are if your host is having you in her home, she knows her way around the kitchen.  That’s why a killer gadget can hit the spot, such as a stainless steel olive oil can.

A Helping Hand — To a Point

It’s wonderful when guests offer to help set the table or crack the crab, but it’s less appealing when a guest insists on working in the kitchen with the host.  Don’t forget that one of the pleasures of hosting is knowing that your guests are comfortable and happy — if you appear distressed at not helping, you are robbing your host of this privilege.  Sometimes, if you can tell a host is in her element and things are going smoothly, it’s better to simply express your excitement about the coming meal.

Clean Up

This is probably the best chance for you to earn your keep.  Jumping in and helping with the dishes is almost always appreciated, especially when you do so without asking (“can I help with the dishes?” almost always comes across as a I-asked-just-to-confirm-I-don’t-have-to statement).  Of course, if your host is mortified at the thought of you cleaning up, don’t make a bother of yourself by entering into an “I insist, no, I insist” argument for twenty minutes.

The Next Morning

If you are staying multiple nights, make the bed in the morning.  On your final morning, strip your sheets and grab any used bathroom towels and put them in the laundry room.  It’s a harmless chore that spares the host from having to go room-to-room gathering linens.

Going the Extra Mile

When arranged in advance, it can work really well for you to prepare one meal for your hosts.  Let’s say you arrive at 4PM and are staying until noon the following day.  A great idea would be to offer to prepare breakfast as a thank you to your hosts.  By asking a couple of days ahead, you are showing that you’re eager not to be a burden, and you’re being considerate of their shopping preparations (they won’t buy eggs if they know you’re bringing them).  Though it might be tricky getting around your hosts’ unfamiliar kitchen, making eggs and bacon shouldn’t involve too many tools.

If you’re not comfortable with preparing a full meal, offering to make a dessert or a special cocktail for everyone is just as thoughtful. 

The Essential Follow-Up

If someone has had you in their home for 24 hours, a thank you text or email is not going to suffice.  Find a card or stationary and write a thank you note by hand.   When you’ve been in someone’s home for dinner, usually you can return the favor; with overnights, it’s less obvious if you’ll be able to host them in your home for the same purpose.  Therefore, a sincerely written card is most appreciated –“thank you” flowers, even more so.

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