Tag Archives: Manners

Shower with Care

I am pleased to announce the publication of my second guest post for Clise Etiquette!

The topic this time?  Bridal and baby shower etiquette — true minefields of social awkwardness.

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. 

Many thanks to Arden for so generously allowing me to share her space again.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under 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.

12 Comments

Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

Excuse Me, Mr. President: An Etiquette Special Edition

See if you can spot the numerous faux pas committed by both me and the patrons I encountered.  The following is a true story.

Last Friday evening Mike and I were having dinner at Sostanza Trattoria in Madison Park with our friend Meredith.  As we ordered wine, the restaurant was just filling up for the night.

I happened to glance over to the table next to us and see a nice-looking couple seated next to the fireplace.  I stared for a second at the gentleman before realizing he looked familiar.

“Doesn’t that look just like Phil Eaton?” I asked Meredith.  We both attended Seattle Pacific University (me for only a year) of which he was president.

“Eh, kind of, I suppose,” she replied, not finding this the least bit interesting.  I considered how to redeem the topic.

“Remember how he used to invite students to his home once a year, to make us feel connected to him or whatever, but we were all just annoyed because he lived in this fabulous house while we’re all killing ourselves to pay $25,000 a year in tuition?” I ventured.

Then we were off and running.

“Yes!” she said.  “It was criminal what they paid him, and remember how he would drive to the school in his A6 and it made all of us cringe?  University presidents are so overpaid.  They’re just glorified speech-makers,” she concluded.

“Oh Eaton can’t hold a candle to UW’s president,” I added.  “He’s ranked among the highest paid in the US.  It’s absurd.  I read he makes $900,000 a year.”

Having fully vented our grievances on university presidents, we moved on to happier topics.  Soon we were laughing, enjoying our meal and our bottle of local Washington red.

“Excuse me, you all really need to be quiet,” a stout woman in her fifties was suddenly standing over us, speaking to us like we were in second grade. “This is a public restaurant and people are trying to eat in peace and you’re laughing so the whole place can hear you.  You need to speak quietly to each other so only those at your own table can hear you.”

We were all so stunned by her pretentious speech that we simply stared at her, mouths agape.

She returned to her seat without another word, and none of us could recover the conversation for the next two minutes because of the offense.  Gradually, because we couldn’t help it, we giggled about the absurdity of someone speaking to us like children, especially in the context of any place outside of a library.

A few minutes later we heard a woman sitting across from the Phil-Eaton-look-alike laughing happily.  Mike couldn’t help himself so he leaned over and said, “Hey, keep it down; this is a public place.”  We just about died, this was so funny, but we weren’t sure if she would agree.

“Oh you’re such a party pooper!” she laughed back at him.  Fearing that she would think he was serious, I leaned over to her with one hand covering my mouth and explained, “We just got scolded in those exact words by that woman over there.”

Suddenly, she was totally intrigued.  “Really?” she said with enthusiasm.  “Oh you must be joking.  It’s Friday night!  This is a restaurant!  We can be as loud as we want!” she said, swinging her glass of red wine around to face us.  “Who is that woman?  I mean, honestly!”

The relief!  The balm to our souls!  Despite being the same age as the crotchety “party pooper” who rained on our parade, this woman was fabulous.  I especially liked her purple-framed glasses.

After another hearty exchange, she returned her focus to her table.  Meredith and I immediately agreed to name her Viv.  There was no other name for a Madison Park socialite who loved red wine and young people with equal fervor.  However, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that her husband was familiar, so I turned to Mike and Meredith and resumed my earlier verse of, “He looks so familiar!  I can’t shake that he’s someone I know or someone famous or something.”  They both rolled their eyes.

“If you really want me to, I can just try to find him on my iPhone,” Meredith offered in a last-ditch effort to shut me up.  “We’ll just start Googling Seattle celebrities.”

“OH MY GOSH!!  OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH!!”  Suddenly I knew exactly who it was.

“IT’S MARK EMMERT.  It’s the freaking UW PRESIDENT,” I explained.  “I am a COMPLETE IDIOT.”

“WHAT?!” Mike exclaimed.  “How could you not recognize him when you went to that school?  Do you realize we were just talking so loudly about his salary that we got ‘shushed!?'”  We all looked at each other in the face-draining panic that accompanies such realizations.  We had just criticized the husband of our darling Viv, the one we wanted to be our friend and take us around to cocktail parties.  Had they heard?  Could they have?

I reasoned with them.  “Why would she have spoken to us if she heard us chastising her for being wealthy?” I asked.  “Come on, Viv loves us!”

By this time Meredith had pulled up an image of them on her iPhone.  Granted, the image was at least five years old, but we held up the phone, looked over at them:  confirmed.

“She’s not Viv,” Meredith read from Wikipedia.  “She’s DeLaine.”  Of course — even more of a president’s wife’s name than the one we gave her.

“Oh and you were almost right,” she continued reading from her phone.  “He’s not just one of the top-paid presidents.  It’s even better: he’s ranked second.  SECOND.  Bested only by Ohio State’s president.  Emmert makes $906,500 per year.”

Of course he does; our Viv/DeLaine deserves it.

3 Comments

Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

Etiquette for Awkward Situations — Vol 3: On a Plane

Today I board a flight to LA toting both my carry-on luggage and hopefully, my best behavior.  I always brace for the impact of encountering airline passengers; when people are treated like cattle, they can hardly be blamed for reacting like baboons.  Here, rules of engagement for the most ruthless form of travel.

Pre-flight
Awkward Situation: Despite the airline calling for people to board by seat rows, 150 people are clustered around the gate, jockeying to get to the front.  You seem only to have two options:  shove your body through the masses like a teenager at a Jonas Brothers concert, or literally be the last person to board (forfeiting your access to overhead bin real estate).

Solution: Follow traditional traffic rules.  My brother-in-law, Phil, (who will be traveling with us tonight) works at Swerve, a driving instruction company.  He says most people on the road should already know the common-courtesy rule of “Each one lets one.”  The same applies here.  As you move like so much human sand through the hour glass, let one person go in front of you and then someone else lets you in.  We hope.

Takeoff
Awkward Situation:
You are finally seated and prepared for takeoff, when the person next to you reveals the undeniable fact that they are a Chatty Cathy.  Your eyes glaze over at the prospect of speaking for two hours with a total stranger whom you will never see again in your life.

Solution: Engage in minimal small talk until takeoff, wherein you pull a book from your bag and show it to the Cathy, saying kindly, “Have you heard of this author?  She’s supposed to be fantastic.  I’ll let you know how it is!”  And then promptly open it.

Beverage Cart
Awkward Situation: It’s your first official day of “Christmas break” and you and your friends are eager for a little yule-tide cheer — in the form of a beer.  Or wine.  Or cocktail.

Solution: Plane rides are not the time to party-hardy.  When you’re stuck in a stationary position and can’t even converse with more than the two people next to you, you’re not in a place to have too good of a time.  Just have one drink and pay with cash.  Order quietly so you’re not obnoxious.  Don’t ask twenty questions to see what brands they carry — check ahead of time by looking in the airline guide in the pocket in front of you.  Then raise a glass and cheers to a safe flight.

Switching Seats
Awkward Situation: The person next to you asks if you would please switch seats with their spouse so they can sit together — but said spouse is 15 rows behind you and in a middle seat.

Solution: If you can swing it for a short flight, consider it your good deed of the week and say you’d be happy to help.  If you are already sitting with your own spouse, kindly explain that you understand their situation but you would like to stay with your traveling companion.  Also, even if you aren’t traveling with someone, you’re under no obligation to move seats.

Bathroom Break
Awkward Situation: You’re practically bursting at the seams after four diet Sprites and two hours of resisting the urge to visit the dreaded airline bath-closet (how could we call that a room with a straight face?).  But there are three people already clustered around the stewardess area waiting their turn.

Solution: It depends on your seat.  If you’re middle or window, get up as soon as possible to expand the amount of time between disruptions of your seat mates.  If you’re aisle, wait until there is only one person or no line at all before hopping up.  Also, keep in mind that the people in the unfortunate seating of the last few rows of the airplane shouldn’t have to stare at your backside that hovers directly in their faces as you wait for the bath-closet.

Warm thanks to those of you who sent in great etiquette conundrums.  For those of you who have yet to inquire, feel free to ask about your awkward situation at wordsbecomeone@gmail.com.

4 Comments

Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

Etiquette for Awkward Situations — Vol 2

At a BBQ

Awkward Situation: You attend a summer BBQ in which the host declined your offer to contribute food or drink.  You normally would bring something anyway, but didn’t want to presume that she would be lacking something.  When you arrive, everyone else has brought a dish or bottle of wine.

Solution: You are now the official helper.  Be at your host’s side when she’s serving food, offering to help with anything in the kitchen.  Be the first to initiate cleanup and offer to pick up any refills at the store.  It might be a little much, but you should even offer to start on dishes.  If she refuses your help, send a bottle of wine with your thank you note, and be sure to invite her for dinner to return the hospitality.

At the Bar

Awkward Situation: You, or a friend of yours, is treating your group to a couple rounds of beer.  You notice that no one in the group is offering to get the next round, and frankly this is getting expensive.

Solution: The simple solution is to cease the offer.  The absence of drinks will always prompt someone to get the next one.  If you’re truly on a budget but would like the evening to continue, simply say in a congenial manner, “Alright, who’s eager to impress by getting the next round?”

At a Wedding

Awkward Situation: You are attending an outdoor wedding and everything is going swimmingly…especially the sweat in your underarms/back/enter-awkward-place-here.

Solution: Against all odds, get up and move.  While it would seem that sitting at your dinner table would be coolest, standing upright and allowing a breeze to do it’s work is much more effective (especially for the ladies…hello skirt!).  Gentlemen, you are completely free to remove that jacket, but the tie stays.  If you need instant cool, grab a beer.

At the Spa

Awkward Situation: You are getting a pedicure and the woman working on your nails just asked you a polite question, but you cannot understand her accent so you have no idea what she just said. You feel horrible and racist and completely useless.

Solution: See if you can catch the eye of a person sitting near you, or another pedicurist.  Emphasize that you are completely mortified that you aren’t sure what was said, and simply repeat back a question that sounds reasonable for the situation.  Most times someone will chime in with what was actually said, and you’ll be saved.  Huge smiles and a tip go a long way, too.

At Dinner

Awkward Situation: You are having dinner with a new friend who recalls exactly what you do at work with great clarity, but you cannot even remember where he works, much less what he does.

Solution: Generalities are best.  Ask open ended questions like, “How busy has work been for you?” or “What are your hours like these days?” that will lead them to talk about their job, wherein you can piece it together.

If you have an awkward situation that needs addressing, please email me at wordsbecomeone@gmail.com.  No guarantees on solutions, but two heads are better than one.

2 Comments

Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

Hospitality: Large Events

In the world of hospitality, hosting a large event is in a category all its own.  It’s overwhelming, yet nuanced; enormously stressful, yet rewarding.  And if you’ve ever tried to pull one off, you know it ain’t easy.

Having recently attended a major event that went brilliantly, I thought it apt to interview the hostess to discover her tips and tricks (in this case, how to present a keg tastefully).

She is one Annie Snyder, 24 years old, living in Seattle, WA (Greenlake, specifically).   Her favorite holiday is Independence Day, so for the past three years she has hosted a 4th of July party that lasts all weekend.

To give credit where due, Miss Snyder admits she learned everything she knows from Mrs. Snyder – and in fact held the event at Mrs. Snyder’s waterfront home in Gig Harbor.  Together, they made for a killer mother-daughter hostess duo.

But first let’s admit that though bigger events are more work for the hostess, there’s an incredible self-serving benefit:  it’s the host’s friends.  “It’s all of my favorite people in one place at one time!”  Annie says.

However, she concedes, “It’s overwhelming. Sometimes I have to grab people just for a few minutes and get time with only them, otherwise I’ll never see some people.”

But let’s talk turkey.  One of the most challenging aspects of serving more than 50 people is doing so economically.  In this case, Annie’s best tip is to purchase kegs — in multiples.  She purchased three kegs so she could negotiate with the brewery on the price per keg.  She did well:  $48 per keg.  Usually kegs cost up to $120 each.

“It’s easier to serve people with a keg, and also easier to clean up.  We served 65-70 people for less than $150,” Annie reports.

And don’t just leave those ugly gray barrels as they are.  Annie decided to purchase flag-themed garbage can covers and used them to cover the similarly-shaped kegs.

And though it’s great to save some money on the alcohol, avoid skipping major elements of the food you’re serving.

“Don’t be stingy and cheap, because your guests will know.  If you’re going to entertain, fully entertain.  Don’t rely on your guests for staple items.  Once you choose to entertain, it’s on you,” Annie says.

But if you do ask others to contribute, don’t say, “Please bring a dish to share.”  As Annie says, “Be specific in knowing what you want others to bring.  It’s my biggest pet peeve when people stray from simple instruction, like if I tell you to bring a side, bring a damn side.  Don’t bring a dessert.”

But atmosphere is crucial as well.  And even though Annie attributes any party’s success to the people who attend, she says that decorations don’t hurt either.

“You can’t have too much patriotic paraphernalia on the 4th of July,” she says.  “We bought four dozen hats, tons of red, white and blue fringe, and even temporary tattoos.”

It’s true.  The decided the look of the weekend was to have a “tramp stamp” on everyone’s lower backs, except in this case rather than a typical tattoo symbol, there were American flags and George Washington’s face.

It’s important to keep your role as host in perspective, Annie reminds us.  Your role as host is not to provide a personal experience of happiness for each guest, but rather to create a place where a great time can occur.

“The fun is already happening – I don’t have to entertain fully, I just say ‘here you go, here’s the party.’  As host, YOU’RE not the fun, you’re the springboard to the fun,” she says.

And not every moment is bliss for the host.  Sometimes, guests hog your time.

“People trap me in a 20 minute conversation and I’m stuck,” she confesses.

And how to get out of such a situation?  Initiate clean up.

“Some people take advantage of the situation, like especially when it comes to clean-up.  You know who your friends are when it’s cleanup time and others disperse to leave,” she remarks.

But while they’re around, keep them happy with snappy tunes.

“Definitely compile a good play list…heavy on the Rhianna,” Annie recommends.

Annie credits a great turn-out with word-of-mouth. She says that “the measure of a good event is how well you pitch it.”  And she must have pitched a home run, because even newcomers were impressed.

“I love when people come up to me and say that they’re having such a good time,” Annie says.  “Like my friend Catlyn said “I knew I was going to have fun this weekend, but I didn’t know I was going to have this much fun.”

A successful event, indeed.

4 Comments

Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)