Get your holiday manners on

The holidays are here! As I was standing in a very long line at the post office this morning I reminded myself how stressful this time of year can be. Inside I was feeling impatient and angry at the everlasting queue, but I tried to focus on the positive rather than my irritation. I noticed the surprisingly well-behaved children waiting in line with their parents. I chatted with my friendly queue neighbor, and I reflected on how all of the business is good for the struggling USPS.

As we face similar holiday stresses with our friends and family I thought I’d share some etiquette tips to make these gatherings easier for you and those around you.

Remember everyone is doing the best they can. Try to cut others some slack and not get upset by small slights or forgotten manners. Sometimes it’s not about us, it’s more about the other person. Keeping that in mind can help us let things go easier.

Remember the niceties. It’s amazing how “please” and “thank you” can make everything seem better.

If you have food restrictions and know it’s not likely Grandma June will have something you can eat, call her as soon as possible and let her know how much you’re looking forward to the dinner and ask if it would be OK if you bring a favorite side-dish to complement the meal.

When you get a present you don’t like or don’t know what to do with find something positive to say, even if it’s something like, “Aunt Mable, your gifts are always so unique. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.”

If you’re directed to sit next to crazy Uncle Joe, grin and bear it. One dinner won’t kill you. Make an effort to have a conversation with him. You might actually learn some interesting things about him.

A few table manners:
Eat slowly with your mouth closed. The food may be the tastiest ever, but don’t act like it’s your last supper. Slow down, chew your food and converse with others between bites.

Rather than grabbing for items across the table, heed the rear end rule. If you have to lift more than one cheek, the item is too far away. Instead ask to have it passed. Say, “Will you please pass the sweet potatoes.”

Sit up straight in your chair and bring your food up to you. I had a boss who would sit down with a heaping plate of food, lean over the plate and shovel food into his mouth like he hadn’t eaten in days, saying nary a word until he polished off everything on his plate. Ugh!

Avoid controversial conversations – religion, politics, anything that brings up past hurts or is mean-spirited. If someone else brings up a heated topic, simply steer the conversation to a more neutral topic, example; “Grandpa, there is certainly a variety of opinions on the payroll tax bill, I’m excited about the variety of food on the table. Shall we make our way to the table?” If that doesn’t work, be more direct, “This subject is a bit hot to discuss, let’s talk about something we can all agree on. Kudos to the cooks for a great meal!”

Take a time out. If your family is pushing your buttons, excuse yourself and find some place to calm down. A friend did this at Thanksgiving when her sister once again interrupted her and changed the subject back to herself. My friend simply paused for a moment, excused herself and left the room. Away from the family she took some deep breaths and reminded herself that in the scheme of things it really isn’t that important that her sister interrupted her.

I wish you patience, forgiveness, love and joy.

Happy holidays!


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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