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Sunday September 21st 2014

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How To Mind Your Manners

By Jennie McKeon

While you attend holiday parties, graciously give and receive presents and spend quality time with out-of-town relatives, don’t forget to be on your best behavior. When it comes to etiquette, there’s no better resource than the Emily Post Institute. Here are a few tips to help you survive the holiday season, in the most polite way possible.

Hostess Gifts: Not mandatory, but a lovely gesture. As the Emily Post website states, gifts aren’t usually taken to a formal dinner party, but in the instance of a casual party, gifts are a great way to show appreciation to the hostess. You don’t always have to resort to a bottle of wine either. Gifts such as flowers—preferably in a simple vase, chocolates, a picture frame, scented candle or specialty food items such as jams and jellies can easily be appreciated by anyone.

At the Dinner Table: Maybe you already know you shouldn’t pick your teeth at the table, but just in case here are the Top Ten Table Manners. 1. Chew with your mouth closed. 2. Avoid slurping, smacking, blowing your nose, or other gross noises. (If necessary, excuse yourself to take care of whatever it is you need to take care of.) 3. Don’t use your utensils like a shovel or as if you’ve just stabbed the food you’re about to eat. 4. Don’t pick your teeth at the table. 5. Remember to use your napkin at all times. 6. Wait until you’re done chewing to sip or swallow a drink. (The exception is if you’re choking.) 7. Cut only one piece of food at a time. 8. Avoid slouching and don’t place your elbows on the table while eating (though it is okay to prop your elbows on the table while conversing between courses.) 9. Instead of reaching across the table for something, ask for it to be passed to you. 10. Always say ‘excuse me’ whenever you leave the table.

Conversation: Holiday parties—at the office or your grandma’s house—can bring all kinds of people together. Sometimes, it’s easy for someone to say something inappropriate without thinking. As a host, you can help ease the tension by interrupting and changing the subject, or ask the offending person for his or her help in another room, where you can privately tell the person that their joke or remark made others uncomfortable. Be sure to apologize privately to anyone who might have been offended. At dinner talk to people on both sides of you and across the table. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” to avoid that awkward pause. Suggest small topics such as weather, sports and local events.

Handling Extra Guests: As a guest, it is important to RSVP in a timely manner and ask your host if you can bring a friend. For the host, greet your unexpected visitor graciously and do your best to include them. Set another place setting—even if it doesn’t match the rest. If there isn’t enough space, take the party to the living room and eat on your lap.

Houseguests: If you’re staying with family, remember to be a gracious and helpful guest. Make your bed, keep the bathroom clean, offer to help out in the kitchen, be adaptable, offer to pitch in for groceries if you are staying more than two or three nights and remember to send a gift or a handwritten thank you note. As a host, you can make your guest feel welcome with extra towels, washcloths, nighttime snacks and reading material in their room so that they don’t have search around the house when the need for such items arises.

Re-gifting: No matter what your future plans are, when opening a gift in front of the giver, thank the person eagerly. You can complement the gift without calling attention to your disapproval by saying things like: “It was so nice of you to think of me” or “What an imaginative choice.” Now, when you hear someone say this you’ll be paranoid they hate their gift. The thoughtful gift doesn’t have to go unappreciated. According to the Emily Post Institution, it is okay to re-gift only when you’re certain that the gift is something the recipient really wants, the gift is brand new and comes in its original box with instructions and if the gift isn’t one the original giver took great care to select or make.

Holiday Tipping: It’s important to show appreciation to those who make your life a little easier. If your budget doesn’t allow for tips, consider a homemade gift. If you tip throughout the year, you can choose to give a small gift instead. Any gift or tip should be accompanied by a short, handwritten note. When considering to tip and how much to tip, consider the quality and frequency of the service, your relationship with the service provider and the number of years you have used the service. When in doubt, you can always ask the company if tipping is accepted and what is typical from other customers. Check out emilypost.com for an extensive list on how to show your appreciation to service providers in all industries.