The Dos and Don’ts of holiday etiquette

’Tis the season for celebrating, and with the added festivities come added pressures and opportunities for more social blunders.

Civility and etiquette specialist Elizabeth Backman reminds people that it’s good manners to write thank-you notes for presents received over Christmas.

Civility and etiquette specialist Elizabeth Backman reminds people that it’s good manners to write thank-you notes for presents received over Christmas.

The holiday cards have been sent, the presents wrapped and every evening from now until the new year is scheduled and co-ordinated with relatives, friends and colleagues. You’ve done everything right – or at least you thought you did.

’Tis the season for celebrating, and with the added festivities come added pressures and opportunities for more social blunders. The holidays are a time to shine for those with the best of politesse, and a time when those without a working knowledge of social graces let their bad manners leave a lasting impression.

“You’ve got to remember, you’re a walking, talking autobiography,“ said Elizabeth Backman, Oak Bay-based specialist in etiquette and civility. “How you present yourself, what you say, how you appear and conduct yourself, is your calling card.”

Backman leads private coaching sessions and group workshops on how to add polish to your personal and professional pursuits and laid out some ground rules on how to navigate the season – from RSVP-ing to re-gifting – with class.

Backman’s advice on …

Being a good guest

Step 1: RSVP – “The host or the hostess should not have to call up to figure out who’s coming,” Backman said. RSVPs should be sent via the same method the invitation was given within 24 to 48 hours of receipt of the invite. If you can’t go, Backman added, be honest. Don’t leave the person who has gone to the trouble of preparing the event hanging.

Step 2: Bring a gift – If the host or hostess doesn’t specify to bring something to the party, bring a gift. And if they do: bring a gift anyway. A bottle of wine or box of chocolates is a nice way to say thank you.

Step 3: Use your table manners – Wait for the host or hostess to serve themselves, sit down at the table and put their napkin on their lap before you begin to eat. The simple, yet often overlooked rule changes slightly when a large group is being served. In such a case, wait until the majority of guests have been served before you dig in.

Presenting yourself

Step 1: Dress appropriately – “I err on the side of caution. I’d rather be over, rather than under dressed,” said Backman, a former fashion designer.

Women have more options – and potentially more opportunities to dress inappropriately. While the holidays might be the right time for some to pull out the dress with plunging neckline, fashionistas should know their audience before they bare too much skin around the relatives.

“Certain women have a way of looking sexy – the French do it very well – they reveal enough, but not too much,” Backman said. “You want to see more. They’re not showing all of the wares.”

Step 2: Turn your phone off for the party – “How many times have you come across a person who’s talking about private things, or things that are going to make them come across as very important and they’re striding around talking? As much as I like technology, it’s another no-no,” Backman said.

Leave the phones and electronic devices turned off, or on vibrate in coat pockets and purses. The exception, Backman said: if you have young children at home with a babysittter or you’re a brain surgeon on call. In such cases, let the host know why you’re gripping your iPhone.

“It’s not giving a good image of yourself.”

Accepting gifts

Step 1: Show gratitude – Remember to thank the person who gave you the gift, Backman said. In person is acceptable, but a special gift, or one from a person you don’t often see, could necessitate a card or a note.

Step 2: How to return and re-gift – Be honest when you receive the same gift twice. Show appreciation, but don’t be afraid to ask the gift-giver if they mind that you exchange it. Re-gifting, the act of passing off a gift you’ve received to someone you need to buy for, is a bit dicier, but it can be done. To do so, Backman suggests, take the gift in its original packaging, label it with the name of who gave it to you and the date. When the time is right: re-gift. If you can pull off the manoeuvre – first made famous on The Label Maker episode of Seinfeld, which Backman delightedly recounts – then great. Just don’t get caught re-gifting within the same circle of friends or someone as bold as Elaine Benes might call you out on your pitiful civility.

Constant consciousness of your gestures, body language, word choice and tone of voice is key to representing yourself, Backman said, but no one’s perfect. Just remember to untag those Facebook posts when you let your hair down at the New Year’s party.

“Nothing’s carved in stone,” she said. “If you do feel you’ve left a bad impression, you can correct it. The key here is that you’re growing. We all can improve ourselves.”

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greater Victoria School Trustee Ryan Painter created a campaign to collect paper hearts with kind messages from the community to bring joy to employees at the Eagle Creek Village Starbucks who’d been treated poorly on Nov. 30 by a patron who was opposed to the company’s COVID-19 safety protocols. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Seven patients and five staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since Island Health reported an outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital on Dec. 1. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Two new COVID-19 cases added to Saanich Peninsula Hospital outbreak

Total of seven patients, five staff members tested positive since Dec. 1

Tighe Archer with a Winter Tree that he cut and assembled in Esquimalt High wood shop. Students in ten high school wood shops are cutting the raw materials and packaging them into kits that are delivered to Grade 3 and 4 elementary classes in the district to assemble. 
(Lindsay Johnson Photo)
Greater Victoria high schoolers cut Winter Trees for Grade 3 classes

Apprenticing carpentry students bring a little season to younger peers

The Mann family lived in a coach house attached to the old stables – which once stood across from where the beer bottles were found – from about 1911 to the '30s. This historical photograph shows members of the Mann family passing around a beer bottle similar to the ones found recently. (Photos courtesy Cindy MacDougall)
Cheers to history: 100-year-old beer bottles unearthed at Royal Roads University

Four bottles from Victoria Brewing Co., Silver Springs Brewery date back to early 1900s

Evelyn Turner, Jen Rashleigh and Steve Duck with Circular Farm and Food: Vancouver Island stand outside the Sandown Agricultural Lands, future site of the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture. North Saanich council is considering a draft agreement with the future operators for final approval Monday. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich close to inking final agreement with Sandown operators

Future operators of Sandown Agricultural Lands have confidence in their vision

A snow moon rises over Mt. Cheam in Chilliwack on Feb. 8, 2020. Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 is Mountain Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Dec. 6 to 12

Mountain Day, Dewey Decimal System Day and Lard Day are all coming up this week

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Montreal Alouettes’ Michael Sam is set to make his pro football debut as he warms up before the first half of a CFL game against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Study finds Canada a ‘laggard’ on homophobia in sports

Among females, 44 per cent of Canadians who’ve come out to teammates reported being victimized

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Information about the number of COVID-19 cases in Abbotsford and other municipalities poses a danger to the public, the Provincial Health Services Authority says. (Photo: Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)
More city-level COVID-19 data would jeopardize public health, B.C. provincial health agency says

Agency refuses to release weekly COVID-19 case counts, citing privacy and public health concerns

The opening day on Mount Washington this year was Dec. 4. Screenshot
Mount Washington opens on time, COVID-19 protocols in place

“We’re super excited - it’s been six months in the planning.”

Most Read