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.”



Just Posted

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

Graeme Wright is the owner of Hullabaloo, a new ice cream and coffee food truck serving patrons at the Red Barn on West Saanich. (Photo by Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff).
VIDEO: Cool treats, warm bevvies a specialty for new Saanich food truck

Hullabaloo owner Graeme Wright passionate about blending green space with sustainability

The closure of Government Street to vehicle traffic between Humboldt and Yates streets began June 11. The corridor will be pedestrian-only between noon and 10 p.m. daily until at least this fall. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Downtown Victoria timed closure of Government Street begins

Pedestrian priority times part of city’s Build Back Victoria program

Nicky Cook and Kelly Yee set up their stand at Peninsula Country Market. (Black Press Media file photo)
Peninsula farmers markets ready to welcome back patrons

Both the Peninsula Country Market and North Saanich Farm Market plan to expand offerings in the summer

Workers clean off the red paint sprayed on the statue of Queen Victoria at the front of the B.C. legislature Friday. It is unclear when the vandalism took place. A protest rally against old-growth logging was happening on the legislature lawns Friday afternoon. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
UPDATE: Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue base splattered with what looks to be red paint, old-growth logging protest held in afternoon

How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

The courthouse in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo man, already in jail, found guilty of sexual abuse of sons

Man previously sentenced for sexual interference involving girl in Nanaimo

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Fraser Valley drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

Lorraine Gibson, 90, received a COVID-19 immunization at the South Surrey Park and Ride vaccination clinic. (File photo: Aaron Hinks)
Surrey has had 25% of B.C.’s total COVID-19 cases

Surrey recorded 4,012 cases in May

Most Read