Guest etiquette–Best Hostess Gifts

This is such a stressful subject for men and women, I thought I’d address some basics on the subject. Everything I have learned has been through mortifying experiences, good examples and lots and lots of well-intentioned acts gone awry.
What is a hostess gift?
It’s a present a guest gives the host/hostess as a means of showing gratitude and saying thanks.
Do people actually do this? (Rog asked the first five times)
Yes, they do. In fact, it’s a multi-million dollar business (just look on line if you don’t believe me).
Are you surrreee? (same source as above)
Yes. This is considered good form, tasteful, and in certain circumstances, required.
Is it expensive?

Not at all. Many gifts are less than $40, many less than $20. Homemade gifts, such as banana or pumpkin bread or cookies are a few bucks tops.

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Is it really required in these down, economic times?
Let’s broaden this question to: Is a host/hostess gift ever expected? No. I think not. Sometimes, if a hostess goes all out on a party, she may like a card or something in return. But I can guarantee nary a word will be uttered by the hostess. It’s completely bad form.
Overall, I have zero expectations some one will give me something for throwing a party. In San Francisco, the environment is a bit more formal, for lack of a better word, and gifts were a part of the scene. Loved that. In the south, it was considered bad form to bring food (unless specifically asked by the host/hostess), so flowers are more the norm. In NY, I’ve noticed anything goes, as long as it’s expensive and is in good taste (a’la jewelry and hard to get Broadway tickets are not uncommon) and anything from Red Envelope, with their little red boxes, will be adored.
What is a gift appropriate?
A few pointers:
The first time you have been invited to the home. That’s a must. It conveys appreciation for the fact that the host/hostess have gone to the trouble of making dinner for you (and perhaps your family). After that, you can casually offer to your host/friend if you can bring something. If they say yes—bottled water—ask if they have a preference. If yes, then honor their request for the type if possible. Don’t stray! The host/hostess will be counting on your contribution once you commit. If they decline, use your best judgement.
When someone throws YOU a bridal or baby shower. The hostess has provided the food, the invitations, the venue etc. This can be several hundreds of dollars. That said, when I host either for someone, I expect neither. This is due to the economic realities that the bride/groom-expectant parents have likely shelled out tons of money already. That said, if you are cash positive (and people know this), show good form and treat your hostess (see below).
I’ve received many well-intentioned, though odd things over the years.
Candle holders. This was for a baby shower I hosted. Puter, in a Gallic, fourteenth-century-type of a way. Very large, not my taste, but a nice gesture. Though Martha Stewart advocates candles for a hostess gift, I don’t give candle holders myself. Candles are very much a personal design/taste thing, and it’s easy to screw it up.
A pink Chantilly rug. Strange but true. It was cozy, looked expensive, and right out of the seventies. I’d worry about saying this, but we moved and haven’t been in touch with the guest that gave us the rug in three years. I’m pretty sure this blog isn’t being read by the gift-giver.
When is a gift not necessary? 
If it’s a “guy-thing,” such as a BBQ for Rog’s hockey team, I’ll ask the wife/girlfriend/partner if I can ‘bring something,’ which, for hockey players, means food or beer. The first time, I had Rog ask his teammate for a suggestion, and he received “nothing, just show.” I promptly ignored that comment, and made a vat full of delectable brownies. The entire professional size pan was cleaned out in ten minutes. Food is always a hit with the guys.
Note to girls: Rog claims men don’t drink beer and eat sweets at the same sitting. This, my friends, is false. Men are good with both.
Best hostess gifts
The best hostess gifts are the ones that convey thought and consideration for the host or the hostess’ likes and dislikes. A few examples…
If your host talks about fishing, pick up something small from the fly shop. He’ll likely return it, but it’s the thought (and the store credit) that count. When your hostess has a small garden, get a pot of herbs, or a pair of gloves. Don’t worry about the style. I for one, have never met a pair of gloves I didn’t like (they get dirty after all!) If you host has mentioned attending author events, get him the latest bestseller.
If your hostess is a cook, just about anything kitchen will do. Better yet, a cooking magazine subscription is awesome!!

When you don’t know someone well enough, and it’s a first time, relax. When you roam around the hostess’s home, check out what she likes. One sneaky guest of honor saw I like a particular brand of hard to find chamomile tea. When she came for the next event, she brought one wrapped in a bow. I was completely surprised and touched by her thoughtfulness and the effort she put in to get it!

Some specific gifts that I’ve given include….

  • a bracelet from Red Envelope, similar to this one (they don’t carry the actual one I purchased any longer)
  • little, unique ramikens. My mother loves to collect these things…all are different. Each one is fun, and such a girly-thing
  • kitchen hand towels that are seasonal or holiday
Note the trend here…things that are non-essentials; items a busy, overworked woman on a budget isn’t going to indulge herself to buy.
What about those times when you’re invited to a party, barely know the hosts and want to bring a gift instead of providing one after the fact. This could be a work, church or neighborhood event and you have to guess. That’s when you go for the old standards.
Flowers are good, but you must think about the situation of the party.
For instance, bringing uncut flowers to a large party won’t be appreciated by the hostess. The hostess has to stop everything to cut the flowers, put them in a pot and find a place for the gift. It requires her to stop greeting guests, dealing with the food etc, disrupting her flow and potentially making her crabby. That said, uncut flowers ARE great for casual, outdoor bbq’s or even a sit-down dinner with one or two couples.
An alternative for big parties is a gift of a small plant, already in a pot. It doesn’t need to be an expensive pot, in fact, cheap, plastic containers wrapped with some cellophane of the season is perfect. That way, you (the guest) can either sit it down on an open space, or the hostess can do so. It’s a wonderful thank you, and all wrapped up in a single gift.
Chocolate is great. Dark or milk. Hostess or host will love. (I prefer milk, rog is dark)…either way, it’s wonderful (no twix bars)
More often than not, people bring alcohol. We don’t drink wine, and actually, I don’t drink at all. Rog favors ‘fizzy’ drinks, like sparkling water. But heck, people bring what they know and like, and further, they don’t want to drink water. So what started as a BYOW(wine) motto turned in to something akin to the ‘Pay it forward.’
For our holiday party last year, most everyone brought wine or chocolate. This was because I placed on the invitation a note….
No food or gifts please.
If you feel compelled to bring something, the guests enjoy wine or chocolate.
By the end of the evening, we had enough bottles of liquor to open a store. Now, when guests arrive with wine, we either drink what they brought or choose a bottle from our stash we have. Either way, the guests are paying it forward.
When you are mystified, go to a shopping helper. I like sites that identify gifts specifically for Thank you/Hostess gifts. They make it really easy, from aprons to picture frames (and many sub $20).
If you are in doubt….don’t worry about it. If you are late, and the only thing between your destination and you is a Krispy Kremes stand, keep driving. It’s better to make it up after the fact (on round two) with your hostess than to arrive with something so obviously last minute.
Your job as the guest is to show up, have fun, appreciate the atmosphere and leave fulfilled. In the end, the very best gift is good friends, good company, and a return invitationJ

Thanking and Forgiving- All-in-one etiquette

“Mom, can you ease up on the bluntness…a little?”

It was what I wanted to say to her but didn’t have the nerve. You see, I was talking to her, wanting some advice (ok, I was really wanting nothing more than a bended & sympathetic ear under the guise of ‘advice’ and she saw right through me) about the fact that a person up the road had sent me a sympathy card about my brother. This is no friend. It’s a person who has yelled at us for water usage, who had written nasty emails about what we did to our road and never responded to my kind outreaches other than to complain.

Dad and Mom – they look tough don’t they? And she’s pretty hot
for a 70-something don’t you think- all natural, not lifts, tucks,
whitening or anything. She would never deign to do that. love her!

Yet, out of the blue, a week or so after my return from the funeral, Rog picked up the mail at the post office and from the other room he yells to be “You are never going to be believe this.” He emerges, shows me the card and leaves. I read the outside- a very pretty picture and phrase, then the inside pre-printed note is equally meaningful. Stymied, I then read words in elegantly written, hand-
calligraphy, that says to the effect she’s heard of my brother and then the clincher—

“He’s not gone. He’s simply gone ahead.”

Now, I don’t know if that’s original with her, or as old as the hills, but it was new to me. It was touching. Then for the grand event- I read the signature, and I had the same reaction as my husband. I couldn’t believe it.

Yet, that didn’t mean it had any less meaning. Perhaps it had more meaning than if it were to come from someone else- I don’t know. The fact is the card was sincere, the time it took to pen the calligraphy and the reality that I think this woman seriously hates my guts (I so love that 14-year old phrase, don’t you? I’m going to be 110 and still use it, if in fact, it applies), and yet she did it anyway.

What do I do? How do I respond?

I tell you how. I’m small. I sit on it for a week because I’m right smack in the middle of a Randall-Rain’s type moral dilemma (love that movie line). I can’t take it anymore. I call mom. I tell her the circumstances. For once, she’s like dad and she cuts to the chase.

“Was it sincere?” she asks. Yes, I respond. “Then you respond in kind.” Can I write an email? I ask her. I can almost hear her vomiting through the phone at my question.

“No! You respond in kind. You send her a hand-written note.” She then went on to sputter something like “haven’t I taught you anything??” Mom. Love that about her. She sure knows how to put the toe of her foot right up my jaxy when required (can you name that movie term?? another fav).

So I bust a move, break out my personalized stationary that I spent a mint on years back and write her a note. That was last week. Of course, as she’s not on my Christmas card list, I don’t have her bloody address, so I get to sneak up there sometime and get it off the mailbox without her seeing me (just in case she reverts). It wasn’t until that night, after I wrote the letter, that I thought through my struggle in responding to this extension of sympathy. First I thought I “had to” thank her for the note, but I realized I couldn’t sincerely do that until I forgave her for past actions. That was easier to come by than I’d anticipated, leading to a heartfelt note of thanks to her.

Mom was, once again right. I’ll let you know how this goes. It could be yet another blessing in the line of little tender mercies that have resulted from the death.


Skip Halloween, go directly to Christmas

Last year, I heard- scratch that- my mother heard, a whole lot of complaints because relatives thought they’d been dumped from my Christmas card list. For that matter, it wasn’t until my Halloween party last Saturday that one of my good friends copped to the same opinion.

“You better put me back on the list,” she said to me.

“I figured that this meant I was back on the list,” chimed in another, fluttering her three-inch long blue and glittery eyelashes at me, somehow poking from under a massive blue wig.

“There were no Christmas cards last year,” I hastened to note. I just…well…skipped it. It became one more thing– no pictures from the summer, couldn’t get a photographer, didn’t want to do it myself, wrestling the entire crew in some type of uniform outfit so we didn’t all clash.

I ain’t getting no grief this year….

Whatever, I thought. No one will notice.

Boy, was I wrong. Aunts. Grandmas. Investors in my husbands’ company. Our neighbor. Turns our they were all a bit miffed, hurt or otherwise bummed out. For many, it’s the only update they get from us that includes pictures.

OK- I went back to the easiest route, it being Shutterfly. Of course, I alternate between that and Tinyprints, but this year, I liked the updated collage of Christmas cards on shutterfly. I chose a fold that allows multiple pics on the front, then inside pages, allowing for more, than had a final photo on the back of the card (assuming anyone looks). That’s our favorite actually. We are all making complete idiots of ourselves, with the caption “we can’t always be serious.” I hope someone notices.

Once again, I went for the matching return address cards, and used foil stamps that I purchased in July. Believe it or not, I have actually already addressed every single card, and started writing the note inside. Long-time readers of this blog know I get a bit peevish when cards are sent and nary a hand written word. Not like I need a novel, but a love you, would be nice, or something…just sayin…

This also gave me time to get old addresses updated (always good to contact Grandma), and be ahead of the game. All in, about $100 (Oh, we did the pictures ourselves this year. It’s amazing what a decent digital camera, tripod and delay time can do nowadays).

Letting Go of ‘No’

In a fit of personal honesty, I’ll admit that I hold on to the word ‘no’ with the fierceness gripping the rope I use to scale and rappel up and down the mountain that symbolizes my relationships. My ‘no’ is the lifeline to my identity and power position in my relationship. Saying no means I want to scale the mountain by myself, when in reality, I get higher, faster, when I can say yes.

It’s an interesting thing, the word no. As a toddler, we learn the impact of shouting no. It arouses fear, anger, laughter. This must make an permanent ingram in our psyche, because the rush of power is positively exhilarating. I’d like to pretend my uses of the word No is somehow noble, like jumping in front of a speeding train or standing up to an unjust boss. But…no. It’s not. Worse, I’ve perfected the use of the non-verbal no, thanks to my slight knowledge of avoidance mixed with a scosh of passive-aggressive behavior. My dear husband might disagree. He says “there is nothing passive” about me. I “tend to come right out and say no.” (This shows him how I snookered him).

It’s easy to come across sites that suggest ways to say no at work (thanks Forbes), or specifically, saying no to your boss (thx cnbc). Having issues with cold-callers? Here are some tips to say no to pushy sales people.

Beyond the work world, saying no in social circles is less black and white. Grey in fact. It made me think of “fifty ways to say no” (I suppose a play on the 50 shades of grey, which I have not read, thank you very much).  I seriously enjoyed, and learned a lot, from the suggestions about saying no bluntly, saying no subtely, and just about everything in between. My favorites include, in no particular order:

  • I have a conflict (one doesn’t need to identify if it’s a moral, ethical or other non-rational, emotional reason, if one lacks morals or ethics)
  • I’m not planning on it
  • You go ahead, let me know how it goes
But more than the advice, I love the categories, which includes:
  • “passing the buck no”
  • “no that leaves room for a yes”
  • “considerate and gentle no” 
  • and my favorite the “fatal attraction/restraining order no”.
I’m still going to say no, I’m just now going to say it with a bit more grace. 
PS. For my mother, I’ve included this top 100 list of sassy/rude ways to say no.  This generally falls in the category of “I want to say this but I don’t have the guts.” 

Toe jam is gross

This whole notion of shoe removal has gone beyond reason. I’m sure the end is nigh when Microsoft includes a template for homemade signs requesting shoe removal in Office. I’ve lived in the south, the east and along the west coast, and never encountered the whole ‘removal of shoes’ thing until hitting Washington. After ten years, I can take it no longer (caveat, I think this qualifies as a rant). 
Let me be blunt about my feelings.
Toe jam is gross. Even my own husband, bless his anatomically correct feet and uber-hygenic self, has been known to acquire “friends” from time to time. Eee. The notion that a thin layer of cotton is between him and my floors doesn’t give me comfort. And if Rog takes two showers a day, and his feet still weirds me out, you can imagine my thoughts on folks who take a shower, say, every few days.
What may lurk underneath
a sock!!!

Holes in nylons is not sexy. We have wood floors, slate, and floating, wood staircases. Wood chips are nurtured—it’s part of our homey/woodsey home. Chipped wood=slivers and holes in nylons. NOT GOOD. Furthermore, what woman wants to spend the coin for a sexy pair of shoes, only to be asked to take them off at the doorway?

Stinky feet. No polite way to say this. Sure, one hopes and assumes people wear clean socks. But clean socks get inside stinky shoes, and we are back to stinky feet. I for one, don’t want stinky anything on my floors.
Hot feet. Even if socks are clean and stink-free, some people have hot feet. Sweat leaves track marks on wood like a bear walking through mud in the woods. Can you imagine tracks here and there and everywhere, leading in and out of the bathroom? My floors could immortalize the migratory patterns of my food consuming and facility-using guests. Double-Eeee.
Socks are a bit too personal for me. It’s like knowing what type of underwear someone prefers. Call me old fashioned, but I really don’t want to know what someone has on underneath, and that includes socks. It leads my mind to places I don’t want to visit.
Animals vs humans. It’s always struck me as odd when I go into another’s home, remove my shoes, then have to sit on a sofa covered in cat, dog or unidentiable hair. It’s smelly. It’s always the color I’m not wearing. If I have to remove my shoes, then the least the homeowner can do is handout tape-roller things so I can rub myself down when I sit up.
What about me? The worst is when people come to my house and want to do the respectful thing (they think) and immediately remove their shoes at the front doorway. I’ve tried everything. I’ve put up signs outside “Shoes on please”, but it’s ignored. I meet guests at the front door, my own shoes on, and request they “keep shoes on,” and the guest starts debating the merits of removing shoes with me. At the last party I gave, I made a honkin big sign that read “PLEASE KEEP SHOES ON!” and yes, I did use an exclamation point. I figure, I’m a writer, I’m weird and eccentric. It wouldn’t be taken personally.
Kids ignore me altogether, so well trained are they by parents insistent it’s a sign of respect to remove shoes. 
To be fair, I was raised well enough to respect someone else’s wishes in their own home. However, I’ve also learned that removing shoes is more for dirty children and grandchildren than actual adults. As such, I’ve become adept at dealing with the shoe-thing by lingering in the front room.  
If I’m in the front entryway, and don’t move forward, I’ll say…Oh, I don’t want to get your floor dirty. To which the home owner will say “OK,” (e.g. they want to keep me in the front entryway rather than have me roam their house with my shoes on), OR, the homeowner will wave it off and say “don’t worry about it, come on in!”
The few times the shoe subject has come up, I’ll be honest and say my feet are cold, which, as a Swede, is true nearly 100% of the time unless I drink my chamomile/cayenee pepper concoction. If the homeowner pushes the issue, I’ll tell them the notion of sharing footprints with other strangers grosses me out. The response to this is typically laughter, followed by some variation of…”you’re a writer.” The implication I’m weird, eccentric and to be expected. As such, I’m given a pass.
It’s awesome.
For those normal, reasonable people out there (non-writers that is), here are a few, polite, subtle suggestions.
If one is going to have carpet, don’t get white. When I moved up from San Francisco, I was surprised by the number of white and off-white carpets in such a muddy, wet, rainy state was Washington.
“It’s happy,” was a common reason, or “it makes things brighter.”
Not when it’s dirty and grey, it doesn’t.
Floors are meant to be walked on, not looked at. When the kids are gone and the dog is dead, then put in a white carpet. Until such time, have dark green, like our neighbors. Sure, it resembles the floor of the forest outside, but at least it’s “natural.” In a blue/purple state such as ours, one would think that philosophy would gain traction. Wood, slate, bamboo and other non-carpet items are meant to get dirty, wet and clean up well. If one is really worried about mud, get dark wood like we did. It lasts great, hides marks well, and easy to clean.
Until then, I’m going to have a big arse sign explaining the rules of the home…shoes are welcome, revered and expected…to stay on.

And no. this isn’t an April fools joke. I’m serious.

Rejection Advice? I’ll Pass

Never liked being rejected and I never will. At least age has brought with it a thicker skin, so the inevitable stings I feel are now more like ant bites instead of a wasp; they only hurt for a hour instead of three days and aren’t accompanied by a large welt the size of an acorn.

“Aren’t author’s supposed to have thicker skins?” So asked my dearest. No more so than a president think Clinton), an actress (think Kidman) or baseball (think Aaron). I share a kindred spirit with this people as well have all admitted to wanting to be liked, and take criticism rather hard.

It brought me back to the first days of rejection…not being asked to dance at the sock-hops in 7th grade. I was too tall, lanky, buck-teeth didn’t really help, nor the freckles that looked like dirt after a really poor wash-job. Or, it might have been my bigger, older brother always lurking in the shadows like the ghost of Christmas future, should a blind boy have asked me to the floor. The horrid feeling displayed itself later, as I grew in to a different, better physical body. Even then, no one asked me to dance, but I was told it was for a different reason–the boys were afraid of rejection. Thus it was that my father wisely told me to ‘never reject a boy,’ he said. ‘He’s drummed up all the courage to ask you. The least you could do is be polite. It’s five minutes of your life.”

Wise man. I took his words to heart, and never did reject a guy that asked me to dance. Ever.

Sadly, life is not so kind. Worse, in the last 14 years (since I got myself a built-in dance partner), the mode and words of rejection has digressed to a pitiful state. It’s no longer ‘no thanks,’ but the curt ‘I’ll pass.”

I was first introduced to this lovely phrase in my early twenties at a technology start-up. It was a commonly used phrase for venture capitalists to use when turning down in an invitation to invest in a firm. As in, you send a business proposal, and instead of a ‘thanks for submitting, yadee yadee yada’ it was “I’ll pass.” No hello or goodbye. Same with the media. I’d pitch an idea for an article and the no was a “I’ll pass,” if they responded at all.

Over time, I got used to the two-word blow off. It was a part of the business culture, and eventually found it’s way abroad. Now even the formerly ultra-polite English and French use it (albiet both at least start and end the I’ll pass with a “Dear Sarah” and “Sincerely,…”

Just last week,  received a rejection on behalf of a family friend, who wrote a book, I submitted it to my agent in the hopes he’d get picked up. Here was her comment:

Hi Sarah,
I took a quick look and it’s a pass for me. The writing didn’t win me over.

At last she had the decency to say Hi, let me know she read it, and then provided an explanation. Now that’s courtesy, right?

Alas, I must tell you this phrase, so normal in the business world (yet still lacking a bit of diplomacy) has new leeched itself in to the average, workday life of many people whom I would otherwise consider polite. There are times not to blow off a person using the phrase, “I’ll pass.”

I’ll give you one example. A friend asked me to attend one of those in-home sales events. You know kind–where it’s one step above Tupperware, except the food is better but the goods are more expensive? It wasn’t plastic (the X rated nor the storage), but a clothing gig. I didn’t want to at all. It was far away, I was going to feel obligated to go. I went, out of respect for the friendship, spending $200 in the process. Two weeks later, I returned the favor by asking the same friend to attend an author event with me. We’d get to meet the author, I had free tickets, the food was going to be good. Instead of calling me back, or even texting, I get this email, “Sarah, I’ll pass. Thanks.”

That. Was. It. Amazing you say. It was. I must add that this woman is a fine mother of two, polite in all other respects and a relatively decent cook (not that one has anything to do with other). But you’d think that she could use an additional ten seconds to eek out a response from her well-manicured fingers and at least lie to me. I would have felt better if she made up some lame excuse than to just say, I’ll pass.

Similar circumstances come to mind when the use of an I’ll Pass is not cool. Funerals. Weddings. Christenings. Thanksgiving Dinner. Dates with your spouse. This is my manifesto on the topic, calling all people to give up the I’ll Pass thing once and for all. Instead, go back the time-tested, ever polite, No Thanks, or it’s variable, No Thank You. It’s all there. The rejection (the ‘no’ part) the Thanks (which indicates an appreciation for the invitation and/or offer) and if you really go out on a limb, the personal touch (the ‘you’ part).

Of course, if this doesn’t work for you, use the synonym for I’ll Pass, and just say ‘Hell no.’

Complaint (and complainer) Etiquette

Not one of AnnaLynn’s finer retail moments

Standing in line. Sore feet. Shuffling from one cheek to another, counting the heads in front of me until I finally arrive. It’s my turn. I’m going to be fulfilled, my transaction completed fast, with an efficiency to make a supercomputer envious. Instead, the clerk takes a phone call, then another person behind her who is perhaps a bit louder (or just bigger) than me until finally, she turns to me, listens, then with more than a hint of irritation, informs me I need to go to another line. Before I can ask why, since this was the department where I purchased the item, she tells me it’s because all returns are being handled at a central location.

I’m fuming. Thirty minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Knowing I have zero recourse, I exit stage left, unwilling to place my bad attitude of life on another human. I figure that’s the nice thing to do. When I arrive home, I vent to Rog, the poor, suffering soul of bad retail interactions himself and he suggests the obvious.

“Why didn’t you complain to the manager?” as though this would solve all the problems. The manager, I told him, would only tell me what I already knew: he/she was sorry. They changed the system. “It’s bad service. They probably lost your business.” Maybe not, but I wasn’t excited to spend more time or money in the store.

Since it’s post-Christmas frenzy, and thousands–nee–millions of people around the world are experiencing gift-return+additional product purchases with employees, I thought about the whole issue of complaining. Has anyone other than me noticed this disturbing propensity to take a grievance public, yelling to the world via the Internet about a person, place or thing? A disgruntled waitress is called fat and she goes on the Internet, blasting the wrong person for leaving her no tip, and she got the wrong man. She slaughters the poor guy to the world and then didn’t have the decency to give a good apology. wow. We have sites like Angie’s list that were originally meant to rate businesses, but it’s digressed in to a complaint fest. Even sites like Linked In, once a wonderful source of business networking, has becoming a site for former employees, angry co-workers or spurned lovers to completely lambast another person.

Imagine you are the waitress who was working a long shift, the joint was short-staffed and didn’t provide the best service. Wouldn’t it be better to walk up to the manager, describe your experience and get an apology in person, a reason for the poor service and give the place another chance? It’s a bit more humane than causing a massive dip in revenues to a restaurant in the middle of a holiday season (whilst in a recession no less). The visual of the distressed worker behind the encounter was probably no different that what I just described. The woman had been dealing with hundreds of folks, perhaps half us in the wrong line. She was tired. Unhappy. I’m sure some folks hadn’t held back their feelings.

Some alternative etiquette to abusing person/place/thing on the Internet (also see retail manners)
1. talk to the server/individual directly, if that’s too confrontational….
2. talk to the department manager. if he/she isn’t around…
3. talk to the store manager. if he/she isn’t around…
4. write a letter to store manager…or district manager…or regional manager…etc etc.
5. wait 30 days. See what happens. Do you know that every time I’ve written a letter of complaint, I’ve almost always (as in, I can’t remember a single time where I’ve NOT gotten a response, but I am always reluctant to using words like always or never)….received a letter of apology, along with a freebie. In one case, Alaska sent me a free drink card (2), I’ve also received gift certificates, discount cards etc. Do you remember when the whole Michael Vick-dog story broke? My family was infuriated the Nike refused to pull its support. So instead of blasting Nike on-line, we wrote a family letter to Nike. (Not kidding you. This is what we do in Maple Valley). Within 15 days, we’d received a personal letter, acknowledging our comments, position etc. It was great. We felt so much better I can’t tell you–particularly when Nike suspended its work with Vick as he did his time).
6. Give the person/place/thing another chance. Life is made up of second chances. We all need can use even a third or fourth.

I worked in retail for a stint in high school. It’s a tough job, and I admire people with the stamina to hang in there. Same with the food and beverage industry. Not all service is going to be great and of course I’ll be going back to the retail store I mentioned above. Someday I made be the person needed a second chance.


Being dumped from the Christmas card list

If love of the Gerdes family was measured in volume of Christmas cards received this year, it definitely went down. As Rog started singing, “someone ‘lost that lovin’ feelin,'” he did so with that bit of twang that only the 70’s slate of bad music can invoke. Even the letters we received were rarely even signed, making me feel like we got the letter itself from an automated service, (which in my book, is seriously bad etiquette, even though I know a number of card service providers are making a killing on this, and even some friends who admitted to using it. Alas, those two women left me off their list this year. Just as well). Seconds after I punched him in the arm and felt a bit of woes-me-I-may-cry-thing, he walked away. No love lost on his side apparently.

2011 Cards = 14 (plus one electronic)

Last night, it being the 26th of December, I went to the post office, picked up the mail that had gathered for the last two weeks and gleefully pulled out each one, read it to my family, we all gawked at the pictures, and then we carefully posted each one up on a new pole in our house. Given that I wrote a post this time last year about keeping up all my Christmas cards, I could very well see we were…well, dumped.

How does that feel? Crappy actually. Christmas parties? One this year (versus four last). “Been a hard year,” was what Rog said, the comment thrown over his shoulder as he concentrated on killing a few virtual badguys on the big screen, his mind and thumbs getting reaquainted with his handheld Xbox device.

That much is true. Several friends elected not to send physical cards, but ecards instead. Of these, I received one. Another major transition was change of schools for my daughter, which dropped off about a dozen friends who we no longer see. We all like one another (I think) but top of mind folks make the list. Added to this, I haven’t even sent out my cards yet, since we left before the cards returned from the printer. For the last two years, I was Johnny-on-the-spot, my cards done in November, patiently waiting to be sent out the first of December. Not this year. Rog and I kept battling over a photo (or rather, taking one at all) and this ‘discussion’ never got resolved. Thus, the 75 people on last years list are probably thinking I dumped them!

“It’s like our Christmas party,” he said to me withouth turning his head. “Did you ever send out the note telling people why we didn’t have it.” Uh-oh. At this point, I knew I was in deep-kimshee (name the movie). Here’s the deal-io. Every 2 years, we have a blowout Christmas party at my house, wherein I lose all sense of reason for 2 weeks as I cook, decorate and prepare to spoil all those we love, who are also brave enough to venture to our home. Due to the effort involved, and for the purposes of keeping my marriage intact, we do this every other yr. This year, however, we were gone on an early vacation. To move it up to November would have been blasphemous, and to have it post Christmas defied reason. Thus, no party.

“I–uh–didn’t get around to it,” I admitted.

“Your bad,” Rog said, zero sympathy in his voice.

Okay, so that justifies about half the folks who dropped us off the list, yet it doesn’t account for some of the others, like my dear aunt who puts together a great letter with pictures and details of her kids and gazillion grandkids. How else am I supposed to keep track of 7 families if I don’t get her letter? Worse, one letter that was signed, by a wonderful Uncle, was so darn depressing, I was sort-of sad after I read it. Unlike his notes of happier times, detailing his kids, grandkids, and travels, this one was full of reminiscing on health issues, retirement and the bad weather.

“Maybe he’s just being real after all these years of making up happy stories for the Christmas card letter,” said Rog afterI read him the letter. Maybe so. I could fill a book w/the bummer things that happen during the year, and frankly, the inner-evil part of me is tempted every year to do this, but I can never bring myself to that point of reality. I just do it here!

Now my big dilemna is whether or not to still send out a card at all, send out a New Year Card (still an option, albeit a lame one. We still have no photo) or do something completely strange and opt for a Valentine card. I proposed the latter to Rog, and you know what he said?

“You did mention a Valentine’s Day party to make up for the Christmas party.” He’s right. I had surfaced the option when I was up and happy, right before Thanksgiving. On the bright side, the list of invitees will be a lot smaller than originally anticipated. I’ll be sending out invites to all 14 people who sent me cards….

Plate returning etiquette: what Ms Manners left out

Mom is divine. Taught me the essentials of good manners, from placing the napkin on my left leg post-haste upon sitting down, what type of stemware to use for all occassions (red stemware for Christmas and fashionable holidays, clear (white) lead stemware for standard Sunday dinners) and only use public toilets in cases of emergencies–and only if death is going to erupt from one’s backside (even then, be sure to use the towletts provided). That said, Mom missed one critical item that has caused more than a few hurt feelings.

Villeroy and Boch Toy Christmas

Plate returning.

What..? you may ask, mystified and thinking of all the topics to cover during this time of giving, why this topic, why now? It’s because if you are on the receiving end of a plate, that means the plate itself if full of something: cookies, gumdrops, brownies, shortbread, Russian Tea cakes, crinkle treats. All the wonderful food provided by those of us to whom food is our love language.

This begets the question…what to do with the plate?

“Return it of course,” is what my mother told me years ago. If it’s an actual bonified plate (not paper or plastic, those aren’t ‘real’ in my mother’s mind, then it gets returned. So of course, what do I do but return it.

“What’s this?” my neighbor asked when I gave it back. I thought it was obvious, but just in case she was momentarily blinded by the cleanliness, I reminded it was hers. “Oh,” she said, a strange look on her face that confused me, but I figured she didn’t know how to get the expression of gratitude out in a way that matche her emotion. A few months later, I gave her a plate of red velvet cupcakes on a nice plate and walla, two weeks later, it came back to me. The difference? It was full of food, not empty.

Hmm. Something was a foot at the Circle K (name the movie). I pondered this phenomena as I prepared a batch of X for a friend.  Yet this time around, I used one of my special New Year’s Eve plates, white china with gold embossed New Year’s Wishes around the edges. I’d show you one but it’s gone. Never got returned. Last night as I rummaged through my many plates, I realized I had several odd-looking plates I’d never buy myself, and yet have more than a few missing. Those are the ones I’d used for gifts.

This, then, is the topic of the blog. What is the appropriate etiquette for receiving food on a plate. Since I was out with girlfriends this morning, I took a poll.

1. Depends on the culture. No kidding. But in America, I say..what culture? We are a melting pot, and it is much likelier to be personality and social strata dependent.
2. “You give it back with a plate of food of course,” said a gal who avoids bra’s like she does processed sugar. “And you want to do it within 2 weeks.” (clearly, she and my neighbor are buds).
3. “You accept the plate as the gift that goes along with it.” Now she was talking my language. I have gone to great lengths to purchase a wonderful plate that matches the personality of the individual. The food is like icing on the cake–a bonus, but not the best part.
4. “You are all wrong. Never, ever, use a real plate. Give it on paper or plastic and then no one has to be worried about keeping or giving it back. Eat the food and be done with it!” This woman, a pragmatic nurse of Asian origin received looks of shock when she spoke such blasphemy. (Though I’m not sure it was because she didn’t give the advice with the caveat of using brown, recyclable plates or the mere notion of using a P or P).

Winter Toile Platter

What about asking? was my thought. When all in the world is confusing and grey, ask a question. That’s what I did later this morning, as I was out with a friend visiting an elderly woman and given a plate of sugar cookies. The plate itself was a small salad plate with Santa’s and his elvish helpers around the rim. It was exactly the sort of plate she might want back, or the kind that I’d pass on to someone else. Taking the direct approach, I asked my friend who awarded me a shocked look.

“Of course it’s yours!” she said, shaking her head. Better to ask than not, I figured, thanking her profusely, telling her I can return it laden with food. She told me not to do that, but I could see that she wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea. After all, good manners says that no one can turn away handmade treats.

Party etiquette for ‘the other person’

“Do you like parties?” my friend-slash-watcher-o-my-daughter asked as I was five steps from the door last Thursday. I gave her a lopsided smile.

“It’s a love-hate thing for me,” I told her. The love part is getting a dress (or in my case, finding one I bought two years ago while pregnant, knowing it was elegant and at some point in the distant future, it would fit), applying make-up three times darker than I normally wear and eating great food. The hate part is that…get ready….I’m sort of anti-social. It doesn’t help that Rog is as well (shocker, I know). It’s not that I don’t like people–I do. I LOVE people. It’s just flitting to one group of strangers to another isn’t my favorite. I prefer sitting at a table or 1×1 and having a real conversation. Speed-getting-to-know-you thing.

My friend rolls her eyes, but gets it. “You should see my sister,” she starts and I know some excellent advise is forthcoming. My friend’s sis is the wife of an executive who had the good fortune to start with Coinstar when it was small, and reap the benefits of the firms’ growth. He’s not in the top five, but the upper eschelon (I think a vp) and thus, she “duly fulfills her roles.”

What?! That sounded like a serf in the English-days of old.

“No, no,” said friend backtracked, defending her sister. “What I mean is she gets on line, researches all the names of the people attending the party–you know, she does her homework.” No. I didn’t know. Furthermore, the very notion was straight out of the first ten pages of The Firm. It never occurred to me to invoke my library research skills for pre-party.

My friend shook her head at my undiluted denseness. “You should try some of these things. You’d have a lot better time at the party.” When I balked, she hit me with this. “You are your husbands best asset. You need to be the asset.” Asset?

At that point, the research-writer in me kicks in and I can’t help myself. I must find out how to properly be an asset. I then learn the secrets of success to be the ‘Asset.’

  1. Dress appropriate to status. It’s party 101 to understand the dress code, and I thought this was enough. Dressing to status means….it’s bad form for the wife/husband/partner of an executive to show up in a too-revealing/tight/tacky outfit. According to a few sources I found on line (and speaking with a number of women at the event that very night), it’s more appropriate for the wife of a partner to wear an elegant slacks outfit than to show too much leg. This sounds a bit old-fashioned, but I’m telling you this: the executives of small and large companies alike check out the partners of their execs and make note. Anyone that tells you otherwise is politely lying.
  2. Know the names, roles and essential functions/contributions of other department heads. Most orgs have Management sections on the web site so you can see faces along with backgrounds. My friend’s sister actually makes note cards pre-party, memorizes essentials (college/sports etc), but also family details 1-3 details per person, 5-10 person max. Apparently, she enjoys this a great deal. Furthermore, her target is invariably flattered that she, a stranger, knows details. I would only augment this by suggesting Google searches on a name, because articles including a person often come up that aren’t in a management bio.
  3. Business conversation starters. This woman has several books on how to start a conversation for any occasion. You can’t use the standard “if you could do something different, what would it be” or “if you were God for a day, what would you do?” Those are interesting but could put someone on the spot. I went through .Conversation Starters for any Occassion and did a randon search. I liked “If you could write a book about your life, what would it be called?” or “if you could bring one person back from the dead, who would it be?” Of course, you have to meld these questions in with each person… here’s the trick. Said sister of friend lines up at least 1 question she really wants to have answered for each person on her hot list.

I could go on, but you get the jist. And might I say…doesn’t this sound like a heckuva lot of work for your spouse? With your own life, career, family and obligations, is this fun or is this yet another burden of being married?

“She loves it!” my friend told me when I uttered the words. “It has a direct impact on their salary, his bonus, his promotions.” She then went on to tell me her comment about ‘the asset’ wasn’t some subservient phrase. It’s much more–human in nature. “When she comes off as smart, intelligent and engaging, it makes him look smarter and more intelligent.” The underlying message is that people are attracted to like people. I get it.

We split then, attended the party and came home. The food was great, the atmosphere fine. Thankfully, I dressed appropriately (in truth, my outfit was a bit more conservative than normal, but that was OK. I put on more makeup than normal so it balanced out). I will say though–I had n.o.t.h.i.n.g. to say in regards to the other execs/managers abt their contribution, role, departments etc., and had to fall back on things like “I’m detecting an accent,” which opened up converations about home (Canada), legacy (homesteading a large swath of land), sports (hockey playing since 4), love of speed (skating and cars go hand in hand). In the end, I was talking to an exec that ended up winning a major award for contribution of the year. Perhaps the conversation could have gone a bit better, but not much. In the end, geniune interest, eye contact and thoughtful comments are good manners that are appreciated in any setting.

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