Happy holiday advice from The Duchess of Decorum
Subjects to avoid
Politics: It’s important to connect with your guests. However, politics is not the best way to do that. Friends and family might feel strongly about their political leanings. Bringing up controversial issues can quickly lead to heated, unproductive arguments and ruin the party. Pretend everyone around you is of the opposite party, and plan your political comments accordingly.
Religion: People are passionate about their religious beliefs, and you’re not going to change anyone’s beliefs at a holiday party. Allow people to have their beliefs, and enjoy the party.
Personal business: Do not ask personal questions. (“When are you having kids?” “Why aren’t you married yet?” “Are you still on a diet?”). It’s none of your business. If you are asked about these subjects, simply say, “I appreciate your asking, but that’s not something I feel comfortable discussing.”
Dining table etiquette
Do not start eating until everyone is seated, and served. The point of a gathering is to enjoy food together. Pass food counterclockwise to avoid running into one another while passing. Salt and Pepper should always be passed together.
When toasting, do not clink your glasses. Raise them up and tip them slightly. If the toast is being made in your honor, raise your glass, but do not drink because you would be celebrating yourself.
Do not get up from the dining table until everyone is finished eating.
Be a gracious house guest
When you are staying at someone else’s home, timing is everything. Don’t stay longer than three days; fish and houseguests start to smell after 3 days, Arrive at a reasonable time; not the middle of the night. Tell the host when you’re leaving, and stick to it so they can plan around it. Always say goodbye, ghosting is so rude. Leave things as you found them.
Ask about house rules; do’s and don’ts — and follow the guidelines. Clean up before you leave; clean the bathroom, and strip the bed of the linens. There’s no housekeeping service to clean up after you.
Never show up empty handed: bring a small gift — but no candles, they’re so played out. Opt for wine, gourmet cookies/chocolates, house plants, or flavored olive oils.
Buy groceries or bring them to dinner to show your appreciation
Who to gift
Do not go into debt under any circumstances to buy gifts. Period. Spend no more than 1 percent of your annual gross income on gifts. Start saving January 1. If you haven’t started saving yet, implement “No Spend November.” Only spend money on things that are absolutely necessary for you to live; you’ll be amazed how much money you save. And you only spend the saved amount on gifts.
Children and family first
If you’re on a budget, prioritize gifts this way: First, give to children because they get most excited over gifts, and don’t know the difference between expensive and inexpensive gifts. Then your immediate family and work your way out. You are not obligated to buy your co-workers gifts. That’s why it’s a good idea to do “Secret Santas” at work. But it is always nice to give a small gift to your boss. I suggest business related books that every boss can benefit from, unless you know what they’re really into.
Tip your service providers
You should give a gift or tip to anyone you do business with on a regular basis — babysitters, gardeners, hair stylists, sanitation personnel, mail carriers, pet sitters, housekeepers. Tips are given in cash, and to people whom you employ for a service. You can give them a gift as well, but that’s the difference. If it’s a person you employ for a service, give the equivalent of the cost for one to two services; If you don’t employ them directly, like the sanitation personnel, a tip of between $25 and $75 is appropriate.
If someone gives you a gift and you don’t have one for them, don’t run out and buy a gift. Graciously accept the gift and say, “Thank you. I’m so surprised by your gift. (You put them on notice that you didn’t expect it and don’t have one for them.) I don’t have one for you in return, but I truly appreciate your generosity.” Leave it at that.
Editor note: Pattie Ehsaei is known to her nearly one million TikTok followers as “The Duchess of Decorum.” Last March, she emceed the Montemalaga Elementary School Major Donor fundraiser at La Venta Inn. ER