The holiday season is full of (prettily wrapped) potential land mines. Even if you know better than to re-gift Aunt Ida’s sweater or insult Grandma’s fruitcake, you could still be slipping up. We spoke with etiquette expert Joy Weaver, author of How to Be Socially Savvy in All Situations, to get the scoop on how you can secure your spot on the "Nice" list.
1. RESPOND TO INVITES.
Yup, all of them—and promptly. And if you really want to be proper, don’t ring up your friend and let them know you’re calling to RSVP. As Weaver explains, that’s technically an abbreviation for the French phrase “Répondez s’il vous plait” (meaning “reply if you please”): “So you don’t say you’re going to RSVP. It’s not a word!”
2. SHOW UP ON TIME(ISH).
If it’s a sit-down dinner party you should be there right on time, says Weaver. But if it’s a more casual drop-in situation, showing up promptly is actually kind of rude. “You know what it’s like, the party starts at seven and you’re running around getting everything just right,” she says. Best to allow your pal a second to breathe, she notes: “Give it a minute or two before you ring the doorbell.”
3. FORGET THE FLOWERS (BUT DON'T COME EMPTY-HANDED.)
If there are multiple hosts, you only need to bring something for the person whose home it is, explains Weaver, because they’re the ones that had to clean up their spread. And your trinket should be well-thought-out, she says, “You always want to give them something they’ll like.” Off limits: flowers (“Unless they come in a vase so the host doesn’t have to take time out from the party looking for one”) and any wine or food to be set out. “The menu has been determined and the drinks selected,” she says. “So if you bring food or champagne let them know it’s for them to save.”
4. KNOW WHEN TO SAY THANKS.
It’s proper form to send your pal a written thank you for having you at their get-together. But if you’re the host, you’re off the hook. Even though you should, in theory, be collecting all sorts of hostess gifts, you don’t have to send notes for any of them. “This is the one time you’re not required to write a thank you,” says Weaver, “because it’s like saying thank you for a thank you. It could go on and on.”
5. DON'T SKIP THE OFFICE PARTY.
Ever. Even if it’s just a conference room gathering with stale crackers and cheap wine, “it’s a must-attend event,” says Weaver. Opting out “shows disrespect for your company, supervisors, and colleagues and can be a career-killer.”
6. BUT DON'T BE THE LIFE OF IT, EITHER.
You (hopefully) know dancing on the bar is a bad call. (“It’s just not the time to be over-served,” says Weaver.) But overindulging in the cheese tray isn’t a good look either, she says: “You don’t want to seem like you’re going there because the company owes you food. You’re there to establish better relationships.”
7. MAKE IT EASY FOR HIGHER-UPS TO MEET YOU.
If your office bash is a name-tag-required situation, place it high up on the right side of your body, says the expert: “When you’re about to shake hands, your right shoulder comes forward, so it’s a perfect glance.” And when you go in for the palm-to-palm grab, make sure you’re standing. “Never shake hands sitting down,” says Weaver. “It’s a respect thing.”
8. GET (SLIGHTLY) POLITICAL.
Talking too much about business or your kid's latest milestone just isn't done, says Weaver: "Talk about something interesting, current events, just something unique and different."
9. WHEN HOSTING, DON'T FORGET THAT YOU'VE GOT A JOB TO DO.
And it’s not just refilling the chip bowl. It’s considered proper to stand at the door to greet each guest as they arrive. Repeat the process at closing time, walking each of your attendees to the door for a brief goodbye. Note to guests, says Weaver: “Do not engage the host in a long conversation at the door.”
10. MASTER THE ART OF ADDRESSING HOLIDAY CARDS.
If you're keeping it formal, technically, you shouldn’t be sending a card to Mrs. Joy Weaver. Explains the expert, “Mrs. means married to the next person. I’m not married to Joy, I am Joy.” The truly proper form, she says, is Mrs. [husband’s name] Weaver or simply Mrs. Weaver. And these days, she says, Miss is only appropriate for women under the age of 18.
11. NEVER, EVER USE THE EXCUSE "MY DOG ATE YOUR GIFT."
We’ve all been there: your cubicle mate presents you with a gift and you didn’t realize you were that tight. Don’t fib and say you forgot their present at home, says Weaver; simply be gracious. “The only thing they want in that moment is for you to be happy,” she explains. “Do not bring up the fact that you don’t have a gift for them. Just say, ‘This is wonderful. Thank you.’” If you’d like to surprise them with something down the road, you can, but it’s not a must: “You need to think through, is this someone that I want to give a gift to next year, or should I just accept this gift and move on?” Now that’s learning how not to be a jerk to yourself.
All images via Getty