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Holiday Warm-Up

Posted by Peter Post October 29, 2013 07:00 AM

Even though Halloween is only a couple of days away, stores are already setting up displays for the Christmas and holiday seasons. I walked into a Lowes the other day and there, large as life, were fake Christmas trees for sale. And all sorts of other holiday stuff.

At the Emily Post Institute those displays can mean only one thing: an influx of holiday-oriented questions from around the country. Among the first will be questions about holiday greeting cards, so for those of you organized types who are getting out your address books, here are some of our top tips:

  1. Plan ahead. This is my personal failing. If you start now you might actually get that card with a picture of your spouse and/or children or pet printed up and ready to send before Valentine’s Day.
  2. Make a list, check it twice. Make a list of recipients so you’ll know how many to order or purchase. This is also a good time to update addresses, too.
  3. Not their holiday. You can send a greeting card to a person who doesn’t celebrate your holiday, but be mindful of the message and send a seasonal rather than a religious card.
  4. Electronic or traditional in the mail? There’s no one size fits all here. Digital cards may look great on the screen, but printed out on twenty-pound white printer paper, they may look pretty dull and uninteresting compared to the traditional cards hanging next to them in a person’s home. You may choose to send a digital card to people whom you know will enjoy hearing from you that way and send traditional cards to digitally challenged individuals. Review your list (tip 2 above) and see if your recipients are better served with a digital or a traditional greeting.
  5. Bag the brag. Beware the long message detailing all your and your family’s accomplishments during the past year. It’s a greeting card, not an in-depth accounting of all your activities.
  6. Do you have to reciprocate? No. But remember, if you don’t, you may find yourself not receiving a card in the future. It’s a good idea to order a few extra cards in case you would like to reciprocate with someone who sends you a card for the first time. As the sender, send to whom you want and don’t be annoyed if someone doesn’t send one in return.
  7. Work or home? If you want to give a greeting card to a work colleague, send it to his or her home or give it outside of the office. That way you avoid the possibility of others feeling unappreciated.

I’m losing a good friend in 10 days.

Posted by Peter Post October 22, 2013 07:00 AM

Typically, you wait until the event actually happens before you offer condolences. At least that’s what etiquette says. Offering condolences before a person actually passes (weird how we use the word “passed” rather than “died”) is definitely like putting the cart before the horse.

There’s an etiquette question: Is it more appropriate to say “passed” rather than “died” as in “My uncle passed last week.” Somehow using the word died has a harsh reality to it that “passed” avoids. Even so, I’m really not sure that one is better than the other. I think it depends on the individual and his or her comfort with the words.

Back to my impending loss. I think maybe I’ve been hoping that if I ignored it, it wouldn’t be true, that Google would come to its senses and not put iGoogle out to pasture.

There’s one silver lining in this black rain cloud for me: Kudos to Google for being up front about its plans. They’ve given us a year or more to prepare. But honestly, who prepares? Certainly I haven’t.

Well that’s not entirely true. I googled “alternative to iGoogle homepage” a few weeks ago. I even clicked on one or two alternatives. But nothing got me excited. So as is wont with all things Internet, when I wasn’t instantly satisfied, I blew the whole effort off and haven’t made any attempt to find an alternative since.

And now the end is fast approaching. And there really is absolutely nothing I can do to change the outcome except to say, “Thank you Google, for being my gateway to the Internet all these years. I’m sorry to see you go.”

The Oyster Fork Has Outlived Its Time.

Posted by Peter Post October 15, 2013 07:00 AM

Lets consign the oyster fork to dust bin of dining history. Here’s why I say that.

I ate oysters and clams this weekend. On the half shell. Fresh out of Katama Bay on Martha’s Vineyard. Nestled in ice. Consumed as soon as they were opened. Simply beyond compare.

I’ve been opening and eating clams and oysters on the half shell pretty much my whole life. I have movies of my father wading in knee-deep water at a secret clamming spot, finding clams with his toes, picking them up, opening them right then and there, and slurping them down. Frankly, as a youngster, I had no idea there was any other way to eat them other than squeezing a little lemon on the freshly opened clam and then picking up the half shell of pure ambrosia and sliding that luscious morsel into my mouth.

Whenever I’m out and anyone orders oysters, I see them look at the oysters and then at the oyster fork and hesitate. I can see them thinking: “That fork is there for a reason so I better use it.”

Have you ever tried eating an oyster or a clam with an oyster fork? It’s messy. You try to spear it, and maybe you succeed. But still it dangles from the fork most unappetizingly, and then you drip all that good clam or oyster juice onto the plate, your napkin, or maybe your blouse or shirt as well.

And still, my advice is if you’re out at a restaurant with your boss or someone else equally important to you, in spite of your reservations about using the oyster fork, do it. Try your best to balance that slippery devil on the fork or spear it and get it to your mouth without making a mess.

But if you’re the boss or the important person, or you’re with friends, I hope you might recognize the ridiculousness of the situation and alleviate the oyster/clam eater from his or her misery. “John (or Mary or Dan or Betty), please go ahead and pick up that oyster on the half shell and enjoy it the way it should be eaten.”

There is something exquisite about the flavor of a fresh oyster on a half shell. It is the taste of the sea. Everyone who was eating them with me this weekend commented on that special flavor. And they all enjoyed them on the half shell the way they should be eaten.

Just When Should You Look a Person in the Eye?

Posted by Peter Post October 8, 2013 07:00 AM

Etiquette does change over time. Take, for instance, the issue of looking a person in the eye. The Emily Post Institute’s etiquette advice has been pretty consistent: Look a person in the eye because it is the way you connect and show your honesty and sincerity.

A recent report on NPR.org shed new light on the issue of looking a person in the eye, which gives an interesting twist to our advice.

According to the research, if you are dealing with a person positively, if you are in agreement with the person, if you are trying to radiate feelings of love or appreciation, then looking a person in the eye is to your benefit. But, if you are trying to change a person’s mind about something or if a person disagrees with you, then looking him or her in the eye seems to reinforce your differences rather than bridging the gap.

The study in the NPR story had forty-two university students view videos. The result: The students "who saw videos with content they disagreed with, who looked at the speakers' eyes changed their attitudes less than the people who looked at the speakers' mouths. They also said they were less interested in hearing more about the views presented."

One can only conclude, contrary to the etiquette advice we’ve offered for years, that if you are in an argument and you hope to change a person’s mind, then you might actually be better off looking at the person’s face in general, and focusing on the person’s mouth.

As a practical matter, what does this really mean? When you meet someone and shake hands, when you are in an interview for a job, when you are enjoying an evening out with friends, the etiquette advice holds true: Look ‘em in the eye. It’ll help you build the relationship. But when you get in an argument or disagreement with another person, then perhaps averting your gaze just slightly to another part of the person’s face might just help you convince him or her of your position or point of view.

Staring vs. Looking

Posted by Peter Post October 1, 2013 07:00 AM

Just the other day a friend in New York City asked me if it’s unacceptable to stare while at work. It seems a co-worker had been staring at people in their cubicles as he walked by, and people were feeling very uncomfortable about it.

By no means is staring just a business problem. I first became aware of it as a gym etiquette issue when I was writing Essential Manners for Men (Harper 2003, 2nd Edition 2012). I heard repeatedly from women about the annoyance and even anger they felt when a guy stared at them as they worked out. Gym clothes can be baggy or they can be tight fitting and not leave much to the imagination. Then there are tattoos. I’ve always thought that if a person has a visible tattoo, that they should expect other people to take a moment and look at it.

My first experience with the tattoo came in a yoga class. The young woman in front of me had a large tattoo on her back which was partially covered by her top. As an art history major in college, I was familiar with Matisse’s The Dance. There it was, or so I thought, squarely on her back. I looked, several times. But that’s the real point here: I looked. Discreetly. When her back was turned to me. I even thought about it and made the effort not to let my look turn into a stare.

What’s the difference? When you look at something or at a person as you glance around, your focus stays with you and what you are doing. When you stop thinking about what you are doing and your eyes and your conscious mind focus like a laser beam on the person you are looking at, your look becomes a stare. And the other person? She (or he) realizes she is the object of your stare. And that’s when you’ve crossed the line.

For my friend in New York, she’s right: The person walking by the cubicles is staring, not looking. His focus is on the person in the cubicle and he is making that person uncomfortable. Time to stop staring and start looking.

About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. The column is distributed by The New York Times More »

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